A perceived threat of yanking LDS Church missionaries from the streets of Russia was one reason Utah leaders this year declared an official week to honor the culture of the former Soviet state.
This week's first-ever Russia Days was given a legislative endorsement and signed in by Gov. Mike Leavitt in a ceremony with Russian Consul General Yury V. Popov in February at the same time high-ranking leaders pondered restricting religious proselyting.Rep. John Valentine, R-Orem, who spearheaded the resolution declaring the celebration, initially proposed the event at the urging of his son, who served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in St. Petersburg.
"He and I were talking one day, and he told me that people here don't really know the people there," Valentine said.
Sen. Craig Peterson, R-Provo, also sponsored the measure, which also was in honor of Popov's visit to Utah.
Valentine said interest in the resolution "snowballed" because of the recent developments with religious freedom in Russia. Leaders from the church also offered support, he said.
"It was coming up at a time when different laws were being passed and some were having a difficult time with Russia," he said.
The resolution mentions the educational and religious exchanges between Utah and the Russian Federation and expresses hope a better relationship can be nurtured.
Russia Days ends Sunday and will feature lectures on Russian art, literature and music, history and the Orthodox church in Rus-sia.
"We live in a global community, where actions in one part of the world have consequences in other parts, and Russia is a major player in our global community," said Kerry D. Romesburg, president of Utah Valley State College and chairman of the event.