The Spine of Russia

Just a little under a decade ago, in 2006, the US and Russia were staunch allies in the global war on terror, George Bush had looked into Vladimir Putin’s soul and found it good, and 73 percent of Americans viewed Russia as friendly or an ally. This was a marked change from early 2000, when US public opinion was virtually tied over whether Russia was friend or foe (after the more or less friendly 1990s).

But over the last eight years, with the US and Russia clashing over the ABM Treaty, Edward Snowden, human rights, Crimea, and Ukraine, US opinions about Russia have fundamentally changed. This past February, 68 percent of Americans viewed Russia as unfriendly or an enemy.

Not surprisingly, the situation is much the same in Russia, only more so. A recent Levada Center poll found that 81 percent of Russians have a negative view of America, the highest negative – by far – since Levada began conducting this poll in 1990.

Notably, on both sides of the divide, these are citizens’ views of the other country as a political actor, not their views of the people in the other country. I have yet to see any poll that asks what Americans think about Russians, or visa-versa, yet if the past is any guide, both Russians and Americans are rather good about being able to distinguish between the other’s government and its people.

Certainly we have always sought to make that distinction a hallmark of this magazine and we feel it is something that our readers, by definition, just get.

Yet the stark reality of the New Cold War remains, so I have thought long and hard about ways that Russian Life might better contribute to building bridges between the peoples of our two countries, irrespective of the fluctuations of politics or current events.

Since what we do best at Russian Life is tell stories, stories with captivating images, we propose to do that on a scale we have never before attempted.

We will send two photojournalists – one American, one Russian – on a month-long road trip down “The Spine of Russia,” to gather the story of modern Russia, to talk to Russians about what they think about America and Americans. It will be like a four-week, time-lapse snapshot, and we (and by we, I include myself, as I will be one of those two journalists) will gather the stories and images into a beautiful book.

But here’s the kicker: we are only going to do this if the market (you) wants it, if you share our feeling that there is a need for this sort of dialog through journalism, as a way to bridge the East-West divide.

This is a crowdfunding project. If it gets funded before July 31, the Russian-American road trip will happen this fall. If it does not, the trip is off.

We feel that these difficult times demand a new approach. Let us know if you agree.

Visit spineofrussia.org for more information and to partner with us in this exciting project.

[Published in the July/August 2015 issue of Russian Life.]

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