Monday, May 28, 2007

Sweet memories of Russian freedom of speech

When my mother was a college student (Saint-Petersburg State Polytechnical University, to be exact), they were having some kind of obligatory sermon against people who try to emigrate. The year was circa 1970, the emigration had just started, and all the colleges and workplaces worth their salt were supposed to have meetings condemning the people who were trying to leave the country and demanding that they be forced to stay.

After the official part the Komsomol leader started pointing at various students and demanding that they stand up and condemn. At some point he pointed at my mom, probably waking her up.

She did not really condemn the emigration at all, but she was not entirely suicidal, so she got up and said something along the lines of: "If you think they are totally evil, what do we need them here for? Let them go where they want and we'll be rid of them."

The Komsomol leader nearly had a heart attack, and started the proceeding to kick her out both from the Komsomol and the university. Luckily for herself she had a rather persuasive boyfriend (who later became my father), who managed to persuade the Komsomol leader not to do that (no, I don't know what kind of pressure was applied).

"Can't you get your woman to keep her mouth shut, at least in public?" - asked the Komsomol leader. "She can be very quiet if you don't ask her any questions," - my father explained. The Komsomol leader understood and never tried to wake her up at a meeting again.

By the time I was a teenager the system had mellowed out. You could still get in trouble for things just as trivial, but the extent of trouble (at least the trouble into which you got for trivial things) was quite limited. They said it was cumulative, but I did not stay there long enough to find out.

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