One Day at a Time - Day 24 of 36
The following is from my journal account of my 5 week trip in Europe and Russia in May of 1976, 32 years ago. This is the first entry since Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s death that I’m not writing something related to him to honor his memory. However, I will continue to write about the country of Russia he longed for while he was safely in the U.S. in 1976. If Solzhenitsyn had been permited to return at that time, he might have seen some of the same things I observed:
We came back from Vladimir on train and then went to the Tretychou Gallery and saw a lot of beautiful Russian painter’s work. A lot of portraits of the aristocracy were shown of the 17 and 18 century. They were all high quality and I guess I was surprised because a lot of Renaissance styles were seen and yet I’ve never heard of these Russian masters. Olga, our guide, told us many tales and stories related to the pictures which I want to look up more on.
Mike Spangler, the chaplain of Protestant churches here in Moscow, spoke to our group. According to him, Soviets only permit American chaplains into the country, in 1933 Roosevelt wrote for his army who wanted freedom of religion. 1962, the Protestants sent over a chaplain, after the Roman Catholics did it. Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Episcopal and Lutherans of America represent the Protestant faith here. No church to speak of, and this was the only Sunday School in the Soviet Union.
Under the age of 18, no religious instruction is permitted. He [Spangler] deals with foreigners, counseling; it’s a lonely place. Lots of pressure here for the diplomats. He works with university students who are exchange students, its tough for them with prejudice and harassment especially for blacks. Things are fairly stable for the existing structure of the Russian Orthodox church. There might even be a chance that the state will return to the church when they are busy with trying to influence the Mid-East Asian Islam countries.
Question was asked: “What persecution is experienced by the student who is known to go to worship?” Especially at university level meaning an automatic dismissal at an academic level. He [Spangler] spoke of the Soviets being a war damaged people and that they may be cold and uncaring because of the great influx of foreigners who travel through and also being that the population is of 7.8 million. He spoke also of the Hero Mother who will be manufacturing 10-15 children since the USSR has “0” population growth and in order to be a majority among the other republics. He also mentioned that the wife often must hold down 2 jobs while the husband has only 1 or half of one as he is either out with the other men drinking and getting drunk in the bars.
At our Soviet meeting, however, we had heard Vitaly say that there was no real alcoholic problem in the Union that he was aware of. But I must say, I saw three fallen or groveling drunks on the sidewalks and smelled vodka on many a passing person at subways and busses. The very clothes people wore were dour, drab and dreary; there were mostly babushkas with old women under them all over Moscow. Where are the people my age? People like Olga, there were only men my age around in their military uniforms of green. More about Soviet people later.