Tag Archives: Russia

Voting: USA vs. USSR

Image courtesy of Nirots and FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Nirots and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I was 31-years-old before I could vote in an U.S. Presidential election. The year was 1960, and the major candidates were Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy, and having seen and heard the Vice President in Moscow during the summer of 1959, I came away very impressed with him. Nixon had been in Moscow for the opening ceremonies of the inaugural United States Exhibition. American commercial and agricultural goods were put on display in Sokolniki Park for the Russians to view. The Nixon tour took an unexpected turn when he and Nikita Khruschchev, then the First Secretary of the Communist Party, debated the virtues of capitalism vs. communism. At one point, they literally stood toe-to-toe. The Soviets had never seen a Western official argue with their First Secretary and they were aghast, watching with their mouths open. I half-expected them to exchange blows.

The incident went down in our history books as the “Kitchen Debate”…that is another story.

Back to the voting booth in 1960…

At that time 21-year olds were eligible to vote (Congress lowered the eligibility age to 18 in the 1970’s). It wasn’t indifference to civic duty that stopped me from voting previously. I had not cast a single ballot in an American election from November 1, 1947, until July 23, 1960, because I was behind the Iron Curtain.

On July 23, 1960, the American Consul in Moscow, John A. McVickar, handed me my American Passport and told me I could return to my native land. My thirteen years behind the Iron Curtain were finally over. And, in November, 1960, I chose Richard M. Nixon over John F. Kennedy. The reason I have mentioned the above facts is that one of my readers raised the question: “Did I ever vote in the USSR?” And that was followed up with a second question: “What was it like to vote in a totalitarian state?”

I believe, as a former citizen of the USSR. I am qualified to answer that question.

But first, let me say that the Soviet Constitution I lived under was called the Stalin Constitution, adopted by the Soviets on December 5, 1926. It went down in history as one of the most liberal constitutions in the history of mankind. Not only did it provide a Bill of Rights, those rights included and guaranteed Soviet citizens the right to work, universal medical care, and the right to a free college education, among other things.

In addition, the Constitution read:

Article 124

…guarantees freedom of religion, universal direct suffrage and the right to work.

Chapter XI

…..deputies to The Supreme Soviets and the Presidium of the Supreme Soviets …are chosen by the electors on the basis of universal and equal suffrage by secret ballot.

…Women have the right to elect and be elected on equal terms with men…and chosen by the electors on the basis of universal, direct and equal suffrage by secret ballot.

Article 135

…elections are universal: all citizens of the USSR who have reached the age of 18, irrespective of race or nationality, religion, educational or residential background have the right to vote…

Article 141

…candidates are nominated according to electoral area. The right to nominate candidates is secured to public organizations and societies of the working people, the Communist Party, trade unions, cooperatives, youth organizations, and cultural societies.

Enough! Enough! Enough!

Fiction. Fiction. That is all Stalin’s Constitution represented. The words signified nothing but deception, propaganda that deceived millions into believing in the Soviet Workers Paradise, which was, in truth, Dante’s Hell.

The first time I cast a ballot…

The year was 1948 in the early morning hours. There is a knock at our apartment door, located on Kalinin Street in Yerevan, the capital of Soviet Armenia. He is “The Party’s” messenger…

“Is this the home of Comrades Mooradian, Simonian and Ketegian?”

Simonian, who spoke Armenian, replied that it was. The messenger continued: “Comrades, greetings from The Party. Today is Election Day. Here is the list of candidates, unanimously agreed upon by The Party, who will represent us as our deputies….Please sign your names here.” He handed Mr. Simonian the paper. Simonian briefly looked at the paper, then signed. One vote cast for The Party’s candidates. He handed the paper over to me and pointed to where I should sign. I had had a previous experience with the NKVD. I didn’t need another. I quickly signed. Two votes for “The Party”. I gave the paper to Johnny. Johnny, the rebel among us, said: “I don’t know what the F—this paper says. I won’t sign.” Simonian gave him a threatening glance that had made me shudder. In English, Simonian reminded Johnny that his parents would soon be arriving in Soviet Armenia from New York, “and you don’t want this on their record.”

Simonian’s urgency lead me to remind Johnny that he and I were not working and were dependent on Simonian for food and even the wood to keep the stove burning. If this was that important to him, we should do it. Johnny signed. Not many years later I learned that refusing to vote, labeled you a dissident, and there would be consequences.

A few days later, Simonian read an article in one of the newspapers to us that proudly announced the results of the election, stressing that 97 percent of the electorate had voted.

And, shamefully, many in the West would believe these figures and use them to promote communism.

I question the dignity of words that proclaim freedom and liberty and justice in documents of nations whose foundations are built on words ending in “ism”.

As English statesman Edmund Burke, pointed out more than 150 years ago: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

 ***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

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A Person of Interest

Tom Mooradian, Armenian Repatriate

This is Part 1 of A Person of Interest. Read Part 2 here.

Once my feet had touched American soil there was a sense of relief. A cathartic sensation never before or since experienced flushed my veins. My nightmare in the USSR was over. I was a free man – free from the Soviet sham, from the terror one suffers as a citizen of a totalitarian state. I was no longer in the clutches of the KGB.

Or was I? How naïve I had been back then. How naïve I am.

When the KGB stepped out of their shadowy nooks and abandoned their imbecilic stratagem to unmask me as a “sleeper”, a “tool of the capitalists”, I asked them why the continuous surveillance. Why were their agents following me? I never got a satisfactory answer.

Those thirteen years behind the Iron Curtain are now history. Those thirteen years without a single Christmas…or Easter…or letter or parcel that had not been opened. I lived in a Soviet Republic that desecrated over 1000 churches and padlocked the doors or used the religious edifices as shortage space.

How tragic it all was…for it did not have to be as history reveals. Today the terror of the night is but mist and the fear to live is blotted forever.

But as sweet as it has been to return home, there were bitter moments of gloom and despair. My battle left me with scars.

You, dear reader, ask… “Where is the sequel to The Repatriate? “You have left us in limbo,” writes a reader. “…the story is incomplete.”

As proud as I am of my country and of the American people, the treatment afforded me upon return made no sense to me at the time. I understood the “hate mail” and I understood why some employers were terse, even rude, when they learned of my past, but…Depression had set in and I took long walks. Friends had lives of their own. I was broke and miserable.

As I strolled on a street in southwest Detroit, a well-dressed man approached me. “Aren’t you Tom Mooradian?”

I was caught off guard. I thought for a second that he may have been a classmate of mine or a basketball fan who recognized me. I was wrong on both counts. He said, “I’m from the FBI.”

The announcement startled me. The agent continued, “My director would like to talk to you… Do you have any time on your hands?”

I looked at him, smiled and replied, “If you have been following me all these weeks you know I have nothing but time on my hands.”

The agent raised his hand. A black sedan came out of nowhere, stopped at the curb and the agent opened the door for me, inviting me to get in. Once we were seated, the driver headed toward the Federal Building.

As the car sped toward our destination, I broke the deep silence in the car with a nervous laugh. The agent asked, “Want to share that with me?”

I had nothing to lose, so I said, “For a moment, I thought I was back in Moscow.”

The agent smiled and said, “No. …No. We don’t play the game the way they do.”

I would soon learn that they did.

This is Part 1 of A Person of Interest. Read Part 2 here.

 

 ***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

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Valley of Death

Lenin's Tomb in Moscow

I have walked in the valley of death….and I have seen the face of evil.

Born an American, I lived in Stalin’s Russia for thirteen years.  Humiliated because of my past and impoverished by a system that suppressed private enterprise and individuality, and considered “a tool of the capitalist”, I quickly found there were no green pastures for an American in the Soviet Union.

My enemies were everywhere…on the streets, in our workplace….and even extended into our homes. Evil wore the uniforms of the Cheka….the NKVD….the KGB….and the omnipresent informers. Beasts in human flesh…waiting…waiting…waiting for me to make a fatal mistake. Shadows of men who refused to come out into the light to confront their victim.  There was no such thing as “due process” for those who would criticize Stalin or the Communist Party.

I swore they would never, never dance on my grave.

I turned my cheek and with each slap, I vowed I would not yield. I stood my ground, lost some battles, but when my personal ordeal was over, they hugged me and wished me well as I was placed on a Soviet jet headed for Copenhagen, New York and home.

Never once did I confront my enemies with a weapon. With a gun.  Or violence.

I knew inevitably justice would prevail.

And now, after a half century of freedom, I live in fear again: for my country, my family, my children and grandchildren.

A thousand nations have come and gone, but for how long can one nation divided, engaged in three wars, patronizing conceited politicians who build their own egos instead of working together for the good of the people, the nation, long stand?

Our people are our strength – and they came from the four corners of this planet, and there are those who would stop the flow; our middle class was the engine that kept the economy moving and its numbers decline with each day; and we fight endless wars to prove what? That we can kill? And be killed. And each day we are awakened to read from in newspapers or see on our TV and computer screens that yet another horrific crime has been committed by some deranged psychopath or a group of misguided religious fanatics.

We have come too far, worked too hard, fought many bloody battles and won our share of wars. If Congress and the President truly derive their powers from the people, the people have an obligation to pay close attention to what its elected officials are saying and doing.

And then show that power at the voting booth.

It is time to “awaken the sleeping giant.”

 

 ***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

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The Girl from the Ukraine

Ukraine flag with "why" graffiti
Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius

She is seventeen. Sharp and tenacious. Born, raised and educated in the in a free and independent Ukraine, she saw her life and the lives of her friends disintegrate as Russian nationalists stood toe-to-toe in her hometown, Ukrainian soil, each claiming the land as theirs.

“Our neighbors were Russians. I grew up with their children. They were and are my friends. I never believed that there would be bloodshed.”

There was. And still is.

As history so often shows and repeats, the on-going political debacle in the southeastern sector of the Ukraine ended in utter defeat for the unprepared Ukrainians as its arch-enemy, Russian and its pariah Russian President Putin occupied the Crimea. And without firing a single shot. Now Moscow is claiming to the rights to the Donetsk basin, the industrial hub of eastern Ukraine.

“My family is fortunate,” she said. “My grandmother lives in Kiev. We left our village after the rockets begin to fall. We moved in with her.”

Though it was almost a year ago that she had left her country, she has not forgotten the explosions and the fires that followed. She says she will never forget the madness she witnessed.

Safe now thanks to a U.S.-Ukrainian foreign student exchange program, she is attending classes in a nearby high school. Her host family thought it would do her some good “to talk to someone who knew her language and had spent time in Russia.”

My wife and I were pleased to have her as a guest at our home.

Her English, thank goodness, is far better than my Russian.

She told me she had heard so much about America and was eager to learn more. She believed that America was an extraordinary country filled with extraordinary talented people and was especially honored to be able to come here and attend school.

I told her that I had spent time in her country and played basketball the cities of Sverdlovsk and Dnepropetrovsk and Kiev. And I believe that her country and the Russian
people, like most Americans, are hard-working and peace-loving people.

“Then, why must we have wars. When will all this madness stop?”

Clearly, I couldn’t give her an answer.

I don’t think any human being could.

 

 ***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

Save