"If you want to boycott our games, then boycott! We can't make you like us. Stay away -- we don't care." So said a middle-aged Muscovite passenger on the Soviet airline Aeroflot the other day. "Sportsmen are sportsmen -- politics has nothing to do with it."
His words were echoed by another Muscovite: "Eighty-five countries are coming. Our city has all kinds of new buildings. Everything is being made beautiful. If the Americans don't want to come -- we don't want them!"
But not all Soviet citizens contacted by this correspondent and other Westerners in recent weeks share these proud, patriotic sentiments.
As the July 19 opening day of the Moscow Olympic Games draws closer, "Slishkom mnogo shooma iz nichivo" ("Too much fuss about nothing"), grumbled one older Moscow woman. "Everywhere you look, everything you read, it's all about the Olympics. Too much publicity, too much talk."
"Let the games be finished soon," said another woman. "Let's get back to normal again. Besides, who knowswhat will happen, with all those foreigners here?"
Other conservative Moscow residents feel the same way. Their minds go back to the first big international gathering of foreigners held in the capital after Stalin's death. That was the International Youth Festival in 1957 -- an event that brought thousands of young people from around the world into Moscow and helped spread new and heady ideas among a generation of Soviet young people, turning some into dissidents (Vladimir Bukovsky, for one), and others into radicals or at least questioners of party claims.
As might be expected in a population of 264 million, opinions about the games range widely here. Young people tend tob e passionately interested and disappointed that the Americans, West Germans, Canadians, and other strong sports counries are staying away. But they are eager to see the events on television anyway.
Middle-aged people tend to take an interest, if only because of the relentless barrage of publicity. Especially in Moscow, publicity is loud, and the linear Olympic symbol as well as the games mascot, Misha the bear, is on bus windows, truck fenders, shop-fronts. "But what's in it for the average person?" asked a Leningrader. "It's all a big noise for foreigners. We won't have more food in our shops or more clothes to buy.It's just for prestige."
"No, that's not right," objected a Muscovite, "we've been told that higher-quality clothes and food items will be appearing in our shops soon, with the Olympic sign on them." These will cost more, the difference between the normal price and the Olympic price will go to the Soviet Olympic Committee's budget.
Since last November, the Kremlim has ordered the arrest, trial, or internal exile of some 40 dissidents in the five cities where Olympic events will be held.
For the KBG, the biggest problem is its certainty that foreign agents will pose as tourists and gain entry to the Soviet Union to conduct espionage. Frequent warnings have been issued to party workers and the public to be vigilant.
Many Soviet citizens don't seem to blame the Soveit government for the US-led boycott, as the White House had hoped they would.
"It is unpleasant and disappointing, this boycott," said one Moscow woman, after first refusing to discuss the issue. "It means some of the events won't be as good. Your President says it's because of our troops in afghanistan -- but what is the connection? Afghanistan is politics [we were invited in, by the way] and the Olympics are sports."
The Soviet press rarely links Afghanistan to the US-led Olympics boycott. The average citizen, who knows only what his party chooses to tell him, tends to shrug and say, "Well, let the boycott happen. The games will be successful anyway." Others add, with a smile, "It's good the Americans are staying away. All the more gold medals for the USSR."