MIT peace discussion hosts SovietsShouts condemning the Soviet Union were the predominant reaction of over 100 people who crowded the Julius Adams Stratton '23 Student Center West Lounge Tuesday night to hear two representatives of the Moscow Institute for US/Canadian Study call for greater efforts by Americans to understand their Soviet counterparts.
Soviets Sergey Zhuravlyov and Nikita Bantsenkin participated in a panel discussion titled "Obstacles to Peace: The Soviet Viewpoint" along with three MIT students.
The two visited MIT as part of a tour of eight college campuses arranged by United Campuses to Prevent Nuclear War (UCAM), according to Professor Aron Bernstein, chairman of the Faculty Disarmament Study Group, who moderated the discussion.
The event's purpose was "to discuss on as personal a level as possible the obstacles to peace," Bernstein said.
Zhuravlyov, age 31 and married, introduced himself as Executive Secretary of the Student Council of the USSR. The Council represents seven million Soviet students, he said.
Bantsenkin said he was a professor of journalism at the University of Moscow and a part-time researcher at the Institute for US/Canadian Study.
Undergraduate Association President Bryan R. Moser '87 asked the two Soviets how discussions among individuals could result in progress toward peace.
Informal conversations are "important in terms of human contacts between our two countries," Zhuravlyov replied, because they can "promote a better understanding of what the other side is like."
Americans' lack of knowledge of the Soviet Union and "anti-Soviet literature" disturbed Zhuravlyov. Soviet students know more about the United States than American students do about the Soviet Union, Bantsenkin added.
Alan E. Szarawarski '88, co-chairman of the student Disarmament Study Group, asked the Soviets "how [the United States and the Soviet Union] see each other and why we see each other the way we do."
Bantsenkin described the "hard anti-Soviet" attitude of some Americans. He mentioned the American military action in Grenada two years ago.
At this point, several audience members jumped to their feet, shouting that the Grenada invasion was welcomed by the island's people, and condemning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Bernstein warned the crowd that anyone who shouted out would be asked to leave.
The discussion continued with Paul Josephson G, a student of the history of science who spent eight months in the Soviet Union. The Soviets do study America more than Americans study the USSR, he said, adding that "better exchanges" are needed to counter the lack of understanding.
The Student Council is not the only Soviet student organization, Zhuravlyov said. There are over 20 groups advocating peace at Moscow University. Their slogans include "disarmament from both sides" and "no to SDI from both sides," he added.
The peace movement originated the idea of "nuclear-free zones" in central Europe, he continued. This later became official Soviet policy. Zhuravlyov expressed the wish that the "rest of the agenda" would also become policy.
Questions from the audience followed the discussion. Many questioners implied that the Soviet speakers were hypocritical. If the Soviet Union wanted more communication, one asked, why were Soviet students refused permission to read the New York Times? Zhuravlyov said the Times was available in the Soviet Union, but some audience members disagreed.
Lenin never said that socialism and capitalism could not exist peacefully together, Zhuravlyov claimed, asserting "there is no such concept." One audience member found the quote in a book at the library. The book was a biography and the quote was not written by Lenin, Zhuravlyov countered.
The Soviet action in Afghanistan was in accord with the United Nations charter, Zhuravlyov claimed. Angry shouts from the crowd began to drown him out, and one audience member was asked to leave at that point. The United States had also taken imperialistic actions in Iran, Guatemala, Chile and Grenada, Zhuravlyov continued.
The Soviet Union does not jam broadcasts of "Voice of America," Zhuravlyov claimed. He then retracted this statement, adding that jamming began only "after detente." The "Voice of America" broadcasts unfriendly anti-Soviet propaganda, he explained. A member of the audience who said he was born in the Soviet Union disagreed.
Another audience member asked the Soviets whether they held any opinions not endorsed by the Communist Party. Zhuravlyov said his point of view "may be different on some views," but declined to give examples because "this question [was] asked in such a hostile way."
The panel discussion was "predicated on the idea that if people understand each other, they will influence their governments" toward peace, the next questioner said. But the Soviet government is unresponsive to its constituents and suppresses dissent. Later, questioners again accused the visitors of representing their government, not the Soviet populace.