The Friends of Peter Ustinov

Letter From Moscow

"Peter Ustinov's Russia" has been making the rounds of Public Broadcasting television stations with a timely plug for Mikhail Gorbachev and glasnost, and raising the hair on the back of my neck.

The British-born comedian, author, and mimic confesses, with the shrug of a sophisticated actor, that his series is not the complete story. It does not, in fact, mention the Gulag or the contribution of prisoners' labor to the Soviet economy. Ustinov explains that there is enough unfriendly propaganda from others, so he has confined himself to a cheerful message.

Peter Ustinov's Russia is a land of genius, especially musical and literary genius, where no one is threatened, but rather, minority groups are protected from enemies like the Turks. He selects the Georgians and Armenians as examples rather than the Ukranians, Baltic nations, Uzbeks, etc. It is a merry land of fabulous circus clowns and ballerinas, where children have their own restaurants and theaters.

He interviews the shades of Russia's great authors, but he does not mention that today's Tolstoys, Dostoyevskys and Chekovs have been forced out of the country, like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sinyavsky, and Vladimir Bukovsky (whose propaganda Ustinov is refuting).

Ustinov says his whole point is to show that "you can, really, have a Russian for a friend." Well, what can possibly be wrong with that? Surely...

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