Though in her 13th year in the U.S. House of Representatives, Beverly B. Byron, D-6th, admits she doesn't know it all about the democratic process.
Imagine her wonder the other week during a trip to Moscow for a conference with newly elected Soviet leaders charged with building a new government and a new society almost from scratch.
"It was fascinating," Byron said in an interview.
Byron was one of five House members who took part in the Soviet-American Inter-Parliamentary Exchange, arranged by the International Center, a non-profit foreign policy organization based in Washington.
The exchange surely wasn't the first time U.S. and Soviet leaders huddled for a conference. But unlike previous such events, where world issues and lofty governing problems were the topics of discussion, the agenda for the Jan. 7-12 sessions included some rudimentary items.
The conference focused on assisting the Soviets with the transition to democracy.
Topics included: how a political hopeful can conduct a campaign;how elected leaders conduct a meeting and put together a budget; thedistinctions between the legislative, executive and judicial branches.
"It was like Political Science 101 (class)," Byron said.
Thepast year of monumental social and economic reform and upheaval in the Soviet Union gave the participants plenty to talk about.
The legislators met with members of the Russian Federation -- who are equivalent to state senators -- and members of the Supreme Soviet, the country's ruling body.
The exchange was the first of what is hoped will be a twice-yearly event alternating between sites in the United States and Soviet Union, said John Fitzpatrick, public affairs directorfor the International Center.
Though no one was sure what to expect of the inaugural conference, Fitzpatrick said simply getting it together was a success in itself.
"Things are pretty goofed up in the U.S.S.R., and that fact that we could actually hold a conference and overcome the logistical problems involved was just amazing," said Fitzpatrick, who accompanied the delegation.
The conference was cutshort when the legislators were called home to take part in the Jan.12 congressional vote to authorize President George Bush to use force in the Persian Gulf.
The group departed before Soviet paratroopers were dispatched to quash an uprising in the Baltic Republic of Lithuania.
On Saturday, 13 people were killed and many others woundedwhen troops opened fire on unarmed citizens of Vilnius.
But the tension in the Baltic region was on the rise long before the shooting,and the conference participants were able to query their hosts on the situation.
Byron said the U.S. legislators assured their Soviet counterparts that the use of force in Lithuania would "strain relations all over."