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Long Beach Council to Consider Proposal for Soviet Sister City

August 02, 1987|ROXANA KOPETMAN | Times Staff Writer

Long Beach resident Eugene Kovalenko, who wants to sing on his grandfather's grave in the Soviet Union, practiced a little in front of the Costa Mesa City Council last month when he sang in both English and Ukrainian to urge the adoption of a sister city in the Soviet Union.

But the crowd was hostile and the council--facing signs that read "Communism Kills" and "Keep KGB Puppets out of Costa Mesa"--voted against the proposal.

Kovalenko and others disappointed by the rejection in Orange County hope there won't be a repeat performance with the Long Beach City Council, which is scheduled to decide Tuesday whether to become a sister city with Sochi in the Soviet Union. Sochi is a resort city on the eastern shore of the Black Sea; it has a population of 310,000.

'Critical Relationship'

"I believe that the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union is the critical relationship in the world," Kovalenko said. "Anything we can do to relax the tensions between us can make a difference. The only way we can do it is (with) people-to-people activities. The governments can't do it. That means breaking each other's breads, reading each other's poems, visiting each other's homes," said Kovalenko, 53, an engineering manager for an aerospace firm.

Councilman Edd Tuttle, who worked on the proposal, said he does not expect any snags with the exchange program.

To head off one possible source of opposition, Tuttle and Kovalenko said they sought and received support from the Jewish Community Federation of Greater Long Beach and West Orange County. Tuttle said he wanted to avoid conflicts with the Jewish community, as happened in Seattle, where the treatment of Soviet Jewry became an issue in the selection of a sister city.

Sister-City Search

If Long Beach adopts Sochi as a sister city, it will become the 12th in the nation to have such a relationship with a city in the Soviet Union, according to Ethelda Singer, vice president of the Sister Cities International West Coast office. The federally funded program, created 31 years ago, has more than 800 cities in the United States affiliated with about 1,200 cities in 87 countries, Singer said. The program involves cultural, educational and trade exchanges.

Long Beach has sister cities in four countries: Chile, Japan, South Korea and the People's Republic of China.

Last December, the Long Beach council unanimously endorsed a sister-city search in the Soviet Union. Resident Richard Madeira, 40, carried a letter from Mayor Ernie Kell to officials in Moscow. Madeira, who is an independent film producer, also participated in a New Year's Eve candlelight vigil for peace in Moscow's Red Square.

'Alternative to Arms Race'

"We're dealing with an arms race that is so horrible," Madeira said, "that people like myself and others are trying to establish an alternative to the arms race."

The reaction was different in Costa Mesa July 20, when that city's council voted against a program with Melitopol after two hours of testimony. David Balsiger, an evangelical Christian writer who formed the Ban the Soviets Coalition before the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, was there to protest the proposal, along with members of his group, Restore a More Benevolent Order Coalition (RAMBOC), and other groups, including Young Americans for Freedom.

"We're somewhat saddened by what happened in Costa Mesa," Madeira said.

Kovalenko said, "They call themselves a benevolent (group), but what they're doing is the very opposite of that."

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