Toronto Daily Star/May 4, 1922
Genoa.—Regardless of what they have or have not accomplished, the hardest-working delegation at Genoa is the Russian.
Night after night after the regular sessions, ‘”conversations,” or committee meetings are over, and the delegates of other nations, in evening clothes, are sipping at their liqueurs or listening to the orchestras at their various hotels, the Russians gather around a round table in an upper room of the Hotel Imperial at Santa Marguerita discussing, studying, poring over masses of documents and figures until three or four o’clock in the morning.
There is always an air of mystery about the Soviet delegation. This was first created by the manners and methods of the Italian secret police who are charged with guarding the delegates. The Soviets had exacted strict guarantees from the Italian government before they consented to come to Genoa and after they came the Italians certainly saw that their safety was guarded. In fact, the guarding was so thorough, complete and uncompromising that the Russians wearied of it after about one day and would have given a good deal not to be so strictly hedged about.
Italy’s first move to guard the Soviet representatives was to give them, as living quarters, the Imperial Hotel at Santa Marguerita. It has large, steeply walled grounds and the walls are so far from the hotel itself that it would take a Babe Ruth to chuck a bomb over. There is no doubt but that the Imperial is a fine safe place but it is located so far from Genoa that at least four hours a day are wasted going to and from the various meetings.
After the Italians had lodged the Russians out at Santa Marguerita, they put so many carabinieri ( royal military police) around the hotel, gardens and entrances that a mouse couldn’t get into the Imperial. Then, at the one entrance permitted at the foot of a steep winding drive they stationed a commissioner of secret police that would keep St. Peter outside of the pearly gates if there was a single flaw in his papers, and what is more, make him feel that he had no right in heaven at all and would be lucky if he escaped without being arrested.
The commissioner has the manners of a Congo overseer, sun-tanned, thinly bald head, the most sinister face I have ever seen and one stock remark delivered in Italian: “Those papers are no good!” Occasionally he will unbend and tell you that there is no one in the hotel, that he doesn’t know when they will get back or where they have gone, that he can tell you nothing, that he has no idea when the trains run, and that there is no use waiting to see anyone. That is when he is cheerful. He usually simply tells you that your papers are no good and will you please stay outside the gate?
I finally got hold of the cheka, or Russian personal bodyguard, a dark, cheerful-faced young Russian with a disarming grin, who drifts through the rooms and the luxurious gardens of the Imperial, a normal-looking, handsome young shadow with a flat bulge in his trousers pocket where the cloth tightens over his automatic pistol.
“It is impossible to get past those Italian secret police to get at the news up here,” I told him as he listened smiling. “I want some sort of a pass to admit me at the gate so that when I make the long trip out I won’t have to stand down there for two or three hours and then be turned away. I want to tell Canadians the truth about you and your delegation. I’m not a propagandist and you should be willing to let me get at the truth. I don’t want to guess at the truth from outside the walls and I am sure you don’t want me to.”
He smiled and went away. In a little while he was back with a blue card. It read, in Italian:
at the Genoa Conference.
Testimony of personal recognition
free ingress to the Hotel Imperial,
seat of the Russian delegation in St. Margherita
is given to
journalist — for — permanent -St. Margherita 1922
Head of the Internal Service of the Delegation
That pass is going among my most prized trophies. One flash of that at the gate and I entered while motorcars loaded with dusty journalists waited outside. The pass is number 11. It was among the last issued, and there were some 700 newspapermen at the conference.
Once inside the empty, barnlike Hotel Imperial, it was easy to see anyone. You asked to speak to Tchitcherin, the mystic economist, who heads the delegation, and if he was in you spoke to him. If not, they sent someone else. Tchitcherin I have described before.
Litvinoff is one of the most interesting of the Russian leaders. He looks very much like Mischa Elman—Elman with his features slightly coarsened, pale, but healthy-looking, big, coarse-featured face, a little taller than the average man, rather plump, in a badly cut German-made suit, wearing a low, bat-wing collar and a gray four-in-hand tie that has been tied so many times that it is wrinkled below the knot. He has an impersonal, strong handshake.
Maxim Litvinoff only moves his lower lip when he talks. He speaks English with a German accent—it may be Russian for all I know—but all the members of the delegation have a different accent in their English. He was exiled from Russia when he was a student and became a printer in England. During the war he was employed in some minor government department where his knowledge of languages was used. For years he had been one of the revolutionary leaders, although he lived in England, and in 1918, after the Russian revolution, he was appointed Soviet ambassador to England by wire.
As soon as he was appointed ambassador he began talking very big and showing a tremendous lack of tact and in 1918, very shortly after his appointment, he was expelled from England. Now he sits at the same table with Lloyd George as an equal representative in the Conference of Nations.
That is the amazing thing about the Russian delegation. Four years ago they were hunted, fleeing men. Tchitcherin was in prison at Brixton jail as an agitator. The others were scattered in different places. Now they sit at the table with the representatives of every great power, except the United States. They sit there with baskets full of documents and the largest army in the world back of them and say, “Russia will do this. Russia will do that.” They control Russia, these men, who four years ago could not set foot in Russia. And even though you hate the things they do and the system of government they represent, you must admire the way the light shone out from under the crack at the base of the door of their council room at three o’clock in the morning.
(Source: Dateline: Toronto. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985)
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