San Antonio Express-News (San Antonio, TX)
Posted on July 18, 2000
By Bridget Gutierrez
Thirty-six year old Aleksandr Dudnik wants to represent a new face of Russian leadership.
So Dudnik, who two years ago became the youngest mayor in Russia, flew to San Antonio this week to learn more about democracy.
"I came to see how you live and how to solve our problems," Dudnik said through a translator. "I've traveled to Switzerland and Germany…I try to find new ideas, fresh ideas."
Dudnik is one of 10 young Russians who arrived in the Alamo City on Sunday as part of the Russian Leadership Program, a U.S. government initiative created last year to foster better U.S.-Russia relations and expose Russians to American government.
Under the program, about 2,500 Russians are expected to visit the United States for 10-day periods through the end of September. Five more participants will visit San Antonio at the end of the month.
"Coming to Texas is very symbolic for me," Dudnik said. "(John F.) Kennedy was killed in Dallas, the same day and the same year I was born: the 22nd of November, 1963. My father was so impressed with Kennedy that he started preparing me for a political career."
David Semrad, director of San Antonio's United Methodist Campus Ministry, coordinated the Russians' visit, and that of a similar group last year. While in San Antonio, the participants and their interpreters are staying with families from local Methodist congregations.
Semrad said the value of the program is the relationships it forms.
"We know what the Cold War was like…We now have the opportunity to create a new kind of world -–to work together – and they want to do that," he said.
Most of this year's visiting Russians work in higher education and many were anxious to see how America's college systems work.
The group spent about three hours Monday afternoon at San Antonio College, where they had the opportunity to meet some of their American counterparts.
"We normally don't have as broad a representation of international people as we would like, so this is a wonderful experience for us," said Vern Loland, president of San Antonio College. "While we may have language differences, those differences don't keep us from exploring our common humanity."
After a hurried tour of the college's computer facilities, Irina Voloshchenko called them "excellent."
Voloshchenko, who teaches constitutional law in Russia, explained that her university has a computer lab, but "it's not so big and not so excellent."
Earlier in the day, the group had met with city officials and later toured H-E-B's Central Market, the grocery company's upscale store on Broadway. Today they are slated to visit the University of Texas at San Antonio and the River Walk.
Before leaving for Washington, D.C., next Monday, they also will tour the Southwest Research Institute, visiting a ranching operation and experience Fiesta Texas.
While Dudnik said he was impressed with the city government and the community college he saw Monday, he said that because Russia's history, culture and values differ from America's, it wouldn't be possible to duplicate these educational and governmental system in Russia.
"The question," he said, "is how to carry out those reforms (in keeping) with the traditions of the country."
Copyright 2000 the San Antonio Express-News
Reprinted with permission
[Reprinted with Permission]