Center for Citizen Initiatives: 2017 delegation to Russia

Dear Friends,

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 ….

Senior US-Russia historians tell us as 2016 ends, we are closer to Nuclear War today than anytime since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Yet most Americans aren’t aware of this since interestingly, the facts are not being reported in our mainstream media. Despite these grim forebodings, we citizens active in the ’80s experienced for sure that ‘intractable standoffs’ between the two Superpowers can be … and were set aside once before.  Normal relations were worked out fairly quickly under the more open next decade.

It if happened once, it can happen again! Keep in mind that both Gorbachev and Reagan had numerous high-level VIP naysayers pressing them to maintain the Cold War; but despite them all, the two of them pushed forward, declared a truce and began working together to create peace between our countries. Following that nuclear weapons were radically reduced on both sides.

Our generation of Americans and Russians experienced pure euphoria when the Berlin Wall came down!  No longer did we need to fear Nuclear War at each others’ hands––what a relief.  We had proven that when Russians and Americans meet, we quickly find common ground. Strangely enough, our two populations have a  natural affinity for one another. Yet, how odd it is that enmity has erupted again between today’s policy leaders.  Mainstream media tout the same messages at the current leaders. Unfortunately, most of the generation that experienced “what’s possible,” are elderly or gone––and new impressionable minds have been convinced by sheer repetition of questionable storylines that Russians are our mortal enemies!  It’s unbelievable to me.

It’s critical that we citizens get involved in this latest Cold War II.  If we do, it’s predictable that near magic will happen again, as it did in the 80s.  We urge you to consider signing up––and also, please pass this invitation on to respected, open-minded friends, colleagues and family members in your cities and beyond.

My warmest wishes to each of you for this New Year we have just entered!

Sharon Tennison

Full invitation found here.

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2 comments

  1. Sharon has been my mentor on Russia issues and is the person I traveled with in October of 2015 when I visited Moscow, St. Petersburg, Krasnodar and Crimea. She has a wealth of on-the-ground knowledge of Russia and is good people.

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  2. “and they began to reduce deeply-held resentments and fears of Soviet officials.”

    Not American ones though.

    “Soon, Gorbachev and Reagan met at Reykjavik, Iceland … and the rest is history. Cold War I vanished without a trace remaining.”

    As well asthe USSR. And this is… a good thing?

    “Normal relations were worked out fairly quickly under the more open next decade.”

    Normal as in “American snake oil salesmen overtake Russian economy with their “advices” and participate in the plundering of the country, which run Russia to the ground during the Blessed 90s” normal? Normal as having “Mr. Yes” Kozyrev at the helm of Russian Foreign Ministry and Boris the Drunk at the lead of the country?

    “It if happened once, it can happen again!”

    What exectly, given the examples I just provided? The ruin of my country?

    “Our generation of Americans and Russians experienced pure euphoria when the Berlin Wall came down!”

    So-called Russian liberals did feel “pure euphoria”, that is granted. Not sure about the rest of the country, i.e. 95+% of the populace.

    Please forgive me, J.T. and you Natylie, but this smacks me as rather naive and not really thought out “initiative”. I know that you, Natalie, is busy and have other things to do that’s why you do not engage in answering other people’s comments be it on your own blog or elsewhere, but I gonna ask you anyway, seeing as you are a person close to this CCI thing.

    What do you really want from us – Russians?

    Do you really want to engage in this “citizen diplomacy” in the name of “repeating the miracle” of Perestroika time? Newsflash – Perestroika resulted in the collapse of the USSR, followed by a decade of unimaginable misery, and is now viewed very negatively by the people of Russia. You want the repeat of this? If yes, than you can hardly hope for any support from at least me, and, hopefully, from the vast majority of Russians, if this is the end goal of your initiative to “cool the tensions” by taking Russia out of the picture… for good.

    Natalyie, I always appreciate so-called “pro-Russian” voices on the Net, who are few and far between and who must be cherished and protected. But I can’t remain silent. The initiative that you endorse talks about attracting “open-minded” people to participate. Are there any left? Are there any people ready to accept Russian “side” of the story, instead of knee-jerking impulse to “correct”, “enlighten” and “convert” us, poor ignorant heathen to the One and True Faith of the liberal democracy? On your blog you were talking about the “civil society” in Russia and provided several examples. All of those example while not the typical cartoonish (i.e. the one’s fully supported and hailed as the “true” ones by the Western MSM and think tanks) or anti-government are not the whole of the picture. This summer it was the civil society of St. Petersburg which fought, both in courts and on the streets and the Net, against the memorial plaque to the Finnish marshal Mannerheim being installed in their city, which suffered from the atrocious Blockade perpetrated in part thanks to said Mannerheim. They won. But you won’t read anywhere in the “handshakable” Western press about it, albeit it was the greatest triumph of the civil society in Russia.

    Because civil society in out country is not what you’d like to see. I.e. it is not a vehicle to channel the interests and “universal” values of the so-called “middle class”. Civil society in Russia does what it should do – it represents citizens. And said Russian citizens hold views that are (nowadays) shocking for your typical Westerner. Because it is not “handshakable” for the citizens to collect money and then officially install (fighting the authorities all the way) a bust or memorial plaque to Stalin – yet it happened more than a dozen times all across Russia in the last year. Again – you would hardly read about that, and if you will it would be in one of those Russophobic rags calling itself “The 4th Estate” and “The Pillar of Freedom”.

    When you, any “open-minded” Westerner, do decide to go to Russia, be prepared to experience the culture shock and live with it. You will find people scoffing at your preaching of the “democracy” and “liberty”. You will find people overwhelmingly supportive of Crimea’s reunion with Russia (and not a small amount of them who will punch you in the face if you call it an “annexation”). You will find people who despise your “universal liberal values”, that were invented not so long ago and crammed into Universe’s throat by a smart-bomb point. But, most important of all, you will find angry, bitter, pissed off at the Official West people, who won’t back down.

    That’s what you, Natalie, and anyone else in the CCI and their affiliates, need to know. If you are planning to come here to preach with the aim of transforming Russian society into something Perestroika-like you will be disappointed. If you come here to learn about the country – prepare to be shocked. Still, I’m not sure how will you, shell-shocked by modern Russia upon your return, influence in any meaningful way people around you into accepting us, Russians, as it is without any attempts to “convert” or destroy our country.

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