Shh! Are we alone? You sure? I don't wanna talk about Russian KGB when there's someone else around. The walls have ears, you know, and that was especially true in the Soviet Union, where the state wanted to be everywhere and follow everyone. The Big Brother is watching, remember?
Even today, KGB secret police is a "scarecrow" to Westerners. I can't blame you - we did a lot to create that image thanks to 70 years of Communist regime!
In the past, I was sure all those stories about KGB agents infiltrating nearly all levels of Western establishment were made up, but these days I'm not so sure.Every year, more and more historic facts get public, telling us how powerful that organization really was.
It's not surprising, because all the resources of the Soviet Union were available to KGB. In the West, people tend to limit the appetites of secret services (although they don't always succeed). In USSR ,however, the government made KGB a main instrument of oppression and was backing it in any way possible.
These days, the Russians aren't that afraid of the KGB, but in the past a mere mentioning of those three letters gave us goosebumps! Why? Because one could never return after paying them a visit, and trust me – going to court wouldn't really help you back then!
My parents remember the times when a phone call from KGB was like an invitation to "the chair", even if the reason was completely innocent. Well, there couldn't be a completely innocent reason, of course, but they could for example offer you to work for them. Now that's really an offer you couldn't refuse!
Former KGB headquarters (it's called "FSB" now)
Both my mom and my dad got such calls, thanks to their knowledge of foreign languages. They didn't even think about refusing the Big Brother, but lucky for them Russian KGB decided not to employ them at the end. Why? God knows, but this was the kind of a job you would dream never to get!
Those guys followed every foreigner, tapped into phone conversations and even censored letters. Human rights? Oh, come on! I think they didn't even know such words! Humans may have rights, but you weren't human for them. You were a tiny asset of the system, expected to behave exactly as you were told, and you could never be sure you weren't being watched.
Yes, there were dozens of ways Russian KGB could control you. Hearing strange sounds during phone conversations? Be sure someone in the uniform is listening. Sending letters? Any of them could be checked. Mocking Brezhnev before your friends and colleagues? Welcome to hell!
There was even that special kind of people called "seksots". No, it had nothing to do with sex, it was the abbreviation for "sekretnyi sotrudnik", literally "secret employee", or part-time informer.
Those people weren't really in KGB ranks, but rather provided information in exchange for different benefits. Mostly they were required to spy after people around, and report anything that could be considered a threat to the state, including jokes.
Can you believe that back then you could get a jail sentence for telling a joke? Even I find it hard to grasp, but thousands and thousands of people were politically convicted even for completely innocent things!
However, even more disgusting was the fact that anyone of your friends, even those you considered close ones, could turn you over to KGB in exchange of new flat or career promotion. Heck, even some of your relatives could be "wired"! Those times, it was considered perfectly normal to work as "seksot", and it's hard to say how many there actually were. Could be tens or even hundreds of thousands.
I remember once there was that American music video featuring Soviet Union. It didn't pretend to be serious and rather was picturing all the cliches about Russia there were. At some point, you could see a couple kissing on a sofa, and a KGB microphone slowly moving down from the ceiling. It looked funny to me then, but now I understand that not everything you see in American movies is a fiction!
So what does KGB stand for? In Russian, it sounds as "Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti", or "The Committee of State Security" (pronounced "Ka-Ge-Be"). Nah, the English version sucks – I like Russian abbreviation better, it's sounds freaky and threatening!
I remember once me and my parents visited France (for the fist time in our lives we were in Western Europe). Anyways, there was that board game, probably French version of "Monopoly". So, the field that's called "Jail" in American version was called "KGB" in French one. We were so shocked – we didn't even think someone knows this word outside of the Soviet Union! Turns out they knew and, as I said before – Soviet Union did a lot to promote that "brand"!
If we're talking organizational values, I guess slogan from "Transformers" says it all. When one of the evil robots turned into police car, you could see "To Punish and Enslave" emblem pictured on its door. Comrade Dzerzhinsky couldn't say it better...
If you think that Russian KGB was only spying after Russians – think again, because foreigners were no less harassed by it. As soon as you passed passport control in Sheremetyevo airport, you were assigned a "guide" that would follow your every move, like in North Korea today. The guide would then accompany you during your entire stay, and make sure you weren't contacting any "undesired elements".
Come in, comrade, make yourself at home...
(by Kristian F)
Come in, comrade, make yourself at home...
You could not approach and talk to Soviet citizens unless that was specifically approved, you couldn't picture anything but Moscow sights – and you couldn't even dream of running away from your supervisors to get some fresh air! All you could was patiently wait until you're back in the airport, where the "guides" would finally leave you alone.
Talk about Russian hospitality!
By the way, Soviet citizens going abroad were also assigned such "guides". Those plainclothes "comrades" would make sure people weren't planning to "emigrate" all of a sudden, and weren't buying too much into the capitalist propaganda.
People were assigned a fixed amount of money (I don't remember the sum, but it was negligent), and had to carefully plan what they could buy.
Needless to say, the accompanying Russian KGB comrades were often allowing themselves much more than the average Soviet "tourists" did, buying expensive drinks, food and souvenirs, and bringing it all back to USSR without any problems.
However, even *before* you left Soviet Union, you were briefed by the KGB instructors on how to behave abroad. For example, people were told to always walk in groups and not to accept any gifts. Any relations with foreigners were frowned upon - unless the KGB was interested in them.
Now that's what I call "extreme tourism"!
In short - KGB was a monster, and I'm surely glad it's gone! I remember how Dzerzhinsky monument was dismounted on Lubianka. It was a real celebration, a victory of Russian democracy. KGB was a symbol of Soviet regime, of lies and oppression, the root of all evil - and boy people were glad they got rid of it!
Things are calmer these days. Russian KGB is now known as "FSB", or "Federal Security Bureau". Can't say its HQ looks more pleasant, but at least you can walk around "Lubianskaia" square without feeling a "stare in the back".
Up until recently, we had "KGB" president who hampered the freedoms in Russia. Still, things are not even close to what they used to be. I guess it's just hard to let go of the Soviet legacy, but we'll gradually do this.
I think one day I'll have hard time telling my grandchildren how it used to be. First, they won't believe me and second - I'll barely remember myself. Soviet Union is quickly becoming a history, although we encounter temporary setbacks here and there.
...so go buy mugs and badges while they're still around
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