Post-Cold War America often mistakenly paints the Russian people in much the same way that low-budget sci-fi films of the 1950s portrayed would-be Martian conquerors.
But the Soviets are not trying to take over the world. In reality, they're folks just like us - with hopes and dreams as well as mundane problems and worries.That's the message Dr. Gene Fitzgerald, associate professor of languages at the University of Utah, wants to convey to elementary school teachers in Magna as part of a Utah/Soviet awareness program. Later the program will be expanded to middle and secondary schools in the area.
Lectures are being held in 10 Granite School District schools - eight of which are in Magna, where up to 30 Soviet inspectors will eventually be stationed to verify U.S. compliance with the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty.
"Russians are an abstract," Fitzgerald said, before speaking to faculty at Magna's Webster Elementary School on Friday. "We're really products of the Cold War. We think they're all KGB people and that we should be afraid.
Fitzgerald, who lived with his family in the Soviet Union in 1974 and 1975 while doing research for a book and has made several return visits, discounts alarmist talk that all of the Soviet inspectors will be spies. "Spies don't run around in a group that's already been identified. That's like you or me going into Russia and putting a sign on us that says, `I'm a spy - kick me.' "
He said many Americans don't even realize the most basic of facts about the world's other superpower. For example, he said, few know the Soviet Union is actually made up of 15 republics - of which Russia is only one. The Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia and 11 more belong to the union.
Ultimately, Fitzgerald said, the project's goal is to educate teachers, who will in turn educate their students, about the history and culture of the Soviet Union.
His visit to Webster Elementary on Friday is part of an introductory lecture series comparing the American and Soviet educational systems. Follow-up efforts will include development of a curriculum for use by teachers to instruct their classes and training seminars to give teachers a background about the Soviet Union and curriculum materials.
"When you speak of the Soviet Union, so many different perceptions exist. Some accurate and some not so accurate. Our primary goal is to break these preconceived notions that have sprouted up mostly from a lack of knowledge," Fitzgerald said.
"We want to help people understand how Russians view themselves and the world. Sort of a view of Russia from a Russian point of view."