by Yale Richmond
Another example of a quiet form of public diplomacy, which pays off, but is only visible years or decades later. –Ed.
In autumn 1967, as the newly arrived Counselor for Press and Culture at the American Embassy Moscow, I embarked on a series of calls on various Soviet government ministries and organizations involved in cultural exchanges, including some where no American diplomat had previously ventured. I was determined to do what I had done as a Cultural Attaché in other diplomatic posts, and not be cowed by Soviet restrictions on my legitimate activities. Everything I did was in the open. Appointments were made over the phone to keep the KGB informed on what I was doing. I was never refused a visit, and was always received correctly, if not cordially.
At the Union of Composers, I met with Tikhon Khrennikov, the conservative composer who, at the behest of Stalin, had so tormented Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev. And at the Gorky Institute of World Literature, from where writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel had been imprisoned the previous year for publishing allegedly “anti-Soviet” works, I established contact with scholars in the American section. A few months later, I surprised them with an invitation to an embassy showing of the classic film, Gone With the Wind. Two of them came, with their wives, and enjoyed the film that told them much about the antebellum American South they had been writing about.
At the Union of Soviet Writers, we discussed exchanges of American and Soviet writers, which were already taking place under the US-USSR cultural agreement, but the conversation eventually got around to copyright protection and the Soviet practice of publishing American authors without compensation. The USSR in those years was not a party to an international copyright convention, and I pointed out that by not doing so it was losing hard currency because American publishers were also free to publish Soviet authors without compensation. To prove my point, I offered to provide the Writers’ Union with a list of Soviet books published in the United States if, in exchange, the Union would give me a list of American books published in the Soviet Union.
We shook hands on that, and a few months later, with the cooperation of the Association of American Publishers, USIA sent me a list of Soviet books published in the United States, which I presented to the Union of Writers. And, a month or so later, the Union presented me with a list of American authors published in the Soviet Union. Both lists were much longer than I had expected, and included many scientific as well as literary works.
I like to believe that the exchange of lists eventually persuaded the Soviet Union to accede to the Universal Copyright Convention in 1973. In any event, it provided supporting evidence to the Union of Writers which had been seeking compensation for the works of its members that were being published abroad without copyright protection. Signature of the copyright convention was another small step in ending Soviet isolation and encouraging its cooperation with the United States and other countries.
Yale Richmond is a writer and former Foreign Service Officer who lives in Washington, D.C. His latest books are Understanding the Americans: A Handbook for Visitors to the United States (Hippocrene Books, 2009), and From Nyet to Da: Understanding the New Russia 4th edition (Intercultural Press, 2009). He served in Moscow as Counselor for Press and Culture, 1967-69.