By GERARD E. SHERRY
I SPENT nine days in Moscow and came away with one definite impression: There's an awful lot of phoney reporting going on.
Many Western visitors come away unnecessarily overawed by surface impressions. Hence, it is frequently heard that the Russians are doing marvels and we had all better watch out on the economic front.
avoided official guides and saw Moscow on foot. Maybe I came away a little fatigued, but at least I formed impressions based on what I actually saw and heard.
How they live
NINE days does not make one an expert on the Mecca of world Cornmunism. However, it is sufficient time to learn a great amount about the joys and sorrows of the Muscovites, how they live and where they arc going. It is a depressing picture.
I arrived in Moscow on a Saturday evening. 1 had a dismal welcome at the airport for a weary traveller. It was terribly cold— something like 10 below. The airport may have had a heating system, but it obviously wasn't in working order.
My first view of Russian people was in the general waiting room. They were all huddled up in long overcoats and fur hats, and many wore high boots. The majority sat on wooden benches in the main hall, looking as indifferent as their cold surroundings.
ALL accommodation in Moscow has to be booked and paid for in advance at the official Soviet travel agency, Intourist. Although I had my official Intourist voucher, the agency's representative at the airport said he knew nothing about it. He told the same tale to an impresario from New York who was supposed to be an official guest of the Soviet Ministry of Culture.
In the end, Intourist managed to get us a ear—a 1949 Pontiac--for the journey into the city. Although I had paid for first-class accommodations, I arrived at my hotel to find it had only a very small room available. The bathroom was far down the corridor and the plumbing was antiquated. The heating, too, left a lot to be desired. The next morning I managed to protest loud enough to be able to get a larger room with bath.
MY first view of Red Square, on Sunday morning, was quite revealing. There was a four-deep queue stretching almost all round the Kremlin. The people were waiting, so I found, to enter the mausoleum that houses the bodies of the Red prophets. Lenin and Stalin.
There seems to be nothing spontaneous about it. It's all part of the official sight-seeing itinerary. Who would dare to leave a tourist group and ignore the official Red "shrine"?
THE first real contact I had with Russians was at dinner in the Nationale dining room. It is supposed to be one of the finest eating places in Moscow.
It isn't too bad by American standards, except that the food is always bathed in grease. More important, the tea is frightful and the coffee unbearable.
A group of young Russians at one table invited me over. Several of them spoke English. They were mostly students who can afford to eat at the Nationale about once a month.
They told me they came mostly to listen and dance to the band, which is noted for playing "capitalist" music. They spoke about the desire for peace in the world and wished that the American
people would follow Mr. Khrushcheies lead. In fact, every vodka toast had this rather plaintive leitmotif.
THEIR knowledge of life in the U.S. was pathetic and they used all the shop-worn phrases of Communist propaganda. When I mentioned that 1 own my own house, they showed obvious doubt. They said they knew that many Americans have houses but they are the rich ones. They said also that the average American worker is much worse off than his Russian counterpart.
I made it plain that they are the victims of vicious propaganda, which hinders rather than helps world peace. I admitted we have our poor and underprivileged but told them that we are actively engaged in elevating all our people to a better standard of living.
What is more, I emphasised that many of our so-called poor and underprivileged live much better than most Soviet citizens. They refused to believe that the average U.S. worker has a car. Anyhow, they said, the Soviets are busily engaged in producing cars which will be available to all. However, when I asked how many of their families own a car, I drew a blank.
The students pointed with pride to Soviet space efforts and said that America is so far behind that it cannot possibly match Soviet prowess in this field. I said that America is devoted to more than space missiles. Much of our scien
tific effort goes into the field of human welfare, i told them. After all, I said, under the American system. human welfare is paramount.
T SPOKE about a city of
X gloom and doom. This is my honest impression. Everywhere I went there were glum or indifferent faces. Put it down to the weather, if you like. But I got the impression it was the system.
The gloom lies in the fact that the people are regimented to such a degree that nothing can be done or said without some sort of Communist Party approval.
Even going to a baker's shop is an ordeal.
I went into one with Pete Kumpa. head of the Baltimore Sun papers' bureau in Moscow. He was buying some bread, rolls, and a small cake. Apart from the fact that the prices are outrageous by American standards, the procedure was fantastic.
First Kumpa had to tell the shop assistant he wanted bread. He got a slip for it; took the slip to the cashier; paid her and then went to another part of the shop to collect the bread. The procedure was repeated to get the rolls and the cake.
TT'S the same way X when buying anything in Moscow shops.
And the prices of most con surlier goods are beyond the reach of the average Soviet citizen. He has to save up for many months to buy bare necessities such as clothes, furniture, and the like. Although the average Muscovite looks well fee, food is so expensive that there is little money left for extras.
The mere fact that Russians coming from other parts of the country have to have internal passports to visit Moscow or any other city is bad enough, However, it goes well beyond mere travel restrictions. Nothing can be done, from the cradle to the grave. without some party functionary having a hand in it. Everything is directed towards the welfare of the state. Human welfare is secondary.
U. S. chapel
oUR Lady of Hope is the name of the chapel serving American Catholics in the Soviet capital. The title is new and was recently approved by the superiors of Fr. Louis Dime A.A., who ministers to the spiritual needs of American Catholics here.
Fr. Dion has been in Moscow since January, 1959. He succeeded
an o t h e r Assumptionist. Fr. Georges Bissonneite, A.A., who was expelled by the Soviet government in 1955. The American chapel is on the eighth floor of an
apartment building specially assigned to foreigners.
The chapel serves some 200 Catholics in the foreign colony, and has a Sunday Mass attendance of about 100 persons. As Fr. Dion says, half of his "parishioners" have reasons—"some excellent and some poor"--to keep them away from weekly attendance.
Mass is available every day. however, and several evening Masses are celebrated during the week. Furthermore, the prayers after Mass are always prefaced with the invocation: "Let us pray for the conversion of Russia."
THE other Catholic church in Moscow is St. Louis of France. it has a resident priest, Fr. Vitold Bronitski. a Pole from Vilna. He has some 3.000 parishioners, mainly of French or Polish extraction. About 25 per cent, of these people attend Mass each week.
The parishioners of St. Louis are Soviet citizens. They are extremely careful about their relationship with foreigners. They know they are only tolerated by the regime.