Skip to main content

Morning In Moscow

April 2023
1min read

In June 1986 I was a foreign observer at the Eighth Congress of the Union of Soviet Writers in Moscow. I had visited the Soviet Union several times before, mostly to lecture on behalf of the U.S. State Department, and when the invitation came, I was of two minds about accepting it. My experience of Soviet functions had ranged from boring to terminally depressing: officials making self-congratulatory speeches, “voting” unanimously to elect hand-picked candidates, and a general feeling for the foreigner of being watched all the time. What persuaded me to go was that I was turning over in my mind the possibility of writing what turned out to be my novel Chernobyl, and it seemed a good chance to do some preliminary research.

The first day of the congress was just as predictable and lackluster as I had expected. The second day, though, was different. One after another, Soviet writers got up and spoke out on such questions as censorship, the refusal to publish writers like Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn, the ways in which state projects were destroying the environment, corruption, and fraud in union elections—saying all the things that, now and then, a few Soviet citizens might have dared to whisper in private, behind their hands, but were now saying out loud and in public. I had never encountered anything like it. My translator had been urging me to leave early to attend an opera performance at the Bolshoi, but I couldn’t tear myself away—nor, it turned out after a while, could she, because she was as astonished at what was going on as I was. The whole congress came to a head when it was time to elect the new officers of the union. Then, for almost the first time in any union congress in the USSR, the election became a real contest, and when the votes were counted, the writers had deposed many of the old bureaucrats and replaced them with reformers.

I had never heard the words perestroika and glasnost until then, and this was one of the first times that either concept was put into practice. They both have gone much farther since, but that was where, for many people, they began.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "December 1989"

Authored by: John Steele Gordon

In 1820 their daily existence was practically medieval; thirty years later many of them were living the modern life

Authored by: John F. Mariani

A restaurant critic who’s a food historian and the fortunate recipient of an Italian grandmother’s cooking follows the course of America’s favorite ethnic fare in its rise from spaghetti and a red checked tablecloth to carpaccio and fine bone china

Authored by: The Editors

A Biography

Authored by: The Editors

The Pride

Authored by: Stephen Shields

An American soldier would never forget encountering the German with an icy smile. He would later discover that the blood of innocent millions dripped from Eichman's manicured hands

Featured Articles

The world’s most prominent actress risked her career by standing up to one of Hollywood’s mega-studios, proving that behind the beauty was also a very savvy businesswoman. 

Rarely has the full story been told about how a famed botanist, a pioneering female journalist, and First Lady Helen Taft battled reluctant bureaucrats to bring Japanese cherry trees to Washington. 

Often thought to have been a weak president, Carter was strong-willed in doing what he thought was right, regardless of expediency or the political fallout.

Why have thousands of U.S. banks failed over the years? The answers are in our history and politics.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.