REPRESSIVE REGIMES OF whatever political or religious persuasion often have in common an internal struggle between the hardliners and the reformers. Those in Vietnam and the former Soviet Union spring to mind. In the Vietnam of the early 1990s, the reformists offered American PEN visas to visit the country and meet its many writers in the north and south, but no sooner were these granted by the Foreign Affairs Department than they were rescinded by the more ossified Internal Ministry. In the case of the Soviet Union, I remember a summer day in 1987 when we at International PEN were visited by a Russian chplomat from the London embassy. Why, he asked, were we so interested in the case of the imprisoned woman writer Irina Ratushinskaya? We told him, he listened and left. She was released later that year. He left behind him a sense of a regime no longer unresponsively monolithic. The whole business smacked of new brooms at work among the cadres.
Nowhere has the contrast between dfferent departments of one government been so marked