Cold War Correspondents : Soviet and American Reporters on the Ideological Frontlines Part III

The introduction to this part gives the class an insight into specific feelings felt by individuals in the U.S. and Soviet Union. In detail, the debate that takes place in the early parts reveals how each side views the distrust of the other. Supported by the quote, “Robert Kaiser ar-gued that the Soviet people would never trust the United States as long as their only source of information about it consisted of loyal communist journalists like Borovik.” Likewise shown by the quote, “Genrikh Borovik swiftly retaliated, charging that Americans dis-trusted the Soviet Union because all they knew about it came from reports that Kaiser and his colleagues wrote, based on the experience of a handful of dissidents.”

On the surface, which of these quotes do you most likely believe to be based in fact and not conjecture through personal feelings? Regardless of correctness then, what does this scene between the two teams of journalists reveal about the state of international communications between the U.S. and Soviet Union?

This parts also introduces how many journalists adapted the practice of “long- form journalism: lengthy article series or books written after the conclusion of their assignment abroad”. This practice raises some ethical questions, considering the pieces of journalism were created after the fact instead of during. How reliable is memory to be able to provide journalistic truth? Would you consider it more ethical or even efficient for your journalists to record in real time rather than after?

MLA 8th Edition (Modern Language Assoc.)
Dina Fainberg. Cold War Correspondents : Soviet and American Reporters on the Ideological Frontlines. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021.

Mourning vs Morning

With Stalin’s death came a period of quick change and while Khrushchev would deliver the Secret Speech three years later, that change was made by Soviets already engaged in Stalinist reforms. 1955 would see a Soviet delegation of journalists depart for America and that same year, “TASS began to sign agreements for information exchange with all major international wire services and foreign newspapers” (Fainberg 2020, 96). If the culture of the Soviet Union or at least the shestidesiatniki was so dominant in affecting such quick change in reversing Stalinist policy, where were those dissenting voices preceding Stalin’s death? Was it a threat to the perception of a Soviet superiority to have internal dissent or was the oppressive surveillance state simply overpowering?

I ask these questions out of the recognition that the shestidesiatniki come to power after Stalin’s death as political factions often do following a termination of governance, but wonder why their collective power was so stifled just years prior. I have often viewed the Stalin-Kruschev transition as so sudden and the contextualization of the Secret Speech along with journalism reforms makes me wonder about the nuances in party thought that were inevitably present preceding Stalin’s death and in the direct aftermath of it.

3/31 Class Discussion

  1. How do we contextualize the dryness and “mediocrity” of TASS writing with other media that we have encountered this semester from the late-Stalinist era?
  2. What characteristics could be generally described of the shestidesiatniki and what can we learn from their new approach to foreign journalism?
  3. Do you buy the author’s claim that “the United States explicitly discriminated against Soviet correspondents and established a system of retaliation for their reporting from the US, although the existence of these practices was vehemently denied” (Fainberg 2020, 106)? What should we make of the series of bureaucratic battles fought by the US and Soviet Union in granting or restricting journalistic access?
  4. What were the terms of the debate between the US and Soviet Union as framed by journalists during the thaw?
  5. How did events like the launching of Sputnik redefine or affirm existing cultural narratives? Are there other examples of specific events that did so? In What terms might journalists have defined them?

Journalism

In the reading for this week, It was clear that journalists repeatedly had to compare socialist values in the Soviet Union and Capitalist values in the U.S. “Alexei Adzhubei, who was closely associated with journalistic reforms, underlined the importance of the journalist’s educating role… It was revealing that Adzhubei chose the difference between socialism and capitalism as an example of the universally important truths that journalists should convey (Fainberg, 88-89). Since journalists were given this task to constantly compare themselves to the U.S. Was it because the Soviet Union was scared, that once they opened themselves up to other foreign nations, the Soviet people would start to like the West and want to become it? Although the Soviet leaders did trust their people, “Soviet leaders expressed confidence that the people’s faith in the socialist project would not weaken, but strengthen, if they knew more about foreign countries” (Fainberg, 90), why did they specifically instruct journalist to do this constant comparison? Did the Soviet Union really trust its people by keeping the constant comparison in journal articles and newspapers? Would it be different if a journalist were given the liberty to express themselves freely instead of following the Journalistic reforms? Or was this a necessary part of the Cold War by comparing each other’s values?

The Fairness Doctrine? Soviet v. USA

The Fairness Doctrine was initiated by the FCC in the US in 1949 until 1987. The goal of these general journalistic guidelines (mainly on air rather in print) to provide equal time to controversial topics and to be “fair and balanced” when presenting them (and above all else to be honest). I mention this mainly because during this time the Soviet Reporters were subject to U.S. laws and guidelines while they were within the borders. But, I also mention it because of Khrushchev’s general hopes and aspirations. According to Fainberg, his goals were “to begin with, the press was to become a platform for coming to terms with the Stalinist past and for thinking about the future. Second, the press was expected to furnish readers with the information they needed to educate themselves and develop as socialist citizens. Finally, the press was to play a central role in the states’ efforts to mobilize citizens’ enthusiasm for building socialism, without the use of violence” (Fainberg 87). Though it is from the Soviet perspective, these two ideals (especially for Soviets in the U.S.) seem to be working against two different systems. One is pulling them to provide the most accurate (in theory) information that is possible and the other is trying to place ideology above all else. Additionally, Fainberg also states of the progression of journalism that there were questions of “were the Soviet people ready to deal with multiple perspectives and different opinions? Had the public attained the appropriate level of Marxist consciousness. These questions preoccupied the entire Soviet establishment in the wake of Khrushchev’s reforms and became the subject of much discussion in government offices and party meetings across the country” (Fainberg 94). This is a long way of getting to the essential question of what do we make of the existence of these two systems, particularly for Soviet Journalists within the U.S.? Obviously, there was a struggle and many of the Soviet Journalists were pushing for some form of reform within their own states. However, why was it so much in the mind of the Soviets about whether they were “ready” for that information or not? Is it possible that this is indicative of some form of classism (which would be ironic) or elitism? Or is this indicative that they did not trust that their “propaganda” and the state failed to adequately immerse them within the ideology? And, why should that matter?

Journalists: Better than Politicians?

As we see in Chapter 3, Soviet journalists go to great lengths to report about American life and “the growing convergence between Soviet and American people” (Fainberg 83) and that the trips of the delegation members showed that the usual Soviet coverage of America was “disruptive for establishing good relations”(Fainberg 84) between the two countries. Journalists went through hard conditions and their work was vetted, but despite this, they shaped Soviet engagement with the outside world. This opened the gates for openness in foreign policy under Khrushchev, publicized socialism, and peaceful competition. Journalists even acknowledged their power, and knew that their mistakes could “harm the improving relations” (Fainberg 90).

This leads me to wonder, how many of the world’s problems could be solved if there was just transparency between countries and efforts to learn about the another country’s culture and life? It seems to me that these journalists, with the help of Khrushchev’s reforms, made a bigger difference than just plain, old, foreign policy had in years. Why do you think international journalism was so effective at improving the relations between the US and the USSR? Do you think relations could have been even better if journalists were completely liberated, or could that maybe makes things worse, as the USSR would no longer be promoting their own agenda and therefore get upset? 

When Surveillance Becomes “Cool”

With the heavy surveillance of the press in both the Soviet Union and the United States, freedom of the press is nonexistent with restrictions including limited travel and required fingerprinting. Though these restrictions existed in the Soviet Union experienced by American journalists as well, Soviet Union journalists regularly expressed discontent with American restrictions and FBI surveillance. In many ways, the changes of reporting by Khrushchev allowed for these stories to come to light. While the government of the Soviet Union negotiated behind closed doors to resolve restriction issues with the U.S., Soviet journalists could criticize these incidents freely in whatever stylistic writing they choose. Though this criticism was considered hypocritical by Americans with Soviet correspondents being fully aware that American journalists in the USSR received the same treatment, what surprised me the most were the benefits of surveillance readily acknowledged by Soviet journalists.

While surveillance is an inconvenience, especially when your apartment is regularly broken into by the FBI (Fainberg, 106), Soviet journalists appeared more than willing to address the incidents positively. For example, though having your car tailed may be an annoyance or even frightening, correspondent Melor Sturua took advantage of the situation and asked for directions. Likewise correspondent Vasily’s mother was threatened over the phone. But of course, the FBI was always listening and could send police to stay with the family, “so that was kind of cool” describes Vasily (Fainberg, 107) . Considering the FBI has a long history of abusing its national security surveillance powers that have resulted in the harm, and even death, of those on its watch, the motive for this apparent protection remains unclear. If many U.S. officials were so quick to write off Soviet journalists as “staunch communists beyond redemption,” why help and even protect Soviet journalists? Was this done out of respect for the Soviet Union, or was this done out of fear of retaliation? Additionally, did the Soviet Union offer the same level of protection through its surveillance to American correspondents?

Flower Power in the Soviet Union

In Chapter 4, “Only Rock ‘n’ Roll?,” William Risch focuses on the experiences of hippies within the Soviet Union, their connections to the West, and what they stood for. In terms of who participated and make marks within the movement, however, the hippie movements within Lviv and Wroclaw remained mostly dominated by men. Even in the personal testimonies made by hippies, they agreed that women played peripheral roles, and were mostly there because of their partners. Risch writes that the hippies did not directly protest against socialism, which advocated for gender equality, which makes this observation that much more confusing. The idea of hippie culture within these cities taking on a distinctly masculine form also created a distinct identity where men expressed themselves without women also participating to the ideology and lifestyle. Women were expected to either be fans of the movement or provide for the male members, but not meant to engage intellectually.

I wonder then what the perspectives were from female hippies or those interested in the movement: were they allowed space to participate or relegated to the sides by the men? Was there a difference in female v. male hippie culture? While there was correlation between the Western and Eastern movements, did that also translate from men to women?

The GDR State Reaction to Freedom of Expression

On page 157 of Garrard’s “Punk and the State of Youth in the GDR,” the author states that:

“In 1971, Erich Honecker, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the SED, stated that so long as ‘one proceeds from the solid premises of socialism, there can be, in my opinion, no taboos in the realm of art and literature.’ A brief period of greater freedom for those engaged in the cultural sphere followed in the early 1970s.”

However, she continues to note that be the mid to late 1970s, regardless of what Honecker had stated, the state began to expel artists and crack down on culture. We also know that both the earlier and later East German punk movements were influenced in part by British rock bands (The Beatles being part of the earlier wave and bands like The Damned being one of the later). With these bands came topics and ideas that the East was not accustomed to. It leads me to wonder just how valid reservations by government officials were. Was the state concerned with the influence such groups had and worrying that this would lead to Western sympathies? Was Honecker ever willing to be tolerant to such cultural movements, or was his statement merely a coverup for a more conservative effort aimed at opposing any rebellious nature from the younger generations?

We know from the various music festivals that occurred in the late 80s and early 90s, when communism was on the way out, that there was finally an ability to openly expressed oneself through this type of music. Had the GDR endorsed or tolerated these movements, would it have given more power to the government in the form of the youths’ approval that might have significantly altered the Cold War? It leaves one to wonder.

Punk Music

In the reading for this week I found it interesting that according to the GDR, Music could influence individuality which during this time was a direct influence from the western world and since punk music was circulating during that time. In chapter 7 “In the GDR, the adoption of punk by young people signified not merely a challenge to existing social and cultural norms…” (Gerrard 156). Which led to young people defying exactly that “Young people bringing subcultures into the open and “living” them also affected their choice of clothing, behavior, and lifestyle, as it did in the West” (Gerrard, 158). But what I found more interesting is that the GDR went back on its values and conceded to the young people and to those who enjoyed listening to punk music. ” By the 1970s the state was forced to concede to the presence and popularity of Western music in East Germany…” (Gerrard 156). My question to the class would be would you consider this to be a loss to eastern Germany or a win for the western world? Do you think that western music would have eventually found itself in eastern Germany regardless of regulations or the Stasi? And do you think that Punk music was a type of escape for the young people living during that time?