Kostya Gumankov's Incident: Interpretations of Honor and Dignity in Soviet Tourism Abroad

A “test by travel abroad” was one of the most sophisticated and contradictory methods to check Soviet citizens in terms of their compliance to a normative image of “the new Soviet person.” According to a practice that first appeared in the 1930s, before a foreign trip, Soviet citizens (including tourists) had to sign a special form in which they officially accepted an obligation to “carefully observe interests of the Soviet state, vigilantly keep its state secrets, be faultless in one’s personal behavior, hold high the honor and dignity of the citizen of the USSR.”

The key manifestations of worthy and unworthy behavior were listed in “The basic rules of behavior for Soviet citizens going abroad.” Its satirical interpretation was offered by Vladimir Vysotsky in his song “An instruction before a trip abroad, or a half an hour at a local committee.” However, these rules covered some of the possible situations that in which Soviet citizens could find themselves abroad. This created preconditions for numerous conflicts, incidents and collisions. For example, an adultery with a foreigner was unambiguously mentioned in the category of forbidden acts, while public reaction to a sexual relationship between two members of a tourist group was less unambiguous and in many cases depended on a subjective reaction of the tourist group leader.

The article uses an extensive complex of archival sources, including reports of tourist group leaders, personal files of some applicants, reports on the shortcomings of the organization of tourism abroad, and travelogues of Soviet tourists to answer the following questions:

1) How a normative image of "a worthy representative" of the Soviet Union abroad was constructed by means of explicit rules and implicit mechanisms of applicant selection.

2) What behavior acts of the Soviet tourists abroad were classified as examples of “unworthy behavior.”

3) What were typical reactions of tourist group leaders, party activists and ordinary tourists to the instances of “unworthy behavior” among their rank, and how sanctions were applied and maintained against the guilty tourists.

A complex consideration of these questions will reveal those sides of the normative image of “the new Soviet person” that Soviet authorities were willing to show to foreign audiences, as well as to reconstruct the work of the mechanisms of self-organization and self-checking in Soviet collectives that were described by Oleg Kharkhordin in The Collective and the Individual in Russia: A Study of Practices. A broad application of informal, subjective interpretations of what makes one’s behavior worthy or unworthy has certain resonances with Alexey Yurchak’s observations on how the documents of the official Soviet discourse often avoided to offer accurate criteria allowing to unambiguously differentiate manifestations of proletarian internationalism and susceptibility to bourgeois influence of the West.

A study of the internal social and psychological organization of Soviet tourist groups abroad will allow to understand deeper how the Soviet ethical categories of honor and dignity turned into instruments of influence, control, and global struggle of the two social and political systems during the Cold War.