Cultural Exchange and the Cold War

Cultural Exchange and the Cold War: Raising the Iron Curtain

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 264
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    Cultural Exchange and the Cold War
    Book Description:

    Some fifty thousand Soviets visited the United States under various exchange programs between 1958 and 1988. They came as scholars and students, scientists and engineers, writers and journalists, government and party officials, musicians, dancers, and athletes—and among them were more than a few KGB officers. They came, they saw, they were conquered, and the Soviet Union would never again be the same. Cultural Exchange and the Cold War describes how these exchange programs (which brought an even larger number of Americans to the Soviet Union) raised the Iron Curtain and fostered changes that prepared the way for Gorbachev's glasnost, perestroika, and the end of the Cold War. This study is based upon interviews with Russian and American participants as well as the personal experiences of the author and others who were involved in or administered such exchanges. Cultural Exchange and the Cold War demonstrates that the best policy to pursue with countries we disagree with is not isolation but engagement.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05446-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VII)
    (pp. VIII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-X)
    Yale Richmond
    (pp. XI-XII)
    (pp. XIII-XIV)

    What caused communism to collapse and the Cold War to come to a close?

    Some say it was Ronald Reagan who sullied the Soviet Union with his “evil empire” speech. Others point to Pope John Paul II and his visits to Catholic Poland, which challenged Soviet rule in Eastern Europe and ultimately the entire Soviet bloc. Still others recognize the role of the U.S. military buildup, the threat of “Star Wars,” and the simple solution that we spent the Soviets into submission. Also credited are international radio broadcasts—the Voice of America, BBC, and Radio Liberty—that exposed the fabrications...

    (pp. 1-10)

    For most of its history Russia has been isolated from other major centers of world civilization. Vast distances separated it from Western Europe, the Middle East, and China. In an age when transportation was primitive and hazardous, a trip by horse-drawn coach from Moscow to Western Europe could take three months or more.

    At the end of the seventeenth century, for example, before roads were improved, a Russian named Pyotr Tolstoi departed Moscow on January 11 and arrived in Venice on May 22 after several major stopovers. When ordered to return to Moscow, he left Venice on November 1 and...

    (pp. 11-13)

    When the Soviet Union made plans to host the Sixth World Youth Festival in Moscow, its intent was to demonstrate to the world the changes that had taken place since the death of Stalin four years earlier. Previous such festivals had been held in other countries, where they had been well managed by local communist groups and produced propaganda successes. The results of the Moscow festival, however, were quite different, and the consequences unintended. The tens of thousands of Soviet youth who attended the festival were infected with the youth styles of the West—jeans, jazz, boogie-woogie, rock and roll,...

    (pp. 14-20)

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower envisioned a people-to-people exchange, with people indeed bypassing their governments to learn more about each other. But that was not to be for many years, and in the interim, exchanges had to be negotiated and carried out by governments with their cumbersome bureaucracies and political and security considerations, and under agreements laboriously negotiated and implemented.

    Soviet ignorance of the United States was abysmal. Isolated from the outside world and continually told by their media of all the achievements of the Soviet state, the Soviet people believed that they were far better off than those who lived...

    (pp. 21-64)

    One chapter alone, as Allen Kassof rightly regrets, will not suffice to credit the role of scholarly exchanges in bringing about change in the Soviet Union, but I will attempt it here. As Kassof explains:

    Among the thousands of Soviet and East European academics and intellectuals who were exchange participants in the United States and Western Europe … many became members of what, in retrospect, turned out to be underground establishments. They were well-placed individuals, members of the political and academic elites, who began as loyalists but whose outside experiences sensitized them to the need for basic change. Together with...

    (pp. 65-76)

    “The scientific and academic communities traditionally have been the most pro-Western segments of Russian society,” writes Loren Graham, professor emeritus of the history of science from MIT, who studied at Moscow State University in 1960–61 under the Graduate Student/Young Faculty Exchange program. “Throughout the Soviet period,” continues Graham, “the most prominent calls for democracy and human rights came from their ranks—Andrei Sakharov, the noted physicist and father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, is only the best known of a number of leaders in the human rights movement during the Soviet period.”¹

    Indeed, many of the leading Soviet dissidents...

    (pp. 77-80)

    Another important but less well known element of U.S.-Soviet exchanges was the work of the U.S.-USSR Commissions of ACLS. Established in the mid-1970s, the commissions facilitated direct contact in the humanities and social sciences between scholars of the two countries through joint conferences and cooperative research.¹

    Prior to establishment of the commissions, there was virtually no cooperation between the two countries in the humanities and social sciences. Individual scholars were exchanged through IUCTG and IREX to pursue their own research, but the centralized and hierarchical nature of Soviet research made it difficult for American scholars to collaborate with their Soviet...

    (pp. 81-94)

    Until the mid-1950s the Soviet Union had no official body devoted to the study of foreign policy or international economic and political affairs. During the Stalin years, such issues were decided by theVozhd’, the “Great Leader” himself, without the advice of experts, and at a time when there were few such experts in the Soviet Union. In a wartime interview, Maksim Litvinov, former Soviet ambassador to Washington, said that the Soviet Foreign Ministry was headed by three people, none of whom understood America. “The same has been true, a fortiori, to this day,” commented Walter Laqueur in 1986, “with...

    (pp. 95-112)

    Soviet think-tank staffers and scientists participated in several forums that provided an opportunity to meet and exchange views with American scholars, scientists, and public figures. There were a number of these, which have come to be called “transnational forums,” four of which will be discussed here—Pugwash, the Dartmouth Conference, the U.S. United Nations Association (UNA-USA), and the meetings of the American Friends (Quakers).

    The Soviets were regular participants in the Pugwash meetings, which as Arbatov notes, were particularly important in the 1960s and 1970s. Pugwash, writes Arbatov, “was our first course in Western thinking of security and disarmament.”¹ Also...

    (pp. 113-122)

    The U.S. government was the major sponsor of exchanges with the Soviet Union, but scores of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also participated, some with and others without financial support from the U.S. government. Among them were the Alley Theater (Houston), American Bar Association, American College of Cardiology, American Conservatory Theater (San Francisco), American Council of Teachers of Russian, American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL), American Economic Association, American Field Service, AFSC, American Library Association, Chautauqua Institution, Communication Association of America, Esalen Institute, Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Guthrie Theater (Minneapolis), Institute for Soviet-American Relations, the U.S. Center of the International Theater...

    (pp. 123-127)

    The importance of cultural exchanges in international relations was recognized by George Kennan, dean of American diplomats, but Sol Hurok, the legendary American impresario, knew what the public would come to see in both the United States and the Soviet Union, and he became one of the important middlemen who made cultural exchanges a success, both artistically and financially, despite the chill winds of the Cold War.

    The performing arts were one of the most visible of U.S.-Soviet exchanges. In the United States, few of the cognoscenti failed to hear of, if not see, the Soviet dance groups, symphony orchestras,...

    (pp. 128-132)

    Lenin was correct in predicting that the cinema would be an important medium for indoctrinating people, but the father of the Soviet state could not have foreseen the influence that foreign films would have on the Soviet public. From foreign films Soviet audiences learned that people in the West did not have to stand in long lines to purchase food, did not live in communal apartments, dressed fashionably, enjoyed many conveniences not available in the Soviet Union, owned cars, and lived the normal life so sought by Russians.

    As Thomas L. Friedman has pointed out, that had unforeseen consequences: “The...

    (pp. 133-135)

    “Better to see once than hear a hundred times,” advises an old Russian proverb, and Russians heeded that advice in thronging to see the twenty-three major exhibitions brought to the Soviet Union by USIA under the cultural agreement from 1959 to 1991. What they had heard a hundred times about the United States from their own media was negated by a visit to one of the USIA touring exhibitions, which gave them a glimpse of the United States, its people, and how they lived. The exhibitions also provided a rare opportunity for Soviet citizens to talk with Russian-speaking American guides...

    (pp. 136-152)

    Theknigonoshiwere the book bearers of the tsarist era, Russians who traveled to the West on business or pleasure and returned home with forbidden books, often by bribing border guards to avoid government controls on the import of foreign literature. This chapter, however, is about modernknigonoshiwho brought Western literature to the Soviet Union, circumventing the strict controls imposed by communist ideologists.

    Books played an important role in the westernization of the Soviet Union and the winning of the hearts and minds of many Russians. Russians love books, and they are widely read and treasured in a country...

    (pp. 153-161)

    Writers are respected, honored, and widely read in Russia, where they have long been regarded as the conscience of the nation. Because of the strict controls on what could be published, under tsars as well as commissars, Russian writers attempted to treat in their works subjects of political and social import that could not be discussed openly. That explains, in part, their importance in a nation that reveres the written word. Until the 1920s, the vast majority of Russians were illiterate, and it seems as if the Russians of our time are trying to make up for all the books...

    (pp. 162-171)

    Among the Russians accustomed to thinking one way but writing another were journalists and diplomats stationed outside the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, thousands of them worked in the United States and other countries around the world, and it is fair to ask if they too were influenced by their years abroad.

    This is complicated somewhat by the commonly held belief that all Soviet correspondents abroad, as well as many of the diplomats, had intelligence connections or obligations to report to the GRU or KGB, a factor that colored their written perceptions of the West and their reporting to...

    (pp. 172-178)

    Conflict between fathers and sons is a well-known theme in the literature of many nations. Russians know it from Ivan Turgenev’s masterful novel,Fathers and Sons(titled in Russian as the more politically correctFathers and Children). Stalin himself would have experienced such a conflict had he been alive when his daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, defected to the West in 1966 and became a U.S. citizen. Nikita Khrushchev also would have known it when his son Sergei became a U.S. citizen in 1999.

    Earlier, in the 1950s, the father-son conflict took another form in thestilyagi(style-hunters), the Soviet “zoot suiters.”...

    (pp. 179-183)

    “Why do we live as we do?” was a question asked by many Soviets, all of them presumably cleared by the KGB and who visited the United States on exchanges, reports a veteran State Department interpreter who escorted many of them around the country:

    Their minds were blown by being here. They could not believe there could be such abundance and comfort. Many of them would even disparage things here. “Excess, who needs it,” they would say. However, you could see that they did not believe what they were saying. When they returned home, in their own minds and in...

    (pp. 184-185)

    Zapadniye golosa(Western voices), as they were called, were the forbidden foreign broadcasts that Soviet citizens listened to clandestinely on their shortwave radios, straining, above the din of Soviet jammers, to hear the news and commentary from Radio Liberty, BBC, the Voice of America (VOA), the Deutsche Welle, Kol Israel, and other international broadcasters. For those who could not travel beyond the Soviet bloc, foreign radio was their link to the outside world, breaking the Soviet information monopoly and allowing listeners to hear news and views that differed from those of the communist media.

    Why shortwave rather than the medium...

    (pp. 186-190)

    When Premier Leonid Brezhnev traveled to Helsinki in the summer of 1975 to sign the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), it is not clear that he understood what he was committing the Soviet Union to do.¹ The Final Act, as the conference’s concluding document is known, recognized, for the first time in an international agreement, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freer movement of people, ideas, and information.²

    There was considerable drama in the signing of the Final Act on August 1, 1975, by thirty-three European heads of state or...

    (pp. 191-196)

    Another young and upwardly mobile Russian for whom foreign travel was an eye-opener was Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, future member of the Politburo, General Secretary of the Communist Party, and president of the Soviet Union. A man with an inquisitive mind and a high respect for learning, Gorbachev came to those positions with more knowledge about the rest of the world than any top Soviet leader since Lenin. He was also the first university-educated leader to rule Russia since Lenin, and like Lenin, he had studied law, unlike most other Soviet leaders, who had been trained in construction and engineering. Gorbachev,...

    (pp. 197-199)

    Many outstanding Soviet scholars, scientists, and writers traveled to the West, but many others, equally or even more outstanding, were not permitted to travel beyond the Soviet bloc, having failed to receive the approval of the Foreign Travel Commission, a body that decided which citizens were sufficiently reliable to travel abroad. The sad story of George I.Mirsky is illustrative.

    Mirsky, an expert on the Middle East and developing countries, an Arabic speaker and Iraq specialist, had worked more than forty years at IMEMO. His doctoral dissertation was on the history of Iraq between the two world wars, but he had...

    (pp. 200-204)

    In 1968, I made a get-acquainted call on Moscow’s newly established Institute of Applied Sociological Research. Sociology had been banned in communist countries during the Stalin years, but the Soviet Union’s new leaders soon learned that sociological research, if closely controlled, could be useful in revealing the failures as well as the achievements of Soviet society.

    As the counselor for cultural affairs at the American Embassy, I was received coolly but correctly and was given a briefing on the work of the new institute.¹ At the conclusion of the meeting, the Russian briefer, in response to my questioning, acknowledged that...

    (pp. 205-209)

    The influence of the Beatles on the youth of the West is well known. Less well known is their following among the youth of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and the changes they brought about in those societies during the 1960s and 1970s in another form of cultural exchange.

    “I am sure that the impact of the Beatles on the generation of young Soviets in the 1960s will one day be the object of studies,” writes Pavel Palazchenko, Gorbachev’s English-language interpreter and foreign policy aide: “We knew their songs by heart.… In the dusky years of the Brezhnev regime...

  30. 24 OBMEN OR OBMAN ?
    (pp. 210-225)

    What a difference an “a” makes!Obmenis the Russian word for “exchange,”obmanthe Russian word for “deception,” and some Americans saw exchanges with the Soviet Union as deceptions.

    Supporters of exchanges sensed, as the late Alexander Dallin presciently put it, “that the impact of contacts and exposure, whether bread or circus, cannot fail to field a slow, perhaps imperceptible cumulation of new attitudes, perspectives, learning, borrowing.… It is bound to make for healthier, more open human relations, whose ultimate political expression remains moot.”¹ Dallin also thought that the Soviet leadership underestimated the subtle, long-range impact of dealing with the...

  31. 25 THE FUTURE
    (pp. 226-228)

    In the early years of the twenty-first century, Russia is in a new time of troubles—demographic, public health, environmental, crime and corruption, economic, and social—and there are some in the United States who believe that Russia no longer matters in world affairs.

    True, Russia has lost an empire; its political, economic, and social systems have been overturned; its military power has been much reduced; and all within the space of little more than a decade. Russia is indeed down but it is not out. It still has many attributes of a great power—nuclear weapons and their delivery...

    (pp. 229-230)
    (pp. 231-236)
  34. INDEX
    (pp. 237-250)
  35. Back Matter
    (pp. 251-251)