Hasn't Anyone Told 007 the Cold War Is Over?

When I was a little boy, the thing I most feared and loved was America. We had a slide projector at home and a whole box of transparencies for it. One of them was about the United States.


I doubt many people remember the last time they saw a slide projector. For those who don't recall them, it is a mysterious machine with a hot lamp on the inside and a lens that projects colorful images onto a white wall. Back then, it was like having a permanent theater at home. For us, it was true magic.


And so I had frightening slides about the horrible country, America. The most vicious people on earth lived there. They hated the whole world. They would beat little children with sticks just because their skin was black. During meals, Americans would put their feet right on the table. And they lived in monstrous skyscrapers on Wall Street.


The biggest villain of all was President Harry Truman. I still remember a particular frame in which a bald, spider-like man with a hooked nose stares out of a skyscraper window. A white dove of peace with an olive branch in its beak is perched on the window sill outside the office. The man then extends his terrifying hands in order to catch the messenger and tear off the bird's head.


And suddenly the nightmare ended.


Nikita Khrushchev came to power and relations between Russia and the United States warmed up. Khrushchev ordered a documentary by the filmmaker Fran?ois Reichenbach called "America Through the Eyes of a Frenchman" to be shown to the people.


I am 14 at the time. I wait for the film to begin in great anticipation. The lights go out. Then a panorama of New York City shot from the ocean appears on the screen. It is early morning. The sun bathes the magnificent crystal-like buildings in a bright orange light. I am taken aback by the skyscrapers, by how beautiful the landscape is. I realize that all my life a mean trick has been played on me. America was not as it had been presented. I had been caught in a game for grown-ups.


Still, however paradoxical it may seem, the image of the enemy that was put forward had its positive side as well. For many years, America acted like a magnet in our history. Yes, we were enemies, but how alluring this enemy was. How splendid America's roads were, how magnificent its cars, how abundant its shops, how many smiles on the faces of its people. For many years, the idea of catching up to and then overtaking America had been a powerful stimulus for the development of our society -- until, alas, it became clear that we were hopelessly behind and stuck in a historical, economic and moral crisis.


I am also convinced that, on the other side of the ocean, the image of Russia as cruel, red, "evil empire" also played its own positive role. Take the space program for example. The initial successes of Soviet cosmonauts shocked and frightened America into pouring large sums of money into NASA. I would even go so far as to say that if the image of Russia as an enemy had been even a little less vivid, and Russia had not seemed so frightening to America, the people might not have agreed to spend so much money on space exploration. The moon would have been virgin territory to this day.


But the Khrushchev thaw soon gave way to the years of stagnation under Leonid Brezhnev, and any bright images of America disappeared once again behind the iron curtain. Radio broadcasts were jammed. Information from abroad came in strictly controlled doses. Even that triumph for all of humanity -- the landing of the first people on the moon -- was kept hidden from us. The entire world -- with the exception of Russia -- followed Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon on television. To this day, I cannot forgive Brezhnev for stealing this moment from us.


Perestroika transformed America from foe to friend. And the feeling was mutual. If overseas there was a cult of Gorby, here there was a cult of McDonald's. Thousands of people stood in line for the chance to feel they were abroad right on Gorky Street.


Although Russia's enthusiasm for things American has since clearly diminished, I would say that most Russians are still well-disposed to the country. It is admired and envied. Many would like to live or educate their children there. Given the corruption in the highest spheres of power in Russia, the American system of government enjoys secret respect and gives hope that you can run a country without plundering it.


Even NATO expansion to the East, in my view, arouses more hostility toward our former friends -- the Poles, Czechs and Bulgarians -- than to the States. Deep down, these peoples are seen as traitors. The wish of the Baltic countries to join NATO might be silently understood, but not of our Slavic brothers.


Of course, relations between America and Russia are not idyllic. A part of society has become not less, but more hostile toward the United States. The loss of empire and superpower status has played a role in this growing animosity.


Still, the enemy in the Russian imagination is no longer Uncle Sam, with his goatee, top hat and white teeth, but rather the mujahedin in a green turban and a Stinger missile in his hands. It is the desert winds, the shadow of Islamic fundamentalism, black veils and camels transporting weapons.


In the West, too, it is not the east but the south that arouses the greatest alarm. You would think that, in such a situation, Russia and America would become allies as they were during the years of the war against fascism. But I suspect that, to a good part of the transatlantic society, my country still remains something of a scarecrow.


Take last year's hit James Bond thriller, "GoldenEye." You can find it in any kiosk in Moscow that sells pirate videos. I turn on the video player, and to my surprise I see that the legendary Agent 007 is carrying out diversionary activities on Russian territory during the Gorbachev period. And what about love toward Gorby? Bond downs Russian soldiers like flies and kills scores of them. Stop, Bond! We're friends, aren't we? But he doesn't listen.


Then the film moves forward in time to contemporary Russia. Not only does he continue to kill maliciously, but says to the movie viewers that the "evil empire" after the collapse of the Soviet Union is even more dangerous.


I understand that this does not necessarily reflect the views of society, and that the people in Hollywood are simply making good money. Still, I recalled my days as a young schoolboy who feared and hated America, a country full of scoundrels. I think of an American boy now, who is taken in by such movie heroes, and also becomes a puppet, a pawn in someone else's hands.





Anatoly Korolyov is a writer whose most recent book is "Aron." He contributed this essay to The Moscow Times.