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Canadians waltz home from Vienna talks

Jon Spencer — December 1983

A delegation of 15 Canadians attended the Second Vienna Dialogues in November, and spent one week in Moscow. Upon their return, some of the participants described their impressions to the press. Fiona Nelson, a trustee of the Toronto School Board, announced her hope to establish a visiting exchange arrangement for Canadian and Soviet youth.

“Only a massive public education campaign can equip people to push their governments and, through them, the negotiators for the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. to arrive at an immediate nuclear freeze and rapid verifiable nuclear weapons ban,” she said. As part of her suggestions for educational initiatives, Nelson also proposed that more international student conferences be held in the future.

Dr. Joanne Santa Barbara, who had participated in a Vienna dialogue with physicians and scientists, reported on ‘that group’s proposal for young graduating scientists to be required to take a vow, similar to the Hippocratic oath, to use their knowledge only for the benefit of humankind, and never for its destruction.

Dr. Santa Barbara and Professor Metta Spencer told reporters they had visited an independent peace group in the U.S.S.R., the Group to Establish Trust. Spencer described its work as entirely compatible with the efforts of the huge Soviet Peace Committee, which nevertheless regards all grassroots peace organisations as illegitimate. Spencer, a sociologist at the University of Toronto, pointed out that Russian culture demands a high degree of unity and orthodoxy of all organisations, as a matter of principle, and that this cultural pattern is not susceptible to change under the influence of Western pluralistic ideals.

Nevertheless, Spencer said she had urged the Soviets to bend on the particular issue of the independent peace movement, since its suppression is of such concern to Westerners and constitutes a primary obstacle for the peace movement here.

“Indeed, my main point in Vienna,” she said, “was that the Soviet Peace Committee ought to celebrate the emergence of the autonomous peace movement, and not to repress it, if only because its existence is precisely what is required to convince Western public opinion of the Soviet commitment to peace.”

As if to illustrate her point, once the journalists understood that Vuri Medvedkov agreed with the Soviet Peace Committee’s estimates of 50 million participants in last year’s official peace demonstrations, they immediately publicised these demonstrations. All previous attempts by the Soviet Peace Committee to gain Western media coverage of these huge rallies had failed, but confirmation from Medvedkov, a leading spokesperson for the Group to Establish Trust, lent decisive authenticity to their claims.

According to Spencer, the Western press ignores the official Soviet Peace Committee, and Western coverage of the Group to Establish Trust has focussed on entirely the wrong issue: the repressive conditions under which the group must function. The group itself strongly prefers that the focus be on its policies and activities. Medvedkov specifically notes, for example, that the group refrains from criticising any government, in order to avoid stimulating suspicion and hatred.

In keeping with this conciliatory approach, the Group to Establish Trust has not undertaken any assessment of Soviet military policy, but limits its activities to those promoting trust between the two blocs. It advocates such actions as cultural exchanges, expansion of civil air flights between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., and promoting joint economic endeavours between East and West to replace jobs that will be lost when the military industrial complexes of the two sides convert to peaceful production.