20 November 2006
A Special Relationship with Pskov, Russia
The following is an interview with Massachusetts President Pro Tem Stan Rosenberg about the business and cultural ties between Massachusetts and Pskov, Russia. It focuses on issues of health care, tourism, and charity.
A Special Relationship with Pskov, Russia
An interview with Senator Stan Rosenberg
Interview taken by Renee Stillings, USRCCNE Chamber Treasurer
For the last ten years Massachusetts has had a special relationship with the people of Pskov, Russia, located about 200 miles from St. Petersburg. During that time, Massachusetts State Senators Stan Rosenberg, Therese Murray and Marc Pacheco and the University of Massachusetts Amherst have been engaged in a number of projects in the areas of healthcare, business development, tourism and academics. These Massachusetts Friends of Pskov have arranged for more than 20 delegations to travel back and forth and about 3 million USD has been raised and spent on various projects.
Among the most important projects they have completed so far are: the creation of a new academic program at the Pskov Polytechnic Institute in Regional Planning and Municipal Management, the creation of a business assistance center which provides business planning and GIS services, the creation of the Pskov Immunology Center in the Pskov City Hospital System serving 1200 patients, a shipment of two 40-foot containers of medical equipment, two exchanges of doctors and public health leaders, 5 tours of US tourists to Pskov, and several dozen faculty and students have participated in academic exchanges with the University of Massachusetts in regional planning and computer science.
Projects that are currently being planned include: additional shipments of medical equipment, additional medical exchanges, exploring the possible creation of a food sciences program at the Pskov Agricultural College (which would be the first in Northeast Russia), the creation of a Pskov tourism website to be linked to Massachusetts tourism websites, exploring a major initiative in the proper handling and disposal of used syringes in hospitals and clinics, a major public health campaign to educate the public about improving personal health (starting in the schools) and joint ventures between Massachusetts and Pskov tourism businesses.
A delegation of 13 Pskov business, government and healthcare leaders visited Massachusetts on April 2-9, 2006. The delegation was divided into two groups Ц one focusing on tourism development and one on healthcare. A Massachusetts delegation also visited Pskov for about 10 days in September to continue to work in these two spheres. As a result of these exchanges, it is hoped that concrete plans will be made to increase tourism between Massachusetts and Pskov and the to develop a new travel website for Pskov. In the healthcare arena, the participants are hoping to finalize a proposal to be submitted for funding to continue securing additional medical equipment, provide training for healthcare professionals and develop programs and materials to encourage better personal choices among the residents of Pskov to help address heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse and the spread of infectious diseases.
Senator Rosenberg recently took the time to talk to USRCCNE about these programs the special relationship between Pskov and his home state of Massachussets:
USRCCNE: Senator Rosenberg, how did this relationship with Pskov originally come about?
Senator Rosenberg: In the early 90s, a US and Russian government program known as the Institutional Partnerships Project (IPP), administered by IREX, was set up to establish ties between our universities for which grants would be allocated for joint projects. UMass Amherst applied for this program in 92-93 and was paired with Pskov Polytechnic Institute. This relationship, while initially between universities, grew into relationships between the regions and cities. Ultimately the initial government funding dried up, but relationships and friendships continued. Several smaller initiatives were launched. Initially participants tried to continue work with the region but we discovered that the city relationships were stronger. As politics change, we are now back to working with both the region and the city.
USRCCNE: What was your personal involvement at the time and how has that evolved?
Senator Rosenberg: I was asked to teach a course about the US political system and to coordinate exchanges of government officials. My first trip was in 1990 and I have traveled there 17 times since. I have visited Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novgorod, and a few other Russian cities. For me, this is a different type of travel. I have been to many other places, but usually only once. My relationship with Pskov is different as it evolves over many visits in which I am able to develop deeper friendships. I get to know families, watch their children grow.
USRCCNE: What is special about Pskov?
Senator Rosenberg: For me the main thing is the personal ties of course. But if to look at the question more broadly, as we must with our tourism initiatives, then what Pskov has to offer is an experience in a truly ancient city. In many ways it is a step into the past and the city has not been industrialized to the extent that you cannot see this history. There are many historic features in Pskov that are highlighted and protected. The city is known for its pottery, which has been designated a heritage craft by the Russian Federal government.
USRCCNE: A question of curiosity Ц what is your favorite food in Russia?
Senator Rosenberg: Definitely shashlik (kebabs) Ц both for the food and for the experience (picnic) surrounding it. Pskov also has great fish.
USRCCNE: What is the organization that is behind this relationship between Massachusetts and Pskov?
Senator Rosenberg: The organization is the Massachusetts Friends of Pskov. We also work closely with Caidres Foundation in Plymouth and UMass Amherst. Who the players are depends on the nature of the project. But behind this all are individuals and businesses who developed relations with Pskov during the delegations and take the initiative on many projects. Examples of this include companies Kutrubus Travel and Cross Culture Travel, both of which have since established tours focused on Pskov and Rotary International who about 5 years ago got involved in a healthcare project and now three Massachusetts Rotary Clubs are teaming up on another such project.
USRCCNE: Where does the funding come from?
Senator Rosenberg: Some comes from individuals, foundations, corporations. UMass worked on many of the major grants in the early stages of the program and are renewing this activity now via their School of Public Health and Health Sciences in cooperation with the Rotary Club and the healthcare projects.
USRCCNE: What are some of the recent healthcare projects?
Senator Rosenberg: Some simple examples have been shipments of medical equipment Ц and maintenance, of course. We established the first immunology center in the region. We sponsor online research services for this center, which then also translates health information, distributes it to other health professionals in the region, and organizes seminars. They also provide training on prevention strategies for infectious disease, heart disease, diabetes. A 3-5 year program to modernize diagnosis and treatment was also launched. Another new and very interesting project stems from lack of staff in poorer hospitals and orphanages. Orphans in particular often suffer irreparable damage from lack of attention and physical contact. We are working to train volunteers and medical personnel in physical contact Ц often simply going to the hospitals to hold babies. We are also working on a campaign targeted at improving personal health, starting in the schools.
USRCCNE: And what is taught in the schools on the subject of health?
Senator Rosenberg: While the subject is not entirely ignored, it needs development. Presently, it may be integrated into other subjects (depending on age of the students) and is often based on teachers' general experience rather than any specific training in the subject. It is not a coordinated program and rarely is a separate class.
USRCCNE: Other than an overall objective to "help" there must be other interests involved for these programs to be sustainable. If to look at healthcare and Putin's recent prioritizing of an increased birthrate and general health in the country, this would seem to be a market opportunity for Massachusetts companies. Do you see these relations as helping MA companies form inroads into the Russian market?
Senator Rosenberg: Certainly. This is happening in both education and medicine. A growing number of Russians are traveling abroad for advanced degrees and probably a dozen individuals from Pskov have earned graduate degrees at UMass. Increasingly they are beginning to inquire about the many universities in MA as they have come to equate the state with education. In terms of medicine, this activity is increasing and Russians are naturally looking towards the US for medical equipment and looking to develop relations.
USRCCNE: Tell us more about the tourism-related activities.
Senator Rosenberg: Delegations of tourism professionals in both directions have resulted so far in annual tours by MA travel agencies. One of the agencies started with running two tours a year and is now advertising five. UMass was awarded a grant last year by the MA Office of International Tourism to be used in developing tourism with Pskov, including development of an interactive website and further exchanges of delegates.
USRCCNE: Pskov is a little off the beaten track and the vast majority of visitors flock to Moscow and St. Petersburg. How should Pskov position itself so as to get a piece of this action?
Senator Rosenberg: It should be marketed as an add-on destination to itineraries including not only Moscow and St. Petersburg, but also Estonia and Finland. It is an opportunity to see one of the ancient cities of Russia. It really has that feel to it Ц ancient and little-changed. It is less expensive than the other popular destinations also. Some of the most popular sites include the Pskov Kremlin, Mirozhsky Monastery with its Cathedral Transfiguration of Christ, which is home to unique Byzantine frescos, and estates and museums associated with Pushkin, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov.
USRCCNE: One last question Ц but the most important one. How do individuals and companies get involved?
Senator Rosenberg: The easiest thing to do is to attend our annual fundraiser. This year it will be held on November 29, 5pm at the Union Club, Boston, MA. There is no need to confirm in advance Ц you can just show up and get to know the people involved and what we do. Contributions are purely voluntary Ц and they are tax deductible. They can be monetary or "in kind." Anyone interested in getting involved with our activities is always welcome to contact me.
USRCCNE: Senator, thank you very much for your time. We look forward to hearing more about these activities.
Contact MA Friends of Pskov:
Senator Stan Rosenberg
Find out more about Pskov:
Official Tourism Site for the Pskov Region
Answers.com entry for Pskov
Investment Opportunities in Pskov
About Izhorsk Fortress near Pskov