Footage of Julia Gillard in Canberra being dragged by a security detachment to a waiting car went viral yesterday. At one stage, she was running neck and neck for top viewing on the BBC website with George Clooney.
There will be an investigation, endless analysis and blame – but the image of the stumbling PM was probably more striking than anything that may follow. And the image reminded me of another picture, in grainy black and white, of another woman dragged across the bitumen by solid men without necks, and losing a shoe in the process – Evdokia Petrova, nearly 60 years ago.
Evdokia Petrova was the wife of Vladimir Petrov, a diplomat in the Soviet embassy in Canberra. In April 1954, he defected to Australia, promising to provide information about a spy ring within the Embassy. It was the height of the Cold War, and the defection caused a hell of a political storm both in Australia and in the West in general. Various figures in the Labor Party were (probably unfairly) implicated, and the ALP lost the next election (and every subsequent one until 1972).
People have debated ever since just what was going on – but Vladimir Petrov seems to have been lured by money and prostitutes, as well as fear that with the death of Stalin and the disgrace of Beria, his future in Moscow was looking bleak. He certainly didn’t discuss his plans with his wife, an MVD officer.
Meanwhile, as the drama unfolded in Canberra, Evdokia was whisked away by KGB agents who planned to take her back to Moscow. A crowd gathered at Sydney airport to demonstrate against her removal. They broke through the police cordons and tried to ‘save her’. In the chaos, she lost a shoe before she was bundled on to the plane.
The images of Evdokia Petrova being dragged across the tarmac to a plane, apparently by goons in overcoats, remain stunning.
But in 1954, an international flight needed to refuel in Darwin before flying on to Asia. During the flight, on instructions by radio from the Prime Minister, an air hostess asked Evdokia whether she wanted to defect. She was ambivalent, but when the plane arrived in Darwin, after speaking to her husband, she agreed to do so. The Petrovs lived for the rest of their lives in Melbourne, under assumed names. Evdokia died in 2002, 11 years after her husband, how happily – who knows?
There is absolutely nothing to link these two events – except for those strikingly similar images of 2 smallish women, neatly dressed in skirt and jacket and high heels, being roughly dragged along by big men too busy ‘protecting’ them to treat them with dignity.
And a question: Why, after nearly 60 years, do we women still hobble ourselves in high heels?
See the exhibition on The Petrov Affair here
My post from 28 January 2011: Groundhog Day