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Two Contrasting Views of Visits to Russia

June 01, 1985

People are friendly all over the world--but in the Soviet Union the ever-present Russian police marred our attempt at getting to know the people on a one-to-one basis on our recent Moscow tour.

Seeing a young woman artist painting a watercolor sketch in back of St. Basil's on Red Square, I approached the artist to admire her work. The artist said her sketches were for sale. I replied that I would buy her sketch if she would pose for me, with my wife in back of her sketch board and St. Basil's, her subject, in the background. She readily agreed, turned her face to my camera and I quickly shot the scene. No sooner had I taken the picture, and was walking toward her, when a policeman or military person in uniform was speaking to her. We listened but did not understand, so we quickly walked away but kept looking back seeing that the policeman was still talking to her. We were afraid for her, thinking that perhaps she would be arrested for talking or posing for us. The Intourist guide had told us we could take a picture of anyone if the person first agreed.

Then still seeing that drama being played in the background, the policeman jawboning the young woman artist, another incident occurred pointing out the fear the police pound into the Russian people. A Russian woman had helped my wife in crossing a street safely in the area of St. Basil's. In appreciation and wishing to thank her in a small way my wife offered her a ballpoint pen. The offer of the pen made the woman literally jump back. Terror was in her face. She did not want to be seen accepting a gift from an American. No vocabulary was needed--her actions carried the message--"No, I don't want to be seen accepting anything from you."

Recalling the earlier incident--there was no need to tell us of the ever-present highly visible Russian police force, one to each block, with walkie-talkies strapped to their belts. And this in the middle of the day in Red Square. Why so many policemen, sometimes more than two to three in front of public buildings on a normal quiet day? This indicates forcefully to the Russian people not to get friendly with American tourists.

JOE R. NEVAREZ

Monterey Park

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