“I think he’s a communist,” Trump told Hannity. “I mean, you know, look, I think of communism when I think of Bernie. Now, you could say socialist, but didn’t he get married in Moscow? And that’s wonderful, Moscow is wonderful.”
“Might have been his honeymoon, I’m not sure.” Hannity said. “Well, whatever,” responded Trump, then continuing “But you don’t necessarily think in terms of marriage, Moscow. And it’s wonderful. I’m not knocking it, but I think of Bernie sort of as a socialist but far beyond a socialist.”
The preceding was a back and forth between Fox News’ Sean Hannity and Donald Trump during a Super Bowl edition of the program. So much for the aspersions and insinuations – what are the facts?
Did Bernie Sanders and his wife, “get married in Moscow”? The simple answer is no. Is Bernie Sanders a “communist”? The simple answer is no. That is to say, it is a simple answer for anyone who actually understands the premise versus the reality behind Soviet style communism and the lack of similarities to Sanders’ definition of “Democratic Socialism”. Many do not, but that is a topic for another article.
Did Sanders and his wife travel to Russia. Yes, they did, but the answer is not as simple. What Trump and his lemmings would insinuate about the trip, is that Sanders was in some manner, acting in concert with Soviet interests and legitimizing the Soviet Union. The record does not support that.
When Sanders and his wife visited Russia in 1988, they headed a delegation of city officials, members of the chamber of commerce and other civic organizations from Burlington, Vermont, in Sanders official capacity as Mayor.
There were no secret meetings in the Kremlin. In fact, there were no meetings in the Kremlin at all. Sanders’ delegation visited Russia for the openly stated purpose of establishing a sister city relationship with the Russian city of Yaroslavl, then a city of similar size to Burlington.
Mayor Sanders stated at the time that, “By encouraging citizen-to-citizen exchanges — of young people, artists and musicians, business people, public officials, and just plain ordinary citizens, we can break down the barriers and stereotypes which exist between the Soviet Union and the United States.”
Aside from brief stops in St. Petersburg, (then Leningrad) and Moscow, the majority of the time Sanders and his entourage spent behind the Iron Curtain, was in Yaroslavl, a much more populated and spread out city than Burlington, aside the Volga river, with half a million residents.
The group of twelve, visited not only with city officials, but leaders of the business and social community and regular people in town. The local government and other notable members of Yaroslavl, gave Sanders and the delegation from Burlington, the royal treatment, inasmuch as such a large, yet in many ways, still underdeveloped town would have been able to do so.
Objectively speaking, were the Soviets known to stage manage visits from westerners, in more or less ‘Potemkin village’ manner, in order to attempt to distract from the endemic deficits of an authoritarian government and centralized economic planning? Without a doubt.
Was Sanders taken it by any of it? The simple answer, once again, is no. Video recordings collected by a member of the mayor’s group, illustrate the reality that for a large percentage of Russians, long lines to shop and shortages were the norm.
Sanders himself, visiting an apartment complex, openly commented that, “It’s important to try to translate this,” he says. “In America, in general, the housing is better than in the Soviet Union.”
The prime emphasis of the visit, consistently emphasized by Sanders during the trip, despite the dark and distorted innuendo Trump left hanging in the air with Hannity, was that Burlington desired to embark upon a long term and enduring relationship and exchange program between the citizens of both cities.
At no time did then Mayor, Sanders indicate that he had any illusions about the political realities in the Soviet Union. The Guardian, in evaluating the background of the junket, rendered this assessment:
“After receiving a rundown of central planning, Soviet-style, from Yaroslavl’s mayor, Alexander Riabkov, Sanders notes how the quality of both housing and health care in America appeared to be ‘significantly better’ than in the communist state. ‘However,’ he added, ‘the cost of both services is much, much, higher in the United States.’ “
At one point in the tapes, a tour guide during a sightseeing jaunt through Moscow, in a candid, but perhaps, unguarded moment, commented to Sanders and his group as they passed the headquarters of the KGB, to be cautious not to cause upset with the Russian intelligence services. Referring to the KGB, the host warns about what can happen, putting it in as lighthearted terms as possible, and only half jesting that, “Those who don’t behave move to Siberia from here.”
Sanders is heard on the recordings, noting the deficits of the state run healthcare bureaucracy. “They were proud of the fact, for example, that their health care system is free, but they would be open to acknowledge that it’s probably 10 years behind the United States in terms of medical technology.”
That and Sanders’ earlier assessment of housing, is the furthest from naivete, much less puffery about the day to day reality of the deficits of a system of government such as the Soviet Union’s.
Some might object and some have made the objection that, “gulags and political repression was still in force when Sanders took his honeymoon trip to Russia”.
Yes, it’s an established fact of history that gulags did exist, but Ronald Reagan began engaging Premier Gorbachev in Glasnost (openness and transparency) and Perestroika (policy reform) in 1987, making such interactions with Russia, official U.S. policy. Was Ronald Reagan unsympathetic with the harsh treatment of dissidents and indifferent with human rights violations and was Sanders endorsing them? Of course not – neither was the case.
And to set the record straight, sister city partnerships were far from out of the ordinary throughout the cold war. In 1977, ten years prior to the Burlington – Yaroslavl courtship, there were already 5 active sister city partnerships between the Soviet Union and America. The first, a sister city program between Seattle and Tashkent, was initiated in 1973.
The practical result of the trip was that over time, Russians wishing to pull up roots and settle in America, found Burlington a welcome destination.
Bruce Seifer, a senior economic development staffer to the mayor during Sanders’ term, said that 100 residents from Yaroslavl immigrated to Burlington after the trip and others visited. “Over time, it had a positive impact on to the economy,” he said. “Businesses started doing exchanges between Burlington and Yaroslavl.”
A municipal report published on the Yaroslavl – Burlington sister city relationship in the months following the city visit, states the results of the engagement were that “exchanges between the two cities have involved mayors, business people, firefighters, jazz musicians, youth orchestras, mural painters, high school students, medical students, nurses, librarians, and the Yaroslavl Torpedoes ice hockey team.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), has been quoted as remarking that Sanders “went to the Soviet Union on his honeymoon and I don’t think he ever came back.” Yes, that Lindsey Graham, the charming bat boy for “Moscow Mitch” McConnell and “Helsinki Donald” Trump.
Senator Sanders is not stumped when asked to respond to the vague allusions of something sinister behind his promotion of a sister city partnership:
“I know that my political opponents think that because I went to the Soviet Union that I supported authoritarian communism,” Sanders said. “That is an absolute lie. If you check out my record, from day one, I have been critical of the Soviet Union—and unlike Donald Trump, critical of Saudi Arabia, critical of countries around the world that do not respect human rights and democracy.”
Yaroslavl residents fondly nickname their city, “Burlington on the Volga” in honor of Sanders’ visit and express warm regards for Senator Sanders even to the present day. A reporter from the Wall Street Journal, who traveled there to speak to residents about their thoughts on Bernie, was told by a local physician, “We remember him, we respect him, we appreciate him, and we’ll be rooting for him.”
One would not expect Sean Hannity to be informed about critical details of tropes that he and his guests, in this case, Trump, put forth on his program, or for him to correct the record if he did. And the simple answer behind that, is that Fox News serves primarily as a conduit for falsehoods and misrepresentations.
That’s what they do and that is why Trump likes to pitch such bumper sticker fictions there.
Help National Compass grow, keep the site independent, advertising and subscription free and reach a wider audience by donating any amount through PayPal’s secure site –