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When Iowans and Russians became friends
Iowa is calling off its sister-state relationship with Stavropol in the former Soviet Union. What did they do to us?
More than 30 years ago, Iowa became the first U.S. state to form a sister-state relationship with a peer in the Soviet Union.
Stavropol Krai in southern Russia was chosen in part for its similarities to Iowa — it had about the same population size and its economy was similarly situated around agriculture. Then-Gov. Terry Branstad led a delegation to the capital city Stavropol in June 1988 to sign an agreement with the local government chairman.
The greeting was overwhelmingly positive, The Gazette reported at the time. The Iowans were met with a banner reading, “Welcome Dear Iowan Guests.” They were showered with lavish meals and gifts, including a Russian-style hat and dagger for the governor and flowers for his wife. Children asked the visitors from Iowa for autographs and to match them with pen-pals.
Global economic sanctions and travel restrictions are having severe impacts on everyday Russians, not just the oligarchs.
The Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse and Russians were eager to form friendships and take tips from their capitalist counterparts.
“We realize not everything is good with us and we have to do a lot,” Ivan Taranov, the Soviet leader of Stavropol, was quoted saying in The Gazette.
After more than three decades, the sisterhood is broken.
Last month, days after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced she is calling to end Iowa’s sister-state association with Stavropol Krai, part of her effort to “demonstrate solidarity” with Ukraine. The Russians have since been scrubbed from the Iowa Sister States website.
Peaceful Russians are being swept up in the frenzy to condemn and curtail Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s military aggression. Global economic sanctions and travel restrictions are having severe impacts on everyday Russians, not just the oligarchs. There are troubling signs that our own leaders’ chest-thumping anti-Russian posture is seeping down to the public.
Outside Iowa, some businesses and organizations with links to Russia (or just Russian-sounding names, in some cases) have been victims of vandalism. To head off any possible disruptions, the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids brought in police presence this past weekend for the Russian Ballet Theatre’s “Swan Lake.” The performance group is now using an abbreviated name.
In Iowa City recently, a University of Iowa professor with dual Russian-Ukrainian citizenship was shut out of organizing a peace rally she helped initiate. She said she was harassed on social media by people who questioned her opposition to the war.
“I felt threatened enough to withdraw my participation,” Marina Zaloznaya told The Gazette.
If anyone benefits from this hostility, it is Putin, who thrives on division and disorder. He would love nothing more than to further drive a wedge between his people and ours.
Back in the 1980s, when Iowa and Stavropol struck up their relationship, the two states hoped to exchange goods and knowledge. The Iowans wanted to learn more about rural health care and practices to prevent soil erosion. The Russians were interested in buying agriculture equipment and selling their locally made wool clothing and liquor.
Today you’d be hard-pressed to find that liquor, since Reynolds recently ordered the state alcohol bureaucracy to remove Russian spirits from distribution.
Maybe the sanctions and exclusions are necessary — if they bring this senseless war to an end, it will be well worth it - but this is no rah-rah moment. It is our Ukrainian and Russian sisters and brothers who pay the price.
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