In a sense, the collapse of the Soviet Union created Eurasia Group, the firm I founded six years later. My first ever trip outside the United States was to the USSR in 1986. I was 16. This was less than a year after Mikhail Gorbachev had become General Secretary. The Reykjavik Summit, with its near miss on a landmark nuclear deal, hadn't happened yet. The historic Gorbachev visit to Washington, the star turn that made him a celebrity in America, was still a year away. 1n 1986, Americans still thought the new boss was same as the old boss. I landed in Moscow expecting to steal a glimpse of the Evil Empire.
What I found instead was a universe of people and ideas I could never have imagined. I discovered that Russia is a hospitality culture. And everywhere I went, I found intense interest in the West, a fascination with Western culture, politics, economics, and manners. The diversity and complexity blew my mind.
My first ever trip outside the United States was to the USSR in 1986. I was 16.
I also learned something about information. Today, there's lots of talk about a “post-fact” reality, one where perceptions are shaped for political advantage with no sense of responsibility to verifiable truth. But politics has always been a competition of narratives. I had never realized that until I saw and heard it with my own eyes and ears in 1986. We had ours. They had theirs.
I was not shocked by the collapse in 1991, because I had been blessed by countless encounters with Soviet men and women visibly exhausted by the interminable wait for real change. You could feel even in 1986 that any turn of the door knob might create irreversible momentum toward a wide open door. Those people ravenous for information, ideas, progress, arguments, and connection set me on the path toward becoming a political scientist. And I felt an urgent need to share what I saw. I couldn't shut up about it then, and I can't shut up about it now.
Today, the idea of propaganda has never been more relevant. My intention is that Eurasia Group will continue to shed light that we'll need for navigation. And I look back to the Soviet era not just with nostalgia for the opening but with interest in what it can teach us about the future. Our future.