What a great idea: Interview some Russians who have come to live in America.
We love to hear the stories about people escaping over the Wall, fleeing the Iron Curtain, defecting to the Free World. Now finally someone has dropped the other shoe. "The Russians Are Here," tonight at 8 on Channel 26, finds some former Soviet citizens who have started over in New York and asks them what they think of their new lives.
Over the last decade, the Soviet Union has for one reason or another let go some 250,000 people, of whom 100,000 have settled in this country, and half of those in the East. New York has a full-scale community of them, with their own stores, newspapers and neighborhoods. They tend to stick together, to view even their own adopted city aboard tour buses with Russian guides.
This story tries to find out why.
If America offers freedom, the Soviet Union offers security. Apparently many of these emigrants thought they would get both here.
"So many people in Russia were dreaming of that freedom, they were repeating that word hundreds and hundreds of times," says Marina, a former Leningrad museum curator who started her own tour bus business in New York. "They didn't know what freedom was: freedom to go and look for a job, freedom to go and fight for your future, freedom to go and find something for the kids, freedom to decide what you're going to go and do tomorrow."
What another emigre' calls Homo Sovieticus, the Soviets' new creation, trained from childhood to obey orders gladly and to believe capitalism is a jungle, is hardly prepared for the hazards of independence.
They speak of "too much freedom." They don't understand the concept of law by mutual consent. Instinctively, in the midst of incredible material plenty, they try to set up black markets. Police liaison officers tell them that to get a driver's license all they need do is apply for a permit and take a test. They can't believe it. They buy forged Soviet licenses at exorbitant prices and try to talk their way past the law.
"The Russian is secure," Marina says. "Most get a position after college and hold it till the end of their days." And if they don't like it, they live with it. The idea of changing jobs is hardly known to them, as is the everyday give-and-take of a democracy. When they disapprove of an article in the local paper, an editor says, their reaction is not to write an opposing article but to try to close down the paper.
And the artists, the writers, the poets: No one tries to stop them . . . but no one helps them sell their work either.
"My possibilities are as limited here as in Russia," a writer says. "I actually miss the KGB: They paid attention to me. They were the first ones to read my manuscripts thoroughly. It was wonderful to have real attention."
The KGB, he adds, is as naive as the rest of them, for "if they knew how we'd be treated in the West, they'd have thrown us out long ago."
"The Russians Are Here," produced by Ofra Bikel, seems at first to be yet another of those earnest TV glimpses of yet another exotic minority. But it builds. It reveals many things about our system that we may no longer notice: the price we pay for our freedom from authority, the fact that nobody is responsible for you, that the state doesn't take care of you in the all-embracing way the Soviet state takes care of its own, that, for instance, free social services are by no means taken for granted here.
Emigre's speak of the indifference, the coldness of a people absorbed in getting ahead, the status based on money.
One is reminded that this easy word "freedom" that we hear so often is in fact a highly sophisticated way of life, requiring a level of education and inner-directedness that doesn't come automatically along with our humanity. "In Russia you don't have to fight, you don't have to struggle," someone observes.
A former carpenter who discovered a whole new world in the stock market--there is no banking system as we know it in the Soviet Union--remarks that America in effect has become the society that Karl Marx foresaw:
"What Russia has been fighting for for 60 years, America has achieved--and Americans don't even know it."
Truly, a thoughtful piece.