When I was 18 years old, I spent nearly a week in Communist Russia when it was the Soviet Union. What a scary place for an American girl from California. That summer I learned gratitude that I was an American and had a Constitution to protect my rights. While in the Soviet Union, I experienced a few incidents, of weird intimidation by the Communist powers that be. I was young woman on a tour with about 40 other students from around the USA, and this was one of the few tour groups that traveled into the Soviet Union back then.
First, we spent a few days in Moscow and then a few in Leningrad (now known as St. Petersburg). In Moscow the first night a police officer came by and asked me and three other tour members what we were doing- when were merely sitting on a park bench outside talking to each other on a summer evening. We told him “Nothing”. The tour members were from all over the USA. My roommate, M, for our stay in Moscow was from Alabama. I had never had friends from the South, so this was interesting to me to get to learn about people from different parts of the USA. The next evening, my roommate, M, and I visited another young woman, S, on the tour who was also from the South, from West Virginia. We just hung out in S’s room and talked for several hours. When we returned to our room, there was a passport photo of a mean looking Asian guy whom we had never seen before, with no passport and 100s of yen in a wallet. We did not know how it got in our locked room. That night we did NOT sleep well.
The next morning, we asked our tour guide to help us complain with the Inter-tourist agency that was located inside our hotel. The only thing they said to us was that the man who left the wallet and photos probably thought we looked cute. That did not calm my anxiety much. All I could figure out was that this was some kind of intimidation that was going on to keep all of us Americans in check. We were told by our American tour leaders to NOT sell our jeans, books, music, or give anything to Russian people because before we left Russia the police might stop us. That had happened to other American students with this same American tour group during previous years. We also knew we could not speak up much in Russia, so most of us observed and talked amongst ourselves. One older student knew some Russian and would sometimes translate for us. Our tour guide was a lovely Russian woman who was strictly business. I remember once I tried to photograph her. I only got a photo of the back of her head.
In Russia in the 1960s, we never saw children with their parents. When we visited all the sights, the children were always with their teachers or with the “Pioneers”, as they were called. The Communist state did a great job of indoctrinating children back then. I could feel the oppression of myself and the citizens of Moscow and St. Petersburg. It felt like a heavy winter coat on a hot, humid, sunny day. And, of course, freedom of speech and press were nonexistent. One of the fathers and great leaders of the Communist party in the Soviet Union was Joseph Stalin, who made sure that freedom of speech and press did NOT exist and controlled the press absolutely.
“Print is the sharpest and strongest weapon of our party.”
– Joseph Stalin
Having had this experience before I went off to college framed my life in a picture of political activism. The Soviet Union in the mid 1960s showed me the importance of the USA’s first Ten Amendments to the Constitution- “The Bill of Rights”, of which Freedom of Speech and Press is the FIRST one.
In a Tweet on February 17 our new president heaped even more than just insults on our still FREE PRESS. This is the story about that event.
To have our President Donald J. Trump tweet:
“it (the press) is the ENEMY of the AMERICAN PEOPLE”
This statement by a US president is unprecedented in our history.
This is a very ominous turn of events and reminds me of my short visit in Communist Russia, where the press was NOT FREE and controlled by the Communist leaders who followed Stalin. This is still true today in Russia under Putin. The press is no longer free as it was under former President Yeltsin in Russia. This is also true that the press is NOT free in most countries where they have autocratic leaders across the globe.
Former President George W. Bush, a Republican, on February 27 this year went on NBC “TODAY Show” and defended our FREE PRESS in the USA.
I feel deeply grateful to President George W. Bush that he stood up and spoke up for, not only himself, but for other Americans like myself who consider the First Amendment and our Free Press essential cornerstones of our freedom.