Communication among foreign leaders at summits and by hotline is veiled in an aura of mystique. Confidentiality agreements rarely afford top interpreters a chance to disclose much about the so-called one-to-one negotiations between their bosses-cum-clients. Is the interpreter’s role in enabling a head of totalitarian state to achieve an important international objective any different from doing the same for a head of democratic state? How does assisting a dictator affect the interpreter’s training, work ethic and translation principles? How do protocol conventions shape the interpreter’s skills and linguistic behaviour? Do the demands of consecutive translation at the highest level have any bearing on the art of simultaneous translation at other levels? How reliable is the interpreter as a key witness? How does one win the tyrant’s trust and become his tongue – and how does this influence the interpreter’s own personality?
These and other questions are addressed on the basis of memoirs by interpreters for Stalin (Kak ia stal perevodchikom Stalina  by Valentin Berezhkov), Khrushchev and Brezhnev (Iazyk moi – drug moi  by Viktor Sukhodrev), as well as Gorbachev (My Years with Gorbachev and Shevardnadze  by Petr Palazchenko).
Andrei Rogatchevski is Professor of Russian Literature and Culture at UiT – the Arctic University of Norway.