2nd International Forum of Twin and Partner-Cities “Political Solutions and Sustainable Territorial Development”

On the 31 of October 2015, Volgograd hosted the 2nd International Forum of Twin and Partner-Cities “Political Solutions and Sustainable Territorial Development.” 125 attendees from 9 world countries – Armenia, China, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Iran, Japan, Russia, the USA – gathered on the platform of Volgograd State University to discuss the issues of international and intercity cooperation and the methods of their resolution in today’s world. The event was divided into a Plenary session and two Panel discussions. During the opening ceremony of the Forum the attendees were greeted by the representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in Rostov-on-Don) Mr. Yury Zikeev and the rector of Volgograd State University Mr. Vasily Tarakanov.

“Volgograd’s activities in the area of international social relations seem very significant and efficient to me. Culture and people’s diplomacy are now playing an increasingly important role in the promotion of our country’s true image abroad,” noted Yury Zikeev.
Another introductory address was given by the rector of Volgograd State University Vasily Tarakanov. In his speech he touched upon the relevance of young volunteers’ movement in the matters of people’s diplomacy.
“Our volunteers have traditionally represented the region during the largest sport events, international meetings and summits. This year, our university is starting to train volunteers for the FIFA World Cup 2018. This is at once a great honor and a great responsibility for us, because our students will be among the first to meet and greet the city’s guests, thus shaping their opinion about the city, the region, the country in general,” emphasized the VolSU rector.

Before the beginning of the plenary session, the Forum attendees visited the People’s Diplomacy Center. Several months earlier, the proposal to establish such a center – made by the Governor of the Volgograd Region Andrey Bocharov – was supported by the Foreign Affairs Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov during the latter’s visit to Volgograd on the eve of the anniversary of the Great Victory. The concept of “Volgograd as a city of people’s diplomacy” was first presented during the 1st International Forum of Twin and Partner-Cities. It is within its frame that the People’s Diplomacy Centre was opened on the platform of Volgograd State University. The concept was further elaborated by the Mayor of Volgograd Andrey Kosolapov during the plenary session of the second Forum.
Among the speakers during the plenary session, there were the following persons: a Member of the European Parliament from the Czech Republic Jiri Mastalka (“Historic context of modern times and its role in shaping the future”), the Deputy Chair of the Board of the German-Russian Forum of Partner Cities (Germany) Wilfried Bergmann (“Law as a means of stabilization for regional development”), the Chair of the Board of Directors of Sister City International (USA) Bill Boerum (“Connecting globally, prospering locally – examples of success”), and the Deputy Director General of the Union of Russian Cities Sofia Novikova (“Participation of local governments in international and cross-border cooperation”.)

Historic memory and the future of international relations system – these topics became a subject of discussion during the first plenary discussion out of two. The conversations were sharp and vivid.
One of the reports was dedicated to the reconstruction of Hiroshima after the A-bombing, and to the City’s peace initiatives today. Mutsushi Tanimoto, Director General of Citizens Affairs Bureau, City of Hiroshima (Japan), called on the listeners to join the international city movement of “Mayors for Peace” dedicated to the elimination of nuclear weapons by 2020, so that no other city would have to go through what had happened to Hiroshima.
Christian Holtz, a member of the District Council of Denkendorf (Germany), shared his prolific experience of working in the area of international cooperation and efficient partner relations.
The next report, which provoked numerous questions and drew universal attention, was made by Gerhard Militzer, member of the Committee for peace and international politics of the Left Party of Cologne, Member of the Board of the “Cologne-Volgograd” friendship society (Germany) on the topic “Manifestation of neo-Nazi ideology in today’s world: possible solutions to the problem”. “Neither the society nor the government in Germany are intending to show tolerance towards the manifestations of neo-Nazism. We must always be vigilant,” emphasized the reporter.
The topic provoked a heated and interesting discussion, touching upon the influx of refugees in Germany and Europe in general, on multiculturalism and the threat of neo-Nazi sentiments emerging again. Among the most active participants of the discussion was a MEP Jiri Mastalka (Czech Republic).

“International cooperation as a tool for territorial development” was the central theme of the second panel discussion. It united a Member of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of Russia Ms. Tatiana Lebedeva, the Head of the Department for economic development of Volgograd administration Evgeny Uskov, the Chair of the “Cologne-Volgograd” friendship society Werner Voelker (Cologne, Germany), the Executive Director of the Volga Region Cities Association Vladimir Reprintsev, head of the Maardu (Estonia) delegation Tatiana Gordejeva, foreign delegations representatives, employees of cultural institutions, and public representatives.
Presenting her report “Sport as a resource of international cooperation for territorial development”, Tatiana Lebedeva used the example of two Russian cities Sochi and Kazan to illustrate how sport competitions and contracts contribute to the territorial development in the area of urban space improvement, transport logistics, and the strengthening of cultural links.
Evgeny Uskov presented a report called “Territorial branding as a means of development for Volgograd communications.” He explained that the municipality had started working upon a large-scale project – designing a new brand for the hero-city of Volgograd. “We are only at the beginning of our path towards the formation of the city’s new image which can make Volgograd more recognizable,” he said. “Already next year, we are planning to report about the concrete results of this work.”
Werner Voelker used the example of Cologne to speak about civic engagement in municipal cooperation projects and its significance for the development of international relations all over the world. “For more than 20 years the “Cologne-Volgograd” friendship society has been realizing projects in various spheres: culture, sport, youth exchanges,” he noted.
Vladimir Reprintsev spoke about the role of people’s diplomacy in the development of intercity relations on the example of the Volga Region cities. He also remarked, “We can see now that the resolutions of the first International Forum in Volgograd are being implemented within numerous spheres, and I am sure that this Forum will be highly efficient, too.”
Tatiana Gordeieva presented the Forum participants a report called “Role of people’s diplomacy in the development of intercity relations: twinning movement as a successful interaction experience.” “In the Russian-speaking Maardu, there are 17 thousand people of 55 nationalities, and the most active interaction is carried out with Russian cities,” she noted, “The cooperation program involves whole families – all this helps us transcend the border between our countries, erases communicational formalism, increases tolerance.”

The 2nd International Forum “Political Solutions and Sustainable Territorial Development” culminated with the adoption of a resolution unanimously approved by all participants.
During the concluding part of the event, speakers expressed the joint opinion of the event’s participants – positive practical experience of the local governments needs to be broadcasted globally. “One of the possible ways is to take to the practice of presenting such examples to the Federation Council,” suggested Elena Popova, senator from Volgograd region.
Elena Popova promised to convey to the other members of the Federation Council – those that represent the regions with the wider range of partnerships, – the ideas and practices presented during the 2nd International Forum of Twin and Partner-Cities. According to the senator, such an exchange of opinions can call increase the social interest towards the Forum itself. “In this case, already next year the 3rd Forum in Volgograd will become a large-scale – both in number of attendance and significance – about how to make the lives of people in cities and whole countries as good as possible,” remarked Elena Popova.
The senator’s opinion was seconded by a Member of Volgograd City Council, Director of Volgograd regional museum of natural history Ms. Irina Kareva: “The next Forum must gather as many attendees from twin-cities all over the world as possible.” The topics raised during today’s discussion offer us a formidable share of ready-to-use practical information that can be used efficiently for the development of modern cities,” she remarked. “Among the most promising tools for territorial development, we have named sport, culture and education – and the opportunities they offer must be used as widely as possible. An important role is played by the elaboration and the development of the territorial brand. Surely, next year we will see the satisfying results of this work.”

The Forum concluded in the adoption of a resolution. The participants decided to widen the scope of the event and establish a People’s Diplomacy Forum to discuss the relevant problems of international, regional and intermunicipal significance in various spheres. The People’s Diplomacy Forum will take place in Volgograd annually.
“Drawing a conclusion, one can say that under today’s circumstances, people’s diplomacy is more relevant than ever, and the moving force behind her is the partnering relations between cities and intermunicipal cooperation as a whole,” – concluded the Forum’s moderator, honorary citizen of Volgograd Yuri Starovatykh.

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