The United States Congress has again authorized the Library of Congress (P.L. 106-113) to invite up to 3,000 emerging Russian political leaders to be hosted in cities and communities throughout the United States this spring and summer to gain significant firsthand experience on how American government works and how American citizens conduct their daily lives. Those invited to visit will be participants in the second Library of Congress OPEN WORLD Russian Leadership Program (RLP), a program first established by the U.S. Congress in May of 1999 (P.L. 106-31).
The 1999 RLP was one of the largest and most inclusive one-time foreign visitation programs to the United States ever. Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library, was the chief sponsor of the authorizing legislation.
This year's program, "OPEN WORLD 2000," will officially be announced on Monday, March 6, by the Librarian of Congress, Dr. James H. Billington, and James F. Collins, U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation. Dr. Billington and Ambassador Collins will participate in a forum for journalists about the RLP later this month. An RLP 2000 Website with the complete program guidelines will be activated on the Library of Congress web site on March 6.
"First-year participants in the Russian Leadership Program indicate it has had real success in providing our Russian visitors with the opportunity to see and experience our multi-layered political and economic system," Senator Stevens said.
"Dr. Billington's vision, as one of the world's leading historians of Russian culture, and his dedication as Chairman of the program were the important factors in accomplishing the program's purpose."
Nearly two-thirds of the members of the Russian Duma chosen in last December's elections are new to that body. Russian Presidential elections will be held later this month. Accordingly, this year's RLP program will make a major effort to bring to America a large number of legislators and executive branch officials. Members of the Duma and Federation Council and their staffs and interpreters are scheduled to come to the U.S. beginning in May to be hosted by interested members of Congress and the nation's governors. In 1999 RLP participants were hosted by or met with President Clinton, former Presidents Carter and Ford; 55 members of Congress, eight governors, and hundreds of state and local elected officials.
Dr. Billington is chairman of the RLP. One of the world's leading historians of Russian culture, Dr. Billington was recently elected Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and on February 15, 2000, Russian Federation Ambassador to the U.S. Yuri Ushakov presented the Librarian with the Pushkin Medal for his service in promoting Russian language and culture throughout the world.
The RLP will be administered by the Library of Congress, with former Representative James W. Symington, who served as Executive Director of the 1999 pilot, serving as chairman of a distinguished advisory board. "Serving as Executive Director of the successful 1999 pilot was one of the most rewarding assignments in public service I have had," said Mr. Symington. "I look forward to working with Dr. Billington to build an advisory board for the Russian Leadership Program that will help the RLP staff in a number of policy areas and broaden knowledge of this superb exchange effort."
Geraldine M. Otremba, who was appointed as the Library's Director of Congressional Relations in 1994, will again serve as Chief Executive Officer of the program.
The Library will award grants and contracts to partner organizations to implement the OPEN WORLD 2000 program. The successful 1999 pilot was managed by the Library's RLP staff in partnership with the American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS, headed by Dr. Dan Davidson, which helped administer the program. About 2,150 young Russian leaders out of 7,200 nominated came to the U.S. under the 1999 pilot RLP. They included elected officeholders, government officials, and leaders in non-governmental fields. They came from 83 of Russia's 89 regions and were representative of the breadth of the Russian Federation geographically – eleven time zones from Kaliningrad to the Bering Strait – demographically, and politically.
The 1999 OPEN WORLD participants were the cutting edge of the emerging political leadership in the Russian Federation committed to building a democratic system, representing 41 ethnic groups, an average age of 37, and women comprising 32 percent of the leaders. Participants in OPEN WORLD 2000 will include the same range of leaders from all jurisdictional levels – national, regional, state, local, and municipal – plus vice governors and vice mayors. The goal this year is again for the widest representation from Russia's 89 regions.
Those nominated to participate will include up to 150 members and staff of the Duma and Federation Council, the Russian equivalents of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate; Executive branch officials and staff members; oblast or regional legislators and staff members; mayors and vice-mayors; regional ministers; and judges. They will once again be nominated by Russian and U.S. organizations, with a final list of participants to be approved by the Library of Congress and granted visas by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
Alumni of last year's program will be encouraged to offer nominations and will be invited to alumni gatherings in Russia later this spring. More than 80 percent of the 2,150 participants who visited in 1999 have completed evaluations and their response has been overwhelmingly positive.
Invited participants will be offered professional development programs in a wide variety of interests: rule of law; federalism/representative government; land reform; defense; security; public safety/law enforcement/criminal justice; tax and budget issues; banking; community life/social services/civil rights; public works; agriculture/fisheries/forestry; environment/energy/natural resources; inter-parliamentary and international relations; education; public health; women's issues; economic development and commerce; and executive management.
To the greatest degree possible, participants will be matched with host communities and professional counterparts comparable with their own communities, official positions, and expressed interests.
In 1999, over the span of only 17 weeks, American families in 45 states and the District of Columbia hosted 2,150 RLP participants; the goal this year is to place participants in all 50 states. The participants will visit the U.S. from May through the end of September. After an orientation meeting in Moscow, they will come to a major American city, such as Washington, to meet with political leaders and then travel to appropriate host towns or cities for the remainder of their 10-day stays.
Accompanied by escorts and interpreters, most participants (excluding Federation Council and Duma members) will again be hosted in private homes across the breadth of America. For the 1999 pilot, over 800 host families were members of organizations such as Rotary International and the United Methodist Church, which have extensive ongoing exchange programs with Russia. These families generously donated their hospitality and opened their communities to the Library's Russian guests, thus building a grassroots network of individual Americans committed to improving U. S.-Russian relations at a critical time.
The Library of Congress will again award grants and enter into cooperative agreements with a wide range of organizations with long experience in operating and hosting exchange programs with the Russian Federation. In addition to spending time with their professional counterparts, the participants will be able to gain firsthand knowledge about the operation of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government at all levels, the functioning of business and civic sectors, and the various ways that individual citizens relate to government.
"Our participants are trying to solve real world problems in a real world time frame," Dr. Billington notes. "They already are in positions of political and policy influence and cannot afford to spend six to eight weeks in a study and research environment, as attractive as that might be. Bringing them to the U.S., most of them for the first time, and immersing them in the political life of members of Congress, a governor, or mayor provides an invaluable, hands-on look at what makes the American democratic system work."
In addition to transportation, RLP grantee organizations will provide accommodations and meals for the participants in the community where they will be hosted. Staying in private homes will again enable them to share the daily cultural and community lives of their host families, and provide the opportunity to visit institutions such as schools, libraries, churches, theaters, hospitals, and commercial enterprises. Strong friendships among Russian and American citizens were forged during the 1999 RLP pilot as a result of the generous home hosting included as a key element of the OPEN WORLD program.
Our Russian guests and hosts best sum up the program:
Robert F. Vagapov, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Trade of the Republic of Bashkortostan, hosted by U.S. Representative Sue Myrick (R-NC):
"The Leadership Program is a large stone tossed into the water issuing forth large ripples. We will hope that these ripples will play an important role in the future in bringing two of the largest countries in the world, Russia and the U.S., closer together."
Nikolai E. Shubich, Deputy Chairman of the Government of the Republic of Severnaya Osetia-Alania, hosted by U.S. Representative Martin Frost (D-TX):
"Strong, prosperous America, in private and official conversations, speaks in a single voice: We share an interest in a Russia that is robust, that won't disintegrate, that will consolidate friendly relations with America."
Finally, a Rotary host from Lubbock, Texas:
"The goals of the program were exceeded. This was a ‘life altering' experience for both Russians and Americans. Our team members returned to Russia with a very positive view of America, Americans, and our governmental and economic systems. Friendships and bonds were formed. The Russians have a renewed commitment to make progress in their country."