Richard Madeira had a big New Year's Eve.
No, he wasn't among the revelers in New York City's Times Square. Instead, Madeira welcomed in the new year in Moscow's Red Square, marching with thousands of Americans and Russians in a candlelight vigil for peace.
Madeira left for the Soviet Union the day after Christmas as part of a seven-day visit that he hopes will help land the City of Long Beach a sister city in the Soviet Union.
The City Council in December gave its unanimous endorsement to the sister-city search, so when Madeira visits Moscow, he will carry a letter from Mayor Ernie Kell to Sergey Paramonov, head of the Assn. for Relations between Soviet and Foreign Cities.
Nationally, seven American cities, including Oakland, have established sister-city relationships with Soviet cities. The program, under the auspices of Sister Cities International, a federally funded agency, involves cultural, educational and trade exchanges.
Though Madeira, 40, will be the bearer of Long Beach's official request for a sister city, the independent film producer has a broader message of his own. He is going to Moscow and Leningrad because he is convinced that the Soviets are not America's enemy, he explained in an interview shortly before he left. The Soviet people "are as scared of us as we are of them."
Madeira, who has a "Wage Peace" bumper sticker on the back of his Volkswagen bus, is part of a growing number of what have been called "citizen diplomats." These otherwise average Americans have initiated their own peace overtures to America's adversaries because they say they are frustrated by the escalating arms race.
"There have been summits and there have been arms talks negotiations for 20 years and there hasn't been a single nuclear weapon that's been dismantled other than what I call rusty warheads," Madeira said.
The solution, he said, is to "think globally and act locally" to decrease tensions between nations.
Madeira dismisses arguments that he and other citizen diplomats are Kremlin dupes.
"The Russians aren't the enemy, nuclear war is the enemy," said Madeira, a father of three. "I don't really fear them (Soviets). I think I fear the idea of my children being burned up in front of my eyes in a second more than a Russian takeover."
In an interview, Mayor Kell said that while Long Beach is eager to have a Soviet sister city, he takes issue with Madeira's "inflammatory remarks" about nuclear destruction.
"I don't really support his position" or the efforts of citizen diplomats, Kell said, adding that the "best method" of achieving world peace is "through diplomatic channels, through the recognized leaders of the community."
Madeira, however, argues that much can be accomplished through citizen diplomacy. For the past five years, Madeira has filmed encounters between ordinary Soviet citizens and Americans. One of his documentaries, Citizen Diplomacy, US-USSR, has been shown on Long Beach cable television.
"There's something that's very magical when American and Soviets get in the same room and look each other in the eye and say, 'My God, you're a human being,' " Madeira said, adding that Russians and Americans "have to get past all the fears and the hatred and anger" that have historically divided the two countries.
Another obstacle to world peace is ignorance, Madeira said. For example, while most Americans know that there are 50 states in the Union, many people do not know that Russia is just one of 15 republics that comprise the Soviet Union, Madeira said. He added that instead of attempting to learn more about the Russians, many Americans rely on media stereotypes and are not even curious about what Soviet citizens are really like.
This disturbing trend is reflected in the study of foreign languages by Americans, Madeira said.
"There are more teachers of English in the Soviet Union than there are students of Russian in America," Madeira lamented. The lack of communication between Soviet and American citizens, Madeira said, is a major reason why "we have 50,000 nuclear weapons pointed at each other right now."
Madeira, a deacon at the Geneva United Presbyterian Church in Long Beach, said he has initiated a demonstration at area churches to help awaken Southern Californians to the dangers of the arms race. Madeira calls the demonstration "the BB caper."
Church members are asked to close their eyes and listen as Madeira drops a BB into a coffee can that has a microphone inside. The noise, Madeira explains, represents the combined firepower of all weapons used in World War II, including the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
To represent the combined firepower now deployed by the Soviet Union and United States, Madeira said he drops 6,000 BBs into the can, which takes 90 seconds.
"The noise is deafening, especially when you have your eyes closed," Madeira said.