A 1960s exchange student in Moscow

David McDuff has just posted a beautifully written eleven part series series about his experiences as a student of Moscow State University in the 1960s.

It’s frightening, at times, how closely his observations of Soviet university life at that time mirror my own of student life in Irkutsk just a couple of years ago.  The identity cards remain the same, as does the babushka who shouts at you if you don’t display it quickly enough; you still spend far more time shopping and filling in paperwork than doing anything else bar sleeping; and the layout of dormitory kitchens, with their two old battered ovens, sink and table clearly hasn’t changed in many decades.

But some things definitely were different then:

In order – we could only assume – to undermine the sense of group solidarity among the British contingent, in mid-November the "local" KGB on floors 8 and 9 of Zone V decided to launch a blackmail operation against our group’s leader, or starosta. At around 2am one morning he was awoken by a group of Russian-speaking students who forced their way into his room and "compromised" him – i.e. stripped him naked, made him make obscene gestures, and took photographs of him which they threatened to send to his parents back in England. Next morning, after an urgent telephone consultation with the British cultural attache, which was no doubt tapped, he had to flee on foot to the British Embassy with his deputy, where he was instructed to remain for the next six weeks, before being quietly flown out of Moscow back to the U.K.

The final post, with links to the previous ten sections is here.

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1 Response

  1. Joel says:

    Wow. Thanks for introducing me to McDuff’s blog. I can’t resist further disseminating his memoirs. Maybe it will incite me to document a few more of my own memoirs from a year in Romania during the Ceausescu years (and Reagan era).