Meeting with the US Senators Barbara Mikulski (MD) and Bob Graham (FL),

Moscow, Russia, May 28, 2002.

Citizen Diplomacy: Spreading mutual trust face to face

Irina Guthrie, Moscow, Russia, 28 May 2002.

President George W. Bush and President Vladimir V. Putin met a few days ago to sign “The Treaty of Moscow.” But why travel thousands of miles to simply sign a short document? Wouldn’t FedEx be simpler? In our increasingly technological world, personal relationships are growing in importance. Nothing can replace the warmth of a handshake, the meeting of eyes, the heartfelt exchange of ideas.

 It is no surprise, then, that in a joint declaration in Moscow on May 24, Bush and Putin affirmed, “The greatest strength of our societies is the creative energy of our citizens. We welcome the dramatic expansion of contacts between Americans and Russians.”

 The leaders realize what many citizens do not yet know. Americans and Russians are, in many ways, fundamentally identical. We strive to excel, thriving under competition. We value trust, yearning for verification. We love to create, forming new and better lives for ourselves.

 The Cold War ended well over a decade ago, but attitudes lag behind history. Too often, problems are viewed in an antagonistic mindset.

 Often, I am shocked to hear students at the commercial institute where I teach English say bitter remarks about America and Americans. The paradoxical attitude, which accepts certain cultural aspects without accepting the society as a whole, is due to their limited exposure to America. The picture they see through entertainment and merchandise is easily accepted. But since real Americans are more distant, the “enemy” mindset persists.

 Even at the prestigious Moscow State University, negative attitudes permeate many students and faculty. But the underlying trend is a belief in myths and half-truths, relics from a war long thawed. Not only are joint U.S. ventures not actively pursued, the U.S. is often outright ridiculed. Obviously, the mere passage of a decade is not enough to change such ingrained attitudes.

 It may sound simplistic, but the first step toward working together is getting together. Encouraging people-to-people contacts, Bush and Putin stated, “We pledge to continue supporting these efforts, which help broaden and deepen good relations between our two countries.”

 Personally, I discovered this key during my study in the U.S. two years ago. The ACTR/ACCELS program was invaluable for me. I have spread my experience as best I can, but the ideal way to enhance relations is through continued exchanges with students and professionals from all regions of the U.S. and Russia.

 Our countries and cultures have so much in common. But the only way to discover that gem is to explore, to learn, to build lasting personal relationships.

This page is maintained by Irina Guthrie, 2002.