Tucson Citizen (Tucson, AZ)
Posted on July 18, 2000
By Eric Westlander
Flarit Muratshin carried a Tucson apartment-hunting guide with him yesterday as he and nine other visiting Russian leaders toured the University of Arizona campus.
Muratshin, who works in the presidential administration in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan, isn't looking for a place to live in Tucson.
He picked up the guide so he could examine Southwest architecture and look at prices of apartments, which he and others said through a translator they consider "very expensive."
Muratshin, 38, and his fellow travelers are visiting Tucson this week as guests of the U.S. government's Russian Leadership Program, a nationwide effort to improve U.S. - Russian relations and give Russians leaders a glimpse of life in the United States.
Participants must be involved in Russian government or public policy to qualify for the program, which will bring around 3,000 Russians to cities across the United States this year.
Since their arrival Thursday, the Russians have seen a Western "shootout" in Tombstone, snapped photographs of cactus - kaktus in Russian - and bought sovenirs, such as a "Tucson: Protect and Preserve" T-shirt worn yesterday by Khalil Burganov, a deputy mayor for the town of Belebey in Baskortostan.
Yesterday, the local group, along with four translators and several Tucsonans who are hosting the Russians in their homes, toured University Medical Center, the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab and other campus sites.
Most of the gorup members are in the United States for the first time.
They plan to meet with Mayor Bob Walkup this week.
Last week, they spoke with U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz. Group members said they questioned Kolbe about the functions of the U.S. Legislative branch - power in the Russian Federation is more centralized in the executive branch - and they said they were impressed with Kolbe's openness about his homosexuality.
"In Russia, it's impossible" to be a public official and be openly homosexual, said Rustem Akhmadinurov, 32, whose official title is "deputy assistant" in the Duma, or lower house of the Russian government whose members are elected.
Local members of Friendship Force, an international exchange program founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, have opened their homes to the visitors this week.
The leadership program is in its second year and is coordinated nationally by the Library of Congress.
Nancy Hugh, one of the Friendship Force members, said she has learned about Russia's economic troubles and high unemployment, as well as the visitors' jobs and standard of living.
"They have invited all of us to Russia to visit them," she said.
As the group stopped for a light lunch yesterday in the UMC cafeteria, some members seemed to be longing for the large midday meals served in Russia.
They said Russians believe eating late in the day is unhealthy - according to a Russian saying, "You eat breakfast by yourself, share dinner with your friends, and give supper to your enemy."
A few afternoon hunger pangs aside, the visitors said, the trip is going well.
They said they ahve met friendly people, have found that Americans look like Russians more than Europeans do.
They also have gone to a country-western nightclub and "danced the night away" Akhmadinurov said.
"No problems," he said, without a translator.
Reprinted with permission of the Tucson Citizen. Reproduction does not imply endorsement.
[Reprinted with Permission]