The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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October 12, 2013

Exchange program gives Russians a glimpse of a democracy hardly at work



"It's effective, good democracy. But slightly weak," said Dmitry Bespalov, a sports educator in the city of Kursk. "And I didn't expect it to be weak." He cited Denmark and Finland as two countries doing a better job.

"This step, to shut down the government, is inconceivable," said Ivanova, the journalist. She had not believed any legislators could be so fractious as to do this. Not even — and this will be a low blow for Congress — the French. "French people are said to be the most freedom-loving [people]. Even the French wouldn't be able to do such things."

Still, the Russians liked Washington itself. The city. In interviews with four of them, they said the capital was surprisingly green with trees, unlike big Russian cities. Washingtonians were very polite. And — even in a time when the government was supposed to be shut down — the streets were clean and the shops were open.

The shutdown felt like a holiday, they said, rather than a catastrophe.

Eduard Temnov, an educator from a city near Moscow, chuckled and told a joke in Russian. He had realized: What he was witnessing in Washington wasn't actually democracy!

It was actually a highly advanced vision of socialism. Here was what the old theorists had promised: a society functioning on its own, with no leaders in charge.

"Maybe you will come to communism soon!" he said. "No government . . . but people are still managing!"

The good news for the Russians is that they leave Washington on Friday. For the next week, small groups of them will fan out across the country, and observe local governments in action.

Temnov was going to see city leaders in San Antonio.

"Who are working!" he added.

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