US `town meeting' to visit USSR; Soviet rock group to tour US
The stage is set for an unprecedented cultural and ideological exchange next fall, with the announcement this week that a Chautauqua ``town meeting'' -- complete with 220 Americans -- will fly to the USSR's Baltic resort of Riga for Sept. 15-19 broadcasts over Soviet TV. And Sept. 1 will mark the first American tour by a Soviet rock group. The popular Russian rock group Stas Namin, along with its singing star, Ludmilla Sentsina, will begin a 12-city tour in a joint Soviet-American production of the musical ``Peace Child.'' Stas Namin is the group that organized the recent benefit to aid victims of the nuclear plant disaster at Chernobyl.
At back-to-back press conferences here the sponsors of both events stressed that they are the result of the cultural exchange agreements forged last fall at Geneva by President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev.
Chautauqua, an historic cultural summer ``camp'' beside a lake in upstate New York, was the host last summer for a week-long arts and diplomatic conference on US-Soviet relations, six months before Geneva.
This year a return engagement will be played beside the Baltic Sea, when the group of 200 representative Chautauquans, performers, and government officials, accompanied by 20 members of the press, meet, perform, and exchange dialogue with Soviet citizens on TV. The 11-day trip will include stops in Leningrad and Moscow.
In Chautauqua style, which means conferences and town meetings during the day and concerts at night, the Riga week will include performances by violinist Eugene Fodor, singers Karen Akers and Ron Richardson of the Broadway musical ``Big River,'' ballet dancers Patrick Bissell and Susan Jaffe, jazz musician Grover Washington Jr., and dancer Christian Holder.
The meetings are jointly sponsored by the Chautauqua Institution and the Eisenhower Institute under the title ``A Conference on US-Soviet Relations: A Journey in Open Diplomacy.''
The Americans invited include former national-security adviser Robert McFarlane, Time magazine Washington bureau chief Strobe Talbott, Public Opinion magazine editor Ben Wattenberg, and several senior administration officials. Among those on the press conference panel were Susan Eisenhower, the former president's granddaughter and a director of the Eisenhower Institute, which is funding the conference; Charles Wick, director of the United States Information Agency; Chautauqua president Daniel Bratton; and Soviet Minister-Counselor Oleg Sokolov.
John Wallach, the Hearst newspapers' foreign affairs editor who organized both last year's conference and this year's, said that in bringing the Chautauqua concept to the USSR the same open, town-meeting approach will be used, ``with an agreement [between the two nations] that states `no prior censorship' on any topic.''
Among the topics to be discussed: the state of US-Soviet relations and ways to improve them; the nuclear arms race and ways to curb it; regional tensions; the role of the mass media; and the importance of public opinion.
Mr. Wallach, who acknowledges that the Russians have, at times, pulled the plug on controversial American TV network reports from Moscow, says two American networks are discussing transmitting coverage of the conference back to the US, although there has been no formal agreement.
Perhaps a hint of the dialogue to come was offered by Soviet minister Oleg Sokolov, when he said some of the Soviet people participating ``will have a lot of questions to the official delegates and to other Americans as to current policies of the US and ways to start improving relations. I wish a lot of luck to the participants on the American side, that they can answer those questions.''
Minutes after the Chautauqua press conference concluded, another press conference, announcing arrangements for the ``Peace Child'' tour began, with a satellite link between Washington and Moscow.
The tour is sponsored by the Peace Child Foundation, a nonprofit educational corporation founded in 1981 by David Woolcombe to ``actively engage children in the peacemaking process'' through performances across the US and in other countries.
The musical deals with Soviet and American children becoming friends and working for peace. When the September tour begins, 12 Soviet teen-agers, along with the Stas Namin rock group and Ludmilla Sentsina, will perform together with 12 American youngsters and two musicians in ``Peace Child.'' Among the American cities on the tour are Boston; New York; Washington; Seattle; San Francisco; Los Angeles; Santa Barbara, Calif.; York and Harrisburg, Pa.; Rochester, N.Y.; Minneapolis; and, in Canada, Vancouver, British Columbia.