Obama strikes chord with Russian youth | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, July 07, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, July 07, 2009

Obama strikes chord with Russian youth

It seemed to be change they could believe in: Students at this Russian university burst into applause yesterday when the US presidential seal was hung on the podium before Barack Obama's speech.
Young, well-dressed and poised to join Russia's capitalist elite, the graduating class of the New Economic School in Moscow also gave a standing ovation to President Obama.
Obama's speech and its message of US-Russian reconciliation was aimed at a nationwide audience, but for the lucky students receiving their diplomas, the visit by the US president was a special graduation present.
And few of them were happier than Oksana Sytnova, who was personally handed her summa cum laude diploma by Obama himself.
"This is a huge honour for me and I didn't expect that such a wonderful event would happen in my life," Sytnova gushed afterwards.
"I am very happy that President Obama came to our graduation and it was very pleasant for me when he congratulated me in Russian," she added.
When asked how Obama pronounced the challenging Russian word "pozdravlyayu" (congratulations), Sytnova said that he spoke "with a slight accent, but very clearly."
Sytnova, who plans to work for Russia's Economic Development Ministry after graudation, was nervous when she learned a week earlier that she would receive the honour from Obama.
"It was very unexpected for me and I got very worried," she said.
Obama's speech in the cavernous Gostiny Dvor convention centre in central Moscow, a stone's throw from Red Square, was part of a broader effort to improve strained relations with Russia.
US-Russian ties plunged to a post-Cold War low during the administration of Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, who was loathed around the world for his emphasis on unilateralism and military force in US foreign policy.
In contrast, Obama has called for a "reset" in relations with Moscow and has stressed interests shared by the United States and Russia -- a message warmly greeted by students on Tuesday.
"I think what President Obama said about our common interests was very important," said Yelena Neumoina, a first-year student at the New Economic School who attended the graduation.
"Many students, many of my friends, have been waiting for big changes compared to what there was before in the relations between our countries."
The students of the New Economic School are far from typical Russians, being more likely to work in big business or continue their studies at a prestigious Western university.
Founded in 1992, the school has trained a number of top businessmen and government officials, including some close to President Dmitry Medvedev.
But Sergei Guriev, the rector of the New Economic School, said he did not think Obama was seeking to reach out to one segment of Russian society or support one politician over another.
"He wants to send a signal to all of society, to show that he does not just want dialogue between politicians, but between people. That's why he spoke to simple students," Guriev said.
The graduates who clinked champagne classes and posed for photos once their graduation was over did undergo some hardships to see a visiting US president address their class.
Tight security created long lines and forced the young men and women to rise early in the morning for what they still called a "graduation evening," using the usual Russian phrase.
And Obama's late arrival -- his speech began an hour late after talks with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin overran -- meant a lengthy period of suspense, prompting the excitement when the presidential seal was hung upon the podium.

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