Hello, my name is Anatole Konstantin. You can click here to read my previous AMA about growing up under Stalin and what life was like fleeing from the Communists. I arrived in the United States in 1949 in pursuit of achieving the American Dream. After I became a citizen I was able to work on engineering projects including the Titan Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Launcher. As a strong anti-Communist I was proud to have the opportunity to work in the defense industry. Later I started an engineering company with my brother without any money and 48 years later the company is still going strong. In my book I also discuss my observations about how Soviet propaganda ensnared a generation of American intellectuals to becoming sympathetic to the cause of Communism.

My grandson, Miles, is typing my replies for me.

Here is my proof: http://i.imgur.com/l49SvjQ.jpg

Visit my website anatolekonstantin.com to learn more about me and my books.

(Note: I will start answering questions at 1:30pm Eastern)

Update (4:15pm Eastern): Thank you for all of the interesting questions. You can read more about my time in the Soviet Union in my first book, A Red Boyhood, and you can read about my experience as an immigrant in my new book, Through the Eyes of an Immigrant.

Comments: 8012 • Responses: 35  • Date: 

Youwillloveit2128 karma

What Cultural difference shocked You the most? Edit 1 holy shit 2k

AnatoleKonstantin4784 karma

It was the availability of books on different philosophies and points of view. When I went to the library I didn't know which book to read first and I just stood there.

Hipster-Stalin1859 karma

Is there anything you miss about the old country?

AnatoleKonstantin3529 karma

Yes, the people in those countries did a lot of singing. Someone would even sing loudly to themselves depending on how they felt.

emax4454 karma

If you remember, were there people that were horribly off-key, or people just didnt care and were happy to be singing?

AnatoleKonstantin1914 karma

They sang for themselves rather than for an audience.

HologramChicken1566 karma

Was your father given a mock trial prior to his execution, to give the appearance of justice having been served? I'm sorry for your loss, it's inspiring to hear someone who went through so much hardship make something of themselves.

AnatoleKonstantin2217 karma

The trials were secret and we didn't know the results until 50 years later when Gorbachev came to power. The KGB made lists of suspects who were tortured into signing prepared confessions and then were sent to the Gulags or to be executed, usually standing on the edge of a ditch and receiving a bullet in the back of the head.

hspace81374 karma

How did you get enough funds to make your way to America?

How was the trip arranged?

AnatoleKonstantin2488 karma

I didn't need any funds. The United Nations Refugee Organization took care of all travel arrangements for displaced persons like myself. At that time the United States admitted 200,000 displaced persons from Europe.

black_flag_4ever1349 karma

What is your opinion of this year's presidential election?

AnatoleKonstantin4608 karma

I think that the choice we have is the worst since I came to the United States in 1949.

kaitalina161169 karma

Besides starting a company in America, what's one thing that you're proud to have accomplished? Also, what was the scariest thing about the Soviet Union?

AnatoleKonstantin2969 karma

My biggest accomplishment aside from starting my business would be staying married to the same woman for 61 years.

The scariest part about life in the Soviet Union was that people like my father would disappear with no explanation.

pokemonandpolitics1040 karma

What are your thoughts about current events involving Russia, Ukraine, and the US? How do you think the conflict should be resolved?

AnatoleKonstantin2691 karma

From Putin's point of view, it's inadmissible that Ukraine should join NATO. The United States became involved because it was a signatory together with Russia and Ukraine to the agreement that Ukraine surrenders the nuclear weapons on its territory in exchange for guaranteeing its borders. The majority of people in Crimea prefer to be part of Russia rather than Ukraine. Therefore, the question is very complex and if one considers history and the different requirements of the parties, I do not see any reasonable solution.

Petriskopat1018 karma

What are the biggest misconceptions the rest of the world has of former communist soviet russia?

AnatoleKonstantin2022 karma

Soviet propaganda convinced many people that the atrocities in the Soviet Union were for some idealistic beneficial purpose and that it was justified. It was only after the Khrushchev speech in 1956 that they began believing people like me who were telling them the truth. After Khrushchev's speech the propaganda convinced many people that it was all Stalin's fault and that if the Soviet Union had followed Lenin's teaching these atrocities would not have taken place. Well when someone said something like this to Molotov, he replied that "in comparison with Lenin, Stalin was just a lamb".

charliehendy971014 karma

What was the most unexpected thing you experienced when moving to the US after living under an oppressive, communist regime?

AnatoleKonstantin2966 karma

The biggest thing was that people were saying whatever they wanted and no one was censoring them. The most humorous was that I couldn't understand why the tags on hotel pillows threatened people if the tags were removed.

BradleyFartman853 karma

How do you feel about socialism and/or Bernie Sanders?

AnatoleKonstantin3423 karma

Bernie Sanders didn't provide a good answer about how he was going to finance his plans. His ideology itself is fine in theory: he'll take care of everything and everyone. However, it would eliminate incentives for individual achievement.

hiclairious662 karma

Any thoughts on the Syrian refugee crisis? Specifically how some Americans are worried that ISIS members can pretend to be refugees to sneak into the US. Did you experience any similar anti-communist backlash when you came to America? My parents were refugees from communist Vietnam, so I'm very interested to hear another refugee's opinion.

AnatoleKonstantin1935 karma

The Syrian refugees are victims of religious fanatics. The refugees from Communism were victims of political fanatics. While the motivations are different, they both come from fanatics who do not value human life. When I came I did not experience any backlash; I was more anti-Communist than anybody here.

LessHalfSecs648 karma

What was your first meal in America? How did it compare to the foods that you were used to eating?

AnatoleKonstantin1429 karma

My first meal was pretty horrible food on the ship coming here. The captain was a frenchman who spent most of the food money on Dramamine for the refugees. Whatever we ate was full of celery and 65 years later I still cannot stand it.

In the USSR I was used to eating anything that was available. I was overwhelmed by the availability and choice of food in an American supermarket.

ircanadian623 karma

What do you think of how socialism is influencing the younger generation?

AnatoleKonstantin2364 karma

Well Socialism is a very comforting idea that someone is going to take care of you. It is not compatible with the American idea of meritocracy and does not encourage initiative and effort.

Batchagaloop601 karma

How the hell did the US let a Russian immigrant work on intercontinental ballistic missile launching systems? Was there no fear of spy activity? Curious as to what kind of background checks you were subjected to.

AnatoleKonstantin967 karma

The project was classified as "Confidential" not "Secret". After I became a citizen I got Confidential clearance that permitted me to work on these projects.

moorethanafeeling509 karma

What is your response to Americans who wish to embrace Communism here in the U.S.? What about Americans who wish to embrace Socialism?

AnatoleKonstantin2080 karma

To those who wish to embrace Communism, I would advise that they read the Black Book of Communism published by Harvard University Press. To those who want to embrace Socialism, they should first figure out who is going to pay for it.

Nigbones351 karma

Do you see any parallels between what we call political correctness today, and the sort of dogma enforced by political commissars back in the day?

AnatoleKonstantin1330 karma

Yes, every time I hear the phrase "political correctness" I think of the people in the Soviet Union who were killed because they said something that was not politically correct.

Rockky67287 karma

Do you believe Stalinist USSR was a perversion of communism or do you just equate the two? Where do you stand on unrestrained capitalism?

AnatoleKonstantin1035 karma

Stalinism was not unique if you consider Mao and Pol Pot. I do not believe in unrestrained Capitalism. Just reading the Business section of the newspaper, one can daily see the unethical or criminal behavior of some companies and executives.

Rtstevie266 karma

Hello, and thank you for this fascinating AMA, as well as the previous one.

Having lived in a communist/authoritarian country, I was wondering if you could possibly shed some light on something I often wonder when I learn about and see footage of people who reside in those types of countries:

Today, perhaps the most prominent and extreme example of authoritarianism is North Korea. Every aspect of their lives seems to be controlled and mapped out. And subsequently, their economy is very weak and their standard of living is extremely low when it comes to aspects such as food, reliability of electricity, etc.

But when I see footage of people there, I often wonder: What level of consciousness do they have regarding their own plight? Does the average person there realize how far behind much of the world they are in quality of life? That their issues with famine are nonexistent in Western countries and many other countries around the world? Perhaps there is a level of awareness, but it is not as disparate as they realize.

So I guess, in your experience, what was your level of knowledge about this? Did you know that quality of life in Western Europe and the USA was much higher? Was there a level of consciousness regarding this, but the reality was still beyond your expectation?

I know that term- "quality of life"- can be subjective. But generally meaning, food availability, infrastructure such as electricity, and freedom of expression were greater in the West.

Thank you for any insight you can provide.

AnatoleKonstantin492 karma

The Soviet propaganda was hammering into us that life in the Soviet Union was incomparably better than it is in Capitalist countries. At that time, there was the Great Depression in the West and they showed us news reels featuring lines of the unemployed. We were not aware of the real situation in the West. In countries like the Soviet Union or North Korea, their leader is considered to be omniscient, omnipotent, and benign. Considering the police terror, people were afraid even to think about any deficiencies because a careless word could bring disaster.

NubianGawd261 karma

What do you think of Tankies? Tankies are sheltered western people who say that Mao, Stalin and North Korea were defenders of the worker and proud enemies of US imperialism. They also say that everything was great in USSR. No famines, no gulags.

AnatoleKonstantin558 karma

Someone must have killed those 20 million people in the Soviet Union, 65 million in China and others in Cambodia and Soviet satellite countries. According to the Black Book of Communism, published by Harvard University Press, the total number of victims of artificial famines, executions, and Gulags is close to 100 million people.

Depressed_deadpool244 karma

Have you ever had any thoughts of moving back to Russia seeing as the brutal dictatorship is gone?

AnatoleKonstantin1541 karma

No, because the brutal dictatorship has been replaced by a milder dictatorship.

SuperNoodleDoodle236 karma

Was there ever a time where you agreed with communist idealism? If so, what changed your mind?

AnatoleKonstantin629 karma

Yes, the propaganda was incessant telling us that this was the best country in the world and there was no information about any other countries. I believed it until I was 10 years old and my father disappeared without a trace in the Gulags.

Chuckbro224 karma

Where do you stand on the continium of Socialism vs. Capitalism? What advice would you give to our increasingly popular socialist movement here in the United States?

Note: Not trying to compare socialism to communism I'm simply curious about his perspective.

AnatoleKonstantin1191 karma

The idea of the United States is based on individual achievement. While a social safety net is required for those who temporarily or permanently cannot take care of themselves, a permanent "nanny state" would kill the incentives for individual achievement. In reality it is not a continuum, you can have some of both systems. It just depends on the proportions.

gammaman101214 karma

Would you say there are any similarities between the propaganda you experienced back then and what's being shown today?

AnatoleKonstantin1352 karma

The propaganda there aimed to make one a slave while the propaganda here aims to make one a fool.

discoursemonger195 karma

How did you develop your "American Dream"? Where did you find information about the U.S. when you lived in the USSR?

AnatoleKonstantin767 karma

I escaped to the American zone of West Germany and there was plenty of information. I developed my "American Dream" from reading American books which were reprinted in the Soviet Union only when the books were criticizing the United States. However, they still shed some light as to what was going on. For example, reading The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, I couldn't understand how people who owned a truck could be considered poor.

cphat187 karma

I was curious about your experiences with the religious community during this time. I have heard much about persecution, especially for Christians during this time. What did you see and experience?

AnatoleKonstantin461 karma

Religion was prohibited in the USSR so I wasn't raised as any particular religion. As a child I remember playing with crystals from the church chandeliers that were dumped by the authorities who were going to use the church for grain storage.

kamace11186 karma

Hi! Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am so sorry you went through all of this.

I specialized in Soviet history during The Great Terror (1936-40, give or take).

How did the populace react to things like the sudden fall from grace of police leaders like Nikolai Yezhov or Genrikh Yagoda?

Did people around you seem to sincerely believe in the righteousness of what was occurring? That it was scary, but necessary for a better future?

What humor, if any, did people employ to face this sort of horror?

Thank you so much for any answers!

AnatoleKonstantin473 karma

Initially people were shocked because these police leaders were considered to be exemplary Communists. The next emotion was schadenfreude that now the executioner will be executed.

Very few believed that the terrible things happening were necessary for the future. However, people were afraid to say their true opinions.

When asked what was the tallest building in town, some said it was the fire tower while others said this wasn't so, the tallest building was the KGB headquarters because from there you could see Siberia.

Teslablade169 karma

Was the Holodomor ever any kind of public knowledge?

AnatoleKonstantin501 karma

For those who don't know, the Holodomor was an artificially created famine in the Ukraine. The KGB did not allow bringing grain from other parts of the Soviet Union where it was available and was even exported abroad. In the Ukraine, they took all of the smart peasants and sent them to Siberia or killed them because they did not want to join the collective farms. The ones who remained didn't know what to do and were placed into these disorganized and chaotic collective farms.

At the same time, an American correspondent named Walter Duranty from the New York Times received a Pulitzer prize in 1932 for his reports that there was no famine in the Ukraine. This caused people in the United States to be unaware of the famine. There are various estimates as to the total number of people who died and they vary from 5 to 8 million.

Magolors_Realm168 karma

Why did your father get executed by the Secret Police?

AnatoleKonstantin525 karma

He was executed because he was corresponding with his parents in Romania and any correspondence with a foreign country made one suspected of being a spy. 50 years after his disappearance, a letter from the KGB informed us of his execution and also that he was being "posthumously rehabilitated", admitting that he was innocent.

tyluy81 karma

Hi Mr. Konstantin, thanks for doing this AMA. And thanks Miles for doing the replies.

I've heard that communist countries only survive government controls because they have extensive black markets. Did you yourself engage in any black market activity? Did you know it was going on? Did the police try to shut it down? Did they let it happen because they too needed it?

AnatoleKonstantin175 karma

I never participated in any black market, if only because I had nothing to sell. Everyone knew what was going on and the police welcomed it because it was a source of bribe income for them.

gjo8040173 karma

Did you ever have to lie or at least not tell the full truth to save your own or someone else's life? If so what was it?

AnatoleKonstantin190 karma

Being the son of an "Enemy of the People" was no fun and I lied whenever possible that my father had died rather than telling them he disappeared in the Gulags.

beyonsense-6 karma

Why does your generation equalize democratic socialism with communism? In other words: why many people like you won't vote for someone like Bernie Sanders?

AnatoleKonstantin48 karma

I do not equate Democratic Socialism and Communism. If Bernie Sanders had proposed believable and acceptable ways of financing his ideas, more people would have voted for him.