German-Russian town twinning – bridges between the peoples must not be broken

by Eva-Maria Föllmer-Müller

Current Concerns has repeatedly reported on the human and political significance and various projects of German-Russian town twinning. Considerable pressure is being exerted on them to break off their ties – and not just since 24 February. Increasingly, hostility towards Russians is also spreading.

Although in many areas of society: Culture, sport, music, science, politics, media – fuelled by an unbearable media hype (war propaganda) – in an indescribable rush and almost competitively existing connections to Russia were broken off, there are people with a spine who maintain the friendly relations between people, offices and organisations of different German and Russian cities that have been carefully, personally and lovingly built up over decades. There are over 100 town twinning arrangements.
  The President of the Deutscher Städtetag (Association of German Cities), Lord Mayor Markus Lewe from Münster, emphasised his decision not to cut the diplomatic thread at the municipal level.
  He told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (rnd): “I strongly advise against ending twinning arrangements with Russian cities now. Because here the connections are people-to-people, not at the state level.” Dialogue would create trust and understanding. “In this sense, town twinnings can send peace signals and have a de-escalating effect.”
  As Lord Mayor of the city of Münster, he had already addressed a personal letter to his counterpart Yulia Rokottyanskaya in Münster’s Russian twin city Ryazan on 25 January: “I am following the extremely difficult situation with great concern. I feel a great need to use this letter to reassure our friendship and our solidarity with the city of Ryazan and its people.” Town twinning had already made an important contribution in the past to the reconciliation of people after the Second World War. “I am grateful for the strong, friendly and trusting bond that has connected the people of Ryazan and Münster for 33 years. It is a stable foundation for our relations even in difficult political times.” Markus Lewe addressed the 500,000 citizens of the city of Ryazan with a video message: “Many people in Europe are worried [...]. That’s why it is a matter close to my heart to make it clear, especially now, how important our friendship is,” Lewe said in the video. The people of Münster had always experienced hospitality and responsibility in Ryazan. “Especially now we have to stick together. Perhaps we will succeed in sending a sign of peace,” said Lewe in his video message.
  According to a survey by Der Spiegel among 82 German cities that maintain partnerships with Russian cities, none had basically ended them. 44 cities said they maintained the partnership, including Braunschweig, Berlin and Cottbus, as well as Fulda, Bad Homburg and Offenbach.
  In some cities, the citizens are really fighting to maintain their partnership, for example in Erlangen or Düsseldorf. Wolfsburg also maintains its connection with Tolyatti, as does Gera with Pskov, Suhl with Kaluga; Villingen-Schwenningen also maintains its partnership with Tula, as does Krefeld with Ulyatovsk. The Lord Mayor of Stuttgart, Frank Nopper, also maintains the 30-year town twinning with Samara, despite the fact that the Ukrainian Consul General had called for its dismantling.
  Thomas Kufen, Lord Mayor of the city of Essen, which has had a partnership with Nizhny Novgorod for 30 years, writes to his counterpart Yuri Shalabayev, Mayor of the city of Nizhny Novgorod, on 18 March: “Together I would like to build on the good partnership relations and work together towards a peaceful solution for Ukraine, Russia and Europe. I am convinced that the cooperation so far within the framework of our town twinning has shown what is possible in terms of international understanding and economic, scientific and cultural cooperation.” [...]
  With each passing day, it becomes more difficult to successfully reject public demands to break off partnership relations. Like the Association of German Cities, I have spoken out in favour of not ending the twinning arrangements with Nizhny Novgorod and with Russian cities. Because here, the relations are from human to human, not at the state level. In this sense, city diplomacy can send peace signals and have a de-escalating effect. We appeal to our twin city Nizhny Novgorod to do everything together to restore and preserve peace.”
  The lively town twinning of Vladimir/Erlangen has existed for almost 40 years and has received many awards, in 2002 from the then Federal President Johannes Rau. Before Corona, there were over a hundred exchanges a year, of choirs, sports teams and school classes, with thousands of citizens taking part every year, as former social mayor Elisabeth Preuss emphasised at a rally for the continuation of the partnership. In 2018, German Foreign Minister Maas and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov honoured the partnership blog with a certificate of thanks. The motion by two Erlangen city councillors to “put the partnership to the test” led to lively discussions and rallies. At the city council meeting on 1 April, a resolution to continue the twinning was adopted almost unanimously. For the Lord Mayor Florian Janik, the dialogue of citizens across borders and cultures remains central.
  The city of Gera has two Russian town twinning agreements with Rostov-on-Don (34 years) and with Pskov (26 years). As Lord Mayor Julian Vonarb emphasised to the “Ostthüringer Zeitung” on 16 March, Gera’s ties to the Russian cities remain unbroken. “Because trust and responsibility are the anchor that holds us together permanently.” For the friendly relations, which are based on appreciation, mutual respect and grown trust, it would be “a fatal sign to dissolve the partnerships”.  •

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