Largely ignored by Western media, the 14th German-Russian Partner Cities Conference* in the south Russian city of Krasnodar took place from 28 to 30 June 2017. During two days more than 600 representatives from German and Russian cities, municipalities, citizens’ organisations and the business community were discussing current challenges and perspectives in German-Russian communal cooperation. The subject of this year’s conference was “Establishing contacts – initiatating projects – building confidence: Incentives for German-Russian relations”. For the first time two high-ranking ministers took part: the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his German colleague Sigmar Gabriel. Parallel to the conference a youth forum was held where over 100 young people from 14 Russian and German partner cities developed ideas for joint youth projects.
Matthias Platzeck, Prime Minister a. D. and Chairman of the Board of the Deutsch-Russische Forum e.V., said: “The participation of ministers in our conference shows that, despite all adversities, especially the exchange at the municipal level is an important guarantee for the continuation of the German-Russian dialogue.”
In total, delegations from 46 German and more than 90 Russian cities took part, including Central Russia, the Urals and Siberia. During two days the participants exchanged their views on subjects concerning economy, municipal affairs, sports, social issues, culture of remembrance and education. At the same time, by this year‘s conference, the German-Russian Year of Municipal and Regional Cooperation, the bilateral year “Kreuzjahr” 2017/2018 was proclaimed in Krasnodar. The “Kreuzjahr” is an initiative of both foreign ministries and is supervised by the Deutsch-Russisches Forum e.V. on the German side and the Association of Russian Cities on the Russian side. The aim is to expand the social, economic and cultural relations between the municipalities of both countries.
In their invitation to the conference, the mayor of Krasnodar, Evgeny Pervyshov, and the chairman of the city duma, Vera Galushko, emphasised the importance of the relations between Russia and Germany in the current world situation. (See small box on page 5)
In an interview with Russia Beyond The Headlines (RBTH), Matthias Platzeck comments on the significance of the city partner conference: “For a number of years, many political dialogue channels between Germany and Russia have been restricted, all the more important is the promotion of the dialogue between the German and Russian citizens. The numerous initiatives and municipal administrations […] are making a very important contribution to the continuation of a good German-Russian relationship. This is also perceived by the ‘great politics’”.
The idea to contribute to the understanding among nations and to peace by city partnerships dates back to the years immediately after the Second World War.
At that time, three Swiss professors and authors launched, among others, their initiatives for the foundation of the “Internationale Bürgermeisterunion (IBU)” (International Union of Mayors) promoting the Franco-German understanding. It was the concern of Hans Zbinden, Eugen Wyler and Adolf Gasser to strengthen the municipality as the nucleus of democracy in order to avoid another world war. In 1950, the first German-Franco city partnership between Montbéliard and Ludwigsburg emerged from the contacts of French and German mayors during the IBU Conferences. In the aftermath, more and more cities in Germany took up relations of friendship with cities in other countries in order to live understanding among nations from the bottom up.
On 24 April 2017, Peggy Lohse sensitively described the history of the 60-year-old city partnership between Hamburg and St. Petersburg in her dossier “German-Russian city partnerships” of RBTH. The first city partnership between Russia and Germany was founded by the Free Hanseatic City of Hamburg and – the then – Leningrad (today St. Petersburg). In the midst of the Cold War, the memories of the German blockade of Leningrad were still fresh, the two cities set a brave sign. This initiative was launched by the city sowjet of the then Leningrad, who proposed a city partnership to Hamburg, and invited a delegation of the Hanseatic City. Hamburg and Germany’s Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt) in particular reacted with skepticism. Social contacts with Russia should then be kept short, and visits to the region were almost completely forbidden. Hamburg ignored the ban and sent a delegation anyway. It took several years before the first concrete projects could be realized. The first student exchanges to Russia did not take place until 1977. In 1987, a Russian student group travelled for the first time to Hamburg. When, in the early 1990s, the supply situation in the Soviet Union became critical, the Senate provided 4.5 million Marks of emergency relief. The citizens of Hamburg also sent generous gifts and donations to Leningrad. When, at the beginning of April this year, a terrorist attack on the subway in St. Petersburg was committed, unlike Berlin, Hamburg’s official flags were flown at halfmast as a sign of mourning. This year, the two cities are celebrating their 60th anniversary partnership.
“All together we have the same mission: We unite our peoples.”
With these words, the Russian astronaut Fyodor Yurtichhin, head of the 52nd Expedition at the International Space Station ISS, sent a video greeting to the conference. Jurtschichin comes from Mytitschi, the partner city of Düren, which will host the 15th German-Russian Cities Partnership Conference in 2019.
According to the German-Russian Forum, there are almost 100 German-Russian city partnerships (as of June 2016). Maybe there will be twice as many at the next city partnership conference. Frequently, it is the single citizen who sets the ball rolling. •
Following a successful German‑Russian Youth Exchange Year in 2016 to 2017, exchange, understanding and mutual trust are to be deepened in German‑Russian relations through further intensification of cooperation at municipal and regional level. The large number of partnerships between states, regions, districts, cities and municipalities, as well as between civic associations, universities and schools, will play a particularly important role in this process. These links form the backbone of active German‑Russian relations. Many of these partnerships are celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2017 or 2018. We want to raise public awareness of these partnerships and use the momentum they generate to promote further partnerships between Germans and Russians, thus fostering greater trust. We firmly believe that municipal and regional partnerships are an indispensable and fundamental component of Russia and Germany’s bilateral cooperation.
We, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany, will therefore serve as patrons of the German‑Russian Year of Municipal and Regional Partnerships in 2017 to 2018, which will continue the tradition of successful crossover years in our countries.
The Year of Municipal and Regional Partnerships will be launched during the town‑twinning conference in Krasnodar from 28 to 30 June 2017. The aim is to ensure positive momentum in the collaboration and the contacts between the civil societies of the Russian Federation and the Federal Republic of Germany. We are united by a common desire to increase the number and intensity of direct contacts between Russians and Germans through numerous municipal and regional partnerships, thereby strengthening dialogue and understanding between our societies. Visible signs of cooperation are important especially in politically difficult times.
For this reason, we have great expectations of the German‑Russian Year of Municipal and Regional Partnerships. The contacts and links between people from different fields of civic engagement established through municipal and regional partnerships provide invaluable opportunities for good neighbourly relations between Germans and Russians in the future.
Source: www.auswaertiges-amt.de/EN/Infoservice/Presse/Meldungen/2017/170628_Gemeinsame_Erklärung_BM_RUS_AM.html from 28 June 2017
“Russia and Germany are two countries, whose mutual relations play a prominent role in the current policy of Europe and in the world. Despite the generally known discrepancies, our two countries keep up an active dialogue, establish new contacts and continue their collaboration in many fields, especially on the municipal level.
Our dialogue is based on equality, mutual respect and trust. The number of joint projects realised annually increases constantly, and also the intercommunal relations continue to develop steadily. All these activities demonstrate our peoples’ genuine interest to preserve peace and mutual respect.”
Evgeny Pervyshov, Lord Mayor of the city of Krasnodar, Vera Galushko,
chairman of the City Duma
“There must be a new movement; a movement supported by the idea of togetherness and the desire to move more closely together again. [...] We need a new dynamics in the mutual relations, a new impetus that does not just wait for a political-diplomatic process, but is initiated by people all over the world. [...] Without overriding the importance of urban partnership, urban partnerships have indeed a huge potential to create a broad basis of trust and mutual respect, a task that is more necessary than ever. [...] The longer the process of mutual distrust and distance persists, the more difficult it is to reconcile previously trustworthy relationships and to stabilize the connecting bridges of respectful interaction. Sadly, there is no button that can be easily pressed to restore lost trust. Trust requires a sustainable base. Concerning the consistency and stability of relations, urban partnerships work in an excellent way [...].
City partnerships are citizens’ initiatives for peace. They have the opportunity and the chance to raise their voices in the political debate. They are trustworthy since they are based on the experience of personal encounters. Friendships and acquaintances are the basis of mutual understanding and cooperativeness. People who meet regularly authentically see the consequences of the EU sanctions against Russia. They know that no one can be interested in harming the Russian economic development, which leads to the destabilization of political relations, poverty and social decline. Local political contacts can provide new economic impulses. Concepts of municipal public services – from energy supply to waste disposal – are concrete starting points for a constructive exchange of experience, and possible models of cooperation.
Moreover, city partnerships may feel authorized to take a stand against military rearmament at the eastern borders of the European Union. City partners are peace ambassadors; their goal is not deterrence, but de-escalation and mutual respect. However, they also have the obligation to stand up against discrimination and the restriction of the democratic freedom of expression. During many years of cooperation they have gained the experience that it is not always the big media impact that leads to success, but often the perseverance on the local level.”
Excerpt from a text by Jürgen Roters, former mayor of Cologne, concerning city partnerships for peace,
published on 30.6.2016
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