After the historic Glassboro Summit, the Citizen Exchange Corps helped a group of women from the small New Jersey town travel to Russia to carry the “spirit of Hollybush” to the Soviet Union. Above are pictures of the 10 lucky ladies, a photograph of Kosygin receiving a sketch of the Hollybush Mansion, site of the Glassboro summit, and a scan of the sketch itself.
In a letter to James, one of the women describes the experience of watching the Glassboro talks and subsequent trip to the Soviet Union:
Way back in June a lot of us were standing outside Hollybush, while inside our Preisdent and the Premier of the U.S.S.R. discussed world problems. We represented the little people of our two countries, and through the hot sun and pouring rain we stood there, mutely testifying to our deep concern for peace. The awful responsibility for final decision as to war rests on the shoulders of a few men, but the suffering and horror of war is shared by all the little people. We were there because we had a vital stake in the outcome of those talks.
None of us who stood outside Hollybush had any idea that in a few short weeks we would be able to talk to the average citizens of Russia. None of us dreamed that we would have the responsibility of showing Russians what average Americans were like. We were few in number, but we represented many different background and beliefs, as befits America, the melting-pot. Each of us brought a unique point of view to Russia and each of us came home with a unique point of view on what we saw there.
Riding on the thaw of the Soviet press, in 1989 CEC organized the Glasnost Film Festival, a collection of 22 documentary films from Russia never before seen in the US. Many of the films celebrated the new-found freedom of Glasnost by showing the horrors of Soviet life—whether it be the meltdown at Chernobyl or the dehumanizing training regime of future gymnists—previously impossible to discuss. The festival premiered at the Los Angeles Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to great success, and a New York Times article does a good job summarizing the event. Above are scans of the original brochure for the documentary including the essential introductory essay by Soviet film critic Sergei Muratov.
Sadly, most of these films are difficult to find in the States. One website is selling the entire 22 film collection for the steep price of $400.
Available online free of charge is Joseph Pasternak’s Black Sqaure which the LA Times calls “thoughtful, provocative survey of Soviet avant-garde artists, who have endured decades of oppression and obscurity for daring to defy the official calendar art style glorifying communist progress.”
Taken from one of the more bizarre items of CECinalia stuffed in the archives—these photographs are from an undated, hand-bound yearbook listing the members of a Russian Ecology Club. The bios themselves list interests one would expect of any student interested in ecology. But the pages’ chipper tone and colorful illustrations pared with the stony-faced scowl the students wear in their photographs make this collection very entertaining.
The chemical formula denounced on the apple in the left-hand page of the second photograph is for Sodium nitrate, a common component of fertilizers and food preservatives.
In 1987, Billy Joel packed his guitar and prepared to become the United States’ ambassador of rock ‘n’ roll to Russia. His wife packed canned food, dried fruit, a Geiger counter, and a fear of a second Chernobyl.
The USA Today article describes the Russian youth’s reaction to his arrival. The quotes they pull are incredible. For example:
Andrei Spirin, a 15-year-old with a rockabilly haircut wondered, “Who can say why we like Americans? I think (adopting a California drone) they are real cool dudes.”
Not every Russian was so accepting of the piano man. A reporter for the Chicago Tribune reports, “Joel’s Soviet sponsors at Gosconcert, the state concert agency, [made] a show of tearing up the contract after a near melee at the Moscow debut.”
Joel himself was on edge as well. When an HBO documentary crew refused to stop shining spotlights on the audience and the audience of young Russians didn’t appear enthusiastic (visible to Joel because of the spotlights), Joel threw a fit. He stopped the music and knocked over his piano. After telling off the invasive lighting crew, he “jumped up and down on the overturned piano and directed his rage to the impassive onlookers. ‘Leave if you don’t want to be here. Why are you here?’” The documentary crew caught some of his tantrum on film.
During the ’90s CEC hosted EcoBridge, a program designed to bring Russian and American students together to discuss environmental problems. The program also facilitated meetings between prominent, professional environmental figures in both countries.
While bringing citizens abroad, the happy-go-lucky spirit of tourism occasionally clashed with the severity of the trip’s purpose. Take the above images, for example. American highschoolers try their luck at a traditional Russian dance. Meanwhile, a Russian official stands outside an army depot near a chain link fence to pose with a sign warning that guards will shoot on sight. Back in the classroom, an official pays local highschoolers a horrifying visit decked out in full hazmat gear.