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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Despite such commonalities, the relationship of VOG to other socialist deaf communities was not an equal one. The ?brotherly bond" uniting socialist deaf communities had an implicit hierarchy, with VOG configured as an elder brother helping his younger siblings.53 In its relationship with deaf organisations in Eastern
Europe, VOG acted as methodological guide and benefactor, giving advice on the best way to organise and develop deaf societies, and providing young deaf organisations with donations to establish themselves.54 Articles in Zhizn" glukhikh emphasised the leading role of the Soviet Union in all aspects of life: an article on the deaf in Poland, for example, stressed that ?the Polish deaf are not just interested in individual facts, but also in the big questions facing Soviet deaf organisations, as the USSR, in all things, represents the Polish People"s Republic"s central example in the building of socialism".55
This explicit hierarchy was perhaps unsurprising: the events that had established socialism in Eastern Europe had almost all occurred after the Second World War, giving VOG a twenty-year head start in establishing the structures and ideals of socialist deaf organisation. Accounts of deaf organisations in Eastern Europe made much of the historical moments when ?bourgeois governments" were overthrown and the new socialist governments could begin to develop provision for the deaf. An article on the Bulgarian Union of the Deaf, for example, stated that ?only after 9th
September 1944, when power passed into the hands of the workers, did the people"s government begin in earnest to take care of their silent fellow citizens".56 Similarly, in Bucharest, the establishment of nursery and primary schools for the deaf only occurred ?after the liberation".57 From these moments of origin, the development of these new socialist societies was viewed by members of VOG as a source of some fascination. Zhizn" glukhikh regularly printed articles on the organisational structure and activities of socialist deaf societies, and any divergence from the Soviet model was invested with particular significance. The Czech and Polish deaf, for example, had their own social clubs, but were not united in a specific deaf society; instead, they were members of the general ?Union of Invalids". 58 In the GDR, deaf people
were not united into groups in the workplace, nor were they provided with sign-language translators, relying instead on lip-reading and speech. 59 Within the Soviet Union itself, deaf societies in Ukraine, Belorussia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania followed the model of VOG much more closely. Yet these organisational variations did not obscure the common socialist attitude to the deaf, who ?could, like any citizen of their motherland, build their bright future and actively fight for peace on
The deaf of Eastern Europe were thus placed in the same implicit teleology as the Western deaf. As citizens of socialist states, however nascent, Eastern European deaf individuals were one step closer to the exemplary quality of life achieved by the deaf in Soviet Russia. Yet whilst deaf individuals in the West were seen as passive victims of the capitalist order, socialist deaf individuals were portrayed as being enabled by the system to develop themselves and their communities to the utmost. This view of Eastern European deafness was thus somewhat paradoxical: although deaf people were still conceived as ?products of the system", that system was seen to give them agency, common purpose and individual self-worth.
In their accounts and responses to deaf experiences abroad, therefore, Soviet deaf people constructed a narrative of ?bourgeois" and ?socialist" approaches to deafness through the prism of Cold War politics. Whilst deeply concerned about the enticing power of America"s ostentatious spending, VOG members tempered that power with explanations of the deep divisions and inequalities present in capitalist society. Socialist states, on the other hand, were seen to put the welfare of their citizens before the considerations of wealth, allowing for the development of particular structures and attitudes which supported the agency and creativity of deaf individuals. These competing narratives combined to create an overwhelming impression of the superior quality of life experienced by Soviet deaf people.
That is not to say that these international contacts provoked no practical changes in the treatment of Soviet deaf people. One instance in which Soviet attitudes were
changed by international pressure was in the case of driving licences. From its inception, the WFD had made a cause-cйlиbre of its demands for driving licences for deaf people of all nationalities: the II International Congress had issued a resolution stating that the ?issuance of driving licences to the deaf should be made possible by special regulations taken by individual countries".61 This demand was taken up by members of VOG. In a 1957 article, Ia. Leimanis, a Latvian UPP director, argued that ?there are deaf-mutes who have 15-20 years" experience of Їillegally? driving motorcycles and cars. And not one of them has had a single accident", and accused the Ministry of Health of perpetrating ?an insult to the personality of every deaf-mute citizen of our country".62 Leimanis drew a direct comparison with the USA in particular, where ?they allow [the deaf] to take the driving test".63 As a result of pressure by central and local VOG organisations, in the early 1970s, the Ministries of Health and Internal Affairs introduced experimental courses, in cities and regions across the USSR, ?for deaf people to learn the rules of the road and to master automotive technology".64 The first of these, held in a driving school off Moscow"s
Old Arbat Street, saw nineteen eager students (including one young woman) learn basic driving skills.65 These experiments did not automatically result in the granting of driving licenses to the deaf: in 1974, the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced that ?due to the insufficient number of participants in the experiment, it was not possible to draw a definitive conclusion".66 Later in that year, however, the Ministry of Health published a decree ?On the Procedure of Medical Examination and
Clearance to Drive Automotive Transport of the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing", granting deaf people the right to drive cars and motorcycles.67
The fight for driving licenses was an unusual event; a tussle with the state which sat at odds with the Soviet narrative of equality and provision. Yet despite this contradiction, VOG members continued to emphasise the overwhelming superiority
of the Soviet system. In the international arena, the deaf were seen to be grappling to find solutions to problems that had long been solved in Soviet Russia. In the context of the Cold War, however, it was not enough for Soviet deaf people to believe in the innate superiority of their everyday experiences. This superiority also needed to be transmitted on the world stage. Within the WFD, the influence of the USA was to be counteracted, not only within the territory of Europe, but also within a new geo-political zone: that of the developing world.
By the early 1960s, members of the WFD had become increasingly concerned with the problem of deaf people in the post-colonial nations of Africa, Latin America and
Asia, establishing a ?Work-Group for the Help to the Deaf in Developing Countries [sic]" in 1963.68 By 1971, the issue had become central to the WFD"s activities, with the VI International Congress conducted under the slogan ?The Deaf in the
Developing World". According to Cesare Magarotto"s opening address to this
Congress, whilst great advances had been noted in education, scientific advancement and technology in Europe and North America, ?the situation in developing countries is still unsatisfactory". In Africa, he noted, only sixty schools for the deaf existed, serving less than 1.2 per cent of the infant deaf population.69 Thus, whilst countries in the developed world had established, if differing, attitudes and systems to deal with deafness, the deaf of the developing world remained a tabula rasa, on which competing views of deafness could fight for influence.
In comparison to the capitalist West and Eastern Europe, Soviet deaf people had very little contact with the deaf of the developing world in the 1950s and 1960s. Certainly, no tours of Soviet deaf people travelled to countries in this region. However, from the early 1960s, when countries such as Algeria and Uruguay began to join the World Federation of the Deaf, publications such as Zhizn" glukhikh began to describe encounters with deaf representatives of post-colonial countries. These accounts focused strongly on themes of poverty and disenfranchisement. For
example, a short article from behind the scenes at the IV International Congress in Stockholm described conversations with Algerian deaf people, who complained that
?in Algeria, no-one attends to the question of the education of the deaf. Literacy is the blessing of the very few". Similarly, deaf representatives from Argentina spoke of widespread unemployment, which often forced the deaf ?to ask for benefits or resort to charity". 70
It is clear that, behind the scenes, VOG was very much aware of its ability to compete with America and the West for influence in this region. From the early 1960s, VOG engaged in correspondence with several countries of the developing world, such as Uruguay and India. Letters in the archives from Indian deaf citizens asking for help and support from VOG demonstrate clearly that the deaf in India were more than aware of accounts of Soviet and socialist deafness, framing their requests in the rhetoric of labour and opportunity. A letter from a certain Mohinder Swarup Bhatnager, a hand-loom operative from Delhi, stated that ?there is not enough work in our country for Deaf and Dumb boys. I have heard that your country has enough work for Deaf and Dumb men. Please give me some work in your country so that I may be able to support my family". A similar letter from an Indian lawyer asked a number of questions about the nature of work for deaf people in the USSR, and of the possibility for Indian citizens to find employment or be educated there.71 In these cases, however, the response from VOG was particularly insensitive and starkly contradicted the narrative of universal provision and opportunity: writing to Bhatnager, Sutiagin refused his request for work, but offered to show him around the VOG enterprises if he came to the USSR as a tourist. 72 The Soviet narrative was thus not always consistent, and its occasional fractures demonstrated the limits of the
Soviet deaf community"s international ambitions. Despite these rare lapses, the need to maintain a presence in the developing world to counteract America"s wealth and charity was consistently stressed.73 In an internal VOG report from 1963, Sutiagin noted with concern that ?it may well be that, with the help of the WFD, the influence
of the USA can spread to the societies of Latin America, where at the present time work amongst the deaf is not yet organised".74
Despite their insistence that the World Federation of the Deaf ?strengthen[ed] the friendship between the deaf of the whole world", therefore, Soviet deaf people viewed international deafness in terms of stark ideological division. Accounts of the experience of deafness abroad established narratives of the capitalist West, whose technological and scientific advances could not make up for the inequalities of society, versus the socialist East, in which equality and prosperity allowed deaf people to overcome their handicap. Yet in the atmosphere of the World Federation, with its incipient internationalism, it was no longer enough for Soviet deaf people to feel secure in their own superiority of experience. In the new international deaf arena, Soviet deaf individuals needed to persuade others of that superiority.
Propagandising Soviet Deafness
In 1963, Sutiagin sent a report to the Department of Ideology and Propaganda of the
Central Committee of the Communist Party. In it, he proposed to ?activate the propaganda of the activities of the All-Russian Society of the Deaf via the distribution of informational-reference materials on VOG and the systematic publication of articles on the lives of the deaf in the Soviet Union in the Federation"s magazine ЇThe Voice of Silence?. It is necessary also to publish illustrated brochures or booklets on the All-Russian Society of the Deaf (if possible in foreign languages) to be sent to foreign countries".75 As a result, at the IV International Congress in Stockholm, the VOG delegation distributed a glossy, fifty page brochure entitled Of Those Who Cannot Hear.76 Written by Eduard Vartan"ian and Il"ia Gitlits, two staff writers from the magazine Zhizn" glukhikh, the brochure was translated into fluent, colloquial English, and accompanied by eighteen pages of black-and-white photographs, depicting Soviet deaf people at work and play.
Through detailed information and individual case studies, Of Those Who Cannot Hear established the foundational propaganda narrative of the Soviet experience of deafness. Focusing predominantly on VOG (with nods to the experience of societies in the other fourteen Soviet Republics), the brochure painted an overwhelmingly positive picture of life in the Soviet deaf community. From the moment of diagnosis, the reader was assured, Soviet deaf children were supported by comprehensive social, medical and educational systems that prepare them for ?lives of useful activity".77 Free and universal education, unrestricted access to labour training and the provision of jobs, and a full and creative social life were painted as the cornerstones of deaf experience in the Soviet Union. As a propaganda piece, the brochure was framed in response to the complexities of Cold War politics and the particular concerns raised by the World Federation. Yet in its construction of a narrative, Of Those Who Cannot Hear was just as revealing of the changes to the
Soviet deaf community"s own self-image in the 1960s. In its positive recounting of Soviet deaf experience, the brochure revealed a fundamental shift in the understanding of Soviet deafness: from notions of agency and activity, to passivity and welfare.
From its very first page, Of Those Who Cannot Hear highlighted the issue of equality. Whilst the World Federation continued to voice its concerns about the legal position of deaf people throughout the world, the Soviet deaf enjoyed both legal equality and equality of opportunity. In his introduction, Sutiagin made clear that
?the Soviet Government not only recognised the legal rights of deaf mutes, but also provided every facility for those rights to be realised [...] No discrimination in payment for work is allowed in the Soviet Union; the deaf are guaranteed equal pay for equal work like all other citizens".78 Alongside such legal safeguards, the brochure underlined the lack of limits placed on the personal ambitions of the deaf.
In the body of the brochure, the evocatively entitled section ?From ЇMama? to a
Master"s Degree" explained how, on leaving school, the deaf adolescent had the same variety of opportunity as the hearing: a choice of three hundred special subjects in higher education, or of thirty trades through the VOG system of UPPs. The Theatre of Sign and Gesture was held up as an example of this limitless opportunity:
?Tastes vary, and so do ambitions. What can the society do for the girl who wrote in saying she wants to become an actress? If she is really gifted, it can help her join the school training deaf actors for the Mime Theatre."79 The brochure also included case studies of successful deaf people in higher education, such as Vladimir Domrachev, deaf from the age of five, who worked as a lecturer at the Kazan" Aviation Institute, or Mikhail Scumakov, who won the Lenin Prize for his ground-breaking research into poliomyelitis.80
Of Those Who Cannot Hear thus emphasised that deaf people were just as capable as the hearing, and that VOG allowed that equality of potential to be realised. This level playing field was seen to work both ways; the authors make clear that ?to get into college […] the applicants must demonstrate, in stiff competition with other young people, that they have the necessary knowledge and ability. No concessions are made even to them".81 Yet this belief in the capabilities of deaf people opened up new areas of opportunity. In particular, the brochure stressed the ability of deaf people to use modern, automated machine tools. The issue of the ?professional rehabilitation of the deaf in conditions of technical progress" had been discussed at length in the run-up to the IV International Congress in Stockholm, and, in accounts of his 1965 visit to America, Sutiagin would highlight the distinction between the experience of the
Soviet Union and the West, where ?the capitalists do not recognise deaf people"s capability to work in mechanised industry and operate lathes and machines".82 By contrast, Vartan"ian and Gitlits pointed out, 88 per cent of the 570 deaf workers at the Cheliabinsk Tractor Plant operated automated machine tools, and ten years had passed without a single industrial accident. The chief engineer, Vladimir
Preobrazhenskii, was quoted as saying that, after the introduction of new machines,
?the deaf workers quickly mastered the new techniques". 83
In addition to stressing the equality of deaf people, the brochure underlined the power of VOG to provide for its deaf members. Sutiagin"s introduction referenced the financial might of the society: deaf members of UPPs, he wrote, ?manufacture articles which they sell, the proceeds of which go back to the deaf in the form of organisational, cultural and educational benefits, or in the form of new housing, in addition to the cultural and industrial premises built by the societies for their members" use. This year, the RSFSR Society alone has over 13 million roubles to distribute".84 The distribution of this money in the service of the deaf community - and pride about this accomplishment - was evident throughout the brochure. In a section on the UPP system, the reader was informed that VOG not only paid for the education itself, but ?also provides [students] with hostels, uniforms, free meals, grants, and, upon the completion of their training, with work in any one of its own seventy enterprises".85 Even in higher education, where ?no concessions" were made to the deaf, the authors stated that ?once they pass their entrance examinations, however, they will find everyone is ready to help them".86 This help was both material and academic: hostel accommodation and grants were provided, as well as sign-language interpretation and extra lectures if needed.
In its discussion of the provisions offered to the deaf by VOG, the brochure focused heavily on the social world of the deaf, particularly in their ?second homes", that is, their Palaces of Culture and clubs (referred to in English as ?community centres").87
An ?imagined tour" of several such clubs on the night of 15th June 1963 showcased the variety of social and cultural events made available to deaf society members. A lecture by a Hero of Socialist Labour, a dance, at which the name of each song was
?flashed on the wall by coloured electric lamps", a sign-language newspaper, a film with subtitles, and a rehearsal by an amateur dramatic group demonstrated the variety of cultural diversions on offer for the deaf, and the ways in which these
diversions were adapted to suit the particular needs of the community. Throughout this section, however, Vartan"ian and Gitlits emphasised the leading role played by the individual tastes and choices of members: ?Suppose the deaf person does not feel like going to a lecture or film and does not want to take part in amateur arts activities? All leisure pastimes, whether for the mind or body, individual or collective, should be a source of pleasure, and that is a matter of taste."88
This constant concern with the issue of choice could be traced throughout the brochure: in the section on vocational training, choice of profession, the authors asserted, ?is left to the individual".89 ?It may of course happen", they go on to speculate, ?that the speciality a deaf boy or girl has acquired at school is not what he or she would really like to do. That is not so terrible, and no blame is laid at other doors. So, they are given every opportunity to find something more appropriate - not only to make a new choice, but also to procure the proper vocational training in order to put it into effect".90 It is not difficult to imagine the purpose of such statements: the widespread belief in the international community of the ?totalitarian" nature of
Soviet society, with power enforced through coercion and control, was a commonplace of the Cold War era.91 In contrast, the freedom and independence enjoyed by the Soviet deaf was stressed. Yet independence in tastes and choices was not merely a political point. The ability of deaf people in the Soviet Union to lead independent lives was seen as a victory of training and opportunity over the disabling nature of their handicap. During the education process, Vartan"ian and Gitlits pointed out, ?although there are many teachers and attendants to look after the children, care is taken not to pamper them and make them too dependent".92
Similarly, in their adult social lives, the delicate balance between provision and independent agency was stressed: in their social clubs, the deaf ?are not guests, but masters of their Їsecond homes?".93
In their detailed, accessible account of the Soviet deaf experience, therefore,
Vartan"ian and Gitlits painted a picture of a strong social organisation, able to use its resources to turn the potential inherent in Soviet social equality into a reality for deaf people. Through its provision of education, labour training and cultural services, VOG created a social world that allowed deaf people the freedom to develop their own tastes and inclinations, and above all to establish their own agency within society. The utopian overtones of this narrative were by no means underplayed. In a section entitled ?A Partner in Life", the authors told the story of Tasya Shcherbinina, a young deaf-mute woman who, whilst crossing a railway line, ?did not hear the whistle of the oncoming train, and lost both legs. In the hospital, Tasya gave way to despair. ЇWhat"s the use of living?? she asked herself, ЇDeaf and dumb, and now - no legs?". Whilst recuperating, however, Tasya was given a copy of the classic socialist-realist novel A Story about a Real Man (Povest" o nastoiashchem cheloveke) by Boris Polevoi, which tells of the real-life Soviet pilot, Aleksei
Mares"ev, who lost both legs in battle but returned to fight, ?shooting down many more enemy planes". According to the brochure, ?what the doctors had not been able to do was accomplished by this little book. It gave her back her faith in life. During her worst trials, when death seemed almost desirable, Tasya vowed to fight for life".
Through VOG, Tasya found work in a UPP in Kirov and completed her education in evening school. She engaged in correspondence with Mares"ev, who praised her determination: ?I am glad that despite your physical handicaps, you have found a way to live a full life, to direct your efforts and give your energies to the good of the people and our beautiful motherland."94
Tasya"s story, and the story of VOG as a whole, thus echoed the tropes of socialist realism. Physical handicap might be a tragedy, but with determination and support, the tragedy could be overcome and the individual could become a fully-fledged,
?useful" member of society.95 The brochure emphasised the freedom and agency of
Soviet deaf people and the power of their society. However, this powerful narrative of individual and collective agency was complicated by a competing vision of deafness present in the brochure, and in other propaganda texts of the time, which portrayed the deaf as grateful recipients of the ?care" of the state. This picture of state care is present throughout the text, both in overt statements - ?From the very first days of Soviet Power, the Government took upon itself the care and education of deaf people" - and in a prevalent use of the passive voice when referring to benefits enjoyed by the deaf.96 Deaf people were ?thoroughly trained" and ?given" work, ?received" state pensions and hearing aids.97 This narrative strand was echoed in other propagandistic pieces produced by VOG. During the II International Congress, at which VOG made its international debut, for example, Sutiagin gave a statement in which he attributed the positive experience of Soviet deaf people to the
?instructions" and ?decisions of the Soviet Government".98 ?The deaf-mutes and the deaf of our country", he announced, ?surrounded by the protection of the state and the general public, live a full working and cultural life".99 In an article published in the British Deaf News, also by Sutiagin, readers were told that Soviet deaf people
?have received the right to work": ?The Soviet State shows great solicitude for their handicapped, including deaf and deaf-and-dumb people. This manifests itself in special decrees issued by the government."100
Such statements thus reconfigured the nature of deaf experience in the Soviet Union, from a narrative of agency, to an account of welfare and the passive reception of benefits. Significantly, this tale of State ?solicitude" described the power of VOG, one of the central facets of the Soviet deaf experience, as another gift bestowed upon the deaf by the state: ?The state has now given the societies of the deaf of the Soviet
Republics great powers in labour employment, vocational training and provision of cultural facilities for the deaf, which was formerly one of the functions of the state. The proper exercise of these functions of the societies is ensured by the material
facilities that have been placed at their disposal in the form of training-cum-production establishments."101 Such statements did not negate the agency and activity of deaf people entirely: deaf people were still expected to ?take an active part, together with the entire Soviet people, in building a new society".102 Yet this construction of a relationship of beneficence and gratitude with the Soviet state added a new dimension to the narrative of deaf experience in the Soviet Union.103
The desire to configure Soviet deaf experience as a product of the state was unsurprising in the context of the international deaf community. The World Federation continued to talk of the problems experienced by deaf people in terms of national systems, as the result of ?neglect" by ?responsible government authorities", and to state its aims of ?obtaining aid for the deaf from a government".104 It would seem only natural for the Soviet deaf community to construct a narrative of humaneness and care to counteract these narratives of neglect. Yet this reference to beneficence and gratitude was more than a rhetorical point: it reflected broader tensions between agency and passivity being played out within the Soviet deaf community in the 1960s. As previously discussed, several state decrees were promulgated in the 1950s and 1960s to clarify and improve services for deaf people in the Soviet Union. Whilst these decrees mainly focused on questions of access and the improvement of opportunities for deaf people, certain aspects of these laws portrayed deaf people as individuals in need of state welfare. For example, in 1956, a new law on pensions was introduced, which stated that, as invalids of the III group, the deaf were entitled to state pensions regardless of their employment status.105
Likewise, many developments within VOG itself suggested the need to ?care" for deaf people: the 1960s saw the opening of several homes for the elderly and of two
holiday resorts for deaf society members in the Crimea.106 According to the article in
British Deaf News, ?In these health centres the deaf people are recuperated physically and mentally, some going through preventive treatment against certain diseases under supervision of experienced physicians, and improve their health."107
In Of Those Who Cannot Hear, this vision of the deaf as deserving of benefits above and beyond those of hearing people was reinforced: ?The law states that deaf workers shall receive equal pay for equal work. But the pay packet of a deaf worker is sure to be heavier than that of his hearing comrade. […] The fact is that the deaf receive a pension from the state over and above their earnings."108 The brochure told of the Agulov family, in which father Dmitri and mother Ludmilla, both working deaf individuals, received a 55 rouble ?deaf pension" on top of their 150 rouble monthly salary. The family also received material benefits in other forms: ?Last summer, the whole Agulov family went to a rest home for the deaf situated near Moscow. The parents received a holiday allowance from the state and their accommodation in the rest home was paid by the local branch of the Deaf Society. In 1963, the RSFSR Society of the Deaf is to spend 153,000 roubles for passes to holiday homes for its members."109 Similarly, ?they recently received a new flat, and so decided to buy new furniture for it. Seeing that their savings would not suffice, they turned to the Voronezh branch of the Society for assistance. The Agulovs were given a grant of 100 roubles. In 1963 the Deaf Society will spend about 200,000 roubles on material grants to its members."110 The deaf were thus materially better off, and entitled to other benefits, purely in recompense for being deaf. This care was portrayed as the universal impulse of Soviet society towards the disabled: ?Those
who work at their sides consider that such concern for the deaf and physically handicapped is only just, and that it could not be otherwise".111
Propaganda of the Soviet deaf experience was torn between two competing narratives. On the one hand, VOG was portrayed as a strong organisation run by - and fostering through its work - active, independent deaf individuals. On the other, the deaf were increasingly configured as recipients of the care and beneficence of the state. To be sure, these two narratives were often entangled: in an article in Zhizn" glukhikh on the legal position of Soviet deaf people, for example, readers were told that ?in response to the care [zabota] of the party and government, deaf workers together with all the people are actively participating in the building of communist society".112 Yet, in contrast to the 1920s, the notion of deaf people as recipients of welfare and material benefits from a beneficent state was no longer seen as harking back to the tutelage and disenfranchisement of the tsarist regime. Instead, welfare was portrayed as the ultimate sign of progress: the deaf were finally in receipt of the full support they deserved.113
Of Those Who Cannot Hear thus set out the coherent narrative of deaf experience in the Soviet Union that was to form the basis of Soviet propaganda on the world stage. At the same time, however, Soviet delegates to the WFD and other international bodies were very much aware that brochures and articles in the international press were not enough to convince others of the superiority of the Soviet deaf experience. Engaging in propaganda, a communicative process of persuasion, necessitated establishing links with foreign deaf individuals, and attempting to persuade them through personal contact and interaction.
Techniques of Persuasion
From the outset, the propaganda efforts of VOG delegates were met with a considerable amount of scepticism from foreign members of the WFD. In the context of the Cold War, glossy propaganda brochures produced by Soviet state bodies were given little credence. In response, VOG developed new techniques to ?show", as well as ?tell", their stories of Soviet deafness. One of the most successful techniques was that of the documentary film. Oni budut govorit (They Will Talk), a film focusing on the system of deaf education in the Soviet Union, was produced by the film studio
Mosnauchfil"m in 1962. Shown at the IV International Congress in Stockholm, the film was considered by VOG delegates to be ?convincing proof and the best method of propaganda of the progressive methods of the education of the deaf in the
USSR".114 On its own, however, the film was not enough to persuade delegates of the veracity of the Soviet claims. According to an article in Zhizn" glukhikh, ?after the showing of our film ЇOni budut govorit?, and the meeting with Comrade Korsunskaia […] who featured in the film and who came to the last day of the conference, many admitted that at first they had not believed all that they had seen, but now that they had seen a real person from the film, they believed definitively".115
This trope - ?they didn"t believe it until they saw it" - was a commonplace in accounts of foreign responses to Soviet deafness, and suggests a widespread disbelief in Soviet propaganda, one that VOG was eager to dispel.
In their attempts to persuade foreign deaf individuals, VOG representatives focused strongly on manifestations of the superiority and prestige of Soviet deaf people. Culture and sport featured particularly heavily in this propaganda offensive. Although Soviet deaf artists had failed to submit pieces for the first art exhibition organised by the WFD, held in Rome"s Palace of Exhibitions in September 1957, by the 1960s VOG had begun to showcase the artistic talents of its members. Delegates of the V International Congress in Warsaw were shown Mikhail Bogin"s feature film
Dvoe (The Two), which told the story of a relationship between a young deaf acrobat and a hearing musician and featured performances by members of the Theatre of
Sign and Gesture; the Theatre itself performed to an audience of 6,000.116 Another documentary film, Otkrityi Mir (Open World), which followed members of the Theatre as they rehearsed for their first tour, was also shown at the Congress. Similarly, in sport, the talents of the Soviet deaf community were highlighted. At the VIII International Deaf Games in Milan, the first games in which VOG members participated, the Soviet Union came in ?overall first place" with 226 medals, beating the United German team and the USA. VOG"s athletes won 31 medals, and broke 12 world records for deaf sports.117 Alongside the powerful statement made by these results, the Soviet athletes, according to a VOG report, ?came to the starting-blocks calmly, with the utmost responsibility to the honour and prestige of their collective and the Motherland".118
In showcasing the talents of its members abroad, therefore, VOG sought to provide evidence of the superiority and prestige of the Soviet deaf community. Having the
?first professional deaf theatre in the world" and the world"s best deaf sportsmen was a powerful advert for the individual and collective agency of Soviet deaf people. Still these demonstrations of Soviet superiority were not without some artifice. In sport, in particular, the need to win outstripped all other considerations. An article in Zhizn" glukhikh, detailing the preparations for the IX International Games in Helsinki, openly stated: ?We are often asked: in which events will our society take part during the IX International Deaf Sporting Games? The answer to that question, which interests many, will be given by the results shown by our sportsmen during the All-Russian Spartakiada in Stalingrad."119 Clearly, Soviet deaf sportsmen would only enter those events which they had a good chance of winning. According to James Riordan, such tactics were commonplace amongst the Soviet sporting community in the immediate post-war period: ?Soviet sportsmen moved cautiously into international competition and, before 1952, tended not to enter an event without reasonable expectation of victory. No Soviet team was sent to the London Olympic Games of 1948; in many Olympic events - notably in athletics and swimming (the
?anchor" sports of the Games) - it was felt that Soviet standards were still
insufficiently high for the USSR to do well."120 For the Soviet deaf community, the areas in which they showed particular strength were light athletics and swimming, with the addition of Greco-Roman wrestling from the early 1960s.121 In table tennis and volleyball, on the other hand, Soviet sportsmen were considered to show a ?low level of technical skill", and Soviet sportsmen did not compete in these events.122
The gap between the reality of Soviet deaf experience and the artifice of propaganda could be seen at various points in VOG"s interactions with the international deaf community. One instructive example of this artifice was in propaganda of the provision of hearing aids. In 1967, Zhizn" glukhikh published an article detailing the visit to Leningrad of a Mexican deaf woman, Francesca Teresa Marones Cavallero, nicknamed Polia. Arriving in Leningrad, Polia found that her American hearing aid had broken. Sitting dejectedly in the lobby of the Hotel Astoria, she happened to be spotted by a member of the deaf society. Within hours, a new hearing aid had been procured for her, brought to the hotel in person by I. F. Geil"man, a senior member of VOG and a frequent WFD delegate. ?You should have seen Polia"s face when she recovered the ability to hear. And again, you should have seen the Mexican woman"s face when she discovered that she did not owe a kopek. It took a while to explain to her that in the Soviet Union, hearing aids are provided free of charge."123 Archival reports suggest that such acts were commonplace: hearing aids were sent to Chinese deaf individuals, such as a ?Kristall" hearing aid provided to one Chen Tsin in
1958.124 In his letter to J. D. Ghospurkar, an Indian deaf man from Ahmednagar,
Sutiagin wrote that ?when foreign guests, who would like to have hearing aids, visit us, we provide them, with funds from our society".125
Even as hearing aids played a central part in the narrative of Soviet deafness, the emphasis placed on the provision of free hearing aids to all deaf individuals highlighted divisions between the reality of Soviet experience and its narration to the
outside world. While free access to hearing aids had been guaranteed by the Ministry of Social Welfare since 1953, VOG was somewhat embarrassed about the supposed inferiority of Soviet hearing aids in comparison to Western models.126 The uneven system of supply, a product of the planned economy, affected both the production and provision of hearing aids. Not enough small transistors were produced, which hindered the production of compact aids. Until 1958, when a new dispensary system was introduced, deaf people would be advised by their doctor that they needed a hearing aid, at which point they would go to the nearest chemist and be provided with whatever model was currently in stock, often with defects from transport and storage. Individuals were unable to try different models of hearing aid to find one that suited them. 127 As such, in Soviet Russia, hearing aids were not part of the everyday experience of deaf people.
In the international arena, however, the free provision of hearing aids became a particularly compelling example of the benefits of the Soviet system for deaf people. At the V International Congress in 1967, the propaganda potential of Soviet hearing aid provision was realised. At the Congress, several foreign firms had taken advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate their hearing aids to delegates. According to a report in Zhizn" glukhikh, written by Eduard Vartan"ian, delegates were impressed by the ?elegant and small" hearing aids, until ?they were told the price".128 Vartan"ian described the ?tragicomic scene", as the delegates heard with horror that the hearing aid cost almost two hundred dollars. ?It occurred to us", Vartan"ian wrote, ?that some of our domestic hearing aids are no worse than the best foreign models. But if foreign firms consider it possible to fleece the buyer for their hearing aids, then why don"t we acquaint the Congress with our [hearing aids], having reminded them at the same time that we give hearing aids to invalids free of charge!" The Soviet delegation thus put on an impromptu exhibition of hearing aids: ?And what is this, if not evidence of the care of the state, of Їhearing people?, towards their deaf compatriots!"129 Yet the gap between such propaganda, which stressed the widespread use of hearing aids, and the reality of everyday experience of
Soviet deaf people, was noted by visitors: an article in the American journal The Volta Review stated that, ?according to the reports of American observers […] individual hearing aids are not commonly used".130
This employment of propagandistic artifice was not merely a straightforward example of the Soviet Union attempting to beat the West at its own game. Whilst the awareness of American money and technical prestige worried members of VOG, their ?enhanced" tales of the Soviet experience sought to shift the narrative from notions of progress and money to those of welfare and provision. Representations of Soviet superiority, in all arenas, were intended to demonstrate the difference between the capitalist West and the socialist East, and the impossibility of comparing the two.
Performances by the ?first deaf theatre in the world" aimed to convince an international audience that Soviet life alone could allow the deaf the scope to develop as artists. Sporting prowess was configured as an example of the equality of opportunity available to the Soviet deaf: in a speech to the WFD in 1963, Sutiagin argued that ?the active participation by the deaf in all fields of life of the country - in agriculture, science, sport, art etc - is vivid proof that in Soviet society there is absolutely no kind of discrimination against the deaf".131 Soviet deaf propagandists thus posited a different notion of what constituted superiority and prestige within the international deaf community. Whilst winning was still undoubtedly a factor, the propaganda of socialist models of equality, humaneness and welfare was considered paramount.
In their attempts to persuade, VOG members showcased the superiority and prestige of the Soviet deaf community through cultural representations and personal contacts. Yet this personal experience of Soviet deafness, the other side of the ?deaf tourist" experience, replicated the same narrative paradox as written propaganda: the tension between deaf self-identification as active citizens and as passive recipients of state provision and welfare. The experience of foreign deaf tourists to Soviet Russia further illustrates this point. When the bureau of the WFD held its meeting in Leningrad in 1962, its members met deaf Leningraders in their House of Culture,
toured VOG enterprises (UPPs) in Leningrad and Moscow and attended a performance of the Theatre Studio; all evidence of the agency and activity of deaf society members. In a VOG report on this visit, however, this trip was seen to have
?played a significant role in the propaganda of the achievements of the Soviet state in the business of the welfare of the deaf. In their speeches, the Bureau members noted the high level of the organisational work of VOG, the full employment of the deaf in socially-useful labour, the great cultural-educational work carried out among them".132 The trip itself ended with a meeting between Bureau members and the Minister of Social Welfare, thus underlining the source of the positive experiences that had been witnessed. Similarly, a visit by members of the French Confederation of the Deaf in 1968, reported in Zhizn" glukhikh, eschewed the usual tours around the UPP and the House of Culture in favour of a trip to deaf holiday homes in Sochi and
Gelendzhik. The head of the delegation, Andrй St. Antonin, reported that =We would very much like to organise such cultured leisure amongst the deaf of our country.
But at present it is impossible. The government is indifferent to our needs". He concluded that ?the Soviet Union stands in first place in terms of social welfare and services for deaf people".133
Whilst not always wholly truthful, the propaganda of Soviet deafness shown to foreign visitors thus perpetuated the narrative of the deaf as passive recipients of the care and largesse of the state. As such, Soviet propaganda demonstrated a reverse conceptual shift to that being engendered in the international deaf community. In his speech to the II International Congress, Dragolub Vukotich, the president of the
WFD, had declared that ?while in the past, we were only passive objects [of state care], we have now become active subjects".134 The Soviet deaf community, on the other hand, was becoming increasingly objectified in narratives of their experience and history: objects of state beneficence, the humaneness of society, and the provision of welfare.
Science and Institutional Frameworks
The developing view of the deaf as passive recipients of state aid and beneficence was not merely a narrative trope produced by Soviet propaganda and the pressures of international politics. It reflected a more fundamental shift in the way deafness was understood in the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s. The shift from understanding of deaf agency to passivity was perpetuated, and in some cases driven, by internal changes in the structures and institutions surrounding Soviet deafness. These changes can be traced in two particular fields: the network of scientific institutions studying and regulating the treatment of deafness, and the VOG bureaucracy itself.
Since the Great Patriotic War, the USSR had re-established its tradition of scientific research into disability in general, and deafness in particular. In 1943, the Scientific-Research Institute of Defectology (Nauchno-Issledovatel"skii Institut Defektologii, or
NIID) was re-opened, subordinate to the newly established Academy of Pedagogical Sciences (APN) of the RSFSR, and containing with it four distinct branches of defectological science: surdopedagogy (education of the deaf), tiflopedagogy
(education of the blind), oligophrenopedagogy (education of the ?feeble minded"), and logopedia (speech therapy).135 Initially under the leadership of D. I. Azbukin, the dean of the defectological faculty of Moscow"s Lenin Pedagogical Institute, the Institute was taken over in 1951 by Professor A. I. D"iachkov, an eminent researcher in deafness and deaf education.136 According to D"iachkov, ?the theory of the education of deaf children is a complex pedagogical problem which, unfortunately, for a long time was not the subject of scientific enquiry."137 This problem could be solved, however, through meticulous research (issledovanie). As a result, under
D"iachkov"s leadership, the Institute began to establish itself as a centre which, as its name suggested, based its methodological and theoretical conclusions on rigorous empirical research. From 1957 regular scientific conferences were held, at which scientific and doctoral students presented and discussed their latest findings. These
papers were published by the APN"s publishing house and widely distributed. In
1958, the Institute began to publish its own scientific journal, Spetsial"naia shkola
(The Special School), later renamed Defektologiia (Defectology). This journal was devoted to questions of special educational theory, but also included works from other scientists in related fields, such as psychology, otolaryngology and electronic technology.138
This development of a research discipline was, in many ways, influenced by increasing contacts with the international scientific community in the context of the Cold War. According to Martin A. Miller, ?the expansion of the Cold War competition with the United States in international affairs assumed new levels of confrontation. The Їtheatre of operations? now extended deeply into the scientific professions. It was not longer possible to dismiss or to deny Western ideas which were perceived as antagonistic and threatening. For the new post-war generation of professionals, a comprehensive analysis was necessary. Instead of ideological polemics, a scientific critique was required."139 The leading role attributed to science by the international deaf community was evident: the WFD, from the time of its first charter, had placed considerable emphasis on the role of science in improving the lot of deaf people. A Scientific Section had been mooted in the first Statute of the Federation in 1953, and soon the scientific commissions - on medicine and audiology, pedagogy, psychology, vocational rehabilitation, social life, culture and art, and the unification of sign language (?Gestuno") - had become the centre of the
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