It was in February 1989, thirty years ago, that the first independent press bureau in Russia began to work. The bureau was mine. Death and revolution were my preoccupations.
At the time, the foreign press corps in Moscow was dominated by the well-known American and British media. The Americans were as much the favourites of the Russian political opposition as they were of Mikhail Gorbachev, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and of the faction of officials supporting him. Both Russian sides wanted to be loved by Americans; some still do. A handful of foreign correspondents worked for Communist Party media in their homelands; the senior ones were from India and Italy. They were trying to cope with the domestic Russian debate over how far and how fast to dismantle one-party rule by the Communist Party, and what means to employ short of force. In time, the old Communist reporters retired or died of natural causes; a Canadian communist party reporter turned into an American journalist – death by a natural cause Canadians are familiar with.
During that first year my despatches went to Ta Nea (“The News”), the leading newspaper of Athens, Greece. Published in Greek, the archive is inaccessible.
On March 25, the Congress of People’s Deputies was elected by a partial free vote, following vigorous electioneering inside and outside the Communist Party. On April 9, the Army intervened to halt public demonstrations in Tbilisi, Georgia; about 20 people were killed; hundreds hurt. On May 25, the Congress opened, its daily proceedings televised live across the country. On September 9, Boris Yeltsin began his first official trip to the US – a visit which proved to everyone capable of seeing what Yeltsin was made of, and more importantly, who was making him. On November 9, the Berlin Wall opened. On December 12, the second session of the Congress began, and Andrei Sakharov rose to introduce the new constitution’s articles on the private ownership of property and the end of the Communist Party’s monopoly of power. Two days later, on December 14, Sakharov died. That left Yeltsin to lead the opposition to Gorbachev. Gorbachev trusted the US Government to support him in power; the US Government had another plan. To the first independent foreign correspondent, the quisling and the fool were obvious every day.
Death and revolution, I said. They were personal. My wife and writing partner, Claudia Wright, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, and could no longer compose. We did not disclose this until the year was out.
“A great highway with broad horizons before it”, Gorbachev was promising the Congress at the time. Following the mass demonstration in Moscow of February 4, 1990, the direction of that highway was diverted fatefully. So was my road. This was the last piece published under Claudia’s byline; the first in English from the Moscow Bureau. (more…)