Soviet-American ‘Citizens Summit’ Opens
TBILISI, U.S.S.R. (AP) _ An American stockbroker asked Soviets on Monday why their shops are low on supplies. A Soviet journalist accused a well-known U.S. colleague of trying to teach Russians how to live.
Showing the candor the Soviets now seek in their relations with Americans, as well as the disagreements that still divide the superpowers, a six-day meeting of 500 citizens from both countries began Monday in this southern Soviet city near the Turkish-Iranian border.
It is the fourth annual encounter co-sponsored by the state-sanctioned U.S.-Soviet Friendship Society and the Chautauqua Institution of New York. About 300 Americans, from Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins to Broadway songster Tommy Tune, came to Tbilisi for the conference.
In past years the conference served as a reliable barometer of U.S.-Soviet relations. Thirteen months ago in Chautauqua, N.Y., the Soviet delegation trumpeted the merits of Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s drive for greater openness.
In 1986, the meeting was held at the Latvian Baltic Sea resort of Jurmala, but the festive mood was soured by the KGB’s arrest days before of U.S. journalist Nicholas Daniloff in Moscow.
With four superpower summits and an unprecedented agreement between Moscow and Washington to destroy their shorter- and medium-range nuclear weapons now history, the mood was decidedly upbeat as the meeting began in this capital of Soviet Georgia, 1,000 miles south of Moscow.
″Probably everyone, even those who are not specialists in Soviet-American relations, is amazed at the changes that have taken place in the last three to four years,″ deputy Foreign Minister Anatoly L. Adamishin told the conference.
Because of the greater heed paid by the Gorbachev-era Kremlin to Soviet public opinion, Adamishin said, it was important for citizens of both superpowers to understand each other.
The Soviets, showing the importance they place on the meeting, sent Gorbachev’s science advisor, Yevgeny Velikhov; top foreign policy commentator Alexander Bovin; and Col. Gen. Nikolai Chervov of the Soviet General Staff.
The Americans included official government representatives such as deputy assistant Secretary of State Thomas W. Simons Jr. Also attending were many private citizens who paid $3,500 to take part.
″We will have differences of opinion as the week unfolds, but we came in goodwill seeking common ground,″ Hedrick Smith, a syndicated columnist who was once the New York Times bureau chief in Moscow, told Monday’s opening session.
In question-and-answer sessions, Americans voiced concern over Soviet human rights practices, including limits on travel and emigration and the banning of some books.
Soviets asked the Americans why their trade union representatives were sometimes barred from getting U.S. visas and why the United States has not agreed to a long-standing Kremlin call for a ban on nuclear tests.
The sharpest exchanges came in a stuffy hall at the headquarters of Georgia’s Znamya Society, where 300 people met to hear two Soviet and two American panelists discuss how each country views the other.
″You fellows have walked the streets of Paris and other Western capitals. When you see that in the main street of Leningrad, there’s basically nothing in the stores, how do you explain that?″ Dale McBrier, 34, a stockbroker from Erie, Pa., asked the Soviet panel members.
″My dear American friend,″ answered Bovin. ″I wish you could read the current issues of Izvestia or any other newspaper. I assure you there are critical articles there. Unfortunately, your society has not caught up with the criticism.″
The portly Bovin, who appears frequently on Soviet television, accused his fellow panelist, Smith, of ″attempting to teach us how to live″ by critical remarks made in Smith’s recent book ″The Russians.″
″I hate to disappoint Mr. Bovin, but the book was not written to instruct Soviet citizens since it was published in English and not in Russian,″ Smith replied. Soviet customs guards still routinely confiscate copies of ″The Russians″ if they find it in Western travelers’ luggage.
A Soviet from Togliatti told the meeting the local branch of the U.S.-Soviet Friendship Society needed permission from local Communist Party and government officials to meet, and that sometimes they have been told, ″No, it’s too early now. You will have no peace cruises or meetings until next May.″
Panels on arms control, human rights and women in society are scheduled before the conference adjourns Saturday. More than 120 of the Americans are being put up by Georgians in their homes, a new facet of the program that both Soviet and American participants say is proving to be one of the most rewarding.