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Mayor Tells Soviet Youngsters Their Government Is ‘The Pits’ With PM-Reporter-Superpowers, Bjt

September 16, 1986

NEW YORK (AP) _ Mayor Edward I. Koch had no apologies after he shocked and angered a group of young Soviet performers by saying their government was ″the pits″ for detaining a U.S. journalist.

″This is a lot of baloney that somehow or other when you come to City Hall this is a sanctuary and people don’t speak the truth,″ Koch said Monday. ″I think we ought to use every single occasion to speak out against the offensive government that exists in the Soviet Union.″

Earlier, Koch met at City Hall with 22 Soviet and American children ages 10 to 18 who are touring the United States in a musical production called the Soviet-American Peace Child Tour.

Koch first proclaimed the week ″Peace Child Week,″ and then said: ″I cannot let this occasion go forward without making some comments about the Soviet Union, which I believe - not the children in the Soviet Union, not the people in the Soviet Union, but the government - is the pits.″

He said he could not leave unanswered what he described as Soviets’ ″taking a reporter hostage so as to use leverage against the American government because we have apprehended a Soviet spy.″

Koch said that if U.S News & World Report correspondent Nicholas Daniloff is not allowed to leave the Soviet Union, all foreign journalists there should do so because they are ″at risk.″

Soon after the remarks, Vladimir Litvinov, an official of the Soviet Ministry of Culture, canceled the group’s planned tour of City Hall.

″I can’t imagine the mayor of Moscow would say things like that to children 10 years old,″ said Litvinov. ″We expected some protocol. What we received - I can’t find a word in English to describe what it is. When he’s talking rude to children, it’s unbelievable.″

One of the children, Yegor Druzhinin, 14, said, ″I don’t want to say thank you to the mayor of New York. ... I don’t want to stay here in this house (City Hall).″

Oksana Remizova, 18, said through an interpreter that ″it was strange, because we were saying throughout our tour we want to be friends and all of a sudden (we’re treated like) enemies.″

Colleen Barry, 16, of Washington, D.C., said she was surprised and upset at Koch’s remarks: ″We’re not here to say one political system is better than another. We’re here to learn to understand each other better.″

Ludmilla Senchina said the mayor should have used another forum for his remarks. Everybody, ″expected nice words,″ she said. ″This was inhumane.″

She also criticized Koch for greeting the group in shirtsleeves, saying it was a sign of disrespect.

When told of that criticism, Koch said some of his callers like the informality.

″What kind of communist society do they have there?″ he added. ″One where everybody runs around in their tuxedos?″