Program gives young Russian leaders a chance to experience democratic institutions, free-market system
Marinette-Menominee EagleHerald (Marinette, WI)
Posted on June 27, 2002
By Mary Johns, EagleHerald Staff writer
Nina Fedorovna, a police department spokeswoman, looks you squarely in the eye when she talks.
Marina Chernobylova, a college professor, is animated as she explains her job working with young people at summer camps that help them appreciate their heritage and environment.
Nadezhda Gerasimova - Nadia, for short - is also a college professor. She helps bridge the gap between young people and their elders, coordinating the work of young volunteers and celebrating their successes.
Kostina, Fedorovna, Chernobylova and Gerasimova are four Russian professional women with a thirst for knowledge and a spirit of adventure.
Accompanied by Anna Rosyaykina, a United Nations staffer, the four women are visiting the Marinette-Menominee area this week. They are the second of four groups of Russian business people to journey to Marinette-Menominee this summer under the auspices of the newly formed Center for Russian Leadership Development's Open World Program, based at the U.S. Library of Congress.
The program is aimed at giving young Russian leaders a chance to experience democratic institutions and a free-market system. UW-Marinette, with its high population of foreign exchange students, was contacted by Library of Congress staffers as a potential participant.
Kostina, Fedorovna, Chernobylova and Gerasimova are full of questions about the way things work in the United States: Do elected officials try to influence American journalists? What kind of training do journalists receive? Do Americans have an appetite for crime-related news?
But the women are equally happy to answer questions about their homeland, eager to share similarities and differences.
Kostina's newspaper, Soviet Siberia, published four days a week, has experienced a severe decline in circulation over the last decade. There were no layoffs, but salaries were cut and many reporters left the paper.
"I was lucky," said Kostina, who was on an 18-month maternity leave at the time.
Kostina works closely with reader letters. And yes, Russian newspaper readers express their opinions in letters to the editor, too. Kostina noted that when readers write to complain about an issue they feel the government is ignoring - bad roads, for example - they are likely to get a direct phone call from a government official who tells them "We were just about to fix that."
Fedorovna is in the news business, too. She works for the city of Pskov's police department, disseminating news and information.
"We provide the area with information about police activities," she said, noting that her workday begins with calls from reporters seeking information.
She also serves as anchor for a weekly, 15-minute television update. The show addresses local crime and often asks viewers for their assistance in solving the crimes.
"It's very efficient," says Fedorovna, whose office recently hired two more staff people to ease the workload.
Pskov, she adds, is a 1,100-year-old city located near St. Petersburg. "You can't leave anything locked in a car," she notes.
Chernobylova, who earned a doctorate degree, is a biologist at a state university in Voronezh, about 500 kilometers south of Moscow. She is involved in a museum-sponsored summer camp program for teens that takes place in the steppe areas of Russia. The steppes, says Chernobylova, are similar to the American west - "like a Russian Colorado."
The camps include workshops on making traditional clothing, ceramics, weapons and needlework. There are also reenactments of Russian history.
"The camps teach (participants) to respect and take care of traditions of ancient times and the history of Russia," says Chernobylova.
The 10-day camps are held throughout the summer, but students prepare for them during winter months, says Chernobylova.
Gerasimova, who earned a doctorate degree in sociology, works with young people, too, at Mordovia Ogaryev State University in Saransk. She directs volunteer programs and studies issues relating to the elderly.
Her work also focuses on helping young people understand and appreciate the grandparents' generation. Volunteers, who are identified by their garments with V-shaped necklines, cook meals, do shopping and run other errands for house-bound clients.
"Volunteers learn love and respect toward the elderly," says Gerasimova. "The program also helps to establish a good three-generational relationship and gives volunteers practical knowledge of social work."
While they are in the area, Kostina, Fedorovna, Chernobylova and Gerasimova met with city officials, area youth leaders and school administrators, chamber of commerce officials, and officials of area nonprofit organizations. They also toured various local facilities and had fun, too: a sailboard ride, pontoon boat ride, a trip to Door County, and two Theater on the Bay productions.
Marina Carlson and Irena Rivard, both Russian natives who now are now local residents, are accompanying the group, acting as translators. Jane Jones, UW-Marinette's director of international programs, is coordinating the exchange activities.
"This is the perfect place - a small town - for people to learn what America is all about," says Jones. "They're teaching us a lot, too."
©Marinette-Menominee EagleHerald 2002. Used with the permission of the copyright holder.
[Reprinted with Permission]