CAIF Update, March 2020 ITC (In the Time of Coronavirus) : A Timeline and Signposting to the Post-Viral Future (AC/After 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 that seems like another age, BC (Before Coronavirus).

Now we are in transition - from the way we used to live before COVID-19 started to wreak social, political and economic havoc across the world towards a totally unknown future.

CAIF is an organization that came into being out of the original international friendship association, CCIU, the Coventry Committee for International Understanding, which was created when Nuclear War threatened to destroy human life on our planet. In 2020 we are engaged in a new, biological,war”, with an invisible enemy, one which does not discriminate on grounds of rank, wealth, status or celebrity and which spares no one.

Between the beginning of February and 12 March CAIF 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, making plans for how theAssociation 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 raids. Mr. McKay had just released a new book, “The Fire and the Darknessin 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, CAIF, 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

CAIF representatives were pleased to hold meetings with Michael Hammond from the University of Warwick, Centre for Education Studies, 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.

On 13 February CAIF was pleased to welcome Marc Lalondeand 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.

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

CAIF 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 CAIF monthly meeting which was scheduled to take place on 19 March.

It had become apparent that the MF/CAIF/RGPForumConference 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.

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

Henceforward, CAIF members would be unable to meet as usual and all the customary proceedings of CAIF 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 CAIF 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, to date, a number of articles, comments and observations have been received and included. The resultant news bulletin, “CAIF in the Time of Coronavirus”, has been regularly transmitted in electronic form – sometimes several per day – to members and to friends in Europe.

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

This will be an on-going process for an indeterminate period of time into the future until such time CAIF can once again take up its mission to fulfill the cause of international friendship. 

None of course 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 theresafely 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.





We were pleased to be invited to the opening of this exhibition at the Russian Cultural Centre in Kensington, London. We met Dmitry Belov last year when he outlined his plans for this exhibition, which follows on from a similar one in Paris two years ago on the theme of Stalingrad and France during WW11. The exhibition was extensively researched by Dmitry and was areal tribute to his passionate knowledge of the subject. Councillor Abdul Khan, Deputy Leader of Coventry Council gave a speech. He was accompanied by Councillor Pervez Akhtar. I made a short speech , on behalf of CAIF, which I have reproduced at the end of this article. Our thanks again go to Olga Lawson, who was instrumental in liaising with all parties involved. The exhibition will come to Coventry in late April.


Venue: Russia Culture House in London, 1st Floor, 37, Kensington High Street, London Friday 31 January 2020 We are here this evening united by our shared concern to preserve the memory of the sacrifice made by the people of Russia and Great Britain during World War II. The Coventry Association for International Friendship, of which I am the Secretary, aims to continue the mission - begun in our city by Provost Richard Howard in 1940 – of spreading the idea of peace and reconciliation and of friendship between people. Representing the people of Coventry, we are here to celebrate the co-operation and solidarity which was started in 1943 and which is on-going to this day between the people of Coventry and the citizens of Volgograd. Conflict and the destruction - in any time, in any place - visits great damage on, not only the physical environment of a city, but, most importantly, on the civilian population and on the civic society as a whole. The restoration of a stable and peaceful society can take a long time and can only be achieved with the moral support of our friends. In 1943, a group of women from our city of Coventry, led by Alderman Emily Smith, made remarkable efforts to send aid to Stalingrad, as people gave sixpence each to have their names entered into a book of condolence and support. 900 women signed their names and these were embroidered into a tablecloth which was with then sent to the city with the message: “Little help is better than big sympathy.” Factory workers also collected money and this was sent to Stalingrad to buy much-needed medical supplies and equipment for hospitals.

In the book of condolence and support the women wrote -

We, the women of Coventry, greet you, the women of Stalingrad, and with you the brave women of the entire Soviet Union, in your splendid resistance to our common enemy, Hitler Fascism. Coventry stands as a symbol to the world of the ruthlessness and murderous brutality with which the Nazis wage their war against the civilian population of both our countries. Hitler’s savage bombers have not only claimed scores of innocent human victims, but have destroyed the most priceless and lovely architectural and cultural treasures of Coventry. So, from this city, scarred and ravaged by the arch-enemy of civilization, our hearts go out to you, who now face slaughter and suffering even more fearful … … we undertake to do everything in our power to remove all hindrances to maximum production, so that the brave soldiers, sailors and airmen of both of our countries will not lack arms in this titanic struggle. Once more we greet you, women of Stalingrad, salute your undefeatable courage and inspiring sacrifice, and pledge ourselves to play our part to the full until our common victory is won”.

Coventry was not the only place in Great Britain which raised raise aid and donations for ruined city of Stalingrad, as you can see from this exhibition, and we share in this history between our two countries acknowledging the struggle that Russia, in the form of the Soviet Union, and the UK endured together against Fascism. We hope to continue to assist in preserving this history of British-Russian friendship and co-operation and to help to promote the development of friendly contacts between the civil societies of our two countries.