Diplomacy in the Cold War: A Discussion with U.K. Ambassador Barbara Hay and U.S. Ambassador Rudolf V. Perina

The Wende Museum, Culver City, California
Friday, October 28, 2011 – 4 PM

The Helsinki Accords are signed calling for respect for human rights and the father of the Soviet H-Bomb Andrei Sakharov is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s 1975 and the era of détente between East and West points to a hopeful future. Four short years later, Soviet troops invade Afghanistan; U.S. President Jimmy Carter orders a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics; and by 1982 Ronald Reagan, the new American President begins denouncing the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.” Mikhail Gorbachev emerges as a new kind of Communist leader in 1985. He introduces the era of Glasnost and Perestroika – openness and restructuring – after decades of stifling and centralized rule. The Berlin Wall comes down in 1989 and in less than three years, Mr. Gorbachev will be removed after a bloodless coup and the country he led, the USSR, will be gone.

British Consul-General Dame Barbara Hay and former U.S. Ambassador Rudolf V. Perina witnessed first-hand these and other crucial events that defined the Cold War during the 1970s and 1980s as well as the subsequent toppling of other communist regimes in Eastern Europe. For this event, these career diplomats discussed about their experiences in the Soviet Union. They shared their stories about the joys as well as difficulties of life as expatriates and diplomats, their adjustments to the culture of Moscow, and their contacts with other diplomats, state officials, dissidents, journalists and average citizens. Moderated by UCLA History Professor J. Arch Getty, this conversation touched upon the challenges that foreign diplomats faced during the Cold War, the culture and institutional framework in which they had to operate and how they remained discrete, cheerful, flexible and smart as the politics and leadership kept changing at home, abroad and ‘in the office.’

This program was a prelude to The Wende Museum’s exhibition “Deconstructing Perestroika” which openED at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles on January 28, 2012. The hand-painted poster art, culled from The Wende’s larger collection of perestroika-era works, examines Soviet ideology and its discontents 20 years after the fall of the USSR.

Biographical notes

Dame Barbara Hay began her appointment as HM Consul-General in Los Angeles in July 2009. Since joining the Diplomatic Service in 1971, Dame Barbara has spent much of her overseas career in the former Soviet Union, serving there five times and in every decade since her first tour of duty in Moscow in the mid-1970s. These included opening single-handedly a new British Consulate-General in St. Petersburg immediately after the August 1991 coup and her appointment as British Ambassador in Uzbekistan and, concurrently, Tajikistan from 1995-99. Dame Barbara has also worked in South Africa, Canada and Turkey as well as in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.  

Ambassador Rudolf V. Perina, a retired member of the Senior Foreign Service, joined the Department of State in 1974 as a specialist in Russian, East European, German and NATO affairs. He served at the U.S. diplomatic missions in Ottawa (1975-76), Moscow (1979-81), Berlin (1981-85) and to NATO in Brussels (1985-87). In the 1990s, Dr. Perina was Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs (1996-97), Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade (1993-96) and Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova (1998-2001). Most recently, Rudolf Perina was the Chargé d’Affaires at American Embassies in Reykjavik (2010), Yerevan (2007) and Chisinau (2006).  His other experience in the region includes an appointment as the U.S. Special Negotiator for Nagorno-Karabakh and Eurasian Conflicts from 2001 to 2004.

Dr. J. Arch Getty, UCLA history professor, established himself as a revisionist scholar of the Soviet Union with his first book in 1985, Origin of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933-1938. His most recent publication is a biography of Nikolai Yezhov, head of the Soviet secret police from 1937 to 1938 and second in power to Stalin, under whose orders millions of arrests, imprisonments, deportations and executions were carried out. This book, based upon unprecedented access to Communist Party archives and Yezhov’s personal records, looks into the life and career of an enigmatic man who administered Stalin’s Great Terror.