007 and the Cold War Stereotype

7 May

I am the epitome of awkward and classy.

So…sorry for being a week late. Again. Finals kind of snuck up on me and hit me over the head screaming, “Everything is due a week earlier than you thought!” And it’s been a mad dash to the end to get papers and projects in. I haven’t slept in three days. But here I am, in a coffee shop listening to Pandora very appropriately play the soundtrack to The Crimson Tide, trying to write an article about Cold War stereotypes, instead of wrapped in a blanket, sound asleep.

I do it for you, people.

In a 1-2 KO for the semester the Initiative for Russian Culture  gave us another movie last Friday and a symposium on Saturday. The movie was…eh. But there was a red carpet outside the Embassy. So…um…here’s a picture of me looking swanky.

But then there was the seminar. The topic–Cold War stereotypes and how to over come them. Eight panelists. Not among them, but in the audience was the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislak. And when the panelists were giving answers he wasn’t satisfied with, like a boss, he took the stage and answered for them.

The really unfortunate thing is that my shorthand notes are so short that I can’t read them anymore. And I forgot to charge my phone the night before, so I have no pictures.  Ot-freaking-lichna.

But what I can pick out from my chicken scrawl is the Ambassador said that there is nothing pushing either party–Russia or NATO–to the core of their relations. That there is a fundamental mistrust and philosophical difference between either party and we can’t move forward until we address this. This was rather evident as the tension in the room increased dramatically the instant “NATO” was uttered.

Madison, a good friend of mine, knows more about the culture than I do. She leaned over to me an said, “Russians don’t like to talk about the problem. They like to talk results and steps to said solution. They like to save face.”

If what she says is true, and I trust her judgment, this is yet another philosophical difference that makes communication between us so difficult. Americans, at least, to my understanding, are so entrenched in defining their terms and defining the boundaries of their argument that they forget to look for solutions.

Forgive me for sidetracking for a bit, but it seems that all we do. Look at the War on Terror. How long did we spend, are we spending, simply defining what terrorism is, who the terrorists are, and what even “war on” means? On this front is where I hear the most Cold War nostalgia: We knew who the enemy was; they knew who we were. We all knew the parameters of the game and what was at stake.

There is nothing pushing either party–Russia or NATO–to the core of their relations. That there is a fundamental mistrust and philosophical difference between either party and we can’t move forward until we address this.

Which brings me to my second point.

This is probably the best Russo-American perceptions of each other have been, simply on the merits that by the time most of my generation, the Millennials,  were born, the Iron Curtain was no more; Berlin was one city. We grew up without the Soviet Union and therefore have very little ill things to say about them.

But, and panelist Jeff Mankoff said this, that there is a “Russian fatigue” among Americans. There isn’t anything actively replacing the past generation’s understanding of Russia. So, while the level of poor stereotypes has lessened, in its wake are Cold War leftovers and apathy.

Russia simply isn’t relevant to us, the Millennials, anymore. I am often asked if I realize it’s not the ’80s when I tell people I’m studying Russian. “Why not Chinese?” some ask. “They’re the ones we do business with. Why not Arabic? That’s the region we’re bombing /nation building.” My particular favorite is when people as what part of Florida I’ll be studying abroad in. Once, in my high school macroeconomics class, I happened to note that the conversion rate of the Russian noble to the US was 26 to one. Across the room, a classmate of mine asked “Why do you know that?” To them, Russia is a distant, strange place, like it was for me before my conversion.

Russia simply isn’t relevant to us, the Millennials, anymore.

Particularly striking was the degree of optimism of the future of Russo-American relations among the panelists. Keeping with the spirit of a generation gap, the first panel, the older establishment, believed relations would either stay the same, or worsen. But the younger, junior panelists, despite being Gen-Xers, expressed a high degree of optimism that relations would improve. This gap was without regard to nationality. And I hold that belief to.

Before the Revolution, Russia and America shared a warm, amiable relationship. I only pray that one day we’ll return to that state of being.

But the younger, junior panelists, despite being Gen-Xers, expressed a high degree of optimism that relations would improve.

So where does that leave me and my little blog? For the rest of May, I’m going to examine perceptions, delve a little deeper into topics discussed on the junior panelists, and touch on a, well, pretty embarrassing period of time in my life, but it is very relevant to this discussion. And since finals are over, I’ll be back to my “usual” schedule of Wednesdays at 3, Eastern Standard Time.

Thanks for sticking with me.

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