Peace Stories - Eleanor Barden
Meet the Russians
Eleanor Barden is a member of Northampton Quaker Meeting. She worked with other British Quakers and Russian colleagues to open up communication between ordinary people in Britain and in Russia during the final years of the Cold War. This written account was prepared in the Northamptonshire exhibition ‘Quaker Roads to Peace’ (October 2009), and presented alongside Eleanor’s extensive collection of photographs from that period.
In 1986 Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union, and introduced some significant changes in the situation there. Grace Crookall-Greening was then working in the Peace Department at Friends House, as Assistant Peace Secretary to Ron Huzzard. She had visited Russia at least seven times on behalf of Quaker Peace and Service, and was anxious to take advantage of the changed situation there resulting from the appointment of Gorbachev. I served on the Peace Committee at Friends House at that time, and Grace discussed with me her idea that we should encourage groups of Friends to consider visiting the Soviet Union. I had for some time been receiving groups of students from abroad, who visited this country to attend courses on the English language that Ron and I organised, and I had also been learning Russian, so I agreed to organise a visit to Russia for those interested.
My late father had been a very successful Trade Union leader, so I contacted one of his colleagues, who put me in touch with a Russian Trade Union leader, Teiyar Tariverdiev, who agreed to make all the necessary arrangements for me in Russia. William Barton, recently retired as General Secretary of Friends World Committee for Consultation, who also spoke Russian, accompanied Grace and me on our visit to Russia to meet Teiyar and discuss our requirements, and Teiyar took care to meet our wishes exactly, and did everything very well. We sent groups of Friends, who were always accompanied by a Russian-speaking English group leader (I remember group leaders William Barton and John Holtom – but there were others) – all accommodated and well cared for by Teiyar and his colleagues. I also had contact with Tatiana Pavlova, a Friend and friend of mine, who lived in Moscow and invited Russian friends to attend meetings for worship in her home. Tatiana was happy to make contact with the visitors we sent to Russia. So our teachers met Russian teachers, businessmen met Russian businessmen, musicians met Russian musicians, and so on, and all seemed well satisfied with the arrangements made for them.
Meeting the Russians: Eleanor Barden in the centre, right-hand side of the table.
After a while, I was asked by Teiyar if we could accommodate and make an interesting programme for groups of Russians who would like to visit our country, stay with families, and go sightseeing, which I agreed to do – and this also proved very successful. And I liked to think that it helped to improve relations between our two countries! We continued sending groups to Russia for some years, but as relations with Russia gradually improved, demand for this specialist service for Quakers reduced, and we finally gave up the work.