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Letters to the editor

A fine citizen diplomat

To the editor: I’m honored to add my condolences to the family and friends of University of Alaska Fairbanks professor Michael Krauss, an international expert in Arctic Native languages.

Because of that expertise, Krauss was awarded a highly coveted seat on Alaska Airlines’ 1988 “Friendship Flight” between Nome and Provideniya, formerly the USSR. The flight’s primary purpose was to reunite Alaska and Russia Native peoples prohibited from contact across the 55-mile Bering Strait during the Cold War.

Dr. Krauss was one of my most memorable interviews for my book on this era, “Melting the Ice Curtain: The Extraordinary Story of Citizen Diplomacy on the Russia-Alaska Frontier.”

He helped me remember the scene that June day on the crumbling steps of the Provideniya House of Culture. Scores of Alaska and Russia Natives tearfully reacquainted after 40 years as politicians on both sides delivered speeches. Finally, the Soviets turned to a tiny elderly Russian Yupik woman with a tattooed chin, a matriarch of the region. She began softly speaking in Russian because using Native languages was discouraged.

Krauss pushed his way through the crowd and whispered to her to switch to Siberian Yupik. “She looked at me confused and bewildered; she dare not speak Yupik in public,” Krauss recalled. “But then her face and whole being transformed into the most glorious state. She launched into a completely different speech in Yupik. Suddenly this was the international language — the only language that could be understood on both sides.”

Krauss remembered that a silence fell over the assembled throng as the atmosphere of that historic day was forever changed.

Thanks to professor Krauss for his groundbreaking work in Alaska and across the world.

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