USSR 1977

I kept my eye on the bearded stranger as he wandered, with some other foreigners, through Red Square on a wet late afternoon in September. They had the same tame adventures foreigners often have in Moscow. First, they tried to cross a road at the wrong place: lots of aggressive whistling was directed at them by nearby traffic policemen. They crossed eventually and walked the length of the Kremlin walls, stopping to stare at Lenin’s mausoleum and to marvel at the gaudy spires of St Basil’s Cathedral.

In the next incident, they came up against two drunks in the middle of the square; two of the hidden policemen came to arrest them and I, though I wasn’t in uniform, went to help until they stopped resisting. These drunks will get the usual treatment: cold shower, the anti-alcoholism film, a shaved head (so everyone knows) and a month’s pay suspended against better behaviour.

Then two young men went up to the little group of foreigners. They probably asked for chewing gum. When that didn’t work I could see them pointing at the bearded stranger’s belt buckle: they would be offering to swap it for a Red Army buckle.

It was getting dark now and, happily, the foreigners turned back to walk to their hotel. I don’t know whether they ever spotted me, turning away to light a cigarette whenever they stopped perhaps, but as a secret policeman it was my job to follow them and make sure they did nothing against the interests of Soviet Union.