THIS ISSUE IS ABOUT A REMARKABLE DISCOVERY. During the past few years, a growing number of Americans and Soviets, motivated by a desire for peace and aware of the global nuclear disaster our two nations have prepared for the planet, have been making a conscious effort to get to know the "other side" – by traveling to the other country, by participating in two-way television "spacebridges," by meeting and hosting visitors to their own country, and through various forms of study. This kind of peace-motivated people-to-people exchange has acquired the name of "citizen diplomacy", and it is probably responsible for a lot more of the actual progress towards better relations between these two countries than it gets credit for.
Yet a curious thing has happened along the way. Citizen diplomats are getting much more than they bargained for. There is a special electricity that develops between Soviets and Americans when they have the chance to really get to know each other as people. Over and over, both Americans and Soviets describe experiencing a strange, even bewildering, blend of unexpectedly easy familiarity and elusive "otherness." In a paradoxical way, we keep finding that we understand both more and less about each other than we think we do. And out of this "intimate strangeness" has grown a new desire for a closer relationship that transcends the awesome but one-dimensional practicality of establishing peace.
"Yes, of course," some will say, "but what about…" And here will follow a list of familiar concerns. Americans will ask about Afghanistan, refuseniks, Soviet global expansion, etc. Soviets will ask about our ring of allies surrounding them, our pushing of the arms race through Star Wars, etc. There is no question that both countries can justify being concerned about each other’s behavior. The real question is, isn’t there a better way than mutual nuclear blackmail to deal with these concerns?
This issue tells the stories of people who have arisen out of their "walking slumber" to at least look for a better alternative. Since our audience is primarily western (although IN CONTEXT regularly goes out to about 25 countries around the world, and a number of copies of this issue will go to the USSR), the first section describes life in the Soviet Union, told in many cases by grassroots Soviets themselves. The second section then explores the many dimensions of citizen diplomacy through reports and stories from those who have been doing it.
This is also a special joint issue with the Holyearth Journal of the Earthstewards Network. It is being sent to both mailing list, and if you happen to be one of those unusually astute people who are on both lists, you will get two copies (one for sharing with friends, perhaps).
Our guest editor for this issue, Diana Glasgow, is the Holyearth Journal editor, as well as a major force in the citizen diplomacy movement. She has been to the USSR 9 times since the spring of 1984, leading trips, arranging exchanges, and learning the language and culture. With Danaan Parry, her partner in the Earthstewards Network, she has been at the forefront of "expanding the permissible," as in the recent path-breaking trip by Soviet youth to the US in the fall of 1986.
This topic is inescapably complex and controversial (but then, wait till we get to our next issue which deals with "Gender!"). The articles that follow reflect a wide diversity of experience, perception, and values, and we recommend that you don’t jump to conclusions based on reading only a few of them (perhaps not even reading all of them!). In dealing with this topic, I am often reminded of the story of the blind men who try to describe an elephant, each sure that his small piece of the truth is the whole story. The "elephant" that is the human relationship between the peoples of the Soviet Union and the United States is enormous, and we don’t claim to have covered it all. But we hope you will find the story told here to be as fascinating – and empowering – as we have.