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The History of UBC

The pre-history of UBC dates back to the first free municipal elections in Poland June 1990.

The city of Gdansk, which has a special historic role in the fall of socialist regimes in the East Europe, invited a number of municipal politicians from cities around the Baltic Sea to celebrate the historic occasion. Mr Anders Engström, then Mayor of Kalmar, Sweden, and Mr Jacek Starosciak, then Mayor of Gdansk, Poland, were appointed to prepare a founding conference for a new organisation for cities around the Baltic Sea.

The historical conference took place 19-20 of September 1991 in Gdansk. 32 cities from 10 countries signed the founding document. The most important decisions were adoption of the first UBC statutes and elections of the UBC Presidium and UBC Executive Board. Mr Anders Engström was elected as the first UBC President and Mr Michael Bouteiller and Mr Vjacheslav Tscherbakov as UBC Vice Presidents.

It was also decided to locate the UBC secretariat to Gdansk. Soon it moved into its new premises for many years to come, at the Green Gate.


The first years were in many ways characterised by the deeply felt need to restore contacts between neighbours across the Baltic Sea and to support the build-up of a completely new municipal organisation in the former socialist countries. The UBC meetings and activities were important meeting places for city representatives from all countries, and many new contacts and bonds of friendships were created.

The acute problems for the new municipal organisation in the post-communist countries also dominated the first years of UBC in many ways. There was lack of everything: equipment for schools and hospitals, spare parts for municipal buses, heating, experience and know-how… Contacts between cities often involved aid for municipal institutions in trouble. Many truckloads of equipment for hospitals and schools were transported across the Baltic Sea to the new friends in the post-socialist countries. In return came splendid and impressive cultural manifestations, like choirs or dance groups.

Also problems with poor communication in the Baltic Sea Region, especially the telecommunications, were very acute. The UBC Commission on Telecommunication - investigated possibilities of creating a computer network between the UBC member cities - that was before the Internet. One problem was that very few cities in the post socialist countries had computers, or even fax machines. Telex was an often- used communication tool.

Gender issues became important almost from the beginning through the work of UBC Women's Network, which organised activities every year. Also the UBC Commission on Culture had an impressive list of activities with cultural festivals, creating a database on cultural institutions around the Baltic Sea, and other activities.

Implementing Agenda 21 locally became one of the main activity areas of UBC after some years of intensive work by the UBC Commission on Environment. They also opened the first real Commission Secretariat with staff only working with Commission affairs, for example publishing the first commission bulletin, or starting projects, like the Baltic Municipal Environmental Audits (MEA) and many others.

After a few years, the perspective of the Baltic Sea to become an inland sea of the European Union became obvious after the accession of Sweden and Finland to EU. UBC started activities to prepare the member cities for this historical process, both internally with information, and externally by policy making, directed to the other BSR networks as well as to Brussels and the national governments. With funding from the Swedish Government it was possible to employ a special person working with aspects of EU enlargement in BSR.

Also the internal communication and information improved considerably by introducing the new Baltic Cities Bulletin and by new information facilities via Internet. The UBC Commission on Communication became obsolete and was terminated.

The situation around 1997 had developed enormously since the inauguration of UBC. The acute problems during the first years had been replaced by mature and "normal" day-to-day co-operation. Of course all problems have not been solved, but city institutions and working methods became mature, and a general strategy to solve or ease problems improved considerably. So UBC could start working with more long-term forward looking issues like UBC policy, action plan and general policy activities. Many commissions found their roles and became meeting places for professionals and politicians with impressive records of activity in most city sectors.

The work of formulating the UBC Agenda 21 strategy started. The UBC Commission on Environment arranged a large conference "Health and Sustainable Cities Conference" in Turku in co-operation with many European networks and organisations. The conference was a starting point for many projects and activities.

The economic crisis of Russia in 1998 hit the UBC Member Cities in the Kaliningrad region hard. Many UBC member cities sent help.

Many new UBC Commissions were created and became active, for example the UBC Commissions on Tourism, Education and on Urban Planning. The UBC EU Co-ordinators Network started activities in 1999.

UBC even became engaged far outside the Baltic Sea Region. The Swedish Government started a development project in the Lake Victoria Region in Africa with the help of UBC. The purpose is to build up a similar organisation as UBC among the cities in the countries around Lake Victoria. UBC inaugurated a special UBC Environmental Award to be awarded to the city that had been in the forefront in implementing Agenda 21. The first city to be awarded the prize was Tartu, Estonia.

UBC secretariat left the office in the Green Gate in Gdansk in 2001 and moved into a new office in the Residence of the Gdansk City Council.

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UBC Secretariat
Waly Jagiellonskie 1
PL-80-853 Gdansk, Poland
Tel. +48 58 301 91 23
Fax +48 58 301 76 37
E-mail: info@ubc.net