Music Diplomacy and the History of La Crosse-Dubna Sister Cities
Gilda Goldental-Stoecker, Communications and Public Affairs Intern, Sister Cities International, as told by Busya Lugovier
The La Crosse-Dubna Sister City story begins with a man named David Bell. Bell was born in Texas and lived there until he was 10 years old, after which his family moved back to Russia as a result of the Great Depression. However, when his family arrived, his father was suspected to be a spy and was placed in a work camp by Stalin’s regime. Bell always tried to reconnect with the U.S. but was not allowed to return to visit his family that remained there.
In 1986, David received a peace lantern that featured autobiographies of students from La Crosse, Wisconsin along iwth contact information. The peace lanterns were created through the Lanterns for Peace project, started by a man named Dr. Baumgartner in La Crosse. Dr. Baumgartner’s wife was an artist, so she designed and created lanterns that could be folded and sent with letters. The mission of the project was to stop nuclear war and was inspired by Dr. Baumgartner’s involvement with Physicians for Social Responsibility. Dr. Baumgartner specifically sought to do the project in Russia because of the Cold War conflict.
When Gorbachev rose to power, Bell was finally able to travel to the U.S., and in 1987 and began planning his trip back. During his planning, he decided to contact Dr. Baumgartner. When the two met in the U.S., they decided the cities of La Crosse and Dubna, Russia were so similar in terms of geography and population size, they needed to establish friendship and understanding between their citizens.
Upon Bell’s return to Dubna, he decided that first delegation from Dubna would include musicians. When he met Busya Lugovier, a famous viola player of the Dubna Trio, he told her that he was going to take her to the U.S. for the exchange to La Crosse.
The first delegation traveled to La Crosse in 1989 and included the Dubna Trio, (Irina Oganessian, violin; Irina Zaharova, piano; and Busya Lugovier, viola), Bell, and a businessman named Victor Prohorov. The Dubna Trio performed a concert in La Crosse and Lugovier described it as “the firework of our lives.” In August of 1990, a delegation of 20 people traveled to Dubna to sign an official sister city agreement.
Lugovier and others from the first delegation received an invitation to partake in the Festival of Bright Star, and on April 6, 1991, the Dubna Trio arrived in La Crosse. Along with the musical exchange, there were exchanges between teachers, students, medical professionals, and government officials. Lugovier was then invited to teach at the university in La Crosse and stayed in La Crosse as a professor of music for three years.
Furthermore, because of the awareness in La Crosse of difficult times in Russia, citizens of La Crosse gave the delegation many gifts to take back to the citizens of Dubna.
In addition to music, Lugovier cites medical exchanges as some of the most important exchanges between the two cities. Results of their medical exchanges include the founding of a diabetes center and school in Dubna by La Crosse’s Dr. Walter Vallejo and Dubna’s Dr. Olga Tarasova, called “Dr. Vallejo’s Diabetes Center.” His enormous effort to open the Center became his legacy to the people of Dubna. This Center helps educate the local community in Dubna as well as the Moscow community at large. Also, donations of wheelchairs have been made to Dubna by the La Crosse Rotary Club.
Since becoming sister cities, the two partners have hosted many collaborative events. Every five years, the two cities host events in either La Crosse or Dubna which have included music from the Dubna Trio, photography exhibits, other orchestra concert performances, and the unveiling of a Russian Garden.
Lugovier has many hopes for the future of the La Crosse-Dubna sister city relationship. She is interested in creating a documentary about their sister city partnership and how cities from two countries that were World War II allies and then Cold War enemies could become friends. She says,
Though there are conflicts, only people to people interactions can explain how we are the same and to allow people to understand each other and become friends. I have to tell what I experienced from the very beginning because it started with me. I ended up in the U.S., but I go to my country every year and am an ambassador in mentality and understanding.
Lugovier continues to work with the sister city association in monthly meetings and student/teacher exchanges. She also has assisted in the dedication of a gazebo in La Crosse, and works alongside the World Services of La Crosse. Recently, high school students from Dubna created postcards depicting photographs of the city and sent them to high school students in La Crosse to start a pen pal program and strengthen the relationship between the cities.
Lugovier served as the president of the La Crosse-Dubna Sister City Association in 2006 and 2013. She is currently on the board of the Association. She hopes that people realize the power of music and art in people’s understanding of each other. She sums up her hope perfectly by saying, “The language of music is a tool of intercultural understanding.”