Monday, January 07, 2008
If you are visiting Vienna in February 2008 make sure you get the TICKETS for WORLD Premiere ´The Lovers The Outcasts´
The Lovers The Outcasts James Cumes A Playwright’s Commentary
Like so many others, I have always thought the Petrov Affair was a great story that deserved more dramatic treatment than it has so far received.
When it happened in 1954, I was a First Secretary in the Department of External Affairs in Canberra. Some might think I was cheek by jowl with the "nest of traitors" alleged at the time to infest the Department. However, I could claim always to be on friendly terms with Foreign Minister R.G. (later Lord) Casey who coined the expression; and I knew no one with whom I was not then and would not now be proud to associate.
That applies particularly to Ric Throssell whose career was largely and most unjustly destroyed by the Affair.
That I knew several of these people as well as others who were involved in the events in some way or another, gave me - potentially at least - some insights into the "Affair."
For those reasons, I wrote a play, based on it but treating the details of the story with some dramatic licence.
Quite by chance, the play came to the notice of someone keen to have it staged and it was taken up by a theatre company. That was early in 2007. As with most enterprises of its kind, there have been some vicissitudes since but the play is now set for its World Première at the beginning of February.
The story arouses a variety of emotions, personal, political and even of course strategic in so far as it demonstrates the clash of Cold-War ideologies in the second half of the 20th Century.
"Will you be able to get for me any documents or reports about this man in external affairs? Is that possible?" the Australian Security man asks.
"Very difficult but I think I can get something," Vladimir replies.
That is the essence of how it all began.
The “something” and, ultimately, the several things Vladimir “gets,” destroy some people’s lives; and it also appears, in the process to have destroyed much of Vladimir’s own life, as well as Eva's life and his loving relationship with her.
When Vladimir defects, he betrays his cause – whether we regard it as good or evil - his country and his professional ethic. What he opts for turns out to be a boring and rather feckless freedom.
Eva wants to remain loyal to her country and to return to her family in Moscow. She opts to go home – where of course she knows she will have to endure Soviet tyranny and, perhaps, imprisonment or even execution.
But she is vulnerable. She too can be “seduced” or, more accurately, intimidated; and she is. She is “seduced” by fear – fear of those who mean to be her friends as much as fear of those who would continue to abuse her.
The Soviet couriers Moscow has sent to collect her take her by car from Canberra to Sydney. On the way, she contemplates suicide but she arrives safely at the airport in Sydney. There the couriers haul her brutally through a crowd of reporters and public to the aircraft that will take her back to her home and family.
The intent of the crowd is friendly but she finds the scuffle terrifying. She loses a shoe. Weeping and disheveled, she is dragged up the aircraft gangway with her shins and knees scraping on the stairs.
To the watching crowd, she becomes a pathetic object – a victim of coarse, inhuman brutality, inflicted by an evil regime.
The photo (see James Cumes website on Authors den for the photo) of her being dragged into the aircraft becomes part of the legend of the Affair - an icon which, even for us now, symbolizes the conflicts of the time.
An attractive young woman is being abused by thugs.
The apparently obscene use of force is seen to typify the obscenity of the totalitarianism on which the Soviet's communist ideology is constructed.
Her lost shoe becomes a symbol too: a symbol of yet another obscenity committed by an oppressive ideology and regime – a totalitarian communist regime that cruelly mistreats the weak and vulnerable, fragile women included.
Aboard the aircraft, speaking to the crew about the Soviet couriers, Eva tells them “They have guns. They will use them.”
Again, this identifies them as thugs. They must be disarmed. Eva must be freed.
For the Australian Government and its agents who had seduced her husband, it could now not be otherwise. They had to be the white knights in shining armor riding to the rescue. They were obliged to “free” her and – incidentally - use her to denounce communism and those who might be shown to have any link, however tenuous, to it.
“I think I can get something," Vladimir had said.
He kept his promise. Now Eva could join him in keeping it.
Eva became a darling of the media. She was described as beautiful, elegant and a leader of women’s fashion. “I found myself publicized like a film star,” she wrote.
They were both used – should we say, fully exploited? - by the Royal Commission on Espionage. In the end, they were denounced by the Commission as people of small consequence who could not be trusted; but the Commission made a significant exception to this judgment. In their “naming” of mostly innocent Australians who had in some way “collaborated” with them in “undermining democracy,” the Commission found that they were "witnesses of truth."
Afterwards, the Menzies Government was securely installed; the Australian Labor Party split. As other events supervened, the media turned their attention to other issues.
Eva and Vladimir would never be forgotten; but they were ignored. Eva had a nervous collapse but she recovered. She and Vladimir were able to live out their lives quietly in suburbia. They may have ceased to be lovers and became outcasts – unrecognized and unacclaimed by either side, except as they would be seen as leading actors in an episode of a historic conflict. In that role, they still symbolize the Cold War and its conflicting ideologies. They also remind us, even today, how human rights can be violated, even by the well-meaning upholders of freedom and democracy, and how personal lives can be shattered in the process of resolving great political and strategic issues.
Prime Minister Menzies won the election of 29 May 1954. He held office until 1966 when, voluntarily, he stepped down. He is still, by far, the longest-serving Prime Minister in Australian history.
• Petrov Affair in Austria ; James Cumes
• · Victory Over Want ; Czech actor Marko Pustišek