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People Power Fuels Peace Initiatives

June 15, 1986|LYNN SMITH | Times Staff Writer

People want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of their way and let them have it.

-- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Last summer, Ron Kaufman took 25 Americans to Peking, Canton and Shanghai where they threw Frisbees. They did it, Kaufman said, to "pave the way for world peace and understanding through lighthearted and non-competitive play." They threw Frisbees on river banks, in parks and town squares. They threw Frisbees on the Great Wall.

This summer, Kaufman, 29, of Encinitas, is planning to throw Frisbees for peace in the Kremlin.

He is among the thousands of Americans from housewives and real estate agents to television producers and children who in recent years have become "citizen diplomats"--otherwise average Americans who, unhappy with the peacemaking progress of world leaders, have decided to take their own brands of diplomacy to America's ideological adversaries, particularly the Soviet Union.

Boost for Exchange Programs

That grass-roots movement got a boost, observers say, from last year's Geneva summit during which President Reagan and Soviet Prime Minister Gorbachev agreed to what Reagan called the broadest set of exchange programs in the history of Soviet-American relations.

People-to-people exchanges, Reagan told Congress after the summit, "help break down stereotypes, build friendships, and, frankly, provide an alternative to propaganda. . . . There's always room for movement, action, and progress when people are talking to each other instead of about each other."

Whatever the effect of citizen diplomacy, the numbers are up: This year about 120,000 Americans will travel to the Soviet Union, compared to about 50,000 two years ago.

Further boosting the trend, direct flights between the United States and the Soviet Union resumed in April for the first time in seven years. And U.S. officials say fear of terrorism in European and Mediterranean countries has heightened interest in the Soviet Union as a travel destination.

Although some U.S. groups have canceled tours as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, travel agents specializing in arranging tours for citizen diplomats said other groups--perhaps motivated by the disaster to even greater efforts for peace--have scheduled visits for later in the summer.

Soviets Are Reciprocating

And more Soviet citizens are reciprocating. In July, a group of 50 Soviets will join 130 Americans for a "Mississippi Peace Cruise," a project of Promoting Enduring Peace--a group that for the past four years has organized Volga Peace Cruises in the Soviet Union for American tourists.

There are now 205 American organizations involved in exchange or educational programs with the Soviet Union. They range from the 130,000-member, Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War to Grandmothers for Peace, Ranchers for Peace, Bike for Peace, and Salmon for Peace--a project of Soviet and American scientists to help sockeye salmon find their way back to former spawning sites in northern China and Russia.

Among those hoping to "make a difference" with their particular mission are media entrepreneur Ted Turner, who will host his Goodwill Games in Moscow this summer, and psychiatrist Jerry Jampolsky, who recently led 40 children on a two-week visit to the Soviet capital. They include church officials, members of Alcoholics Anonymous, and producers of the interactive television programs known as "spacebridges." In addition, hundreds of students, teachers, artists, attorneys and even clowns have submitted exchange proposals to U.S./U.S.S.R. Exchange Initiatives, a program begun in January by the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) to coordinate exchanges.

Some travel agencies such as the nonprofit Citizens Exchange Council in New York, and Soviet-American Travel in Bellingham, Wash., specialize in sending Americans to the Soviet Union to "explore common interests as well as differences" and arrange home visits with the Soviets.

Though Reagan has publicly endorsed the efforts of citizen diplomats, most State Department officials and foreign policy experts say the good-will trips have little effect on diplomatic relations. At the same time, however, they say citizen diplomacy is harmless, and may even do some good.

"One of our goals is to break down the secrecy and closed nature of Soviet society," said one official on the Soviet desk of the State Department. "Having Americans in large numbers go there and interact and convey, firsthand, American values is a healthy thing to do."

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