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A Recent Citizen Diplomacy Group Visit to Russia - A Remarkable Report

Don't believe what the media tells you - go to Russia and see for yourself, like these folks did


Dear CCI Friends,

It is 4 am. I awakened this morning from jet lag in a gated community of private homes on the West Coast.

Swirling around in my mind was, “The Making of the Enemy,” a phrase of past decades. It has never seemed more relevant to me than now.

Trip organizer Sharon Tennison - she's been doing it for 40 years

I had watched the gradual making of “Russia as the enemy” since 2001, although I didn’t register the significance of what I was seeing at the time. I just thought that George Bush, et al, needed to be educated regarding Russia. At first it was mild criticism, then it was blaming, then rejection, demeaning and demonizing along with distancing, ignoring and acting as if Russia didn’t matter … as if Russia and Russians have no significance at all. Strange since it’s the largest country in the world and laden with subsoil riches.

Last evening, an event celebrating the graduation of my grandson was held in their spacious family home in Oregon. Teenagers and friends in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s gathered to acknowledge Sean, a straight A student.

In the clatter of happy voices, one could hardly hear people next to oneself. I chose a sofa on the edge of the room where guests next to me turned out to be local lawyers. Someone mentioned that I had just returned from Russia last night. The lawyer nearest me immediately spouted with drawn face, “What about the disturbances at the World Cup competitions underway?” 

Puzzled I asked why his concern. He reported that “Russian thugs are ready to beat up other players and supporters.” I shrugged saying I’d just been there for a week and hadn’t heard about it, but was sure such outbursts wouldn’t be tolerated … It didn’t seem to dissuade his worried face. Perhaps to provide contrast I mentioned that “Russia today is one of the safest countries one can visit due to no guns among civilian populations, even policemen don’t carry weapons and women once again feel safe to walk in city streets at night.”

The lawyer glanced at me as though I was out of my mind. I was needed elsewhere for a moment and later returned but couldn’t find a graceful way to return into conversation with him. He moved off to talk with others. Several family members mentioned to guests that I’d flown from Russia the night before to attend the graduation party. This elicited questions about jet lag, but nothing about Russia?

It struck me how incongruous it is that today our nation is close to nuclear war with Russia and no one at this event was sufficiently concerned to ask a question, knowing I’d just returned from there. This wasn’t the first time I’d found total indifference to the topic.

What accounts for this disinterest regarding Russia?

I do not know. However, it may be that our mainsteam media has increasingly disparaged Russia year by year… for everything from Russia’s poverty in the 90’s, onto corruption, assassinations, preventing adoptions, the disinformation of “invading Ukraine and Crimea,” to failed state hype, supporting “rogue” nations like Syria and the myth of interfering in U.S. elections.

Perhaps the propaganda has been so pervasive that educated, well-to-do Americans simply ignore the topic of Russia, thinking it will somehow go away. If so, how sad … and how dangerous for us all.

Many of us for decades have questioned how Hitler mesmerized an entire nation of educated Germans to march forward into the devastating World War II that killed an estimated 50 to 80 million human beings. Maybe it was as simple as Goebbels remarked,

“The best propaganda is that which, as it were, works invisibly, penetrates the whole of life without the public having any knowledge of the propagandistic initiative 

Also attributed to Goebbels is,

If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it and you will even come to believe it yourself.

Have we Americans come to this place relative to Russia?

Are we like lemmings moving unconsciously toward the sea?

~~~~~~~~

In contrast, I’d just led a group of Americans to Russia––all well-educated U.S. citizens. They witnessed life in Moscow, Kolomna (a smaller 17th century city) and St. Petersburg for the firsttime. They learned to navigate the Moscow Metro on their second day in country, they went wherever they pleased, met Russians in several planned meetings including with President Gorbachev and Vladimir Pozner … and had numerous other planned and unplanned encounters with Russian businessmen and women, entrepreneurs and youth. Wherever they were, they struck up conversations, always finding someone who spoke passable English.

The last day the group’s organizer asked their impressions of Russia today. Around the circle they reported being shocked by the inaccurate misconceptions they held prior to traveling to Russia, their surprise at Russia’s magnificently renovated cities, the modern streets and overpasses crisscrossing the cities, the prevalence of new models of American and foreign-made autos, cleanliness of sidewalks and streets, modern dress like ours in the U.S., the helpfulness and kindness of ordinary Russians, their public transportation systems, the current “up beat” mentality of Russians they met, the level of education of all with whom they spoke, their pride in Russian history and culture … on and on.

As Russians say, “One ‘see’ is worth a ‘thousand hears.’” The June travelers verbalized they could never again think of Russia as they had before coming on the trip. They were particularly impressed by how warm Russians were to them ––given the current U.S.-Russia relationship about which Russians are keenly aware. The latter wanted nothing tangible from Americans (as in the 90’s when Russians were hungry for jeans and U.S. dollars). Today’s Russians simply offered friendship and to a person mentioned their hope that our two countries’ leaders would find ways to make peace between our nations.

We American citizens have a vast amount of educational work to do on our side of the ocean, in our neighborhoods, with our colleagues and business relations, in our Rotary clubs, churches and particularly in Washington, D.C. with congress members and political leaders.

If not us, who will educate? Our policy makers and mainstream media won’t take the lead, this is for sure.

Sharon (signature)
Sharon Tennison
Center for Citizen Initiatives


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