Deaf in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics: "Defect" and the New Soviet Person, 1917-1991
This thesis examines the history of the deaf in the Soviet Union. The disability on Soviet programmes of identity and the fashioning of a Soviet subjectivity and selfhood. Deaf individuals adopted Soviet values, to find their place within Soviet society.
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Gesture needed to develop its own particular character: ?Every creative collective must have such a Їface?. And it is precisely the repertoire that defines the Їface? of a theatre."115 For Sofievna, this question of repertoire was intimately connected to the form of deaf theatre: ?We must find a repertoire that will best correspond to the expressive tools of our ?mute" theatre, [and] that would become its Їsoul?." Yet in focusing on the ?substance of the play", Sofievna articulated one of the central preoccupations of deaf theatre collectives: what kinds of plays were considered suitable for deaf theatres to perform?
Whilst theatre specialists were discussing the relative merits of mime and sign, a parallel discussion was being conducted on the content of deaf theatre, which likewise formed part of the general move to ?perfect and professionalise" in the wake of the foundation of the Theatre Studio. Reviewing the results of the 1954-5 All-Russian Review of Amateur Art in the first issue of the newly founded Zhizn" glukhikh, Labunskii asserted that ?creative success depends on the correct, considered choice of play", lamenting ?how much strength has been wasted on overcoming the poor quality of other roles, of authorial mistakes and other such
flaws in unfortunately chosen plays!"116 In order to avoid such mistakes in the future, the Theatre sought to provide guidance for local groups on the ?correct" way to choose a play. In its first year, the Theatre began to compile a list of ?recommended plays, poems and prose works" to be used in the work of amateur theatre collectives.117 In its role as a ?methodological resource", Zhizn" glukhikh published articles detailing the process of selecting a repertoire. One such article from 1964 drew on Sofievna"s idea of the ?face" of the Theatre: ?Its Їface? is action, movement, silent show [bezmolvnyi pokaz]. Consequently, it is necessary to look for plays that are rich in action, in which dialogue does not predominate."118 Alongside such considerations, this article identified a set of central issues: ideology, artistic merit, a variety of genres and the ?transition from the simple to the complex". Those searching for plays were referred to the book, The Amateur Art Library, and the magazines The Young Stage and Theatre.
As a result of such strong guidance, a general uniformity of repertoire emerged, with amateur theatre collectives tending to echo the repertoire of the Theatre. By the opening of the professional Theatre, there were five plays in its repertoire: D. T.
Lenskii"s Lev Gurych Sinichkin, Shakespeare"s Twelfth Night, I. S. Shur"s Factory Lads, A. N. Ostrovskii"s Artists and Admirers, and Goratov"s Youth of the Fathers
(Iunost" otsov). This balance between established classics and socialist-realist plays was repeated in the All-Russian Reviews of Amateur Art: the 1961 Review saw
Factory Lads and Youth of the Fathers taking the ?leading role" amongst amateur groups, with classics such as Gogol"s The Marriage and Schiller"s Perfidy and Love also widely performed.119 By 1964, the Theatre had added A. N. Afinogenov"s socialist-realist classic Mashen"ka, the mime production People Lived, based on
Gor"kii"s short stories, and the children"s play Cinderella, to its repertoire. These plays again found favour with amateur groups in the following years.120
This echoing of repertoire choices demonstrated a strong central influence on the work of local theatre collectives. Although articles and methodological writings
stressed the importance of collective decision-making in the choice of play, local directors were encouraged to bow to the superior knowledge of local theatre professionals: ?It is important to secure the help of the House of People"s Creativity and the department of the All-Russian Theatrical Society, which will give consultations on the choice of repertoire and lists of recommended plays."121 This centralised guidance, however, appears to have been the result of demands ?from below" rather than imposition ?from above". A desire for help and advice in all areas of cultural work pervaded the articles in Zhizn" glukhikh in this period. In an interview from 1960, Vasilisa Timofeevna Militsion, a mass-cultural activist from
Voronezh, demanded ?consultation": ?The newspaper must become a desktop manager for cultural work. It must be our adviser, our friend, showing us the best leading experience of cultural work."122 This need for advice was perceived to be even greater in the case of theatre: according to L. Remizova, an amateur actor from
Kalinin, ?we need an objective assessment of our work, based not on personal taste and the partiality of managers, but on the rules of art, aesthetics, ideological considerations."123 ?Professional, methodological management" was needed in order to achieve an ideal performance.
In these letters and articles, it becomes clear that, for deaf actors, there was perceived to be a ?correct" form of art, based on aesthetic rules and ideological considerations, to which they should aspire in their amateur performances. This desire to conform to a central, canonical ideal appears somewhat anachronistic within the artistic framework of the late 1950s and early 60s. According to Susan Costanzo, amateur theatre groups in this period engaged in a practice reminiscent of Michel de
Certeau"s concept of ?making do" (bricolage), in which they ?sought to change some of the Їrules of the game?" whilst conforming to the dominant cultural framework.124
The repertoires of these theatres, Costanzo argues, ?were diverse and did not replicate plays in local professional troupes", and they allowed amateur groups to establish an alternative notion of art that ?helped undermine the hegemony of
socialist realism".125 It is perhaps surprising that, given the strong traditions of
?making do" in deaf approaches to art, and the strength of the cultural identity of ?silent" or sign-language theatre, the ?hegemony of socialist realism" does not seem to have been challenged in this period: on the contrary, both central and amateur theatres sought to reinforce its presence on the stage.
This contradiction can be partially explained by the role attributed to theatre and art within the deaf community. Reports on the work of the Theatre cited the 1963 plenum of the CC KPSS ?On the immediate tasks of the ideological work of the party", which emphasised the importance of theatres in forming the ?new man". The inclusion of deaf individuals in the ?transition to communism" and the ?education of the man of the future", central concepts during the Khrushchev period, was considered ultimately achievable, and as such, the decrees of the Party were wholeheartedly embraced by VOG. Given the central role of the theatre in the cultural-educational work of the society, the need to choose the most ideologically suitable plays was considered vitally important if the deaf were to fully achieve integration into the cultural identity of the broader Soviet collective. In an echo of the debates on mime, repertoire was seen as a key to this drive for inclusion: ?A play or stage work of any genre must answer communist ideology, serve the goal of the communist education of people. We don"t need non-ideological things - only
Їhumorous? or Їinteresting?. They merely waste the creative charge [zariad] of the collective."126 This desire to see theatre as a tool to advance the Soviet project can be seen even in discussions of mime: according to an article by Sofieva, Marcel
Marceau"s performance of David and Goliath ?shows the victory of reason and the purity of the soul over the swaggering and stupid brute physical strength, reminiscent of the fascist military", and as such ?can serve as a visual champion of the ideas of democracy, the fight for peace and communist ideology".127
In their choice of repertoire, therefore, and their emphasis on ?artistic truth" and ?realism", deaf theatre sought to situate itself firmly within the canon of socialist-realist drama. Within those parameters, preferred plays tended to focus on the
realities of byt, or everyday life. Significantly, however, it was the everyday life of the Soviet people in general, and not of the deaf in particular, that was given room on the stage. Plays about the deaf did not feature in any article or report for this period: although a competition was suggested in the late 1950s to find an author to write a play about the ?lives and everyday experiences of deaf mutes" (zhizn" i byt glukhonemykh), this project was never realised.128 Instead, the plays chosen represented socialist-realist theatre at its most formulaic.
The boundary between the acceptable and the unacceptable in deaf theatrical content can perhaps best be illustrated by examining the contrasting reception of two plays from this period: the socialist-realist classic Mash"enka and the contemporary play
Shadow Boxing. Mashen"ka, from ?the quill of one of the greatest Soviet dramatists",
A. N. Afinogenov, was premiered by the Theatre in February 1964.129 According to a letter sent to the VOG chairman Sutiagin by M. A. Izdon, the deputy manager of the Theatre, Mashen"ka tells the story of the fifteen-year-old eponymous heroine, who is sent by her ?shallow, thoughtless" mother to live with her grandfather, the old professor Okaemov. Okaemov initially sees the girl as intruding in the peace and order of his scholarly life, but is gradually won over by Mashen"ka"s ?purity and vulnerability". Helping her through her first heartbreak, Okaemov"s life ?takes on new meaning and both he and his quiet home become unthinkable without the sound of young voices within them".130 This last phrase alone, with its emphasis on sound, highlighted the fact that this play was not representative of deaf experience. Despite this, this play became a staple of both professional and amateur deaf theatre, taking a central place in the Theatre"s tour repertoire from 1965.131
That is not to say, however, that experiments in new, non-canonical theatre were never attempted by the deaf. In 1967, a new play Shadow Boxing (Boi s Ten"iu), by the young contemporary playwright Valerii Tur, was premiered by the Theatre of Sign and Gesture. Yet in their overwhelmingly negative response to this play, the journalists and readers of Zhizn" glukhikh reinforced the parameters of what was
considered good ?deaf theatre". The play"s main storyline deals with the inner turmoil of a geologist, Victor Semenov, who, during an expedition to the taiga, inadvertently causes the death of one of his workers. Upon realising his guilt, he chooses to remain silent and to pass sentence on himself, renouncing his job, his social position, his wife and friends to become a rootless tramp. He lives like this for three years, before discovering that the worker is alive and well, and that his torment has been for nothing. This play, therefore, obliquely dealt with the ?dilemmas of de-
Stalinization" inherent in the thaw: that is, how to confront trauma and deal with personal guilt for the crimes of the past.132 Yet the play"s review in Zhizn" glukhikh refused to engage with these issues, rejecting it for its failure to ?spiritually enrich" the audience.133
In part, this was a result of a disjunction between form and content. The play"s artistic message stemmed from its title, Shadow Boxing, an obvious boxing metaphor. Its significance was explained in the play"s script; one of the characters states that ?in boxing there"s a term, shadow boxing. That"s when a boxer fights with an imaginary opponent; that is, with himself. And believe me, there is no harder opponent".134 The play thus dealt with the inner torment of a character at war with himself. Yet the play"s heavy reliance on dialogue meant that the reviewer, S.
Valerin, completely missed the phrase that explained this concept, and thus failed to understand the play. For Valerin, this dependence on dialogue, the tendency to ?tell" rather than to ?show", as well as the heavy use of allegory that did not easily translate into sign, made the play almost inaccessible to deaf viewers. By far the strongest criticism, however, was directed at the play"s characters, which did not seem to correspond to the expected typology of socialist-realist plays. In an unprecedented move on the part of Zhizn" glukhikh, the review was accompanied by viewers" letters, which added the voices of the ?deaf masses" to the criticisms of the reviewer. An engineer, signing himself Besfamil"nyi (Anonymous), commented that ?the character of Starover [a wise old fool who counsels the main character] is unclear to me. Why is he needed in the play? And why does his backward philosophy have an
influence on the hero?"135 Similarly, a pensioner, S. Lychkina, stated confusedly that
?in his actions, Ivanov is a scoundrel, a coward. But the artist A. Kolomenskii plays him so sympathetically, that you don"t feel hatred towards him. Is that right, an anti-hero and suddenly so charming?"136 The lack of a clear ideological message was thus rejected by both reviewer and audience: the concluding paragraph of the official review stated that ?the collective must take into account the experience of the staging of Shadow Boxing, think over the methodology of the work one more time, in order to strengthen the ideological-aesthetic influence on viewers".137
Whilst the form of deaf theatre was experimental and innovative, therefore, and sought to situate deaf theatrical expression within the realms of high culture and art, its content perpetuated the somewhat conservative artistic ideals of socialist realism. In doing so, deaf artists and directors sought to generate and reinforce a particularly Soviet selfhood that the mainstream theatrical tradition had already begun to question. These two identities were not considered contradictory, however: in performing the classics of socialist realism on the stage, deaf artists asserted an ideal of the deaf as equal and participating members of the Soviet collective, and sought to make this ideal a reality through the educative power of theatre. In seeking to reject social as well as cultural marginality, the conservative content of deaf theatre thus demonstrated the same striving towards inclusion. In this respect, the utopian notion of socialist realism, that of portraying ?reality in its revolutionary development", found a second incarnation on the deaf stage.
The contrast between form and content in the case of the Theatre of Sign and Gesture demonstrated the problems and ambiguities of cultural engagement in this period. Whilst the impetus to create a deaf theatre, and the engagement with experimental and avant-garde forms, would attest to the relative cultural freedoms of
the thaw period, the desire of the deaf community to find inclusion within the broader Soviet collective both constrained and directed this engagement. Far from being caught between ?reform" and ?reaction", however, deaf theatre showed that the experimentation and innovation in culture promoted under Khrushchev did not preclude an engagement with Sovietness. On the contrary, for those involved with the Theatre, the turn towards high art and the recognition by deaf individuals of their own cultural potential represented a strain of utopianism intimately intertwined with Soviet ideas of cultural progress.
As such, deaf theatre shows that this period was not just about de-Stalinization, but also about the re-launch of the Soviet project and the rediscovery of the ?utopian dreams" of an idealised socialist society.138 Far from challenging the nature of socialist realism, in their theatrical experimentation, the deaf sought to enact it. This symbiosis of experimental forms and socialist content is perhaps best illustrated by a scene from People Lived, the deaf mime production from 1963, which became emblematic of the ?essence" of deaf theatre. The hero, Danko, is trying to lead his people through the forest to escape enemies who wish to enslave them. The forest is dark, and the people become angry that Danko is leading them into danger. ?And suddenly he ripped open his chest and from it ripped out his heart, and raised it high above his head... It blazed as brightly as the sun and brighter... And then suddenly the forest parted, and the people immediately plunged into a sea of sunlight and clean air, washed by the rain."139 This scene, which was used as the epigraph to a brochure celebrating the work of the Theatre, demonstrated both the intense emotional power of the silent gesture, and the ability of theatre to show the way to a brighter future in communism.
5. Cold War in the Deaf Community
Deaf Students of the Zlatoust Industrial School
Propaganda Brochure, 1963
On 28th September 1958, in VOG organisations across the RSFSR, a programme of lectures, theatre performances and social events was held to celebrate the first International Day of the Deaf.1 In an article produced for publication in the central newspaper Trud (Labour), the chairman of VOG, Pavel Kirillovich Sutiagin
explained that the purpose of this international event was to ?attract the attention of the organs of government and the society of various countries to the improvement of the social position of deaf-mutes and deaf people, whose number, according to the figures of the World Federation [of the Deaf], has reached thirty-two million".
Members of the international deaf community, Sutiagin argued, were united in their desire ?to be full-fledged members of society". Yet he drew a sharp distinction between the experience of deaf people in the ?socialist camp", who lived a ?full-blooded life" (polnokrovnaia zhizn"), and deaf people in ?capitalist countries", who were ?hindered in their receipt of the most elementary education", unable to find work and thus forced to rely on charity which ?debased their human worth". 2
Sutiagin"s article encapsulated the many contradictions that attended the Soviet deaf community"s entry onto the world stage in the mid-1950s. This period saw the tentative beginnings of an international deaf movement, driven by the newly-founded World Federation of the Deaf, which sought to unite the deaf as a group to lobby for civil rights and social rehabilitation. This ideal of an international deaf community was undermined, however, by the very real political tensions between individual nations in the context of the Cold War. The political rhetoric of the Cold War not only influenced the interactions between national groups, but also shaped, in opposition, how national deaf organisations framed their own conceptions of deafness.
This chapter examines how this awareness of political geography informed the activities of VOG in the international arena. From the mid-1950s, deaf individuals from the Soviet Union came into contact with foreign deaf people and foreign experiences of deafness on a variety of levels: as delegates of the meetings and congresses of the World Federation of the Deaf, as members of tourist groups and sporting teams. This contact allowed them to refine their own views of Soviet (and socialist) deafness in the light of their experiences of the ?capitalist West". Similarly, the emergence of an international deaf community provoked a wave of Soviet deaf propaganda, in which narratives of the Soviet deaf experience were constructed to persuade the deaf in the West and the developing world of the superiority of the
socialist experience. These narratives were directed towards the wider world, but their construction provoked new ways of looking at the self within the Soviet deaf community. Whilst the notion of the deaf as active and ?useful" citizens was stressed, this very agency was undercut by a new representative idea: that of the deaf as passive objects of the beneficence and welfare of the generous Soviet state.
This chapter thus deals with the construction of a narrative of Soviet deaf selfhood: one that was directed at the world at large, but that also revealed much about how the Soviet deaf community was encouraged to understand its own experience. In this respect, it deals more with rhetorical narratives and representations than with the
?lived reality" of the deaf community in this period. This is in part a question of sources: VOG internal documents ceased to be filed systematically in the mid-1960s, and the archive file was closed in 1972. Although some documents after this date have been retained by the Society, the majority have been lost. It is particularly difficult, therefore, to get underneath these propaganda narratives and assess the accuracy of their claims. This is not to suggest that these narratives were in some way ?false", however. Stories of equal opportunity and agency were borne out of the experience of deaf individuals throughout the Soviet period. Similarly, the growing predominance of notions of passivity and welfare was propelled by broader institutional trends shaping the deaf community as it moved towards the 1970s. The developing influence of science in the understanding and treatment of deafness, along with the growing bureaucratisation of VOG, saw the deaf increasingly objectified in the eyes of social-welfare administrations. Whilst it is not possible to trace the complexities of individual deaf experience, these shifting narratives nonetheless shed light on the rhetorical construction of the Soviet deaf as a distinct social group in this period, and reveal how international and institutional pressures shaped and directed this construction. The shifts in this rhetoric, from the agency and activity of the deaf community, to its passivity in the context of propaganda narratives and institutional frameworks, are the central focus of this chapter.
Encountering the Foreign "Other"
VOG and its members took their first tentative steps into the international arena in August 1955, when a delegation comprising the chairman of VOG P. K. Sutiagin, the RSFSR"s Deputy Minister of Social Welfare M. T. Tsvetovaia and the Ukrainian
Minister of Social Welfare F. A. Anachenko attended the II International Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf in Zagreb.3 During the proceedings of the Congress, VOG was admitted as a member of the World Federation, and Sutiagin, as its representative, was elected as one of the four vice-presidents of the governing Bureau. Over the following decades, VOG became a keen participant in the workings of the Federation, sending delegations to the quadrennial International Congress, contributing papers and speeches to the meetings of the General Assembly, actively promoting the International Day of the Deaf in local deaf organisations and, in 1962, hosting an ordinary meeting of the Bureau in Leningrad.4
The World Federation of the Deaf was a young international organisation, formed in Rome in 1951 on the initiative of members of the Ente Nazionale Sordomuti (ENS), the Italian national deaf organisation.5 Cesare Magarotto, the first General Secretary of the Federation, described its foundation as a response to the ?tragedy" of the Second World War, in the aftermath of which, those ?mutilated by nature and by the atavistic faults of society" could ?easily, in the name of their mutual sacrifice, cross all borders, hearing only their fraternity".6 As such, the Federation mirrored the idealistic internationalism of other post-war organisations such as the United Nations and the World Health Organisation, bodies with which the Federation sought to establish close ties. United by ?faith and love" (a recurring trope in the speeches of the International Congress), the deaf and hard of hearing could come together as
?silent brothers" and lobby their respective governments to improve their lot.7 The
Federation"s Statute declared its aim to be the ?social rehabilitation of the deaf", achieved through international action: collecting data on the status of the deaf in different countries, studying this data in international meetings, organising exchanges of specialists in the field of deaf education and rehabilitation, and defending the civil rights of deaf people worldwide.8 Through such action, according to Magarotto, the Federation would become the ?common patrimony of all the deaf of the world".9
The World Federation of the Deaf sought, therefore, to establish an international deaf community, and with it an internationally accepted approach to the social rehabilitation of deaf people, based on scientific data and reasoned debate. Yet the
Federation"s internationalism, as it was experienced by its members, was far from uncomplicated. At its inception, the Federation counted eleven countries as official delegates, alongside twelve ?observers".10 By the V International Congress in 1967, that number had risen to 34, with over 3,000 individual participants.11 For those VOG delegates attending the International Congresses, meetings of the Bureau and General Assembly, the Federation represented their first contact with the deaf of other nationalities and with the ?many ways to be deaf" experienced worldwide.12
These experiences of foreign ?otherness" were not confined to the official meetings of the Federation. In the corridors of the International Congresses, delegates of different nationalities met and talked (through translators) about the nature of their own societies and life experiences. The host cities for Federation events took delegates on tours of their deaf schools, clubs and workplaces, and often organised meetings with politicians and civil servants responsible for serving the needs of the deaf. From 1957, VOG sent teams of sportsmen to the International Games for the
Deaf, a quadrennial event organised by the International Deaf Sporting Committee. Furthermore, on the basis of links established within the Federation, independent exchanges of groups of deaf people from different countries became commonplace.
In the official report of VOG"s activities from 1959-62, for example, a new section
?International Links" recorded seven tours abroad by deaf people, including a 3-person delegation to the III International Congress in Wiesbaden, a team of 39 sportsmen to the IX International Games in Helsinki, and tourist trips to the GDR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary.13
In the 1950s and 1960s, therefore, the deaf began to experience the foreign ?other" through personal contact and trips abroad. This shift reflected broader trends in Soviet society: according to Anne Gorsuch, an explosion of foreign travel under
Khrushchev allowed Soviet citizens to ?see the foreign" and as such to explore ?Khrushchevian constructs of nation, of self and of other". 14 This ?deaf tourism" was not a uniform experience: deaf individuals travelled abroad for a number of distinct purposes, as members of sporting teams, official delegations and tourist groups.15
Yet in each instance, Soviet deaf people met with, observed and experienced the lives of deaf people in other countries, and used these experiences to construct a narrative of the nature of deafness abroad. This first-hand experience was not open to all: delegations to the World Federation of the Deaf and to other international scientific conferences were typically made up of members of VOG"s Central
Directorate and other government departments; participation in the International
Games was dependent on sporting prowess; and the number of ordinary VOG members able to travel abroad was limited. In 1961, for example, no tourist trips abroad were organised by VOG, and letters requesting permission to travel abroad were rejected by the Central Directorate.16 Yet despite its limited nature, this tourism was a significant factor in the development of narratives of deaf identity in the Khrushchev period. Mediated through official reports to the deaf society and through a particular genre of ?travel diary" article (putevoi dnevnik) common in the magazine
Zhizn" glukhikh, awareness of deafness abroad helped to shape understandings of the nature of deafness in the Soviet Union.
These sources - journalism and trip reports - demonstrate the ways in which experiences of international difference by Soviet deaf travellers were codified and explained. By their nature they are problematic: as Gorsuch has pointed out, official reports of travel were ?far from private", and thus did not necessarily accurately reflect ?experience" as such.17 The travel diary article, in particular, became a fixed genre in Zhizn" glukhikh during the 1960s, in which detailed explanations of the lives of deaf people in the country concerned were bracketed by descriptions of travel in technologically superior Soviet aircraft and trains. More personal or revealing sources, such as diaries or travel journals, which break with these official narratives and allow the historian access to the individual experiences and reflections of the deaf traveller, have yet to be found. However, for the ?armchair traveller", whose access to abroad was confined to reports and articles read in deaf magazines, the interpretations placed on foreign experiences were as significant as the experiences themselves. From reading these sources, it becomes clear that the dominant interpretation placed on experiences of deafness abroad was that of international politics, and in particular the geographical divisions of the developing Cold War. Foreign experiences of deafness were viewed according to their geographical
?camps": the capitalist West, socialist Eastern Europe, and the developing world.
The mapping of Cold War politics onto the international deaf community was not merely a matter of Soviet interpretation. From the outset, the workings of the World
Federation of the Deaf had been strongly influenced by international politics. Both the ?socialist" and ?capitalist" nations used the international meetings and the workings of the Federation to advance their respective political ideologies. For example, sustained pressure from the West German delegation, in the form of the refusal of financial support, delayed the acceptance of the Union of the Deaf of the GDR into the Federation for several years, and persuaded the Bureau to hold the III International Congress in Wiesbaden, West Germany, rather than in Berlin, as had been originally planned.18 In London, during a 1963 meeting of the Bureau, an argument broke out between the Spanish delegate, Marroken, and the Polish representative, Petrikovich, over the ?evident sympathy" displayed by General
Secretary Magarotto towards Russia.19 Equally, during the V International Congress, Sutiagin used his speeches to the General Assembly to preach nuclear disarmament, and to protest against the American intervention in Vietnam, claiming that ?without peace on Earth, it is impossible to hope to improve the lives of the deaf".20 Political divisions were further exacerbated by the institutional structure of the Federation. To ease its administrative burden, the Bureau had created six Regional Secretariats. One of these, the Regional Secretariat for Eastern Europe and Asia, which included the
RSFSR, Poland, the GDR, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and the People"s Republic of
China, was described in a letter of protest by Magarotto in 1958 as a potential ?bloc of communist countries" and a threat to the integrity of the Federation.21
Although it was rare for overt political gestures to distract from the business of the Federation, the shadow of political division led the Soviet delegation, at least, to explain the differences between the experiences of deaf people in terms of the nature of their national political systems (stroi). In the West, the widespread difficulties faced by deaf individuals in getting an education, finding work and achieving civil rights - problems which formed the basis of discussions in World Federation
meetings - were interpreted as a natural corollary of the capitalist system, in which the welfare of the individual is subordinate to the demands of capital. A report by Sutiagin to the VOG Central Directorate explained that ?The II International
Congress noted the social inequality of deaf-mutes in the world […] In the conditions of capitalist countries, the activities of [deaf] societies can only temporarily evoke sympathy towards deaf-mutes from the side of the ruling classes, in the best case donations, but cannot fundamentally change the position of the deaf, let alone rehabilitate them with civil rights". By contrast, the positive experience of deaf people in socialist countries was due to the fact that ?the needs of deaf-mutes are resolved, not in isolation, but in connection with the general raising of the material and cultural levels of the workers [trudiashchiisia]". 22
These descriptions of the nature of capitalist and socialist societies clearly conformed to dominant Soviet ideological narratives of ?us" and ?them". In the
Khrushchev era, experiences of the Western (and predominantly American) ?other" were interpreted in terms of a clash between the consumerist well-being of capitalism and the ?social safeguards" and welfare of socialism.23 This ideological dichotomy was reinforced by World Federation reports and the personal experiences of deaf travellers. In these accounts, usually written by VOG delegates to international conferences, the dominant narrative of Western deaf experience was that of widespread unemployment, due to the limited availability of education for deaf people and the unwillingness of hearing employers to take on deaf workers. In 1963, an article on the IV International Congress in Stockholm in Zhizn" glukhikh reported that, according to the representatives of capitalist countries, ?deaf people experience great difficulties in entering work. For equal work with the hearing they do not receive equal pay. The movement of qualified deaf people to more lucrative positions is much hindered".24 Personal accounts of visits to Western countries supported this narrative still further. Describing a trip to Paris in 1964, M. Sharapov told of severe difficulties in finding work, even for hearing people, an insight
gleaned apparently through conversations with taxi drivers whilst travelling through
Paris. As a result, ?deaf adolescents, upon finishing school, where they have trained for a profession, are forced to work either in their parents" businesses or look for seasonal work". The general impression of hardship was vividly evoked: in their travels around Paris, the visitors noticed ?how badly dressed and downtrodden people sat or stood with outstretched hands, or with hats lying on the ground, into which passers-by threw a few centimes". 25 The notion of foreign deaf people as recipients of degrading charity was repeated in an article on London by I. Tsukerman, which showed a picture of a collection box for the Greater London Fund for the Blind and explained that similar collection boxes for the deaf were placed around the city. ?Only rarely do passers-by throw money into these moneyboxes",
Tsukerman observed in conclusion.26
Soviet experiences of the West, despite their common tropes, were not uniform or straightforward. Reductive accounts of Western poverty were challenged by the vast difference between the experience of Europe, mired in post-war reconstruction, and the relative abundance of 1960s America. In 1965, Sutiagin visited Gallaudet College, the American university for the deaf in Washington D.C., shortly after its 100th anniversary celebrations. Sutiagin described the campus facilities with clear admiration: ?The College has a library with 150,000 volumes, a film library with educational films, including some in sign language, a reading room, canteen, male and female dormitories, a club and sporting facilities."27 He wrote of the established system of education, carried out ?in parallel" in spoken language and sign, and of the wide range of subjects on offer. The abundance of money available for deaf people in America, not only at Gallaudet, but in their dealings with international bodies, was clearly a point of some concern for VOG members in the 1960s. In a report on international links from 1963, Sutiagin set out the extent of American spending, concluding that, ?if we add to this that the X International Sporting Games, taking place in Washington in 1965, will be subsidised [provodiatsia na l"gotnykh usloviakh] (full maintenance of one sportsman with travel in both directions for 150 American dollars, that is less than 20 per cent of the actual costs), then the
propagandistic goals of this expenditure becomes clear. This circumstance, and also the widely-advertised acceptance of Kennedy by the leaders of the USA [deaf] society, and his agreement to be honorary chairman of the X Sporting games, undoubtedly arouses the sympathies of the participants".28
If American spending was a sore point for VOG members, it was not allowed to complicate the portrayal of capitalist hardship. In Sutiagin"s report, the impressive nature of the work done at Gallaudet was nonetheless marred by the divisions and inequalities common to all capitalist societies: ?From conversations with students of the college it became clear that the price of an education at the college is 1500 American dollars per year. It is unsurprising that less than one per cent of deaf
Americans study at the college."29 In a similar manner, education in London and France was described as accessible to the very few, through either family wealth or rare charitable bursary: ?In France, with its population of fifty million, there are only four state educational establishments for deaf children, with approximately 1,500 places. Only children of well-to-do parents study there. These schools are inaccessible to poor people [bedniaki], as it is necessary to pay at least 120 francs per month for the maintenance of one child."30 In London, the influence of religious charities on deaf education was noted: ?special education exists generally on the donations of individuals."31 Furthermore, the example of Gallaudet was called upon to emphasise the limits placed on American deaf individuals in their choice of profession. By virtue of being a deaf-only institution, Gallaudet was seen to offer an
?education […] limited to those professions [deemed] accessible to the deaf".32 As a result of such limits, Sutiagin argued, ?the capitalists do not recognise the ability of deaf people to work in mechanised industry and on lathes and machines. Discrimination against the deaf is strengthened by the fact that the majority of them are unqualified".33
Significant in these accounts of the West was the picture painted of the organisation of educational, professional and cultural services for the deaf. In stark contrast to the centralised nature of VOG, Western deaf organisations were portrayed as fragmented and hence unable to coordinate the necessary measures to improve the situation of deaf people. Meeting with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) in
Washington, Sutiagin noted that its leaders ?live in different states", and that the
Association had no apparatus or headquarters. This lack of centralisation was seen to impact heavily on the nature of provision for the deaf. For example, according to Sutiagin, only 29 states had sign-language consultants, thus making work with the deaf more difficult. Likewise, the lack of coordination with state administrations had a negative effect. Recounting his conversations with Gallaudet students, he noted that ?these simple Americans lamented with bitterness how little is still being done for the deaf in the USA. The federal government and state governments have still not resolved the most important problems of deafness. Special schools are in acute need of teachers. Over half of children cannot receive a profession due to a lack of vocational schools". In France, Sharapov likewise noted that ?there is no register of deaf children, and therefore no system to serve them", and that without a centralised system of work placement, ?deaf people must find work themselves".34
Narratives of Western deaf experiences thus focused on discrimination and lack of opportunity, with the positive impact of education and technology undermined by its limited availability to a narrow elite of deaf people. In highlighting the failures of organisation, and the lack of provision for the deaf, these articles drew implicit links with the immediate history of Soviet deaf people, on their struggle to establish a society and to organise themselves and their lives effectively. This use of Soviet deaf history to contextualise foreign experiences of deafness can be traced throughout these accounts. In a brief article under the rubric ?In Capitalist Countries ?(V stranakh kapitala), an unknown author played on the symbol of the deaf postcard-seller: ?Not long ago, some Soviet tourists visited the United States of America. At the port of New York, one of them was handed a card. On it was written: ЇTo the public: kindly pardon my interruption - I am deaf and trying to earn my honest living by selling these alphabet cards. Give what you can … please. Thank you.?"
The significance of this moment for the capitalist system was spelled out: ?The man sells them so as not to die of hunger, to get a piece of bread. There you have it, the true face of the Їfree? world."35 For the Soviet deaf community, the historic figure of the deaf postcard-seller had become potently symbolic of their progress since the revolution, representing the pre-revolutionary, ?backward" deaf, who, through labour and education, had become enlightened, Soviet deaf individuals. Articles like these thus played on a memory of personal and collective transformation. In this way, Western deaf experience was placed within a Marxist historical teleology: the
?before" to the Soviet Union"s progressive ?after".36
In their narration of the West, therefore, Soviet deaf travellers explained the experience of Western deaf people in terms of their social system. As such, despite the impact of Cold War rhetoric, deaf people in capitalist countries were configured as victims of the enemy, rather than enemies themselves.37 Articles referred to
Western deaf individuals as ?friends" and ?colleagues". Accounts of the World
Federation talked of friendships established over successive Congresses, and described ?friendly conversations between our delegates and the delegates of other countries" in the corridors between meetings.38 Indeed, over the 1960s, longstanding working relationships were established between VOG members and representatives
of Western deaf societies, such as Suzanne Lavaud, the French representative to the Bureau of the WFD who organised exchanges between France and the RSFSR.39 By virtue of being downtrodden by the ?capitalist system" (kapitalisticheskii stroi), the deaf of the world were seen to be united, in a manner reminiscent of descriptions of the international proletariat of the 1920s (?the deaf of all countries, unite!).40 The division of capitalist and socialist, West and East, therefore, was between national systems, rather than deaf people themselves. Western deaf people, it was stressed,
?feel a sincere friendship towards the Soviet people", from whom they were divided only by social circumstance.41
If Western deaf people were configured as ?friends" and ?colleagues", the deaf of socialist countries were ?brothers". Whilst trips to the West were rare and limited to events such as the International Congress, deaf tourism within Eastern Europe was a much more widespread and democratic phenomenon. During the late 1950s and 1960s, groups of deaf people from all over the RSFSR established exchanges with their socialist counterparts to the east of the Iron Curtain. Accounts of such trips played up the familial nature of these exchanges: whereas tales of journeys to the West emphasised the alien sensation of travel in a strange land (delegates stranded at airports, held up at passport control and unable to use public transport due to a lack of the correct currency), journeys to Eastern Europe were marked by the friendliness of travel companions and the large deaf reception committees waiting on station platforms, holding bouquets of flowers.42 Such trips usually followed a similar pattern: after being met from the train by members of the local deaf society, the Russian travellers would be shown around local deaf clubs, labour enterprises and schools, where they would stop and chat with deaf pupils and workers. Alongside this ?deaf tour", travellers would also visit the local sights and familiarise themselves with locations associated with the history of the Soviet Union, often linked in some way to the life of Lenin.
Marked by a tone of familiarity and friendliness, accounts of trips to Eastern Europe made much of ad hoc personal encounters with socialist deaf individuals. During a tourist trip to Bulgaria, for example, Mikhail Abramov, a VOG chairman from Kursk, was hailed in the street by Stoian Dimitrov, a deaf worker from Tarnova. Having heard of the visit by the Soviet tourists, Dimitrov had jumped on his motorcycle and travelled fifty kilometres, ?despite the inclement weather", to meet them at the Shipka Mountain Pass. ?His eyes shone with such sincere, simple-hearted joy as he eagerly shook our hands, expressing his greetings!" noted Abramov. ?He may have been seeing us for the first time, but it was enough for him to know that we were his Soviet brothers."43 This brotherly feeling was experienced both in Eastern Europe itself, and also during encounters at International Congresses, where
?members of delegations from the People"s Democracies - Poles, Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Czechs - with whom we are constantly in contact, gave us friendly smiles".44 Deaf individuals from socialist countries, it seems, were always thrilled to meet members of the Soviet deaf community.
This brotherly bond between socialist deaf individuals was interpreted as a result of the similarity in attitudes and approaches to deafness within socialist countries. Articles and reports on the experience of deafness in Eastern Europe emphasised certain socialist commonalities in the treatment of deaf individuals. Equal rights and equal pay, and a centralised deaf society which focused on developing education, work placement and cultural-enlightenment work, were presented as universal norms in the lives of the socialist deaf. Abramov, for example, described a trip to a boarding school for the deaf in Romania, during which ?young deaf men and women vied with each other to ask about the life and studies of deaf people in the Soviet Union, and again and again interrupted our explanations with the joyful exclamation:
ЇJust like here! [Sovsem kak u nas!]?."45 Encounters with deaf pupils and workers reinforced the superiority of these norms: the differentiated approach to education in Bulgaria, for example, enabled each child to be given personal attention, resulting in the ?thorough preparation of pupils".46 Deaf enterprises in Yugoslavia, viewed during
a visit by VOG representatives in 1967, were in the process of relocating from their scattered workshops to a centralised location, in order to make their work easier and to enable closer ties to deaf schools.47 The Polish deaf newspaper Њwiat gіychych, in a similar manner to Zhizn" glukhykh, ?reflected the problems that interested people with hearing defects, and attempted to accustom them to social life".48
Above all, these accounts of socialist deafness underlined the independence and self-worth of the socialist deaf individual: a free choice of profession and a universally accessible system of education and training enabled individuals to ?find their own place in life".49 This emphasis on personal inclination and pride in one"s profession stood in stark contrast to tales of the limited opportunities open to deaf people in the West. Alongside individual fulfilment, the particular social identity of the deaf community, and especially the tendency of deaf people ?amongst themselves [to] prefer [to communicate in] colloquial sign language", both at work and at leisure, was also celebrated and encouraged.50 As in the Soviet Union, deaf social activities, in clubs and interest circles (kruzhki) allowed the development of cultured tastes and habits, and a striving towards artistic creativity.51 Theatre, in particular, was a common feature of deaf social life in Eastern Europe.52 The life of the socialist deaf, therefore, was narrated in terms of a common striving for individual and collective fulfilment, and the ?all-round development" of the socialist deaf personality.
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