Vladimir Voina ’90

Voina, the first Nieman from the Soviet Union, has written for Pravda, Izvestia, and a number of U.S. newspapers

The most important event of my Nieman year happened soon after my studies ended. I was invited to participate in the East-West journalist conference in Prague, Czechoslovakia convened by President Vaclav Havel who also presided over it. A large group of prominent American newspaper editors and writers arrived to speak before their East European colleagues liberated from the Moscow yoke. As a Nieman Fellow with a Moscow background, I was chosen to speak out on what I had learned in the U.S. about the free press. Naturally, I was honored, but there also were personal reasons for being happy.

I had long dreamed of visiting "the golden Prague" but was rejected by the KGB each time I applied for a foreign passport. Not for nothing: I had strong anti-communist views. And when Alexander Dubcek proclaimed "Spring" in his country in early 1968 I was an ardent admirer of his striving for democracy and some freedom from Moscow. He became my hero. At that time I was sure that, alas, this "Spring" would be crushed by Moscow. So it happened in August, provoking some of the most tragic days of my life.

But the world was becoming different, Gorbachev, "the Russian Dubcek," came to power, I got my foreign passport and left for America, and while I was there, the Berlin Wall fell down. And now I was in Prague sitting so close to Vaclav Havel and speaking in his presence! Could anything make me happier?
Prague is free now while Moscow is ruled by another despotic regime. When will our "Russian Havel" come?