Juneau Extends a Friendly Hand Over the Bering Sea

Members of the Vladivostok Sister Cities Committee

The long-dormant relationship between Juneau, the capital city of Alaska, and its sister city in Eastern Russia, Vladivostok, was rejuvenated early last month when American Consul General Michael Keays delivered a book to the sister city committee there.

The book, written by Alaskan author David Ramseur, describes the blossoming of citizen diplomacy efforts across the Bering Sea during the late 1980s and early 90s, set against the backdrop of the collapse of the Soviet Union and normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia.

Families divided by the outbreak of the Cold War were reunited, and large delegations of politicians, community developers, educators, and interested citizens journeyed across the sea. Many Eastern Russian cities forged sister city partnerships with Alaskan cities, including Juneau and Vladivostok.

Now that relations between Russia and the United States have become strained once more, officials with the Juneau Sister Cities Committee believe citizen diplomacy can play the same role in diminishing tensions and connecting people as it did almost three decades ago.

The rebirth of the Juneau-Vladivostok sister city relationship truly began in January, when the Vladivostok committee asked for a copy of David Ramseur’s new book, Melting the Ice Curtain: The Extraordinary Story of Citizen Diplomacy on the Russia-Alaska Frontier.

The Juneau committee gladly accepted. They purchased an autographed copy of Ramseur’s book, and sent it via diplomatic pouch to Michael Keays. He then presented the book to the Vladivostok committee on the sidelines of the International Congress of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs conference on March 5.

The Vladivostok committee later returned the favor, sending a picture book about their city to Ramseur, which the author then presented to the Juneau committee. It is now prominently exhibited in the committee’s display case at Juneau Airport.

The Juneau committee hopes to enliven their bond with their Russian sister city through continued communications, parallel celebrations, and exchanges. They are also looking into sending representatives to Anchorage in July to meet their Russian counterparts at the 23rd annual meeting of the Russian American Pacific Partnership (RAPP).

The hope is to build on the connections formed between the peoples of Juneau and Vladivostok since the end of the Cold War, and to continue that rich history.