First off, let me say that Pravda (English language version) has been a source of viewpoint for many years- I attended college in a rural area of America's Midwest, in the state of Wisconsin. Having spent most of my youth in that area, which is largely agricultural and/or timber-industry driven, our sources of information and viewpoints were quite limited- consisting primarily of Network television and radio, and major US newspapers. The Internet, e-mail, and many of the communication mediums we now take for granted simply did not exist at that time. In the past several years, these new venues have made tremendous inroads into world communications.
However, that is not to say that I find (or feel) that the majority of US publishers carried a track record of intentional misinformation, nor do I truly believe that other sources from outside the USA did either - but I do think that possibly both the medias in our respective countries were (and occasionally still are) influenced by external forces; in either country, we could point to numerous occasions where either governments or industry/business interests have placed very specific "slants" on events to produce particular perceptions. I think this human nature- as countries, we all develop a certain nationalism- or to make a better contrast, possibly think of it terms of "tribes" or "clans". No matter how you come at it, you end with something resembling an "us"- people from the same tribe/clan/country, and a "them"- people from anywhere else... and that goes for any country or group. Any time people consider others outsiders, it on some level stirs up feelings that as humans we'd like to think we have evolved beyond- the basic animal instinct to mark out and defend territory.
Add into the mix the fact that our respective leaders had for decades ingrained the idea that the other side was "pure evil", existing for the sole purpose of world domination and subjugation to an oppressive and evil outside force. Americans were taught that Russia (the way the USSR was referred to) was just itching to pull the trigger and rain thermonuclear destruction down on every square inch of North America and most of Europe (presumably for the fun of it); popular movies, books, and most other media only added to this perception. Though common sense would tell us otherwise, nearly all people from your region of the world were viewed by US citizens as bloodthirsty totalitarians bent on global destruction. In our minds, a brilliant ballet dancer or artist from the USSR was only using their art form as a cover, to conduct nefarious deeds in the "civilized world" when allowed to travel to and perform in the US and western Europe. Personally, I grew up in a family with my father a life-long Navy man; military background only added to these perceptions.
What I find amusing- or do at least now- is these perceptions. One of my best friends for the past several years is an immigrant from the Kiev area, he came to the United States a few years back. When he arrived here, by his own account, he knew almost no English and had no employment or family here. Since then, he attended college, became fluent in English (sometimes more fluent than me, and been speaking it all my life), and eventually I met him because we work for the same company. Last year, his parents came to visit him here in the U.S. for several weeks each, at different times. Though he and I had discussed some of this before, when his father was visiting is when the reality finally struck me.
He and his father had been fed the same rhetoric, given the same views, and felt the same way many Americans had. His father had nagging concerns about even going for a walk around the neighborhood in our fairly small and quiet suburb of Boston- though even he knew they were not based in reality, at the back of his mind was the thought that for some reason the CIA or Police (or whatever) would swoop in and he would be whisked away never to be heard from again. I'm sure my father would have felt much the same feelings had he been a stranger in the strange land that is Kiev- not that I have ever been there.
He and I spent hours just talking, having a few drinks, and having his son translate back and forth- since his English is just about as good as my Russian (though, with assistance, I can now proudly say I have learned to swear like a sailor- a Russian sailor *grin*). What I found was a man, a man with the same interests, concerns and fears that my father had, the same ones I do now. I didn't expect "Crazy Ivan", but I didn't expect someone so disturbingly "close to home" either.
As more and more channels open for communication worldwide, I think many people from many different cultures are going to have the same kind of awakening my friend's father and I had- that maybe the people you want to hate are far too similar to ourselves to support those kind of emotions. We're all just people trying to work an honest day's work and feed our families, give them a home, and provide them with the best we can. Not a big headline, I know, but in some ways it may be mankind's biggest headline ever.
I can't help but think now, in light of recent events, that maybe the radicals on all sides need to get their governments out of the way, and sit down and have a beer (or vodka, your choice). Maybe the Islamic extremists might see that folks are just people too. Maybe we can see them as human also. It's a war that's been raging for hundreds (thousands!) of years, maybe it's finally time we simply figured out that wasting so much of our collective efforts on making the other guy the monster really ends up making ourselves into the monsters we are all trying to avoid. Of course, where would all those great spy and war movies be then?
With regards to you and yours, Paul Bishop
The choice of the city of Helsinki is not incidental as the capital of Finland had hosted US-Soviet negotiations on the limitation of nuclear stockpiles in 1969