The Foreign Service Journal, December 2011

D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 1 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 43 their mid-20s and doing research for doctorates in humanities and so- cial sciences, mainly in Russian his- tory, language and literature. The Soviet participants were mostly in their 30s, already had their Candi- date degree (roughly equivalent to a Ph.D.), and worked predominantly in science and technology. Moreover, the Americans, in ac- cordance with U.S. academic tradi- tion, were selected in open compe- tition, while for the Soviets, fields of study were determined according to the needs of the state. Authorities canvassed universities and research institutes to find the best talent in each field, and told participants that they were being sent abroad on a komandirovka, the Russian term for official trip. Aleksandr Yakovlev was one of four Soviet graduate students enrolled at Columbia University from 1958 to 1959. After studying American history and politics, he returned to Moscow still a convinced communist, but was greatly influenced by his year in New York. He later de- scribed it as more important than the decade he subse- quently spent as Soviet ambassador to Canada. When asked in 1998 what had impressed him most at Columbia, Yakovlev said it was the more than 200 books he read there, works he could not have read in the Soviet Union. Today Yakovlev is known as the intellectual god- father of Gorbachev’s glasnost (openness) initiative, and was at his side during five summit meetings with Ronald Reagan. Another Soviet attending Columbia that year was Oleg Kalugin, a young KGB officer who, in his first cam- paign for public office, was elected to the university stu- dent council. He eventually rose to become a KGB major general and chief of counterintelligence during a 32-year career, before joining the Democratic Platform of the Communist Party and being elected to the Soviet parliament. In a 1997 interview with me, Kalugin said: “Exchanges were a Trojan horse in the Soviet Union. They played a tremendous role in the erosion of the Soviet system. They opened up a closed society. They greatly influenced younger people who saw the world with more open eyes, and they kept infecting more and more people over the years.” A Breath of Fresh Air Americans know about the So- viet symphony orchestras, ballet groups, circuses and ice shows that filled our halls and arenas with ap- preciative audiences during the 30 years of the exchange program, but few recall the American per- formers who went east. Among the U.S. groups that toured the Soviet Union were symphony or- chestras from Philadelphia, New York, Cleveland and San Francisco; jazz greats Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Earl Hines and Duke Ellington; and dance companies American Ballet The- ater, New York City Ballet, Joffrey Ballet and Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. Russian halls were always full, and tickets hard to get. For Ellington’s concerts, tickets sold for as much as 80 rubles each on the black market when the usual price was seldom more than four. But, it might be asked, did such performances help change the Soviet Union? To Soviet audiences, isolated from the West since the late 1930s, visits by American and European perform- ing artists brought a breath of fresh air to a country where orthodoxy and conservatism had long dominated. As one Russian musician put it, “There came to the So- viet Union truly great symphony orchestras with sounds that were electrifying, and they came year after year. ‘How could the decadent West produce such great or- chestras?’ we asked ourselves. Cultural exchanges were another opening to the West and more proof that our media were not telling the truth.” The cultural agreement called for exhibitions “on var- ious topics of mutual interest” to be shown for one month in various cities in the two countries. The U.S. displays featured new American developments in such fields as agriculture, architecture, hand tools, medicine, outdoor recreation, photography and technology for the home. Produced by the U.S. Information Agency, the ex- hibits drew huge crowds, with lines stretching for blocks, and were seen, on average, by some 250,000 visitors per city. All told, some 20 million Soviet citizens saw the 23 U.S. exhibitions over the 30-year period. As a bonus, the USIA exhibitions were staffed by 20 Russian-speaking Americans who demonstrated the F OCUS “Exchanges were a Trojan horse in the Soviet Union. They played a tremendous role in the erosion of the Soviet system.” — Oleg Kalugin