It is difficult to think of two sister cities more different than Annapolis and Togliatti, Russia.
Annapolis is a state capital, a picturesque tourist destination with lots of sailboats and colonial charm. Originally known as Anne Arundel -- after the wife of the Second Lord Baltimore -- it was renamed to honor a member of British royalty.
Togliatti, on the other hand, is a high-rise city of 700,000 people. It was built in the 1960s around a giant auto plant the Soviet Union bought from Italy's FIAT. Called Tolyatti in Russian, it commemorates Palmiro Togliatti, an all-but-forgotten Italian Communist leader.
So much for "sisters" being alike; still, the relationship might prove beneficial.
A delegation from Togliatti is visiting Maryland through next week. To symbolize the ties of cooperation, a 45-pound bell was cast in a small portable furnace on the Annapolis waterfront, bearing the seals of the two cities. It will be rung on ceremonial occasions.
According to Nikolai Utkin, who heads Togliatti's municipal administration, his city is looking for ways to diversify its economy. That economy now revolves around the Volga Automobile Factory, makers of Russia's most popular passenger cars and jeeps which are marketed abroad under Lada and Samara labels. (For a variety of complex reasons, those vehicles have never made it to the U.S. marketplace, even though they have been marketed in Canada).
What can the Russians learn from quaint Annapolis? Possibly, quite a bit. Because its giant auto plant was regarded as having military importance, Togliatti, under Soviet rule, was generally excluded from the itineraries of foreign tourists. Now that the communists are out of power and a freer climate blossoms, the city's location on the Volga makes it an attractive staging area for river boat excursions. Perhaps Annapolis' business community can give the Togliatti visitors pointers on developing a successful tourism program.
In recent years, the Annapolis area has also benefited from its access to Chesapeake Bay and its proximity to Washington. Togliatti's strength is its auto industry. As Russia's free enterprise economy develops, the Russian city, like sister Annapolis, could become a natural magnet for all kinds of high-tech ventures.