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U.S. asylum-seekers generally unhappy in Russia

If Edward Snowden has time on his hands, stuck as he is in Sheremetyevo Aiport’s transit zone, he might want to seize the opportunity to read up on the history of American asylum-seekers in Russia.

Those who have – such as Washington journalist and author Peter Savodnik – come up with a litany of disenchantment, which could prove meaningful for Snowden.

“If history is any indication,” Savodnik said in a telephone interview, “he can expect purgatory on Earth if he stays in Russia. They’ll send him to a remote place, with no real society or life, somewhere far away from Moscow.”

The past reveals a rogue’s gallery of failed romantics who thought they would find a better world. Most met unhappy ends. Take Big Bill Haywood, who, like Snowden, was charged under the federal Espionage Act of 1917. Haywood, a radical labor leader, was found guilty of violating the act after calling a strike in 1918 during wartime. He served about a year in prison and, while out on appeal, decamped to Moscow. Haywood married a Russian but never learned the language. Eventually, he said he wanted to return home, but in 1928, at the age of 59, he died of alcoholism and diabetes.

Savodnik has a book coming out in November, The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union, about the most notorious U.S. defector, who went off to Moscow in 1959 with misplaced hopes of a glorious life in the worker’s paradise of the then-Soviet Union. He returned home in 1962, assassinated President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and two days later was killed.

In a recent opinion piece for the Washington Post, David Barrett, a Villanova University political science professor, described how two National Security Agency employees foreshadowed Snowden – in 1960.

William Martin, 29, and Bernon Mitchell, 31, said they were going on vacation and turned up as defectors in Moscow, where they announced that the United States was spying on countries all over the world. It was the biggest violation of national security ever. Sound familiar?

“They went on to lead long, unhappy lives in the Soviet Union,” Barrett wrote.

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