Disillusioned by the West, Stalin's Daughter, Svetlana, Flies Home to Mother Russia
11/19/1984 at 01:00 AM EST
She defected to the U.S. 17 years ago, in a blizzard of publicity befitting her status as the most prominent Russian exile of the Cold War era. Svetlana Alliluyeva, pampered daughter of Joseph Stalin, burned her Soviet passport and for a time basked in glittering celebrity as the propaganda catch of the Free World. But when she and her Arizona-born daughter, Olga Peters, 13, slipped out of London on board an Aeroflot flight to Moscow on October 23, her romance with the West had long since soured. "The pains of exile," concluded a London newspaper, "even voluntarily undertaken, had become too much to bear."
Friends disputed what exactly had pushed her over the edge, but none of them were shocked by her departure. Misfortune and unhappiness have dogged her life. Her mother committed suicide when Svetlana was 6, all three of her marriages ended in divorce and a long love affair ended with the death of her Indian fiancé in 1966 (she was returning his ashes to New Delhi when she decided to defect). For years she pined for her two children and two grandchildren living in the Soviet Union. And she made no secret of the boredom and loneliness she found "living the life of a suburban housewife in America" after years of fraternizing with Moscow intellectuals. Her last two years, in Cambridge, England, were no happier. While Olga attended private school there, Svetlana lived in "Garbo-like seclusion," reported the London Times. "She appeared to be seeking something," says Professor Donald Denman, her former landlord. "She was socially charming, most likable, but at times upset and despairing."
If Svetlana left the West voluntarily, the same cannot be said of daughter Olga, whose mother once described her as "American as apple pie." According to neighbors the girl flew into a rage the night before she and her mother disappeared. "Why didn't you tell me?" Olga cried.
The Soviets have received Svetlana and Olga with a bear hug, granting them citizenship and, according to a Soviet source, a monthly stipend. Svetlana is reportedly visiting a family villa near Moscow.
Defection had led to disillusionment, she explained in an interview last March: "I would say to all defectors, always remember that on the other shore there are the same humans—people who are imperfect, dull, incompetent, treacherous, idiotic—just like those you are leaving behind. It is human nature that rules the world—not governments and regimes."