Fifty years since the famous “Kitchen Debate” between then Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, U.S. public diplomacy has significantly changed to include new media tactics such as Facebook and Twitter. A conference hosted by The George Washington University’s Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communications, “Face-off to Facebook: From the Nixon-Khrushchev Kitchen Debate to Public Diplomacy in the 21st Century,” will mark the 50th anniversary of the debate and examine new opportunities for U.S. global outreach in a Web 2.0 world.

Public diplomacy has come a long way from here ...

Public diplomacy has come a long way from here ...

The all-day conference will be held Thursday, July 23, 2009, at GW’s Jack Morton Auditorium. The morning session will explore the historical perspectives of U.S.-Soviet relations in the summer of 1959, the height of the Cold War. The Sokolniki Park Exhibition, made famous by Nixon and Khrushchev’s impromptu verbal sparring match, will also be celebrated. The afternoon session will focus on the emergence of new media and social networking in public diplomacy. The entire event will be moderated by Emmy-award winning journalist Frank Sesno, GW professor and incoming director of GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences School of Media and Public Affairs; Marvin Kalb, James Clark Welling Presidential Fellow; and Blair Ruble, director of the Kennan Institute.

Panelists will examine the significance of the Kitchen Debate; what it represented in the dynamic of active Cold War ideological competition between the two superpowers; how it resonated with both the Americans and the Soviets; and what impact it had on the political fortunes of Nixon and Khrushchev. Taking part in the discussion will be historian Sergei Khrushchev (Nikita Khrushchev’s son), United Nations Association President and former U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia and Venezuela William H. Leurs, New York Times columnist and former Richard Nixon speech writer William Safire, and numerous scholars and eyewitnesses to the Kitchen Debate.

In addition, a panel comprised of former exhibit guides and staff will discuss the landmark Sokolniki Exhibition, which brought a slice of American life — along with dozens of Russian-speaking American guides and exhibit staff — directly to the Soviet Union. The 1959 exhibition is credited with giving a human face and voice to America for a Soviet audience that had virtually no previous contact with the United States. During lunch, William Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs and former U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation, will deliver remarks.

The afternoon session will kick off with a presentation by New York University professor Clay Shirky, author of the acclaimed book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. In addition, panelists from business, government and the scholarly community will examine how today’s world of instant global communications affords the same opportunities to be innovative as the Moscow 1959 Exhibition. New School professor Nina Khruscheva and Adam Conner of Facebook, among others, will explore how to establish connections between the United States and the rest of the world through new media networks and will examine the role of digital technology and social networking in public diplomacy initiatives.

The conference will also feature the premiere of a short documentary film about the Kitchen Debate and the Sokolniki Exhibition, produced by Emmy award-winning director Nina Gilden Seavey, a GW professor and director of the University’s Documentary Center. In addition, a concept for a new multi-player online game about collaboration and diplomacy will be introduced. The game was created specially for the conference by a Duke University team led by Timothy Lenoir, a leading scholar and leader in bio-informatics and game-making.

GW’s Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communications is part of the University’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences School of Media and Public Affairs and the Elliott School of International Affairs. The conference was made possible through partnerships with the Carnegie Corporation, the Walter Roberts Endowment, the Kennan Institute and the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

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