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COPY MACHINE VS. SOVIET SECRECY

SHARE COPY MACHINE VS. SOVIET SECRECY

It was just too much to ask. Faced with 60-1 odds, a thousand-man Soviet army has surrendered. Moscow is throwing in the towel.

It was not a military attack that put this army to flight. It was the proliferation of the photocopier that spelled the army's doom.The 1,000-man Soviet inspection force, charged with monitoring the use of some 60,000 copiers, say the task is overwhelming and they are giving up the fight.

Moscow officials recently conceded that controlling the reproduction of information has simply outstripped government resources.

The government daily Izvestia this week quoted V. Vashchenko, the Interior Ministry official charged with policing the use of copiers, as saying, "With the help of computers, one can publish . . . an entire newspaper, and this in any number of copies. It's impossible to control this process by any means."

And in a telling afterthought, perhaps a reference to the Soviet policy of glasnost, he added, "And, moreover, do we need to?"

In a country where control of the printed word has long been regarded as a key element in government power and domination, this is a dramatic admission.

In 1917, soon after the Russian Revolution brought communism to power, even typewriters were registered and strictly controlled.

Since their introduction into the Soviet Union, photocopiers have been kept behind locked doors. Documents are carefully screened, copies closely counted and logs dutifully and routinely kept.

Just what impact this surrender will have remains to be seen.

Perhaps Soviet office walls will come to resemble U.S. counterparts, papered with endless reproductions of humorous drawings and sayings. Perhaps it will improve communication between groups that share basic concerns.

Whatever the final outcome, one thing is clear, the information explosion of the '80s has blown a big hole through Soviet secrecy.