A dozen up-and-coming Russian leaders will sample Southern Maryland's historic sites and county governments beginning this week in a 10-day tour designed to teach the delegates about American notions of democracy.
The 12 visitors are part of the Library of Congress's Russian Leadership Program, an effort to show 2,000 of the recently democratic country's emerging movers and shakers the relationships that Americans have forged with their local, state and federal governments. Almost from the moment the delegates arrive on Wednesday, they will be swept up in a whirlwind of tours and lunches with organizations ranging from the Navy to the Waldorf Jaycees. In between the power lunches and rounds of receptions, the Russians will lounge on the Chesapeake Bay and dine on the area's seafood. The trip's agenda, said organizer Gary V. Hodge, was planned to reflect Southern Maryland's heritage.
"I wanted them to meet the people of the region," said Hodge, Southern Maryland coordinator for the Russian Leadership Program. "I wanted them to have the opportunity to talk to the leaders, to the citizens, the people of Southern Maryland."
The program, funded by a special appropriation from Congress, is the largest of its kind. Southern Maryland was chosen as a host site because of Rep. Steny H. Hoyer's longtime involvement on international committees on Capitol Hill, Hodge said.
During their stay, the delegates will watch board of commissioners meetings for Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's counties and will tour state offices in Baltimore. They also will visit the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, Solomons Island, the University of Maryland, St. Mary's College and a host of other locations.
Such grass-roots trips reap "incalculable benefits," said Michael Cain, who teaches Eastern European policy at St. Mary's College of Maryland. Cain and other political science faculty members will host the delegates in their classrooms. He said Southern Maryland is ideal as a case study of a place where the intricacies of daily life and local government unfold in human dramas such as the recent drought and efforts to preserve the Chesapeake Bay.
"Southern Maryland is not necessarily a place where lots of different foreigners come to visit," Cain said. "It's a very beautiful landscape and is very representative of a part of the country with all sorts of policy problems. . . . This is a tremendous opportunity to see government in action."