Delegation's Duluth visit debunks and confirms U.S. stereotypes

Americans are kind and tolerant. We admit our mistakes and try to make things better. We have comfortable, cozy homes free of desert dust. But our tea is lousy, many of us are overweight and our youth dress too casually. These are some of the obs...

Americans are kind and tolerant. We admit our mistakes and try to make things better. We have comfortable, cozy homes free of desert dust.

But our tea is lousy, many of us are overweight and our youth dress too casually.

These are some of the observations of a visiting delegation from Tajikistan who spent the past week in Duluth to learn about our election and campaign process to help their country become more democratic. The group left Duluth on Saturday, armed with ideas.

But before they left, they talked about our high level of civic involvement. Our freedom and ability to change our lives. And how, in America, time is money, so people try not to waste time.

Their visit was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Duluth through the congressionally-sponsored Open World Leadership Center program to help former Soviet Bloc countries. The league arranged the group's weeklong itinerary and provided host families.


Their week here included a last-minute bonus: front row seats at the Hillary Clinton rally for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in Hibbing on Wednesday. The delegation was impressed by the way everyone stood up and said the Pledge of Allegiance, said League member Joyce Benson, who coordinated their visit.

Through Russian interpreter Yurey Skripnikov of Eagan, Minn., we share more of their observations.

Timur Nabiev, 25

Leads a Tajikistan youth initiative.

When he arrived in Duluth a week ago, Nabiev was curious. Were media images of messy and disrespectful American youth true?

A week in Duluth confirmed it.

"They're not too very tidy. They're not very organized," Nabiev said of American youth. The low-riding pants he saw students wearing at University of Minnesota Duluth would be a sign of disrespect in Tajikistan, especially at a university that he described as a place of science.

The UMD campus with all its buildings was nearly overwhelming for Nabiev. In Tajikistan, a university is one building with some auditoriums. Libraries are a few shelves with books. Teachings from professors are emphasized over independent learning.


Marifat Khidiraliyeva, 38

Leader of an organization working for human and women's rights.

Marifat Khidiraliyeva knew American women were active in American society. But she didn't know they were as involved in the community as they are, regardless of their responsibilities at home.

But Tajikistan has one up on the United States: Twenty-nine percent of Tajikistan's Parliament are women, more than the U. S. Congress.

However, Tajikistani elections are not democratic. The government "nominates" the candidates for parliament. And the government appoints people to local office, often people not from the region.

Her grandmother would often wonder why local people couldn't be elected to local office. Now, after her visit to Duluth, Khidiraliyeva understands what her grandmother meant. And, she wishes it were so.

Shokir Khakimov, 42

Professor and opposition party leader.


Shokir Khakimov was struck by the way Americans admit their mistakes and try not to repeat them, such as the 1920 lynchings in Duluth and the war in Iraq. He was moved by the way Americans always strive to change things for the better.

He was surprised that political opponents here could sit down and discuss their differences. In Tajikistan, if two political parties disagree, discussion would be out of the question.

While visiting local media, Khakimov grappled with the idea of freedom of the press because it still isn't so in his country despite its split from the Soviet Union.

"This is really a free society," he said of America.

Muhibullo Dadajanov, 54

Head of Tajikistan's Central Election Committee.

Muhibullo Dadajanov admits he was wrong about the United States.

He thought the United States was a classic capitalist society, where all people were not equal. He expected segregation between blacks and whites. But when he saw how equal people are here, he was proven wrong, he said.

Working with Tajikistan's national elections, he came to Duluth with a keen eye to finding ways to make his country's 2010 presidential election better.

But his country is hampered by uneducated voters, procedural mistakes and an old-fashioned manual voting system that lists one race per ballot.

He left Duluth with sample ballots to use as guides for his upcoming election.

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