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Lawrence hosts mayor of Greek sister city this week

There was a bit of pomp and circumstance in the air at City Hall on Tuesday. An official delegation from Lawrence’s sister city of Iniades, Greece, was on hand.

Well, sort of. The delegation actually consisted of the mayor of Messolonghi, Greece. But here’s a good opportunity to learn a little something about our newest sister city. Iniades — it also can be spelled Oiniades — isn’t a city in and of itself like Lawrence. It used to be, but at some point in the not-too-distant past it was merged with two other municipalities to create what is officially known as the Sacred City of Messolonghi. (Lawrence residents, start thinking of how we can expand our name to something neat like that. Perhaps the Basketball Kingdom of Lawrence.)

The whole city covers an area of about 674 square kilometers, according to a brochure that Mayor Panagiotis A. Katsoulis graciously gave me. (That’s approximately the size of Texas, or perhaps it is about 420 square miles. I’m American. I’m not good with kilometers.) Either way, for comparison’s sake, Douglas County is about 470 square miles.

The Messolonghi area — which is about a four-hour bus trip from Athens — has about 35,000 people, and has an economy that is still largely based on agriculture.

“They grow a cornucopia of agricultural products there,” said Jon Josserand, a member of Lawrence’s Sister Cities Advisory Board. “Wheat, beef, grapes, olives, vegetables, citrus.”

The potential agricultural connection is one area the sister cities program may expand upon. Mayor Katsoulis made a point during his remarks to city commissioners that he would like to establish more exchange programs with Lawrence.

The idea of Greek agricultural leaders coming to Kansas to learn more about agricultural techniques is one that is likely to be explored in the future, Josserand said. Lawrence also is interested in creating a student exchange program, much like Lawrence has with its other sister cities of Eutin, Germany, and Hiratsuka, Japan.

It will be interesting to see if this sister cities relationship takes on more of a business-oriented slant. The economy of Greece is certainly looking for help where it can find it, and who knows what potential opportunities there may be for a Lawrence firm to benefit from a relationship with a Greek community.

Creating relationships is what the sister cities program is all about. The city formalized its first sister city relationship with Eutin, Germany, in 1989, then Hiratsuka, Japan, in 1990. Iniades was added in 2009, in large part because of the decades-long relationship KU’s theater department has had with the community. Since about 1990, KU has operated a summer study abroad program that uses Iniades’ outdoor theater, which dates back to 4 B.C.

This week’s trip was the first for Mayor Katsoulis to Lawrence. Through his interpreter, Katsoulis said he was impressed with the community and its people.

“It is a very different society than ours with a different lifestyle and organization,” Katsoulis said. “It is very quiet and in harmony with nature, and filled with people who respect the laws in everyday life.”

Katsoulis arrived in Lawrence on Friday, and will be in the city for about a week.

Mayor Panagiotis A. Katsoulis and his interpreter Dimitra Pitsikou, an English teacher who assists Kansas University's study abroad program that travels to Greece each summer.

Mayor Panagiotis A. Katsoulis and his interpreter Dimitra Pitsikou, an English teacher who assists Kansas University's study abroad program that travels to Greece each summer. by Chad Lawhorn

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