YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Peace Walkers Fit Fun, Friendships Into Tight Schedule

June 18, 1987|KATHLEEN HENDRIX | Times Staff Writer

LENINGRAD, U.S.S.R. — Several days into the American/Soviet peace walk, it seems to be shaping up as something between a controlled event and a loose happening. One thing is fairly certain--a lot of compromising has been going on, with both sides appearing determined to make it work.

Although many of the Americans got off the plane Monday ready to establish instant intimacy with every Soviet they met, hoping to share a tent and their life histories and philosophies from the very first night, they have accepted not only that their counterparts have been selected by regional branches of the official Soviet Peace Committee but also that the Soviets are more comfortable, at least at first, with formality.

Still, the Soviets have made a real effort to give their offbeat guests the no-frills look at the real Soviet Union they have been asking for. And there are already countless incidents of one-on-one encounters not only between the Americans and their Soviet counterparts on the walk, but also with those seemingly "average" people they meet by chance.

'Arms Race Nobody Wants'

The walk from Leningrad to Moscow by 230 Americans and 200 Soviets "to end an arms race nobody wants" is jointly sponsored by the independent American group, International Peace Walk Inc., and the official Soviet Peace Committee. The marchers will leave Leningrad on foot and by bus today, with Tosno, a town of 50,000, scheduled for the first night on the road.

The Americans arrived here Monday unsure how they would be received or even if glasnost would apply.

Patterns have begun to emerge as the walkers have gone through several exhausting days of sightseeing and ceremonies.

They, and their Soviet counterparts, have been staying at a campsite about 25 miles outside the city in Repino, a resort town on the Finnish gulf. It is an area filled with parks, big modern hotels of little beauty that draw Soviet and Eastern bloc vacationers, and hundreds of old gingerbread cottages, one more charming than the next.

In these days of the "white nights," twilight lasts long past midnight and people act accordingly. Already the jet-lagged Americans have taken

to eating at 10 and 11, then dancing at a nearby disco or walking on the beach.

The camp is no showcase and it is doubtful that it draws many privileged bureaucrats. It is a simple place of slightly dilapidated wood structures and small metal trailers. It does have hot water in the shower house, plumbing of sorts, and more mosquitoes than most people will see in a lifetime.

The schedule the group has been following has all the aspects of a tour--a Soviet-style tour with plenty of ceremony and formality, statistics and sightseeing that emphasizes some economic and social aspects of their brand of socialism in addition to culture and history.

Some Soviets and Americans have begun to balk at the relentless pace. Andrei Bogdanov of Volgograd, a radio news manager assigned as a liaison with the American press, said at a midnight meeting with Soviet and American journalists, who were protesting the schedule, "Look, look, we (Soviets) got a taste of one day ourselves. It's too much. We can't do it either. We'll try to change it."

Facts and Factories

By Tuesday afternoon there could not have been an American on this walk who did not know this is a city of 5 million people, 65 rivers and canals, 42 islands and 300 bridges.

By then they had been driven around the city, taken a boat ride down the canals, drawn a crowd as they and the Soviets sang and played guitars on the sidewalk in front of the elegant old Hotel Europe and, having split into smaller groups, visited 10 factories to meet the workers.

At a baby clothing factory they were ushered into the director's office, seated at a U-shaped linen-covered table, given chocolates, mineral water and Russian cigarettes and told the history of the factory.

Founded in 1930, it had ceased making children's clothes during the war and instead produced uniforms. As the director completed her welcoming remarks, she struck a by-now-familiar theme, "We hope that the time will never come again when this factory has to stop making children's clothes for military clothes. Children's clothes are a peaceful product."

The Americans responded appreciatively to that. Although they had started out the day dismayed at the prospect of a factory visit, fearful this was an omen of what the entire trip would be--one stiff meeting after another, with little time for individual contacts--they were attentive throughout the whole tour. At the end they asked so many questions that the Russians among them finally were murmuring that the tour was getting hopelessly behind schedule.

Square of Manhood

Los Angeles Times Articles