National news reports daily on the ongoing drama between Russian and American politicians. While the media provides an endless stream of reports on tensions between the two governments, locally, the Los Alamos – Sarov Sister Cities Initiative (LASSCI) is striving to keep a relationship strong relationship between Los Alamos and its sister city, Sarov, Russia.
To do that, LASSCI needs community involvement now more than ever.
LASSCI Board Member Paul White said, “At this stage we need people willing to spend time thinking about how we can sustain constructive engagement even without the frequent in-person visits of the past.”
He added, “We need people to believe this is worth doing. We want folks to see the possibilities for the future and help carry the torch.”
The last time representatives from Sarov and Los Alamos paid each other’s community a visit was in 2013. Los Alamos Fire Chief Troy Hughes, former County Council Chair Geoff Rogers, former Deputy Fire Chief Justin Grider, County Manager Harry Burgess and White visited Sarov in the fall, after several delegates from Sarov had visited Los Alamos that spring.
Despite there not being any recent visits, White said people in both cities remain in communication through Skype, email, telephone and other means. He added the Mayor of Sarov Alexy Golyubev is very supportive of continuing the initiative as well as personally visiting Los Alamos as soon as such a visit is practical.
County Councilor Pete Sheehey, who is also involved in LASSCI, said it is important to continue this collaboration between the two cities. He pointed out you can “rattle sabers” but having that person-to-person connection is very valuable. Sheehey added Sarov and Los Alamos do some things differently but the two communities share a lot of similarities. “We have some of the same problems,” he said. “We want the same better lives for the people.”
White pointed out that although the current political climate has put a damper on the exchanges between Sarov and Los Alamos, the sister cities can still interact.
“There are limits,” he said, “but there are things we can do and should do. Some of these possibilities include electronic exchanges between high school classes, exchange of historical museum exhibits, and sharing contrasting views on the history of the Cold War – a natural connection with the Manhattan Project National Historic Park.”
The genesis of LASSCI may seem surprising; its foundation began during the Cold War.
White said Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists met their Russian equivalents during arms control talks in Geneva. He said they learned they could have good personal and professional relationships with their colleagues even if their countries were at the time political adversaries.
The relationship with LANL’s Russian counterpart nuclear laboratories was further expanded by former Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Sig Hecker. As an outgrowth of this engagement, former Special Assistant for Russian Collaboration Office of Associate Director for Weapons Physics at LANL Irv Lindemuth pushed for a Sister City Initiative with Sarov. Lawry Mann, who at the time was Chair of the County Council, also thought it was a great idea. With strong support from the Council, LASSCI was established as an all-volunteer organization to implement Sister City activities.
Los Alamos and Sarov officially became sister cities in 1994 under the Sister Cities International umbrella. Sheehey said there are 70 U.S. cities are paired with Russian cities, but only Los Alamos and Livermore, Calif., are paired with cities in Russia that also have nuclear weapons laboratories.
“The lab established pretty extensive lab to lab scientific collaboration,” Sheehey said. It has reaped a lot of benefits.
“It fostered friendships and human understanding and human interaction,” he said.
People representing a wide spectrum in the two communities have visited Sarov and Los Alamos. Teachers, firefighters, County Councilors, doctors, librarians are just a few.
“It really covers a broad range of activities,” White said. “We have learned from each other.”
High school students have also exchanged visits. Sheehey said many students from both countries have had their eyes opened from traveling to their community’s Sister City.
“That exposure to other societies is so valuable to education,” Sheehey said.
For more information about LASSCI, visit http://www.lasarov.org, and follow the Contact Us link.
From left, Los Alamos Fire Chief Troy Hughes, former Deputy Fire Chief Justin Grider, Los Alamos-Sarov Sister City Initiative Board Member Paul White and County Manager Harry Burgess meet with Sarov officials during a trip in 2013. Courtesy photo
Students from Sarov, Russia visit Los Alamos in 2011. Courtesy photo