Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Walter Roberts: USIS Magazines and Exhibits in Yugoslavia -- "I'm Red-Faced. I Apologize."

Walter and his USIS staff faced some of the same petty challenges and obstacles that other U.S. public diplomats wrestled with in closed societies during the Cold War period, even if Yugoslavia featured a less obdurate program environment than the Communist Bloc countries under Moscow's direct sway.  Information that was neither vetted or approved by the authorities, and especially from a foreign capitalist country, was anathema to the security services.  One of Walter's favorite stories about tangling with the Yugoslav apparatchiki was this one:

We had a mailing list for our magazine called Pregled.  One day, at some occasion, one of the Yugoslavs approached me and said:  “Have you discontinued Pregled?” And I said, no, not at all.  “Well, I didn’t get my copy this month.”  Well, I said, give me your name and I’ll see that a copy be sent to you.   In the next two or three or four days, other people on the staff, both local employees and Americans, said they had heard that Pregled was not distributed.  So finally I came to the conclusion that Pregled was not sent out by the post office.  So I took my jacket and went to the Foreign Office.  And I said:  Pregled was not distributed – what happened?”  And Mr. Milan Bulajic, who was the American desk officer said:  “Out of the question.”   I said, “No out of the question, it’s a fact but let’s find out what happened.”
Pregled Cover, December 1963

One Sunday, a week later, the telephone rings and Milan Bulajic calls me at home and he asked me whether he could come over.  I said, well of course.  So Milan came over to my house and he said:  “I’m red-faced.  I apologize.  Pregled was thrown by the Ministry of the Interior into the Danube River.  Lock, stock and barrel.”  We found out. 

But that was the only time.  It was very different from a program in France; but it was very different from a program in Bucharest.  It was a very enjoyable stay for me because I was able to do things that I knew I could not do in Bucharest.  For instance, exhibits.  We had beautiful exhibits coming from the United States, and they were always part of the Belgrade fair.  As a matter of course, and policy, Tito came to these fairs.  I got to know him through these fairs because I took him around the American pavilion.  That was much more widespread – yes, we had the Sokolniki Park exhibit in Moscow but I don’t know when the next exhibit was in Moscow because I was not in the line of command anymore at that time because I had gone to Yugoslavia. Tito was very interested.  I remember the capsule in which Glenn, later Senator Glenn, circled the Earth; we got that capsule to show it.  I remember I showed it to Tito and Tito said “Well, I’d have to lose a lot of weight to get into it.”
John Glenn's Friendship 7 Capsule Arrives at Belgrade Airport

No comments:

Post a Comment