Listening time: under 3 minutes. A journalist in Moscow at the height of the Cold War, read out this description of the host country. It’s several years since I first noted it, and now it has become frighteningly topical.  The only thing that might be modified is that some of the Russians have become highly suspicious of other Russians, as well as foreigners.  

WritingRedux Podcast

Quotation - John Steinbeck - Russian Journey

 ‘The Russians of Moscow are highly suspicious of foreigners, who are watched constantly by the secret police. Every move is noticed and sent into central headquarters. A guard is placed on all foreigners. Furthermore, Russians do not receive foreigners in their houses, and they seem to be afraid even to talk to them very much. A message sent to a member of the government usually remains unanswered, and a further message is also unanswered. If one is importunate, one is told that this official has left the city or is sick. Foreigners are permitted to travel in Russia only after great difficulty, and during their travels they are very closely watched. Because of this general coldness and suspicion, foreigners visiting in Moscow are forced to associate with each other exclusively.’


There was a good deal more in this vein, and at the end our friend looked up and said, ‘What do you think of it?’


And we said, ‘We don’t think you can get it past the censor.’


He laughed. ‘But this was written in 1634. It is from a book called Voyages in Muscovy, Tartary and Persia, by a man named Adam Olearius.’

Source: John Steinbeck, A Russian Journal, with photographs by Robert Capa (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1999 (1948)), p. 193

Image credit: Grand Kremlin Palace (17th century) in Moscow, British Library HMNTS 9456.g.1, from page 257 of Москва. Историческій очеркъ …, by Agrippina Mikhailovna Plechko

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