“Russia…War or Peace?”
By Merlin Miller
On May 30, 2015, my wife, Susan, and I joined a small delegation of concerned citizens to visit Russia, a nation under Western media and political assault, and economic sanctions.
Organized by Sharon Tennison, founder of “Center for Citizens Initiatives” (http://ccisf.org/), this independent, one-of-a-kind sojourn was to extend “grassroots goodwill” by meeting directly with the Russian people. Our goal was to learn truths and perspectives first-hand, rather than rely on a special-interests’ controlled mass media, which increasingly and unfairly demonizes the “land of white nights” and their leader, President Vladimir Putin.
(Sharon Tennison, Founder of CCI)
CCI travelers first went to Russia (the former Soviet Union) in 1983 to help usher in a climate of positive exchanges. The organization ultimately sponsored over 6000 Russian entrepreneurs to visit and train in America, while leading American expeditions to Russia. Although largely unheralded, these efforts helped create a political thaw (Glasnost and Perestroika), which helped to normalize relations between the two powers. Unfortunately, citizens initiatives are once again needed to help restore positive relations between America and Russia, and challenge the misguided foreign policies that threaten world peace.
Our group visited four regions over 17 days; Moscow, Volgograd, Ekaterinburg, and St. Petersburg. While we did meet some government officials and media representatives, our focus was people-to-people, interacting with the growing number of Russian entrepreneurs who are creating a new middle-class and a strong future for their country.
In Moscow, we were greeted with an impressive mix of grand architecture and modern facilities. The city, now numbering nearly 14 million people was vibrant. Their subway system was impeccable, with a palace-like decor, including crystal chandeliers…and their trains ran on time!
(Underground in the Moscow metro)
The Russian people were physically fit and better dressed than contemporary Americans. We found no hostility among them and they were uniformly helpful. As Americans, we were probably perceived as loud and obnoxious, while they were quiet and cautiously respectful. Much of their demeanor, as we were to learn, has developed over centuries of subordination to authorities in addition to living in such close quarters to each other. Individual noise levels had to be subdued in public and in thin-walled apartments throughout the Soviet years. The era of the Czars and nearly a century of Communism seem to have taken an irrefutable toll on their individualism, but we sensed a growing entrepreneurial spirit, optimism and sense of national pride.
It appeared to me that our nations are going through bizarre role-reversals. They have expectations of greater freedom and prosperity, while we are experiencing a loss of liberty and wealth, and a sense of uncertain desperation. To date, they reject “Western cultural Marxism” which has been destroying American society. Ironically, this cultural Marxist assault on America’s traditional institutions had its birth in Communist (and Socialist) doctrines, which the Russians increasingly reject.
While in Moscow we also met with a large group of students at The Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, who seek future exchanges. They were eager to learn American ways, at least those which they perceived as healthy and productive. The freedoms and pioneering spirit, which had been foreign to the Russian people before the successes of groups like CCI and Rotary International, are becoming increasingly real. I was reminded of the optimism of growing up in Iowa in the 1950s and 60s, before the subversion of our inspired traditions.
(Saint Basil Cathedral in Red Square)
After a few days in Moscow, we took the overnight train south to Volgograd (known as Stalingrad during WWII). We met several Russian soldiers on the train who were part of a military band and eager to practice their English. What fun they were and how helpful in negotiating for snacks from the “babushkas” at the occasional stops. Upon arrival in Volgograd, we were greeted by a score of local entrepreneurs, extending flowers to our women and helping with baggage. Many of them had participated in CCI and Rotary programs and warmly greeted our special petite Sharon, who had so positively impacted their lives. Over the next few days we were invited to private dashas for dinner, to Rotary meetings, clinics, and entrepreneurial ventures. It was inspiring to witness these individual business enterprises, a few of which had grown to be enormously successful.
While in the river port city, we gained a deep appreciation for the sacrifices of the Russian people. The Battle of Stalingrad (Volgograd) had been the turning point in WWII. The Germans were committed to taking the strategic river port city and the Russians had to first defend for survival, before counterattacking and ultimately prevailing. Although the city was decimated and nearly 3 million people lost their lives (approximately 2 million Russian men, women and children, and 1 million German soldiers), the people have stoically rebuilt. They know the horrors of war, and honor their fallen with incredible monuments. More than we can possibly appreciate, they have suffered and sincerely seek a future of peace.
(A remnant from “the Battle of Stalingrad”/Volgograd)
(The Motherland monument, situated on the high-ground of Volgograd)
We next flew to Ekaterinburg, just east of the Ural Mountains and technically in Siberia (Asia). This industrial city had been a primary producer of war materials during the Second World War, as it was more distant from the battlefields. It is the city where Czar Nicholas II and his family had been sequestered, and then brutally executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Today, the Ekaterinburg region suffers from aging factories, but is seeking new investment and production possibilities, and is most interested in improved relations with America. Our group did visit the American Consulate, where the Consul General’s political perspectives seemed to be at odds with the realities that we experienced, and some of our members expressed dissatisfaction with his representations.
(The Church on the Blood, where Czar Nicholas II and his family were executed)
My wife and I were hosted for a side trip to Chelybinsk, where we viewed some real estate projects, and met community leaders who were eager for development support. As an outlying area, Federal supports are less visible than in the major centers, and this seemed to be of some concern, especially at this time of economic sanctions.
(On the Silk Road, between East and West, in Chelybinsk)
The last and most impressionable leg of our visit was to Saint Petersburg (known as Leningrad during WWII). Built by Peter the Great, the city is regarded as “the Venice of the North” with beautiful canals, magnificent buildings, palaces and churches.
Saint Petersburg was surrounded by German forces from Sep 1941 until Jan 1944 (“the Siege of Leningrad”). Although much was destroyed and the people suffered greatly, the city miraculously survived, and restoration efforts have restored its magnificence. Several outlying palaces, including the Peterhof, Pavlosk, and Tsarskoye Selo were under the control of the Germans. We toured the famous Amber Room which had been pillaged of its panels, but since wonderfully recreated.
(The Hermitage Pavillion at Catherine’s Summer Palace – Tsarskoye Selo)
The city of Saint Petersburg is now a magnet for cruise lines and has become an international destination, uniquely blending European and Russian cultures. Renowned for its “Baroque” architecture, museums, mosaics, ballets and symphonies, the city is a wondrous experience. We saw no obvious poverty and, since the Putin era, renovations have accelerated. Corruption has been significantly reduced, and there is also a growing sense of fiscal responsibility. During the recent celebration of their WWII victory, which unfortunately was snubbed by America – the city spent more funds than anticipated. As a result, they cancelled the fireworks display that had been scheduled for the subsequent celebration of “The Day of Russia (commemorating the anniversary of the birth of the new Russia, after communism). We cruised the River Neva during this celebration, enjoying the natural and manmade beauty, and respecting their decision. We wondered if politicians in America would show such fiscal responsibility.
(Saint Petersburg’s – Cathedral of the Resurrection)
Since the fall of the Soviet Empire, the Russian Orthodox Church is being resurrected and the people are finding a renewed spirituality, in contrast to the loss of America’s once dominant Christian faith.
With the Soviet collapse, the Warsaw Pact disbanded and Russia became a Federation of Republics. NATO should have likewise disbanded, but instead has expanded eastward, in violation of international agreements and threatening regional security and Russian sovereignty. If the truths were known about the Ukrainian situation, we would never have involved ourselves (similar to Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria). However, to the benefit of international plotters, a violent coup was orchestrated and civil war instigated – not surprisingly, adjacent to Russia’s borders and in the control path of vital natural resources.
Through the International Monetary Fund, the Ukrainians are now deeply impoverished. We met several Ukrainians while in Russia, and they passionately urged restraint, so that the Ukrainian people can pursue self-determination, rather than continued victimization through foreign interference. “American Exceptionalism” is much resented and is certainly not in keeping with our traditions. Current politicians, in service to international special interests (rather than the American people), seem to have forgotten Thomas Jefferson’s wise counsel…”peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” Other nations have their own “Monroe Doctrines” protective of their sovereign interests, which we should respect.
Noted journalist, Robert Parry, is perhaps the best analyst of the current situation. His articles lays bare the facts and reveal the propaganda and manipulations which have escalated these unnecessary and destructive conflicts. His latest example can be found at https://consortiumnews.com/2015/06/22/nyts-orwellian-view-of-ukraine/
For comprehensive information, I highly recommend Russia Insider http://russia-insider.com/en Also, Veterans Today http://www.veteranstoday.com/ and Veterans News Now http://www.veteransnewsnow.com/ offer great insights. We must reach beyond America’s controlled mass media to find truths – once again born of journalistic integrity and personal ethics. Before being privileged to join Sharon Tennison’s eclectic and stellar group, I had previously travelled to Iran (http://www.veteransnewsnow.com/2012/09/21/215335-as-the-israeli-war-drums-beat/), where I came to deeply respect the Iranian people and their often misrepresented perspectives. In my quest for truths, I found that we must, as private citizens, seek our own answers and not depend on the perspectives of others.
Throughout our incredible trip, we gauged Russians knowledge and attitudes of current events. They are much more politically aware than most Americans, probably because of the traumas that they have experienced during the last century, and sensing the current dangers. My wife and I came to have great respect for the Russian people and for our special delegation – which has returned, inspired to share truths in the cause of peace and humanity. The Russian people are very much like the American people, and we should pursue friendly relations. I encourage everyone to support the work of the Center for Citizens Initiatives (http://ccisf.org/).
In closing, I’d like to share my wife’s perspectives. During our first night back home, and after having experienced 17 days of stimulation and very little sleep, she awoke inspired to write her reflections.
Reflections from Russia
By Susan Miller
As I reflect on my journey to Russia, I am transported once again to the elaborate hall of mirrors in Catherine’s Palace. I see different images in each of the many reflections that surround me.
The mirror closest to me shows the love that people have for each other, for family, country, and humanity. This was reflected every day in a gesture, a loving smile, hug, kiss, or a sincere handshake. I see the same gestures of love among people in America. Are we so different from each other?
Across the room I see reflected the image of respect. First and foremost a subtle self respect. It is shown in the posture of the men, women, youth, and even the children. They hold themselves erect, head high, and they even look you in the eye when they talk to you. I am not sure that I see that anymore in America. Are we losing our self respect?
Another image that I see is sorrow. An image reflected at the WWII monuments which dominate the landscape of Volgograd and the entrance to Saint Petersburg. The sorrow is reflected in the magnificence of the statue of the Motherland, the statues of soldiers helping wounded soldiers, of people helping people, and of a mother holding her dead son. The eternal flame, the lists of names, 900 lights for 900 days of the Saint Petersburg siege, and a magnificent diorama contribute to this overwhelming sorrow. These are not victory sites, but monuments depicting the sorrows of war, and crimes against humanity. We have such sites in America too. Gettysburg and Arlington come to mind as places that reflect the overwhelming sorrow of war. Does this Russia, that builds such monuments to the tragedy of war, truly want another war?
In each of the many mirrors I see reflected the people that I met. They do not smile easily, but when they do it is genuine and reflected in their eyes. The people are very reserved, especially in public and among strangers. You do not see them talking loud, laughing, arms moving or feet tapping. This is very different from the vivacious and noisy people of America. But does this make the Russians cold, or simply reflect a people who have been taught the need to guard their emotions?
Everywhere in the vast hall of mirrors I see reflected a country that has energy, and that is rising above its past history to become a land of new hope and opportunity. Most important, Russia is a place where people are finding their roots – in family, faith, values, and communities. We have so many things in common with the people of Russia, but I’m not sure if America’s image to the world still reflects our values, our love of family, faith, and even freedom. Do we have roots in America anymore? Are we a country to be emulated? These are questions that I ask myself – as I reflect on the images in the mirror.
About the Authors – Susan and Merlin Miller have been married for 40 years and have four grown daughters. Susan is an early childhood educator, seeking a better world for our youth. Merlin is a West Point graduate, motion picture producer, and founder of American Eagle Party (www.AmericanEagleParty.com). He is also building a “Veterans League of Honor” to promote truth, justice, liberty, and peace. Additional information is at https://merlinmiller.com/merlins-bio/