"The following is a complete, unedited, unverified interview, portions of which were utilized in the Red Files PBS broadcast. Statements therein are the sole opinion of the interviewee, and do not reflect the views of PBS, DDE or Series and Web Site producer Abamedia, which are not Responsible for the interview content."


Interview with Tatiana Vorontsova
Housewife and Former Young Pioneer

Tatiana Vorontsova being interviewed for the filmInterviewer: What did you think of the Pioneers, and why were you proud?

Tatiana Vorontsova: Everyone wanted to be in the Pioneers, including me. I was ten when I joined, in the third class. There was an acceptance celebration, and we bought pioneer ties for it. When mama brought the ties home, we just looked at them -- at last we were pioneers! Then we went to school. At school on that day there was a triumphal line corresponding to it. People came to congratulate us children that were already pioneers. There were about twenty people in the class. At the beginning only the distinguished pupils were chosen, the merited ones. Then people started to reach out for it, to study harder, linked to the fact that they would get in. Then the pioneer leaders came, they took the ties. In front of each of the future pioneers stood an older pioneer who hung the tie around our necks. We felt so good. We were happy; we were congratulated. Then we went home, and our parents laid out a meal. People already told you, "You are a pioneer." You carried responsibility, you were not just a schoolgirl, you are a pioneer. What did we do when we became pioneers? We helped older people; we collected some kind of paper, helped children.

Lena: Why were you proud of the ties?

Tatiana as a young girl in the PioneersTatiana Vorontsova: The tie itself was red, a red tie. I liked that fact that I had a tie that I was distinguished, walking around not just a girl or a boy. Once you had the tie you had well, pride, it was like a flag. It's like when a flag flies. When you see the Olympics, and they start to raise your flag, you feel proud. That pride is what we felt as children, you felt; you've got the tie.

Lena: What did you think about Pavlik Morozov?

Tatiana Vorontsova: When I was at school they told us that there was a boy called Pavlik Morozov. It was in the 4th class, they told us this story. That Pavlik Morozov was the son of a "kulak". Then there began a struggle to take grain and other things from the "kulaks," that they had obtained through all their lives, they started to take these things away from them. Pavlik Morozov went to the head Soviet and said, "They are collecting grain but my dad is not giving his grain, because he's hidden it." So they went and took the grain and took away his father. Then the "kulaks" proclaimed him, Pavlik Morozov, an enemy. In the end they caught him, Pavlik Morozov and killed him. So he died like a hero. We of course would also have liked to be heroes, and at that time if I had been in the same situation, and my father had done something against the Soviet state, of course, I would simply have gone and reported him, just like that.

Lena: Did the pioneers exist in a sense as a way of controlling you?

Tatiana Vorontsova: Now many years have gone by and I start to think about it, and I come to the conclusion that the Pioneer Organization did, of course, gather all the children, and we were all the same, completely the same. Now I think no, that was not it at all. That the government needed us there, how do I explain? I don't know how to explain it. For the government it was advantageous to have us all think the same, act the same way. It was easier to control us, too. If we did something wrong they discussed your behavior at Pioneer meetings, and you were punished. So everyone wanted to be good. Why would you want to be bad? So we were all the same. I think that the Pioneer organization was like propaganda for the young.

Lena: What about the nuclear threat?

Tatiana Vorontsova: Starting from school days, they told us that there could be a nuclear war. They showed us films at school so that we at least had an idea of what this was. They showed us the film, and we came and watched it and were very frightened when we saw the mushroom after the blast. They told us that the bomb had been in Japan, and it was also frightening. Then they started to give us lessons, telling us where to hide, where to run to in the school. We did practices. There was a cellar, if, for example, there was a nuclear war, we would have to hide in the cellar. It was a specially built room where nothing could threaten us. To say who was the enemy, we didn't have it concretely written anywhere that it was America that someone was coming to get us. But, since it was the Americans who had done it in Japan, we, with our children's minds, what were we supposed to think? Only Americans could drop the bomb. So Americans for us at the time were not very decent people; they were enemies. From our earliest years we did not want there to be a war. So we used all our strength to make sure there was not a war. So we thought, let life be bad, let us not have many clothes, let us not have enough food, as long as we don't have war. From 15-years old I already felt responsible. Nobody wanted war, not me, not my friends and acquaintances, no one wanted war.

At first, it was interesting to see the newsreels, Journal, it was called. They played them before films. You would see this big globe, on the globe appeared the words "Soviet Union". It was all loud and melodious. There was a narrator who said things like, "Here in the Soviet Union we've got going a power station," for example. Everything was great. Always the best was told, the best always. We were proud, we were happy that in our country everything was going well; everything was good.

Then suddenly at the end they'd say that, "In the United States," for example, "people are starving" and, there was a strike somewhere, and something else somewhere else, but it was all bad. So there everything was bad, but we had it all good. We went to the movies. I watched it and was especially proud that in my country, my homeland, everything was good and everything was great.

Interviewer: What did they tell you about western lifestyles?

Tatiana Vorontsova: They told us that in the West young people danced a very ugly way of dancing, and we should not dance that way. They wore these very narrow trousers, and we were forbidden to wear them. In some cases it happened among people. I know if a young person wore those trousers, police came and simply cut them off, police or at school; well at school, they didn't let us wear them. At dances we were free, and if those western dances started we called the dancers "Stilyagi". So we used to dance keeping the "Pioneer distance" partner from partner. But they moved more freely, which was simply forbidden. It was considered bad. Bad with whom I don't know, but bad. I wanted to be good, so I didn't dance those kind of dances.

I wanted to simply study hard, and be a good student, to prepare myself to be a good person. We had a phrase: study like Lenin told us, study and study again. They only talked about that. However, if we had danced, I know great people who did dance, and they remember this and laugh. It was fine; they turned out to be good people. So if I think about it, those dances didn't do any harm.

Interviewer: Did you see newsreels about Americans in Vietnam? What did you think?

Tatiana Vorontsova: There were stories. War in any sense is bad. It was sad for people, of course. We thought that the Americans started this war just because they wanted to fight, and that's it.

Interviewer: What did you think about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan?

Tatiana Vorontsova: I thought that the war that started with Afghanistan was very bad. It was of no use to anyone involved, not to us, not to them. They were leading their lives there, and we just marched in there. I don't know why, I am just ashamed that our men went into Afghanistan. I am personally ashamed. Because our young men died, for ten years, people died. And who died but the young? A boy/man who has just left his mother, who does not have any education, nothing, who still doesn't have an understanding for life, and this man goes to war? He doesn't need the war; his mother and his wife don't need the war. I think that the war was very bad, and I am ashamed.

Interviewer: What was Soviet propaganda telling you about Afghanistan?

Tatiana Vorontsova: I am not a competent person in that area, but it seems to me that they did not tell us much of the truth.

Interviewer: What did they say?

Tatiana Vorontsova: Officially they said that they asked for our help, and that we had to help them, and our government agreed to help them.

Interviewer: Did you think propaganda was everywhere? Did they feed it to you?

Tatiana Vorontsova: What did they feed us? They said a lot. That we had to be afraid of everything, we should not speak to foreigners, that if we spoke to foreigners, it would end badly.

In all our life, wherever we went, whatever we did, propaganda was everywhere.

Interviewer: What was propaganda for? What were its main themes?

Tatiana Vorontsova: If all of us were told the same thing then we would be closer in spirit. Because of this it was comfortable. Propaganda was to control people. If someone started to think differently, they could immediately pluck him out.

Interviewer: How do you feel looking back, about propaganda?

Tatiana Vorontsova: I don't even want to look back at my life. Because they led us, yes, they led me. They said turn left and I turned left. They said to the right, I turned right. I practically didn't have my own brain. If I let out a thought, I was afraid that I would be punished for that thought.

Lena: So it was as if we lived in a forest. Where they led us we went. All our life in a dark forest.

Interviewer: All your life what do you remember about propaganda?

Tatiana Vorontsova: Looking back on my life I think that propaganda was very bad for me. Only now that we are free, do I realize that the Americans, French and English, are all good people. Of course there are bad people, but everyone wants peace. They don't have to scare us with this propaganda. They don't have to play us against each other. We would at least live. I would like for there to be no propaganda, for every person to decide for himself what he needs. I am ashamed because we spent our whole lives afraid we were practically afraid of ourselves. I am not afraid now, as I was then.

Interviewer: What were you ashamed of?

Tatiana Vorontsova: We were always so proud of our motherland, that we had the best of everything. We ended up with the worst of everything in the end, not needed by anybody. That's what I'm ashamed of.

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