By Vic Sutton
At a time when relations between the United States and Russia are cooling – if not cold – an innovative programme of the Eurasia Foundation continues to promote exchanges of professionals from both countries.
The ‘U.S.-Russia Social Expertise Exchange’ (SEE for short) was set up to promote co-operation between civil society leaders from the two countries.
Twelve working groups bring together experts in programme areas that include, for example, child protection, collaborative journalism, gender equity, and ‘rule of law and the community’.
My wife, Bonnie Bracey Sutton, is a member of the SEE working group on ‘Education and Youth’, and I had the chance to accompany her to its last meeting, held on 10-11 October in Washington, DC.
The working group hopes to hold a research seminar in March 2015, to appoint two senior and two junior fellows from each country who will take part in exchanges through February and March 2015, and to organize a ‘Cyberfair’ to showcase its projects, perhaps in November next year.
Bonnie had a fellowship from the Eurasia Foundation, which took her to Saint Petersburg and Samara last February, and I paid my own way to travel with her.
Our greatest surprise was to discover that Russia, despite its leadership in areas like space technology, is a poor country. People take home USD 250-300 a month. Of course, prices are lower than in the U.S, so that is not so terrible in terms of purchasing power.
But we never before visited a country where just about everyone with whom we had a serious conversation wanted to know our home address (if you want to get a visa to visit the U.S. you have to supply a U.S. address).
The U.S. Government has said that despite poor political relationships, social and cultural exchanges between the two countries will continue to be funded. We hope so, and we will see what modest support we can provide to contribute to them.