New documents obtained by the New York Times reveal how the Soviet Union viewed then Burlington, Vermont Mayor Bernie Sanders as a “socialist” they could “exploit” for “propaganda.”
In December of 1987, Mayor Sanders wrote to the government of Yaroslavl, a Soviet city, stating he wanted the U.S. and USSR to “live together as friends.” He initiated a sister-city program between Yaroslavl and Burlington.
After his wedding, Sanders honeymooned with his wife Jane Sanders in Yaroslavl to initiate the program. He told Burlington reporters, “people [in Yaroslavl] seemed reasonably happy and content. I didn’t notice much deprivation.”
In a letter seeking approval from Mikhail Gorbachev to travel to the United States, Yaroslalv officials made the case for using Sanders as a means of Soviet propaganda.
“One of the most useful channels, in practice, for actively carrying out information-propaganda efforts has proved to be sister-city contact,” the Soviet Foreign Ministry document read.
According to the New York Times, Yaroslavl officials pledged to discuss Gorbachev’s “peace-loving foreign policy” with the people of Burlington. They also attached a “seven-point ‘plan for information-propaganda work’ on their visit to Burlington, with hopes of revealing “American imperialism as the main source of the danger of war.”
The report shows a coinciding nine-page guide provided by the Soviet Foreign Ministry on how to properly communicate Soviet-era policies to Americans. The report describes the importance of sister-city contacts for Soviet propaganda.
“When carrying out propaganda measures abroad, the forms and methods of the information-propaganda work and its concrete contents must be approved by the Soviet Embassy and take into account the Soviet Union’s relationship with the given country,” the guide read.
More than 40 years later, Sanders remains proud of his work with the Soviet Union.
“Mayor Sanders was proud to join dozens of American cities in seeking to end the Cold War through a Sister Cities program. The exchange between Burlington and Yaroslavl, which continues to this day, confirmed Sanders’s long held view: by meeting face to face, we can break down the barriers and stereotypes that exist between people and their governments,” said Mike Casca, a Sanders campaign spokesman.