July 29, 1999
About 2,000 Russian Political and Civic Leaders to Visit Communities in America Between July 29 and September 30
First Group To Arrive in New York This Week
About 20 Russian political and civic leaders will arrive in the New York area today (July 29) to spend 10 days observing their political counterparts in action and living with American families to become familiar with their life-styles and community and cultural lives.
They are part of the first group of nearly 300 leaders participating in the Library of Congress Open World Russian Leadership Program (RLP). Similarly sized groups will come to the United States each week for the subsequent seven weeks, with the last group arriving in the United States the week of September 13.
A total of about 2,000 Russian political and civic leaders will visit cities and communities throughout the United States under the RLP program between July 29 and September 30 of this year to observe how American government works and how American citizens conduct their daily lives and work. The RLP, a program established by the U.S. Congress last May, is one of the largest and most inclusive one-time visitation programs to the United States ever.
For more information on the Russian participants and their local host families in the area contact: Eileen Gentilcore in Syosset, N.Y., (516) 921-5933.
The program was officially announced by the Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, at a press conference in Moscow on July 19 with the U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation, James F. Collins. On July 20, a similar announcement was made in the U.S. Capitol in Washington with Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Yury V. Ushakov, Ambassador of the Russian Federation, and the program's Executive Director, James W. Symington, a former member of Congress and former U.S. State Department Chief of Protocol.
The Russian Leadership program was authorized by the U.S. Congress in P.L. 106-31 (Section 3011). The appropriation for the pilot program is for fiscal 1999, so all travel must be completed by September 30, the last day of this fiscal year.
Sen. Stevens, who serves as the Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library and was the chief sponsor of the authorizing legislation, said, "The program is unique in many ways. It will bring the largest number of visitors to the U.S. ever to see and experience the multilayered American political system -- from our small-town mayors and town councils to governors and members of Congress."
Dr. Billington is chairman of the RLP. He is one of the world's leading historians of Russian culture and was recently elected a Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The dean of all scholars of Russian literary culture, Academician Dmitry S. Likhachev, of St. Petersburg, is honorary co-chairman.
The Library has selected the American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS, headed by Dr. Dan Davidson, to help administer the program in the Russian Federation. The American Councils currently implement some of the largest professional and academic exchanges between Russia and the United States.
The RLP is 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 last fall. The size and scope of the RLP is 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 RLP also differs from previous exchange programs in its size and intensity, in its emphasis on direct contact with Americans at the grassroots level and in its goal of providing direct experience in the American political system at all levels -- federal, state and local.
The RLP was first suggested by Dr. Billington in an article last summer and in discussions with members of Congress earlier this spring on the state of U.S. relations with the Russian Federation. The program is inviting current and emerging Russian civic and political leaders and decision-makers at all levels with a strong emphasis on regional and local participation.
The Library asked a wide range of governmental and non-governmental entities in Russia and the United States to nominate participants who will include elected officials, civic and political leaders, policymakers and emerging public leaders.
The final makeup of the group invited to visit the United States this summer will be as representative of Russia as geographically, demographically, and politically as possible. Priority will be given to those who have never been to the United States.
The ability to speak English is not required. Several hundred English-speaking Russian graduate students will be included in the program as interpreters, and host organizations and communities are encouraged to provide as many local Russian-speaking interpreters as possible.
The Russian participants will be matched as much as possible with host communities and professional counterparts comparable with their own communities and official positions. State and county legislators, mayors and administrative officers such as police and health officials will be invited to visit their American counterparts.
In addition to professional exchanges with colleagues, Russian participants will be invited to experience firsthand the relationships of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government, the functioning of business and civic communities, and the ways that individual citizens relate to government.
Participants will see how elected officials do their jobs and how they interact with non- governmental organizations and with individuals who play an integral role in governance, such as labor unions and business organizations, as well as public interest and special interest groups. They also will observe the role of the media in an open society, law enforcement, and the question of ethics in government.
The Russian leaders will first travel to Moscow for orientation briefings, and then proceed to the host communities. In addition to transportation, the RLP will provide accommodations and meals for the participants.
Many participants will stay in private homes; all will share the daily cultural and community lives of their hosts. They will have an opportunity to visit other institutions such as schools, libraries, churches, theaters, hospitals and commercial enterprises.
Participants will be in the United States for about 10 days, with a Washington, D.C., visit optional for those who are personal guests of members of Congress. The Library of Congress has awarded grants and entered into cooperative agreements with a wide range of organizations with long experience in operating and hosting exchange programs with Russia.
[A complete list of grants and cooperative agreements is included along with the names of the contact person].
In a speech on May 18, Dr. Billington cited the stability of Russia as "the No. 1 foreign policy concern for U.S. interests." Relations between the two countries have been strained by the war in Yugoslavia, but he described this as a time of transition in Russia's development of democracy, and said that "it is important for leaders from all over Russia to have a chance to meet and exchange ideas with their counterparts all over America."
He also pointed out that wider human contacts with emerging leaders from regions, many of which have had little outside exposure, can create conditions for better relations with an emerging new generation of leaders.
"It is our hope that the Russian Leadership Program -- the largest such program ever conducted by the United States -- might be a modest first step to that end with Russia," he said.
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