For the Soviet Union, this year's Olympic Games are far more than a sporting event. They are the vehicle for seeking to demonstrate the alleged moral and political superiority of the Soviet system. However, no amount of self-serving propaganda or surface gloss can hide the unflattering realities.
Moscow is overrun with thousands of uniformed militia and plainclothes KGB patrolling streets to keep Soviet citizens -- and Western journalists -- in check. Foreign visitors are circumscribed by the heavy security precautions in force at hotels. The Olympic village brims with food, consumer goods, and service, but a walk across town quickly discloses there are not equally available to the Soviet people.
Nor have Soviet authorities been able to suppress the underlying tensions of society that belie the version of life presented by Pravda and Izvestia. Despite the massive resources brought in to assure security, the Kremlin this week found itself confronted with street demonstrations that are virtually unprecedented in Moscow -- thousands of Soviets jeering at and jostling police as they gathered at the avant-garde Taganka Theater for memorial rites for popular singer and actor Vladimir Vysotsky. The clashes represented no political threat to the Soviet regime. But they do point to the regime's failure to rear a generation respectful of Soviet dogma and authority. Today the youth especially are indifferent to Marxism-Leninism and cynical about their government. In paying such ardent tribute to an actor and balladeer who had often dared parody the corruption and hypocrisies of the Soviet establishment, thousands of young Russians in effect showed their own disaffection with Soviet life. It is an added note of irony that Vysotsky had once satirized the Kremlin leaders' obsessive drive for victories in the world sports arena.
And what more telling sign of the barrenness of Soviet propaganda than the reported efforts of Afghan athletes to try to defect to the West? No one will be surprised that they do not feel as "liberated" as the Soviet occupiers of their country claim them to be.
It would be unfair not to recognize the enormous and successful effort which the Soviet government made to provide high-quality sports and other facilities for the Olympic games. We have no doubt, too, of the warmth and hospitality which many everyday Muscovites and others extend to their foreign guests. There is a genuine longing of people for friendship and contacts -- despite official warnings against them. But all the gold medals in the world cannot light up the dark face of Soviet authoritarianism. The moral and political poverty of the communist system is present for all to see.