Tuesday, May 18, 2010

You can run...

Our friends Volodya and Oksana were sponsoring a three day dairy genetics seminar at  Agro-Soyuz (where I had given my three day beef school in March). Three speakers were coming from Volodya's "parent" company, CRI, in USA.  Volodya wanted us to meet them because he hoped they would want us to work with them in future.

On Sunday, Tanya and I drove to Samara, a rest resort camp on the Samara River, where everyone was staying, about 30 minutes from Agro-Soyuz. Only one of the Americans had arrived, the other two were delayed 24 hours.  We sat in Volodya's suite (it is a fancy resort) and talked.  Peter (Pyotr Vladimirovich) was originally from Nizhny Novgorod in Russia.  He had started the livestock genetics company Semex Russia in Nizhny Novgorod in partnership with Semex Canada back in the mid 90's.  He was now the Eastern European Sales Manager for Cooperative Resources International (CRI) out of Iowa with a Canadian branch in Ontario that Volodya and Tanya and I had visited in 2006.

He didn't look familiar but too much of his 1990's history sounded familiar. Finally I said "There was a guy from Nizhny Novgorod came to Canada in the early 1990's on a Yeltsin Democracy Fellowship".  "That was me". "I hauled you all over Saskatchewan for several days". "That is why you look so familiar". 

History.  Peter was a very serious young man with a vision when I met him 16 years ago.  (He was also tall, slim, with black hair.  He is still tall). He had a degree in Law (the Genetics degrees he acquired later at Iowa State) and was an elected member of the Nizhny Novgorod Parliament, among other things.  He was very active in the Democracy movement in Russia and in Nizhny Novgorod they had one of the most forward looking reform minded groups in the country.

He spent three intensive months in Canada trying to understand "Why" we were as we were in Canada, our legal system, our agriculture, our attitudes, our everything he could think of.  I lost track of him after he left.  Email addresses changed regularly in those days and a couple years later, I heard he had moved to the USA.  I was disappointed.  I learned Sunday why he moved.

The old Communist bosses, the Oligarchs and the KGB "got to" Yeltsin and forced him to "take back Russia" (to coin a phrase) from those who threatened their power, their wealth and their criminal activity by wanting to reform the system, make it transparent, fair and responsive to the people.  Yeltsin canceled all elected bodies, though they still had three years of their mandate left and held new elections across the board.  Virtually every pro-democracy candidate was defeated.  It was the end of democratic reform and reformers were on the endangered list.  Peter had a brother in Iowa.  It was time.

Now he is back, doing his part to help modernize agriculture in the FSU.  I hope we can work together on some of it.

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