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Mike Downey

Since Revolution, You Just Can't Tell the East From West

February 26, 1988|Mike Downey

CALGARY, Canada — You say you want a revolution? Well . . . We'd all love to see the plan.


Next thing you know, Katarina Witt's face is going to end up on a cereal box--probably Vheaties. Vladislav Tretiak is going to move directly from TV commercials for Right Guard deodorant to vodka ads--probably with Rodney Dangerfield and Bob Uecker, for Stolichnaya Lite. Maybe even with Comrade Dobler.

New Jersey's National Hockey League franchise is going to sign Vyacheslav Fetisov and Alexander Kasatonov--and probably change the team's name to the Red Devils. Itsy-bitsy Ekaterina Gordeeva is going to endorse Energizer batteries--and probably say: "Is supercharged!"

Anything's possible now.

Welcome to our Eastern bloc party. Soviets, Romanians, East Germans, Czechs, Hungarians, Yugoslavs, Poles-- come on down! Everybody's gone surfin'--surfin' USSR. It's Soviet Bandstand, gang. It's sexy fashions, swinging music, and six-figure contracts. It's a couple of loose bricks in the Berlin Wall. It's Communists in cowboy hats, and capitalists in the Kremlin. It's hammers and stripes, and stars and sickles. It's the most. It's glasnost .

You say you want a revolution? Look around. It's happening. Little by little, the globe keeps spinning. What goes around finally is coming around. Berlin builds a wall, Nikita pounds a shoe, JFK floats a blockade. We meddle in Vietnam; they overrun Afghanistan. We boycott their Olympics; they boycott our Olympics. Suddenly, though, Ted Turner tosses a Goodwill Games. Mikhail meets Ron in Iceland. Raisa and Nancy have tea in D.C., and cups are clinked, and hands are shaken, and an arms agreement is reached.

"Openness" becomes the thought for the day. Glasnost. No more jokes by Ronald Reagan about bombing the Soviet Union in 15 minutes. No more jokes by the President such as the one he once told about the two Moscow soldiers who spotted a man on the sidewalk, shortly before curfew.

The first soldier said to the man: "Halt!"

The second soldier shot him.

The first soldier said: "What did you shoot him for? It isn't curfew yet."

The second soldier said: "I know where he lives. He wouldn't have made it."

Calendar pages have fallen, and a decade that began with a new, right-wing White House administration and an American-less Summer Olympics, fraught with mistrust between superpowers, gradually has moved along toward communication and understanding, and mixing and mingling. Everything's not perfect yet, but we're sending the Soviets rock 'n' roll, and they're sending us hockey players, and an East German woman is thinking about skating in the Ice Capades, and China is busy printing travel brochures.

What next? Brian Boitano and Katarina Witt skating pairs?

You ask me for a contribution? Well . . . We're all doing what we can."

We see things we have never seen before. We wander around the Winter Olympics and can hardly believe our eyes. We see Soviet and East German athletes happily posing with locals for snapshots. We see a Soviet hockey coach in a pin-striped suit, instead of the usual style that resembles 1950s sofa upholstery. We see Tretiak, the retired goaltender, USSR hockey's answer to Hank Aaron, doing deodorant spots with Wayne Gretzky and autographing copies of his autobiography at a bookstore.

Up steps a small boy in a CCCP hockey blouse, with "Tretiak" embroidered across the back.

"Your name Tretiak, too?" Tretiak asks, grinning ear to ear.

The boy nods.

"Vladislav Tretiak?" Tretiak asks.

He is not some Soviet bear of a man, solid and stolid, unapproachable and humorless. He's just a regular-guy jock, dealing with the public, crossing all language barriers with a wave and a signature. He is as open as glasnost gets.

Anybody who cannot imagine such a scene needs only go to Okotoks. A town of about 5,500 people, 20 kilometers from Calgary, Okotoks is the village that gave refuge to the Soviet figure skaters, shortly before the Olympics, so they could complete their training. Families invited the Soviet skaters into their homes, shared their rooms and meals. The Soviets, by way of thanking them for their hospitality, opened their practices to the public, disregarding security. Every session was packed. Everybody became friends. When it was time for the Soviets to go to Calgary, residents of Okotoks waved goodby to them from the sidewalks, many of them in tears.

Last weekend, unexpectedly, three pairs of Soviet figure skaters--including gold medalists Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov--returned to Okotoks to put on a show. They performed, free of charge. It was their way of thanking the villagers, who furthermore were invited by the Soviet skaters to charge admission to the show, as a way of raising money for a new Zamboni ice-cleaning machine.

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