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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.
Russian history is marked by the drama of trying to catch up with the West and then falling back.... Humiliated by some military defeat or provoked by some travel experience, leader after leader in what was once Russia and subsequently the Soviet Union determined that his or her mission in life was to transform that backward country into a modernized society equal to those in the West. -MARSHALL I. GOLDMAN, What Went Wrong with Perestroika
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 arrived in Moscow on January 27, a mere three-month journey because travel in winter over snowand ice was much faster.
Russia's isolation from the West, however, was also self-imposed. Its temporal leaders saw the West as hostile; and after Mongol rule of Muscovy ended in the fifteenth century, Russia was indeed invaded many times from the West-from Sweden and Poland in the seventeenth century, France in the nineteenth, and Germany twice in the twentieth. Russia's religious leaders, moreover, saw the Catholic and Protestant West as threats to their Orthodox Christian beliefs and traditions. Pravoslaviye, the Russian translation of Orthodoxy, literally means "right praising" and implies that other forms of worship are wrong. Russia's communist leaders demonstrated the same deportment toward any departure from their "party line." Indeed, the Russian word for dissidents, inakomysliashchi, literally means "people who think differently."
A big question for Russia over the centuries has been whether it could borrow and learn from the more advanced West and still preserve Russia's samobytnost' (distinctiveness). Differences over the answer to this question has given rise to two rival schools of thought-Westernizers and Slavophiles-a division that has persisted in Russian history from the time of Tsar Peter the Great to the present.
Westernizers, recognizing Russia's backwardness, have sought to borrow from the West in order to modernize. They have regarded Russia as a political entity that would benefit from Western enlightenment, rationalism, rule of law, technology, and manufacturing and the growth of a Western-style middle class. Among the Westernizers have been political reformers, liberals, and socialists.
Slavophiles have also sought to borrow from the West but have been determined to protect and preserve Russia's unique cultural values and traditions. They have rejected individualism, and regarded the Orthodox Church, rather than the state, as Russia's leading historical and moral force. As admirers of agricultural life, they were critical of urban development and industrialization. Slavophiles, moreover, sought to preserve the mir, the traditional Russian agricultural commune, in order to prevent the growth of a Russian proletariat. They preferred Russian mysticism to Western rationalism. Among the Slavophiles have been philosophical conservatives, nationalists, and the Church.
The controversy between Westernizers and Slavophiles has surfaced many times in Russian history. As Hugh Seton-Watson has pointed out, it split Russian socialism between Marxists and Populists, Russian Marxism between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, and Bolsheviks between opponents and followers of Stalin. The controversy, which continues in Russia today, has been between those who believe in Europe and those who believe in Russia.
For an early Russian Westernizer we turn to Tsar Peter the Great.
Peter the Modernizer
In Russian history, modernization has been achieved-notably by Peter the Great-through the process of copying selected features of more advanced Western countries while keeping other spheres of social life unchanged. -ZDENEK MLYNAR, Can Gorbachev Change the Soviet Union?
Russia's cultural exchanges with the West began in the late sixteenth century when Tsar Boris Godunov sent thirty Russians to study in Western Europe at places like Paris, London, Oxford, Cambridge, Eton, and Winchester. But as historians like to point out, only two returned; the others became Russia's first defectors to the West. Four hundred years later, another "Tsar Boris" (Yeltsin) sent his grandson and namesake, also a Boris, to study at Winchester, one of the great English "public" schools, founded in 1382 and noted for its academic excellence.
In the late seventeenth century, Tsar Peter the Great, the first of Russia's great modernizers, gave impetus and direction to his country's glacial pace of modernization. With his energy, vision, optimism, and ruthless determination, Peter, who reigned from 1682 to 1725, laid the foundations for an imperial Russia that lasted almost two centuries after his death.
At age twenty-five, Peter, in 1696, undertook an eighteen-month "Grand Embassy" as it was called, to Western Europe to seek assistance for his campaign against the Turks. But he had another objective as well-to study shipbuilding and navigation for the navy he planned to build.
Modernization in Russia was sorely needed, and not only for its ships. In the early years of Peter's reign, when all major European countries had universities, Russia had none. As British historian Lindsey Hughes points out, Russia had not participated in the scientific revolution that had given the West the discoveries and inventions of Leibnitz, Boyle, Pascal, Newton, Galileo, Kepler, and Copernicus. During the entire seventeenth century, the only press in Moscow was run by the Church and published fewer than ten books whose contents were not wholly religious. As Hughes has it: "However hard one tries ... to find compensating factors in the greater spirituality of Russians, their closeness to nature, or refined aesthetic sense, the 'intellectual silence' of Old Russia was deafening indeed.... Foreign learning was still equated with 'guile' and 'deception' even during Peter's childhood."
Peter sought to change that, and his 270-man mission to Western Europe included twenty Russian noblemen and thirty-five "volunteers" many of them friends whom he had designated to study shipbuilding, navigation, and other naval arts and sciences. (More than three hundred years later, in another example of le plus ga change.... the first Russian exchange students sent to the United States in 1958 were also "designated" by their government to study abroad.)
Holland was one of the leading maritime powers of the time, and during Peter's almost five months in Amsterdam, he worked as a simple carpenter under a Dutch master shipwright, arriving at a shipyard each morning at dawn carrying his own tools on his shoulder. At the end of his stay in Holland, Peter received a certificate attesting that he had worked four months in the shipyard and was an able and competent shipwright.
Outside the shipyard, Peter's curiosity knew no bounds, and he wondered how the Dutch, in their small country, had been able to accumulate more wealth than Russians in their vast, resource-rich expanse. (Three hundred years later, the economy of Russia was still smaller than that of the Netherlands.)
After Amsterdam, Peter spent four months in London, where he also studied shipbuilding and delved into everything else he encountered. He recognized, as did many Russians who followed him to the West in later years, that Russia was decades, perhaps centuries, behind the West in its development.
By the end of his travels, Peter had recruited some 750 skilled Europeans-shipwrights, naval officers, engineers, technicians, physicians, and others-to return with him to Russia. Most were Dutch but among them were Englishmen, Scots, Venetians, Germans, and Greeks, many of whom remained in Russia for years and helped to modernize the country. In exchange, Peter in the following years sent hundreds of young Russians to study in Holland, Venetia, and England. And in 1725, he established Russia's first scientific forum, the Imperial Academy of Sciences, staffed initially by Western Europeans until Russia could train its own scientists.
In contrast to the students sent to Western Europe by Tsar Boris a century earlier, most of those sent by Peter returned to Russia, where they were instrumental in building a modern Russian navy and schools of naval warfare. But as Max J. Okenfuss has pointed out, the sending of students abroad also influenced Russian cultural life in ways not anticipated by Peter, notably in literature and art. Dmitri M. Golitsyn, one of those sent abroad in 1797 to study seamanship, became an active patron of literature and was responsible for the translation of many Western works into Russian. Ivan Nikitin and Andrei Matveyev, sent to study ship decoration, later became the best of Russia's portrait painters in the first half of the nineteenth century.
In England, Peter encountered the Quakers, who also aroused his curiosity. He attended several of their meetings and met one of their leaders, William Penn, with whom he conversed in Dutch, thus beginning a long Quaker association with Russia that has continued to our own day, and which will be discussed later in these pages.
Peter's reforms were many, and wherever one looks in Russia today, the results of his work can be seen. He is considered the founder of the modern Russian army and navy. Following Western models, he reformed central and local government, established a senate, introduced a head (poll) tax, developed industry and stimulated private enterprise, began the publication of books and newspapers, reformed the alphabet and introduced Arabic numerals, opened new schools of many types, and founded a museum of natural science and a general library open to the public. And in lasting memory of his name, he built St. Petersburg, Russia's first modern European city.
Peter's reforms also opened a long and impassioned debate over how Russia should relate to a Europe that had much to offer a remote and backward country but which also threatened to dilute its distinct culture and way of life.
The eighteenth century in Russia ... was an age of apprenticeship and imitation par excellence. It has been said that Peter the Great, during the first decades of the century, borrowed Western technology, that Empress Elizabeth, in the middle of the period, shifted the main interest to Western fashions and manners, and that Catherine the Great, in the course of the last third of the century, brought Western ideas into Russia. -NICHOLAS V. RIASANOVSKY, A History of Russia
Many are asking what perestroika was, where it has taken us.... The answer is simple; it is yet another Russian march to the West, but on a much greater scale than all those before. Peter only opened a window on Europe, but we're knocking down the walls. Both those that divided us from Europe, and those that cut us off from America and Japan. -GEORGI SHAKHNAZAROV, Tsena svobody
Contact with Europe increased in the eighteenth century under another strong and resolute ruler, Catherine the Great, who reigned from 1762 to 1796. A German princess with a good grounding in French language and literature, Catherine knew well the writings of Voltaire and other luminaries of the Enlightenment, and she brought to the realities of ruling Russia her French reasoning and German work ethic. As Nicholas V. Riasanovsky, professor of history at Berkeley, describes her: "For the first time since Peter the Great, Russia acquired a sovereign who worked day and night, paying personal attention to all kinds of matters, great and small."
The debate over Russia's relationship to Europe came to a head in 1825 with the revolt of the Decembrists, a movement led by army officers, many of them from aristocratic families and elite regiments, who had spent time in the West during the Napoleonic Wars and had been westernized to some extent. As Russia's first liberals, they sought to establish a constitutional state, protect civil rights, and abolish serfdom. But their December revolt failed and its leaders were executed or exiled to the fringes of the empire. By that time, however, Russia's contacts with the West had produced a French-speaking nobility and, in the following decades, a flowering of creativity in art, literature, and music, as well as endless debate over reform and how Russia should relate to Europe.
The transition, however, was not without turmoil, as Hans Kohn, a foremost authority on nationalism, has described it, in words that could also be used to describe the Russia of our time:
The most various and daring European ideas, all the conflicting and turbulent currents of the first half of the nineteenth century, poured suddenly into the entirely different Russian society.... Neither the political nor the social conditions existed for any practical application of the new ideas, the discussion of which became ever more heated the more it moved in a vacuum .... Yet this whole intense intellectual life of Russia between the uprising of the Decembrists and the Crimean War, these unreal discussions leading only to endless talk and a few significant essays-books and deeds were equally rare-illumined the face of Russia as she struggled to gain consciousness of herself through contact with the alien world of Europe.
Modernization and reform continued in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, although in fits and starts, as Russia became increasingly involved with that "alien world of Europe," with Russians traveling there for study, pleasure, or taking the waters at their favorite spa.
When the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917, the ideology they brought with them, Marxism, was yet another Western import, the work of a German scholar who had done his research at the British Museum. The Bolsheviks touted their Marxism as "scientific socialism," a Western product that would bring rationalism to Russia. But Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin chose technological America as their model, as Thomas P.
Excerpted from Cultural Exchange & the Cold War by Yale Richmond Copyright © 2004 by Yale Richmond. Excerpted by permission.
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Abbreviations and Acronyms
1. Russia and the West
2. The Moscow Youth Festival
3. The Cultural Agreement
4. Scholarly Exchanges
5. Science and Technology
6. Humanities and Social Sciences
7. Moscow Think Tanks
8. Forums Across Oceans
9. Other NGO Exchanges
10. Performing Arts
11. Moved by the Movies
12. Exhibitions—Seeing is Believing
13. Hot Books in the Cold War
14. The Pen Is Mightier . . .
15. Journalists and Diplomats
16. Fathers and Sons
17. The Search for a Normal Society
18. "Western Voices"
19. To Helsinki and Beyond
20. Mikhail Gorbachev, International Traveler
21. And Those Who Could Not Travel
22. The Polish Connection
23. The Beatles Did It
24. Obmen or Obman?
25. The Future