America and Russia: Bicentennial Essay Contest Winners
Top Winners Named Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows and Visit Star City in Moscow
Space exploration, health care cooperation and people-to-people exchanges were the winning essays in the “Through the Eyes of Youth: 200 Years of US – Russia Relations” bicentennial essay competition for high school students in Russia and the United States. The Russian winners, from Yakutia, Dubna and St. Petersburg, were announced May 10th.
More than 300 high school students from 80 cities, towns and villages in Russia and the United States submitted essays answering the question: “In 1807, the U.S. and Russia agreed to establish official diplomatic relations. In your opinion, what has been the most significant example of U.S. – Russia cooperation in the past 200 years?”
Winners in Russia and the United States include:
1st Place Russia Winner – Aleksandr Perepechenov, age 15 from Mirny, Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, who wrote on The First Handshake in Space
2nd place, Russia – Yelizaveta Chugunova, age 15, from St. Petersburg, who wrote on Cooperation in Healthcare.
3d place, Russia – Yana Ashmanskaya, age 16, from Dubna, Moscow Oblast, who wrote on Heart to Heart Diplomacy on the Sister City partnership between Dubna and La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Honorable Mentions for Russia include: Yekaterina Shmeleva, Tambov; Yelena Lapina, Cherepovets; Viktoriya Ostroukhova, Samara; Dzhirgal Dzhardzhiyeva, Lagan, Kalmyk Republic; Yekaterina Uemlyanina, Arkhangelsk., Lee Ilia, Ulan-Ude, Buryat Republic and Vladimir Kucheryavykh, Moscow
Regional Winners Twenty five Russian highschool students were recognized for their winning essays, as well.
In the United States, the winner is Amanda George, a student at the Buckingham, Browne and Nichols School in Cambridge, MA, for her essay on Student Exchanges.
The competition, held in eight regions across Russia’s 11 time zones and in Massachusetts, was cosponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, the Fulbright Office for Russia, Moscow State University’s Foreign Language Division and the Massachusetts Historical Society of Boston.
Winners Earn Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowships
The top two Russian winners will travel to the United States to take part in the “Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Summer Institute” at Wake Forest University in North Carolina in July. Named for the legendary American statesman Benjamin Franklin, this U.S. exchange initiative fosters friendships between young people in America and their counterparts in Europe and Central Asia.
Franklin, who could be called the transatlantic man of his day, was a contemporary of Ekaterina Dashkova during the reign of Catherine the Great. Franklin invited Dashkova to become the first woman member of the American Philosophical Society. As its director, Dashkova made Franklin the first American member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences and Arts in St. Petersburg. They both exemplified the ideals of the Enlightenment that flourished in Europe and America and still shape our world today.
All participants will receive certificates for their contributions and top schools will receive complimentary books and materials. Winning essays are posted on the U.S. Embassy’s web site at www.usembassy.ru.
Most successful essays presented historic events through personal and family experience, and demonstrated fresh and original interpretation of significant moments in the history of bilateral relations. The contest helped develop students’ creative thinking and writing skills, stimulated them to study new material and search for information, and promoted the use of information technologies in education.
Student essays covered an array of historic events, including the sale of Alaska, cooperation in health care and science, the anti-fascist coalition of WWII, and the value of people-to-people exchanges. Many students analyzed the role of such prominent political figures as John Quincy Adams, the first U.S. diplomatic envoy to Russia; and leaders such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mikhail Gorbachev. Many students wrote about the “youngest ambassador” Samantha Smith, a teenager who traveled to the USSR at the height of the Cold War.
The First Handshake in Space
To begin with, I must say that relations between Russia and the USA have never been simple. And that’s not surprising: both of the countries are great powers; that’s why they have always been rivals.
Nevertheless, history knows a lot of vivid examples of mutually beneficial cooperation between the US and Russia in different spheres of life: economics and foreign politics, science and culture, education and tourism. In the middle of the 20th century exploration of space began. At first each of the countries tried to make space its dominion, but soon afterwards both the USSR and the USA realized the necessity of cooperation, and some joint projects were undertaken. The first of them and, without a doubt, the most significant one was the Apollo Soyuz Test Project (ASTP). I’d like to devote my essay to it.
On July 15, 1975 Soviet spaceship “Soyuz-19” was launched from Baykonur Cosmodrome. Seven hours and a half afterwards the lift-off of American spaceship “Apollo” was performed from the Cape Canaveral. The spacecrafts met in outer space and were joined to each other, so that a united system was formed. This huge construction with the international crew aboard functioned for two days. Russian cosmonauts (Aleksey Leonov and Valery Kubasov) and American astronauts (Thomas Stafford, Vance Brand and Donald Slayton) started their joint work with a friendly handshake – the first handshake in space.
The basic tasks of ASTP were the following: creation of universal life-saving equipment, training in how to use new technical systems and methods of joint control of space flight, carrying out joint scientific research and experiments, and also performing rescuing operations in space. All the assignments were completed excellently thanks to great professional experience of the crew. Of course, there were some problems. For example, before the very lift-off of “Soyuz” television camera in its space cabin turned out not to work. But the crew managed to repair it.
It’s clear that ASTP was a success not only because of good preparation of the crew. To my mind, the main thing is that Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts overcame their political dissension during the time of the joint work; each of them truly respected the others. Thus the crew achieved complete mutual understanding. And we shouldn’t forget that ASTP was being performed during the Cold War, when the arms race drive reached its climax, when two political systems – capitalism and socialism – stood in opposition to each other and were considered irreconcilable. ASTP proved that in fact it wasn’t so, that Soviet and American people actually could learn to understand one another.
The results of ASTP were beyond all expectations. The success of the project was undoubtedly a great scientific achievement. ASTP opened a new era in space exploration – the era of international cooperation which proved to be very effective. International orbital space stations were built in order to provide good conditions for joint research of astronauts and cosmonauts from different countries. One of such orbital complexes is Russian space station “Mir” which functioned from 1986 to 2000.
Apart from its scientific significance, ASTP was very important from the diplomatic point of view. Relations between the Soviet Union and the US got much warmer thanks to the project. As we know, some important meetings between the leaders of the two countries (L. Brezhnev and G. Ford) took place in 1975, for example, the one in Helsinki in August of that year. The joint success of Soviet and American astronautics certainly had positive influence on the results of those meetings. Besides, people of the USSR and the USA changed their attitude towards one another; they realized they were not enemies. One of the symbols of ASTP (the flags of the US and the USSR standing crossed) became the symbol of friendship between the two nations.
In conclusion I’d like to say that space exploration is our future. Natural resources of the Earth are almost exhausted, and civilization won’t be able to develop and even to exist without them. That’s why it’s vitally important nowadays to discover new mineral deposits on other planets and their satellites. Since Russia and the USA have the greatest opportunities to explore space, the destiny of the whole world depends on their action. That’s why our countries must overcome all contradictions, just like it was done by the crew of “Soyuz” and “Apollo”. We’ll avert the crisis of natural resources, and we’ll do it together!
• Children’s Encyclopedia (in 12 volumes), volume 9. The 3rd edition. Moscow: Pedagogika. – 1978. 576 pages with illustrations.
• Alpha & Omega. Brief reference book. Tallinn: Valgus. – 1991.
By Aleksandr Perepechenov, age 15
The Sakha Republic (Yakutia),
Mirny, School No.12, Form 9A
Cooperation in Healthcare
Russia and the USA have a long history of relations, which includes both ups and downs, periods of friendship and conflicts. But still, cooperation of the two greatest Powers in the world has had a great impact on the world development in many areas. Together we have succeeded in space research, trade and business, but I believe every country prioritizes the well-being of the population, and all the other areas are tools to achieve this. That is why I think healthcare is the brightest example of US – Russian collaboration.
Though it is not so widely known, our cooperation in healthcare started relatively a long time ago. The first step in this direction was made in 1854 when American volunteer doctors came to Russia to participate in the Crimea war1. That was a small event that caused big long-term consequences. Before long, the contact was established. Several times, when Russians were attacked by famine, Americans gave us the hand of help2. Then, as the Cold War passed, our collaboration reached a new level. The technological revolution took place, and therefore our scientific alliance started developing. This meant that the cooperation included not only mutual help in treating, but also together USA and Russia made a valuable contribution to science.
It was year 1974 when together we launched a big project of artificial heart research. In those days, it sounded surreal that a human could live with a machine instead of heart but it was believed to be a way to save many lives. In 1974 the Scientific Research and Development of Artificial Hearts Cooperation Agreement between the United States and the USSR was signed. This project succeeded and the operation became wide-spread. Though it was not ideal and had some disadvantages, it was a good start to develop, and scientists keep working this way. Despite the fact that the heart they are inventing is artificial, I believe that they do put their true hearts into it.
But it was not the only research the ‘rivaling partners’ have done together. In today’s world the problem of HIV/AIDS3 has become as global and therefore important as it has never been before. These diseases are considered to be “the plague of XXI century”. Statistics and numbers are appalling. This problem is so serious that it needs the cooperation of advanced countries. The Transatlantic Partners Against AIDS (TPAA), established in 2003, has launched a lot of projects all over the world. Our countries are making attempts to cope with these diseases, organize medical programs that would help people with HIV/AIDS. What is more, the USA and Russia are fighting with a problem of people being discriminated because they are PWA (persons with AIDS) by mounting different campaigns.
While it’s true that our relations weren’t unclouded, and I don’t want to idealize them, still it is quite natural that the rivalry between the two Powers appears. Moreover, it may be an extra inducement for development. We have a lot of power, and the only sensible decision is that it should be put into the amelioration of humans’ lives. And American – Russian cooperation in health is an inspiring example of reasonable and respectful relations.
Our way to partnership is difficult, and for this reason it is precious for us. The more challenging the road is, the more valuable the final destination is. This example shows that high aims can unite different countries in their will to achieve success. In addition, this demonstrates that since we have managed to succeed in such a complicated area as health care is, it is undoubtedly possible and beneficial to collaborate in other areas.
Today we can’t stay separated any more, only together – the whole world – we can solve problems that threaten our well-being. Having a big impact on other countries, together Russia and America can shape up the future.
1 A war between Russia and Turkey in 1853 – 1856.
2 1891 – The Russian government accepts assistance from the United States as famine spreads across Russia*.
1921 – U.S. Congress passes a resolution authorizing assistance to the starving population of Russia.
3 HIV – Human immunodeficiency virus; AIDS – Acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
• "History of Russia. XIX century" by A. Danilov and L. Kosulina ("Prosveschenie, 2000")
By Liza Chugunova, age 15,
School 98, St. Petersburg
From Heart to Heart Diplomacy
Even in small families with loving members there are sometimes situations which should be settled to say nothing of such a great number of different in many ways countries. It’s clear that mutual understanding and friendly coexistence between them would be impossible without official diplomacy.
But I am sure that people’s diplomacy from heart to heart is neither less important nor less effective. So, I am going to speak about my native town of Dubna, Moscow Region, and the American town of La Crosse, Wisconsin.
In November 2006, a rotunda, just like the one on the quay of the Volga River in Dubna, was built on the bank of the Mississippi in La Crosse to immortalize forever the name of David Bell who died in Dubna in September 2006. Who and what was he? A war veteran, and a retired teacher, whose life made our communities closer.
It all began in August 1985, when the first launching of peace lights down the Mississippi in memory of the 40th anniversary of the nuclear bombarding in Hiroshima took place in La Crosse, USA. Jim Baumgartner, a doctor from a hospital in La Crosse, took part in this project. Afterwards he decided to spread the “Peace Lights” movement all over the world and called his plan “The International Project of Peace Lights Exchange”. He wished the lights, made by American children’s hands, would destroy the international barriers and make the planet safer for all the children in the world.
So, in 1986, Jim visited the USSR, thousands of lights with him to be given to everybody who could help in spreading them. And David Bell, an English teacher in schools, was just the right person. On September 1, 1988, he organized the first peace lights launching down the Volga in Dubna, which was the first step towards March, 1989, when the Association of Friendship Dubna – La Crosse was established. And later, April 30, 1989 was announced the official Day of Dubna – La Crosse sister cities partnership. This was a small bridge laid between the two hostile countries, one of those which gradually made their relationships as friendly as they are now.
Originally the partnership was meant to develop collaboration between the two cities in various fields – medicine, education, culture, city government, protection of the environment, business. But it turned out to mean much more than that: the relationship between Dubna and La Crosse became the most convincing example of people’s diplomacy, which unites nations, helps people understand each other and learn how much they have in common. This program helped many people overcome their prejudices about the other nation, realize there isn’t and has never been any need to be enemies.
So, when Patrick Zilke, the ex-mayor of La-Crosse, was only to start the project, he often thought, «Do the Russians want to drop a bomb on us? And why don’t we drop a bomb on our worst enemies?» But when he came to Dubna everything changed. The gardens and the small houses around him were so nice and the people smiling at him were so kind, that there was only one question in his mind at that time, «Why are these people our enemies? Why do we hate each other?» But the people around didn’t hate them, they were nice and friendly. And Patrick’s group soon felt the same.
Now every year teachers and pupils visit the other sister city, learn more about its people and culture, make new friends and strengthen and widen the bridge once laid over the ocean, over the wall separating us, over the distrust of cold war and the mutual dislike of American and Russian governments.
Mary Robinson, a teacher who visited Dubna about two years ago said before leaving for La Crosse, «We are leaving with a great amount of impressions about your wonderful cities, with a new notion about Russia and the information about what the Russians think about the Americans.»
We have learned a lot from our friends from La Crosse and, in our turn, helped them gain some new knowledge. We have experienced the wonderful feelings of friendship and united in the face of common misfortunes and now know that nothing can make us enemies any longer. This is probably the main result of all the years of our partnership. We are sure that the coming years will bring new actions and joint initiatives, which will make our friendship stronger and our cities yet more wonderful.
1) Bell D.N., Kiff P., Shishkina T.V., Shishkin S.V. Sister Cities Dubna and La Crosse: the History of Friendship in Facts and Recollections. – Dubna: JIFNR, 2003.
2) Kutuzova S. We’re Exchanging Kids. // Newspaper of Dubna “Ploschad Mira”, July 16, 2004.
3) Melkumova O. The Tree to the Future. // Newspaper of Dubna “Ploschad Mira”, June 17, 2005.
4) The letter to the mayor of the city of La Crosse, Mr. John Medinger, to the citizens of the city of La Crosse from Valery Prokh, the mayor of Dubna, and David Bell, the Honorary President of the Dubna-La Crosse Friendship Association.
5) Zhezlov V.Yu., Kuzkin M.P., Sidorkina N.A., Starchenko B.M., Yukliayev S.A. Dubna. – Dubna, 1995.
By Yana Ashmanskaya, age 15,
Humanitarian Aesthetic Gymnasium No.11,
Dubna, Moscow Oblast