Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Columnist, author, publisher and poet VB Price’s book “Albuquerque – A Town at the End of the World” provides an insight into how Marina Oborotova viewed her new home when she moved here from Moscow in 1992 as the world was undergoing a seismic change.
While appreciating its natural beauty and cultural diversity, the Russian think tank researcher who settled here to teach at the University of New Mexico as the Soviet Union imploded found a city in a landlocked state that , according to her, did not have “the richness of an international exposure typical of the east and west coasts.” Or, as UNM professor emeritus Richard Robbins put it in a biographical sketch of Oborotova – in which he refers to the title of Price’s book – she found a place that was “way too focused on the interior ”.
Over the next decade, Oborotova taught at UNM, lectured, and worked for the United States Industry Coalition and TC International on non-proliferation efforts. Then, in 2006, after her son left for college in Pennsylvania, she decided to do something to bring Albuquerque closer to the “fascinating world beyond America’s borders.”
Oborotova, now 65, created the International Albuquerque Association with the aim of bringing to Albuquerque “this country’s leading experts to address issues of critical importance to the United States, the New Mexico and Albuquerque ”. Another way to put it: she wanted to bring “international spark and sleet” to Duke City.
Fifteen years later, she can safely say: “Mission accomplished”.
Oborotova is stepping down from the presidency of AIA, which now has 400 individual and corporate members. The organization has presented over 200 lectures on a wide range of topics. This year alone, the program has included “Gun Control” by Jill Hruby, former president of Sandia National Laboratories; “Sleep on the Nuclear Precipice” by former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz; “US-Iran” by Alex Vatanka, Senior Researcher at the Middle Eastern Institute; and “US-Mexico” by Jerry Pacheco, Executive Director of the International Business Accelerator and Business Outlook Columnist for the Albuquerque Journal.
Over the years, Oborotova has drawn award-winning journalists like TR Reid of the Washington Post to talk about health care and Jonathan Friedman to talk about young refugees from Central America. She called on local experts like Manuel Montoya of the Anderson School of UNM to talk about cryptocurrency in geopolitics and its connection to nationalism, and former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sig Hecker, who gave a “practitioner’s perspective” on nuclear proliferation.
The impressive list goes on with expert speakers on topics such as espionage, threats to national security, Cuba, the crisis in Africa, the treatment of a nuclear North Korea and “Saudi Arabia and the new cold war in the Middle East “.
The Journal sponsored the AIA and lecture series with Sandia National Laboratories, Haverland Carter Lifestyle Group, and Sandia Labs Federal Credit Union.
Oborotova successfully led the AIA through the financial crisis of the 2008 Great Recession and its aftermath, and then through the pandemic. During COVID, AIA moved its operations online and the organization increased the number of conferences it offered to help with isolation. Robbins describes it as an “intellectual feast in times of plague.”
New series helped broaden AIA’s reach
Oborotova, fluent in Russian, Spanish, French and English, did not stop at academic lectures on serious topics – some in her areas of expertise. She holds a master’s degree in international relations from the Moscow University of Foreign Affairs. His thesis and first book was a comparative analysis of the policies of the Carter and Reagan administration in Central America. Her second book, which she co-wrote, focused on the “honeymoon” in US-Russian relations after the Soviet collapse.
While focusing on serious topics of global importance, Oborotova also broadened the scope of AIA to include an “Arts and Cultures” series highlighting work from around the world. It has included presentations at places such as Beruit and Angkor Wat and museums like the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg and the Louvre. The organization organized trips to China, India, Lebanon, Brazil, Peru and explored art in Naoshima, Japan, among others. “These trips were our hands-on experience to get a better feel and understanding of the world and to enjoy it,” she said.
The AIA has established an international cooking club where members meet for dinner and chat, often in an informal setting but with a speaker or topic of discussion. Oborotova has regularly invited high school and college students and teachers to attend lectures at little or no cost, and has developed a comprehensive skills program for young adults, closely tied to Albuquerque Public Schools.
The journey to ABQ started in Prague
Oborotova’s path to Albuquerque is as winding as the plot of a Russian novel.
She spent her early years in Prague, where her father worked at the International Union of Students. They returned to Moscow when she started school, and she eventually graduated with a graduate degree.
“I would have gone to the diplomatic service but… girls weren’t allowed to do it at the time,” she said.
Oborotova ended up at the Institute of World Economy & International Relations, a Russian think tank where she was working as a senior researcher when her boss invited her to go on a trip to Cuba – forgetting that she was still on vacation from maternity. She went there anyway.
“It was there that I met Gil Merkx, director of the Latin American and Iberian Institute of UNM, and others in Albuquerque. I did a few introductions and then went back to Moscow to have my baby.
“Two years later Richard Robbins (from UNM) came to Moscow and called the think tank to request a date with me. He asked me why I was not responding to their messages. I said, ‘what messages.’ He had a file full of them inviting me to UNM, but someone from the think tank intercepted them. I was so angry that I went to the management, threw the file on the table and said, “I’m going. “
“Gorbachev resigned on December 24 (1991) and I was literally on my way to the United States with my husband and son to teach history and political science.
She stayed, putting “my roots in the soil of New Mexico.”
Future plans are on hold
Oborotova said in a note to AIA members that the past year has been particularly difficult, “but we weathered the storm. Now is the time for me to retire. “
And after? Oborotova is likely to give a talk. She is considering a contract to translate a book. And she wants to take the time to sit on the sofa. She still has family and friends in Russia and “I go back there every year”. While Oborotova says she fell in love with Latin America, where she traveled extensively and wrote about Mexico, Central America and Cuba, “Europe is my playground, my historical and cultural past. .
Will she stay here?
“I never planned to live here for a long time, but it has become my home,” she said. “I don’t intend to leave at the moment, but I’m at a crossroads. For starters, I had planned to take a vacation, but at the moment you can’t even go to Japan because of COVID. “
For Oborotova, the quality of the AIA Lecture Series is a point of pride and part of her heritage.
“The discussions we had in Albuquerque would have been well attended in cities like New York because of the topics and the quality of the speakers,” she said. “The bottom line is that you don’t have to be on the coast. You can have it here in Albuquerque. It is a question of quality of life.
“We have big spaces, but to have a big city, you have to have a lot more,” she said. “So that was my little contribution.”