The Chill Is Gone: Soviet Experts Now Embrace U.S. : * Foreign relations: Instead of disseminating propaganda, ‘Americanist’ scholars are trying to apply Yankee know-how to their nation’s problems.
Once, they were seen as some of the cleverest Cold Warriors, applying their high-powered brains to follow the time-worn advice to know thy enemy.
Now the Soviet Union’s scholars of U.S. ways, known here as Americanists and especially active during this week’s feverish hours of summitry, are busier than ever--but no longer on propaganda fodder.
“The main purpose of Americanists now,” says Andrei Nikiforov, editor in chief of the monthly academic journal USA, “is to get American experience, to analyze it and to try to disseminate this information in order to allow people to use it here.”
Recent issues of his journal have explored congressional ethics standards as a possible model for lawmakers in the Supreme Soviet, U.S. approaches to paying managers and American factories’ experience in switching from military to civilian production.
In subtler ways, too, scholars are bringing their knowledge of the United States to bear on the Soviet Union’s transformation.
Sergei Stankevich, an expert on American politics and history, became an immediate star in the Soviet Congress of People’s Deputies, fighting to make it conform to world parliamentary practices. Now, as deputy mayor of Moscow, he is helping to change the city from a Kremlin fiefdom to a normal, self-financing municipality.
Nikolai Shmelyov, a renowned economist who was one of the first to write the frightening truth about the state of the Soviet economy, often cites CIA figures in his analyses.
And Georgy Arbatov, director of the Academy of Sciences’ prestigious Institute on the U.S.A. and Canada, acknowledges that his study of defense spending in the United States has helped him in his current battle against the Soviet military-industrial complex.
Further, Arbatov says, “I think the institute has played a leading role in holding back the movement backward to Stalinism.” And he contends it also has helped to create “new political thinking,” as President Mikhail S. Gorbachev has called his push for a new world order without confrontation.
Although U.S. politicians have portrayed Arbatov as a master propagandist who delights in distorting Americans’ self-criticism for his own ends, he discloses, in a book of memoirs just out in Russian, that he fought long and hard behind the scenes for detente.
“Of course, we had to play by the rules of the game,” Arbatov, a former apparatchik from the Communist Party Central Committee, says with little apology.
Ironically, now that U.S.-Soviet relations seem finally to be developing into a solid friendship, Arbatov’s institute, for all the 300 or so scholars it still lists on its books, appears to be falling on harder times.
U.S. experts are in such demand that they are flocking away from the institute, which Arbatov founded in 1967. (He describes the shift as “normal circulation of blood.”) Some have gone into consulting for foreign businessmen, some serve on legislative committees on foreign affairs and others have gone into the Russian Foreign Ministry or work for joint ventures.
And those who remain tend to get so wrapped up in the rough-and-tumble of domestic politics that America looks far less interesting in comparison.
“It’s a mistake to think American studies came of age under Gorbachev,” says Robert Legvold, director of Columbia University’s Harriman Institute, a leading center of Soviet studies. “In fact, the quality has declined because everyone is so preoccupied with developments in the Soviet Union. So, people with experience and broad vision are not working on the United States anymore; they’re working on the Soviet Union.”
With U.S.-Soviet rapprochement, America has lost some of its mystery--and the official Americanists have lost some of their mystique.
“It’s much more difficult now,” said Valentin Berezhkov, former editor of USA and one-time interpreter for Josef V. Stalin in his talks with American leaders. “There are more people going to America now, and everyone’s becoming a specialist. It seems like now every member of parliament has been there.”
USA’s circulation has dropped from about 30,000 to about 17,000, Nikiforov says, probably because it has lost the simply curious and been reduced to the hard-core social scientists. “Public interest has dropped,” Arbatov acknowledges.
But specialists entering the institute now are better than they used to be, Nikiforov says, with strong university training that far outshines the shaky backgrounds of old-time specialists drawn from journalism or the Communist Party.
Still, interest in joining the institute also has apparently declined, because the perks that becoming an Americanist offers--trips to the United States and foreign contacts--are more freely available through other channels, like study programs at U.S. universities or business trips for joint ventures.
For all today’s new problems, the Americanists recall with a shudder the old days of wearing ideological blinders and suffering party censorship of their work.
The scholars of the institute used to be summoned to party gatherings to arm translators and guides working with Americans with facts and figures about the nasty side of life in the United States and the greatness of their own socialist system, Nikiforov says.
Official ideology “was the basic point of departure in every analysis,” he says. “It was a constraint because everyone had to think in this way. This was the practice of explaining and underpinning actions of the government that had already been taken.
“There was even such a thing as counterpropaganda,” he continues. “We used to invent some cliches to oppose the American foreign propaganda.”
Berezhkov, who will teach Soviet politics at Claremont’s Pitzer College this fall, recalls that he got into trouble for writing a story about the first joint Pan Am-Aeroflot flight: He praised too highly the U.S. standard of airborne service. About four years ago, he says, he tried to write a piece on how the Soviet Union’s policy in Angola, Afghanistan and elsewhere looked threatening to Americans. But Arbatov, he adds, advised him that the time was not yet right.
Even recently, Berezhkov says, he wrote a story about the dairy industry in America and the amazing variety of cheeses and yogurts. He drew criticism for writing about a far-off cornucopia when most Soviet consumers cannot get any cheese at all.
But in general, according to Nikiforov, a new sanity rules their work.
“I personally think that we shouldn’t criticize (America) because we are in a very different position,” Nikiforov says. “We only can try to use what we can use, what our society can absorb from America. But let the Americans criticize their own society, hmmm?”