Duluth’s sister city Petrozavodsk elects young reformist mayor Galina Shirshina


Barton Sutter, a Duluth, Minnesota, writer and an influential teacher of mine, described Duluth’s sister city this way: “a city in Russia that sounds like a brand of vodka made out of diesel fuel, Petrozavodsk.”

Well, Petrozavodsk just elected a new mayor of some interest.

Galina Shirshina, 34, is a journalist who is the first woman to be elected mayor in the history of Petrozavodsk, capital of the Republic of Karelia along Russia’s border with Finland. More significant is that her election is regarded a major victory for the pro-reform opposition to autocratic Russian President Vladamir Putin. So, if she lives, she could be going places.

I learned about this from Duluth Mayor Don Ness’s Facebook page, where he delighted in Duluth’s sister city electing a young, cool reformer. I’m sure a lot of the liberal boys’ club would delight in a diplomatic visit from Shirshina, but I bet she’d take no guff. She cancelled her own inauguration ceremony, citing it as “unnecessary pathos.” How Russian is that!

Petrozavodsk has an English language welcome page, which it touts itself as a “valid source of information about our city.” That’s pretty good, but you should also check out the city’s tourism site history page. I’d say “sister city” seems quite apt, as its similarities to the Range and Duluth are remarkable.

Fun Fact: Petrozavodsk was occupied by Finnish soldiers for three years during WWII, when Finland repelled Soviet invasion and reasserted its independence. Many Finns with sympathies toward the Soviet Union left before then to settle in the Great Lakes region of the United States, among them the labor movement pioneers of northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. A group of these Finns would eventually move to the Soviet Union, only to be sent to Stalin’s work camps in Siberia. Others stayed in the United States and organized the Iron Range.

Not all Finns that came to the Iron Range were socialists, but all were literate and mindful of how they had been screwed over by many different empires. They endeavored to avoid repeating that history in the United States, with remarkable success.

Delight in some photos of Petrozavodsk:

Creative Commons license, Mikhail Petrov

Petrozavodsk! Mikhail Petrov, Creative Commons

As you can see, Petrozavodsk is very different than northern Minnesota.

Petrozavodsk people doing Petrozavodsk things. Mikhail Petrov, Creative Commons

Petrozavodsk people doing Petrozavodsk things. Mikhail Petrov, Creative Commons

Well, OK. Not that different. Pretty much the same deal.


  1. Thank you Aaron – once again, delightful reading!

  2. Be nice to see Duluth elect a reformist mayor, don’t expect it in my lifetime.

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