- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2008

Primary mission

Foreign diplomats stomped through the snows of New Hampshire, chatted with voters, dined with candidates and marveled generally at the American political process in their first look at the presidential primary season.

Ambassadors Audrius Bruzga of Lithuania and Pekka Lintu of Finland yesterday praised the Diplomatic Observer Program, founded by three former U.S. diplomats from the Granite State, for organizing the visit to New Hampshire for a firsthand look at grass-roots politics.

“It was very useful for an ambassador like me to meet people from both political parties, to feel the air there,” said Mr. Lintu, Finland’s envoy here since January 2006.

“I was quite impressed by the enthusiasm of the New Hampshire people … by the ordinary people who were so interested in politics and well-informed on the issues. New Hampshire people are very proud of being the first in the nation.”

Mr. Bruzga, who took up his position as Lithuania’s ambassador a year ago, added that his first exposure to presidential politics left him a bit confused about the details of the nominating process but overawed by the length of the campaign and the dedication of the candidates and volunteers.

“The electoral process is so much different from what we know from our country,” he said, noting that the “length of the election is overwhelming.”

“I don’t claim to understand it fully,” he added, “but I felt the atmosphere.”

Under parliamentary systems in Europe, political campaigns last for weeks, not years. Both systems have their vagaries.

U.S. presidential candidates campaign for delegates to partisan nominating conventions and win the White House through the Electoral College, where voter strength is based on congressional representation. Parliaments frequently involve coalition governments. Some members win their seats off party lists instead of direct elections, and sometimes seats are awarded through proportional representation.

Mr. Bruzga said his delegation, which also included Ambassador Friis Arne Petersen of Denmark and diplomats from nine other countries, visited the campaign headquarters of Republicans Mitt Romney and Rudolph W. Giuliani and Democrat John Edwards, and attended a dinner with Democratic candidates and a brunch with Republicans.

Mr. Bruzga was also impressed by the dedication of the campaign volunteers, who worked long hours making phone calls for their candidates, distributing political literature or driving voters to the polls on Tuesday.

“It was grass-roots. We saw that, and that is something that impressed me,” he said.

The Diplomatic Observer Program was organized by George Bruno, a former ambassador to Belize; Dick Swett, a former ambassador to Denmark; and Betty Tamposi, a former assistant secretary of state.

Russian Christmas

Russian Ambassador Yuri Ushakov and his wife, Svetlana, feel more than anyone else that Christmas is for children. They have invited 500 Russian and American children to celebrate the Russian Orthodox holiday this afternoon at the Russian Embassy.

They will attend a traditional Christmas tree party, known as “Yolka,” that will feature theatrical performances by Russian actors portraying characters such as “Father Frost” and the “Snow Maiden.”

“The traditional children’s Christmas Yolka at the Russian Embassy is a significant event for the Russian-American community of Washington because it brings together families and loved ones,” Mrs. Ushakov said.

She added that the celebration is especially significant because 2008 is the Year of the Family in Russia.

c Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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