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Interview Transcript

Joseph V. Montville

JOSEPH V. MONTVILLE is the director of preventative diplomacy program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. A former career diplomat, he specializes in the psychological tasks in ethnic and sectarian conflict resolution. He directed the Esalen Institute's seminar on the psychology of the US/Soviet relationship in the 1980s and is also the director of The Russian-American Center's project on ethnic conflict.

The following presentation was given at The Russian-American Center conference in November 1998:

Speaker:  There's a major split in American society between those people who feel, to put it crudely, that you should feed the bear and those people who feel that you should cage the bear.  And this society went through trauma during the 1950s, during the McCarthy period.  And the Cold War was real here, and what it did was, it polarized the society.  And so what you're seeing now is the fallout of this, and that what you call arrogance is part of the response to the "American victory" in the Cold War by those people who saw Russia as an incorrigible enemy.  And, on the other side, you have people who I don't think are arrogant--who look at Russia as a great culture and as a great society and who are working to improve relations so that, again, the bottom line is, how do you change this?  I think you change it by simply increasing contact and having more Russians come here and more Americans go there, but in a context where people get to understand what their goals and aspirations are. 

Montville:  It's a real advantage to be at this part of the program.  So many different aspects of the U.S.-Russian relationship--the economics, the politics, the technology--have been covered.  But what I've been inspired to do is try to draw back and look at the values that really surround or create the context for the U.S.-Russian relationships.  And I've had an opportunity to do a personal interview on the history of the Esalen connection in the U.S.-Soviet relationship at first and then the U.S.-Russian relationship.  And it's helped me to refocus again on the unique contribution that Esalen as an institution and Michael and Dulcy Murphy as a couple and all of their spear carriers following them over to Russia and supporting this work have brought together.  I think it's quite significant.

 So I thought I'd start by just revisiting the Esalen connection in this discussion of the value of values.  I think what started the Esalen connection was old-fashioned intellectual curiosity, and maybe new-fashioned desire for the exploration of the paranormal and all of the special interests that the California context that Michael in particular and Dulce and their friends brought to try to understand the scope of human potential.  So it started that way with early visits in the 1970s to the Soviet Union.  The very fact that being drawn by this intellectual curiosity and this desire to explore new frontiers resulted in new experiences with human beings found in the Soviet Union and new friendships, because basically, this is what happens when you cross the oceans into unknown territory and find a whole number, a new number of human beings and discover their humanity.

 So here's one of the first values that comes to mind that characterize this initiative--a kind of unfettered openness and an acceptance of the innate worth and even preciousness of all human beings of all races and colors and religious beliefs.  That's the underlying value, the underlying premise of this initiative that came out of Michael and Dulce's initiative and the Esalen initiative.  That's the underlying value base.  We can recall the statement that Victor Erofeyev made the other night about, when we were talking about despair and pessimism, where optimism in Russia was even more despairing than pessimism, about the apparent genetic inability he sometimes felt of the Russian people to reform or to modernize.  Certainly many of the reforming elites who spent a lot of time vilifying and denigrating, degrading the Russian people.  Somehow the Russian gene pool had been drained and there was nothing left there.  This is about the first time I heard a Russian say this. 

There have been other meetings at Esalen where this form of despair, which I think really reflects the long history of this struggle between Russia and the West, the struggle to win respect.  It's the theme of the article that was in your folders called, "Russia and the West" or "Moscow and the West," and it helps to explain or give partially the answer to Victor's question a little earlier of why this arrogance.  And coming from the U.S. as American commentators and politicians react to the upheavals going on in Russia.

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