Croatian visitors learn local lore


What do local politicians talk about when they meet Croatian activists?

Well, dancing ghosts, boisterous Republicans and how nice it would be to be called "president," among other things.

"This is where George Washington danced when he resigned his commission, and many more important people danced here too," Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins told the visitors yesterday as he stood in the city council chambers.

"Sometimes, when I come in here at night when no one's here, I swear they're dancing here," he said.

Elica Mihletic and Gordana Vucinic-Palasek, two Croatian feminists visiting the United States this month, toured Annapolis yesterday to learn about the role of women in American society.

But mostly, they learned a lot of local lore.

Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary praised "boisterous" members of the local Republican Party and said it is the GOP-led Congress, not the president, who is running the country.

Circuit Court Clerk Robert P. Duckworth beamed when he heard that people in his position are called "president" of the court in Croatia.

"That's me!" he said. "I'd like to be called president. I'd like it a lot."

Ms. Mihletic, 31, a judge, and Ms. Vucinic-Palasek, 49, a public opinion researcher, are among 11 Croatians visiting the United States in a monthlong program on women's participation in American democracy sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Zagreb natives had just completed two weeks of meetings with national feminist groups and human-rights organizations in Washington and were dispatched to cities from Annapolis to Los Angeles to learn about grass-roots organizing and local politics.

The Banneker-Douglass Museum, which chronicles African-American history in Annapolis, is playing host to Ms. Mihletic and Ms. Vucinic-Palasek during their weeklong visit in the city.

But Ms. Vucinic-Palasek, a socialist, and Ms. Mihletic were not altogether pleased with some of their more conservative contacts. In Washington, the pro-abortion rights Croatians clashed with representatives of the anti-abortion rights group Concerned Women for America.

"One of the women told us she was 'Promoted to Mommy,' which sounded silly to us," Ms. Mihletic said. "Mommy is something different from professional life. Their attitudes were not acceptable to many women in our group."

The visitors said Croatia is filled with professional women who are mothers. And, they said, Croatian men and women are paid comparably for the same job. The problem women run into is not skimpy maternity leave or poor pay, but job discrimination and access to higher-paying positions, Ms. Vucinic-Palasek said.

"You still have this affirmative action, it is still working?" she asked. "Maybe we would need such affirmative action in Croatia for women and minorities."

Mr. Hopkins assured them, however, that women are being successful in local politics.

"I can predict from this council will come the next mayor. And I predict it will be a woman," he said. "But I'm not going to tell you who."

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