Bethlehem, PA and Corfu partnership signifies ongoing strong diplomacy between America and Greece
By George Sitaras
For only the 18th time in United States history has an American city united with a Greek city. The process began on Friday March 22nd at Bethlehem’s city hall in uniting both Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and the island of Corfu, Greece.
This all came about last September when Bethlehem native and St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral counsel member Bill Argeros contacted Billy Kounoupis of the greek historic society of Bethlehem about such an agreement. Argeros visited the island of Corfu over the previous summer and proposed the idea to the mayor of Corfu, Ioannis Trepeklis. Talks between the US ambassador to Greece, Greek dignitaries, the mayor of Corfu, and the mayor of Bethlehem, John Callahan, put the proposal into action as both parties found similarities with the two cities from different sides of the world.
“We share distinctions as historic cities, tourist destinations, and as hubs of both music and fine arts” Callahan said Friday.
Callahan spoke very fondly of their new-to-be sister city and hinted jokingly that Bethlehem got the “better end of the of the bargain” when seeing pictures of Corfu’s beaches, architecture, and landscape.
Billy Kounoupis further analyzed the opportunity as both a important step for the continued revival of Bethlehem since the closing of the steel factory and a key relationship for Corfu with Greece’s ongoing economic hardships.
“The partnership between Bethlehem and Corfu sets the stage for future collaborative growth and an open channel for exchange where both economies will benefit and international relations will improve” he said.
International relations between the U.S and Greece goes back to the Truman Doctrine in 1947. The U.S supported Greece following the conclusion of World War II with economic and military aid to prevent them from falling into the Soviet control.
Greece and U.S relations have continued to grow since, with an increased Greek-American presence following the immigration of thousands of Greeks to U.S soil during the mid-1900s. However, since Greece’s continuous economic struggles, politicians across America have been hesitant to lend a hand to the country on the verge of economic default. Sister city partnerships between cities like Corfu and Bethlehem will serve as a reminder to politicians that the relationship between both countries will remain strong despite economic downturn.
“By opening lines of communication and involving free ideas of exchange between Bethlehem and Corfu, we are looking to dispel these tarnishes left upon the reputation of a country that we know to be a stable and bountiful nation” Kounoupis said.
Despite the country’s financial crisis, Corfu has remained an international hotspot for tourism and vacationing. Greece’s tourism is one of it’s main source of income with it’s total revenue from international visitors contributing 15 percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Corfu mayor Ioannis Trepeklis has been one of the main advocates of Greece being an ongoing strong tourist destination. The agreement between the two cities will only help the country, which already attracts at least 17 million people each year.
The ratification of the sister city agreement will become official in June when Bethlehem mayor John Callahan visits Corfu to attend a similar ceremony.
The partnership will continue to propel both Bethlehem and Corfu’s respective economies into prosperity as each city enters the world heritage list with this agreement. The agreement symbolizes not only an exchange of culture, but another step in the right direction for U.S and Greek international relations.