Colette Shulman has been a journalist and public speaker on the Soviet Union/Russia since 1956. In the 1990s early 2000s, she created and co-edited a magazine for women starting NGOs in Russia's emerging civil society.
Q: My name is William McAllister. I’m a senior research fellow at INCITE [Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics], at Columbia University, and I’m here today to talk with Colette Shulman. Ms. Shulman has a varied and deep career in analyzing and generally thinking about the Soviet Union and Russia, having worked in the field of Soviet/Russian-American relations since 1955. At that time, she directed and taught in Moscow, in the Anglo-American School, was a journalist in the Moscow Bureau of United Press [International], with a brief stint in Warsaw, and returned in 1959 to the United States, to work as a UN [United Nations] correspondent for United Press. In the 1960s, she researched, wrote, and presented Soviet Press This Week, a PBS [Public Broadcasting Service] program. She also wrote and narrated, The Unfinished Revolution, a documentary filmed in Moscow, on the eve of the Soviet Union’s fiftieth anniversary, which featured interviews with leading Soviet writers, scientists and public figures. She helped found and chair the advisory council of the Project [Program] for Soviet Émigré Scholars, which provided intensive counseling and assistance to highly trained scholars and professionals during the 1970s wave of Soviet emigration.
Ms. Shulman and several colleagues began Women’s Dialogue–U.S./U.S.S.R., to address issues of concern to women in society. She was a senior staff associate at Columbia School of International Affairs in the 1980s and chaired the university seminar on communism. In the late [Mikhail S.] Gorbachev years, she created a magazine in Russia, translated as You and We—I will not attempt to massacre the Russian—which became a main vehicle for women’s organizations throughout the former USSR, and in the ’90s she was active in post-Soviet civil society. Throughout her career, Ms. Shulman wrote and spoke publicly on the Soviet Union and Russia, and has been part of several study groups on exchanges and U.S.-Soviet relations. She is currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. With such a varied and rich career, welcome, Ms. Shulman.
Shulman: Thank you.
Q: I’d like to begin by asking you about the origins of your interest in the Soviet Union or in Russia. How did you work out your path? Where did this interest come from and how did you work out your path to pursuing this interest?
Shulman: Well, you’ve obviously asked a question that has interested me a great deal over the years, because I have no family background from Russia and in fact come from, I would call it a very Swiss, bourgeois, middle class family of farmers and teachers and winemakers and cabinetmakers.
Where did it all start? I spent a year in [University of] Edinburgh junior year, and came back to Wellesley [College], and noticed there was a course on the curriculum being given that year that interested me. I told my friends over the years, that the course was called nineteenth Century Russian Intellectual History, taught by a Mr. Sullivan, and it absolutely captivated me, but the other day, I looked it up. I found the Wellesley catalog, and the course was actually listed in this way: “Russia in Transition: A Century of Russian Civilization." Life and thought in Russia since the middle of the nineteenth century, changes in political institutions, social structures, ethical and artistic standards, with special attention given to the prominence and significance in Russian history of [Lev Nikolayevich “Leo”] Tolstoy, [Fyodor M.] Dostoyevsky, and [Vladimir I.] Lenin. How about that?
Q: May I interrupt you just for a moment. That was the entire title of the course?
Shulman: It was the title, plus the little description.
Q: Oh, I see, okay, okay.
Shulman: That was enough to draw me in, but isn’t it interesting that in my mind, over the years, it came down to the intellectual thinkers. I think he chose Dostoyevsky, Lenin and Tolstoy because those were names that were known to the American public. At that time, the really great works in English, scholarly works, had not yet been written. Martin [E.] Malia wrote a book on [Aleksandr I.] Herzen. I remember, it maybe came out shortly afterwards, and then of course Isaiah Berlin’s essays began to come out. Of course I plugged into those later writings as I went along and they influenced me, but I think in the Wellesley course, there must have been a lot of talk about the people I was interested in. Joseph Sullivan was a good teacher. All English sources, none of us knew any Russian. That was the number one event.
The second one was the death of [Joseph] Stalin in 1953, in March, when I was about to graduate. That opened up the question of what would happen over there, what were the possibilities? Would there be a foreign policy thaw, just as you remember [Ilya] Ehrenburg within the Soviet Union had coined the term “thaw,” in the cultural field, which [Nikita S.] Khrushchev didn’t much like. Anyway, I didn’t have lot of time to think what to do after graduation and I didn’t have other ideas in mind. This was something that caught my imagination, I made some inquiries. I’m not quite sure how I ended up at Columbia, but there wasn’t much choice. It may have been that because I didn’t know any Russian, I had to go to a place that had an intensive Russian language study program. I don’t recall whether Harvard [University] did, for the masters program.
Anyway, I put in an application, talked it over with my parents, who I thought would object, but I have no record in the letters that we exchanged at the time, so it must have happened on the occasional weekends when I went home. They were living on Long Island, in Great Neck. I probably told them that this could lead to university teaching, and that’s essentially what I put in my application. I said, I’ll major in history, that will be my field.
Gosh, the [Harriman] Institute was quite an experience. The first year, to earn my room and board, I was an au pair girl taking care in the evenings of little kids. So there wasn’t much time for extracurricular activities that first year. Also, I found learning the Russian language took a lot of time. We had a teacher named Bob Hankin and we all adored him, if we could keep up with the pace. He was taking us over the jumps, day by day, and I had the impression that he didn’t like the existing few textbooks. He was creating one himself by staying one step ahead of us and mimeographing it at night and handing out the pages. The class had a sense of rapid learning that was very satisfying, I have to say, and we would have a second hour every day with one of the émigrés, practicing preliminary, simple conversation. So, that’s how it started.
Q: You were at the Institute for two years?
Shulman: Two years.
Q: Just to focus on that for a second, because of your time directly, specifically there, is there anything particular about the people who were there at the time? I think [Philip E.] Mosely was there then, [Geroid Tanquary]. Robinson?
Shulman: Robinson was there and Ernie [Ernest J.] Simmons was there.
Q: Simmons was there.
Shulman: Abe [Abram] Bergson.
Q: Right, the economist.
Shulman: John N. Hazard.
Q: Right, right.
Shulman: And of course several of those people, Mosely, Hazard, had interesting backgrounds in the Soviet Union, in the ’30s, and wrote about that in various ways. I have, right over there in the dining room, a little book that John Hazard wrote late in life, of what led him into lend-lease work during the war, because he knew Russian very well.
Phil Mosely was a person I particularly admired. He was dedicated to his students. I remember his classroom lectures were a little tedious, but we took notes like mad. I still have his notes, and when I look back at them, I see how comprehensive they were, how in my thinking I would refer to them very often. Also, on the personal side, if you had a problem, if you needed help, if you needed money—he once offered my husband some money when he was really down and out— Phil Mosely was right there for you. He was an extraordinary man.
Q: As you said, what was kind of the intellectual and social life like at the place at that time?
Shulman: I don’t have much recollection of that, maybe because I was working so hard. I had the sense that the ten years since the Institute started in ’46, had made a difference, partly because the environment had changed. I can remember my husband talking about being part of a student group and in fact heading a student group, and that they had a number of interesting speakers: E.H. [Edward Hallett “Ted”] Carr, [Frederick] Fred Schuman, who was jogged by [Joseph R.] McCarthy charges and so on. In fact, Marshall [D. Shulman] told me and I think it’s in his Oral History, that E.H. Carr was talking to a student group about the unraveling of the Yalta agreement, and he was talking about it in a way that seemed very dismissive—what were we thinking? Did we think we could impose or even introduce democratic institutions in Eastern European countries? Well, Phil Mosely was incensed and he got up and Marshall, at the time he told me about this, said it looked like Phil might be going forward to grab hold of him. I’m sure Phil wouldn’t have done that but he did speak up, because he knew Eastern Europe and he was incensed that someone would say that.
I think there were in my time at the institute, instead of one student group, probably several smaller groupings according to interest. I know that Jeri Laber told me she was part of a group. She was in literature and worked with Ernie Simmons, and she was also part of a group of four who pioneered by going to Moscow in our second year. I was one year behind her, but in her second year, my first year, four students went to Moscow for several weeks, care of Intourist, but with sponsorship from others over there, and they had quite a time.
Then, in the second year, I got a letter from Moscow, inviting me to come and run the Anglo-American School under the British and American embassies, which was a real something out of the blue. I had no idea where that came from. Bit by bit I learned, because the Institute at that time had foreign service people who were sent for periods of time, to prepare them for Moscow, there had been one named Nathaniel Davis and he’d gone on to Moscow. I have a sense that when the Embassy was looking for somebody to take over the school, Nat may have said I met this girl at the Russian Institute, and she might be very appropriate. So, I was vetted through Phil Mosely and other people and then the letter arrived and it was too good to turn down—to have this chance to go to Moscow. It didn’t matter to me that I had no experience running a school or teaching or anything.
Q: Let me pick up on a couple of things, and then I want to get into your experience in Moscow. A couple of things that you mentioned struck me. One was, you know, we’ll talk later about the transition for the collapse of the Soviet Union, and your thoughts about that. It strikes me that here’s another transition that happens, with Stalin’s death obviously, and I was wondering if you had any sense of—you came to the Institute after Stalin died. So it may be, you may not be in a position to answer this question, but I was wondering if you had a sense of any change at the Institute or any sense of the impact of Stalin’s death on how people went about their work or thought about what they were doing, the faculty as well as the students, in terms of their ideas or whether they expected, for example, that with Stalin’s death things would change dramatically or if they thought that the system will pretty much—you know, the Communist Party will pretty much retain its hold.
Shulman: It’s an interesting question. It may have been, first of all, a little too soon, in the first year. Remember, that several of the professors had worked in OWI [United States Office of War Information] during the war. For example, Geroid Robinson, who wrote the book on the peasantry, was a historian, had a responsible position in Washington, and I think he became very interested in the whole question of revolution and Soviet expansion. He was a southern conservative and I think he had strong inclinations in that direction. He got interested in revolution in colonial countries, and what was the Soviet conception of it and how did it change over time. In fact, I started reading his notes recently from his course at the institute. He starts by looking very closely at the period between 1905 and 1917, and the compositions of the different dumas and how there was a trend towards more conservatism from the early duma onward. He was interested in all the different political parties and their positions and so on, and he shows a similar interest in analyzing the situation in developing countries.
Remember too, that the Korean War was just behind us, and when the attack came on Korea, the fact that it was a divided country and the Chinese had gone in militarily, made people begin to wonder whether other divided countries might be at risk, Germany for example. I can remember Marshall telling me that when he was working for [Dean Gooderham] Acheson at that time, writing speeches, and the question of Germany joining NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization], of German rearmament, came up, Marshall had doubts about it and he asked Acheson what he thought, whether he really thought this was necessary, was it a good thing. He remembered Acheson’s reply was something like, “Well, I’ve consulted with our very best military people and they have said—of course the German contribution to NATO would be helpful, but that’s not the point. The point is if you draw the line to the east of Germany, we can protect the rest of Europe, but if you draw the line to the west of Germany, they told me there is no way that the rest of Europe could be protected if the Soviets invaded.” There was quite a difference of opinion then about Soviet intentions. The defense appropriations went way up in the 1950s, so that by the time [John F.] Kennedy ran, he ran on a missile gap that didn’t exist.
So how it changed at the Institute, I’m not sure, I really can’t speak to that anymore, except to say that I think similar attitudes to what Acheson referred to were there in the Institute, and particularly they were there in Robinson. I don’t know about Bergson or Hazard, so I had better just stop there.
Q: You also talked about other women who were in the program at the time. I was wondering if you remember if there were many women and was there a consciousness of being women in this field? As women in a field, probably, I’m assuming, was dominated by men.
Shulman: Very few. Jeri Laber was a year ahead of me, so was Gay Humphrey. She too went to Moscow in the group of four. Other than those, I can’t remember other women in the institute, I’m embarrassed to say. The second year, I roomed with a Wellesley classmate who was a chemist at Columbia, and we lived up at International House. We had a bunch of friends, some of whom were connected with the Institute, but many of them were elsewhere. Saul Benison was a friend of mine then; he was working for the oral history project. I got to know him because I was earning a little extra money typing manuscripts downstairs in the Library and that’s how I met Saul. We became friends for a long time, and then I lost track of him, alas, but he was a wonderful man.
Q: Did you feel that there were just so few women there, that it felt kind of isolating in any way?
Shulman: No, I never had that feeling of being isolated. When I went on to Moscow, the Embassy was essentially a world of men, though my position as school director and teacher was a characteristic woman’s one. When I became a journalist the following year, I was working with almost all men. There were some women journalists who came in and out—none were stationed there as I was, I always felt very comfortable working alongside men. Remember it was pre-Betty Friedan, before her book The Feminine Mystique appeared, opening up a lot of questions and discussion. I think that’s one thing Wellesley did for its women, it made them feel that they could do things in life, they could go on and explore. As I looked at the Wellesley catalog a few days ago, I saw there were segments about, for example, preparing for medical school. I wouldn’t have dreamt of going to medical school, because no woman had demonstrated that profession in my surroundings. There wasn’t a heck of a lot of good counseling about career possibilities. To go back to your question, I never felt isolated, and I never felt harassed.
Q: When the students went as tourists to Russia, that you recounted in the class before you, I think you said, was that kind of a big deal at the Institute?
Shulman: It was.
Q: Was that the first time that students had gone?
Shulman: I think it was—a big event. Our press wrote about them and they were written about in the Soviet Union.
Q: How did that come about, do you know?
Shulman: I don’t know. You should ask Jeri Laber, because she was one of them—they went through the Soviet travel agency Intourist, but it probably was sponsored by some group, the peace committee or some other organization over there.
Q: So when you got over to—so you ran the Anglo-American School.
Shulman: Yes, the Anglo-American School. It was under the British and American embassies.
Q: Right. And you ran that for a year?
Shulman: They didn’t know me and I didn’t know them, so we agreed, this would be for one year, to start with. Then of course, when February came around, they wanted me to stay another year. I felt I had done a very good job and the Embassy people agreed. By that time, Henry Shapiro, who had been in the UP Bureau since before the war, having married a Russian in the ‘30s, and not been able to get her out, having manned the bureau alone through the war was now trying to increase the size of his bureau. He’d brought in one new person the year before, Whitman Bassow, and then he spied me and got to know me a little bit and he thought let’s try and see if we can bring Colette in. So he did an end run around his management, it was typical Henry. He was always trying to keep one step ahead of the AP [Associated Press], you see, he would have a bureau of three and they would have only two. So he suggested that I could be a journalist in his office and I went home on vacation and just a few days after I left to return, unbeknownst to me, there arrived a letter from UPI brass saying dear Mrs. Shulman, this is no reflection on your journalistic abilities but Mr. Shapiro hasn’t really done it the right way. He doesn’t understand that appointments to European bureaus have to be made by the European manager,” et cetera, and I’m so sorry we can’t offer you a job. Well I was, by then, on my way back to Moscow, and Henry greeted me at the airport saying I told them I would resign if they didn’t accept Colette. He said, I’ve done that before and sure enough, they came around. Henry Shapiro was too valuable to them.
Q: What was it like, are there specific incidents, stories, that leap out at you, from your time as a journalist in the late 1950s?
Shulman: Oh yes.
Q: I won’t say it’s the height of the Cold War, but it’s a pretty intense period. It’s also the Khrushchev-Nixon, the time of their kitchen debate.
Shulman: Yes, yes. You know, with the death of Stalin, with the downfall in our country of Joseph McCarthy the Cold War was on the downward path by then, and yet it was all very fragile, shall we say. When I arrived in Moscow, just before that had been the Khrushchev, [Nikolai A.] Bulganin and [Dwight D.] Eisenhower summit, do you remember that, in 1955? No, you were too young. I arrived at the embassy at midnight on the 30th of August. Mrs. Bohlen and their children had gone home for vacation and [Charles] “Chip” Bohlen was about to leave, but he would be there a few more days. He said to me—I met him in the hallway, he said, “Come down for lunch tomorrow. I have Senator Maloney and his wife,” and a couple of other people coming. Suddenly, American legislators and important people began to see an opening and were beginning to come to Moscow to make contacts and try to arrange joint activities. That year and all through ’56, people from the Museum of Modern Art wanted art exchanges and so on, and they all wanted to see the top Soviet brass. The embassy didn’t have the capacity to arrange those things, so they sent them over to Spaso House for lunch with the Bohlens—that was what I observed.
Everything was in place to watch us, follow us. People at home asked me, “Were you followed, were you harassed?” Well of course we all were, because there were plenty of them and only few of us, and they had their established ways of doing that. I was pretty risky. I took some chances in the year I was under the embassy I didn’t want to hurt the Bohlens in any way, but probably it was better they didn’t know about some of the things that I did.
Q: Could you give a few examples of the kinds of risky things that you did?
Shulman: Well, going to places with people, not notifying anybody. I had no obligation to say what I’m going to do today, the way the embassy people did. I worked on translating a play with a Russian, who was probably reporting—everybody was either reporting to the KGB [Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti] or they were susceptible to be recruited, or they were dissidents. For example, I met quite a few students and had long talks with them. Some of them were music students from the Moscow Conservatory—that was a particularly open, refreshing community of people, both the older generation and the younger ones, and they spoke their minds in a way that sometimes concerned me, for their sake, but I felt that as long as we were walking or in a park it was all right.
Once, but this was long after I left the embassy, I flew with a friend of mine, down to the Black Sea, without telling the Foreign Ministry, because they had a shuttle in the summer, going back and forth, and we went down there and stayed in a little cottage near the beach with one of her boyfriends and swam. And by about day number three, I began to get worried, and then I heard a Cole Porter song in the background and I became immensely homesick. The capacity of music to make you feel suddenly, you ached to be at home.
Shulman: Once, when I was coming out of a hotel up in Tallinn maybe, or Riga, somebody thrust an envelope in my hand, just a long white envelope and said would I please give this to the American ambassador. His name was on it. I said, “No, I can’t do that,” and I handed it back with a few words of why I couldn’t do that. Well I’m sure somebody in the little group gathered around me took a picture and it went into the dossier that was gradually being built up, step by step.
There were men who tried to seduce me, one of them even said so in a memoir. He was a handsome young actor, theater and movie actor named Misha Kazakov, and we went to see, with some friends, a musical of some sort. I was not particularly drawn to him, saw him only a few times. Many years later he wrote a memoir and said he failed, the KGB had asked him and he failed. And then there was another somebody who clearly was a designated seducer, but I hadn’t gone to Moscow to attach myself to anybody, and my life was pretty much an open book. I lived for two years in a hotel. It was only in the last year that I was given a little apartment, when I came back from Warsaw, and the dejournayas, the hotel women monitoring each floor, knew who came and went, and reported anything worth noting. I was fond of the men I worked with, they were wonderful, but they were just good friends.
Q: One of the things that you mentioned a couple of times, and I’m kind of going back a little bit in time here with the question I’m about to ask, is McCarthy. I was wondering if you had any sense of how the Institute, the people at the Institute, in the mid-‘50s, even as McCarthy was on the downslide, still his impact remained. I was wondering if this was a topic of conversation, a concern on the part of the people?
Shulman: Students and faculty?
Q: Students and faculty at the Institute, about what McCarthy, McCarthyism meant for the kind of work they were trying to do. Was there any effort to overtly try to combat the influence of McCarthy?
Shulman: I don’t remember that. I know they individually, like Hazard, had had their difficulties. Mostly, I’m not sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had to fill in numerous questionnaires. I know my husband had to fill in a questionnaire. Even when he was already security cleared, they still gave him another questionnaire down in the State Department. In our time there, it may have been just that period when—I’m trying to think. McCarthy, in ’53, McCarthy held a hearing, maybe on the West Coast, with the Hollywood people possibly. It was the year he got married, I remember that, and he had a big wedding with a thousand people at the wedding and some important high-level people attending, but he was drinking and by ’57, he was out. So, my generation of course, was too late to have been interested and involved in communism, like some of the people down at NYU [New York University] and so on. Somehow, it never was this whole anticommunism thing that really bothered me, that touched me. I was interested in people. I wanted to get into the Soviet Union, I didn’t know where that could or would lead, but I was always focused on people, on social institutions, on how things were changing, on what was Russian, Russian traits and characteristics, and how they might change with time. That’s what interests me still.
Q: Let me switch a little bit and ask you about some of your thinking about particular, kind of more conceptual topics if you will. One of the things that we’ve been interested in, is this whole issue, from the Harriman Institute’s perspective, of the idea of having policy influence on the one hand. On the other hand, trying to—
Q: Create scholarship, exactly, and having, if you will, even in the student population, having kind of two masters programs for people who are going to do business or foreign service people on the one hand, on the other hand people who are in PhD programs and want a career in academia and perhaps not so interested in policy influence. Did you experience much of that divide when you were there?
Shulman: When I was at the Institute?
Q: At the Institute. Do you have a sense of whether it’s possible to do both successfully?
Shulman: Since the people at the Institute had come out of war work, they were enormously important to government’s formulation and evaluations of policy, and that I think continued. But there were many of them, both at Harvard and Columbia, very fine scholars, and there was a sense of a lot yet to learn. Merle Fainsod, Harvard’s distinguished political scientist, had recently done the big Soviet emigré interview project and it was astounding to people who read what the emigrés said, how much they had learned just through those interviews. So there was a great deal to learn and I didn’t have the sense of so much of a divide then, between academics and policy- making. There might have been a little too much of a Cold War impact, influence, in the Institute at that time, through the people, the faculty, there.
We’re in a time now, where I think policy influence is enormously important. You try to think how to bring it about, because policy influence depends on knowledge, knowledge depends on scholarship. To have policy influence, you have to have connections with Washington, with the Congress and all its other parts. You can be in a high place in government, as my husband was, and feel that you’re having very little policy influence. Policy influence is difficult to achieve, because it’s many-faceted, many, many things have to fit together. The most beautiful, striking example of it working is something I just know a little bit about, was back in ’91, and it has to do with Nunn-Lugar [Cooperative Threat Reduction].
When Sam Nunn went to Moscow and happened to be there, I think during the coup of ’91, and suddenly it was a moment when Gorbachev was under house arrest and you wondered who was in charge. Sam Nunn, who had been very concerned about nuclear weapons and nuclear material stockpiles, thought to himself my God, what happens if the Soviet Union breaks up? Either Nunn was still there when Gorbachev got out of house arrest, or he came back to Moscow. He had a talk with him. They came up with the beginnings of a plan for a U.S.-Soviet collaboration on this, Nunn went home, talked to [Richard G.] Lugar and talked to David [A.] Hamburg, President of the Carnegie Corporation at the time. David was very supportive, gave a grant for [Ashton] “Ash” [Baldwin] Carter, at that time, who was up at Harvard the Kennedy School. He was asked to write a paper fleshing out how a plan of collaboration would work, and there were also meetings at Stanford [University], I remember, where [William James] Bill Perry was then a professor, who was soon to come to Washington as Secretary of Defense. He working with Nunn and Senator Lugar and maybe others, they drafted a bill which did not pass in the first round. They managed very quickly, to attach it to some other bill, so in the space of about six months, eight months, this was accomplished—the Nunn-Lugar program. It didn’t start in academia, it started in the Congress, and went in the other direction toward the scholarship in academia, which was needed to add credibility. It was a fantastic achievement. I’ve always thought the Nunn-Lugar program that started out in the early 90s with something like $400 million, to denuclearize Kazakhstan, the Ukraine, Belorussia, and turn over all their weapons and nuclear material to Russia and secure the stockpiles, was a fantastic, successful program and it was only recently that the Russians said we don’t need you any more, even though the Nunn-Lugar program probably should continue. Think how hard it is to bring all those pieces together into an important policy initiative.
I put down a couple of notes because you were interested in this. Let’s see what else I noted to tell you. Oh yes, Bill Perry, who is now almost 90, has something new called The William Perry Project. He’s working with his granddaughter and they’re doing these videos for broad education. They’re free. He’s going to have an online course called something like Living at the Nuclear Brink, and it’s a regular college course that you do online and it has different speakers with different expertise—even Andrew Kokoshin from the Soviet Union, from Russia, whom Marshall and I knew, is taking part. So, in an article, in an interview with Perry, his granddaughter, who is working with him, told her grandfather, we have 3,800 people who have signed up and he said, oh I want thousands, many thousands, tens and hundreds of thousands. In other words, public influence now is not just working on Washington, it’s working to raise the education level out across the country, and you have to ask yourself what are the main issues. What he’s doing is perfect for him, but there’s room for other security political issues to be worked on in original ways, by Harriman and by other places, think tanks. It’s got to be a very broad effort.
Q: Let me pick up on that, in that it seemed that when you were describing the 1950s and the folks who were scholars but also had come out of the war efforts and so somehow were able to combine scholarship with kind of the real life experience as actors, political actors, to now, where I’m wondering if now, if you think that scholarship has become so enclosed, or maybe self-referential, people don’t come out of those backgrounds for example usually, for PhD programs. And thinking that it’s quite a different environment for, or speaking specifically of the Harriman Institute, that it’s not possible for them to kind of meld the two in a way that perhaps happened in the early ‘50s, and that the Perry example that you give is a good example of other actors now kind of trying to fill in this gap, if you will, of trying to bring the two together in a way that university based institutes like Harriman, because of the professional demands on people to pursue careers in academics, are not able to do. Is that a fair kind of analysis or am I putting words into your mouth?
Shulman: No, it is. The graduates of the MA program now, first of all there are not very many and that’s a problem, has been for some time, and will be going into business and journalism and hopefully into the foreign service, where they’re needed, and a few into academia. I don’t know whether you know about this consortium that was started a couple of years ago to create a cadre of students in international affairs—Americans, Russians, Germans, students in Britain. Harvard, Columbia and Oxford and Moscow University and one in Berlin are involved—the students work on similar related themes and issues and do papers and present to each other and so on, and it would be something like what Marshall and his colleagues from that time achieved, an ongoing collaboration between scientists and people with political expertise. It was a miracle that this collaboration took place in the depth of the Cold War, with so many Soviet colleagues who worked with Americans on arms control issues. They were an incredibly dedicated bunch of people. They may say they didn’t achieve much, but they certainly did have influence in shaping the arms control agreements that were reached. How you do that now seems even harder. That is, creating a core of people from the key countries who from their graduate student days have been working together on national security and other foreign policy issues, are familiar with one another’s outlooks, and have a depth of knowledge and experience. The consortium aims at something like that, but it’s hard if most of the Harriman Institute’s MA students go into business or journalism or management work of some kind.
As for research—if I were a scholar and wanted to do research, I’m sure there are many topics. Here, for example, is a book, Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale. Edmund Wilson wrote To the Finland Station way back. We’ve long known the Germans had a role in getting Lenin on that train and sending him in to further destabilize the Russian scene. A lot more archival material became available to Catherine and I was fascinated to see what she adds to this picture. The whole picture is much clearer to me than it was back then.
When I was working in the Soviet Union in the fifties, I did not know that Ukraine had had four years of independence, from 1917 to ’21, again an effort by the Germans to destabilize. When the war ended, the young men who had negotiated Ukrainian independence with the German generals, went to the Paris Peace Conference and presented their documents saying we Ukrainians are a free state. But of course nobody recognized them then. Apparently the American or the British official in charge, whoever received these documents, was polite but as soon as this Ukrainian delegation had left, he told somebody to go downstairs and throw them in the building’s oven. Can you imagine?
I went to Kiev several times in the fifties and it would have been interesting to know more about the community of Ukrainian writers and linguists, there were people who cared deeply about Ukrainian language. I believe one of the Czars had once asked the Academy of Sciences to tell him definitively, was Ukrainian just an offshoot of Russian or was it really a separate language, and the answer came back that it was a separate language. We in our studies were not exposed enough to the non-Russian peoples of the Soviet Union. All these many years later, there is still a lot for scholarship to uncover, but I feel we’re in such a critical period internationally, the institute should do everything possible to have a public influence, which at this stage means getting the results of research out to a much broader audience. And to nurturing students to develop the knowledge and ambition to go on to high places in the legislature and the government.
Q: At the same time, it’s a tough thing to get, as I said, because of the structure of academic careers, I think in part, as well as because of the way—I don’t know how you think about this, as well as because of the kinds of things that are valued as knowledge perhaps, in academia, so people are trying to be more theoretical for example. I’m thinking of the political scientists for the most part.
Shulman: You’re thinking of who?
Q: The political scientists for the most part.
Shulman: And the economists who came?
Q: And the economists to some extent also. That there’s perhaps, and I don’t know if you see this as a problem, that this is in fact the case, my characterization is the case, I don’t know, that it’s a problem because of the careers, because of what is valued in academia as knowledge, as publishable material in professional journals, that it’s difficult to get scholars to speak to these issues and get engaged in these issues, as kind of political actors who might want to use their knowledge to have political influence because they don’t get any credit, if you will, for that, in their careers.
Shulman: Well, this is why when I asked a friend of mine in the field, of some age now, where is the most creative thinking coming from—if I had a particular question to get good answers to— he said to me, “It’s from the think tanks.” On Russia, it’s some of the think tanks, and maybe that’s the way it’s going to be, that there will be new programs, new institutions that will address issues. I’d like to see the Harriman have that kind of influence as well. It certainly had it in Marshall’s time, that’s why he was so perfectly suited to the time. There were people who felt scholarship was undervalued then and in fact I know somebody who didn’t think my husband should be head of the Institute, because he wasn’t really a scholar.
Marshall worked between the two worlds. He had thought about going into scholarship, in fact 17th Century English Literature, and Carl [Joaquim] Friedrich at Harvard wanted him to come and work more deeply on political science issues that he himself had worked on, but Marshall got caught up, and he was very suited for what he did, I have to say. As for now, I don’t know, it’s hard for me to say. I want to see us try to reach people out in the depths of Russia, in conversation with Americans, about things that matter. That can, over time, create a different picture that we have of each other. It’s the pictures that we have in our minds of each other, that seem too skewed now and don’t seem to have much of an influence on [Donald J.] Trump now or on [Vladimir] Putin, but might in the future and should have. Clearly, in the Perry project, he wants the young generation in particular, to learn something about weapons, so that they will speak up, will take positions that would be heard in decision-making.
Q: Just to pick up on your point about think tanks. One of the people that I interviewed, Steve Sestanovich, I don’t know if you know him.
Q: He was making the point that the think tanks have kind of taken over from universities, partly because of D.C. right there, physically, but also because they’ve learned the kind of language of policymaking and know how to articulate scholarship, or the kind of knowledge that they’ve generated, into a kind of policy language that the government finds amenable. I was wondering if you have a sense that that’s also an issue for academia, that they have to find a language that speaks to.
Shulman: I think it is and when you meet somebody in academia who has had government experience—right now comes to my mind Gary Sick, do you know Gary? Well, Gary is a scholar on Iran and worked on the NSC [National Security Council] and also in State, and he’s now head of the Middle East Seminar here and I go to their sessions. Gary just had a piece in the NYT [New York Times] yesterday, about Trump, in which he laid out some guidelines for thinking about how to get through this Trump period, and I thought to myself, this piece reflects that he knows how policy is made, and this is the point you’re trying to get at. It’s how Gary got into the NSC in the beginning, you know, what led him there, where he did his undergraduate training. One of the great things about the Russian field to me, was that there is nothing [that] is alien to it. You could never know enough about the Soviet Union, or about your own country, and every time you came home from Moscow during all those years we went back and forth, you always got cultural shock. You were comparing all the time and it was endlessly fascinating and everything you could learn fitted in somewhere. So in a sense, that runs against this notion of total focus on whatever narrow subject you’re writing your paper on.
Q: This leads to, is a very nice segue into asking you to think about area studies. Harriman was set up, or the Russian Institute was set up, as one of the first, if not the first, kind of area studies institutes.
Shulman: It worked for me perfectly.
Q: How so?
Shulman: I had no idea I was going to be a journalist. It didn’t help me in the school. In the school, there were days when I didn’t even know I was in Moscow. I really gave myself to that job properly, and I could have been anywhere, but we did made use of Moscow with our kids in the school. The next year, I had to write about everything for UP, because we had clients all over the world, and without the preparation of the area studies, I don’t know what I would have done. It would have been harder. First of all, the language was a great asset, but also just knowing even a smattering about all these fields, was so wonderful, so helpful, for me.
Q: One of the issues now that’s arising, with the level of specialization that’s happening in academia, as well as there’s kind of an intellectual fallout about the idea of area studies, the kind of competing, organizationally and intellectually, the competing organizations or functional institutes, where people want to study security, where they want to study the environment or things of that sort, and so you get institutes set up to kind of focus on particular issues, rather than on the broader area.
Shulman: Yes, but I’ll tell you what I think is another trend that I detect, and is a cross- disciplinary trend. That is to say, what is important is to select the issues you want to focus on, and then ask who in what field can contribute to this. So you’re drawing on people across the university, from those different fields, because they, quite legitimately and appropriately, have something to say about that issue. That’s a growing trend. Columbia may not be in the forefront of that but I know other places are. Stanford is very strong on that.
Q: Do you think this is a useful approach?
Shulman: Absolutely, absolutely. One of the things you mentioned was human rights studies, and I was curious as to what Harriman was doing, because I know there’s an Institute of Human Rights at Columbia. So I thought to myself, why does Harriman duplicate this? It wouldn’t be exact duplication, it would be human rights in the Balkans or somewhere else in the area.
Human rights were declared to be universal and absolute, and my neighbor up the street, [Louis] Lou Henkin, was one of the great conceptualizers in the field. At Human Rights Watch I sit on one of their advisory committees, but sometimes it’s been frustrating, the way HRW has been bashing the European countries for not letting everybody in among the refugees, not taking everybody in. I think to myself, this is a problem that government leaders have to manage and it requires a lot of different inputs, to decide, at any one time, how are to manage this flow. Housing, jobs for refugees, schooling for their children, etc. While not totally antagonizing their own citizens. I understand and accept the universality of human rights—I can’t imagine the world without Human Rights Watch as an organization wholly focused on this and holding us all up to high standards.
Q: You pose the issue in a different way from how it’s usually posed in terms of area studies, because often, area studies are kind of counter opposed to this kind of particular issue based institute. What you’re saying is, if I understand you correctly, is that well, actually, if you do the environmental studies right, if you do human rights right, correctly, what you need to do is bring together, in the way that area studies did, bring together people from diverse disciplines, to not necessarily talk about a specific region, but to talk about and resolve a specific issue.
Q: So that there’s really, aside from the difference of a region focus, as opposed to an issue focus, this apparent conflict between area studies, at least in terms of bringing disciplines together, kind of disappears. Is that a correct analysis?
Shulman: Yes it is. I’m not sure that it’s all that new. I think it’s entering into university thinking a little more than it used to. I know that Columbia is, at least—I’m probably not sufficiently informed about the newest tendencies at Columbia, but I know people out at Stanford and that’s the way they talk. A lot of the problems, like how to handle human rights for example, that may be short-term or medium-term problems, in the practical world, bringing people of different skills together has been going on for a long time. That’s not so new, but it is a way of thinking that may be more applicable than it used to be, to area studies.
I still think that after being a student at the Harriman, I could not imagine going to a country— oh, in fact I should say to you that the UP proposed that I go to China and open up a bureau there. I had just come back from the Soviet Union, and Roger Tatarian, who was the vice president, said, “Colette, how would you like to go to China?” I said, “It would have to be a minimum of two years, wouldn’t it?” He said yes. I don’t know Chinese, I don’t know anything about China, to speak of. I could not imagine taking that on without having had some kind of similar grounding. A grandson by adoption, named after my husband, now fifteen, lives in Washington, is learning Chinese and going to China this summer with his tutor, and if he continues in the field, he will need that kind of area study.
It’s clear that the Harriman has got to have priorities, it’s got to choose, and nationality studies are important. They’ve only been able to take them on bit by bit, one or two additional countries at a time or whatever, having taking on the East European Institute as well. I don’t see anything wrong with the concept of area studies, but maybe, maybe I should stop right there, because I haven’t thought enough about how to make it relevant to creating graduates who, when they go out, will play a part in policy influence. I think that is a hard thing to prepare for.
Q: Well the issue as I hear it, in this context that we’re talking about, is this issue of how you take the value of area studies, expose people to an area studies education that is also specifically relevant when people want to go out and do human rights work or do security work or do any of these kind of functional things that we’re talking about, environmental work, but that somehow, a knowledge of a particular area can be important for doing this kind of work that you’re describing, in the world, as a person who specialized in a particular problem and a particular issue.
Shulman: Well certainly, human rights can be woven into many courses—there’s no reason why not. It can be, just as at one time women’s rights were considered, off to the side. I can remember a Russian friend of mine who was working for George Soros, persuaded him to give her a pot of money, and then she went to the directors of all those foundations he had set up in the former Soviet Union and she said you’re treating women as if they’re off to the side, not part of the mainstream. Your attitude is let’s give the women a little bit of money to do their thing. She told the foundation directors, women’s rights are human rights and they’ve got to be integrated into the whole program, and she succeeded in changing the attitude of some of the directors, not all. What a pity, that George is being attacked in Hungary and today there’s a big story about it in the New York Times.
Q: I didn’t see that.
Shulman: Michael [Grant] Ignatieff is such a fine president, I’m sure.
Q: Oh, the university, Central European University.
Q: Yes, yes, that’s a disaster.
Shulman: So, there’s a way. There can be a joint major. You do area studies on Russia, with a particular focus on human rights, as they’ve evolved there, getting the concepts, the issues and problems, the large picture from the Human Rights Institute. Or your particular focus is on the environment, or national security. It would take longer than just two years to encompass both the broad picture and the complexities of the focus subject.
Q: Let me ask you something. I want to return to human rights studies. You’ve picked up on all the meaty topics that I want to talk with you about but let me just focus on nationality studies for a minute, since you’ve just mentioned them. I was wondering if you think that there’s a kind of conflict between nationality studies and the idea of area studies, in the sense that area studies, by definition, say we’re going to study, we’re going to consider this region, this geographic space, geographic political economic space, as a whole, in some way, shape or form, and understand the relationships within that. Nationality studies seems to me, that perhaps it says not so much. We really just need to focus on this particular country or nation and people, and that that’s what we want to—you know, that’s where the scholarship should lie. Yes, it has relationships with other nations, other countries, but the main focus is not on the region as a whole, is on the nation itself. And so there’s a conflict, an intellectual conflict, number one, in doing that, and number two, I’ve wondered about, especially given the changes in Eastern Europe and what’s going on in Hungary, if nationality studies are implicated at all in the rise of nationalist sentiment in Eastern Europe and unfortunately perhaps elsewhere, but just for the moment, since we’re talking about Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, so whether there, (a) is a conflict between area studies and nationality studies, and (b) whether you think that nationality studies are in any way politically implicated in what’s going on in these countries.
Shulman: In the extremes of nationalism that we see?
Shulman: In Hungary.
Q: Hungary and maybe Ukraine.
Shulman: And Ukraine. Well, in Ukraine, I have the feeling that some of this nationalism stems from neglect, and of having been imposed upon by an imperial power. Similarly in Georgia. Georgia is an interesting case because it’s small and yet there’s a distinctiveness there. If you have nationality studies, you’re identifying a nationality’s traits, its uniqueness. The fact that this now seems to have a negative side to it, that may be due to, mainly to other factors, globalization, to the suppression of one’s distinctive culture, a sense of losing identity? That was certainly true of Ukraine in the Soviet period. I went through the Russian Institute thinking it was an extension of Russia, and that carried over to my time as a journalist in my first years there.
Q: Yes, I’m not necessarily asserting that that’s the case.
Shulman: You’re asking whether there’s a conflict, there’s an intellectual conflict?
Q: Well, there’s an intellectual conflict between doing area studies and doing nationality studies, and that was one issue. And then the other issue is whether somehow nationality studies are kind of implicated in the rise of nationalist sentiment in Eastern Europe. I mean, I was thinking, for example, you know you have experience. I don’t know how much you keep up with Poland, from when you spent time in Warsaw in the ‘50s, if whether that’s—and it has become increasingly conservative and nationalist in the last what, five to ten years I guess, and whether this is a problem for nationalist studies. Maybe another way of thinking about it is you know, should nationality studies be focused on this issue of the rise of nationalist sentiment in these countries.
Shulman: It has to be part of the picture. If you’re doing nationality studies, you have to know where from this comes. I had to very quickly, when I went to Poland, try to understand what had happened in the year before I came, when [Wladyslaw] Gomulka reemerged. It was an interesting experience, going from Moscow to Warsaw, instead of from west to east. It was going to a kind of freedom, with coffeehouses and conversations, and people could speak rather freely. One day at a party, I found myself standing in front of a handsome young man and he introduced himself. I discovered he was the grandson of the founder of the KGB, they’re a Polish-Russian family, and he was going to Warsaw University. When in Moscow, I’d gone to a Kremlin reception for visiting Gomulka, after the Russians had accepted the Polish arrangement of bringing Gomulka back. How did the Poles handle their problem of gaining Russian acceptance, so that Soviet troops didn’t leave their bases and fight, as happened in Hungary, where there were a lot of deaths and exiles?
Gomulka came to Moscow and that was one of the times when Khrushchev said—I was standing right opposite him, across the table, and it was one of the times when he was looking at the foreign press and he was saying, “We will bury you.” I would want to know what are the factors that have weighed in to Poland becoming the way it is now, more conservative in its policies. Take Central Asia, about which we knew very little. My working operative principle about Central Asia was, when you read all these things about corruption now, even in Baku, which is just across the Caspian, not strictly Central Asia, in the Soviet period there was an opacity about those countries because Moscow said to the leaders of Central Asia in effect, you give us cotton, give us the things that we need economically, keep peace in your areas, and you can manage your republic in your own ways. I think many of their particular societal arrangements continue, there’s a leftover of that and it makes it hard for us to see through the surface into these lines of corruption. But there are important differences between Uzbekistan, which is more of an oasis culture, and Kirgizia, which was nomadic. I noticed that when I took women’s groups down there. The women were much more open in Kirgizia and had more confidence in themselves. They had interesting jobs and wore western clothes at work, and then they’d go home and put on their long caftans.
I don’t see that there has to be a conflict between nationality studies and area studies. A nation is part of an area, and you can’t really know the former without some understanding of the latter. Most nation states are mixtures of nationalities and ethnic groups, and increasingly so. As I said earlier, I’ve always been interested in what is Russianness. Wright Miller’s book, Russians as People had a big influence on me. The young generation of Russians who live on the Internet seem, from what I’ve read and heard, very different from their grandparents. Miller saw “truth to feeling” as a distinctive “Russian” characteristic. Is it any longer? Nationality studies nowadays would be interested in the evolution of formerly distinctive traits, as countries become mixtures of ethnic groups. How do tensions between in-country groups get managed? This relates to the questions of how between-country tensions and conflicts within an area get managed.
There are commonalities to the countries of former Soviet Central Asia. If your focus is Hungary and wanting to understand why leadership policy has become extremist, it helps to ask, is this part of a trend in Eastern Europe, is Poland also moving in that direction? Right now, for example, they are both refusing to accept refugees crossing the Mediterranean. In the Soviet period at the Russian Institute we were doing an “area study,” but it was mostly a study of Russia, not much about the other republics in the USSR. It would, as I said above, to have had more, maybe asking each student to give some focus to one of the nationalities or ethnic groups.
Q: I want to come back to the women’s groups and your work in that regard in a moment, but let me just perhaps conclude our conversation about human rights, just return to it for a second. As you know, Harriman has played a role in the development of Human Rights Watch, and the issue it seems, is that there are some people who think that human rights kind of arise naturally from studying the Soviet Union, that the very basis of the Soviet Union was inimicable to human rights, its political foundations, I suppose. I was wondering if so therefore, it was kind of natural for Harriman to be interested in and foster the study of human rights, that it didn’t come from just a more general notion of human rights. I was wondering if you thought that that makes intellectual sense or if you disagree with that position.
Shulman: Yes, it was the letters to the Soviet leaders on the their dissidents that started the postwar stage of the human rights movement. I know people who were writers of those letters, and then there was the Helsinki process, that was an opening. We came quite some distance. I saw it in my lifetime of work there, no question about it, but now we see that human rights is a problem everywhere, throughout the world, and there are parts of the world so primitive, in African countries for example, or Asian countries, that I’m not sure that it makes sense for Harriman to have a special focus on that any longer. Others may think differently. I can see human rights being woven into many courses. In any case, there are many ways to find out about and educate yourself about human rights now. That’s why I said, when I learned there was an Institute of Human Rights at Columbia, I didn’t think Harriman should duplicate; it should have links to that Institute, do joint courses, enable Harriman students with a particular interest in human rights to benefit from what that institute offers. The history of the Soviet Union in stimulating the human rights movement is important to know.
Q: Let me just turn to your—
Shulman: Can we just pause, can I just ask?
Q: You want to take a pause? Sure, sure.
Q: We’re back on. Let me just ask you, thinking about your career, as far back as graduate school and all the different kinds of work that you’ve done over your career, about this issue of how things have changed in terms of scholarship and in terms of policy. Specifically, one thing I’d like to focus on is how you experienced the change in access to information about the Soviet Union and now about Russia, and how that affected the kind of work you could do, the kind of things you could find out, how it played a role perhaps, for example, in the program that you did for PBS, in the early ‘60s. Perhaps imagining trying to do a program now, and how you would put together the program now, that would be very different from how you had to put together the program in the early ‘60s.
Shulman: Yes. Well, when I was a journalist there in the ‘50s, we had relatively few sources. We had the official press, we had the receptions and conversations with Soviet leaders, if we could get to them. We could meet people on the train or in the park and we could talk to students who were disaffected and wanted to share with me. Later the “open” dissidents emerged. In a way, you had a better sense of the reliability of these sources of information, I thought that was interesting, compared to now, when there’s just an air full of stuff that you have to sort out, what is true, what is false. You pretty much knew about the authenticity of what you were getting back then. It’s true, the KGB could easily have instructed Russians you met to tell you certain things. I found that fairly quickly I reached the point of sensing who was genuine and whom to be suspicious of. I remember in 1967 going out to Peredelkino to film Kornei Chukovsky, a famous writer for and about children. Two Russian “minders” came with me and the cameraman. Right away Chukovsky whispered to me about the two Russians, “If I were you, I would stick with that one and be careful of the other man.” He had long experience; with me it was more intuitive guess and a finger-tip feeling about individuals I met.
When I did my program, Soviet Press this Week, it was at a time when the Soviet press had become more interesting, in the early ‘60s, in the later Khrushchev years. There were some surprising writings beginning to appear in the thick journals, for example, like Novy Mir. If you read them, you began to get insight into village life, for example, through the “village writers” who came along in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The press was not just Pravda and Izvestia. I read a lot of newspapers and magazine back then. I had a lot of interesting stuff in those broadcasts. They went on through the ‘60s, until I stopped on moving to New York in ’67. They asked me to continue for Channel 13 in New York but I’d had enough. I’d been reading the Soviet press steadily for years in Cambridge, and in Moscow in the ’50s.
The dialogue with women started in the early ‘80s, and progressed into the Gorbachev years when there was a change. We would have given it up if the quality hadn’t improved, if the Soviet participants hadn’t become more open. It was at times very ideological and propagandistic, and then especially when we were talking about family or about personal aspirations, community life, they would really open up to us. I can remember once, bringing a film of Geraldine Ferraro running for vice president, and I remember their faces were just glued to the screen—you got a real sense they were amazed by her, but they didn’t dare share it all with us in conversation. Their answers tended to be, well we have women in high places too. There certainly has come a multiplication of sources, and of course in the Gorbachev years it just took off. Maybe because we knew a lot of people in the Soviet Union, open dissidents some of whom were friends, establishment people and close personal friends, I always felt exposed to a range of different types of Russian experience and degrees of openness, and Marshall too, with his arms control people, top scientists and so on. We had an unusual array of sources and that, I think made the work for both of us fascinating, so that it wasn’t just reading Pravda and Izvestia.
Q: You referred to the women’s dialogue that you had set up. Could you describe what the organizational form of that was?
Shulman: What the form of it was?
Q: Yes, and where it occurred and just the logistics of it almost, how it met and so forth.
Shulman: The initiative started with women in big foundations who had high executive positions. There was and perhaps still is a group called Women in Foundations, including Carnegie and Ford and such big players, with women at the high levels, and they wanted to get better acquainted with women in the Soviet Union, and I was drawn into it, as were others. We worked very hard to put together—I knew that this was an unequal enterprise, but I determined that on our side, we were going to handle it as if we were serious and they were serious, and we’d see to what extent this would draw them out, and they would bring good people to the table. It was done through the Soviet Women’s Committee, which was a propaganda KGB-run organization, and I made this very clear too. But we worked on it, we would say now whom do we want, what’s our theme for this time? We discussed possible themes. It could be women in politics, it might be community life, it might be family. We had a lot of themes, and we tried to frame them in stimulating ways.
Q: And this was for bringing women together at a particular location, at a particular moment, for like a conference?
Shulman: At a particular location, in a roundtable discussion, and there would be some trips on the side and we would alternate between the United States and the Soviet Union. There were about eight or nine of them. They ended in—I think the last one was ’89. They were funded by foundations and different groups, and we picked extremely good high level American women who really wanted to go. The ‘70s and ‘80s were a time when American scholars and professional people and peacemaking groups and religious groups and you name it groups, they all wanted to go over there. They wanted to see what the Soviet Union was all about and they wanted to have contact with their counterparts. I was drawn into five or six of those, on early education, the education of the handicapped, three or four others. The peace groups interested me less because I knew that they were well intended, but we wouldn’t get a great deal out of them, but sometimes I went along. One of them was Peace Links with Betty Bumpers, who was the wife of Senator Dale Bumpers. Betty was very serious and solid person, and she brought along intelligent women, and they were trying to do their best. These trips were of interest to me because I had put all this time into studying the Soviet Union, and when things opened up and it became easier to meet people there, by going along with these groups, I learned more— essentially I did it for the human aspect of the experience.
Some of the trips were difficult. I remember the early childhood people were very disappointed with the discussions they had. They had been to China on early childhood and had more success there, and if I hadn’t taken the members of the group to visit some of my personal friends in the evening—I would select a few whom I thought could handle this and I didn’t want to bring harm to my Russian friends, we’d do this in the evening and they would say thank you so much, that made the whole trip worthwhile. So there was still that huge gap between the official conversations and the kitchen table ones. The roundtable exchanges were not quite what the Americans hoped for but they got better going through the ‘80s.
Q: Well, that’s what I wanted to ask you. From the change that began in the late ‘70s, lasted through the late ‘80s.
Shulman: Well, some of them went on all through the ‘70s, not the women’s, but the other groups.
Q: Right, right, just thinking of the women’s groups. How would you characterize the change in how these groups could operate, what you could accomplish between the ‘70s and when they concluded in the late ‘80s?
Shulman: Well, I would say that they were open to more topics, more delicate topics that broached on political attitudes, where an open discussion of which would have revealed their weaknesses. They began to be open to the kind of feminist research and practice that we had done a lot of in our country by then. Carol Gilligan, I remember, gave a talk up at Harvard to one of our Russian groups, about women’s voices, young women’s voices. One of our Russian delegates, she was the highest woman in the Leningrad Party, and she was a piece of work, I can tell you, she took issue with Gilligan. She didn’t want to say oh, you’re absolutely right and this is wonderful and we should do this, she had her answer about Soviet thinking on this, nonetheless all the Russians in that group were interested in what Carol Gilligan had to say. Gradually, there was more and more of their openly showing interest in what Americans were saying and doing in our research and practices.
By the time we reached 1989, I asked the women in my latest group if they would write several paragraphs on how this exchange had helped them and interested them, and that I would print it up and we’d send it over as a sort of thank-you letter, a collective one, looking more like a newsletter. I began to think we’re putting too much emphasis into an oral dialogue that should now go on paper and could reach lots and lots of women. So that’s how the magazine got started.
Q: The one with Katrina vanden Heuvel? The magazine You and Me.
Shulman: You and Me. It started out as just a small mimeographed newsletter, then it expanded, and at that point I called Katrina and asked her if she had some time and would like to work with me on it—and gradually it became a real magazine, one that was dense with text and not many pictures, but nice line drawings, illustrations and cartoons. We published it for a fantastically low price, when compared with what American magazines cost to make. It was distributed under the radar of the mafia over there, five-thousand copies that were literally at the beginning, packaged by volunteers in Moscow and sent in packets of fifty or a hundred, to cities all over the Soviet Union. When it became Russia, they continued to mail copies to Georgia and to Tashkent in Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries, to the Baltics, but mainly Russian cities. There, it was sub-distributed to the local library, the local mayor’s office, the local journalists who needed material. We said use it, reproduce it, we don’t care about copyright. The pedagogical institutes where teachers were being trained, we encouraged them to use it. So it had, I think a considerable impact among local women activists—we got fantastic positive letters from all over the country in response. See, there was no good telephone system in the Soviet Union or Russia in its first years, and email hadn’t gotten started, so we were the connecting link for several years, as far as what women were doing. Women up in the Kola Peninsula said oh, that’s what they’re doing in Irkutsk, or Novosibirsk or Far East. And then those women created their own connections and we got them to write the magazine, eventually it was written more by them than by us.
Q: This is into the early ‘90s.
Shulman: This was by then, in the mid-‘90s, late ‘90s, yes. It didn’t start getting published in Moscow until ’96. Before that, we were doing it here and sending it over by ship or by plane, courtesy of George Soros and foundations, and that was an effort. We increased the circulation once it got published over there, and found a wonderful woman, Nadia Azhgikhina, who was both a journalist and a feminist, to become the Moscow editor, and she did a terrific job of pulling together people, getting women to write for the magazine. We would take a subject like women in prison and try to have an article from Russia, one from America, and a third from maybe Sweden, where they had an experimental women’s prison. Or we’d take the subject of religion, what of interest was being written about that, or women’s health or women in politics. My attitude towards this was that there were a lot of things about the American women’s movement that were worth conveying, that then they would have to do things their own way, but we had learned a lot about organization, about creating NGOs, how you do that and how you pass the baton from one leader to the next and how you raise money and how you set an agenda. I can remember, when they started setting their agendas, you’d get these long, two-page lists. It was clear that they were just throwing everything they could think of in it, and I said, “You’re going to have to narrow it down, you’re going to have to have priorities, especially if you want funding.” They were getting their funding from outside, from the Germans and the Swedes and the Americans. Some people were critical of that but frankly, there was no alternative, and they were making such progress. I was so impressed, having worked as a news agency generalist having to cover everything for our clients, and having not paid particular feminist attention to women. In those UP years I wrote about women but that was not my focus until the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Then, when it was possible to meet some of these women and hear from them about the groups they were forming in their cities, some of them closed cities that were just opening up to outsiders, I was just so impressed by the way these women could stand on their feet and talk. They’d had to do that in their various workplace roles. What they had to say was in the Soviet- Russian context, but they spoke with confidence. They also had a greater sense, I think, of self- fulfillment, because if they weren’t succeeding in their work, maybe they were doing well as parents or maybe they were doing well in whatever little community work they did. Whereas the men were on a pyramidal structure that was entirely focused on their status in the workplace, and they could rise, most of them just to middle levels of the pyramid and then they’d tumble off, or start drinking heavily or whatever. I felt they were psychologically less sturdy than the women were. I don’t think I took that position out of any kind of feminist pride, particularly.
Q: More observation, which seems to be also true here in the States as well. You started talking about the ‘90s, and I’m wondering about how the collapse of the Soviet Union and perhaps the rise of Putin, has affected the kind of work that you were doing or have done, and in what ways?
Shulman: I stopped going to Russia at about the turn of the century. The magazine continued on until about 2004. We had, for a while, a smaller online version of it, for three years or so, in which we’d take the best and most interesting Russian articles, put them into English, and then it went all over the world. That would have been interesting to continue, but I had given a lot of my attention to this enterprise and I’d done all the fundraising and especially in the first years a lot of the writing, editing, and getting it printed. I figured it was time to stop. Maybe after some fourteen years Vyi i Myi [You and Me] had done its best work, and they should start a publication themselves. There was a group of students at MGU, in the Moscow University journalism faculty who said they wanted to use our magazine’s name. I said better find your own name and do your own thing, because we would no longer have any control over it. There wasn’t any magazine quite like ours, I have to say, and there still isn’t. The articles were really thought provoking, written by very capable women over there.
In the ‘90s, of course we were very much aware of the economic downturn and how it affected people. Marshall and I had been in Moscow for maybe six months, under the Academy of Sciences, in ’89, and it was already starting to be difficult. Then, the stores didn’t have all that much, but by ‘91, it was really bad, and there was the currency devaluation. Putin wasn’t in power yet. In the first freely elected Supreme Soviet Duma, the women’s coalition that got in didn’t handle themselves with any great resourcefulness or creativity, but the main point was not that, because this was a learning process for all parties and groups. The main point was that the oligarchs’ big money started to flow in and raised the whole election process to much higher financial levels. The women who wanted to be in the Duma didn’t have access to that sort of money, they just couldn’t compete.
Q: Do you think that the inability of the Russians to kind of pick up with their own magazine in the 2000s, reflected in some way, the change as a result of Putin coming into power?
Shulman: Yes, I think so. I don’t think our magazine would be so well regarded now, because in it was a lot of feminist knowledge and concepts. I got the best Americans to write about what underlay “women’s rights are human rights” and they wrote very interestingly, but the larger problem for the Soviet-Russian society as a whole was that words were misunderstood. The same words, like democracy and freedom and feminism and so on, took on connotations that were damaging. The ‘90s were very damaging to the prospects for democracy. Putin, of course, it would have had to be somebody else besides Putin, if Russian society after Communism were to develop in a natural, organic way, a Russian way, that we had hoped for, it would have had to be under some leader other than Putin, someone who understood, for example, the importance of having a civil society.
There were other words besides democracy that got distorted or were hard to convey. For example, the word empowerment is a hard word to translate. It can mean giving authority to someone who is in a defined job, but if you’re talking about citizen groups, you have in mind conveying strength to a group. You have to be resourceful in translating these words. That was an interesting part of the whole experiment and I’m sure we didn’t always do a good job in translating. I found it to be an absolutely invigorating experience, to be able to do something inside Russia, to be working with energetic Russian women many of whom I admired, and having some even small effect.
I could imagine, on the Internet, for example, when there was the crisis of adoption of children and Russians turned anti-American on that, I thought to myself, I could imagine a blog or a site, a website, in which Americans who had adopted children would reach out to Russians who might want to, because they had a real mind block about not accepting, not adopting. As a result, the orphanages were crammed and terrible. What if there were an exchange. I met quite a few of these adopted children here, they would be riding home on the plane with me sometimes. I thought that would be—if there were a whole series of practical issues that Russians and Americans could communicate about under the radar, so to speak, that this would go some distance to begin to educate people and change the pictures in the mind that we have.
Another subject would be what is your town doing in the way of climate change, how is it dealing with that? You could imagine an exchange too. I don’t know who would set these things up. It’s not the work of the Harriman to do that.
Q: Let me actually conclude by picking up on that. I wanted to ask you about your thoughts about what Harriman, you think could or should do, as it now thinks about the next five to ten years. I was wondering if you thought something like that, is something that an institute like Harriman could do.
Shulman: Well it now has that radio [news website]—is it Euronet [Eurasianet], something like that—it has an office in the Institute.
Q: I don’t remember.
Shulman: Anyway, they’re focusing on the Caucuses I think, and broadcasting, and of course scholarship about the Caucasus republics and ‘areas’ fits into that, works into that very well. They also have a project of looking at the diaspora, the Ukrainian diaspora, and I had wondered whether there was anything that could be done there, on this terrible anti-Russian, anti-Ukrainian stuff that makes it so hard for the citizens of either country to sort out what is true and what isn’t true. The Ukrainians really think they have a culture of their own, tell us about it, we’d like to know more about what the essence of it is. We’d like to know more. Masha [Udensiva-Brenner] is chairing an occasional audio interviewing people, sharing the scholarly work being done at the Institute— very interesting and well done.
Each one of these Harriman efforts, like the U.S.-Russia program that Kim is running, is very important at this time, very important. Everybody should be taking part and going to hear those sessions, particularly in this dangerous time, and I’m glad that the faculty are appearing on various stations. I think there’s a conference starting this afternoon, at the Council on Foreign Relations, which I’m going to, that Rita Hauser is sponsoring. Kim is going to chair one of the sessions tomorrow. We need to hear new voices and as I was looking at the people speaking, I was glad to see that there are new voices. The two people speaking this afternoon, at the opening session, are Dmitri Trenin, and Alexander Vershbow who was a student of my husband’s and also Ambassador to Moscow at one time. Those are old voices but good ones.
Q: In these sessions, are there voices from Russia participating in these, and is that something that needs to be made more—
Shulman: Dmitri is with the Carnegie Center in Moscow.
Q: Is that something that needs to be more encouraged, do you think, by a place like the Harriman?
Shulman: It does, it does, that’s why the Paul Klebnikov Foundation has had a journalist coming every year, and especially journalists who work out in the provinces, because I’ve had this fixation, both about Russians and about Americans, that we don’t get out enough into the boonies—and even Russian journalists have a hesitation. It’s still rough, traveling in many of those places, but how else will we learn? I can’t believe, that in this gigantic country, there aren’t some wonderful things going on at local levels that we need to know about, efforts at least.
Q: That’s one area that you might think that Harriman might think to try and figure out how to get to the provinces, if you will, and trying to bring that information further out.
Shulman: Well it’s difficult when NGOs don’t have the money to do the internships. It was better ten, fifteen years ago, before that awful law went into effect, because there were Americans working in Siberia and various places. What the situation is now, I just don’t know, because you don’t have an enormous filling of the gap of money from local Russian sources. Russia is not the only country. Western Europe also has its own traditions of money giving. In a way our country is unique in the amounts of money that are given by citizens.
Q: One of the things that’s happened is, that I know from friends who are doing scholarship, that they do public opinion surveys now in the provinces than ever was possible previously, surveys as you would do in the States or in Western Europe.
Shulman: Over there, that they’re doing?
Q: Yes, right, right, exactly.
Q: As a different way of generating knowledge and information from the locales, rather than from Moscow.
Shulman: Exactly. And focus groups, I think, too.
Q: I don’t know if they do focus groups.
Shulman: One of the oldest companies doing surveys is the Levada [Center] in Moscow, and I’d be interested to know too, how many different surveys there are out across the country.
Q: Well, thank you very much for doing this. I did want to ask if there’s anything that you particularly wanted to make sure that we talked about, that we haven’t talked about, if there’s something on your mind.
Shulman: I don’t think so. I was trying to put down a few notes, but I think we’ve pretty much covered it.
Q: Let me ask, I just realized, I looked at my notes and I was thinking that I can’t believe I didn’t think to ask you this. At this moment, it would be hard to perhaps leave this conversation without talking about Putin and Trump, and whether you think that understanding Putin is the way to kind of understand and access Russia for the foreseeable future, and if the Trumpist approach to Russia, which has been based pretty much on approaching through Putin, is an accurate or a useful way for the United States to think about Russia and think about its relationships, or should it try to think about it more independently of Putin?
Shulman: Of Putin. We had to learn about Putin, because at the beginning, people read into him what they wanted to see, what they wanted to hear. I remember that went on for quite a few years. Fiona Hill and [Clifford] Cliff Gaddy wrote this book that looked at the facets of his personality. I don’t know whether you know that book. I found that very helpful, because it made him more of a person, not just a bugaboo up there. I don’t remember them all, but one thing he has long been is a survivalist. He’d grown up in Leningrad, before the war, a survivalist in that sense, but also with a sense of Russian history as survival, and the fact that the czars had to take care of providing enough food for their people in difficult times and had storage places where they stored grain or whatever. There’s that aspect of him.
There’s the aspect of him that is the secret agent, of course, the KGB-trained, which is an important part, and that he was a free marketeer, called himself a free marketeer, but in a different sense, with strong state participation as well, also that he was very interested in Russian history and had portraits of particularly, the conservative thinkers in Russia in the late 19th century on his wall. I found that useful.
He seems now, so committed to an anti—well first of all, I don’t doubt that he’s always seen the world, from his training, as a kind of zero sum game, and that it was probably difficult, and if there was ever a time when he was open to a slightly different view, it might have been about the time of 9/11 and the concessions that he made and he felt were not returned on our part. We certainly should have done some things differently at that time. Will he ever come to think of Ukraine as having a position whereby it could join the European Union, not NATO now, not NATO, be part of the European Union and maybe be part of his, whatever it is his thing is, his Eurasian economic, if it goes anywhere.
The thing I resent most about Putin, and I’m surprised that more of his citizenry doesn’t see it that way too, is that the money that was flowing in, in the rich oil years, it was not used in more visible, constructive ways. I’ve wondered how long it will take people to see things like that. Russians have a lot of survivability themselves. They can go on for a long time suffering, so to speak. A young friend of mine, who was three years old when I first came, the children of dear friends, who grew up to be a feisty teenager, very liberal thinking, got into some trouble with the police, ended up in a camp, a juvenile, sort of midlevel labor camp, easy regime, and made his way through it because he was a talented artist. He ended up living up near Murmansk and his sister is in Texas, thanks to my introducing her to Americans, and I talk to her quite a lot. I ask, “What’s happened to Seryozha?” She says, “Seryozha is now very supportive of Putin.” How did this happen, how did Seryozha—? She finds it difficult to explain. First of all she says Putin restored order, and that was very important, and I believe that. Seriozha’s not anti-American but he’s not interested in America. Beyond that, he lives far enough away that he’s not dependent on government much. He lived up in the Kola Peninsula and is now working in Uglich doing woodworking somewhere.
So, I think we should try to reach out to people beyond Putin. That’s why I’d like to see these dialogues go on, on the Internet, that would be about very practical problems that people face, to try to see if you could leave ideology out of it and really exchange useful information and thereby try to change pictures in the mind, which is a long-term effort.
My school was located on Kropotkinsky Pereulok.
Q: This is the Anglo-American School.
Shulman: Yes. In the home, the little gentry home of the anarchist prince, [Peter] Kropotkin, belonged to his family. It was a very rich family and they had estates and so on. I looked up about, read a lot about this anarchist prince, and he fascinated me because he was a man who hated the Orthodox church, he hated central Russian government. He spent a lot of time in Siberia. He wandered around and explored. He was part of a geographical surveying team that was doing some very good work for the Academy of Sciences, but he was looking at peasant villages and found that the further the village was from any kind of state authority, the more the cooperative spirit of its people predominated. This was his answer—it’s not the battle of the fittest, you know, there are cooperative impulses in people, and he wrote a book that had the title, Mutual Aid, and some sort of subtitle. He traveled around Europe, looked at anarchist communities, came back to Russia, immediately predicted that the Bolsheviks would fail, because they were going about it the wrong way. In spite of that, in the ‘50s, they named a whole street in Moscow after him and they named a subway station, Kropotkinskaya Metro, and the little Pereulok, where we were. I was very happy about this, because I liked the idea that our school was in the home of such a good anarchist prince. In big countries, geography matters, land matters.
Often, Russians, I was told, when they went traveling to small towns would go into a bookstore and ask for a map, and they would want to see what the area looked like. Of course maps had a lot of stuff left out of them for our purposes, foreign purposes of spying. I notice that Robert Kaplan has written a book, called Earning the Rockies. I thought, what’s that all about? Well, it’s about traveling across the United States and feeling that our geography, and our pioneers reaching the coast, has made us one country and that this has had all kinds of foreign policy implications and so on. You know, these are interesting things to sort of speculate about. It doesn’t go far to answering your question.
Q: No, no, it is interesting, but I think it actually does relate, in the sense that listening to Steve Sestanovich talk about his sense of Putin, people think that he kind of wants to hawk back to the Soviet Union at its height and he says no, he wants to go back to—he’s pre-Soviet Union, not necessarily czars but in the sense of being nationalist, and that that’s how to think about Putin, as a nationalist, and in a large geographic space like the United States, like Russia, nationalism becomes a very important way of unifying people and making them feel a part of a whole.
Shulman: Yes, but look at all the ethnic groups they have. Everyone on his passport was a Tatar or an Uzbek or from the Baltics, and also a Soviet citizen, they had that in common, and they had one space they could travel in without visas. I always thought, how fortunate, in those years, since they can’t go abroad. I thought back then, my friends can go to Central Asia, they can go up to the Baltics, they can go to the Far East, they can see all these cultural and geographical environments, they have a world in themselves, and that’s part of the sense of loss that they feel. But now, very acute, or becoming maybe more acute, is the problem of ethnic nationality. Whether it’s the Tatars or whatever group, all these little peoples spread around the country, and the idea that they would want consider themselves Russian even though they love Russian literature and culture, you know is not so. Hence they have a real problem, unless they change the basis of their citizenship. This is what makes the United States so remarkable, although we may have bigger troubles ahead too.
Q: Well, thank you very much, this has been wonderful, talking to you. I’ve learned a lot and it’s been really interesting.
[END OF INTERVIEW]