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Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Appleton's Surprisingly Large Role in International Relations

Did you know that citizens from the small town of Appleton, Wisconsin and the neighboring Fox Cities have played a surprisingly large role in international relations, especially with respect to the former Soviet Union? It's amazing what a group of visionary citizens achieved by imagining what could be done and taking action. Their vision resulted in a major conference in Appleton in 2003 where Mikhail Gorbachev recognized their efforts, and where a coalition of visionary cities came together to form Communities for International Development. CID promotes non-proliferation and economic development focusing on sister cities in the former Soviet Union. They have had a significant impact and have resulted in numerous exchanges between the two nations, with extensive bridge building.

Recognizing the need to deal with deadly weaponry left over from the cold war, and the need to help communities find alternatives to weapon making to help provide jobs and quality of life, local citizens simply imagined what they could do and took action. Amazing things have come from their efforts. And it's one more reason why I'm proud to live in Appleton, one of the most amazing communities in North America.

Below is an excerpt from a column written for the Post-Crescent by Dr. Montgomery Elmer, President of the Fox Cities-Kurgan Sister Cities Program. I just met him and his associates today and was truly amazed at what they have accomplished.
Sister Cities Program Is Grassroots Diplomacy

Imagine. Twenty years ago, a group gathering around a kitchen table to create an organization based on peace. It decided to reach over the Iron Curtain and make friends in the Evil Empire.

The Fox Cities Sister Cities program was born.

It's been almost 17 years since the first delegation of citizen ambassadors from the former Soviet Union arrived in the Fox Cities to discover and explore its sister city. The partnership and exchanges have reached thousands of people in both locations since then.

Hundreds of Fox Cities families have hosted Russian visitors. Thousands of residents of Kurgan have greeted our delegations and individual visitors on their sidewalks and in their buses, at concerts and hockey games. . . .

An agreed-upon plan of a community development model based on mutual trust and respect. Simply stated, this relationship constitutes a grassroots impact on foreign relations.

We have created accountable, sustainable and replicated programs in the areas of health care, education, economic development and civil society in the Kurgan region — shows those accomplishments.

We're the organization that brought Mikhail Gorbachev and multiple U.S./Russian community leaders to the Fox Cities in 2003 — shows the community partners that made this event possible. (Click on the overview section, then click on movie and view entire movie for a video clip explaining our efforts.) And explains the results.

Over the years, efforts to work together have often included collaboration with area higher education institutions. Faculty and student exchanges have been commonplace. Facilities at Lawrence University, Fox Valley Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley have often been a base for meetings and deliberations. . . .

The Sister Cities partnership started as a peace-building effort and evolved into a successful group that addresses community-building on an international level. . . .

Creating a culture of citizen diplomacy in the Fox Cities that actively engages all facets of our community and makes the world a little safer.

The work of citizen diplomacy continues. We have a new concept that we hope to make a reality. We invite you to participate in that process.
Here's a related 2003 story from about the founding of CID:
On October 1-3, Appleton, Wis., and Lawrence University will serve as the venue for a three-day "International Community Partnerships Conference." Emphasizing "security through stability," the conference will examine the crucial role grassroots, community-to-community, international partnerships can play in reducing the threat posed by the Cold War era weapons stockpiles.

Former Soviet President and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mikhail Gorbachev will open the conference with the keynote address Thursday, Oct. 1 in Appleton's Performing Arts Center.

At the conclusion of the conference, participating community partners will unveil the Communities for International Development initiative, a new non-profit organization dedicated to promoting cooperative programs and activities between sister cities in the United States and Russia.

Experts agree that improving the economic and social stability of the Russian communities where weapons of mass destruction are housed is a prerequisite for security.

Over the past decade, civic leaders and community organizations in five American communities -- Appleton (Fox Cities) and La Crosse in Wisconsin, Oak Ridge (Blount County) in Tennessee, Livermore, California, and Los Alamos, New Mexico -- have worked closely with their counterparts in Kurgan/Shchuchye, Dubna, Zhelezneogorsk, Snezhinsk and Sarov to create more jobs, improve health care, build sound educational systems and strengthen social infrastructure in these cities that house weapons stockpiles or were once major weapons development locations for the Soviet Union in efforts to reduce the threat posed by the weapons.

Representatives from each of the five community partnerships will come together for the first time at Lawrence University to discuss best practices and approaches from their own partnering experiences. They hope to develop practical models for strengthening collaborative programs in economic development, education, health care and the environment and civic development and federalism.

"We have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility as individuals and as communities to make a difference in this world," said Fox Cities-Kurgan Sister Cities President Dr. Montgomery Elmer, a family physician with the ThedaCare regional health system and conference organizer.

The conference is organized by the Board of the Fox Cities-Kurgan Sister Cities Program, Inc. with the involvement of several community groups and corporations throughout Appleton and the Fox Cities. Funding from the U.S. government's Open World Program will enable 30 delegates from the five Russian partnering communities to participate in the conference.