Though the Soviet Union was often understood as a “closed society,” nearly ten million foreigners visited it between 1956-1985. Many came for Western nations. The majority were Americans. Why would the Soviet Union open its doors to its capitalist enemies? First and foremost, the Soviet tourism industry was about profit as foreign tourists brought hard currency. But there were political motivations as well. Soviet leaders wanted to showcase their country’s achievements, to normalize its system, and convince Western tourists that the USSR was a modern, diverse and peaceful nation. Hundreds of thousands of Americans who wanted to see the communist enemy for themselves followed suit. How did Americans experience their brief look behind the Iron Curtain? How did they evaluate the Soviet Union, and through it, themselves? And how did Soviet authorities try to control the narrative and curtail potential infection from Americans while welcoming them? I turned to Andrew Jacobs for the story.
Andrew Jacobs is a historian of America-Soviet relations, particularly cultural exchange during the Cold War. His dissertation, “Contact and Control: Americans Visit the Soviet Union, 1956-1985,” was completed at Indiana University in 2019.
Cat Rapes Dog, “American Dream,” God, Guns, and Gasoline, 1990.