Stalinism is alive
and well on the
No longer legal photograph by Islay McLeod
News that the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport is planning to prohibit the taking of photographs in stations of the Glasgow metro struck a chord with me.
I remember our excitement when, on the rather wet evening of our arrival in Moscow, we were taken on a tour of its famous underground system. We visited five different stations, travelling between them on the trains and ritually stroking the much-stroked head of the bronze dog at one of them. We were actively encouraged to take photographs and we did, in large numbers. It was a good experience.
When we reached St Petersburg, two of us decided to venture into the centre by metro from the berth on the Neva where our boat was moored. The Moscow metro's decoration is world-renowned, but one doesn't hear of the St Petersburg metro. It turned out to have gracious decoration at our nearby station and I took a couple of photographs.
When we had to change trains, I took pictures at the station where we were to wait for a few minutes, oblivious of the fact that a humourless apparatchik with a clipboard was bearing down on me. He indicated to me that I was not permitted to photograph – there was a poster behind a pillar bearing an image of a camera with a red cross through it. He began to write on the sheet on his clipboard, and asked for my name. I contemplated responding 'Gordon Brown', but decided that I had better give him my own name. A Canadian judge on our boat said I had been wise to do so.
As the apparatchik was writing, a Russian came up to him and spoke excitedly, gesticulating at me. I assume he was saying, 'Look, this is a daffy foreigner, just tell her not to do it again'. The apparatchik shook his head, continued writing and asked me for 100 roubles. So I paid up and we ran for our train. Whether my 100 roubles ended up in the apparatchik's personal benevolent fund, I cannot know, but it may be the case that I have a criminal record in St Petersburg.
Does the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport – who thought up that name? – wish to be compared with Russian officialdom? On the other hand, this new ruling will be as unsurprising to keen photographers as it will be depressing. It is not unknown for British Transport Police to apprehend photographers at British rail stations. Stalinism is alive and well, and not only in post-Soviet Russia.
Jill Stephenson is former professor of modern German history at the University of Edinburgh