Deputies from the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, spoke on Russian youth affairs and comparative Russian and American politics Wednesday.

While the goal of their weeklong trip was to increase their own awareness of the U.S. legislative process, Pavel Vladimirovich Tarakanov and Ruslan Aleksandrovich Gulyayev said that they were especially eager to spend time with students.

“We have learned a lot from our meetings with senators and legislators,” said Tarakanov, chairman of the Duma’s Youth Affairs Committee and a member of the Liberal Democratic Party. “However, it is especially interesting for us to hear from students who are currently going through the process of education and learning about global politics.”

Former Georgetown University Student Association President Calen Angert (MSB ’11) helped organize the event after his trip to Russia in November. The visit was officially sponsored by GUSA and the Center for Eurasian, Russian and Eastern European Studies.

“It became apparent that though we are certainly different, there can be common threads found between the U.S. and Russia. The sooner we identify those commonalities and learn to work together, the better we both will be,” Angert said.

The discussion focused on issues such as counterterrorism, foreign media, gay rights and exchange programs with American universities.

When a ROTC student brought up the strict Russian military conscription policy, Gulyayev responded by explaining a number of ways in which the Russian government has lightened the demands of military service.

A major benefit of the new system is the decrease from a two-year to a one-year mandate of service and a wider margin for exception. Gulyayev listed education and government service as two common justifications for not serving in the military. Both deputies also mentioned that living conditions and food supplies in the army have improved.

Still, Tarakanov acknowledged that there is need for improvement in Russia.

“In Russia you don’t see the politician’s kids dying; it is the innocent people and the soldiers who die when we go into battles,” said Tarakanov. “Our goal here is to observe American policy and better understand how we can hold our politicians responsible. I will do my best to ensure that there are no wars, because that is truly what brings suffering to the people.”

The deputies also addressed the issue of alcohol, noting the substantial improvement of policies to counter alcoholism in the country. Along with laws restricting the time it can be sold and shown in TV and radio commercials, a strict anti-drinking and driving law has been put in place in an effort to decrease fatalities due to alcohol.

“If you look at the statistics, Russia is not the first nation in the world for alcohol consumption,” said Gulyayev. “Perhaps it is just a stereotype.”

Tarakanov added that with the implementation of the new driving under the influence law, standards of living have improved because fewer people consume alcohol as they have to drive to and from work every day.

After the discussion, Angert presented the deputies with ties and mugs from the university; the deputies reciprocated with Duma magnets, CDs of Russian songs, calendars and a book.

“Addressing our differences and mutual interests need to occur simultaneously, as it builds a deeper level of understanding, the fundamental key to forward progress,” Angert said.

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