Our first email with “IContact” must have hit a chord with you. I’ve not had so many responses to a message in years. Thanks for your well wishing. A lot of you are interested in the health practices. I’ll put what I’m using in print soon and get back to you.
Others requested more info about the May 2017 trip to Russia. CCI’s site (ccisf.org) covers quite a bit already. My June 4 article gave generalities. Note that investigative journalist, Rick Sterling, one of our terrific travelers, posted an excellent report enumerating the myths and the reality we found on ground in Russia. Further, traveler David Swanson, WorldBeyondWar’s prolific writer, posted nearly a dozen articles during the his time with us in Russia. His URLs are available on CCI’s site. Please check them out!
I want to reiterate the importance of accomplishing this most unusual trip. It was a unique undertaking that had never before been tried. Other trips to Russia over the decades have been primarily cultural in focus, with a few concentrated on science, medicine, agriculture, NGOs, etc. Business visas were offered to those involved in business.
CCI’s May 2017 Trip Rationale:
It was felt critical to check out the dangerous stereotypes and misinformation that exists between the U.S. and Russia today. The trip was organized to carry out this mission. The intention was to send U.S. travelers in all directions across Russia … travelers who would ask questions and collect information in Moscow and St.Petersburg in addition to regional cities far from the center of Russia. Trip applicants were chosen carefully to be sure they were ready to be sleuths, risk uncertainties and also to determine that they were sufficiently robust to keep up the pace intended for this trip. We didn’t plan any “days off.”
Fortunately, but unknown to me, a new Russian visa was recently instituted to cover unusual trips to Russia––it’s called the Humanitarian Visa. It was so new that apparently it hadn’t been tested out by a group as large as ours. I had met San Francisco’s Russian Consul General, Sergey Petrov, the year before, following my unfortunate “pick up” and detainment by Immigration officials in Volgograd, Russia. At that time, CG Petrov investigated who I was –– in the process, apparently he determined I was harmless. In early 2017, I contacted him with the notion of sending Americans to 10 Russian cities to investigate stereotypes hoping he would assist us with visas for this unusual undertaking. He explained Russia’s new Humanitarian visas, saying he would try – but held out no promises. Each person had to apply individually for these new visas and be cleared individually in Moscow’s MVD. It was “nip and tuck.” Finally, thirty American citizens made it through the process in time to fly, some just barely and with extra costs for late facilitation fees.
I was honest with the C.G. Petrov about the level of freedom we would need and the types of Russians we intended to meet in Russian cities. He understood we would interview journalists, NGOs, students, bureaucrats, people on the streets, plus a wide range of business and professional Russians. Further it was made clear that we wouldn’t be under any local officials; that our CCI Russian alumni across the regions would set up our travelers’ schedules in their areas.
I decided which cities the travelers would go to, and local Russians chose with whom the Americans would meet depending on their interests. We never got the feeling that Russians were concerned about what they were saying or doing, with one exception: in Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia, local Immigration bureaucrats showed up and intervened in an event. Our four inveterate travelers were taken to their local offices wherein our stalwart ladies took them to task. They were soon released – another case of bureaucrats not having up-to-date information on the latest visa laws and the Humanitarian visa. Otherwise, in one city after another, we had open, unguarded conversation like we carry out here in America. I was the only participant traveling who knew how impossible these experiences would have been in those cities 30 years ago!
In each city we met with Russians who approved of Putin and Russians who didn’t approve of Putin… Those who were liberals (against policies of the Putin administration) spoke openly about their views, and other Russians who were more conservative, supported the leading political party in Russia today––which supports President Putin. We didn’t speak with any protesters because none were on the streets while we were there.
Having been in the USSR and Russia over the past decades, I have watched Russia’s social shifts year-by-year. One change I began noting several years ago was the Russians’ keen interest in personal appearance: that is, their increasing tendency to dress conservatively and well––the trend reminded me of the 1950s in America. Teenagers and young guys in their 20s all of a sudden were carefully “turned out,” with neat smart haircuts, slender black slacks, fitted black t-shirts revealing somewhat buffed upper torsos; young girls and women dressed in skirts, frilly dresses and spike heels for regular daytime street wear. Heads up, shoulders back, feeling good about themselves, became the common look. I silently compared them with the current look of San Francisco’s streets where grunge is “in,” unkempt hair looks seldom cut or combed, homeless sit by idly on street corners … while better-dressed older people whizzed by them on the way to up-scale activities elsewhere. “Distressed” jeans cut with holes to appear ragged was the new norm on American streets. I wondered if I would ever see such jeans on Russian streets. Well, this year I did see a few young Russians wearing terribly distressed jeans! They were in the minority, but present. Who knows if this will catch on next year.
The noticeable thing obvious on Russian streets today is men, women, youth, and even the elderly people carry themselves with a “sense of pride.” This is visible and pervasive, whether it’s Sevastopol, Krasnodar, Moscow, StPetersburg or elsewhere. It appears that Russians have quietly been reborn in this 21st century. After all of the dreariness and degradation of the Soviet period, the 80s and the 90s under Yeltsin, today’s Russians have become proud of their country––and proud to be Russians.
American officials in high places may take this as an ominous sign that “Russia is rising and needs to be taken down to prevent them from challenging our #1 place in the world.” This would be a NONSENSE conclusion, but I understand how these assumptions may occur. We human beings unconsciously ascribe to others’ our own hidden desires, obsessions and fears. We Americans have been #1 in the world since the end of WWII, and we assume the Russians aspire to replace us and become leaders of the world. THEY DON’T.
I am convinced that no Russian I’ve met, including Vladimir Putin, wants Russia to be #1 in the world. Russians learned a very hard lesson about the “#1 mentality” during the Soviet experience, when they were told repeatedly in schools, on TV and radio, and in public functions that their country was the best, the #1 country and system in the world. Over the years, they fell farther and farther behind, yet the #1 mantra was still repeated in media and public venues. Russians grew weary and embarrassed by this #1 preoccupation and just wanted to live in societies like those in Europe and America. They didn’t care about being #1. My bet is that Russians will never again aspire to hegemony. They do aspire to a comfortable lifestyle, higher education, good jobs, a good family life, access to classical culture and travel to see the world. And finally they are getting to experience these values at home and abroad.
Russians’ #1 preoccupation for their country is the assurance that Russia’s sovereignty to be recognized and maintained. What does this mean to them? It means self-rule, independence, freedom from others’ rules or meddling from any other state — it means a self-governed state based on their long history and classical culture. Further, they believe that all nations should be self-governing and allowed to evolve at their own pace. They recognize the major states in the world, such as the U.S., themselves, England, China, India. As for a multipolar world, they believe the major nations of the world need to function to work together cooperatively on the serious problems facing our globe in this 21st century––and to help bring up the minor countries to decent standards of living in the future.
Some of the many “take-aways” from our May 2017 trip:
• We were left totally to our own interests and we experienced Russia as it is today – with no contact from officials.
• We saw much that works well in Russia and other aspects that need to work better (as with our and other countries).
• Russia appears to be a relatively healthy nation: this includes their children, youth, adults and elderly people.
• We were surprised to see the vigor and determination of the people and cities after three years of U.S. sanctions.
• There was total absence of “street people,” vagrants, psychologically disturbed youth, etc., in the cities we visited.
• We were impressed with cleanliness of their cities, new streets, airports, bridges, and residential complexes.
• The few policemen and women we saw carried no guns–they didn’t leave the impression of policemen at all.
• Sidewalk umbrella-ed “eateries” were full of Russians and other nationalities enjoying the new spring days.
• Russia’s small to mid-size businesses were operating as usual as far as we could tell from those we visited.
• Russia’s streets were full of the same identical makes and models of new automobiles that we see on U.S. streets.
• Street stoplights and safety markings on the streets were up to the latest lights and signage that we see in America.
• Russians were more open to us than we expected, given the animosity of U.S. media and policymakers toward Russia.
• We were invited into homes and apartments that were modern and well appointed. Food was delicious!
• We noted that Russians walk on their streets all hours of the nights––their city streets appear to be safe.
• Classrooms of university youth welcomed us, asked and answered our questions with interest and obvious pleasure.
• We were shocked that education is free including advanced degrees. Youth are paid small stipends for higher Ed.
• In each city visited, Russians reiterated that Russia as a nation and they as Russians want to be friends with America.
• They believe that President Putin still hopes for open, constructive relations with America.
• They see challenges to building a good US-Russia relationship on the US side, not on the Russian side.
• Many repeated that Russia is a sovereign state, which makes its own internal policies based on its long history.
• Russians today see themselves as heirs of their 1,000 year Russian classical culture and are very proud of it.
• They see their Russian democracy as evolving and still in progress.
• Most we spoke with were in favor of the current government and will vote for Putin in 2018. A few said they wouldn’t. One educator said, “I personally don’t like Putin; but I like order and stability, so I will vote for him this next election.
• Russia’s leaders have frequently stayed in office for long terms. Putin continuing on in 2018 is no issue for them.
• There was solid support throughout for rejoining Crimea to Russia … in Russian cities and in Crimea itself.
• During CCI’s 2016 trip we met with Crimean Tartars. We observed efforts being made to integrate them into society.•
• The 2017 trip produced 30 Americans who have had direct experience in today’s Russia; unlike U.S. news reporters.
• They will be knowledgeable educators wherever they go or with whomever they speak regarding Russia issues.
• Numbers of articles have been written by these 2017 travelers and circulated on Internet, some in local newspapers.
• Two travelers visited Washington Post’s Contributing Editor for 1.5 hours on Russia issues and other findings.
• Others plan 2017 autumn visits to DC to meet with U.S Congress members.
• We are in the process of turning our 30 hours of video materials into a dozen YouTubes which we hope will go viral!
• Americans are already signing up to go on trips in 2018. With good luck one in May/ another in June will happen.
• We plan to revive a former CCI program in 2018 entitled “Russians Meet Mainstream America!” (RMMA).
• We ask each of you to work with us and be megaphones for our common work and getting our YouTubes! to people across America.
Please join us in reducing dangerous stereotypes and rebuilding human connections between these two nuclear Superpowers!
FYI, from ST:
The progress that has been made across Russia since December 1999 (following the Asian and Russian financial crises) is astounding. At that time 17 years ago, Russians were jobless and flat on their backs job-wise and emotionally. The country was totally unkempt, buildings needed massive repair or demolition, streets were full of potholes, children at school were being taught by untrained volunteers, Russia had little hope as 2000 began. It is beyond me to understand how this country has produced so much construction and so much positive change across 11 time zones in less than two decades––perhaps this is why they are so feared and demonized these days.