16 JUNE 1990, Page 16


Olivia Nicolson finds

that nobody cares about her brush with Soviet police

LAST month I was arrested by the KGB. Even at the time of my arrest I had the presence of mind to think what a good line that would be at parties. I've now tried it out about eight times. `Do you know,' I say, 'this time last week I was being held at a border post in Russia. They thought I was a spy.' Oh really?' they say, 'Russia? Lovely country. Only last year I was in Moscow. Lovely city. Ever been to Mos- cow?' I thought, perhaps I'm carrying my calculated nonchalance too far. Perhaps I'm not making it sound dramatic enough.

Then last week I was lucky enough to be sitting next to an Eminent Politician at lunch. I gave it everything. I said to him, 'Last week I was arrested at the Polish- Russian border. I'd inadvertently crossed a minefield and they thought I was a spy. The border guard held me at gunpoint, and I saw him take the safety-catch off. I could see that he hated me. He confiscated my map and then tampered with it to make me

look guilty. Four hours later I was interro- gated by the KGB. They told me I would go to prison for two years, think of that, two years in a Russian prison.'

`How very frightening for you,' the Eminent Politician said, kindly. 'Tell me, was it you that made this delicious choco- late mousse?'

One of the better conversations I have had in 1990 was with my interrogators. They hung on my every word. There were 12 of them, and they arrived in a convoy of armoured vehicles. I felt very important. 'What have you been doing violating Rus- sian territory?' they said to me. 'I wanted to see the border,' I said. 'I knew it was close. I had a map. A quarter of a mile's walk through a forest and I'd be there. But there were snakes in the forest and I had to fend them off with a stick. I hate snakes and I almost gave up, but when I saw the border fence, or what I imagined was the border fence, I thought, "I can't go back before putting my fingers through it and feeling Russian air, not having come this far." I was surprised to find what looked like a minefield between the forest and the border fence. But I persuaded myself that it was a strange example of Polish indust- rial farming, and crossed it. Then I went for a walk beside the fence, because it was sunny and I didn't much want to go back to the dark forest and the snakes.' That forest,' they said to me, 'was Russian. Why didn't the Polish border guards prevent you from entering it?' I didn't see any,' said.

There is something about having an interpreter which makes everything one says sound significant. They went on to ask me about my political beliefs, what I thought of Gorbachev, of perestroika, of America; they asked me what the English thought of the Russians, whether I was afraid, whether I realised I might be sent to prison. But I wasn't afraid during the interrogation itself. It was the two hours waiting to hear whether I was acquitted or not.

During this time one good and one bad thing happened. The bad thing was I asked to go to the loo. I was escorted by two armed guards to the surrounding forest. They waited by me, it was about midnight by now, and though they didn't watch they laughed, 'Careful that the snakes don't get you.' I was frightened then. But the second thing was good. One of the senior KGB men came out of the makeshift court-room and gave me a cup of hot, sweet, black tea from his flask. Last night I was feeling ill and sorry for myself. I made myself a cup of the same. Because it was as deeply reassuring as that.