The American Exhibits to the U.S.S.R.: 1959-1993

Laura E. Kennedy
International Affairs Advisor and Deputy Commandant, National War College
Exhibit Guide, 1977-1978
Video Excerpt
Washington, DC
October 1, 2008

Biography | View Video | Read Full Transcript

Laura E. Kennedy, International Affairs Advisor and Deputy Commandant, National War CollegeAmbassador Kennedy served as an exhibit guide for the "Agriculture USA" exhibit from 1977 to 1978. Following is the edited excerpt of an interview conducted by Ian Kelly, Director of the Office of Russian Affairs, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.

One of my stands was the Ford Pick-Up – incredibly popular because – although probably no American farm would be without a pick-up of some kind – to a Soviet, this was really a sort of an unbelievable thing that a private person would have this. It attracted so much incredible admiration and excitement that somebody, an individual, would be so empowered that they could have their own truck. In those days, of course, cars were fairly small in number and difficult to get. I also worked on the big hay bailer. We had stands, not just technical things, but we had stands that showed how Americans canned food, for example, which was always a big hit. When I think back, I think, what a great theme agriculture was for an exhibit because you think of food as being so central to the notion of hospitality. I mean the ancient notion that, once you’ve broken bread with someone, it implies a new and real bond.

I've mentioned [the benefits] on the Russian side. But, on our part, I’d say that it allowed us to develop a real cadre of experts on the Soviet Union. Most of these folks were young college students, maybe graduate students. Many of them later joined the Department of State, Agriculture, or a number of other federal agencies, or worked in the arts and academic world.

Ian Kelly: I’m wondering how your experience on this public diplomacy exhibit helped you as an Ambassador later on?

Well, I’d say that the exhibit guide experience left me with a career-long, very intense awareness of the central importance of public diplomacy, and it also gave me a particular interest in Central Asia. From 1995 to 1997, when I went back to the area, it was extraordinary. I found people all these years later still had kept their buttons and brochures from these exhibits. I met ministers who recalled and could tell me about how they visited these exhibits in the old times. I remember being in Tajikistan in 1995, not that long after they’d come out of a devastating civil war, but yet the exchange networks were thriving. The government gave us space in the national library to have what we would probably now call an American Corner. There were thriving networks of people who had participated in exchanges.

Later, when I was Ambassador in Turkmenistan, exchange networks were the one area that I spent as much time on when compared to any other area and certainly enjoyed more. I thought it was so important in this country, routinely rated as one of the most censored, journalist-unfriendly in the world, to have this opportunity. The broader programs of the U.S. government were a way for us to engage directly with Turkmen citizens. Our educational exchange programs were vital. And, there was no topic on which I think I argued with the ex-dictator Niyazov more than on education and the fact that it is the most important investment you can ever make.

Our educational exchange programs, I think, have been one of the best programs we’ve done throughout the former Soviet Union. I was just back in Moscow last June, and, when I flew in, there was a group of young kids chattering away. I thought, ‘Oh, this must be a group of American high school students coming to visit Russia.’ They were returning Russian citizens, kids who had just spent a year in America. I find it exciting that these exchanges are catching on. For example, in Kazakhstan, they have established a presidential scholarship fund, known as the ‘Boloshak Fund.’ [Under the fund,] Kazakh citizens now can go study in leading universities and institutions around the world. Boloshak, in Kazakh, means ‘future.’ I think there’s no better way to prepare for the future than investing in these exchanges.


Ambassador Kennedy, a Minister-Counselor in the Foreign Service, graduated from Vassar College, received an M.A. from American University and also studied at Cornell and Stanford Universities. Her first assignment with the State Department was in the Office of People's Republic of China Affairs. She then served at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and was detailed to the American Exhibitions that traveled to Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Tajikistan. After serving as staff assistant to the Assistant Secretary for European Affairs, she returned to Moscow in 1983. Ambassador Kennedy was assigned in 1985 to the U.S. Delegation to the negotiations on conventional armed forces in Vienna, serving with the MBFR (Mutual Balanced Force Reduction) delegation and then helping to negotiate the mandate for the new CFE (Conventional Forces in Europe) talks which were launched in 1989. Ambassador Kennedy began her assignment to the U.S. Embassy in Turkey at the outbreak of the Gulf War. During the subsequent Kurdish refugee crisis, she was detailed to Operation Provide Comfort. She served as Chargé d'Affaires at the newly established U.S. Embassy in Armenia in 1992. She returned to Washington in 1993 as the Deputy Director for Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestinian Affairs. Ambassador Kennedy was Director for Central Eurasia and Caspian Energy Issues from 1995-1997. She was next assigned as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna. She was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan in 2001 where she focused on promoting civil society and enlisting the government in the war against terrorism in neighboring Afghanistan. From 2003-2004, she directed the 46th Class of the Senior Seminar and served as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. Ambassador Kennedy's languages are Russian and Turkish. She is a graduate of the Senior Seminar and a member of the American Foreign Service Association. She has received the Distinguished Honor Award, as well as a number of Superior and Meritorious Honor awards from the Department of State. Ambassador Kennedy and her husband, fellow diplomat and exhibit guide John Feeney, have two sons.