Democracy Up Close


October 21, 1992|By BILL BRADLEY

WASHINGTON — Washington.--When Russian President Boris Yeltsin first came to the United States in 1988, he scheduled a series of meetings with the leaders of the American government. When one of his sessions with Congress ran late, Mr. Yeltsin said that he did not want to leave because he was meeting with the people's representatives.

That spirit of democracy helped propel Mr. Yeltsin and the forces of freedom to power in the Soviet Union a year ago last summer. It is a spirit that we here in the U.S. need to nurture, to help Russia and the other former Soviet republics in their struggle to achieve real democracy.

In order to do so, we need to get beyond the politics of the moment and the numbers that rarely shape events. Dollars sent to Russia aren't the only answer -- they could be gone by next year. Our long-term investment must be in people and in the values of democracy and individual liberty.

The Russian Aid bill recently passed by Congress makes that investment. It includes an initiative I launched four months ago that would bring an unprecedented number of ex-Soviet students and businessmen over to the U.S. to learn about democracy first-hand.

Originally entitled the Freedom Exchange Act, this new program will take advantage of the unique opportunity we have to build a foundation for change in Russia and the other republics and to forge lasting friendships between our peoples.

Beginning immediately in 1993, nearly 10,000 ex-Soviets will be able to come to the U.S. to study in our schools, learn the principles of our entrepreneurship, and experience the daily challenges of sustaining a democracy. High school students, college students, government officials and small businessmen and women will be eligible for the program.

At the end of World War II, the U.S. began exchanges with Germany and Japan. At one point, it was said more than half the members of the Bundestag, the West German legislature, had visited the U.S. in exchange programs.

Once people had experienced American life by living here, they never forgot it. Americans in their everyday lives are without question the best teachers of American values. That is why now, at the end of another war in which we have triumphed, the whole American people should be called to service again.

Last year there were only 814 Russians in U.S. high schools. A young Russian who is 16 today was 9 when Mikhail Gorbachev took over and perestroika began to bring change. In five years, she or he will be 21.

Now is the time to let them experience America, learning what life in a market democracy with a heart is all about. They will see the openness, generosity, pride and democratic reality of America. Their experience would bring our peoples together in countless ways, creating bonds that would last a lifetime.

For the past 45 years, American leadership has derived primarily from our ability to protect other nations from the communist threat. With the end of communism, our authority must now be based on our moral example, and we must lead by the power of our pluralistic democracy.

The inspiration for America's foreign policy must change. Rather than having its sole basis in a defense against threats, we must seek to advance: to advance all that America stands for, not just what it stands against.

Similarly, what Russia and the other republics need most is a vision. The values of American democracy are critical to that vision, and they can best be conveyed directly by individual Americans.

Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., wrote this commentary for the Christian Science Monitor.

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