"What has been most striking for us," said Valentina Titova, leader of the group of eight Russians visiting the University, "has been to see how much alike Russians and Americans really are." An American, expecting the Ninotchka stereotype of the Soviet Woman and meeting Mrs. Titova, might be similarly impressed. Hampered by a language difficulty which somehow proved disarming, she spoke openly and often warmly of her impressions of America.
Although Mrs. Titova was "very much pleased to find everyone so friendly and cordial to us," she has not been particularly surprised by anything she has seen: "At home everybody reads and studies all about America, so we had an idea of what to expect, and what we have found corresponds to what we had learned. But you must not think that it is only a few people with special training who know about America. No (Mrs. Titova drew out the and shook her head for emphasis), no, everyone wants to learn about the United States. Our two countries, you know, are in a position of competition. We see that you are a rich country, a successful country, and it is our ambition to be like you, to reach you and, perhaps, even to go past you."
Mrs. Titova mentioned that Harvard was well known and respected among Russians. "Before we came here we were at the State University in New Hampshire. At Hampshire we found that the students were not so serious in their studies. Forty per cent of those who study there, in fact, don't ever finish. But it is very different here at Harvard. I came into the dormitory here (Moors Hall) the other evening at 1:45 and there I could see a girl in her room still studying her lessons. The people here work as hard as they do at home.
"But then, Harvard, you know, is a very expensive school and it is difficult for people who aren't so wealthy to come here, I've asked several students what sort of work their fathers do and everywhere I hear 'my father is a lawyer,' mine is a research chemist,' 'mine is vice-president of such and such a company'; it is very hard to find someone whose father is a worker.
"I understand that there are people on scholarships here, but they seem to be the exception. And then, if a student is not successful in his work, he must lose his scholarship. In the Soviet Union everyone is on scholarship--except 20 per cent, and that 20 per cent are those who don't need it. Then, if a student does particularly well he gets 25 per cent more, as a bonus. Also, in my country, scholarships are for the summer, too, so students can rest and prepare for the next year."
Mrs. Titova mentioned that she had met several students and teachers in Russian studies, and that she had been impressed by their familiarity with the Russian language and literature. "But they only seem to know about the classical authors: Tolstoi, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov. These, of course, are very good, but we also have many fine contemporary poets and novelists. All you see here is Pasternak; everyone reads Pasternak. In my country Pasternak is also very well known, but he is known as a translator of Shakespeare's plays. His writing as such is generally considered second-rate. Most students here haven't read or, often, even heard of most of our first rate modern writers, people like Vera Panova, Galina Nicholayeva or Ilya Ehrenburg."
One of the things which has most disturbed Mrs. Titova during her visit has been the pervading emphasis on sex in American advertising and motion pictures. "Last night," she remarked, "we saw a film with a very strange name--Let's Make Love. We had heard of Miss Monroe as a famous American artist; but in this picture we never saw her wearing a dress, she was always half naked. Yves Montand is also well known in the Soviet Union. But he is known as a serious actor, not as he is in this film. We did not like it; it was without art, without ideas, bourgeois."
As for the campaign and election, Mrs. Titova did not think it proper to comment, as "this is your internal affair." She did say, however, that all the buttons and stickers struck her as frivolous and that in the U.S.S.R. election were taken more seriously.
On the subject of Soviet politics Mrs. Titova grew more vocal. When asked how Russians had reacted to Khrushchev's recent performance in the U.N. she became quite animate. "The great majority of the people approved of what he said in his speech. He is almost always able to express the essence of what Russians feel on a particular issue. He speaks very well for us. As for the hitting (Mrs. Titova tapped her fist on the arm of her chair in delicate imitation of Chairman Khrushchev) that is not the important thing. You must remember that Khrushchev comes from working class people. He has had to fight for an education. He is not a diplomat; you can't expect him to be polished like Macmillan. He is a very emotional man and, if he bangs on tables, he still expresses the will of the majority of the Russian people.
"The American press seemed to cover over what he said to the General Assembly and just make fun of the way he said it. That is not right."
As for Stalin, Mrs. Titova admitted that "of course he had his faults. But," she added, "you must remember that those days were very hard for us. First there was the problem of establishing Soviet power within the country; then World War II. When you judge him you should consider this."
Mrs. Titova and her group are traveling under the auspices of the Experiment in International Living. At home in Moscow, she works as vice-Chairman for the Committee of Youth Organizations of the U.S.S.R. Her special interest is in organizing international student activities, particularly international discussions, seminars and summer programs. Last summer she helped arrange the first meeting of the World Youth Forum, a conference in which 142 students, representing some sixty countries, met to discuss disarmament, co-existence, and other political issues. So far, all the Americans at the Forum have been sent by the American Friends Service Committee. Mrs. Titova hopes that other Americans will try to come, either independently or through student, organizations, to the second meeting of the Forum next July. A participant would be responsible for paying his own fare to Moscow, but would be sent from there to the conference site.
"Exchanges like the Experiment and the Forum are very important," Mrs. Titova maintained. "We must get to know each other so that we can see that we are not so very different and that it is possible for us to be friends. The future of the world depends on our ability to be friends."