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Emanuel urged to suspend Sister Cities relationship with Moscow

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration was urged to suspend Chicago’s Sister Cities agreement with Moscow until Russia withdraws from Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, under a symbolic resolution advanced Tuesday over the opposition of Chicago Sister Cities International.

Samuel C. Scott III, board chairman of Chicago Sister Cities International, said Chicago has 28 Sister Cities in 27 countries and has never suspended relations with any of them — no matter what has happened in world politics.

To start now, as the City Council’s Committee on Human Relations urged Emanuel to do Tuesday, would only undermine a 58-year-old program that “builds bridges” and set a dangerous precedent, Scott said.

“Will Sister Cities continue on? Yes. But it will send a very bad message to the other Sister Cities and I don’t know where we stop. … I don’t know what the next trigger would be in eliminating a Sister Cities relationship,” Scott said.

Although Chicago is the only U.S. city with a Sister City relationship with Moscow, there are 73 other Sister City relationships between the U.S. and Russia. None is on the chopping block, Scott said.

“I feel very, very concerned about the fact that, when you stop dialogue and you stop sharing ideas and thoughts and things between peoples, you have the opportunity of making things worse — not better,” Scott said.

“My conversation here is one of saying, don’t stop the dialogue and, in addition to that, the people who will probably be hurt most by this will be the 28,000 Chicagoans of Russian descent. Those are the ones that benefit by what the Sister Cities relationship does.”

Scott’s argument struck a chord with Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), whose ward includes parts of Ukrainian Village.

“As a council, we’re cutting off that last tie that might exist between different cultures and different countries,” he said.

“You cut off people who are moderates in Russia, who are opposed to Putin and what he’s doing, who are opposed to the invasion of the Crimea, who are opposed to a Russian future that challenges the Western European powers, challenges the Ukraine and puts everybody on a war footing.”

But Waguespack and Scott were overruled by Ald. “Proco” Joe Moreno (1st) and his colleagues on the Human Relations Committee.

“The moderates who are perhaps in Moscow — if we cut this relationship, we’ll actually strengthen them. If we don’t, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and his cabinet will say, `What do you have to worry about? You still have your Sister City relationship. The U.S. isn’t gonna do anything. They’re not gonna cut it off. Chicago is not gonna do that,’ ” Moreno said.

“It will strengthen their position in a very small way to say that there are consequences.”

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), chief sponsor of the resolution, acknowledged that Putin will barely notice a symbolic resolution when he’s thumbing his nose at economic sanctions.

But he said, “It just gives comfort to people who live here in Chicago of Ukrainian background that their government is standing in solidarity with them. It’s just symbolic. It’s an expression of concern by the city of Chicago.”

Over the years, Chicago aldermen have taken stands on national and international issues from slavery reparations and apartheid in South Africa to the McBride principles in Northern Ireland to the debt Swiss banks owe Holocaust survivors.

In January 2003, Chicago declared its opposition to the war with Iraq. Nine months later, aldermen joined the 200-city stampede in opposition to the civil liberties “abuses” invoked by the USA Patriot Act, over the objections of then-U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

The following year, Chicago became the nation’s first major city to go on record affirming its support for the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance to send a message to the U.S. Supreme Court.

During an emotional hearing that featured testimony from a former prisoner of war, Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) threatened to never again recite the pledge if the high court struck the words, “under God.”