US-Soviet Friendship Exchanges on Increase
STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ Young Americans and Soviets are getting together more and more these days - at high school proms and conferences and in organizations that range from orchestras to peace groups.
It’s ″citizen diplomacy,″ says Valentin Seveus, a Swede who runs a three- way exchange program for teen-agers from the United States, the Soviet Union and neutral Sweden.
″In the United States there is a wish to show that the Russians are ordinary people like you and me,″ he said. ″It is an extremely important thing.″
The Soviets, under Mikhael S. Gorbachev’s glasnost (openness) policy, want to open their country to the outside world, and their programs often are organized under the banner of peace, said Seveus, who operates out of Stockholm.
Swedes, who cultivate their non-aligned position to pursue issues like peace and disarmament, actively promote such projects.
″It’s always easy to reach people when you work with peace,″ Seveus said.
U.S.-Soviet exchange programs were cut off by the United States when relations soured after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The contacts were renewed under a cultural agreement signed by President Reagan and Gorbachev at the 1985 U.S.-Soviet summit meeting in Geneva.
Liza Malott of Reagan’s U.S.-Soviet Exchange Initiative said about 100,000 Americans are now going to the Soviet Union annually, mostly on private tours, in contrast to 10,000 Soviets who visited the United States last year.
The proportion is even more lopsided when it comes to youth, but the number of youngsters is climbing on both sides, Ms. Malott said.
Seveus, 46, founded Cooperation for Peace in 1983 to promote student get- togethers through summer camps or conferences, working through parallel Soviet and U.S. organizations. Teen-agers from Poland, India and other countries also have taken part.
Seveus’ latest program, Peace Quest, brought 50 teen-agers together for six weeks visiting each others’ U.S., Soviet and Swedish hometowns.
On a stopover in Sweden, the Americans said their visit to the Soviet Union had changed some of their preconceptions. They visited private Soviet homes, looked in on the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Ukraine and met with representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church and youth groups.
″They took us very seriously and we freely discussed everything ... with straight answers,″ said a group leader, Elisabeth Bentley, a nurse from Barre, Mass.
″Peace work at this stage in the U.S. is so new,″ she added. ″We would like them to go back (home) and get involved, make speeches, form clubs ... you know, throw a stone in the water with all the ripples.″
″It’s been fantastic,″ said one traveling youth, Andy De Braber, 17, of Grand Rapids, Mich. ″In a few weeks so much has happened, it’s almost hard to absorb.″
Ina Dubovik, 17, an English major from Minsk, U.S.S.R., said she joined the tour as a way to ″fight for peace.″ As the leader of her school’s International Club, she said she was looking forward to reporting back on her experiences.
Ms. Dubovik said the members of her group were leaders in Soviet youth groups or international clubs.
Another American group leader, Susanne Sklar, 30, of Chicago, called the Soviet youth the future ambassadors and leaders of their country.
The Soviet press closely covered the group, she said, and members were on Soviet television and radio several times.
One of the breakthroughs in the youth exchanges was the case of Samantha Smith, an 11-year-old Maine schoolgirl.
In 1983, she won the hearts of millions of Soviets when she visited at the invitation of the late Yuri V. Andropov, then the Soviet president, whom she had written about her concerns of superpower tension. She died in a plane crash two years later.