Sergei and Stanislav: On the Road
Two Soviet journalists travel the US to show Muscovites the America they have never seen
LOOK out, Americans, Sergei and Stanislav are in hot pursuit.Armed with note pads, pens, tape recorders, and back-packs, these young Soviet journalists are boldly going where no Soviet journalists have gone before: the highways and hamlets of "real" America, the America that Muscovites have never heard about. On special assignment with Komsomolskaya Pravda (a large, liberal, daily newspaper in Moscow), the two correspondents set out from New York City last month on a two-month journey to the West Coast and back. With a bare-bones itinerary and a list of phone numbers of American contacts, Sergei Frolov and Stanislav Kutcher say they are charting new ground in Soviet journalism. "This is going to be our contribution to the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus's discovery," says Stanislav. "Our discovery will be a Russian discovery of America. We're going to be the first Russian journalists to take such a trip across the States." The reporters, whose mastery of English is impressive, stopped in Boston briefly before pushing west the next morning - probably by hitch-hiking, they said. "We have had coverage of American life by 'official' Soviet journalists before," explains Sergei, "but first of all, they had this certain political obligation, and second, they weren't allowed to cross the whole country. They also had to be accompanied by someone [from the state]." But with Soviet travel restrictions loosened, Komsomolskaya Pravda is expanding its coverage of the New World, the reporters say, especially in the area of "world travel" and "traveling by unusual means." "This project is called 'Down the Roads of John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac, says Stanislav, an articulate, exuberant fellow with a obvious lust for adventure. "You never know what's going to happen on the road!" Already the two journalists have visited the home of a multimillionaire, attended a wedding, hung out with college students, and gotten mugged in New York City. (The attack was unsuccessful and they were not hurt.) Along the trek, they plan to send articles by facsimile to Moscow, recounting their impressions and experiences, and perhaps contribute stories to American newspapers as well. During the cold-war years, the Soviet mass media "showed only American unemployment, prostitution, drug addiction - all the dark side," says Stanislav. Since relations have improved, the opposite extreme has prevailed: "Health, wealth, and everything positive!" NOW so many people are eager to emigrate to the US," Sergei says. "They are really over-impressed with the newspaper stories and movies and goods from the US, and they say, 'Oh, our country has no future, and the only country worth living in is the US.... That's why we decided to see it with our own eyes - to make our own opinions." "We're not going to be too enthusiastic about the positive sides of America, or too full of criticism, either," Stanislav adds. "We want to regard everything objectively." Stanislav says he was first struck by the "cheerfulness" of Americans. "Everyone is smiling and ready to show you the way - if he knows the way," he says, winking at his friend. "Yes! No one knows the streets!" Sergei retorts. One time, they spent two hours asking people how to get to a street that ended up being "100 meters" from where they were staying. "I like the way Americans are hard working," Sergei says. "You can see it right away. For instance, the people involved in the shops and in the services, they are really working. There was only one time when we were faced with a really lazy person at the Amtrak booth. But when we were walking around the streets in New York, we saw people moving and rushing ahead - you could see a special trace of work on their faces. In the Soviet Union, normally people are going along without any expression." But there have been disappointments, too. Says Stanislav: "We were told that in America there is no bureaucracy, that there is only excellent service," and that no one ever requires documents or papers to get anything he or she needs. "But we went to Western Union to get some money from a friend of ours," he says, "and we couldn't get it without our passport, like in Russia. We showed our press credentials, and the man said, 'No! This is in a foreign language! Stanislav and Sergei expect to travel through New York State to Michigan, and then cross Lake Michigan by ferry to Milwaukee. From there, it's on to the farms and small towns of the Great Plains. Earlier this year, the two men organized an exchange program between Komsomolskaya Pravda and several American newspapers, and these contacts are helping them along their way.