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:
…guarantees freedom of religion, universal direct suffrage and the right to work.
…..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.
…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…
…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.”
Tom 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!