Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Ambassador Robert R. Gosende: The World of Franklin and Jefferson 1970s exhibition in Poland -- Recollections

Ambassador Robert R. Gosende, "Recollections from the presentation of the exhibit The World of Franklin and Jefferson – the visual centerpiece for US events organized in the mid-1970’s in celebration of our Bicentennial."  (For the September 12 First Monday Forum on Public Diplomacy in the 1970's [organized by the Public Diplomacy Council; open to the public, but please RSVP - JB]. )

Gosende image from
Part Two

In the first part of this message I suggested that the magnificent Franklin and Jefferson Exhibit was the visual centerpiece of the many events and programs initiated in the mid-1970’s in Poland to commemorate our Bicentennial and emphasize the relationship between the new United States and the Kingdom of Poland which was about to disappear from the map of Europe. Between 1772 and 1792 Poland was partitioned by the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and Habsburg Austria. It only emerged again as an independent country in 1918 in the 14 point peace agreement, authored by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. The establishment of an independent Poland was President Wilson’s 14th point. He believed that there could be no lasting peace in Europe as long as Poland remained under foreign domination.

But the most meaningful initiatives undertaken in Poland to celebrate the Bicentennial were those that sought to foster relations between Polish and American universities. The most prominent of these partnerships was between Indiana University and Warsaw University which provided for the establishment of an American Studies Center on the campus of Warsaw University. The Embassy in Warsaw received extensive support from the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, specifically from the Bureau’s Office of Eastern European and Soviet Affairs (CU/EE) and its Director, Yale Richmond. Mr. Richmond was able to gather extensive support, both in the form of increased numbers of Fulbright teaching positions devoted to Poland, and also in the form of what came to be known as Cooperating Private Institution (CPI) grants. Mr. Richmond assured that the ASC at Warsaw University received meaningful support in the form of research materials so as to allow for original research on American literature and history to be undertaken under its auspices. He also made resources available for two Fulbright Teaching Professorships at each of nine Polish universities (Warsaw, Poznan, Gdansk, Lodz, Krakow, Sosnowiec, Lublin, Torun, and Bydgoszcz). The communist government of Poland agreed that to teach our language effectively we needed to also teach American history and literature. CU/EE also provided funding under the rubric of CPI grants to foster exchange relationship between some 40 additional Polish and US colleges and universities. At this same time we were never wanting for the funding needed to send dozens of Polish graduate Fulbright Awardees to the US for study. Our practice then was to provide funding for the first year of their graduate study encouraging these students to perform well so that they would qualify for further study to complete their graduate degrees from their host US institution. We had no Polish students fail to receive such awards from their host institutions.

Our focus across Polish universities at this time just before Solidarity burst forth in the Gdansk shipyard triggering political change across Central and Eastern Europe was on the teaching of our language. The mid-l970’s came to be known as the period of détente in U.S./Soviet relations. Unfortunately, all too often our government has been confused, perhaps to say the least, about the value of the teaching of our language abroad. Such was the case during this period in Poland. Our Ambassador at the time and most of the people in his mission, were not part of this confusion but some of our supervisors in Washington at the time thought that the political situation in Poland had warmed sufficiently for us to be doing things that were supposedly more politically hard-hitting than the teaching of English. The thought was that we could have Fulbrighters teaching things that were more politically more “freighted” than teaching English despite the fact that Polish universities teach in Polish at all faculties with the exception of their English faculties.

The Government of Poland, in the form of the ruling communist party – the Polish United Workers Party, told us that they wanted to be able to teach English competently for the last four years of high school across the whole of the country. They said that they hoped that English would become as widely used in Poland as it then was in the Federal Republic of Germany or in the Scandinavian countries. This led to a situation in which it became necessary to over-produce competent teachers of English. We estimated at the time that not more that 50% of the students graduating with degrees in English Language Teaching actually ended up in classrooms. The English Teaching majors found jobs in journalism, across the whole of the Polish government, in diplomacy, and in the burgeoning underground business sector which was increasingly allowed to develop during the final days of Poland’s communist system.

A key member of us Press and Cultural Affairs staff during this period was our Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer/English Language Teaching Officer, Ms. Gloria Kreisher. Gloria traversed Poland from one English Language faculty to the next identifying aspirant graduate student Fulbright applicants, supporting American Fulbrighters on the ground at their host faculties, and gathering resources for English Department libraries. Throughout this period we were in close contact with the Polish government bureaucracy to assure that they continued their support for these language teaching efforts.

Though these were the halcyon days of USIA and State’s support for educational and cultural affairs and cultural diplomacy, it would be incorrect to assume that everything was coming up roses insofar as internal information/press vs. cultural affairs was concerned. Those of us working on cultural affairs were constantly challenged to provide evidence that our efforts were really having meaningful impact in Poland. We often heard that our efforts were “artsy-fartsy” and that they did not get at what really needed to be done. Also, it was a well-known fact within USIA that the quickest route to the front office, to becoming a Public Affairs Officer, did not go through serving as a Cultural Affairs Officer. So our Cultural Affairs staff wrote one report after another seeking continued support for this English Teaching program. Thanks to the stalwart support of our Ambassador and our PAO, Leonard Baldyga and also Yale Richmond in Washington, we were able to sustain funding for this effort.

So where did all this lead? In 1981, as Solidarity was rapidly moving across Poland’s universities, the New York Times carried on its front page an article by John Dancy, NBC European Correspondent, describing how Solidarity was exploding across Poland’s university system from one English Teaching Faculty to another. Dancy described the office of the Dean of the Faculty of English at Lodz University saying that the place looked like what he imagined an American Professor’s office might look replete with American posters and crammed with books on American history, economics, literature, and government and all facets of culture. And, he said, most of all Professor Ostrowski’s office was crammed with Lodz University English majors.

A significant part of what Gloria Kreisher had been writing about in the mid-to late 1970’s was that our Polish government hosts had asked us to teach about American government and culture as a regular part of their curriculum for English Teaching majors saying that they believed that their students needed such coursework to be able to fully understand the English language. So perhaps it is not difficult to see why Solidarity found its home at Polish university English faculties.

Despite the considerable confusion brought about by the Carter Administration’s reforms and the abolition of USIA and the birth of ICA, the fundamental work of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and our educational and cultural staffs abroad continued. The changes were certainly a distraction and in many ways foolhardy: imagine explaining to an international audience that we were from ICA not CIA but our work was so intensely sought after by that international audience that we managed to continue the steady effort to engage and inform people positively across Poland and to perhaps a lesser extent elsewhere in Central Europe.

While USIA or even ICA remained a separate Agency from the Department of State with its separate budget and separate management system, if was possible, indeed required, to work closely with Embassies abroad and both USIA or ICA in Washington to think through what plans needed to be developed country by country to further the goals for international educational and cultural affairs and public diplomacy.

In today’s world, with these functions now absorbed by State, there is little awareness of the potential for such programs. This is most certainly a strange situation. Many retired and retiring State officers end up saying at the end of their careers that they think that most important things they did during their careers were those that involved young people and educational and cultural exchange. I can attest that it was most often impossible to get their attention to such efforts while they were on the rise as state officers focused on”the conduct of foreign relations.”

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