Russian delegates take ideas home

by LASSCI on June 22nd, 2012

By Arin McKenna, Los Alamos Monitor

The Los Alamos Sarov Sister City Initiative (LASSCI) hosted a group of young professionals from Sarov, Russia, last week. The program was arranged through the Open World Leadership Center, which has coordinated exchange programs for future leaders since 1999. The program showcases democratic values and institutions.

Exchanges between Sarov and Los Alamos began when the two became sister cities in the early 1990s. The exchanges have prompted changes in both cities.

“When my wife Alice and I went in 1995, the local Duma (council) was just a figurehead. The administration ran everything and would just ignore them,” LASSCI Chair Lawry Mann said. “The president of the Duma and a representative from the administration stayed in our house for two weeks, and it was obvious the administration person ran everything.

“The Duma now runs everything. The administration is hired and fired by the Duma.”

The recent visit could bring more changes. The theme this year was “Accountable Governance,” and activities during the 10-day visit illustrated various aspects of democratic government.

“One reason they came was because they want to know how to listen to the public better, so we took them to meet with people from the state and the county,” Mann said.

The delegation met with council chair Sharon Stover and with county administrator Harry Burgess and his staff. They learned about citizen boards from Department of Public Utilities Manager John Arrowsmith. They learned how the legal system works and procurement specialist Annalisa Miranda conversed with her counterpart, Yelena Mikhaylovna Podgornaya.

They were scheduled to meet with Gov. Susana Martinez, who was called away by the Little Bear Fire. Instead they exchanged ideas with Lt. Gov. John Sanchez about the relationship between state and county governments. Rep. Jim Hall also explained how the public participates in drafting legislation.

“I am very impressed that only five people came here, and so many people were involved with meeting, greeting, taking them places. And they’re all such important people,” Tatyana Fedorovna Belina said.

“Any meetings we had were very interesting, participating in those discussions,” Yevgeniy Viktorich Sushkov said. “Some of the ideas we were presented with were very interesting, fresh and new. There are lots of differences in how it’s governed, Los Alamos as opposed to Sarov, but when it’s different, that’s when it’s interesting. For example, the way the community here participates in decisions, unlike in Russia.”

Sushkov said he would need to go back and analyze what he had learned in order to decide what was useful. “Any experience we might have had still has to be adapted to the Russian conditions,” Sushkov said.

Mann said the Russians were very interested in the citizen boards.

“They’ve never had volunteer boards like we do, so they asked a lot of questions about that. They’re worried about getting some nutcase who would gum up the works,” Mann said. “We told them to start easy, to start with the library board and see how that works out. It’s not as far reaching as planning and zoning or utilities.”

The delegation’s visit to San Ildefonso Pueblo was also productive. Since the pueblo has recently changed its form of government to allow women to sit on council, the delegation had many questions about how they made the transition.

Experiencing the culture was an important part of the visit. The group was taken to Bandelier, ChamberFest, the Los Alamos museums and the Santa Fe Plaza.

“I was impressed with the three different cultures,” Yevgeniy Igorevich Krasnogorskiy said. “I liked when we visited Bandelier and saw how people lived many years ago, and how now it’s so preserved so that people can still see it.”

Mann said when the next delegation comes two years from now (next summer a delegation from Los Alamos visits Sarov), LASSCI plans some changes based on feedback they received.

“We think we should have given them more free time for shopping and other things,” Mann said. “They suggested having a solid program in the mornings, including the weekend, and then having the afternoon to do other things. Just a little less structure. They like to roam around grocery stores, hardware stores, clothing stores, just to see what’s being offered.”

Mann also wants to give them more time to spend with their host families.

“We don’t want to stick them in a hotel, where they don’t learn much about how people live, so we have them with families,” Mann said.

“I loved living with my host family,” Dmitriy Yevgenyevich Palilov said. “They’re very interesting people, very cultural. They’re American and Columbian, and I really liked the different cultures.”

Friendships have formed over the years, and Mann said he and his friends in Sarov talk by phone about once a month.

The delegates also continue to exchange ideas more formally. This year, Mann hopes the Russians can help Los Alamos develop its teen center.

“They run much better teen centers than we do. For instance, they have retired people who teach the kids skills,” Mann said. Sarov, on the other hand, has no senior center, and hopes to learn how to set one up from us.

“They asked, ‘Why do you take better care of your seniors than your teens?” Mann said. “I told them it was because seniors can vote.”

The next exchange begins Monday when 11 high school students and three chaperones leave for Russia. This will be the first year the young delegates stay with host families instead of in a hotel, a sign of loosening restrictions in Sarov. They will reconnect with friends they made when the Russian group visited Los Alamos last year and participate in various activities.

Photo Caption:  The delegation from Los Alamos’ Sister City in Sarov, Russia, were very taken with a Model T truck owned by David and Gillian Sutton. Inside the cab are Dmitriy Yevgenyevich Palilov (left) and Yevgeniy Viktorich Sushkov. Standing in back, left to right, are Tatyana Fedorovna Belina, Yelena Mikhaylovna Podgornaya and Yevgeniy Igorevich Krasnogorskiy.

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