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C.A.I.F. Update, March 2021, ITC (In the Time of Coronavirus)

Much has happened since CAIF attended the opening of the “Stalingrad in British History”exhibition at the Russia Culture House in London, on Friday 31 January 2020.

One might say that time seems like another age, BC (Before Coronavirus).

Since that time we have experienced 3 periods of lockdown – isn’t it remarkable how our vocabulary has developed during the past 12 months as we have all become used to new terminology and behavioural categorisations - and we remain in a process of transition - from the way we used to live before COVID-19 started to wreak social, political and economic havoc across the world - towards an unknown and uncertain future.

C.A.I.F. came into being as an organization out of Coventry’s original association of international friendship, the C.C.I.U., the Coventry Committee for International Understanding, which was created when the development of thermonuclear weapons and their deployment by the two superpowers of the time – the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union - threatened to destroy human life on our planet. In 2020 we became engaged in a new “war”, with an invisible, biological enemy, one which does not discriminate on grounds of rank, wealth, status or celebrity and which has spared no one. 

Between the beginning of February and 12 March 2020 C.A.I.F. continued to develop its network of contacts within the city, many of which were related to the UK City of Culture 2021, towards which many people were looking forward with excitement and anticipation, and we were making plans for how the Association would participate.

Early in February members attended a public conversation which took place in Coventry Cathedral between the author, Sinclair McKay, and the TV presenter, Dan Snow, to mark the 75th anniversary of the Dresden bombing raids carried out by Allied air forces. Mr. McKay had just released a new book, “The Fire and the Darkness”, in which he discusses one of the most devastating bombing campaigns of WWII and the lingering effects it has had on the city of Dresden.

Preparations were also proceeding for the conference to be held in Coventry in April entitled “International Conference on Protecting & Rebuilding the Urban Centres in Post ISIS Middle East/The City of Mosul as an Example”.A number of eminent specialists on the subject had been invited who would be coming from as far afield as Spain, Canada, Tunisia, Doha, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.  The principal organizer, the Mosul Foundation, and its partner, C.A.I.F., were particularly appreciative of the contribution that was being made by Richard Dickson, the Development Manager of the RISING Global Peace Forum at Coventry University.

Also planned for late April was the staging of the “Stalingrad in British History”exhibition in Coventry the opening of which would coincide with a weekend of roundtables under the auspices of the Coventry Twin & Sister Cities Forum 2020. These discussions would focus on the twinning link between Coventry and Volgograd, projects between the Twin & Sister cities of the United Kingdom and Russia (with a delegation from Volgograd and Russian speaking people from various regions of the UK), and an International Day of Twin Cities

C.A.I.F. representatives were pleased to hold meetings with Michael Hammond from the Centre for Education Studies at University of Warwick, who was involved in a research project on twinning and with two of the producers for City of Culture 2021, Molly Adkins and Ellen Booth, in which discussions took place on potential areas of collaboration.

In February 2020 C.A.I.F. had also been pleased to welcome Marc Lalonde and his students from the Technical University Dresden who came to Coventry to perform a play, “Train of Life”, in the Studio Theatre at King Henry VIII School, Coventry.

Thus, many activities were taking place, but as the month of March unfolded it was becoming increasingly clear that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic, which had already taken hold in China and South East Asia, was beginning to appear significantly in Europe, notably in Northern Italy.

C.A.I.F. representatives decided not to attend the Coventry Film Roundtable hosted by Film Hub Midlands and Coventry 2021 at The Box, FarGo Village, on the grounds that large gatherings were potential arenas for the transmission of the virus, and a decision was taken to cancel the forthcoming C.A.I.F. monthly meeting scheduled to take place on 19 March 2020.

It had become apparent that the MF/C.A.I.F./RGPForum Conference could not take place as intended as various delegates from across the world indicated that they would be unable to attend as the coronavirus began to affect travelling arrangements, and a decision was taken for postponement. Similarly the “Stalingrad in British History”exhibition would not be transferred from its previous venue in St. Albans up to Coventry and the weekend of roundtables was also postponed to an unknown date sometime in the future.

Visits to Kiel and Dresden by C.A.I.F. representatives, planned for June 2020, and the rendezvous planned to take place in Brussels in September between C.A.I.F. and friends from Kiel, as well as visits to Coventry by friends from Kiel and Dresden had to be indefinitely postponed.

Henceforward, C.A.I.F. members would be unable to meet as usual and all the customary proceedings of the Association were moved into a digital dimension and remote forms of communication. 

In order to maintain some semblance of business - one can hardly describe this as normality - and in order to address the issue of how C.A.I.F. could maintain communication amongst the membership and friends and fellow associations abroad during the ensuing period of social distancing and isolation, it was decided to produce a newsletter to appear at regular intervals.

All members were invited to support this initiative and to make contributions and, over a period of a few months, a number of articles, comments and observations were received and included. The resultant news bulletin,“C.A.I.F. in the Time of Coronavirus”,was regularly transmitted in electronic form – sometimes several per day – to members and to friends in Europe and, between 20 March and 27 June, 175 individual bulletins were published.

The items included ranged from how people had been spending their time, how they had been coping with the lockdown, how they had been responding to news reaching them from within the UK or from outside and comments, thoughts, anecdotes and experiences to do with the Coronavirus pandemic.

Eventually, the process of production ran out of steam – although between 27 June – 8 October a new newsletter “C.A.I.F in the New Normal” was produced in the form of another 14 bulletins

From late July and mid-August 2020, the focus of C.A.I.F.’s attention switched to developing links with Volgograd and with Dresden, each one in pursuit of our mission to fulfill the cause of international friendship.

In the case of Volgograd the friendship link took the form of online meetings using the Zoom platform to discuss making an Appeal to the United Nations based on the historic twinning link - established in 1944 - between Coventry and Stalingrad. 

At the first online meeting held on 26 June 2020 C.A.I.F submitted this statement in supporting this initiative :-

“Peace in the world depends upon the recognition of mutual interests, of shared goals for the development of a sustainable world for the living and for future generations to come.

Understanding historical events and processes in the development of civilisation on this, our Earth, depends on having access to the true unfolding of events. We know that the representation and understanding of history can be distorted by the bias of the historian - political, cultural or otherwise - or, worse, by the interpretations made in retrospect by nations to serve their interests in perpetuating the myths of victory or to explain away the pain and consequences of defeat.

C.A.I.F. subscribes to the view that Peace can only prevail where there is forgiveness and that this can only happen where there is contrition and acceptance of wrongdoing, an acceptance that unconscionable behaviour has taken place, where atrocities against humanity have been perpetrated, even by both sides in a conflict. There is also a need for some form of restorative recompense and by a commitment to the renewal of trust, respect and friendship.  

If we wish to remember our shared history in the furtherance of the spirit of solidarity let it be done without recourse to distorting the facts of that history and commit ourselves to the free exchange of ideas and constructive criticisms”.

Further meetings were held in September 2020 following which C.A.I.F. took the initiative of drafting a wording for the Appeal which, after considerable discussion and revision, in particular in response to some suggestions made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Russia, was adopted as the final version. 

It was anticipated that the Appeal to the United Nations would be made in person but, owing to the pandemic it was then proposed that it would be submitted on UN75 Day, 24 October 2020 - the 75th anniversary of the day on which the U.N. Charter entered into force in 1945 - a day on which there would be a gathering together of people’s opinions about how the U.N. should develop in the future. 

To carry out this idea it was proposed that a video recording of the Appeal would be made in which the text would be read by various people from Coventry and Volgograd who each would deliver a specific section. Roze Navab, a 3rdYear Media student at Coventry University, was asked to carry out the task of making the video which she did to great effect.

Of course, no one can be certain about how this pandemic is going to impact on our lives and the social, economic and political dislocations that have already occurred - with the potential for more and worse to come - will undoubtedly present radical challenges to the ways in which we will come together, especially with regard to international travel, across borders. Attitudes towards international friendship and collaboration may be subjected to some major questioning if not opposition.

This will be in a Post-Viral Future (AC/After Coronavirus). 

To get there safely and with our values still in place and to understand the new territory that we will be occupying will require a resetting of the Twinning Clock and the Twinning Compass and a complete re-think by the membership and our colleagues abroad of what we want to achieve and the means by which we will intend and be able to do that. 


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