A thoughtcriminal speaks

Oleg Atbashian, the gifted satirist and artist who founded The People’s Cube, has written a classic essay that deserves the widest possible circulation.  "How I Became a Thoughtcriminal" is a personal account of growing up in the Soviet Union and discovering censorship, leaving it behind, and rediscovering it here.  This is chapter one of the story:

Since my grandfather was Polish, we had a Polish dictionary and a language manual in the family library. Polish is also close enough to my native Russian and Ukrainian, so with some practice I was able to read Polish magazines, which were more interesting than the Soviet ones.

As a kid, I loved the Polish satirical magazine Szpilki. It wasn't widely available and their cartoons were often a lot more sexually charged than those in the Soviet print media, so my parents tried to keep them out of my sight. But seeing just one issue was enough to make me wonder why such things didn't exist in the Soviet Union.

It was possibly then that I first experienced adult thoughts about the existence of censorship. Seeing those magazines today wouldn't probably impress me that much, but at the time they turned me into a thoughtcriminal. I realized that a world without censorship was more fun to live in.

Granted, Poland was a reluctant Soviet satellite with heavily censored press. And yet Polish movies and books seemed more honest and revealing in just about anything, from sex to politics. Apparently the Poles enjoyed a little less censorship and a little more freedom that we in the USSR did. It was logical to conclude that if a little less censorship meant a little more fun, a world without any censorship whatsoever would be a blast. And that world existed just west of Poland - in Europe, America, and the rest of what we call Western societies.

Thus was born a lifelong fighter for freedom of thought.  What makes Oleg’s journey so compelling is that he shows us through his own experience that what he thought he left behind is in fact flourishing here.

Read the whole thing.