Ever since moving to Baltimore two years ago, the American Center for International Leadership has been riding an emotional and financial roller coaster.
America's foremost training organization for emerging Eastern European leaders came here from Indiana, confident of expansion and higher visibility. Then began a fall so sudden and scary ''it looked fatal at times,'' according to the center's president, Stephen Hayes.
On January 19, 1991, the concluding round of U.S.-Soviet Chautomer the government-sanctioned citizen encounter ran into financial trouble.
Two days before the opening date, the Persian Gulf war broke out, interrupting international air traffic. The conference had to be scrapped, costing the center ''over $100,000,'' according to Mr. Hayes.
The conference was rescheduled for last September. Two weeks before the new opening date, a coup d'etat was staged against Mikhail S. Gorbachev. The session went ahead, as scheduled, but without many of the original participants who demanded a refund.
''We were really looking at the barrel of a gun,'' recalls Mr. Hayes. ''I don't know of any organization in the country that has been hit so hard by all the changes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and so directly by the gulf war.''
The recession has been a bad time for non-profit organizations in general; it has been a nightmare for ACIL. With a heavy emphasis on Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the organization saw its programs plummet ''from 50 or 60 a year to a dozen.'' The number of staff, which once was 13, was at one point scaled down to four.
ACIL, which was originally founded in 1985 through a major grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, is now hoping for a comeback. It has scheduled a 35-nation encounter for Baltimore from November 30 through December 5.
''Every country in Europe is sending some top emerging leaders. If this conference doesn't go, we are dead. If it goes, we are strong,'' says Mr. Hayes, who envisions unprecedented future programs to train emerging leaders from Cuba and Vietnam.
It is quite amazing that an organization such as ACIL should be struggling for survival. In a few years, it has established a remarkable record as a bridge-builder between the East and West and as a spotter of young up-and-coming visionaries.
Here is a partial list of ACIL alumni from the former Soviet Union: Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrov; David A. Chikvaidze, protocol officer to the Kremlin; Alexander Belayev, head of the St. Petersburg City Council; Sergei Stankevich, a key Yeltsin adviser; Tedo Japaridze, deputy foreign minister of Georgia, and Andrei M. Makarov, prosecutor in the on-going trial against the former Soviet Communist Party.
''When they came over, they were representing the Komsomol,'' Mr. Hayes said. ''The real irony is that the old guard picked them. They never would have had the exposure to the U.S. had they not been picked by the Communist Party.''
Reformers like Foreign Minister Kozyrov often express a touching, almost naive, admiration for the ideals of America. However, Mr. Hayes is worried that the United States is not always acting in a way that strengthens them. ''I'm afraid of a very serious disillusionment about Russian-American relations, unless we are very careful.''
The director points out that while the Kozyrovs of the former Soviet Union were waiting within the Communist Party for a chance to reject the system and start anew, other ambitious young men are now biding their time within the new structures, hoping to overturn recent democratic and free-market reforms.
Even though the Communist Party has been banned, much of its money has been channeled into joint ventures with Western firms. Many of those firms, in turn, are run by former Communist Party top technocrats who often have nothing but scorn for Russia's fledgling experience with democracy.
They think President Boris N. Yeltsin has dangerously compromised the former Soviet Union militarily, and that if he is ,, not stopped, he will dismantle the military-industrial complex that was the country's economic backbone. With such potent allies as Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, those technocrats are now coalescing around Arkady Volsky, who was the chief economic adviser to several general secretaries of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. They see him as the next strongman.
''The battle is still on in Russia,'' says Mr. Hayes. ''I'd like to see the Yeltsin people come on the top. I just don't know whether it's going to happen.''
L Losing ACIL at a time like this would be a national tragedy.
Antero Pietila, a former Moscow correspondent, writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.