Introduction By Rosemary Butler AM
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The BEGINNING
by Rosemary Butler AM,
Past Mayor of Newport 1989-90

In the early 1980s, Newport had been successfully twinned with the southern German town of Heidenheim for some years and it was proposed, most probably by Cllr. Cyril Summers, that Newport Borough Council should seek a second twinning with a town or city in the Soviet Union.

This was formally agreed and an application was forwarded to Moscow where, it seems, it was placed in a Kremlin file.

Nothing more was heard for several years. Newport’s application was forgotten, even by most of the staff at the Civic Centre.

For an account of what happened next I rely on accounts given to me by Georgian friends. The idea arose, either in Kutaisi’s City Hall or University, that the city should investigate the possibility of linking with one in the UK. As a result a delegation travelled to Moscow with the primary purpose of finding a potential civic partner in Britain.

It seems that there were several British towns looking to twin with a Soviet city. So why did they choose Newport? An important factor, I’m told, was that Newport is a Welsh city. The Georgians were very conscious of their geo/political relationship with Russia within the Soviet Union and they saw a possible parallel in Wales’ relationship with England. They perceived other similarities between Wales and Georgia. The two countries are similar in size and population, both are mountainous with their own distinctive language and culture and, furthermore, both are strongholds of rugby, a sport which has a considerable following in Kutaisi.

Consequently in the summer of 1989, Newport’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Chris Tapp, received a letter informing him that the Kutaisi City Council of People’s Deputies would like to hold discussions on Newport’s twinning application. As the Mayor of Newport at the time I remember the surprise and interest amongst councillors and council officers that followed the receipt of the letter. We learnt all we could about Kutaisi and were intrigued by our findings. Consequently it was agreed in Council that the response should be positive.

And so, in October 1989, I found myself leading a Newport Civic delegation to the Caucasus accompanied by the Leader of the Council, Cllr. Harry Jones, the Leader of the Opposition, Cllr. Trevor Warren and the Chief Executive Officer. We were met with a warmth and generosity that exceeded all expectations. We were introduced to hundreds of the city’s residents, many of whom have remained close friends over subsequent years, and we were introduced to the superb archaeological sites, ancient cathedrals and glorious natural scenery of Kutaisi and its surrounds with which many of us in Newport are now happily acquainted.

We not only learnt something of the city’s problems, we also listened to our hosts hopes for the future, some of which were to be realised when Georgia gained independence several years later.

The members of the delegation had no hesitation in deciding that we wished to form a partnership with this fascinating city at the far end of Europe and to this day I have profound pride that I had the honour of signing the twinning agreement on behalf of the people of Newport.

I played a central role in establishing the Newport-Kutaisi Association and I remained its Chair from 1989 until elected Welsh Assembly Member for Newport West in 1999. I remain a committed NKA member and help the Association by all means at my disposal.