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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New U.S.-Russian Bilingual Library Goes Online

MTJames Billington, head of the U.S. Library of Congress, speaking Monday at the St. Petersburg launch of the bilingual online library.
ST. PETERSBURG -- A program to encourage dialogue between Russia and the United States got a boost this week from the visit to St. Petersburg of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens and James Billington, the head of the Library of Congress in Washington. The Open World Program, under which thousands of Russian politicians have visited the United States, will be expanded to the cultural sphere.

Billington also signed an agreement Monday with the library of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Kunstkamera museum to launch a bilingual, online Russian-American library.

Stevens read a prepared statement on the expansion of the Open World Program, which will start with a visit by 100 prominent Russian artists to leading American cultural institutions.

"We will work closely with the culture minister, Mikhail Shvydkoi, to organize visits by Russian culture representatives to the U.S.," Billington said.

Launched on Billington's initiative in 1999 as the Russian Leadership Program, the Open World Program attempts to create ties and foster a better understanding between Russia and the United States by inviting prominent, young Russian politicians to the United States to give them an insight into the U.S. political and economic systems.

The program focuses its work on eight areas: the rule of law, economic development, women as leaders, health, education reforms, the environment, federalism and youth issues. This year, 1,600 Russian political leaders will visit the United States under the program, staying with host families and familiarizing themselves with the work of U.S. state institutions and bodies of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of power.

Billington, renowned as a prominent Russia scholar as well as heading the Library of Congress, said Monday that both sides will benefit from the expansion of the program.

"Russian guests will be able to see how their American counterparts collaborate with government structures, business associations and educational institutions with regard to questions such as government, economics and program development," he said. "Americans will receive great experience in communicating with the next generation of Russian leaders in art, literature, music, folklore, dance and cinematography."

Since its creation, the Open World Program has received grants totaling $51 million from the U.S. Congress. It is governed by a board of trustees whose members include Billington, Stevens and billionaire financier George Soros.

Stevens and Billington shrugged off questions about the situation in Iraq from journalists at Monday's press conference, saying that they "hadn't come here to talk about the war," although Billington did hint that the United States would help with cultural affairs in postwar Iraq.

"After the first Gulf War, when the library of Kuwait was destroyed, we helped replace some of the volumes. We will try to help, if it is necessary [after the current war]," he said.

Stevens and Billington were also in St. Petersburg to sign a partnership agreement with the library of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Kunstkamera. The result will be "Meeting of Frontiers," a bilingual online project that aims to provide both Russians and Americans with a free pool of documents on three topics: the history of the American West, of Siberia and of Russian-American relations in Alaska -- Stevens' home state.

"'Meeting of Frontiers' is used in U.S. and Russian schools and libraries and by the general public in both our countries," Stevens said.

The web site will include more than 100,000 maps and documents taken from 12 different libraries and museums in Russian and the United States.

One of the driving forces behind the creation of the Open World Program was renowned Russian academic Dmitry Likhachyov, who served as honorary co-chairman when the program was launched shortly before his death in October 1999. The program is now permanently dedicated to him.

Likhachyov, born in St. Petersburg on Nov. 28, 1906, was a key figure in Russian reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, and was an adviser on cultural and historical issues to then-President Boris Yeltsin. He witnessed the revolutions of 1917 and later survived four years of hard labor in the gulag, where he was sent for taking part in a student discussion group.

"In the years that lead to the creation of the program, [Likhachyov] would often tell me about the correspondence he held with young people in all regions of Russia," Billington said. "He was a man who, in his late 80s and early 90s, was in touch with the very young in Russia. My conversations with him were a source of reinforcement of my own incentives.

"He was unique in the sense that he was a student of deep Russian culture and at the same time a strong advocate of contact with the world," he said. "So, when I talk about the Open World Program, I have very much him in mind." Meeting of Frontiers