Valery Gannenko, 24, is a part-time reporter for the Moscow-based newspaper Sobesednik (Собеседник) and a contributing author for several media projects (FURFUR, Open Russia, Afisha). Gannenko is visiting the Long Beach Post for the next two weeks as an intern with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) exchange program.
Visiting America has always been an experience of a life-time for Russian people—Vladimir Mayakovskiy, one of the most widely-known Russian poets of the 20th century, for instance, has published his diaries, called My Discovery of America. Ilf and Petrov—a tandem of prose authors, famous as humor writers in Russia as much as O’Henry is in America, have published One-Story America, a book of short stories, based on their visit to the US during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidential term.
And there are lots of examples aside from those I’ve mentioned. The same goes for Americans visiting Russia; Russia in the Shadows by H.G. Wells for instance, a series of his articles for The Sunday Express, describe his visit to Soviet Union in 1920.
But since most Russian people visiting the US in the 20th century were soaked in ideology, the way that they described their experience was really corrupt. Mayakovsky, sympathising with the ideas of the Russian Revolution, came to the US a severe critic of America’s political system. He even wrote that making his notes about the journey makes sense as a way of understanding the future rival and enemy better.
After the Iron Curtain fell, and both American and Russian people started exploring each other’s countries, everything seemed positive… Until the new crisis, the new coil of Russian-American tensions (not speaking now about the origin of that coil). It’s hard to predict now, how the relations of our countries are going to develop. Both presidents are stubborn, and their decisions can hardly be predicted.
It’s quite fitting that I’m writing this on the 12th of June, the day which is celebrated as Russia Day, a national holiday in my home country; the day when State Sovereignty was declared and the priority of Russian laws and constitution over Soviet laws was declared.
And while I’m here today, in the cradle of modern democracy, people in Russia, who decided to remind the government (and themselves) of their civil rights, and to protest against corruption—are being arrested by the dozens and hundreds. So here I am—not only to find out how things work in the US, but also to show some cases of democracy going the wrong way.
The name of my newspaper back in Russia is Sobesednik, which could be translated as “a person, who is having a conversation with you.” So let’s have a nice conversation. Let me be your sobesednik.