CLEVELAND SISTER CITY PARTNERSHIPS. Sister City partnerships are cooperative political, economic, and cultural relationships established between two cities or communities in different countries around the world. Such partnerships have played a crucial role in forging diplomacy and mutual understanding among various nations and cultures. The program began in 1956 with U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s People-to-People Conference at the White House, which aimed to enhance international cooperation and dialogue. According to the Sister Cities International organization, which manages the program, cooperation between participating cities focuses on four major areas: (1) arts and culture, (2) business and trade, (3) community development, and (4) youth and education. As of 2019, Cleveland maintains Sister City partnerships with 23 cities around the world, more than any other city in Ohio.
The expansion of Cleveland’s Sister City partnerships occurred in four waves: 1964, 1973-1977, 1990-1995, and 2003-2019. In November 1964, Cleveland made its first Sister City association with the Peruvian capital of Lima, during the MAYORAL ADMINISTRATION OF RALPH S. LOCHER. The association was the initiative of the WOMEN'S CITY CLUB OF CLEVELAND and received much fanfare at the time. In October 1964, Lima City Councilman Fortunato O. Brown arrived in Cleveland to tour the city and sit in on CLEVELAND CITY COUNCIL’s deliberations regarding the official the Lima-Cleveland association announcement. Lima’s City Council reciprocated Cleveland’s decision in November. In March of the following year, a delegation from Cleveland and northern Ohio, led by THE PLAIN DEALER’s Latin American correspondent Mary Hirschfield, visited Lima as part of a broader Latin American tour and met with Lima Mayor Luis Bedoya Reyes. The tour also included a visit to the state of Paraná, Brazil, which became Ohio’s Sister State as part of the Alliance for Progress program at the same time that the Cleveland-Lima partnership was formalized. According to Cleveland’s major newspapers at the time, the Cleveland-Lima partnership also inspired a handful of Cleveland suburbs to forge Sister City associations of their own, such as ROCKY RIVER with Pátzcuaro, Mexico in August 1965. However, as exciting as the Sister City association with Lima had been for Cleveland, Mayor Locher was not interested in pursuing additional Sister City partnerships. When a representative of Bangalore, India contacted the mayor’s office in February 1965, requesting a Sister City association, Mayor Locher politely turned down the request, noting that Lima was Cleveland’s one and only Sister City. His successor, CARL B. STOKES, was also uninterested in pursuing additional Sister City associations and no new partnerships were made between 1964 and 1973.
In 1971, Mayor RALPH J. PERK assumed office. Well-known for his engagement in the affairs of Cleveland’s ethnic Eastern European community (from which he hailed), Perk took an active interest in the Sister City program beginning in 1973. It was in December of that year that the city of Brașov in the Eastern Bloc nation of Romania became Cleveland’s second Sister City. The city had been symbolically designated as such by no less than the country’s communist strongman, Nicolae Ceaușescu, who was then visiting U.S. President Richard M. Nixon as part of an independent policy toward the West, in defiance of Moscow. The establishment of a Sister City relationship between Brașov and Cleveland, then the 10th largest city in the United States, was a logical part of Bucharest’s broader foreign policy strategy. However, it also ignited an enthusiasm in Mayor Perk and HIS ADMINISTRATION to raise Cleveland’s international profile by establishing even more Sister City partnerships. The mayor even revisited the earlier request from Bangalore and established a new partnership with that South Indian city in 1975. Overall, between 1974 and the end of Perk’s tenure in 1977, Cleveland established partnerships with eight more cities – Ibadan, Nigeria in 1974; Ljubljana, Yugoslavia (today Slovenia), Taipei, Republic of China (Taiwan), and Bangalore, India in 1975; and Alexandria, Egypt, Holon, Israel, Cleveland, United Kingdom, and Heidenheim an der Brenz, West Germany (today Germany) in 1977. Of these, Perk was most proud of the association that he forged with the Slovene capital of Ljubljana in Josip Broz Tito’s Yugoslavia, a nod to Cleveland’s large SLOVENE community. The exceptionally high number of Sister City associations that Cleveland maintains today is one of the lasting legacies of the Perk administration. Moreover, during his time in office, the mayor reportedly pursued additional Sister City associations with Bremen, Germany; Milan, Italy; Guadalajara, Mexico; Dusseldorf, Germany; Gdańsk, Poland; Christchurch, New Zealand; Kumasi, Ghana; Careysburg, Liberia; and Nagoya, Japan.
However, upon his arrival to the mayor’s office, DENNIS J. KUCINICH decided to devote much less energy and resources to the city’s international program. Following the turbulent Kucinich years, Cleveland’s next mayor, GEORGE V. VOINOVICH, concentrated less on Cleveland’s international partnerships and more on rebuilding the city. However, rising Cold War tensions pulled Cleveland back to the table of international politics (see: CLEVELAND-RUSSIAN RELATIONS). In 1985, amid concern with the growing arms race between the U.S. and the USSR, liberally-minded residents in the East Side Cleveland suburbs of CLEVELAND HTS. and SHAKER HTS. pursued a Sister City partnership with the Soviet city of Volzhsky, near Volgograd. Their timing was perfect – coinciding with the rise of reform-minded Mikhail Gorbachev to power in Moscow. The partnership was formalized in 1988 and it initiated a movement for a Sister City association between Cleveland and Volgograd in 1989. Although this association was initially vetoed by Mayor Voinovich due to concern regarding anti-Soviet opposition from various Eastern European groups, it was eventually realized in 1990. By that time, the Cold War was over, the Berlin Wall had fallen, and communism had unraveled in the Eastern Bloc. Encouraged by Cleveland business leaders, the city’s new mayor, MICHAEL R. WHITE, commenced a new round of Sister City partnerships with various countries in Central-Eastern Europe. The partnership with Gdańsk, Poland, begun under Mayor Perk, was finally realized by the city in 1990 and a new partnership with Bratislava, Czechoslovakia (Slovakia after the 1993 “Velvet Divorce”) was established that same year. In 1992, Cleveland forged a Sister City partnership with the seaside town of Klaipėda in post-Soviet Lithuania. From the beginning of the fall of communism, Cleveland’s large HUNGARIAN community clamored for an association with Budapest. However, Fort Worth, Texas quickly established a partnership with the Hungarian capital and refused to share it, despite the best efforts of August Pust, Cleveland’s ethnic and international project director. The city eventually established a partnership with Miskolc, Hungary in 1995. Additionally, in 1991, Cleveland forged ties with Conakry, Guinea and Segundo Montes, El Salvador.
At the beginning of the 21st century, Cleveland forged six more Sister City associations with Mayo, Ireland in 2003 and Bahir-Dar, Ethiopia in 2004 under Mayor JANE L. CAMPBELL and with Fier, Albania in 2006, Rouen, France in 2008, Vicenza, Italy in 2009 and Beit Shean, Israel in 2019 under Mayor FRANK G. JACKSON. The city has expressed an openness in building new partnerships with additional cities while working to maintain the existing 23. On May 1-3, 2019, Cleveland hosted the Inaugural Cleveland Sister Cities Conference at the CLEVELAND PUBLIC LIBRARY, bringing together representatives from all of its partner cities.
|Sister City||Year of Partnership|
|Ljubljana, Yugoslavia (Slovenia)||1975|
|Taipei, Republic of China (Taiwan)||1975|
|Cleveland, England, United Kingdom||1977|
|Heidenheim an der Brenz, West Germany (Germany)||1977|
|Volgograd, USSR (Russia)||1990|
|Bratislava, Czechoslovakia (Slovakia)||1990|
|Segundo Montes, El Salvador||1991|
|Beit Shean, Israel||2019|
Pietro A. Shakarian
The Ohio State University
With special thanks to Chuck Mocsiran, Chief City Archivist for the City of Cleveland, for his input and assistance.
The Plain Dealer archives.