Defector from Commie Land
A common plot for stories set during the Cold War
. A character from Commie Land
wants to get to the West and the heroes have to help them get there. (There are also what are called "defectors in place", but they're the Reverse Mole
... until they're blown, in which case they become one of these).
This will sometimes entail them actually traversing the Iron Curtain
, but it doesn't have to... they could already be in the West and have to slip their Secret Police
minders. The Warsaw Pact
states were acutely aware of the potential for defection and those in government, entertainment or sport were usually barred from taking their families with them when going overseas i.e. so the families could be held hostage against them coming back; if they did flee, the family would be subject to some pretty intense hardship. This can add an extra complication to the plot as the heroes will also need to retrieve the defector's family.
However, the defector may actually turn out to be The Mole
or a Renegade Russian
The defector will often bring a present with them to the West (aside from a nice chest in some cases). These can include:
- The name of or clues as to the identity of The Mole.
- Copied documents (often in microfilm form)
- Electronics, such as a coding machine.
- A full-blown piece of military tech, such as a fighter plane, helicopter or a ballistic missile submarine, basically by flying it across the Iron Curtain.
- The plot behind one Buck Danny story: a Russian pilot in a brand-new fighter asks for asylum in the US.
- The Company Man is about a man who pretends to be a CIA agent to gain the respect of his in-laws. But a high-profile Soviet dancer decides to defect and approaches the the man believing his lies. The CIA actually make him an agent just so they can get the credit and send him somewhere quiet...Cuba.
- James Bond has two examples:
- From Russia with Love, although she's actually in Turkey first.
- The Living Daylights has two: Renegade Russian General Koskov, and later Kara Milovy. The former gets the latter (his girlfriend) to pose as a KGB sniper to make his defection look real, with every intention of having her killed by James Bond. Bond notes that she's an amateur and merely shoots the rifle from her hands. "I must have scared the living daylights out of her."
- The same situation occurs in the original short story, although there isn't actually a defector: The man Bond is protecting is a British agent trying to make it back to the West, and Milovy is a real KGB sniper, albeit with an AK-47, with the Code Name "Trigger". Bond decides she's rather a looker, doesn't want to kill someone in cold blood and does the same as he does in the movie, but with more serious injuries.
- And one inversion in GoldenEye, in the form of ex-MI-6 Alec Trevelyan.
- Condorman's main plot is set off by the High-Heel–Face Turn of KGB spy Natalia, who falls for the eponymous dashing top-secret agent during a courier mission. She's unaware that he's really a comic book writer who convinced his CIA friend to let him take the mission as a way to prove that he can actually be Condorman. Hilarity Ensues as they are chased all over Eastern Europe by Natalia's former boss and his murderous goons.
- Anton Vanko in Iron Man 2, who was sent back to the USSR after falling out with Howard Stark.
- The Spy Who Came In from the Cold: in common speech beyond this wiki, John le Carré is the Trope Namer. This is sort of thing is called "to come in from the cold".
- Also Karla in Smiley's People.
- Northlight, a Quiller novel by Adam Hall. Quiller is sent to bring across The Mole who has evidence that the Soviets destroyed a British submarine outside their territorial limit. It turns out that his superiors don't want this evidence made public because the outcry would halt an upcoming peace conference, so they set up Quiller and the mole to be killed.
- The Hunt for Red October. With the aforementioned ballistic missile submarine.
- The title character in Lawrence Block's Tanner's Twelve Swingers helped an entire Latvian women's gymnastic team defect to the US, in addition to a Russian fighter pilot and his aircraft.
- The MST3K episode "Agent for H.A.R.M." has this as Backstory.
- Airwolf has quite a few examples. It helped that the eponymous Black Helicopter had stealth capability for extractions from Commie Land.
- Common in Mission: Impossible.
- Also common in MacGyver. Notably in an early episode when Mac smuggles himself out hidden in a casket that transforms into a jet ski.
- In one episode of The West Wing, a North Korean concert pianist performing in the US slips a note to the US stating his desire to defect. The administration have to reluctantly decline.
- The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries used this three times:
- Sole Survivor revolved around East Germans trying to stop the defection of a Chinese scientist, using a Mind Screw to get Joe Hardy to spill his guts.
- Mystery On The Avalanche Express had a side plot of a ski champion wanting to defect to the West, and dragging Joe into the matter.
- Defection To Paradise had the daughter of a top Russian Official being chased down by Russian assassins, and Frank and Joe trying to help her escape.
- An episode of Joe 90 featured a concert pianist who defected in the middle of one of his own live radio broadcasts when Joe (who had been programmed with the pianist's own brain-pattern) took his place at the piano; and his guards never noticed a thing.
- In Chess, Anatoly defects to the West after winning the match against Freddy. His wife implores him to reconsider in the second act.
- Nikolai Stepanovich Sokolov from Metal Gear Solid 3.
- The very first mission of No One Lives Forever involves Cate Archer breaking an East German scientist who wants to defect to Britain out of a military installation. After succeeding, their plane is boarded by H.A.R.M. agents on the way back to Britain. They kidnap the scientist and blow a hole in the plane, causing Archer to fall out, leading to an action sequence in which the player has to fight off paratrooping Mooks and steal the parachute off one of them or else fall fatally into a barn.
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert: In the Allied campaign, one of the missions involves rescuing a Soviet general who is opposed to Stalin's methods and wishes to defect to the West. He later provides valuable intelligence on Stalin's plan to nuke the major cities of Europe.
- During the Cold War, the Americans acquired examples of a number of Soviet fighters via defecting pilots, from several countries. Some of these planes were returned, but others were kept. The most famous example is Viktor Belenko, who defected with a MiG-25 in 1976 to Japan. He landed practically on fumes, missing another aircraft and overrunning the runway. While the Americans could only do ground tests on the thing and had to give it back to the USSR (they did so, in crates), they learned a massive amount about the "Foxbat", forced the cancellation of two Soviet aircraft carriers and forced the Reds with Rockets to completely revise their target classification systems.
- Nadia Comăneci, famous Romanian Olympic gymnast, defected to the US in 1989. A few weeks later, Romania had a revolution.
- Martina Navrátilová, world famous tennis player. Defected in 1975 while in New York for the US Open.
- Vladimir Bogdanovich Rezun, better known by his Cold War pen name of "Viktor Suvorov", a former GRU agent who defected in 1978 and since then has written a number of controversial books on Soviet history and the Reds with Rockets. He was on the team for The Third World War: The Untold Story.
- Mikhail Baryshnikov, the ballet dancer and actor.
- A rather famous case once occurred in the DMZ between North and South Korea where a fairly important Soviet diplomat literally ran across the demarcation line asking for asylum with the NK guards shooting at him. He managed to make it and rather humiliated the Soviet Union with his actions.
- Svetlana Alliluyeva, daughter of Josef Stalin.
- Viktor Korchnoi, one of the strongest chess player of the world in the 1970s and 1980s.
- Two-thirds of CSKA Moscow's Mogilny/Fedorov/Bure line defected to the US to play in the NHL, while Bure left after the fall of the Soviet Union.
- In 1970, Yuri Bezmenov, a KGB agent stationed in India, decided to escape by disguising himself as an American hippie.note It worked.
- Colonel Oleg Gordievsky is the highest-ranking KGB agent to defect from the Soviet Union. He became a double agent in the 1970's and passed on information to MI6 while working for the Soviet embassy in Copenhagen and later in London. He was suddenly recalled back to Moscow in May 1985, where he was interrogated for hours on suspicion of espionage. He was released but knew he had tight counter-spy surveillance and felt it was only a matter of time before he'd incriminate himself and signaled the British for help - they were able to smuggle him out to Finland and eventually the UK. He now has a death sentence on him by the Soviet government which the Russian government hasn't rescinded.
- In 1979, Peter Strelzyk and Guenter Wetzel were able to escape along with their families (eight people total) from Poessneck, Thuringia to Bavaria. How did they escape? With a homemade hot-air balloon. The two men had no experience with balloons, but were able to get a few science books for the basic function and were able to calculate how much cloth they needed (they claimed it was for a "camping club"). Their story is told in the film Night Crossing.
- Post-Cold War, this trope continues to be played straight by people who manage to get out of North Korea. One of the more famous North Korean defectors in recent years is Shin Dong-hyuk, whose experience is recounted in the book Escape from Camp 14. Even after they get out of North Korea, the struggles of North Korean defectors are not over.
- Several Cuban baseball players have defected from their home country in order to play professionally in the United States, something which picked up in The '90s following The Great Politics Mess-Up as Cuba's economy suffered greatly without Soviet help. Among the most well-known are Liván and his half-brother Orlando Hernández, Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Céspedes, and Yasiel Puig.
- After the Soviet Union suppressed the Hungarian uprising, half of Hungary's delegation to the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne did not return home.
- Inverted in an episode of The Simpsons, where a ballet teacher is such a hardass that he defects to East Germany.