For the whole of 2016, we have been actively deliberating how best to use CCI’s 33-year experience in the US-Russia field––since Russia is increasingly being declared America’s enemy #1––which we totally reject.
We’ve concluded that our successful programs of the ’80s are precisely what is needed again in today’s baffling environment.
For those unfamiliar with our history, a few words follow: In 1983 at the height of first Cold War, twenty of us mainstream American citizens landed in Moscow with the goal to try to understand the deadlock with the “enemy” country. Sixteen days earlier, the 007 Korean airliner had been exploded in air by Soviet planes killing 269 persons aboard, some of them Americans. America’s Congress and U.S. media burst forth in natural outrage. The prospect of Nuclear War hung heavily across the world as we entered the Soviet Union. We first-time travelers to the USSR understood that more than ever that it was critical ‘to get eyes on the enemy’––to try to understand their mentalities and learn if the US-USSR relationship was utterly hopeless.
We began our investigations in Moscow with ‘eyes only.’ We didn’t confront, condemn or try to change the Soviets’ angst; we listened and spoke up … trying to remain neutral––which was difficult, since they were obviously frightened an all-out war could ensue. We passionately yearned to reduce the risks of Nuclear War for both Americans and Soviets––but as ordinary Americans were helpless to do anything but listen and try to get more information about the 007 flight. Long days, multiple meetings, confrontations and deep sharings by the Soviets about their experiences of WWII sped by. On leaving the USSR, our brain cells were scrambled with conflicting accounts of the horrible tragedy still in the news worldwide. Flying home we made the decision to return to the USSR … somehow realizing that our work had just begun. It was a momentous decision for several of us.
Like magnets drawn to metal, we scheduled a second trip and took other Americans with us … then third and fourth trips. Soon we were making friends on the streets in Soviet cities and starting small projects with some of our new contacts (getting A.A. across the USSR was one of the projects that succeeded beyond anything we could have ever imagined). Thanks to Gorbchev’s ascension to power in 1985, we got permission in 1987 to bring non-Communist party members to visit America––those whom we had met in parks, schools and in their small apartments. All together, we brought Soviet travelers to 264 American cities in 1988 and ’89 (thanks to Steve Wozniak)––where both sides realized they really enjoyed and respected one another. Among ourselves we declared that the Cold War dead! Other American groups like ours had also entered the “citizen diplomacy” field. By this time we collectively were making a difference in the mindsets of citizens across both Superpowers.
Our CCI travel activities in the ‘80s succeeded because they destroyed decades of myths, stereotypes and fears between Soviet and American citizens––and they began to reduce deeply-held resentments and fears of Soviet officials. Soon, Gorbachev and Reagan met at Reykjavik, Iceland … and the rest is history. Cold War I vanished without a trace remaining.
Now 25 years later, we are into Cold War II ….