When a nation goes through enormous upheavals—including the collapse of its economy—how does it rebuild itself? First, it must find a solid foundation on which to build. Equally important, it must avoid the violence that can so easily explode if one part of the struggling population blames their troubles on their neighbors.
If a devastated society can remain peaceful, if the people can somehow feed themselves, if they can send their children to vibrant schools, if students can study at a university with hopes for a better future, and if—together—the people clear away the rubble of the old world, and find the solid bedrock—the foundation—for some new and better world . . . then they can begin to rebuild.
And years later, when they look back at how hard they struggled through the Russian Depressions of the 1990s, and how steadfastly they remained peaceful throughout their enormous country, they can view that horrible decade as proof of their strength, of their unity, and of their deep moral values.
During 1991, Leningrad became Saint Petersburg, as the city had been named by its founder, Peter the Great. Late in 1991, the Soviet Union, after seventy-four tumultuous years, ceased to exist; the Soviet citizens of Saint Petersburg now lived in Russia. For a number of reasons, the national economy collapsed: factories closed, putting millions of people out of work. Banks crashed, and family savings vanished. Inflation caused a steady rising of prices. Highly educated engineers, now out of work, drove old battered cars as taxis, or stood out in the snow selling shoes that their children had outgrown, books from the family library, and vegetables preserved from a summer garden. The nation which had fought and triumphed over the Nazi invasion was now struggling day after day to put dinner on the table.
Russians looked with hope—and an offer of friendship—toward Europe and America. An historic opportunity had arrived . . . for the world to move beyond the Cold War, the dangerous stockpiles of nuclear weapons, and the mistrust which had poisoned international relations for half a century. Now, together, we could build a far brighter future, and a far safer future.
In 1991, I was teaching at the Bodø Graduate School of Business in northern Norway. In October, we received funding from the government in Oslo to find a university in Saint Petersburg where we could help to develop an entirely new School of Business. The goal was to enable Russian students to learn western economics, which would enable Russia to do business with Europe and the world, and thus become a more prosperous and peaceful neighbor.
My Norwegian colleagues were warmly welcomed by the faculty and students of Baltic State Technical University. Between October, 1991 and May, 1995, I made a dozen teaching trips to St. Petersburg.
I enjoyed my Russian students so much that I took a sabbatical from Bodø and taught for the full 1995-1996 year in Saint Petersburg. After twenty-five years of teaching, that extraordinary year in Russia was the mountain peak of my career. My students were highly motivated and wonderfully polite. My colleagues were serious professionals, full of kindness and good humor. I discovered one of my favorite qualities in the Russian character: their warm and bountiful friendship.
The photographs in this book were taken between 1991 and 1996, usually on the weekends when I was free from teaching. I visited outdoor markets, the ruins of churches, and parks where the children were playing in the snow. In May of 1995, I witnessed the fiftieth anniversary of Victory Day. I felt a deep respect for the Russian people. Even more, I felt a growing love for the sturdy, complex, highly educated people who—as I had been taught in America—were my “enemy”.
Yes, they wanted to reach out with friendship to America. But Americans boasted openly that “they had won the Cold War”. When I returned to America with these pictures, and a book which I wrote about my experiences in Saint Petersburg, I discovered that Americans were not interested in learning about “the enemy”. In American films, the Russians were still cast as “the bad guy”.
Now, as people around the world confront the enormous challenges of the climate crisis, we can no longer rattle our nuclear sabers at each other. Russians are great engineers, as proven by their extraordinary space program. We need to work together, around the planet, so that together we can build a clean energy Renaissance in the 21st century.
Therefore I offer this book of portraits, of Russian heroes, and of beautiful Russian children, so that finally . . . we can build on a foundation of peace.