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Russia’s Bushes Await US President

May 22, 2002

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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) _ When traffic police officers stop his car for an alleged violation, they always ask Viktor Bush the same question: ``A relative?″

``If I were a relative, I doubt we’d be having this conversation,″ is the 45-year-old engineer’s stock answer.

At least 63 families in St. Petersburg carry the name Bush, a legacy of their German forebears who arrived in northern Russia in past centuries. None are believed to be related to President Bush, who will visit Russian President Vladimir Putin in this imperial city on Saturday and Sunday.

Many of Russia’s Bushes were exiled to Siberia and other barren places after Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, singled out as potential Nazi collaborators.

Others suffered through the 900-day Nazi siege of Leningrad, as St. Petersburg was known in Soviet times. More than 1 million people were killed during the blockade, most by starvation.

Viktor Bush’s family stayed in Leningrad throughout the siege. When the government was handing out identification papers in the 1930s, they identified their nationality as Latvian _ after their place of birth _ rather than German, their ethnic group.

They did it ``just in case,″ said Bush’s mother Galina. Many of their relatives, who took pride in their German heritage, ended up in exile in remote regions of Russia.

Galina Bush was a child during the siege _ and she has carried her gratitude for the Allies who fought alongside the Soviet Union into old age.

``We liked Bush Senior,″ Galina said, referring to former President Bush. ``He took part in World War II, and was one of the youngest pilots. That is what gave him such a rich life experience.″

With a smile they admit that sometimes their last name causes funny episodes.

``Once I called my son at work,″ said Galina, 69.

``May I speak to Mr. Bush?″ she asked.

``You should probably call the White House if you want to speak to him,″ joked a man on the other end of the line.

``Well, I thought that’s what I’d reached,″ Galina joked back.

Meanwhile, Viktor’s 16-year-old son, has even more intriguing combination. His name is Vladimir, the same first name as Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin and Russia’s current leader Putin.

``This combination is OK for me,″ Vladimir said. ``I got used to it, and don’t think about it,″ he said.

Viktor Bush said that he doesn’t have any particular emotions toward President Bush.

``However, during the election we were for him,″ he said. ``To be honest, it was just because we share the same name.″

He took some time to consider what he would ask Bush if the president should stop by his modest two-room flat in a drug-infested neighborhood on the outskirts of St. Petersburg.

Then his face lit up.

``I would ask him if he could order a pinpoint strike on our neighbors upstairs,″ he said with a laugh. ``To put it mildly, they are very noisy sometimes, especially when they get drunk and we can hear all their inventive Russian curse words.″

Another family of local Bushes presents an old and acknowledged dynasty of industrious workers.

Nadezhda Bush, 43, said that their last name doesn’t disturb their life, but the fact that friends nicknamed her son Sergei, 21, ‘President’.

``It even helps sometimes,″ she said with a laugh.

Thus, when some time ago her parents-in-law went to Latvia, there was a problem finding vacant rooms in hotels. But when the Bushes showed their documents a room was found for them at once.

Most of the Bushes found it difficult to think of what they would like to say to the American president.

``Maybe we should ask him for help?″ said Nadezhda Bush, whose husband, Alexander, 43, was in the hospital. ``But we understand that it’s impossible.″

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