Igor Gouzenko Essay About Myself

  • Gouzenko Affair

  • Gouzenko Affair

  • Gouzenko Affair

  • Gouzenko Affair

  • Gouzenko Affair

| Copyright Dominique Clément / Clément Consulting

The Cold War began with the defection of Igor Gouzenko in 1945 and revelations surrounding a Soviet spy ring operating in Canada.

The Gouzeko Affair symbolized the crumbling of the wartime alliance between East and West, and the emergence of a new era of global conflict. In Canada, the defection had far more immediate consequences. The federal government invoked wartime powers to detain, interrogate, and prosecute several suspected communist spies. Habeas corpus was suspended, and people were arrested and questioned by the police for weeks. Denied access to legal counsel, they were held in tiny cells, kept under suicide watch, and guarded at all times. Even those who were acquitted at trial lost their reputations due to the stigma of being associated with treason. The proceedings of the espionage commission that was established to investigate the suspects rank alongside the October Crisis of 1970 as the most extensive abuse of individual rights in Canadian history during peacetime. The controversy surrounding the Gouzenko Affair ultimately led to the formation of several civil liberties organizations.

In addition to a brief history of the Gouzenko Affair, there is a Chronology, a page on Sentences (results of the spy trials), and a list of Key Figures involved in the scandal. There is also a rich collection of archival documents and a list of further reading.


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WHEN Igor Gouzenko, a Soviet spy, defected to the West he told his wife Svetlana that he did not expect to survive for more than a year. He was sure that he would be tracked down by his former employers and shot. Svetlana too would probably be killed. Even their small son might not be spared. With what is sometimes called Russian fatalism, Igor and Svetlana awaited “the destined day”, in Turgenev's phrase.

Many people have a calculated fear of being murdered. United States presidents continue to be provided with protection after they have left office. In Britain a senior politician who may have offended Irish nationalists can have the comfort of an armed minder. But in 1945, when the Gouzenkos went into hiding, the science of personal security had not been developed in the West. Igor had been attached to the Soviet embassy in Ottawa. The Gouzenkos' guardians were the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the red-coated Mounties brilliant at horsemanship set to music, but with limited knowledge of Soviet assassins.

Canadian officials had at first been sceptical about Gouzenko and were doubtful about offering him asylum. The Soviet Union was then the West's ally. Canada asked the United States and Britain what they made of the armful of documents that Gouzenko had brought with him. They were immediately alarmed by its lists of westerners working for Russia, each assessed for reliability: “is afraid”, “takes money”. The documents started the hunt for spies such as Kim Philby, a British foreign-policy adviser, and Klaus Fuchs, a scientist passing on technical details about the atom bomb to the Soviet Union. The Gouzenkos became important. Whatever their fatalism, they had to be kept alive. Other Soviet spies were to defect later but Gouzenko was perhaps the most important because of the shocking impact he made on a complacent West. The Gouzenkos were found a secret and well-guarded house outside Toronto. Within these unusual confines Svetlana set out to be a Canadian housewife and mother.

The little Canadians

She taught herself English, helped by Igor, who was fluent, and by studying Canadian newspapers. Language was always to be a problem. Svetlana and Igor had eight children. The couple liked to speak Russian to each other but English was the family tongue. They sought to bring up the children as normal Canadians. Yes, the children were told, their parents were immigrants, as many Canadians are, but from Europe, not the Soviet Union. Elaborate explanations had to be given to the children why they should keep a watch for strangers who might be following them home. Only when the children were in their late teens did they learn of the family's strange background.

Equipped with language, Svetlana screwed up her courage to venture out of the safe house to go shopping. The threat of assassination remained. On her return to the house Svetlana would check for the slightest disturbance—a moved cushion or newspaper—that would indicate an intruder. A Soviet agent who defected later said that he had been on a mission to kill the couple.

Few pictures exist of the Gouzenkos. When Igor was interviewed on television his head was in a hood. Our grainy picture, possibly a passport photo, is of Svetlana in her early 20s. In “The Fall of a Titan”, a novel that Igor published in 1954, he describes a woman called Anna, his pet name for Svetlana.

A dress of dark silk enveloped her graceful figure. Her low-cut bodice emphasised her round shoulders and her high firm breasts. Her shapely arms were bare, and in her hands she held a gossamer scarf. Two heavy braids were wound around her head into a crown.

In wartime Russia Svetlana had served briefly in the army as a sniper. She and Igor were married in 1942 and soon after were sent to Canada. Both were intoxicated by the liberty granted to individuals in the West, a risk the Soviet government always took when allowing its citizens abroad. It was when Igor learnt that their term in Canada was due to end that they decided to abscond.

They never expressed regret about their decision and believed, correctly, they helped to protect western freedom. All the same, there were times when the couple pondered what their lives might have been had they stayed in the Soviet Union. Both were well thought of in Stalin's state and could have had rewarding careers. Igor was a mathematician, a skill that had got him his first job in the Soviet secret service as a decoder. Svetlana had been promised she could train as an architect.

She had a talent as a painter and a potter, pursuits she said helped her to relax. She wrote a memoir, published in 1960, of her childhood in the Soviet Union. Those who knew Svetlana well said she was strong minded and grew increasingly confident, the binding force of the family. At least, she said, she always had something to do with eight children to bring up and, later, 16 grandchildren to pamper. The fatalistic couple lived to a reasonable age, Igor to 60, Svetlana to 77, a bit beyond their imagined destined day.

This article appeared in the Obituary section of the print edition


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