About 2,000 local and national officials from Russia will visit the United States during August and September in a $10 million program to show them how American democracy and civil society work, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced in Moscow yesterday.
The effort, whose scope is apparently unprecedented, was first proposed 13 months ago by Billington, a scholar of Russian culture and history. He called for the U.S. government to bring "a genuinely large number of young Russians--the entire cohort of young leaders . . . especially from the provinces" to observe American life and democratic institutions.
"Bringing large numbers of Russians to the United States avoids the patronizing syndrome of sending Americans to Russia to tell the Russians how to run their lives," Billington said, adding that inviting young Germans to the United States after World War II "was decisive in building a new democratic Germany."
Congress included the $10 million program cost in an emergency appropriations bill passed in May primarily to pay for the air war in Yugoslavia. The program will be administered by the Library of Congress.
The first 300 Russian participants are scheduled to arrive July 28. Similar-sized groups will then come almost weekly through the end of September. Each of the Russians will spend about 10 days in an American community, usually living with a U.S. family and observing local governments, non-profit organizations and businesses. Several hundred English-speaking Russian graduate students will serve as interpreters.
Billington and James Collins, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, described the program at a news conference in Moscow yesterday. It will be announced again here this afternoon at the Capitol by Billington and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who embraced Billington's idea and incorporated it into the emergency appropriations bill. In the House, Rep. Charles H. Taylor (R-N.C.) was the principal proponent of the Russian visits.
Former representative James Symington is executive director of the program, which has been quickly organized by various Rotary clubs, the United Methodist Church, Peace Links and many other groups. The American Councils of International Education will help administer the program in Russia as well as the United States. Symington said that many private groups and businesses will help cover the costs.
In his initial proposal, in an op-ed article for The New York Times, Billington criticized the United States for doing too little to support the development of democracy in Russia. He proposed doing "something big for the people [the Russians] . . . who ended the Soviet menace for all of us."