Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sister City Relationships

To Members of Sister Cities Association of Sarasota:

Some of you may be aware that about thirty American city governments are being petitioned to sever their relationships with their Russian sister cities as a punitive protest to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent signing of anti-gay laws in advance of the 2014 Winter Olympics to be held in Sochi.  Sarasota is among the cities being targeted.  After carefully considering our rewarding 19-year relationship with Vladimir, and in consultation with our parent affiliate Sister Cities International, the Board of the Sister Cities Association of Sarasota has issued the following position statement.

Nearly 60 years ago President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the Sister Cities vision of promoting a more peaceful world through people-to-people exchanges between individuals and communities conducted independently of political agendas. Sister Cities Association of Sarasota (SCAS), now in its 50thyear, is a community organization with nearly 300 citizen-diplomat members, supported by 26 alliance organizations, and a long record of positive, meaningful engagement with sister cities in eight countries.  We take very seriously our role in promoting Sarasota in the international arena.   

To terminate or suspend any sister city relation because of objectionable laws, policies or practices in other countries is to shut down the very channels of communication through which meaningful dialogue can take place.  This is particularly true right now in the case of our Sister City of Vladimir, Russia, where we must not turn away from our Russian friends at the very time they most need our support in bringing about a more tolerant society. 

Our parent affiliate, Sister Cities International, encourages keeping sister city relationships active -- especially when political issues threaten to disrupt positive, constructive relationships that have already been made.  International friendships are a means to a more peaceful and tolerant world.  Severing grass roots diplomacy only destroys opportunities to make a positive difference. 

For many years now the children of our two cities have enjoyed pen-pal friendships and every year Vladimir students participate in the Florida Studio Theatre Young playwrights competition.  A Vladimir artist won a prize in Embracing Our Differences – our annual Bayfront exhibition devoted to tolerance and international friendship.  And at this very time our relationship with Vladimir is blossoming into future prospects for exchanges in sports, ballet, circus, and tourism.   

The Sister City Association of Sarasota recommends that the Sarasota City Commission follow the actions of almost all other city governments to which this petition has been submitted, and continue Sarasota’s sister city relationship with Vladimir, Russia.

We will keep you abreast of any further developments in relation to this issue.

Beth Ruyle-Hullinger, President
Sister Cities Association of Sarasota
August 28, 2013