Before the liberalizing effects of ‘glasnost’ in the mid-eighties, the Soviet censorship apparatus was tasked with holding a virtual stranglehold (except for the Kruschev era ‘thaw’) on all literature, journalism, art, cinema etc. Juhan Peegel, an Estonian professor of journalism, having genuine insight into political repression and the consequent fragility of a rigid bureaucracy, tells a story of a minor oversight that was a political calamity:
In the early years Estonian state television was very reluctant to allow direct real-time broadcasts for the obvious reasons that editing would eliminate all faux-pas, embarrassments or politically taboo moments mistakenly caught on tape. The Communist party elite however decided to boost the public visibility and hopefully the popularity of the party’s first secretary by having a camera crew follow him on an excursion to a collective farm and do a real-time direct broadcast. A risky undertaking to be sure, but the spontaneity would surely enhance the credibility of the broadcast and persona of the party boss.
To ensure a flawless broadcast, party authorities and KGB officials analyzed the proposed scenario of a trip to a collective farm, to remove any politically unreliable individuals, and any dubious or hazardous on-camera moments. Though creative honesty was to be stressed, the broadcast had to be made fool-proof.
The camera crew filmed an uneventful drive to a collective farm, where the limousine stopped beside a plowed field. The first secretary got out of the vehicle and proceeded to walk across the field where a tractor and its driver were waiting for him. He shook the tractor driver’s hand (a bona fide member of the proletariat) and asked him in broken Estonian, “You long have been tractorist?”
Without any script the tractor driver gave an honest answer: “Ten years here and fifteen in Siberia.”
In the 1970’s a U.S. newspaper correspondent posted in Moscow describes his experience with the Soviet foreign ministry’s watchdog responsible for approving content of stories sent from the USSR to foreign media:
The article was about the annual May 9th parade in which the most advanced and powerful military weapons were being dragged through the streets of Moscow. But journalists’ eyes were focussed on the reviewing stand in Red Square for on public display were the exalted members of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist party, the absolute zenith of Soviet power structure.
The razzle-dazzle of the menacing military technology didn’t offer journalists, especially those from abroad, as much fascination as did the personnel line-up on the dias. It was well known that one could detect the current political pecking order within the Politburo, simply by observing how close or how far anyone was placed from the Party’s first secretary.
The American correspondent wrote: “During the military march-past I happened to get a spot just a stone’s throw away from the reviewing stand.” When the article was returned from the censorship authorities it was changed to: “During the military march-past I happened to get a spot near the reviewing stand. I didn’t have any stones in my pocket.” True story. (To be cont’d. – in new year.)
Remember Soviet censorship? Interesting obsessions from the petty to the bizarre(II)