LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — The city of Lansing currently has sister cities in East Asia, Mexico, and Africa, plus a special tie of friendship with a city in Italy. This week, Lansing officials were hoping to establish that relationship with Suceava, a city in northeastern Romania.
Lansing was set to enter into the sister-city relationship with Suceava sometime between Oct. 16-18 at Heritage Hall in the Capitol–but that was postponed. For budgetary reasons, Suceava now hopes to send a delegation next year instead–likely in the spring, according to officials.
“They are very, very interested in the partnership. This will be something good for both sides of the ocean if we were to get this to happen,” said Dr. Maxine Hankins Cain, chairperson of programming for Lansing Regional Sister Cities.
Suceava is a city of around 84,000 people (with greater Suceava at close to 125,000) in the state of Bukovina, in northeastern Romania. The region is situated approximately at the place where Central Europe meets Eastern Europe.
The city is also a key point near the Romanian border with Ukraine, the country currently under siege by Russia. Lansing-area resident Ody Norkin brought the idea back to Lansing after one of his recent trips to Romania, where Norkin works to get medical and humanitarian supplies across the nearby border with Ukraine.
Norkin, who is the vice president of intercity bus company Michigan Flyer, delivers the supplies through Romania and to Ukraine with help from multiple mid-Michigan organizations, including the Greater Lansing Jewish Federation.
“The idea [of the sister-city relationship] actually came from the Romanian ambassador in Washington…he’s been very helpful to us in moving supplies from Romania to Ukraine,” Norkin said, particularly in helping to designate the supplies to Ukraine as humanitarian aid, and therefore as customs-free.
The interest in a sister-city relationship so far has been mutual, for more than just the average reasons. “From my perspective, we have a mutual interest in providing humanitarian support for Ukraine,” Norkin said.
Suceava isn’t exactly Lansing’s first European sister city, as Lansing’s city council in 2013 voted to end its sister-cities relationship with St. Petersburg, Russia, over an anti-gay “propaganda” federal law in Russia. The 2013 law prohibits the distribution of materials advocating for or discussing LGBTQ relationships, or rights, among minors. Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2022 amended the law to prohibit the distribution of such materials among any age group.
No such law is currently on the books in Romania, though same-sex couples still can’t marry or have civil partnerships there. The Senate in 2022 passed a bill banning the discussion of homosexuality and gender identity in public places, but it has not been approved there by the country’s lower house of Parliament.
Human Rights Watch in the past has praised Romania for its progress on human rights for LGBTQ citizens, as the country decriminalized homosexuality in 2001.
Sister Cities International started as the People to People program, as part of a presidential initiative by U.S. Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. It has hundreds of member communities. “Eisenhower felt that if we’re going to stop killing people and engaging in wars, that we have to be able to sit down together and get to know each other and see each other as being valued as human beings,” said Cain, the chairperson of programming in Lansing.
Cain said the organization–locally, Lansing Regional Sister Cities Commission–focuses on student exchanges, economic development, cultural experiences and a mutual interest in establishing peace around the world.