Sunday, December 9, 2012


THE END OF AN ERA (and none too soon)

Following on to my story about Daniel del Solar, this is a different slant on our Soviet neighbors.  The time is that period before the collapse of the USSR, but it was in the air, and the world was beginning to breathe easier.  The Soviet Embassy was only a few feet from my office at 1111 Sixteenth Street but had always been forbidden territory.  I quit looking at it for so long, it sort of disappeared from my radar to the point that I had no sense of its being there at all anymore.

Then came Gorby and glasnost and perestroika – openness and dynamism became the watchwords of the day and the gloomy Soviet monolith was dragged blinking into the sunlight.  The wall came down.  Change and promise were in the air.  The old Soviet intransigents made a last stand to maintain the status quo and failed.  The shackles were falling away and relief and fresh air invigorated everyone.  You had to experience that era to know how incredible it seemed.

Somewhere in the midst of all that, it must have been somewhere around the leading edge, because I do remember things were still tenuous, a lawyer friend of Sundi’s came to me with a proposition.  Bruce was, among other things, an entrepreneur.  He had just returned from the Soviet Union and reported that the entrepreneurial fever was sweeping the country, and he thought we should see how we might profit by it.  He had floated the idea with a few Soviet officials about producing a series of educational programs about how to be an entrepreneur.   

Bruce asked me to bring my experience with educational television to the mix of talents that would be needed to pull it off.  I told him I had no direct experience as such but knew some who did.  I could handle certain aspects of project management and would at least help him put together a simple business plan.  Bruce had arranged for us to meet at the Soviet Embassy with a young Soviet official in an appropriate role. 

Going there was unreal.  I had eschewed the place for so long now suddenly I was inside.  We were ushered into a room by our host, a quite pleasant and handsome young man named Sergei.  The room was spacious and furnished ornately with gilded furniture, tapestries and paintings.

I explained what I proposed to do, e.g., to set up a steering committee, enlist professionals in the fields of instructional television design and production, higher education, vocational education plus a business plan and overall direction from the U.S. end.  I further stated that I thought we should get the imprimatur of our state department, and that Sergei should seek to identify corresponding Soviet members in education and government.  Sergei spoke.

“Well, George, when you say someone from a university, someone from a trade school, and a businessman, et cetera, I agree with you that these are all very appropriate, but when you say someone from our government, I must disagree.”  Then he said this with fervor.  “These days we tell those guys to GO TO HELL! 

My God, I thought!  Am I really hearing this in the Soviet Embassy! 

Out on the street, I said to Bruce, “The times, they are a-changin’!”  And they were, and they did.

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