Tahlequah Daily Press


April 13, 2012

Tours of Russia: Then and now

Don and Jean Bowman spoke about their recent trip to Russia during the Program Sandwiched In at Tahlequah Public Library.

TAHLEQUAH — Fifty years ago, retired Northeastern State University professor Dr. Robert McQuitty was part of a group of teachers selected to make one of the first tours of Russia after Nikita Khrushchev took over as first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

“It took two hours to cross the border from Germany into Russia, and officials counted our money, itemized it, checked our passports and went through every single piece of luggage,” said McQuitty. “One of the teachers took photos of people lined up outside a food store. He was taken to a police station, his camera was confiscated and his film exposed. They did not want us taking pictures of those sorts of things.”

McQuitty opened the Thursday presentation of Tahlequah Friends of the Library’s Program Sandwiched In, “Russia Today,” as a contrast to fellow presenters Don and Jean Bowman, who recently returned from a 13-day trip to Russia in the post-Communist era.

McQuitty related tales of his “tour guides,” who often seemed hostile with inquisitive members of the group.

“The guides were constantly with us, and served two purposes: Of course, to show us around, and to also monitor us and make sure we didn’t do anything we weren’t approved to do.”

In August 1991, a coup attempt led to the end of Socialist rule and the former USSR was dissolved into 15 post-Soviet states in December of that year.

Under the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, reforms – including market and trade liberalization –were instituted, creating the free-market society Russia enjoys today.

The Bowmans, along with several other area residents, took a cruise through Russia in August, and found a social climate very different from the one McQuitty experienced.

The pair presented a slide presentation of their trip, and gave insights about travel in Russia today.

“Our primary tour guide, Violetta Balakariva, reminded us time and again throughout our trip, ‘The U.S. and Russia are no longer enemies. You must go back and be good ambassadors,’” said Don. “I had the feeling, even though our schedule tours kept us very busy, that we could wander at will.”

Balakariva showed the group her certificate of membership in a youth Communist group, The Pioneers, from the previous regime.

“I got the impression that communism had been very good to her family,” said Don. “I never got the chance to ask her which system was better.”

Jean explained the slideshow had been compiled via a digital program on the couple’s laptop.

“We both used Nikon D80 cameras on the trip, which weigh about 7 pounds each,” said Jean. “Overall, it was an extremely pleasant experience.”

The group boarded their cruise ship, The Rossia, at Moscow Canal. They spent nights on board the ship, and toured cities and villages during the day.

Churches and cathedrals numbered among the points of interest, including St. Basil the Blessed Cathedral, the Kremlin Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Annunciation, the Cathedral of Archangel Michael, the St. Cyril Monastery, the Transfiguration Cathedral (which is made entirely of wood), and the Church of the Spilled Blood.

“We visited the McDonald’s and Hard Rock, Moscow, too,” said Don. “Overall, we traveled 829 miles by water, and had tea in a home in a small village with four families.”

Jean was impressed that four families lived under the same roof, although in separate apartments.

While in St. Petersburgh, the group visited The Hermitage, a world-class museum on par with the Louvre in Paris.

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