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Monday 2 October 2023 Dublin: 12°C
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# State Papers
'Pub life and gambling': A Soviet Russian guide to 1970s Ireland
Yuri Ustimenko was Russian news agency TAAS’ Irish correspondent from 1969 to 1971.

BACK IN 1979, the Department of Foreign Affairs concerned itself with – among other issues affecting the country’s reputation abroad – a small Soviet guidebook to Ireland. 

A glimpse into how important impressions abroad were can be found in a report on “Get To Know Ireland” by Yuri Ustimenko, State papers reveal. 

Ustimenko was Russian news agency TAAS’ Irish correspondent from 1969 to 1971. Until his guidebook was published little information was known in Soviet Russia about Ireland.

“The present publication, therefore, fills a considerable gap,” Ireland’s ambassador to Russia explains in their report. “We have been told that a large number of copies [have] been purchased by officials in the [Russian] Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

Described as “light and readable”, “Get To Know Ireland” contains “minor factual errors which could have been corrected by an Irish proofreader…but on the whole the general information is quite accurate and sympathetically presented.”

Author Ustimenko, however, “suffers from limitations of experience and knowledge of Ireland.”

There is also obvious political and social bias, including reference to British colonialism in Ireland, the influence of multi-nationals and social problems – “all naturally described from a Soviet point of view”. 

One “particularly slanted section” deals with women in Ireland. 

Ustimenko references historian Tim Pat Coogan who is quoted as saying that under the Constitution parental rights rest solely with the father…”giving a much worse picture of the position of women in Ireland than is really the case.”

“Elsewhere, the author suggests that Irish women’s submissiveness is due to the age-long influence of the Church”.

Ustimenko’s account allows for historical bias, according to the Department. 

While Ustimenko’s descriptions of native Irish industries – Waterford Crystal, Guinness, Kilkenny Design – are positive, less flattering is the author’s take on Irish drinking habits.

He “makes a point of the Irish being heavy drinkers – in pubs rather than at home”. 

“He gives quite a lot of space to pub life and gambling as part of Ireland’s leisure activities, with special mention on bingo,” according to the Department report, “to which the State transport company runs special buses and of which the Franciscans use the proceeds to build or repair churches.” 

20181206_110941 Cónal Thomas Cónal Thomas

‘Anti-Soviet propaganda’

Another chapter is dedicated to the IRA from its origins “in the fire of the 1916 Rising” to the present day troubles in Northern Ireland and a condemnation of the Provisional IRA. 

“This latter is surprising as Soviet comments up to now on the events in Northern Ireland have treated the Provisionals as anti-colonial freedom fighters and refrained from condemnation of their activities.”

In two chapters on Northern Ireland, however, Ustimenko alleges that there is continuous anti-Sovet propaganda and that everything that goes wrong in the North – from bad weather to rising prices – is blamed by the press on Moscow. 

In 1979, Soviet Russia was led by Leonid Brezhnev, who ruled the Soviet Union between 1964 and 1982. 

Soon after the ambassador’s report on Ustimenko’s take on Ireland, the United States and the Soviet Union signed Salt II – an agreement aimed at restraining the ongoing arms race between the two superpowers. 

In Northern Ireland, the troubles continued as the Irish government tackled IRA tactics either side of the border. Ustimenko found himself caught up in these events during his time here. 

One chapter details Ustimenko’s treatment by Northern Ireland’s police after he was arrested in Ardoyne, Belfast which he describes as “a complete disregard for democratic rights in a part of the UK which claims to be model of western democracy.”

These files, including a copy of Ustimenko’s ”Get To Know Ireland” guidebook can be accessed through the National Archives.

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