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These are Bill Densmore's running notes of the 2012 U.S.-Russia Civil Society Partnership Program. As other examples of coverage turn up on the web, I'll try to provide links.


The key question for the U.S.-Russia Civil Society Partnership: is it possible for ordinary citizens in each country to come together to share civil-actoin agenda items even in a climate of some official impediments?

In opening remarks, Dan Russell, deputy assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, descries the Russian government's decision to order the end, after 20 years, of activities by USAID in Russia. Despite this, said Russell: " for Russian civil society is going to continue." When the USAID program started, there were fewer than 100 civil-society organizations identified in Russia, said Russell. Now, he said, there are hundreds of thousands.

Some CSPP linkage projects underway

  • Sustainability of rural communities around issues such as lack of infrastructure, brain drain and outdated policies.
  • Study of wetlands degradation in both countries
  • Help with transition Russian orphanage residents to adoptive-home settings
  • Totem Necklace Project, Altai Republic and Glacier National Project
  • International Grassroots Collaboration for Sustainability Development (Lake Tahoe and Lake Baiku)
  • Forest-dependent communities in Russian Far East environmental compliance / Siberian Forest

Recalling the 1985 cross-continent TV of Phil Donahue and Vladimir Pozner

In 1985, American TV talkshow host Phil Donahue and Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner used cross-content satellite technology to co-host live at the same time in each of their countries a series of unscripted, Q-and-A citizens-in-the-studios discussions about their nations' points of common social interest. As a frame for this week's discussions in Washington, Donahue and Pozner are present, and we are reviewing that historic "Space Bridge" interchange which came as Russian society was becoming dramatically more open.

Posner / Donahue comments today?
Now Pozner and Donahue are on stage and are leading a discussion -- how would a "Space Bridge" discussion proceed today?

Pozner noticed that, in reviewing the 1985 video, the Russian audience is careful and does not want to speak government or politics. He got 77,000 letters. Most comment thoughts expressed: Where did you find such idiots for the studio. The second comment: "I saw my face and I did not like it." There was a feeling that people that were not open. I will today address you Americans as if you were still in Seattle. If we had the same Space Bridge today, what would be the behavior of the Russian audience today? Would it be as it was 27 years ago, or would it be different?

Donahue talks about reliving old memories. He thinks in 1985, Americans were preachy. "We had God and you didn't . . . we prayed for your conversion. Much, much later did I realize there was condescension in this." Later he realized there was much we could accomplish if we could just meet each other. He called this meeting and the people involved one of the noblest acts on earth. They two nations are remarkably literate and are "centered on a large heart." He thought in the years after 1985, "if we got together we could stop this madness ... and be more powerful than separately . . . I wish my governmenet were more interested in reaching out or lashing out . . . more interested in diplomacy than sending incendiary devices to other countries . . . I wish your president would not be so suspcious of us. There is a ... fear that moves President Putin to expel USAID."

Donahue: "If I had it to over again I would have been much more understanding of your virtuals . . . and the features of our country that need improvement . . . in some ways maybe you ought to pray for us. Together we can stop the madness, I believe that." Cynicism is the end of activism. "Once you believe there is nothing you can do, you sit down."

Pozner: A recent Russian poll finds that 65% of Russians think of America as a non-friendly, as an enemy country. Thirty-five percent are those who do not have an opinion. There is a very small share who believes otherwise. It is not that different from 27 years ago. If we conducted this same research in the USA, what would be the opinion of Russia -- partner, enemy? What would the percentage be.

Judy, a college professor on the panel, can offer what her students think. During the Cold War there was a special fascination with the two countries, but there was a fascinating commonality among the two peoples. That commonality among people vs. government emnity set her on her career course. Now among today's students, Russia is seen as a fellow rich and powerful country to the United States. "But for two reasons there is a residual sense of hope and curiosity." One is that have come so far from the Cold War period there is now a sense that the U.S. has relations with many people, but there is still something special about the U.S.-Russian relationship -- shared culture, and attitudes about important issues. "On the whole, there is still a sense of curiousity among my students about what is Russia becoming."

Pozner: If we conducted a poll in the United States, not among 19-year-old college students, a general populace poll, would they look at Russia as friend, enemy or would they have no opinion. Could we get comparable results.

Another panelist: Thinks it would be no more than 50% of Americans would think Russian is still "unfriendly." Russia still gets a lot of special attention in the U.S. media. Most Americans have a special interest in Russia and wonder about its role in the world, "other than being this existential threat to the United States."