In 1988, then-mayor the Burlington (Vt.) Bernie Sanders traveled to the Soviet Union to develop a “sister city” connection with the city of Yaroslavl. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

2020 elections

Bernie's mystery Soviet tapes revealed

Unseen by the public for 3 decades, a reporter views hrs of clip from his 1988 'honeymoon' come the USSR.

BURLINGTON, Vt. — that 1988 and also newlywed Bernie Sanders is in the Soviet Union with his wife, Jane, handing out presents to the mayor of a midsized city they’ve befriended. The atmosphere is festive as the 2 bestow the items: A Beatles album, a red “Bernie because that Burlington” button, “delicious vermouth candy” and a ice of melody Sanders videotaped himself with other artists indigenous Vermont, among other goodies.

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“I have met plenty of fine mayors in the unified States,” Sanders says, “but I desire to speak that among the nicest mayors I"ve ever met is the market of Yaroslavl.”

At one more point, a member of Sanders’ delegation hands a Russian mrs a small American flag.

“If you wondering those wrong with capitalism, it’s make in Hong Kong," the jokes. "Sorry around that.”

The step is component of 3½ hours of raw, never publicly viewed footage that the pilgrimage Sanders took to the Soviet Union that year — his “honeymoon.” viewed the tapes this week, along with a forgotten hourlong episode of a TV show created by Sanders that featured the same trip, in ~ the offices of a vermont government access channel.

Earlier this year, 2 minutes the the long-lost videos went viral when a staffer at Chittenden County’s Channel 17 posted a compilation that the gas archival clip online. The clip featured a shirtless Sanders and also other Americans to sing “This land Is her Land” to their hosts after relaxing in a sauna. A couple of minutes later, Sanders doled out the presents to his Russian friends v a towel wrapped approximately his waist.


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But that’s only the beginning. The hrs of footage incorporate a scene of Sanders sitting through his delegation in ~ a table under a portrait that Vladimir Lenin. Sanders can also be heard extolling the virtues that Soviet life and also culture, even as the acknowledges few of their shortcomings. There are flashes of humor, too, such together his host warning the American guests no to cross the KGB, or else.

The video clip also paints a fuller photo of why Sanders ventured come the land of America’s No. 1 foe in the midst of the Cold War, the anti-war idealism that fueled his journey, and also what he uncovered when he acquired there.

Over the course of 10 days, Sanders, that was climate the mayor of Burlington, and also his dozen-member delegation travel to 3 cities: Moscow, Yaroslavl and also Leningrad, now recognized as St. Petersburg. Your goal was to develop a “sister city” connection with Yaroslavl, a neighborhood along the Volga River home to around 500,000 people. In ~ the time, the Soviet Union was beginning to open up itself come the world, if only slightly — and also Sanders was a self-described socialist with an unusually big interest in foreign affairs for a mayor.

“It wasn’t together outlandish as it watch in the pictures,” wilhelm Pomeranz, the deputy manager of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, said after hear a description of the footage. “It’s the elevation of Glasnost and Perestroika, whereby there are genuine initiatives by american to reach out to Soviet urban and try to create these relationships.”

At the time, Sanders to be 46 and nearing the end of his eight years as Burlington mayor, which tracked specifically with Ronald Reagan’s presidency. 2 years later, Sanders would certainly be chosen to Congress.

As mayor, Sanders worried around a potential atom war and railed versus the bloated army budgets that both the joined States and the Soviet Union. A year before the trip, that laid the end his vision because that a sister-city relationship. "By encouraging citizen-to-citizen exchanges — the young people, artists and musicians, organization people, windy officials, and also just plain ordinary citizens," he said in a speech, "we can malfunction the barriers and also stereotypes i beg your pardon exist between the Soviet Union and also the joined States.”

Sanders’ opponents, though, will certainly likely uncover much in the tapes to call outlandish. And also in a project season in i m sorry Democrats are concerned about nothing an ext than beating President Donald Trump, there’s many of material that democratic voters might concern the Republican Party can spin right into a 30-second an adverse ad.

Sanders is viewed living the up through Russians. There are, naturally, temples to Lenin everywhere. In one scene, Sanders and also his wife, as well as other couples, boogie to live Russian music. “I brought my distinct dancing shoes!” Sanders exclaims.

Later, he speak a Russian man, “I’m not an extremely happy about this, but there are not many human being in the state the Vermont who speak Russian. In fact, among the points that we want to perform is to check out if we can develop a Russian studies regime in our high school.”

At another point, among Sanders’ master jokingly alerts the delegation to not upset the KGB: “Those who don"t behave relocate to Siberia native here."


For now, countless of the videos will certainly remain accessible for viewing only in CCTV’s archives. learned around the tapes after reporting on a TV present Sanders developed while mayor dubbed “Bernie Speaks with the Community.” The government-access channel is no planning to placed the raw tapes documenting the Soviet Union pilgrimage online because they never ever aired, claimed executive director Lauren-Glenn Davitian. However, she does intended to write-up the shed episode the Sanders’ TV present online soon.

The tapes also reveal Sanders and also his team being wooed through the Soviet Union: castle eat nice-looking meals, tourism a decorated subway station, take it horse-and-buggy rides and also watch skilled dancers. A cab driver serenades members the Sanders’ delegation — the unclear even if it is Sanders remained in the automobile — through songs for minutes top top end. Once they return home, the Americans said the cabbie chosen them so much that he didn’t charge a fare.

“The Soviet Union constantly treated foreign guests very, an extremely well,” said Pomeranz said. “They always wanted to present off the best side of their country and also that invariably consisted of a huge table v a most food.”

At times, though, Sanders’ team observed behind the curtain: The tapes showed civilization who show up to be wait in line because that food and the Soviet Union’s shabby real estate stock. Inside one Russian’s apartment, Sanders addresses the negative conditions.

“It’s essential to try to analyze this,” that says. “In America, in general, the real estate is much better than in the Soviet Union.”

There are also mundane scene of day-to-day life — cars rolling about traffic circles, townspeople walking under the street, athletes playing sports on TV — calculation fascinating since of the minute in which castle occurred.

According come a newspaper account at the time, members the Sanders’ mayoral team paid because that the pilgrimage but also received their continuous salary while abroad.

Throughout the videos, as well as in the last episode of “Bernie Speaks with the Community,” Sanders speaks at length around his dream of to reduce conflict in between the two countries by building relationships in between ordinary citizens. While being interviewed by a Russian male on a bus, he states he would “love” for young human being to take part in exchange programs in between the two cities.

Sanders says a comparable initiative because that media outlets. He tells the man that a vermouth editor is comes to the Soviet Union soon and that “I have asked she to drop in your newspaper.”

Sanders’ wife also talks to teacher in the Soviet Union over tea. She asks them comprehensive questions about their work and proposes a teacher and also student exchange program.

“One thing we are an extremely impressed v is the cultural life,” she tells them. “We effort in Burlington to enrich the social life as much as possible. Yet we have actually much additional to go.”

Bruce Seifer, a peak economic development aide to Sanders once he to be mayor, said that 100 residents from Yaroslavl immigrant to Burlington after ~ the trip and also others visited.

"Over time, it had a positive influence on come the economy,” he said. “Businesses started doing exchanges between Burlington and Yaroslavl.”

Davitian, who resided in Burlington in ~ the time, stated progressives to be thrilled by Sanders" expedition to the Soviet Union, while day-to-day residents didn’t mind. “As long as the roads were obtaining paved, over there wasn’t opposition to him together an activist mayor,” she said.

When Sanders’ delegation went back to Burlington, CCTV recorded the team on movie in a hopeful mood, applauding the Soviet Union’s after-school programs, low rent costs and hospitality.

At the same time, they recognize the bad choices of available food. Sanders says he to be impressed by the beauty of the city and also Soviet officials’ willingness “to acknowledge numerous of the problems that castle had."

“They’re proud of the reality that their health care system is free,” the says, but concede the the medical an innovation is much behind that of the unified States.

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Later that year, the connection was officially established. Since then, “exchanges between the 2 cities have affiliated mayors, service people, firefighters, jazz musicians, youth orchestras, mural painters, high school students, medical students, nurses, librarians, and also the Yaroslavl Torpedoes ice cream hockey team,” according to Burlington’s city government. A delegation traveled there as recently as 2016.

“They were simply as friendly together they might possibly be,” Sanders claimed at a news conference at the airport after returning from the trip. “The fact of the matter is, they like Americans, and they respect Americans, and they admire Americans.”