More than 2,200 Russian political, civic, business and intellectual leaders visited the United States in August and September 1999 to observe how American democracy and government work and how American citizens conduct their daily lives in one of the largest and most inclusive one-time visitation programs to the U. S. ever.
They were participants in the Library of Congress Open World Russian Leadership Program (RLP), which was established by the U.S. Congress last May to enable young, emerging leaders of the Russian Federation to see first hand how a democratic society works at the grassroots (see Information Bulletin, August 1999).
The program, which concluded Sept. 30, was deemed a success by both the Russian participants and their American hosts, and Congress has appropriated $10 million for RLP 2000.
The RLP was based on the mutual desire of the peoples of Russia and the United States to improve understanding between the two nations, as expressed in a U.S.-Russian memorandum of understanding signed in 1998. The size and scope of the RLP was particularly enhanced by the strong support of members of the U.S. Congress, who are committed to improving relations through direct contact and exchange of visits among parliamentary and congressional leaders.
"The stability of Russia is the No. 1 foreign policy concern for U.S. interests. This is a time of transition in Russia's development of democracy," said Dr. Billington, creator of the program. One of the world's leading historians of Russian culture and a recently elected Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Dr. Billington was chairman of the RLP; James W. Symington, former U.S. Representative from Missouri and state chief of protocol in the Carter administration, was the program's executive director and will be chairman of the advisory committee for RLP 2000.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is the chief sponsor of the authorizing legislation.
"The feedback from the first-year participants in the Russian Leadership Program indicates how successful it has been in allowing the Russian visitors to see and experience our multilayered political and economic system," Sen. Stevens said. "Dr. Billington's vision, as one of the world's leading historians of Russian culture, and his hard work as chairman of the program are important factors in ensuring success in accomplishing the program's purpose."