For Tatiana Mamonova to become an ardent feminist while living inside the Soviet Union, two conditions had to be met: she needed a passionate sense that Soviet society oppressed women and an opportunity to meet foreigners and read foreign feminist literature.
Mamonova had both, and the combination created a new kind of Soviet dissident activist. This new strain of nonconformity so alarmed the Soviet authorities that Mamonova and two other feminists from Leningrad were abruptly shipped out of their own country last month. For Mamonova it was involuntary exile.
Their expulsion occurred the very day the Olympics were opening in Moscow, a coincidence that was -- as the Soviets themselves like to say -- no coincidence. In her own words, Tatiana Mamonova had "grandiose plans" for exploiting the Olympiad. She hoped to use foreigners who came to the Soviet Union for the Games as a source of information on feminism abroad, and as conduits for information she and her colleagues would provide on feminist activities inside the Soviet Union.
This eagerness for foreign connections was characteristic of Mamonova's dissident activity. Indeed, the story of her feminism -- which bloomed into dissident activity only late last year -- is a lesson in the changes that contact with the outside world is bringing to Soviet society even as the political police succeed in stamping out the best-known political dissidents.
Mamonova and the other feminist activists had no direct connection to the dissidents who have attracted the most publicity during the last 15 years. They did not know Andrei Sakharov or Anatoly Scharansky, and in fact Mamonova said she does not endorse the positions of many better known dissidents in the Soviet Union. A lot of them are sexists, she believes, who are as afraid of assertive women as the Soviet authorities. Moreover, she finds many traditional dissidents "too negative."
Unconnected with the dissident community, the women lived in a world of their own making, albeit a world that depended heavily on occasional foreign connections.
The Leningrad feminists produced an unofficial journal that they called an almanac. They titled it "Woman and Russia," and they "published" two issues during the last seven months. That meant they assembled material from a number of writers and typed it all up in 10 individual copies for private distribution and retyping.
To Westerners who have been exposed for many years to the concerns of contemporary feminists, the articles in this underground almanac contain little that is new or startling. What is startling is to read the familiar points from Soviet women -- women whose government declares them officially liberated, but whose daily lives often incorporate the obligations of that "liberation" -- full-time jobs -- as well as traditional household duties.
The first issue of the almanac reached a feminist publishing house in Paris, Des Femmes, which speedily translated much of it into French and published it in its magazine. This sudden international fame transformed the Leningrad feminists from lonely figures to international celebrities, at least in their own eyes. It also transformed their relations with the Leningrad KGB, the political police force that is responsible for keeping track of nonconformist behavior.
Mamonova had been supporting herself, a husband and a young son by selling her own watercolor paintings. Most of her sales were to foreigners, particularly diplomats serving in foreign consulates in Leningrad.
The foreigners she met as an artist introduced Mamonova to new ideas and gave her foreign publications to read. (She reads French and German.) She said she discovered in French newspapers the Western-style feminist movement that began to interest her keenly. Her interest became known in Leningrad, she said, "and women began to come to me and ask, 'what is this feminism?' They didn't know what the world sexism meant."
Last fall the first edition of the almanac appeared in Leningrad. It was edited by Mamonova and two women who are both now in Vienna, Julia Voznesenskaya and Tatiana Goritcheva, and by a "collective" of other women, some of whom remain in the Soviet Union and hope to continue producing the journal. One enthusiastic participant in the project slipped a copy of the first edition to an American tourist in Leningrad, from whom Soviet customs retrieved it. This led to Mamonova's first encounter with the Leningrad KGB last November.
"They called me in and gave me warnings," she recalled here. "They talked about my son." The KGB also impressed her with its efficiency. The investigators had determined that she was a key editor of the almanac, although her name appeared in the journal only as the author of several poems.
In December the KGB called her in again this time with a stiffer warning that if another issue of the almanac appeared, she would be arrested.
After the translation of the almanac appeared in France, Mamonova had no further direct contact with the KGB. But her life changed. Police came to her neighbors in a large, communal apartment in Leningrad and asked them to keep an eye on Mamonova and her husband, Gennady Shikaryov. The KGB suggested that it was a bad idea for Mamonova to talk to France on the telephone that all residents in the apartment shared, and thereafter the neighbors would not let her receive international calls. The gray and black cars of the KGB began following her all around the city.
Under the pressure of the KGB, she adopted traditional dissident tactics.
She and her colleagues drafted an open appeal to "world opinion" and the Soviet leadership asking for greater respect for the provisions of the Helsinki accords that call for free exchange of ideas and individuals across international boundaries.
In the best Russian intellectual tradition, while this struggle with the authorities was continuing, Mamonova and her colleagues were quarreling among themselves about what course their new feminism should take. Voznesenskaya and Goritcheva, two of the almanac's original editors, favored tying the new feminism to Christianity, but Mamonova believed that "modern feminism and Christianity are incompatible." This disagreement led to a split. Voznesenskaya and Goritcheva left the almanac and established their own new underground journal, "Mary."
On July 10 the passport office telephoned to announce that "on July 13 you and your family will be leaving the country." It was a bolt from the blue. Mamonova said, for which she was totally unprepared. Her first reaction was to refuse to go.
A few days later her husband heard from the Soviet Army -- he would be called up on July 18 for three months of training. This raised the prospect that he might be sent to Afghanistan or even killed in an "accident," Mamonova said.
She convinced Shikaryov to leave. He first planned to take their son Philip to the West, and she would come later. Finally, on the 18th, she agreed to go with him, and on the 20th they departed.
It was no ordinary trip out of the Soviet Union. The authorities provided a private jet for Mamonova and her family, her former colleague Goritcheva and Natasha Malachovskaya, another activist and contributor to the almanac who had earlier applied to emigrate to Israel.
"They served us wine, black caviar and chocolate on the plane," Mamonova said with evident wonderment that such luxuries would be squandered on troublemakers.
Mamonova told her story in a tiny Vienna apartment provided to her by the Tolstoy Foundation, an organization that helps refugees from the Soviet Union here. She seemed relaxed about the sudden change in her life, and is waiting now for the necessary papers to move to France, where she plans to live and hopes to continue publishing the almanac, with help from those she left behind in Leningrad. She seemed quietly confident that the future would work out well.
"I had the most modest goals," Mamonova said. I simply wanted to tell Soviet women about the movement, and to give them a chance to express their opinions."
"And the movement will go on," she said. "The KGB has done some very good advertising for us." She left behind a substantial sum of money to finance the next issues of the journal, money earned from the watercolors she painted and her husband Shikaryov had carefully framed in Leningrad.
Her dream now, Mamonova said, is that the United Nations might take over sponsorship of her feminist journal. "I am a citizen of the world now," she said, and it made sense to her that the United Nations should be interested in supporting what the Soviet government could not tolerate.