I have been reading a rare book of humor from the old Soviet Union. It is The Anti-Soviet Soviet Union by Vladimir Voinovich, who, for his pains, was expelled from the Soviet Writers’ Union in February 1974. Unable to make a living as a writer in Russia, he naturally fled to the West. The following excerpt from the book describes an amusing visit to the KGB (Soviet State Security) in Moscow.
During my last years in Moscow, a beginning writer would visit me from time to time when he was in town from the provinces. He’d complain of not being published and gave me his novels and stories, of which there were a great number, to see what I thought of them. He was certain that his works weren’t being published because their content was too critical. And indeed they did contain criticism of the Soviet system. But they had another major flaw as well: they lacked even the merest glimmer of talent. Sometimes he would request, and sometimes demand, that I send his manuscripts abroad and help get them published over there. I refused. Then he decided to go to the KGB and present them with an ultimatum: either they were immediately to issue orders that his works be published in the USSR or he would leave the USSR at once.
Apparently, it went something like this.
As soon as he had entered the KGB building, someone walked over to him and said: “Oh, hello there. So you’ve finally come to see us.!”
“You mean you know me?” asked the writer.
“Is there anyone who doesn’t?” said the KGB man, spreading his hands. “Have a seat. What brings you here? Do you want to tell us that you don’t like the Soviet system?”
“That’s right, I don’t,” said the writer.
“But what specifically don’t you kike about it?”
The writer replied that, in his opinion, there was no freedom in the Soviet Union, particularly artistic freedom. Human rights were violated, the standard of living was steadily declining—and he voiced other critical remarks as well. Good for about seven years in a camp.
Having listened politely, the KGB man asked: “But why are you telling me all this?”
“I wanted you to know.”
“We know. Everyone knows all that.”
“But if everyone knows, something should be done about it.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. Nothing has to be done about it!”
Surprised by that turn in the conversation, the writer fell silent.
“Have you said everything you wanted to?” asked the KGB man politely.
“Then why are you still sitting there?”
“I’m waiting for you to arrest me.”
“Aha, I see,” said the KGB man. “Unfortunately, there’s no way we can arrest you today. We’re too busy. If the desire doesn’t pass, come see us again, and we’ll do everything we can to oblige you.” And he showed the writer out.
The writer visited me a few more times before he disappeared. I think he finally may have achieved his goal and gotten someone to give him the full treatment for dissidence.