Behind the polish of the Soviet Olympic Show case
Moscow — Scene 1: Burly drivers gathered from Taxi "parks" (regional centers) across Moscow, sit at desks much too small for them in a classroom on the outskirts of the city , doggedly learning English.
"Altogether," calls the instructor, and the shirt-sleeved men begin to chant:
"The sky is blue, my taxi is green, I work in taxi park 19."
In a variety of well-worn clothes, the men filed in for crash courses lasting from 40 to 80 hours. They came after their shifts and on weekends.
"They didn't have to pay," said Alexander Provilyov proudly didn't have to pay," said Alexander Provilyov proudly. Mr. Provilyov. chief of Moscow City Council's Olympic Games Department, added in an interview: "And they are all getting uniforms, which they can keep for their own" -- blue jacket and trousers with soft, small-brimmed cap worn well back on the head.
On the concrete apron surrounding the circular, 45,000- seat stadium just built near my apartment house for Olympic boxing and basketball sit half a dozen long, low, West German and Hungarian trucks -- red, green, and yello. Blue cables snake around and into them. Men in jeans and T-shirts work steadily. Electric motors hum.
Similar trucks are tucked beside all major games sites: They are portable television control centers. The cables connect them to Thompson color-TV cameras made in France, and the men are ready to beam Moscow around the world.
"Ah, an American," exclaimed a senior Soviet official as he caught sight for me in the cavernous granite Olympic press center building, also brand new.
"Come," he said eagerly, "I'll show you everything." For an hour we trotted down endless corridors, in and out of the Latin American Bar and the Russian Tea Room and the 24- hour grill and the working areas with their TV sets and electric typewriters.
"Look, look, look," he kept saying, clutching my arm. And then: "If your President Carter could see all this, he'd change his position [on the US boycott ]!"
Unbrotusively, the young, blond man begins to follow us, a walkie-talkie set under his suit jacket. Around the "international zone" of the Olympic village we go. He pads behind -- past brand new repair shops ("repair and refilling of fountain pens"), past glittering Western sports shoes and track suits ablaze with color, past a souvenir shop looking like an American supermarket, past a cafeteria of colossal size, around a sunken central lawn, threading through white outdoor tables and chairs shaded by gay Italian beach umbrellas.
I stop to talk into a tape recorder. A soldier carrying a pack of communications gear watches me impassively. Several police stare. By blond friend tries not to look as though he is looking. I can glimpse beyond them all , the head-high wire fence surrounding the entire village, soldiers stationed every 100 yards, Kalashnikov AK-47 automatic rifles slung across their backs.
These scences mirror the enormously detailed, yet frequently defensive, preparations for the games in Moscow and the four other Olympic cities: Tallinn on the Gulf of Finland (yachting), Leningrad, Minsk, and Kiev (football matches).
Never before has a communist government played host to an Olympic Games. Not since Sputnik in 1957 and Yuri Gagarin orbiting the earth April 12, 1961, has the Kremlin had such a golden opportunity to publicize its own way of life, its achievements since 1917, its intense pride and patriotism, its capacity to make long-range plans, its ability to mobilize resources to a single end.
The Olympics have been tackled with single-minded intensity. The mayor of Moscow gives a budget figure of 1.3 billion rubles (about $2 billion) but that could be too low. New sporting arenas are splendidly world class, and cost a fortune in themselves.
The scope of the preparations can not really be compared to previous years. Mosco started off way behind other host cities in basic services -- restaurants, hotels, transportation, flexibility to improvise. So much of the Soviet national budget goes into defense and heavy industry that, compared to most Western countries, only a fraction is left over for the average citizen's everday needs. (The elite have their own privileges, shops, food, clothes, travel, cars, and so on.)
So the Kremlin did what it usually does when confronted with a national emergency. It drew resources from a host of other areas and planned on a gargantuan scale, without the bother of having to confront public opinion or protesting headlines.
It summoned whole armies of people, from thousands of black-booted, baggy-trousered construction corps privates from Central Asia to untold numbers of office and factory workers -- all sent out on weekends to rake grass and carry away debris. Hundreds of students in Moscow missed a year of studies because the state ordered them to wield picks and shovels on construction sites.
The party held countless meetings. It told activist workers in a party handbook published in 1979, "The decision to grant the right to hold the games in the capital of the world's first socialist state was convincing evidence of the universal recognition of the historic importance and correctness of the foreign policy course of our country. . . ."
"(When a Western colleague of mine turned to a Russian and asked, "Well, why was the US awarded the 1980 Winter Games?," the Russian looked surprised. "What's that got to do with it?" he replied.)
One page later the same handbook, of which half a million copies were printed for the party's 17 million elite members, accuses the West of using the games until now "in the interests of the exploiting classes . . . for propaganda of the bourgeois way of life . . . to distract young people from . . . the class struggle."
Logically, then, the party is telling its own members it sees the 1980 games as a political event to publicize the Soviet way of life and to direct the world's youth toward the class struggle. Yet party leaders never tire of saying politics and sport don't mix.
Moscow did not join the Olympic Games until 1952 (apart from two prerevolutionary teams competing in London in 1908 and Stockholm in 1912). But the expensively produced Soviet book, "From Athens to Moscow," devotes a chapter to every Olympics since 1896 and specifically praises the partial boycott of the Berlin games in 1936:
"The world reacted with revolt and indignation against the holding of the Olympics in the Nazi country. . . . The hypocrites called the Olympic village the "Village of Peace". . . Preparatory measures included a number of police actions . . .concealing from the foreign public the practice of routing the democratic demonstrations, repressions, and elimination of democratic freedom. . . ."
Substitute the word "Soviet" for "Nazi" and you have almost exactly what Soviet critics are saying about the 1980 Olympics. Moscow is taking careful precautions to seal off the Soviet population from the 200,000 visitors it says are coming despite the boycott movement.
This is the defensive side of the Kremlin -- suspicious, isolationist, heir to the remote, backward, secretive czarist Russia.
For centuries Russia has been isolated from the main streams of Western thought, from Renaissance and Reformation, from the struggle of nobles and bourgeoisie against the authority of the crown. It remains today deeply suspicious of outsiders. Communist ideology reinforces the feeling of standing alone against the threats and intents of the unpredictable, cacophonous West.
Thousands upon thousands of police from outlying areas have been brought in to patrol Moscow streets and subways. Metal detectors, X-ray machines, and police baggage searchers in lobbies guard the Olympic village, the main stadiums , and tourist hotels.
The KGB has gone to considerable lengths to break contacts between tourists and Soviet dissidents. American and Brisubjected to embarrassing searches by customs agents at airports. Both governments have lodged formal protests.
About 50 dissident activists, including Dr. Andrei Sakharov, have been arrested, exiled, tried, imprisoned, or otherwise removed from the streets of the five games cities since last November. KGB agents make it clear dissidents may not remain in Moscow during the games.
The literary journal Zvezda (Star), the monthly Physical Culture and Sport, Pravda, and other publications have all warned of foreign agents posing as tourists. Some 10,000 young interpreters and guides have been subjected to rigorous party lectures with such titles as "The leading and guiding role of the Communist Party." Young people permitted to come to the games sites for any reason are screened for political loyalty.
The head of the Soviet state committe on radio and television, Sergei Lapin, warned broadcasters in Moscow last year they could expect no help in covering non-games stories, that they should stay away from political reports, and he warned particularly against conducting any "public opinion polls" -- that is, man-in-the-street interviews.
Nothing is to be allowed to mar Soviet prestige any more than the boycott has already. According to one member of the International Olympic Committee, Baron Jean de Beaumont of France, Moscow is paying all fares and hotel expenses for no fewer 40 to the 85 national teams coming to the games. These include many African and Asian countries.
As for television, the Soviets are confident the pictures will be favorable, showing only the new, world-class stadiums, smiling people, newly tended parks, flowers, showplace architecture, and other familiar landmarks. If US or European networks try to transmit film of unfavorable events, such as demonstrations, past experience suggests sudden, mysterious power failures may occur at crucial moments.
Television is central to Soviet plans to boost prestige, especially since the boycott has kept away so many countries and caused a drop in hard-currency earnings. (Estimating a loss of $2,000 per head of fares and hotel alone, and a drop of 93,000 visitors from the US, Canada, Japan, West Germany, and even from some nonboycotters, the Soviets have failed to earn at least $150 million.)