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First lady talks democracy with Siberian family

Hillary with a family November 16, 1997
Web posted at: 10:25 p.m. EST (0325 GMT)

From Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty

AKADEMGORODOK, Russia (CNN) -- On Sunday in Siberia, U.S. first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton showed up for tea at the home of the Alexandrov family to find out firsthand what life is like in the post-Soviet Russian frontier.

Vladimir, the grandfather, works at the Institute of Mathematics in the town of Akademgorodok, or "Academic Township," a suburb of Novosibirsk. His wife, Olga, is a retired librarian.

Economic reform in Russia, she tells Mrs. Clinton, has meant chaos -- that the soul of Russia is lost.

Daughter Svetlana says crime is her chief concern. As for reform, she says she can't decide whether things are getting worse -- or better.

And yet, the wife of U.S. President Bill Clinton found little bitterness at the table. Instead, there was a kind of wistfulness for a more stable time, in Russia and in Akademgorodok.

During Soviet times, this was a brainpower center, attracting the top scientists and academics. Their work -- their research and development -- was paid for by the central government. Now, that government is broke.

Yet Mrs. Clinton told the people of Akademgorodok they already have many of the skills they'll need in the new economy.

"The scientific process and democracy have a lot in common," the first lady said. "Both ask that you sacrifice today for results tomorrow. Both demand a patience, stamina and creativity. Both require faith. I have that faith."

In Russia right now, as in the Alexandrov family, there is something of a generation gap. The majority of older people think things got worse over the past year. The majority of young people believe things got better.

Akademgorodok is a young town, and so are its people. And that could make a difference.

 
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