In the case of Konstantin Simis, his wife Dina Kaminskaya, and their son, Dimitri, the Soviet Union's loss is Simon and Schuster's gain. Today this family of emigres, all three of whom were once upper-middle-class professionals living in Moscow, is something of a Washington subsidiary of Simon and Schuster: each of the trio is completing a book for that publisher. And the results should provide Americans with an inside glimpse of Soviet life, including portraits of hitherto hidden Soviet millionaires, whom Konstantin Simis calls "underground businessmen."
Several years ago Konstantin worked as a researcher at Moscow's Institute of Soviet Legislation as a specialist in comparative law, contrasting Soviet law with that of other countries such as the United States.But in 1976 KGB agents searched his apartment and discovered a 400-page manuscript intended for future publication abroad. The work was critical of the Soviet regime; he lost his job and was investigated for writing anti-Soviet propaganda.
Until 1970, his wife, Dina Kaminskaya, was also a Moscow lawyer whose specialty was defending such well-known Soviet dissidents as Vladimir Bukovsky. That was not the safest career choice to make in the Soviet Union; she was eventually denied clearance for access to secret files, thus halting her ability to work as a defense attorney in political cases. She had to content herself with consulting on cases, including that of dissident Anatoly Scharansky.
By November of 1977 Konstantin says harassment by secret police -- because of the couple's friendship with Jews refused permission to emigrate as well as American and French foreign correspondents -- became so unbearable that they emigrated to the United States where they joined their son, then a specialist in Soviet-American affairs at Georgetown University's Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"It's not a story of immigration," says Konstantin, "it's a story of exile.
We did not want to leave our country."
Their son, Dimitri Simes (immigration officials decided that was the way to spell his surname), had left Moscow in 1973, at the age of 25, because he felt constrained working at the Moscow equivalent of Washington's Brookings Institution.
"In the Soviet Union, you can be an honest bricklayer," says Dimitri. "Perhaps you can be an honest attorney. But I had difficulty being an honest international observer."
He felt he could not make accurate foreign relations assessments without conflicting with his country's official view of the world. As a Jew, he was granted permission to emigrate, and today Dimitri is a Soviet relations specialist at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies. His well-enunciated views of America's relations with his homeland -- most recently in an essay in Foreign Policy magazine -- have sometimes irritated other emigres and hard-line Americans who prefer to portray the Soviet Union as a power-hungry, predatory bear. Simes contends the Soviet Union is "essentially another superpower looking for a place under the sun, as uncomfortable as that may be to some Americans.
"The Soviet Union is simultaneously conservative and assertive, led by nasty but inept men, sometimes very petty in their instincts but at the same time prudent and sober. They're an unattractive group of people, but there's a difference between unattractive and reckless. And reckless they're not."
His book, tentatively called The Return of the Russian Empire , will examine the rise of the Soviet Union in the last half of this century. His parents' books, on the other hand, are less theoretical. His mother's book will describe her experiences in Soviet courts, including a look at some of the dissidents she defended and the KGB investigators she worked with. ("In some cases," she says, "the good guys won.") Konstantin's book, with the working title of The USSR: The Land of Kleptocracy, will be a study of corruption in the Soviet Union, including government corruption and the underbelly of the economy which Konstantin says includes some 10,000 little-known millionaires who do business underground.
Can anyone in the family foresee circumstances that would permit a return to the Soviet Union?
"If tomorrow Scharansky became president of the Soviet Union," Dimitri says dryly, "I might ask for an assignment to cover his inauguration."