A new connection with an Eastern European nation opens opportunities for businesses, tourism programs and student and employee exchange programs to develop in the county.
At their Tuesday meeting the county commissioners agreed to sign a memorandum of cooperation between St. Mary’s and Pärnu County in Estonia after the Maryland Estonia Exchange Council requested a sister city link between the two.
When Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed a memorandum of cooperation between Maryland and Estonia in August of this year, the Maryland Estonia Council thought a sister-city link would help to cultivate a greater understanding of each other, raise cross-cultural awareness and generally advance the friendship through educational exchanges, workforce development, health care and business opportunities.
The sister links between Maryland and Estonia have been built over a 25-year military relationship between the Maryland National Guard and the Estonian Home Guard.
This partnership is one of many similar arrangements between other counties in Maryland and Estonia and is the culmination of several months of work between representatives from St. Mary’s County and the Maryland Exchange Council. Pärnu is one of 15 counties of Estonia and is in the southwestern part of the country.
Milton Davis, executive director of the Maryland Estonia Exchange Council, was in attendance to provide information about the history of the program.
According to Davis, the special relationship between Maryland and Estonia started in the early 1990s as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Partnership for Peace Program at the end of the Cold War. The Maryland National Guard had been linked to the Estonian Home Guard as part of a state partnership program. Since 2003 the Maryland Estonia Exchange Council has been coordinating non-military links and in 2009 the officers of the council became members of the Maryland Secretary of State’s Sister State Advisory Board.
Davis told commissioners that he and his wife have visited the country and found that English is widely spoken there, almost as if it is a second language, and the atmosphere was pleasant.
“This is more than a sister-city link,” Davis said, also mentioning there have been some university links made, specifically mentioning that Salisbury University’s link with the University of Tartu in Estonia has been especially successful.
“We’ve met with [St. Mary’s College of Maryland] to talk about” potential links, Davis said, adding that the council also wants to establish links with community colleges, such as College of Southern Maryland.
“To my understanding … this has been a long time coming,” Commissioner Eric Colvin (R) said, thanking the council for all of their hard work in making this connection possible.
Commissioner President Randy Guy (R) remarked, “This is a unique opportunity for St. Mary’s County, and we are proud to enter into this agreement.”