Russian Lawmakers Visit Western Pa.
Tribune-Review (Pittsburgh, PA)
Posted on July 7, 2003
By David Hunt
The U.S. Congress-sponsored Open World Program was developed in 1999 as a way to foster mutual understanding between the political systems of the United States and Russia. Since its inception, nearly 7,000 participants from Russia's 89 regions have been hosted in all 50 American states.
After a visit to Washington, D.C., the three legislators arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport on Thursday.
Kurkin, who is the chairman of the Sobolevo District Legislative Assembly in Siberia's Kamchatka region, is accompanied by Nikolay Devyatkin and Valeri Soloviev.
Devyatkin is the chairman of the Perm Regional Legislative Assembly in the Ural Mountains. Soloviev is the deputy chairman of Tver City Duma, which is about 100 miles north of Moscow.
The three spoke with the Tribune-Review through an interpreter about what they want to gain from the program.
Kurkin said he was most interested in personally meeting American politicians. Devyatkin, who among the three is the only to have visited the United States before, said he's interested in how the country's political systems work in general. Soloviev said he's interested in how the local, state and federal systems work together.
Over the weekend, the three took in some local sights, including the Westmoreland Arts and Heritage Festival, a walking tour of downtown Greensburg, and a visit to Mill Run to see Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater.
"They've loved everything so far," said Westmoreland County Community College professor Vitaly Penkovsky, who organized the visit. "They've loved the people and what they've seen."
Penkovsky said the program is intended to teach Russians about the American way of life. Delegates range from small-town mayors to journalists to political activists. Those selected to participate in the program are chosen by past participants.
"It's one thing when you see it on the TV or read about it in a text book," he said. "When you meet with real people, real politicians, it's a different story."
Through the week, the Russians will be learning about political campaigns, how local communities are represented in the nation's capitol and, with visits to the Tribune-Review and WTAE-TV, the role the media plays in politics.
Tuesday, they will be visiting Harrisburg. Wednesday, they will be talking about public health with officials at McKeesport Hospital and visiting the Saltsburg Free Library. They will meet with the Westmoreland County Commissioners on Thursday.
State Rep. Ted Harhai is on the agenda to meet with the Russians while they are in Harrisburg. He said he's excited about learning from them, as well.
"I think it's interesting to see what sort of questions they have and see the way they operate, too," he said. "There are a lot of similarities but there are a lot of differences."
David Hunt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com or 724-836-6077.
[Reprinted with Permission]