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Make way for Moscow ducklings

By MICHAEL COLLINS

MOSCOW -- The mayor warned that Soviet life was hard, but Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings bravely waddled forward Tuesday to bring smiles to Russian children and a new symbolic link between the superpowers.

While their husbands discussed new trade relations and other issues Tuesday, Barbara Bush and Raisa Gorbachev practiced 'duckling diplomacy' in dedicating a bronze copy of a Boston statue of the Mallard family based on Robert McCloskey's popular children's book 'Make Way for Ducklings.'

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Three dozen children from the Moscow Pioneer's Camp, wearing their best party clothes and waving small Soviet and American flags, looked on as the statue was dedicated, although some grew bored with the ceremony and began playing in the dirt.

When it came time to cut the red ribbon and officially dedicate the statue, the first ladies were assisted by Andrei Fedotov, a 3 -year-old boy whom Mrs. Bush's advance staff noticed sitting on the mother duck every day and asking his mother if he could take the ducks home to their apartment and feed them.

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The two first ladies visited the original statue in Boston's Public Garden statue a year ago while Gorbachev was in Washington for a summit, and sculptor Nancy Schon created a copy that was donated in the name of American children to their Soviet counterparts.

Earlier Tuesday, Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Gorbachev were mobbed by Soviet tourists as they strolled through Cathedral Square in the Kremlin.

Mrs. Bush appeared a little uncomfortable as the crowd of about 300 pressed in, but she said later she was pleased with the reception from the Soviet people.

'I would have been surprised if there wasn't (such a reception),' she said. 'We love them. ... I found nothing but friendship and warmth from the people.'

Throughout the day the first ladies displayed their growing affection for each other, smiling, walking hand in hand and referrring to each other as 'my very good friend'.

At the dedication on the edge of a pond across from the historic Novodevichy Convent, Moscow Mayor Gavriil Popov said the statue was a welcome addition to the park but warned the duckings -- and by extension the children -- that life in Moscow was not easy as the country moves toward democracy and a market economy.

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'You ducklings, like the Muscovites, will not have a simple life here,' said Popov, an economist and one of a new breed of popularly elected reformist officials. 'But I assure you that life in this city is going to improve and you will eventually live here as well and happily as you do in Boston.'

Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Gorbachev were more upbeat.

'I love this statue for what it symbolizes today, the growing friendship and understanding between our two great nations,' Mrs. Bush said. 'There is something magical about American children loving and playing with the ducks in Boston while children in Moscow are doing the same.'

Mrs. Gorbachev noted that in the book the Mallards are able to speak and 'they are sensitive to kindness and fairness.'

Robert McCloskey's book 'Make Way for Ducklings' -- the story of a family of ducklings searching for a new home in the bustling city of Boston -- turned 50 years old this year.

In the book, Mr. and Mrs. Mallard and their eight offspring -- Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack -- eventually find their home in the city's Public Garden. At one point in the dedication Mrs. Gorbachev appeared to be quacking as she recited the names of the ducklings.

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Mr. Mallard is not included in the statue because it depicts a moment in the book when his family is going to meet him at their new home.

The book, with illustrations that have won McCloskey as much notice as his story, won the Caldecott Medal as the most distinguished American picture book for children when it was published in 1941. It has captured the hearts of children and adults ever since as one of the most popular children's books in the country.

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