tagNovels and NovellasThe Freshman Ch. 21

The Freshman Ch. 21

bycaligula97236©

Chapter 21 - A problem, a question, and a solution

The following day the reception area of the University Memorial Center was reserved for conferences and the visiting Danubian leaders. The university president, the governor, and several local politicians and union leaders awaited the foreign delegation, while Cecilia Sanchez and Cynthia Lee stood waiting with the group of graduate students. A large banner hung in front of the building with the inscription:

Doc-Doc Danube! -- Our university welcomes our Danubian guests

The Danubians arrived in a convoy of cars owned by the university. There were no limousines, because the Prime Minister was concerned that riding around in a limousine on an overseas trip while many of his own citizens still were without adequate housing would not be appropriate. Prime Minister Dukov and his daughter Anyia got out of the university president's car together, followed by about 20 other members of the party. Dukov's appearance was not imposing at all. He was dressed in a very ordinary business suit. He looked like he was in his mid-50s, average height and stature, his hair closely cropped, and very ordinary features. Still, even at a distance, Cecilia could tell there was something about him...something in his character that set him apart.

As previously instructed, a student from the Music School unrolled one of the Danubian flags, clipped it to a staff, and passed it to the Prime Minister's daughter. Anyia was wearing a traditional Danubian dress and had her hair braided in the traditional Danubian style. However, being only 17, she looked somewhat uneasy standing in a foreign university in her formal attire. Anyia took the flag, briefly knelt, and then stood up facing eastwards holding the staff to the side at a 45-degree angle. Then she did something that shocked the US audience: she let out an ear-piercing whistle. The delegation immediately faced to the east, placed their right fists against their left shoulders, and shouted:

"DOC-DOC DANUBE!"

That was the cue for the university band to start playing the military prelude to the Danubian national anthem. There was a pause, and then Anyia crisply tilted the flag upright while the band played an ancient-sounding tune which was sung by the guest singer from California. Dukov and his party stood at attention with their fists pressed against their left shoulders while his daughter continued to hold the flag upright.

The U.S. anthem was played next. The Danubians stood quietly at attention while their hosts sang. The exchange of anthems was followed by several welcoming speeches by the university president, the state governor, and the director of Burnside's economic foundation. Dukov then stepped forward and thanked his hosts in accented, but very correct English. He introduced the members of his cabinet who had accompanied him. His Minister of Finance and his Minister of Foreign Relations stood behind him, but also present was the Danubian Minister of Education and the Minister of Health. Each minister had a translator and two assistants. There were no relatives on the trip, just members of the government. As for the Prime Minister's daughter, even her presence had an official purpose. Danubian tradition mandated that during an official ceremony the national flag had to be presented in the hands of an unmarried young woman, preferably either a member of the Danubian Royal Family or the daughter of the most important public official present.

Although Dukov's visit officially was a private trip, his reasons for travelling to Chicago were not private at all. He knew that a systematic effort to rebuild the fire-damaged regions of his country could not wait much more than a few months, since many of the fire victims still were living in temporary housing two years after having been burnt out of their homes. However, he also knew that a reconstruction plan not centered around a solid economic development policy would be a huge waste of money and in the long run do more harm to the region than good. A "quick fix" had been the campaign strategy of his opponents in the previous year's election. He had dismissed a "quick fix", but he knew the people of the eastern regions had waited long enough. The area's economic infrastructure needed to rebuild, and the rebuilding would at least have to be well underway by the end of the next summer.

Prime Minister Vladim Dukov had chosen to visit Chicago for a specific reason. Ruth Burnside, Jim Halsey, and several other leading economists at Cecilia's university were members of a major national economic think-tank called the Greater Mid-Western Foundation for Economic Development and International Cooperation. Because of the institution's cumbersome name, everyone simply referred to it as "the Foundation". What set the Foundation apart from most other US economic think tanks was the organization's cautious approach to globalization and its members' rejection of purist Neo-Liberal philosophies. Dukov wanted to develop an economic strategy for his country that would assure that modernizing the Danubian economy would not undermine the country's famed social stability. The Foundation's philosophy matched the overall philosophy of the new Danubian government, and Dukov came to Chicago looking for advice that he could apply in his own country. His Minister of Finance was an economist, and prior to his current assignment, had been the Director of Economic Studies at the National University in Danube City. He was ready to discuss economic theory with his hosts, with the hope there would be a follow-up meeting later in the spring between Foundation members and a delegation from the Danubian Ministry of Finance.

It turned out that Dukov's visit was more ambitious than his hosts had envisioned, because he wanted to address much more than the redevelopment of his country's fire-damaged regions. He approached the mayor of the city with his Minister of Health, asking that the official, his translator, and his two assistants be given a complete tour of the city's drug zones and briefings about what local officials were doing to reduce Chicago's drug problem. He then approached the president of the university and separated the Minister of Education from his group, asking the two officials to discuss the prospects of a student exchange between his hosts' institution and the National University in Danube City.

With his Ministers of Finance and Foreign Relations, Dukov approached the faculty members of Economics Department and asked about the meeting schedule. He passed copies of the schedule to his two ministers, translated some of their questions into English to clarify what actually would be happening at the meetings, and asked his hosts to try to expand the range of topics to be covered over the next week.

Burnside and her associates looked at each other in surprise. Dukov obviously was a man on a mission. There was nothing rude or abrasive about his behavior, but he was making it clear to everyone that he was taking his visit very seriously and wanted to get the most out of his week in Chicago. He was not interested in socializing; he was interested in getting help and advice for his government.

However, Dukov's humble origins became clear as he made it a point to greet everyone present, professors, graduate students, and assistants alike. Cecilia and Cynthia Lee were standing in the group of graduate students. Dukov greeted the graduate students right after he shook hands with the professors. He very warmly greeted Cynthia, obviously holding back the urge to give her a big hug from one close friend to another. Then he greeted Cecilia.

"I understand you are Kimberly's friend Cecilia Sanchez?"

Cecilia's heart jumped at being referred to as "Kimberly's friend" and at the simple fact the Danubian Prime Minister already knew who she was.

"Y...Yes, Prime Minister Dukov...I'm Cecilia."

"I am quite pleased to meet you. Kimberly informed me that you have been of considerable assistance to her musical endeavors, so I consider your presence here an honor."

Again Cecilia's heart jumped. "Th...Thank you, sir. I'm very honored to meet you as well."

"Very well, Cecilia. I would be pleased if you could accompany Cynthia to have dinner with us tomorrow night. Also, Kimberly entrusted a package to me, which she asked me to deliver to you. You may retrieve it from Anyia...my daughter, you will understand."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

With that he passed her a card, an invitation to a formal dinner the next night. He warmly shook her hand, and moved on. Ruth Burnside, who had overheard the exchange, glanced at her with a completely perplexed expression. Her little sophomore scholarship student, who just two years before had been living in a New Jersey public housing project, had been invited to have dinner with the leader of a nation.

For several long minutes Cecilia had a very hard time getting her breath back, she was so excited.

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That night Dukov gave a press conference, facing down hostile reporters who asked critical questions about his government's independent foreign policy, his confrontations with Mega-Town and other major trans-national corporations, and Upper Danubia's human rights record. He was asked about his government's widespread use of forced public nudity and periodic corporal punishments to discipline convicted criminals. He responded:

"My nation's attitude towards punishing criminals has remained the same for many years. Life for a convicted criminal in our country is not pleasant, but a pleasant existence is not the goal of our judicial system. The goal we have for the criminal is learning respect, learning how to reform, and learning how to lead a useful life, even while serving a sentence. We do not place people in cages. We do not cut them off from their families and from all usefulness to the community. Instead we strive to re-incorporate our criminals into society and return them to their families the day after they are sentenced. And is what you are suggesting more humane? Think about that. The Danubian nation is the only country in the world that has no jails or prisons. Before you critique our judicial system, I would ask you to compare how many criminals in the Danubian nation re-offend, and how many in the United States re-offend. I believe those statistics speak for themselves. Because of those statistics, I believe that our judicial system is far superior to yours. The United States criminal justice system has failed to protect your society, and its failure is evident for all of us to see quite plainly. If you still wish to condemn my country's judicial system, may I suggest that you are doing so based on your cultural preconceptions, and not on the facts? "

The more she heard Dukov speak, the more Cecilia admired him. He proved himself to be very hard-headed, but when he countered another person's argument, he made sure he understood the other person's opinion before giving his own. It became quite clear why Jason's father hated him so much, because he was not willing to give an inch unless he felt doing so would benefit the people who had elected him to be the Prime Minister of his country. What was worse for people like Mr. Schmidt and his clients was that Dukov combined his hard-headedness and shrewdness with strong personal values and idealism. He was surrounded by equally idealistic, shrewd and hard-headed traditionalists determined to defend their nation's society and values. If they stood in the way of some foreign company wanting to make money, that did not concern them in the least.

After the press conference Cecilia and Cynthia sought out Dukov's daughter, who seemed a bit overwhelmed by her first trip overseas. Cecilia approached Anyia about the package, after Cynthia greeted her and talked to her for a few minutes in Danubian. Anyia spoke only a little English, not being nearly as fluent as her father. Dukov's daughter dug into a document carrier and handed over a cube-shaped package. Through the language barrier she struggled to explain:

"Geemberglee, she say me, I give music to you, Cecilek. Then you give music to boyfriend grandma. Please give to boyfriend grandma, and she listen to music."

The package was a box of CD's with a note on it. It read:

"For Mrs. Schmidt. This is a complete collection of what our group has put out so far. I am happy that our music has brought pleasure into your life, and I hope you enjoy our latest CD's. -- Kimberly Lee-Dolkivna # 98945".

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The next day Cecilia realized how important Dukov considered Cynthia Lee as the graduate student accompanied him from meeting to meeting. Cynthia found herself in the awkward position of relaying requests and orders to the professor hosting the conference, essentially being tasked by the Danubian Prime Minister to tell the sponsors what changes he wanted in the meeting venue as some of his questions were answered and others arose. The professors were somewhat irritated at having to take orders from a graduate student, but Cindy's importance in Dukov's life was undeniable. Without her, he would not have won the previous year's election.

As they got ready to have dinner with Dukov and his daughter that night, Cynthia relayed some interesting news to Cecilia, information that directly affected the road dispute between Upper Danubia and the EU that she had researched for Ruth Burnside. Kim's sister had gone over to Dukov's hotel the previous evening to have a private dinner with the Prime Minister and his daughter. Dukov confided that the reason his government had waited to begin reconstruction in the east was because he was hoping to resolve several problems simultaneously, of which the fire damage was only one.

Dukov's most important ambition was to formalize his country's southern border, and then form an alliance with his southern neighbor to re-negotiate the proposed commercial road on terms far more favorable to both countries at the expense of the rest of the EU. Because of its desire to secure its territory and obtain an ally, the government of Upper Danubia's southern neighbor was willing to negotiate a permanent border treaty that offered very good terms to the Danubians.

The problem Dukov faced in formalizing the country's border was not the southern neighbor, but his own people. The Danubians had never fully accepted the loss of Lower Danubia to the Ottoman Empire in 1502. What complicated the country's territorial claims on the former Lower Danubia was a treaty signed with the Ottomans in 1896 that ceded a portion of Lower Danubia back to the Duchy, even though the territory in question no longer was under Turkish control at the time. What arose from that questionable treaty was an unrealistic hope of regaining Lower Danubia, even though no Danubians had lived there since the early 16th Century.

Dukov was willing to formally cede most of the territory in question to his southern neighbor. In exchange for abandoning the land claims, Upper Danubia would reclaim some actual territory and extend its southern border slightly. Included in the transfer would be some archeological sites, a couple of historic villages that had ancient Danubian architecture, two towns on the other side of the border that still were inhabited mostly by ethnic Danubians, and some surrounding farmland. Dukov hoped to exchange historical claims on a large area to regain a much smaller area, but one with significance for his country. He calculated that the Danubian Parliament would grudgingly accept the new treaty, if it meant actually returning the two towns and the historical sites back to Danubian control.

Dukov planned to sign a second treaty with his counterpart upon signing the border treaty. The second document would be an agreement for both leaders to jointly negotiate the planned trade corridor with the EU. Then, with the backing of the neighboring government, Dukov would re-open negotiations to build the road through eastern Upper Danubia. With the support of his neighbor as an ally, he then planned to drive as hard a bargain as possible for allowing construction of the road.

There was a single issue that had held up Dukov's plan. That concern was a 10th Century church, castle, and cemetery located on a hilltop in a small town called Sumy Ris, nearly 100 kilometers south of the border. Sumy Ris was of huge historical significance to the Danubians, because its church was the first Christian church built in the Danubian kingdom and the cemetery contained the remains of several kings and bishops from the Middle Ages. No treaty that excluded regaining the site would be acceptable to the Danubian Clergy, but attempting to negotiate extending Upper Danubia's border that far south was completely unrealistic. Dukov was not particularly concerned about reclaiming the church given all the other problems he was trying to resolve, but he could not afford a confrontation with the Danubian Clergy.

Cindy Lee was totally disgusted at the problem.

"I can't believe how stupid people can be. The Danubians need that treaty. It's gonna give them almost everything they really want, but all they can think about is that stupid church. It's really a good treaty for them, and if they don't take it, the country's gonna get screwed later on."

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That night Cecilia's heart pounded when she saw the arrangement for dinner. There were four large tables for the four Ministers. Each Minister was to be seated at a separate table, with his assistants, translator, and the members of the Foundation or university faculty with whom he had been working throughout the day. As for Dukov's table, there were only eight seats. He would eat with his daughter and an administrative assistant, with Cynthia and Cecilia as his guests. The only other people at the table were a translator and an older couple who seemed to be close friends of the Prime Minister. Cecilia later learned they were Alexi Havlakt, who was a retired defense attorney with whom Dukov had worked many years, and his wife.

The purpose of the dining arrangement was to allow Dukov to talk privately with Cynthia, but also to allow him to talk to Cecilia. Upon learning Cecilia's life story he became interested in getting to know her better. Cecilia began by discussing her scholarship and her on-line relationship with Kimberly Lee, but soon she realized that Dukov was much more interested in hearing about her life while she was growing up. He discussed his thoughts about the US judicial system and wanted to know how Cecilia felt about her brothers' gang activities. He also was interested in knowing what set her apart from her peers and what drove her to graduate and escape from her neighborhood. As she confided her life story, Cecilia eventually realized what he wanted, as a former defense attorney he wanted her perspective on why US society had failed her family and her neighborhood. The Prime Minister never had met anyone like Cecilia Sanchez before. She stood out, and her experiences in life could give him a different view of the United States and an opportunity to learn more about the society's strengths and weaknesses.

The conversation shifted to Cecilia's research and the road-building dispute with the EU. Cecilia talked about Jason's father and what she knew about Mega-Town Associates. Dukov probed Cecilia's knowledge, trying to get her perspective on the corporation that had attempted to take over his country. The conversation then shifted to the election and Cynthia's research for her dissertation. There was a lengthy discussion about Cindy's work, to which Dukov made several suggestions to help her improve the project.

Cindy was interested in talking about the negotiations on the border and the impasse over the church. As she previously had mentioned to Cecilia, Dukov was perfectly willing to leave the historical site out of the treaty, but the Danubian Clergy would not allow it. He sighed.

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