Under the ornate chandeliers and baroquely adorned columns of the Gold Room at the Russian Embassy, Georgi Isachenko, editor of Soviet Life, glanced into the unblinking eye of the Soviet television camera, and then drew back the flap of the chocolate-colored envelope that had been handed to him from a silver tray.
Far from the war in Afghanistan, 20 embassy funtionaries, subalterns and guests stood in respectful silence as the gray-haired journalist ceremoniously intoned the name of the first of two lucky Americans to win an all expenses paid 10-day trip for one to the summer Olympics in Moscow.
Alexander Montes of Houston, Tex., and Merat Bagha of Takoma, Wash., were the winners. They can go to see the grams, the Russian ballet and circus and "other fascinating attractions in the U.S.S.R." even if their country's athletes cannot.
The two men won a raffle inspired by an autumn subscription drive for "Soviet Life," a magazine that gives more than 35,000 Americans an agreeable dose of propaganda each month about the Soviet Union. Back in September, the magazine's editors wanted to promote relations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. as well as boost circulation. Then the first-prize trip to the 1980 summer Olympics seemed appropriate.
"The idea is to promote our magazine, and to promote understanding between the two countries," said editor Isachenko to the one American reporter dressed in a coffee-stained shirt, as flash bulbs popped an TV crews zoomed in on his notebook. "We announced our sweepstakes in September. cUnfortunately Mr. Carter did not tell us his [plan to boycott the Olympics] in advance."
After the ceremoney in which two alternates were selected in case Messrs. Montes and Bagha do not want a trip for one, the crowd grouped around a table of wine, vodka, and Ritz crackers decked with salami.
Soviet Life managing editor Felix Alexeyev said that since the Russian "entry into" Afghanistan, mail to the magazine had been running between 100 and 500 letters a month, not all of it hostile.
"It may be strange to you," he said, "but the majority of the letters are nice."
The procedure-minded Soviets refused to release the addresses of their winners until they could be verified as "paid subscribers."
The Soviet editors were confident, though, that their winners would accept the invitation for one, boycott or none.
"Its up to them," said Alexeyev, "but I would accept."
One of the alternates, Barlane Eichbaum, reached by phone in Reno, Nev., said he wouldn't go since the trip was only for one person and the American athletes would not compete.
"My main interest is in seeing Americans," sid Eichbaum, a 53-year-old engineer with the Bureau of Mines.
Eichbaum said the offer was tempting, especially since he had planned to take his wife to see the Olympics before Carter declared a boycott.
"I'm really conservative, but I'm not close-minded," Eichbaum said. "I would not relish our country being dictated to, but I don't know that much about Russia even though I wrote papers in high school about their five-year plans."
The sweepstakes netted Soviet Life editors 1,178 new subscribers.The magazine has been published since 1956 under a joint agreement with the United States, which publishes a similar propaganda sheet in the U.S.S.R. called "America."
The 98 other finalists, who were winnowed down by computer from more than 5,000 applicants, will receive Olympic commenorative pins, personal letters from Soviet champions, a "beautiful work of art from a Soviet craftsperson, "and the teddy bear "Misha," the Soviet Olympic mascot.
After a few shots of vodka, and snapshots of embassy officials with their arms around the smattering of women that had come for the announcement ceremony, the party broke up and the editors set off to pursue their lucky winners.