Citizen diplomacy

New exhibit at the  Dayton International Peace Museum

By Stacey Ritz
Photo: Dayton International Peace Museum co-founder Ralph Dull (left, in hat) discusses a large piece of farm equipment in Ukraine

How did Citizen Diplomacy play a role in the USSR during the Cold War? Four Dayton International Peace Museum (DIPM) volunteers were actively involved as Citizen Diplomats in the 1980’s at the height of the Cold War. Christine and Ralph Dull, co-founders of the DIPM, Bill Shaw, president of the DIPM Board and Chris Saunders, of the exhibition committee all made numerous trips to the Soviet Union during the Gorbachev era, seeking to meet Soviet citizens and help prevent a potential nuclear holocaust.

Nancy McKinley-Alway shared, “Citizen Diplomacy did not end with the thawing of the Cold War and the need continues for engaged citizens in the 21st century. Many organizations, including several in the Dayton region, continue to encourage people-to-people exchanges.” Citizen Diplomats can be students, teachers, artists, athletes, tourists … there are no limits. Citizen Diplomats, quite simply, can be anyone who is “motivated by a responsibility to engage with the rest of the world in a meaningful, mutually beneficial dialogue. People to people projects usually result in fresh understandings and new friendships.” Citizen Diplomats can also be bloggers and those who use social media to connect to the world. Unlike many believe, traveling is not a requirement for Citizen Diplomacy.

The current exhibit entitled Every Citizen a Diplomat shares the message that every citizen has the right and the ability to help shape U.S. foreign relations, “one handshake at a time.” At the exhibit, Ralph and Christine Dull will share their photographs and their rare experience of living in the USSR. The Dulls lived in the Ukraine for six months on a farm and are perhaps the “only Americans to live for an extended time with Soviet rural people in over 50 years.”

The Dulls had invited themselves to live in Ukraine after previously having made many trips as Citizen Diplomats to the Soviet Union. Their request was accepted by the Soviet Embassy, with the stipulation that two Soviet farmers live on their U.S. farm at the same time. McKinley-Alway explained, “I think the Dulls were very brave to visit the Soviet Union during a period when relations between the two countries were frosty at best. Their photographs and stories will be a highlight of the exhibit. I believe their living conditions on a collective farm in the late 1980’s were primitive.” The exhibit will also highlight the changes the Dulls witnessed taking place during their stay.

Saunders – who has visited Russia 17 times – will also share the story of how the Episcopal Church right here in the Miami Valley has helped a specific town, Sablino, establish a youth exchange that is still going strong today. The exhibit opened June 9 at the Peace Museum’s Holbrooke Hall and will run for three months, until September. In July, Bill Shaw, chairman of the Peace Museum Board, will share his experience of visiting Russia.

About her  living in the USSR, Christine Dull shared, “A car and rubles were provided for us and we could go wherever we wanted, because everything except people’s homes belonged to the government. The villagers had never seen an American before, so at first they just stood and stared at us. They wondered why we were there – were we CIA?” The Dulls explained to everyone they met that they had come to make friends. Christine continued, “That was a new idea to them, but we were well-accepted. People came from all over the country to meet us, and our living there was so unusual that we were interviewed and written up in Izvestia and TIME magazine.” Christine wrote a book titled “Heart to Heart” and upon their return home the Dulls wrote “Soviet Laughter, Soviet Tears” documenting their experience.

Although the museum depends on memberships and donations, the exhibit is free and open to the public. Free parking will also be available. DIPM welcomes all ages and will have a small table set up with activities for children to enjoy as well. Tea, Russian buterbrodi and sweets will be served to attendees.

While the Every Citizen a Diplomat exhibit uses the Soviet Union as a case study, the exhibit is composed of two parts. Christine Dull shared, “One will be beautiful photographs taken by the czar’s private photographer just before the Soviets took over (in 1917). The other part is in the Holbrook Hall Annex and is an exhibit of authentic posters from the USSR during the Cold War. The exhibit will tell stories of what citizens can do when their governments are frozen in a Cold War – or simply to get to know people around the globe so as to dispel mistrust. Anyone can be a citizen diplomat! If people can’t afford to travel, they can make friends with new immigrants here in Dayton. It’s about making friends and appreciating people different from ourselves, to lessen the fear and make this a friendlier world.”

The Every Citizen a Diplomat exhibit will be on display through Saturday, August 31 at the Dayton Peach Museum, 208 W. Monument Ave. For more information, please call 937.227.3223 or visit


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