Thursday, September 11, 2014

Moscow. Through the back door

We spent the second day meeting at Moscow State University of International Relations (MGIMO). It is Russia's Johns Hopkins, SAIS and Harvard rolled into one. When one attends a forum representing the people and attitudes of two or more nations which aren't getting along, one expects diversity of opinion, hopes for honest debate, and dreams of consensus. By and large, we achieved diversity, got honest debate and while not in unanimous agreement on what to do next, we came closer than I would have thought possible.  

The past couple of days I have listened to an entire range of views, with some common themes that should not be ignored. Humor defused what could have been a tense beginning when Mikhail Delyagin, Director of the Institute on Globalization, stood up near the beginning of the conference and said, "Experts have not yet proven that Russians are to blame for everything."

We all laughed, and the tone of mutual problem-solving was set. Among the key messages that surfaced; economic sanctions could well kill the European economy. "My objective," said, Alexis Rodzinko, President of the US-Russian Chamber of Commerce, "is to preserve what has been created in the past twenty five years. Russia has suffered through one economic crisis of its own, and two, 1998 and 2008-9, that it didn't create. What is being created now is a political crisis, not an economic one. Russia is one of our most promising markets for American goods!"

You may not have noticed, but it is nearly impossible to participate in an honest debate any more; people have become so polarized, on such a range of topics, that listening to others with an open mind, doing as my Grandmother used to say, “allowing as how other people may have a different point of view,” is rare. It shouldn't be. Walk around that term “point-of-view,” for a minute. It implies a single position, upon a fixed line, within an entire spectrum of possible views, each one a singular “point-of-view.” It suggests that in the scientific framework there may be more than one way to look at things. It directs each of us to have the courtesy and respect due another to listen to their “point-of-view."

"This dialogue is urgent," said Sergei Makov, Director of the Institute of Policy Studies. "We value the great American civilization that shaped the twentieth century. We would never try to blame America or portray it in a bad light. We believe in the American people; most are good and want a good relationship with us. We have other things to work on together. To mention two; ISIS, the rise of fundamentalist, extremist Islam, the degradation of the environment."

Nicholai Petro, a Professor at the University of Rhode Island, spend the last year on a Fulbright in Odessa, Ukraine. "To have a hope of healing this, we need to realize that we have two crisis here: A crisis of Ukrainian statehood, and a crisis of US-Russian relationship."

Dr. Gil Doctorow, the founder of the European Committee for East-West Accord, led a discussion about re-creating the East-West Accord. It existed in the 1970-80s and kept our scientific, academic, business and cultural communities talking and often working together during the cold war. “Russia,” he said “continues to be portrayed as the enemy of a values conflict, and it isn't. In fact, Putin has been heard to say that perhaps the west needs to be reminded of its own values.” He asked for ideas for cooperation.

The academics present, especially those in the field of nuclear energy, expressed the hope of direct contact with their counterparts in the west at a time when it is more important than ever to be in contact, so that misunderstandings don't happen. Key European news media present committed to balance the news about east-west cooperation. Sharon Tennison, CEO of the Center for Citizen Initiatives, who has worked in Russia since the early 1980s, said she would increase their efforts for citizen exchanges and joint business initiatives.

At that point I had chance to offer an idea to the group. If what is needed is civil society people-to-people effort, I suggests that the FRUA support structure for adoptive families is grass-roots; a positive affirmation of family that, if offered to Russian adoptive families, would make sense. And as it includes the names of both Russia and Ukraine, might be a way to bring ordinary people back together. It was well-received. Several members of this gathering offered to help spread the word abut FRUA, both from within the U.S. and Russia. Tennison will be coming to Denver at the end of this month and at that time we will meet to explore a FRUA citizen initiative.

At break, we joined the students in the cafeteria, where large color photos of famous US cities cover the walls. Many students came and went from the discussions, which had been arranged by the brilliant Igo Okunev, who only in his late 20s, is Vice-Dean at MGIMO. The day went long and late; no one wanted to end the conversation. The formation of an east-west accord is in the works. 

We had moved beyond politics into the human potential we all have to overcome obstacles and make things happen. Don't we adoptive parents know how true this can be? 

1 comment:

  1. I am humbled and overwhelmed by the posts re. the forum. I am also hopeful and appreciative that FRUA INC has a place at this important table -- bringing a truly human element and a message of hope, help and community.