A Business Hanse delegation from Germany and Estonia visited the Russian Hanseatic cities of Veliky Novgorod, Pskov, and Kingissepp at the end of September. The current political situation was always present in the meetings with local business representatives and in the discussions held with the responsible persons at city hall. Therefore, Tiding asked Yury Bobryshev, the mayor of Veliky Novgorod, the largest and oldest Russian Hanseatic city, how important the Hanse is to him and his city, what connections exist to Ukraine and what he wishes for the future.
Tiding: What connects citizens and entrepreneurs in Veliky Novgorod with the Hanse?
Bobryshev: In 2009, the international Hanse convention was held in our city – the first one in Russia. We hosted guests from some hundred Hanseatic cities from 16 countries. Since that time, the Hanse has been a topic of discussion here. The citizens of Veliky Novgorod have experienced one thing: In the Hanse we are one large family. In the Middle Ages, our city played an important role in the Hanse. This makes us very proud.
How important is it for the companies in your city to be in the Hanse?
When we organised the Hanse convention in 2009, we consciously recalled that in the Middle Ages the Hanse was an economic association and even today can still be more than a purely cultural matter. Therefore, our aim was in addition to the tourist Hanse association also to establish a business association, which bears the term Hanse in its name. This was then founded in 2013 in the German Hanseatic city of Herford, which has since strengthened the collaboration with our foreign partners. In Veliky Novgorod, there are some joint ventures, for example with German, Dutch or British companies, which are very important to us.
What impact does the collaboration with Business Hanse have in detail?
At the end of September/beginning October, Business Hanse entrepreneurs from Estonia and Germany paid us a visit. The focus of the discussions was primarily on wood processing and waste management. Such visits and meetings bring Russian and foreign entrepreneurs together. In addition, of course, the contacts between the Hanseatic cities and the people who live there, persist. This is also always an exchange on a cultural level, creating friendships that are of very good use especially in our current situation. Politicians should learn a lesson from the good relations between the Hanseatic cities and their citizens. For me, the Hanseatic League is something similar to the EU: Already in the Middle Ages, the decisions of the Hanseatic cities were important. Today, we are very actively involved in the Hanse, because we know that we are meeting like-minded people and friends. I believe that once the same type of contacts are developing in politics as they are within the Hanse, then it will also work in politics. Here we can and must be a model with the Hanse!
What can we do to contribute to easing the tension?
The most important thing is not to break off the normal contacts and discussions between people. In August, we visited our partner city Moss in Norway, where the signing of a peace treaty 200 years ago between Norway and Sweden was celebrated. There we met with delegations from the U.S., from Finland, Denmark, and many other countries. No one spoke about the sanctions. Everybody was equal, all were friends. Nice, normal meetings were held between people from different nations and cultures. To have such exchanges and to interact with each other normally is important – and not what one or two politicians want.
Do regular people then want something different than the politicians?
Yes, regular people want peace. Large countries such as Germany and Russia should work on that. Everything used to be fine, after all. We visited each other in the Hanseatic cities and spoke to each other. We should continue to do so.
How do you feel: as a Russian or rather as a citizen of Veliky Novgorod or perhaps even as a Hanseatic European?
Novgorod is one of the oldest cities of the country and is regarded as the cradle of Russia. Therefore, I am of course a child of my city and Russian. But since the 12th century, Novgorod has also been a Hanseatic city and since then also a European city. I am firmly convinced that Europe cannot exist without Russia, and Russia cannot exist without Europe. They simply belong together. We are all Europeans and must maintain our relationships.