Kremlin crams Olympic stands with Army, police
Vivid scenes and sharp contrasts crowd in on each other as communism plays host to world sport -- and politics keeps intruding. Runner Steve Ovett, one-time art student from the British coastal resort of Brighton, had just defeated Sebastian Coe, slim world record holder in the 800 -meter race, in the huge, colorful Lenin Stadium. The crowd's attention was riveted on an Italian girl trying to break her own world record in the high jump.
My eye fell on the very front row of seats below me, beyond which the red running track began. At first glance, it seemed that sports fans were sitting there in bright blue track suits and white summer caps.
Through my binoculars, however, a very different picture sprang into focus: Although "Tallinn regatta's was printed on the gay white caps, all the track-suited figures were young men aged about 21. Each sat ramrod straight, shoulders squared. Each had short-cropped hair. And every fifth man -- in my section of seats, in the next, and the next, and on around the entire arena -- was a uniformed policeman.
They were Army troops, a human barrier between athletes and officials on the red track and the bright green infield and nameless dangers lurking among the 100,000 people in the stands.
When the final event had been run and the crowds began to leave the open-air stadium, I went back into the press stands to pick up my bag. It was like a Hollywood stage set -- thick, low, gray-black clouds, flaring banks of TV lights on 280-foot steel pillars, the bright green grass, the red track -- and uncharacteristically colorful for a Soviet scene.
As I moved down the aisle, a newly arrived American correspondent breathed: "Just look at that. . . ." In the front row of seats, every one of the blue-track-suited men, plus the police in every fifth slot, was standing with his back to the arena, watching the crowds leave.
But what really took my eye was the hundreds and hundreds of young men, dressed like the other spectators, who were not filing out of the stands.I hadn't noticed them before: They blended with the crowd.
Now, with the crowd leaving, they stayed, like dark pebbles left by a receding tide, lining every major aisle from the front row at the bottom to the very back row at the top, all around the oval arena.
They were "drushniki" -- auxiliary police -- but without their customary red armbands. They were there to keep order, to watch and report. "There must be a thousand of them," said my awe-struck colleague. "Do you have a camera? That's the real picture we ought to take. . . ."
Neither of us had, so we both stood and stared at a remarkable, and revealing , sight.
The young men, many of them with the swarthy faces and black hair characteristic of Soviet Central Asian republics, and clearly brought in for the duration of the games, are part of what strikes Westerners here as the security overkill of the games.
I left the press stands, ran down the steps to the parking lots, and began to walk counterclockwise around the outside wall to my car. It was dark, and a steady wind whirled paper and plastic cups past my feet.
As I approached my car I became aware of a dark mass of people over against some-trees at the edge of the parking lot: Hundreds of gray-uniformed, white-capped police apparently waiting for buses back to their headquarters. Toward me marched a platoon of police -- six neat rows, three to a row, two officers in front, two behind.
All around the stadium, the massive security guard was being withdrawn for the night, leaving a smaller, but still sizable, contingent on duty under trees, in parking lots, beside walls -- in a city filled with tens of thousands of extra police and soldiers and plainclothes agents, and inside state borders guarded more strictly than perhaps any other country in the world.
As I drove slowly toward the embankment along the Moscow River to turn right to reach the gates of the Luzhniki complex (of which Lenin Stadium is the center), I passed more platoons -- this time of young Soviet guides and messengers, everyone wearing identical green T-shirts with a black Olympic design and green-and-white windbreaker jackets. These platoons were also marching, two boys to a row.
Outside Luzhniki, the embankment was deserted, in sharp contrast to its normal fishermen, strollers, taxis, trucks, and private cars. A policeman stood at every intersection, but the only cars on the road were mine and a Soviet Volga used by officials. A patrol of four police was taking the names of two hapless young people who had dared walk along the river at this Olympic Games time.
Radio Moscow in English crackled into the car. In its "Olympic report," the announcer proudly described Soviet medal winners, and how overseas tourists simply loved Moscow and praised to the skies its hospitality and its spirit of friendliness. immediately, the announcer switched to a news bulletin that told of racial protests in the United States, US "interference" in Afghanistan and Bolivia and Africa and the Middle East, and a catalog of other alleged US wrongdoings.
To Western readers of this article far away from Moscow and its brooding security scenes, all this may seem overstated. What, readers may ask, about the sporting side of the games? Haven't the Soviet hosts done anything right?
Yes, of course. The sports stadiums are up to and even beyond world class. Athletes report events are well organized. When asked (as I am frequently by Soviet officials) whether I liked the opening ceremonies on July 19, I reply that they were a magnificent spectacle. A tremendous effort has been made to house and feed and help press and tourists. Service is way above normal Moscow standards.
But in the Soviet Union, just 63 years after Lenin's revolution, everything is still politics. The men who run the party and the Kremlin don't spend precious resources without a clear political aim in mind. In the case of the games, that aim is boosting Soviet prestige and influence around the world.
To lose sight of that is to miss the underlying point of these Olympics. The Soviets want to impress, but the party has only one kind of approach to the outside world: hospitality (there is that here, in warm, human terms) overlaid by watchful suspicion -- a conviction born of insecurity and history that "they, out there" are trying to undermine the world's first Soviet state and "they" must be thwarted.