January 14, 2003 - Los Angeles Times: Peace Corps Volunteers leaving Russia with regret

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By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, January 14, 2003 - 2:30 pm: Edit Post

Peace Corps Volunteers leaving Russia with regret





Read and comment on this story from the Los Angeles Times on the Peace Corps leaving Russia that says that the expulsion of the Peace Corps from Russia, announced last month, fits into a pattern of growing pressure against foreign groups that promote democratic values. Meanwhile, volunteers are leaving Russia with regret. Peace Corps Volunteer Laura Geller who was one of 29 volunteers whose visas were not renwed last summer said:
"I think I broke a lot of stereotypes. People don't understand us. They think we're 'loudmouthed Americans,' we have money falling out of our pockets, we don't care about anybody.... I'd have people say, 'We thought all Americans are fat, but you're not fat.' Or, 'Aren't you rich?' " Halfway through her tour Geller got word that she had five days to pack up and leave Russia. "It was such a shock," she recalled. "At the train station, when I left, was the hardest and the saddest. Everybody I knew came."
It is also worth noting that the Peace Corps is finally defending itself. One week ago in an article printed in the European edition of Time Magazine, Acting Russia Country Director Jeffrey Hay refused to deny the Russian spying allegations or even address them. In this story he says that "the allegations that Peace Corps volunteers are involved in intelligence activities are completely groundless." Read the story at:

Closing a Bridge to Democracy*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.



Closing a Bridge to Democracy

* With the expulsion of the Peace Corps and other promoters of Western values, Russia is ultimately harming itself, analysts say.

By David Holley, Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW -- MOSCOW -- During her year in the Peace Corps, Laura Geller lived in a typical Russian apartment, enjoyed running a children's English club, made many friends, destroyed preconceptions about Americans -- and ultimately got kicked out of the country.

The decision by authorities last summer not to renew visas for Geller and 29 other volunteers was the beginning of the end for the Peace Corps here, after a decade of work by hundreds of volunteers to build cross-cultural bridges and help Russians adjust to a globalized market economy.

"I think I broke a lot of stereotypes," said Geller, 23, who now lives in Youngstown, Ohio. "People don't understand us. They think we're 'loudmouthed Americans,' we have money falling out of our pockets, we don't care about anybody.... I'd have people say, 'We thought all Americans are fat, but you're not fat.' Or, 'Aren't you rich?' "

Halfway through her planned tour at a specialized foreign language school in Penza, 360 miles southeast of Moscow, Geller got word that she had five days to pack up and leave Russia.

"It was such a shock," she recalled. "At the train station, when I left, was the hardest and the saddest. Everybody I knew came."

The expulsion of the Peace Corps from Russia, announced last month, fits into a pattern of growing pressure against foreign groups that promote democratic values. Volunteers taught business skills and English, both useful in the nation's transition from communism.

Moscow recently banned the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from continuing its work in Chechnya, where the group had been monitoring human rights abuses and working toward peaceful settlement of a conflict between Russian forces and separatist rebels.

A prominent U.S. labor activist who has lived in Russia since 1989 had her visa revoked Dec. 30 when she arrived back at a Moscow airport after a brief holiday. Authorities gave no explanation for the expulsion of Irene Stevenson, head of the American Center for International Labor Solidarity in Moscow, which trains union organizers and provides legal aid in labor disputes.

The center, which is backed by the AFL-CIO, provided a lawyer last month for air traffic controllers involved in a labor dispute, and Stevenson has spoken publicly about the need for workers to defend their interests.

The summer decision not to extend the visas of so many Peace Corps volunteers -- even as 34 others had their visas renewed -- also was unexplained at the time. A variety of justifications were offered later.

Nikolai P. Patrushev, head of the Federal Security Service, successor to the Soviet-era KGB, implied to Russian media that the Peace Corps harbored spies. Volunteers had "engaged in collecting information about the sociopolitical and economic situation in Russian regions," he charged.

Some government officials said volunteers weren't properly trained. Others said that by hosting the Peace Corps, Russia was lumping itself with poverty-stricken countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The Peace Corps was founded by President Kennedy in 1961 to assist impoverished nations primarily in agriculture, health and education and to improve ties between the United States and host countries.

The Russian Foreign Ministry voiced no criticism in declaring an end to the program in the nation. Instead, it thanked the Peace Corps and said Russia faces new challenges.

"Due to the changing economic and social tasks facing our country, we are holding consultations with the American side on how new forms of partnership could be worked out more in line with today's needs," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko.

Liliya F. Shevtsova, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, said she believes backers of President Vladimir V. Putin engineered moves against foreigners with an eye to parliamentary elections late this year and presidential elections in 2004.

Labor activist Stevenson and the Peace Corps "just had the bad luck of being around at the most inappropriate moment, when their heads -- or the heads of someone like them -- were needed," Shevtsova said. "What happened to them is not an accident. It is a carefully designed tactic of flirting with the traditionalist, hard-line segment of the Russian electorate."

Though unhappy about Moscow's moves, Washington "will not allow these relatively minor points to get in the way of a much more important issue -- Iraq," she predicted, noting that the Bush administration wants Russian support on the U.N. Security Council.

The 27 volunteers still here -- down from a peak of about 200 -- were due to stay until next summer but will leave before then, said Jeffrey Hay, the Peace Corps' acting director for Russia. Some of those whose visas were renewed have already left. He declined to speculate on why the group is being forced to leave but said that "the allegations that Peace Corps volunteers are involved in intelligence activities are completely groundless."


PCOL Sidebar: Peace Corps finally defending itself



Caption: One week ago, Acting Russia Peace Corps Country Director Jeffrey Hay refused to confirm or deny the Russian spying allegations or even address them in an article printed in the European edition of Time Magazine. Today in this story in the Los Angeles Times he is quoted as saying that "the allegations that Peace Corps volunteers are involved in intelligence activities are completely groundless."

Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez also waited more than two weeks after the Russian allegations were made in mid-December to say that "Peace Corps volunteers serve to train men and women in their host countries and nothing more. The suggestion that volunteers are engaged in any information gathering that is not related to their volunteer work is groundless and irresponsible,



LA Times story resumes:

The Peace Corps' record since its 1992 start here should be looked back on as a success, Hay added.

"We've had over 700 volunteers. They've been in nearly 40 regions. They taught almost 26,000 students," he noted.

Viktor A. Kremenyuk, deputy director of the USA-Canada Institute, a Moscow think tank, said he believes that kicking out the Peace Corps was meant to balance the pro-Western stance Putin has adopted since the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S.

But the decision "does more harm to Russia than to the Peace Corps," he added.

"The fact that the Peace Corps will no longer operate in Russia is not in itself a horrible tragedy," he said. "But it scares off other people -- businessmen and companies with big money.... It undermines the country's ratings in the eyes of Western investors."

*

Alexei V. Kuznetsov of The Times' Moscow Bureau contributed to this report.
Background on the Peace Corps in Russia



Read more background on the Peace Corps in Russia at:


Special Report: From Russia with Love 1 January 2003


PC out of Russia in 90 days
Peace Corps to depart Russia within 90 days 10 January 2003


Russia Turns Away Labor Activist
Now Russia Turns Away U.S. Labor Activist 9 January 2003


A Russian Journalist looks at the Peace Corps
A Russian looks at the Peace Corps and the Federal Security Service 8 January 2003


PC Rep won't waste words on spying charges
Peace Corps' Man in Moscow won't waste words on the spying charges 5 January 2003


Peace Corps responds to Russian Allegations
Peace Corps responds to Russian suggestions of intelligence gathering 3 January 2003


Peace Corps disappointed with Russian decision
Exclusive: Peace Corps disappointed with Russian decision 27 December 2002


Moscow to abandon Peace Corps agreement
New York Times: Russia bars future U.S. Peace Corps workers 28 December 2002

Pravda: Moscow informs Washington of intention to abandon Peace Corps agreement 27 December 2002

Associated Press: Russia Rejects U.S. Peace Corps 27 December 2002


US Ready to Remove Peace Corps From Russia
U.S. Ready to Remove Peace Corps From Russia, Citing Disputes 17 December 2002


Russian Spy claims "groundless" says US
Russian claims about Peace Corps volunteers "groundless" says US Embassy 16 December 2002


KGB accuses PCVs of "suspicious activities"
Update: KGB Chief says PCVs involved in suspicious activities 15 December 2002

KGB chief accuses Peace Corps workers of spying in Russia 15 December 2002


KGB refuses visas to religious workers
Russia refuses visas to religious workers 2 November 2002


What RPCVs say about the situation
Exclusive: Read the advice RPCVs gave the Peace Corps in August 18 August 2002


Russia is cooling to the Peace Corps
Time Magazine says Russia "Cooling To the Corps" 23 August 2002

Radio Free Europe makes the Case for the Peace Corps in Russia 18 August 2002

Secretary of State Powell makes no progress on Peace Corps visas with Russian foreign minister 14 August 2002


Russia refuses visas for Peace Corps Volunteers
Peace Corps Moscow chief denies allegations of non-professionalism 13 August 2002

Russia Ousting Dozens Of Peace Corps Volunteers 12 August 2002



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