On 15 June 2020 the Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Brussels, with the support of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) RAS organized an online discussion with leading think tanks in Russia and Europe: “International cooperation and public diplomacy during the pandemic crisis: challenges, practices, trends” with participation of Fyodor LUKYANOV, Editor-in-chief of the Russia in Global Affairs magazine.
Vera Bunina: Good afternoon! Dear honorable participants of the international Forum «European Meridian XXI». We are glad to welcome you at our online discussion «International cooperation and public diplomacy during pandemic crisis: challenges, practices and trends». The current pandemic crisis, unprecedented in modern history, has affected all spheres of public life.
Last year, in 2019 we organized the forum in Royal Institute of International Relations, Egmont Institute, with many distinguished experts. But this time we organize our event with Rossotrudnichestvo, Institute of Europe and Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences in a new online format, and we should underline that we have very interesting and impressive amount of experts from different fields.
Our moderator today is Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs Magazine. We are really glad to welcome our experts from College of Europe, MGIMO University, Liege University, think tank Geopragma, Russian International Affairs Council, Centre for Fine Arts Brussels «Bozar», Royal Institute for International Relations, Egmont Institute, International cultural program «Russian seasons». The wide broadcasting led more than 200 participants from all over Europe to register and join the event as well as follow it online in social media, on our Facebook page and Youtube. I have the honor to give the floor to Mr Aleksandr Tokovinin, Ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the Kingdom of Belgium.
Aleksandr Tokovinin: Thank you, Mrs Bunina. Good afternoon, dear collegues! I am very pleased to have this opportunity to welcome the participants of the webinar, held in the framework of the «European Meridian XXI» sessions. These series of discussions of topical issues of international life was conceived by Rossotrudnichestvo and its head Eleonora Mitrofanova, who is now passing the reins of the organization to her successor.
The first seminar, centered around the problems of migration, was held last year in Brussels in cooperation with the Egmont Institute. I’m very glad that this initiative is being pursued, though now in online format, dictated by the circumstances. I would like to commend here the efforts undertaken for the success of this event by the head of the Russian Cultural Center in Belgium Vera Bunina. The idea behind the endeavor is to provide the platform for professional exchange of views between Russian and European experts. It’s quite obvious that the crisis the world is going through makes such exchange even more important. It is generally accepted today, that the pandemic and its economic and other consequences accelerate change and pose a lot of important questions, including in international relations. Searching for answers for these questions is a tremendous challenge for the expert community. Now, when the structures of the established order are becoming more fluid, it seems to be the time to suggest innovative ideas, corresponding to the reality. The threat of increasing turmoil and chaos in global affairs makes it logical to suggest that stressing the realist politics would be the right trend to follow. In this regard I believe most ever thought should be given now to restarting meaningful cooperation on the European continent in a way that would help to cope with the current crisis in its various dimensions. As Foreign Minister Lavrov put it in his article published a couple of days ago, «The possibility to create an architecture of peace and stability on our common continent is still there.» And he added that to move forward on that track we all need «strategic vision», a vision which in a world of change cannot be rooted in archaic concepts or ideological clichés, but can only be a product of good will and clear-eyed analysis. For sure people-to-people contacts, cultural cooperation and public diplomacy have a major role to play in trying to turn the tide of events in European space in the positive direction. I hope today’s conference will be a welcomed contribution to these efforts! Let me wish you an interesting and fruitful discussion! And thank you for your attention!
Vera Bunina: Thank you very much, your Excellency! And now I give the floor to Madam Eleonora Mitrovanova, ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary, who was the head of the Federal Agency Rossotrudnichestvo in 2017-2020 and was one of the initiators of this forum and this event.
Eleonora Mitrofanova: Thank you very much, Mrs Bunina! Dear ladies and gentlemen! I am very glad to see you all and I am very happy that this initiative, which was launched so well last year, continues. I hope that we will have a permanent discussion platform here in the center of Europe.
It should be highlighted, of course, that this rapid spread of the coronavirus and the measures taken by governments have led to certain consequences for the economy, the financial system, and in general to the unbalancing of many aspects of our current life, including the political side of it. This problem is still waiting to be researched. I think that a little later under the auspices of «Meridian XXI» it will be possible to assess the consequences of the events. I will probably talk more about what changes we have felt as a cultural institution and what can be used in the future in our work. I must say that since the beginning of the pandemic, international cooperation in science, culture, and education has received completely new and unexpected vectors of development. We thought that the pandemic would interrupt all work and projects that had already been planned, but it turned out to be the opposite — there was some unexpected activation. This problem is still waiting to be researched. I think that a little later under the auspices of «Meridian XXI» it will be possible to assess the consequences of the events. I will probably talk more about what changes we have felt as a cultural institution and what can be used in the future in our work. I must say that since the beginning of the pandemic, international cooperation in science, culture, and education has received completely new and unexpected vectors of development. We thought that the pandemic would interrupt all work and projects that had already been planned, but it turned out to be the opposite — there was some unexpected activation. We’ll have to understand it better in future. The field of science, for example, saw a reorientation and transition to online cooperation. Digital platforms have started to be used more actively, and online access to data, publications, and infrastructure has been opened in many institutions. We can see this clearly in the sphere of medicine, where cooperation has increased in search for a vaccine against coronavirus and so on. The pandemic has spurred the development of what is called «open science» — platforms where data about observations and experiments, is collected, and all the publications are open for public.
UNESCO in its recent documents notes the importance of open science. In April the European Commission created an online resource where scientists from different countries could share data and research results, for example, on coronavirus, from national and international sources. In the time of the pandemic, international cooperation in education has increased. Again, I shall quote UNESCO: this organization has announced that it will unite its efforts with the efforts of civil society and partners to create a broad coalition on education. According to UNESCO, school closures due to the pandemic have affected 87%of students worldwide – more than 1.5 billion students in 165 countries. Obviously, this is a large number. The coalition aims to support national initiatives to expand the use of distance learning to support children and youth who are at risk of lacking access to education. Those who have children of school or university age will understand me. My son is completing his bachelor’s degree now, and we know very well that even state exams are conducted remotely. Although in March there were difficulties at first, now everything is fine. I am not sure that this means that in future we will be able to switch to distance learning completely, because what is important is socialization of children. Nevertheless, this is a huge help, and now it has been tested in practical mode. Similar forms of development of international online cooperation within the framework of inter-university cooperation during the pandemic also demonstrate their effectiveness, because the number of online round tables and conferences has increased. And I think that this has become a certain testing ground for everyone, that maybe in the future you won’t always need to fly to another end of the world for one day to give a lecture or a presentation. We will be able to do it online on regular basis.
The pandemic and isolation have also had a massive impact on culture. They taught us how to conduct cultural programs in virtual space. And the number of people who have had access to online events cannot be compared to the number of visitors that a single Museum or theater can accept over the years. For example, Valery Gergiev, the artistic director of the Mariinsky theatre, said that during the 3 months of the pandemic 72 million viewers watched the theatre’s performances. The same is applicable to the Bolshoi theatre, the same can be said about museums. And we know this from our own experience, because many of our representatives switched to online work easily and fruitfully, and the audience has expanded significantly, because online events in France, for example, started to unite compatriots and interested people from all over the world. The same about our Victory Day — flash mobs were held all over the world, people sang songs, graduates of Russian and Soviet universities were very active in it. In General, it was really unexpected, and I think we should keep this concept in the future.
One of the most important fields of work of our cultural centers is Russian language courses. 19 thousand trainees attend our courses in stationary mode. The educational process in many centers in Belgium, France, and Germany has switched to the online format and has been quite successful so farl. Groups of students who joined this online training were formed according to their level of language proficiency. A very interesting practice, isn’t it? I’m not talking about the training and retraining of teachers – the sphere which Rossotrudnichestvo is also engaged in. We speak about 6 thousand teachers of Russian language and literature: about 3 thousand teachers were trained full — time and about 3 thousand – by correspondence. This year, all teachers will be trained and retrained online till the end of the year. Therefore, it seemed to me that this issue still requires serious analysis.
I looked at how cultural centers of other countries work, for example, in the Russian Federation. A lot of people and institutions have also switched to the online format, and this activity also seems to be supported. Therefore, I think that this is some kind of a lesson for us. In political, economic and financial terms, of course, a serious analysis is required. I think that scientists should take this problem, and analyze it thoroughly, including the latest events that are taking place in United States. Fyodor Lukyanov and Aleksei Gromyko are with us today, probably they will tell us more about it. We understand what can be the consequences of the fight against monuments of history, which began in Europe. Therefore, I think we are starting a new cycle in order to conduct an even deeper analysis of what is going on. Thank you very much for your attention! I have to apologize because I have to leave. My deputy will stay with you. I wish you all every success and hope for a face-to-face meeting in the near future.
Vera Bunina: Thank you for your time, Mrs Mitrofanova. I know your schedule is very busy, and we appreciate your being here with us. I think it should be added that our event is quite multinational. We’ve just received a question from the city of Mexico, and we will definitely answer it later. The problems we are discussing today are very relevant, so the audience is quite multinational, just as it should be. Thank you very much!
Eleonora Mitrofanova: Thank you!
Vera Bunina: Thank you so much, Eleonora! And now I give the floor to the moderator of our discussion Mr. Fyodor Lukyanov!
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you very much! That’s a really remarkable day and a remarkable event and I am very honored to moderate it! As Mrs. Mitrofanova has just said we have got used to be online almost all the time, I must say, from my personal perspective, I enjoyed it a little bit more than moving all the time around and spending a lot of time on transportation and unnecessary meetings. So I really hope that this format will survive, to say nothing about the opportunity to meet people, whom normally we could not expect to meet that easily. And the lineup of speakers of today’s panel is so diversified, just thanks to pandemic, sorry to say it!
We have quite unbearable task today, because the topic of our panel is such a big one, that there is no chance to cover it even if we spend several hours online. We will not do it. So I hope that we will make it, as mentioned in our program, within two hours. So that’s why I would ask all distinguished speakers and participants to be as concise and brief as possible. I hope we will have rather an interactive discussion than a lineup of statements. Especially because the range of issues connected to our topic is almost endless. So let’s try to start this discussion and I really hope that we will be able to continue it in this form or another during the next period.
So we start with our first sub-panel or sub-discussion, which is mostly about public diplomacy. I’ve always been very much interested in public diplomacy, but, to be very frank, I could never fully grasp what it is. Because public diplomacy is everything: any contact can be subscribed to this phenomenon. At the same time when you start to try to define it so, it gets a little bit problematic. Now as the political life has been paralyzed for a while, the political agenda is not disappearing, of course, it is becoming much more complex. I think public diplomacy gets even more important than before, but certainly in this new post-pandemic world it should be different, and it should be much more practically oriented than it used to be. And hopefully we will find ways how to avoid unnecessary formal things, which, to be very honest, were a part of official public diplomacy before, and will find something which will really help us navigate in this new world.
So, having said that, I would like to invite Professor Gromyko, the director of Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Institute of Europe, which is one of the most respected Russian academic institutions, is really the embodiment of public diplomacy activism with all its conferences and contacts. Aleksei, please, the floor is yours!
Akeksei Gromyko: Thank you Mr. Moderator! Your excellencies, dear colleagues! Let me say how thankful I am for Vera and her colleagues to make us gather in one place. Although this place is not material, but our emotions, our thoughts are very real and I hope that what we are going to say and share with each other, will be of use for public diplomacy, political science or some other spheres.
Well, I was thinking hard what to put under the umbrella of public diplomacy and I’d join Fyodor in saying that public diplomacy is something that has many names and many interpretations. But there is one very important category which accompanies the notion of public diplomacy, and it is «solidarity». Fyodor asked us to do it very briefly, so let me say a few words on solidarity. And, first of all, I would like to remind you that by 2020 key problems which we’ve inherited from the period of the Great Recession have not been solved. And it seems to me that the pandemic leads to even more difficult times. In general we can say that both systemic and structural changes in international relations, in global and regional governments have deepened trends which had become entrenched in previous years and even decades.
And I would like to define four-five lessons which we can draw from the pandemic, in terms of solidarity. And my first point is that Сovid-19 has demonstrated the true colors of nation-states, how they behave. And this is the phenomenon of «national egoism» which specialists in European affairs discussed so often. But instead of castigating this notion, I would like to say that in fact it is normal, when solidarity is expressed on the national level, on the level of local communities and only later on the interstate or international level. This is logical and unavoidable. A core role of nation-states in providing security to their societies does not contradict the importance of international and global cooperation. And we saw it very vividly. Nation states became the front line of fight against Covid-19 and then interstate and international cooperation joined up.
The second lesson from Сovid is that the role of the state regulation both visible and behind-the-scenes has been growing. And it is true for the sphere of market relations as well as for the sphere of social life of social processes.
The third lesson is that those nation-states which have a high level of resilience have been more successful during the pandemic. Resilience these days is a very fashionable word. But, from my point of view, very important components of resilience are solidarity and cohesion, something very close to these expressions. But still what does it mean? First of all, resilience of the society is cohesion, a sense of trust between people, resilience of values, including solidarity and availability of voluntary help. We see that the role of nation-states is growing, but it does not mean that societies should rely more in state help. It seems to me that the pandemic has demonstrated that societies should rely less on state help, but, at the same time, state efficiency, efficacy and ability in rendering services to communities should also become much more professional.
And the fourth lesson, in my point of view, is in the value of collective actions. When any society is hit very hard by any problems, drama or tragedy, only collectively is it possible to overcome them. No matter, if you are a supporter of collectivism or individualism etc. Collective action is the foundation for any solution of any major challenges of our countries. And here public diplomacy plays a huge role. Humanitarian and medical aid was of a crucial importance for many countries across the planet during the pandemic. And Covid-19 gave us a chance to demonstrate if we are more than families, local communities or nation-states, if we have a sense of much broader solidarity, which by the way in a not so distant past was called «internationalism». Well, from my very humble point of view, that was a very frustrating experience when Russia and, of course, many other countries which sent humanitarian and medical aid to other countries hit very hard by the pandemic, because of that kind of policy were accused of all sins, of hypocrisy and even of occupation, in the case of Italy. Well, when the pandemic started I thought it was a bright opportunity for different nations and states to overcome at least some differences and not to use this drama for further information warfare. I should say that, alas, in most cases solidarity and different expressions of public diplomacy were accepted in states which had already been on good footing. But, if there are certain geopolitical problems, then in most cases expressions of solidarity were rejected in mass media, in political classes, as a trap, fake, deception, humbug, hoax, call it as you like. I’m an optimist by nature, but, unfortunately, the pandemic has been used much more for competition than for solidarity. And these last 10 seconds do not mean that we should stop our efforts and endeavors. This probably demonstrates that we should become much more resilient and willing to use public diplomacy and the notion of solidarity. It has been a practice for so many years. It seems to me that this period of the last at least thirty years of political and economic neoliberalism, has played a very negative role in how people interact, how they treat each other, how states treat each other. And let’s hope that the pandemic still has some lessons, which we can draw, and it will make us more careful in discerning what propaganda is and what solidarity is, where our feelings are true and genuine, and when we can blame certain actions, policy as occupation or fake. Let’s try to change the world a bit, drawing these very hard lessons from the trauma and drama of the pandemic. Thank you!
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you very much Aleksei! It’s of course absolutely correct to say that solidarity is exactly what we need these days and certainly afterwards. The question is — solidarity with whom and in which forms. Because it seems that pandemic didn’t change the international environment, it catalyzed the international environment as it started to emerge well before this calamity. And unfortunately solidarity now is primarily being discussed not between states but within societies and we see that many societies are being confronted with significant problems inside. Russia is not an exception, but I must say that our experience in this regard was better than I had expected. When we look at other countries, we see quite negative trends. And it seems to me that solidarity inside will be much more important in maybe months or even years to come than solidarity between states, which can create completely different atmosphere for international cooperation, although, of course, no doubt, cooperation will be needed in any circumstances.
So I would love to give the floor to Mrs. Gstöhl, representing College of Europe, which is the most esteemed institution in Europe in European integration studies. And I think that European integration is very much in the focus of attention nowadays, because we got used to seeing Europe as an example of very much advanced solidarity between states. Is it the case now? Has it changed? And most importantly how will it change in the future? That will be quite interesting to hear. Please!
Sieglinde Gstöhl: Thank you very much for the invitation, first of all. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Your question just brings me to the first lesson that Professor Gromyko has already said. As we saw also in the European Union, under the pandemic crisis there has been is a tendency for many states to look inside first. It was a little bit of a chaotic border closure process in the European Union. And there have been a lot of hiccups in dealing with the pandemic. I think it has become very clear. Now the European Union as such, of course lacks competence, when it comes to closing borders or even public health. It’s a shared competence, so there are some limits of what the EU institutions could have done. It took them so long to react, they have been slow, but now I think they have launched a lot of initiatives. Solidary inside, solidarity also outside of the European Union — it has been slow in coming for sure, but it is coming.
I was a bit intrigued also by your introduction that public diplomacy doesn’t really have a definition that much. So it’s true, there is no standard definition. I think that normally it could be seen as governments’ or let’s also take the European Union’s process of communicating with foreign publics in an attempt to create some understanding for their ideas, their institutions, their policies and culture. It is also about building trust, as it has already been said. And showing solidarity, be it, for example, in the form of humanitarian aid, can be a part of it. Humanitarian aid is supposed to be impartial, neutral and non-discriminating, no strings attached. And in that sense public diplomacy is all about soft power as well. So in a nutshell you probably all know a nice definition of «soft power». It’s about attractiveness. And I think that it all together can be a part of the definition. And as was also rightly said, public diplomacy is not just «nation branding», like our government is trying to differentiate its countries, its position itself, for example, for tourism purposes. It’s not about lobbying; it’s also not about propaganda or disinformation. So this is in my understanding of what public diplomacy is not about or should not be about. I think that’s maybe also an important point that in order to be effective, public diplomacy has to be credible in order to be in the hearts and minds in the long run. So it must really be legitimate, credible, and for that purpose it really has to embody the key norms or the key identity of a society that is being represented abroad. And then these foreign publics shall find these norms attractive to respond to it.
Of course today we live in a very much digitalized world. So there many actors involved and everybody can immediately know what’s going on in other countries through a constant media and social media coverage. That makes public diplomacy also a bit more challenging than it might have been in the past. We were mainly talking about sports or cultural events etc., and now it has become much more complex. And I think that in the era of the pandemic governments will be charged by their citizens, by foreign citizens of how well they have handled this pandemic and also the consequences of this pandemic, such as the economic downturn, that we all have already experienced and also the social inequalities that have been, as somebody said, accelerated by this process. So, some governments have been late or have been handling it not as good as others. And also how they have shown international solidarity — I think, that’s the second component of how this pandemic will work out in terms of soft power in the future. And also we should continue international efforts to address the consequences of the pandemic afterwards.
I think this would be some of the main components, let’s say, of soft power that is linked to public diplomacy in my view!
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you very much! May I have a follow-up question to you? You mentioned the notion of attractiveness. Who is attractive nowadays? Can we say that somebody after this experience, which was pretty terrible, is more attractive than others or maybe everybody now is quite unattractive?
Göstohl: It might depend on whom you ask. But, if we look at the handling of the pandemic of course, you had very different models. I mean some countries have been hit harder than others, so it’s also a bit unfair to compare maybe. But there has been this big «blame game» going on in particular between the US and China, where virus originated from, who’s to blame basically. It’s a big it’s-your-fault ping pong game. But everybody has been reacting in some optimal ways. And I think it’s important to learn the lessons from that. What can be done better at some better time? How can resilience, as was already mentioned, be strengthened in order to avoid such bad or late reactions in the future that have ranged from trying to cover up what happened to denial of what’s going, or whether «it’s just a flu» or something else? And whose fault it would be? And what should be done? And whether we should go into a lockdown? How long we should go into a lockdown? Whether these impact the citizens, freedoms and rights to much? I mean court cases in Europe were against the governments’ measures because they’ve taken too long or haven’t been fast enough. So it depends on whom you ask. But I think the important thing is that we’ll learn from this. Also I have highlighted a lot of vulnerabilities in Europe. There’s a lot of talk about critical supplies and all these masks or medical equipment or pharmaceuticals that were not even produced in Europe anymore. They were outsourced, in particular, to China, in other places because of cheap labor. There’s a lot of talk whether there should be restoring, bringing some of the production back to Europe in order to be better prepared for maybe a next pandemic. But of course this is always a fine line, because it should also not lead to protectionism. I mean there’s a reason why these things have been outsourced. And actually in the European Commission there are talks now about open strategic autonomy. So what we need is to find a balance between having what is needed, like stockpiles, and having still the possibility to import and to take advantage of comparative economic advantages in trade. We need to find the balance between just-in-time delivery and just-in-case preparedness.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Ok, thank you very much! Recently I have read somewhere that in Mongolia there is zero lethality of coronavirus. So maybe Mongolia is more attractive than all of us in this regard.
With great pleasure I would love to invite Pavel Shevtsov, the acting head of Rossotrudnichestvo to join our discussion. You have been in charge of the whole public diplomacy from recently. And, in particular, since we have already touched upon issues like education, whatever happens politically, education should continue and education cannot be nationalized any more. It should be interaction, cooperation; otherwise each country will certainly be disadvantaged.
What is your experience? How do you see this possibility of public diplomacy at the level of, for example, universities? Or maybe at the level of regions, cities, because we see that those communities now also because of pandemic are much more empowered and bear much greater responsibility.
Pavel Shevtsov: Good afternoon, dear colleagues! Thank you very much, Mr. Moderator! I will speak Russian, because certain rules require it. I hope you don’t mind. Mrs Eleonora Mitrofanova has already told a lot about the activities that Rossotrudnichestvo conducts in various areas. As an Agency for developing humanitarian relations between the Russian Federation and foreign countries, we pay great attention to public diplomacy. We are grateful to the organizers of today’s discussion, because this topic seems very important to us. The more often we discuss it, the more common solutions we will be able to find and the better we will be able to understand what tools do we need to use in order to develop public diplomacy and make it a real tool for bringing states closer together.
I would like to focus my statement on two aspects. The first is, of course, the university environment and higher education. As many people know, Rossotrudnichestvo is an agency which brings students from abroad to Russia within the framework of the Russian government’s quota for training foreign students. Spring and partly the beginning of summer is traditionally a period of interviews with foreign students. Within the framework of that program we work with 182 countries. In other words, we recruit foreign students from 182 countries in the world. This is a worldwide practice, and all major states with powerful education systems pursue a similar policy. And, of course, due to pandemic we had to make very serious adjustments to this activity. Today, Mr Gromyko has already spoken about the lessons that the pandemic teaches us, the solutions and the risks that we face. I can say that we, as an organization, have also faced quite a serious challenge, and I can say that this has taught us very serious lessons and forced us to quickly reorganize our activity. You can imagine that conducting an interview equally effectively, quickly and productively in 180 countries is a task out of the ordinary. And, generally, we have been coping with it quite successfully. We believe that cooperation against the background of not only higher education, but education in general, is a very serious tool of public diplomacy, because people see that, despite all the difficult times, the Russian Federation does not get out of this issue. As you know, Russian education is in demand in many countries of the world. Primarily these are, of course, the CIS countries and South-East Asia. We are actively developing our relations with Africa and Latin America. And for sure, we do not forget about Europe. In recent years, there has been a great interest in developing relations with European countries in the field of scientific diplomacy. We have a significant potential that we want to develop. But, here, in the Russian Federation, we faced another rather difficult issue: a large number of foreign students who studied in the Russian Federation and who were unable to leave the our country for various reasons or did not want to. This, of course, was a very serious challenge for the system, because many students were left without financial support. The medical care system was pretty strained, service sector has undergone very serious changes, due to the fact that many enterprises have been shut down, like in many other countries. And our task here was to ensure that students did not get into a challenging situation and went through the period when many businesses were closed as smoothly as possible. As well as Russian citizens, foreigners were automatically isolated. In this respect Russian universities which have supported foreign students and regional authorities who have also paid attention to their problems have done very well. Despite all the difficulties, they joined in this activity. I assure you that there haven’t been any serious complaints about this.
As the timing for my statement is limited, I would like to focus on the second. We, as an agency, are promoting the development of public diplomacy in the regions of the Russian Federation, because the regions have a large number of ideas and energy. Of course, their approach is different: some are more active in developing cooperation with foreign states at the level of cities, municipalities, and regions; others are less active. Now, of course, it is very difficult to list all these «cases» that we had before the pandemic. Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other big cities, like Kazan, were developing relations with similar cities and municipalities in foreign countries. At first, when serious restrictions were imposed, we were very worried and had no idea how this activity would develop from the perspective of our regions, we were confused. But then a lot of regions became very actively involved in this activity, I must pay tribute to them. First of all I mean holding online events between regional and municipal authorities. Public organizations as well as individuals were very active in that, and we, as the Agency for humanitarian cooperation, see great potential in this. As one of the speakers has already said, the pandemic teaches us many things that we may not have thought about before, that we just didn’t pay much attention to. But the experience in the field of interregional cooperation, that we have acquired we are now actively studying in order to apply it in those regions that haven’t been so actively involved in this activity yet. But we understand that there is a huge potential behind this, and this activity must be actively promoted.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the organizers once again. This is a very important topic, and I am sure that not only official diplomacy, but also public diplomacy is a very serious tool for bringing countries closer. Based on the fact that now, following the results of the pandemic, a lot of people are looking for a positive way out, public diplomacy, as well as the demonstration of other countries’ positive experience of overcoming negative consequences, can serve as a bridge, connecting our peoples and countries. Thank you very much!
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you very much! Yes, I hope that the positive experience from different countries might serve as a bridge. At the same time, we see, as it was mentioned before, that negative experience is also unfortunately becoming an instrument in an attempt to forge a competition using this experience against each other. But of course on the public level it’s simply not interesting, it is purely political thing.
I would love to invite Caroline Galacteros to join us. You are in France as I understand. And I read yesterday with big interest a big speech of President Macron, the first one after pandemics was more or less over. And I think he said several very interesting things but that’s just up to you.
Caroline Galacteros: Ok. I can address that too, because probably it’s a part of the effort of public diplomacy and, first of all, of assessing our internal problems. As you know we have some problems right now with some movement trying to destabilize the state. But let me first perhaps come back to the Covid-19. Of course, from my point of view, crisis is always a tough moment but also an opportunity. And we have seen of course too much of division, selfishness but also there have been good things, even if they were not interpreted as they should have been. For example, we have seen probably for the first time high-level data sharing in the scientific community. I don’t mean between the states or with the WHO, but between the scientists worldwide and not since the beginning of the pandemic, but probably since January. There have been data sharing. So after that of course always current divisions and differences of interpretations and interests between nations have done not a good job already, but that was a fact. And I think that should be a starting point to enhance this cooperation for the next pandemic, because there surely will be another crisis. And perhaps I would say that if we can build, to settle early warning system, not within the UN, but in Europe, for example, between Europe, Russia and Eurasia, that would be a good point.
We also have to address what you’ve mentioned, which in my opinion is a destabilizing process in some states in Europe. You have seen of course before the speech of President Macron yesterday evening the movements, such as those that are now acting in France. This pandemic obviously has weakened the country a little bit, has shown some vulnerabilities, mistakes, errors or fouls in the way endemic has been addressed by the authorities. And of course the more the state is weakened, the easier it is to destabilize it. For me this is a big movement, and it is not only in France of course. This is a big movement in Europe and it’s not really the same situation and the same structure of state. But this is a point we have to take into account very seriously, because it is the sovereignty which is a stake in the end.
And also I want to come back to what Ambassador Mitrofanova said in the beginning of the meeting about the virtual culture, which is of course very good news! Virtual innovation, virtual meetings like we are having now, probably we will have more and more of them. But, for me, it’s certainly a big trend, a trend which will be more and more developed. But it’s never the same as being in front of each other, as being just concretely together. And we don’t have to forget or underestimate the human dimension of the link, because this is also preparation. So of course virtual culture, virtual cooperation, virtual education, MOOCs in every sense — they are very important, but it cannot be the only way of having a dialogue and cooperation, because otherwise we will have a perception of similarity, which is not really enough to understand the perception of the other parts. So that would be my first remark, but of course I’m open to every question from you, or the other speakers.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you very much! I think we will speak about this very interesting wave of turbulence in several countries. And I would love to learn from our participants, whether there is a real cultural shift or maybe more political movement. But we’ll move to that later. I’ve got a message that Henry Sardaryan, one of our speakers, unfortunately has to leave us soon, so maybe I would invite him to speak now before he leaves.
Okay, then coming back to our discussion, may I ask all of you one question which came to our chat? I think it’s very important and relevant question. We speak about public diplomacy, soft power, but in the current atmosphere basically everywhere, where are guarantees or at least can we expect situations when those efforts, undertaken by anybody, be it Russia, be it China, be it the US, the European Union whatever, will not be interpreted as meddling and political attempt to influence other countries’ domestic affairs? Because we see it over and over again and it seems that soft power basically disappears, because no one perceives it anymore in a positive way. Can I ask all of our participants to answer very briefly? Maybe Caroline, you start?
Caroline Galacteros: I’ll start. Yes, I think it’s a real risk, because with this pandemic we have experienced the necessity of solidarity, but not the reality. And of course the different agendas of nations, the divisions, the will of some governments or not even governments, in fact, but probably groups of influence to destabilize or to victimize another country are still alive. But if I may be a little bit optimistic, I would say that this pandemic, has had a very important consequence. It has shown practically to everybody on Earth that solidarity is not just a word and individualism is not enough, because to stay alive for the first time you really had to make up your mind and to decide to be civic, to protect the others and yourself. Directly speaking, if you don’t wear masks, (okay in France we didn’t have masks), but, if you were not distancing yourself from your friends, from even your husband, your children and certainly from your neighbors and from anybody, you could have risked yourself, which is something people now have difficulties with. Before this pandemic they had this difficulty to imagine that, because everybody is just self-centered, completely selfish and, especially in Europe and certainly in Western Europe. And for the first time they have made this link, so this is solidarity in act. Between our countries, there are borders of course but also we can imagine that solidarity has to be on the world level. So this is a good point probably, from the point of everybody’s experience.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Okay, thank you! I hope so! Pavel, can you share maybe the experience of Rossotrudnichestvo, because I know and we see, that your work is being criticized in many countries unfairly, from my point of view, but still. So, can we expect that the atmosphere will change for the better or to the worse, in this regard?
Aleksei Gromyko: Well, I would like to touch upon one point with respect to solidarity, and this is globalization and deglobalization. As well as resilience, deglobalization in the past years was discussed a lot, especially, because of the Great Recession. From my point of view, we take a notion of the globalization in a very simplistic way. Globalization is something that not the pandemic not any kind of trouble is going to reverse. But what we are speaking about are new mechanisms, a new model of globalization, which should become much more resilient and effective than the non-liberal model of globalization.
And it seems to me that the pandemic has demonstrated us that in terms of integration on the global level this situation is deteriorating. There is less solidarity on the global level. But if we go a bit lower to the level of regional integration, then the pandemic has demonstrated that most probably it has been a powerful tool to make this integration projects much more resilient in future. And for me that means that solidarity on the regional level has gone up or will have to go up. So I think that in the nutshell this situation with solidarity is not so bad. There is less solidarity on the global level, but on the lower level it is clear that the pandemic is one of the many challenges which have clearly shown to all of us that solidarity should get bigger, more tangible, more effective and that gives me hope even with respect to many different questions in the relationship between Russia and the European Union or China and other countries. I think that on a lower level the stimulus, the motivation of solidarity will help us at least to ease certain local and regional problems which we have been experiencing in the past 10 or 15 years.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Okay, thank you very much! I think we are a little bit behind of the schedule, so we move to the next sub-panel which, I think, is one of the most interesting due to what we see around us. It was already touched upon a little bit by Caroline and other speakers – I mean, about all those turbulent changes we are witnessing in Europe, in the United States. They are certainly catalyzed by pandemic but the real reason is very deep-rooted, so it’s quite interesting, to what extent this cultural and social development will have an impact on our ability to cooperate. Initially it looked much more like political development, but now I’m not sure. I doubt whether we are confronted with something like big challenges of the 1960s in many countries or maybe not. So may I ask Marco Martiniello to join us?
Marco Martiniello: Good afternoon! Thank you very much! I’ll just make a few statements about the impact of the pandemic on our multicultural societies. And basically I would like to start by saying that the pandemic has revealed and accentuated pre-existing problems. So basically the pandemic has not necessarily created new problems for multicultural societies. I’m looking specifically at that angle, but, you know, they have stressed and reinforced things that were trends, that existed before. The first one is that, considering the situation of what I would call unwanted migration in Europe, for example. And here there’s a difference between Europe and the US. From one day to the other everybody stopped talking about Lesbos and the situation of the refugees in the hot spots of the Greek islands, as if it was solved. And basically the reception crisis in Europe is here to stay. This is maybe a 3-4-months break, but the situation is just as bad as it was before. But we just have decided not to look at that during this period.
The second element is that this pandemic has revealed the intensity of social and economic inequalities suffered, for example, by migrants. They have been hit more than local populations by unemployment and went back when it was possible to their countries. But also immigrants and the ethnic and racial minorities have been more exposed to the virus than local population in many respects. Here of course it’s difficult to document the situation in the same way in all European countries, because in some places we lack statistical tools to do it. But it’s clear that migrants and ethnic minorities were concentrated before in dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs. And basically it explains in part why, be it in the US, in the UK or in Belgium, they have been more severely hit by the virus. Also, they live in more dense neighborhoods and very often live in very poor housing, it’s been more difficult to enjoy the luxury of confinement, you know. Many Parisians, for example, as soon as they understood that the pandemic was serious, left Paris to go to their residence in the green outside Paris. Migrants cannot do that, ethnic minorities cannot do that. They are stuck in the center of the cities where it’s more difficult to protect themselves.
Also we’ve seen a rise in racist attitudes and behavior. I’m talking here about Western Europe and the US. I’m not talking about Russia, because I haven’t followed the situation there. But in this part of the world in the first days of the pandemic we saw, for example, that anti-Asian and anti-Chinese hate discourse developed very rapidly. Some people even canceled their booking in Chinese restaurants, because they thought they would catch the virus by eating Chinese food in Brussels or in Paris. Complete nonsense of course! But we also saw that the control of the confinement of the lockdown was different in different neighborhoods. The intensity of police controls, for example, was different in migrant and ethnic minority neighborhoods. In Brussels a young guy was killed during the police intervention. There is the case of Mr. Floyd, who really launched a new movement with a question mark. And so clearly this pandemic is a test for social cohesion and peaceful living together in multicultural cities. So this is more negative, but we’ve also seen very positive signs for new forms of solidarity. Some of them are symbolic — new urban rituals. In many European cities people were applauding at 8 o’clock to support the medical forces fighting the virus. And this was going on whatever the national origin, social background or nationality is. But also new relations of support developed at the local level. We were seeing in many cities people organizing themselves to go shopping, to visit the elderly, even though at a distance. And also in different countries refugees were engaged in sewing the masks. The previous speaker spoke about the difficulty to find masks in some countries. In Belgium for a few weeks it was impossible to find masks, and so the citizens were asked to make them themselves, to sew masks. And in many cases refugees did that as a sign of citizenship and willingness to participate and to share the effort in a very difficult period. And then of course there is this anti-racist movement. And Mr. Moderator, you asked the question and I think that it could become. Maybe we are living a turning point now. Imagine living in the 60s in an American city when you are right in the movement. Sometimes you just don’t realize it’s an historic movement. But maybe what we are witnessing now is something new. If you look at the demonstrations all across the world, in many cases, there are people not only with African ancestry, but also many people of different skin colors and ethnic groups, people of different social and economic background. There’s a message that expresses, in my view, not only disapproval of institutional racism, but also a reaction towards social inequality and also a reaction to the way some politicians have dealt with this pandemic and with the possible consequences of that pandemic. So I don’t know. I don’t have a crystal ball, so I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I think that, for certain amount of weeks everybody was talking about before and after Covid-19, what would the world be like after it. I think humans have the tendency to try to forget very quickly and also to try to go back to what they see as a normal situation. And I think we can see that trend already now: all the nice talks about the environment and so on have been put aside. We are creating more and more waste also because of the material to protect ourselves against the virus. The financial institutions don’t seem to have changed their point of view radically. So at the local level all these forms of new solidarity, these calls for more inclusive and welcoming society, are they going to continue? Are they going to lead to policy changes? And I will finish with that question mark. Thank you!
Fyodor Lykyanov: Thank you very much! I think what you said is very interesting and important. And I also have a feeling of being a total outsider now. I’m not a specialist in the US situation. But it seems that, to certain extent, even for establishment it’s easier to address this question as a racial one rather than to try to go to the deeper roots. And I fully agree with you that the real problem is social. But no one knows what to do with this. While in case of anti-racism, you can at least imagine what to do immediately to tackle this. But this is of course my very humble and unprofessional opinion.
Irina Semenenko from Russian Institute for International Affairs and World Economy, please!
Irina Semenenko: Thank you very much! Dear colleagues, I’m very happy to be here and to be given the floor. And I would like to continue the line that Fyodor and Marco have put forward and speak a bit about what is happening in societies today, and whether we are at the turning point or not. We’ve been speaking a lot about trust. And this is actually one of the two important pillars of success in fighting against Covid-19. But there’s another pillar that we have not spoken about at the moment and this pillar is responsibility.
So the second point is who is responsible for taking measures to fight the current situation. I think that we are actually at the turning point. But the thing is whether this turning point will lead to a paradigm shift or not. I can suggest some ideas about how this could happen. But I’m not sure that there will be enough driving force to do this, because this has to deal with responsibility. So first thing, continuing in the line that Marco has taken up, I wanted to say that these divisions that you are speaking about are even deeper than just concerning the multicultural landscape of societies. Social inequalities have grown all over the world. We’re living in a divided world, that’s for sure. But we are living in divided societies. And we were speaking about divided societies before. I mean us, researchers, when we were speaking about the external world. But now we’re speaking about deeply divided societies everywhere. I can’t say much about China to that extent, although there are some very big divisions there as well. But, commenting on all our societies, I can say that there are big divisions that have ousted class divisions and ideological divisions firstly. We are witnessing divisions around digital economy and involvement in digital economy. Some people are deprived and other people are not. Some people are infocreative, innovative, digitally learning, some people are not. And when we speak about digital learning, I’ve heard and commented on the point that probably digital learning in the near future will be a part for the poor population, whereas the non-digital learning will be a privilege. And this is no good, it will lead us nowhere. I’m very much for digital learning. But it is only part of the problem, right. That’s one thing! Second thing, I can’t even enumerate all the divisions that we in the Institute of World Economy have been researching, because there are ever so many. But I can say that they are widening. And apart from the digital divide, there are also various gaps. Now we’ve been speaking about various gaps between different ideological groupings. But this is not the point today. There is a gap in divided societies. Some people say, they are for solidarity, others are still for individualism and they don’t care about solidarity and whatever. Some people, the younger generations, say they are for new modes of behavior, whereas the older generation, at least part of it, is completely against this. And there’s a huge generational gap in this sense. So the values gap actually is widening and what can be done about it? Well, the demonstrations, the manifestations that we’re having today, I think are a part of this problem. One thing I must say is that, part of society now doesn’t want to do any, to have any relations with what has happened before them, with history. And they’re in the negative. So it’s a fight for their own identity. And identity politics I think isn’t a foreground of what is happening today. If identity politics means group politics only, this can be a very dangerous development, because identity politics is not only about group politics. It’s an American research of 70s, 80s that came up with this conclusion. But identity politics is also about education, it’s also about language policies, it’s also about all the symbols we have in public spaces. And it’s about dialogue, whether identities are open for dialogue, whether they’re inclusive or not. And I don’t think that, multiculturalism has led us to inclusive identities. There have been quite a few developments, positive in this sense. But we’re still very much behind. And discussing a race and identity is a huge issue in its own right. I have not come up with any research dealing with racial identity. This seems to be a bad idea, in the research sphere whereas race is important as an identity pillar. And it has to be taken into account as well, because we have not come to terms with this.
So I was thinking to make the point rather that solidarity is very important and, having said this, there are lots of new manifestations of solidarity that Covid-19 has brought about. On the local level — neighborhood communities and all sorts of neighborhood interactions are one thing. And we heard this everywhere, from Russia to Western Europe and whatever. But probably this is not enough. Probably, involvement is not a value for part of society. And the question is whether, social involvement is considered a value. So I think that values gap could be overcome rather by studying in-depth humanitarian sciences. That’s the one thing. I’m not that much of an optimist in this sense. But I think that this has to be, because it’s important for changing people’s minds. And for turning peoples’ minds to responsibility. And this responsibility idea brings me to the second point, very short point that I want to make, because I’m running out of time. I think that we can think about a paradigm shift. And I think that we, experts, can’t bring forward this shift but what we can do is introduce some points for analysis and for discussion, to bring them to the forefront of the political agenda. And one thing is, that would be very important in my point of view, is probably not to depend that much on the idea of sustainability as a core of development, but to take up responsibility as a core of development. And by saying this I mean three basic things. One thing would be to look responsibly to nature and to our economic development and to try to work out a model where the use of nonmaterial intellectual resources would be growing. I don’t mean that we can do without others. But I think that these resources can have a huge potential that we have not used to the full yet.
Second thing is effective governance. Now there’s a lot of discussion about this and I can’t go into this because of lack of time. But one thing that we have to bear in mind is that effective governance means also empowerment. And it means the involvement of different strata and different groups of people and individuals.
But the third and the most important part of this paradigm is as far as I see it, the individual level. Now how can individuals be responsible? And are they prepared to be responsible? And I don’t think that this is a thing that we can solve in one day but we can put forward this question, because there’s a question of moral accountability of people to nature to each other and between groups and between each other. If we can put forward these ideas to responsible people, maybe we can contribute, at least a bit, to overcoming divisions in societies, because at this point I’ve seen them growing. And this is a sad development, not of Covid-19, but of the general development we have. Thank you!
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you very much! I think it’s a topic for the next series of seminars about accountability, personal responsibility and so on. Recently somebody described certain countries as the political system which is accountability resistant. And I’m afraid that many of systems now can be seen in this way. Russia is not an exception either. Thank you very much!
So, Ivan Timofeev represents the agency which is the giant of public diplomacy in Russian foreign policy. So, Ivan, please.
Ivan Timofeev: Thank you very much Fyodor. It depends on how to define public diplomacy but, yes, we are trying to do something on this domain. So if expertise is a part of public diplomacy then, yes of course. And we are doing quite a huge job with Russian universities. We have recently conducted quite an interesting seminar with Rossotrudnichestvo on the promotion of our universities and the international Internet. That was a really great event in this sense. Yes, of course we are trying to contribute to the efforts of our partners in Rossotrudnichestvo and other institutions concerned. So I will try to be brief on the issue, whether the Covid-19 is just a trigger or is it a reason for for a great transformation. Well, naturally the answer is yes to both hypotheses. We can definitely regard Covid-19 as a reason for a number of fundamental events in the current world. Some skeptics in this regard say that Covid-19 is of course incomparable with Hispanic flu or with a plague in the middle ages. It’s true; plague caused quite fundamental social changes. One of the points is that plague increased dramatically their price of labour which was a prerequisite for the emergence of capitalism in early modern ages. So I don’t think that Covid-19 would cause directly similar transformation and we will get a new kind of economic systems, at least we cannot verify this by means of contemporary science at this current moment. But what is clear is that there are already a number of direct inputs of Covid-19 on different institutions. The first and the major example I have in mind is of course elections. We will have elections in the United States, there will be elections in a number of European countries, there are elections on the Constitution, plebiscite referendum on Constitution in Russia. So the question is, is it necessary to use electronic vote to supply this procedure. This is quite an unprecedented situation. The question is about security, there are questions about the secrecy of a ballot. And in case of the US things are even worse, because the US politics has been traditionally dominated by face-to-face electoral campaign with this numerous meetings with the electorate, with people in different states, in the cities etc. So now they have people on the streets, but rather on the streets but not on their electoral meetings. And I anticipate in the future the moment when some hackers or computer enthusiasts would expose databases on elections’ results in country A or country B. And this would be a great hit on the idea of secret ballot, on the Constitution right of secret voting etc. I would remind, in 2015 hackers which supposedly were from China and associated with Chinese government, according to the view of American government, stole several dozens of millions of dossiers of American citizens. I am not a sophisticated person in technology, but I don’t see any obstacle to expose this data on elections. And that would be a game changer. Of course Covid-19 triggered a number of things which have been boiling under the carpet for quite a long time. The events in the United States were spurred by the aggression which accumulated during Covid-19, the growth of unemployment etc. But all the contradictions were there. We have witnessed similar things before. So it’s not a surprise. It’s just a trigger for the explosion of the old contradiction. Same is about US-China relations. Personally, Fyodor, I remember our brief discussion on whether the US-China confrontation is serious. And, well, I must confess you were right in this debate. I underestimated the potential for the escalation and Covid-19 showed that this escalation may be quite fast. And it may be much faster in the future. And Covid-19 played its role. So we all see how active, how strong the anti-Chinese moods in China are. And, well, it shouldn’t be underestimation. Same is about European Union. Well, problems there are in terms of European integration are also quite acute. I’m not sure that this is a fundamental threat for European integration. This is a case for many Russian experts who approach Western institutions as stronger in comparison with the state they really have. But of course Brussels would have to adapt to this state of affairs too.
And last but not least, I would like to get back to the question whether the soft power is becoming rather a negatively perceived thing globally, whether it is becoming an instrument for more interference et cetera. Well, this risk is growing of course. And I wouldn’t connect it to Covid-19. This is a long trend. And we in Russia know this quite well. We faced the complication with the United States after the elections in 2016 on this. There is a huge mass in the heads. Initially when there were growing accusations of Russian soft power policy as mean of interference, I was thinking that these people are cynical, that for them this is just a political rhetoric and unofficially they would say «Come on this is just our business. We don’t think that things are like that in reality». But I was quite frustrated when I exposed that they think that this is true. That they are not cynical but they are sincere and active at the same time. So this is a real danger. We have a growing number of people who are sincere and who are wrong, who are sincere and who are active at the same time. That’s a real problem. Thanks!
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you very much Ivan! About cynical or non-cynical I think those who are only cynical they never achieve real success. To be really successful in blowing up everything you need to be true believer and this is what happens. We sometimes underestimate in Russia how cynical and how deeply rooted different stupid things are in the minds of many politicians!
Okay, since we have not so much time left but another extremely important part of our conversation connected to digitalization and cultural diversity. I asked Mark Franco, an old friend of mine, one of the best ambassadors of the European Union, the head of delegation in Moscow to join our discussion. Mark, please.
Mark Franco: Ok, thanks for giving me the floor and inviting me to this debate on digitalization and cultural diversity and how remote cultural products will remain in the months after pandemic. First of all, it’s clear that during the corona crisis, and the lockdown, the offer of online cultural products has developed remarkably. This is an expanded offer that found an eager uptake in a wide public. I think it was Caroline who made the remark before, that this whole virtual costing is not a new thing. It existed before. But it got a particularly strong boost during the corona crisis and the lockdown. And the question is what is going to stay with us, how strong it is going to be. Is part of it going to disappear? What kind of balance will there be in future between life and online performances. At some moment of course live performances will start again. It is important that now we find this balance, that also in the policy we find a balance between what is possible online, what is possible in life. So in fact the first point I want to make is and, I think also somebody else already mentioned this: don’t overdo it as far as the virtual culture is concerned. I would say nothing beats a live concert or a live art show, because, I mean, the virtual experience in fact is an individual experience. But culture to a large extent is a social, collective phenomenon. Going to a concert and sitting there surrounded by other music lovers who you can talk to, seeing the artists performing in perhaps a way which is not so clinically perfect as a recording would be, that has been electronically changed afterwards in order to kind of smooth out all difficulties and all mistakes. Sitting there and listening to that I think is still a better experience than listening it on a perfect rendering of a CD or on your screen. First of all, I mean, if you look at a football match on television, you can see every detail and you can see it over and over again everything that has happened. But nothing beats the participation in a football match at a football stadium. And it was mentioned before that conferences now also can be made at a lesser cost with the best experts in the world, gathering and talking and meeting online. It’s clear but we all have been in conferences and we all know that very often the most important or interesting part of the conference is not during the conference but during the coffee breaks, during the lunches and the dinners, as well as the contacts that you have there and the way that you can relate to people. I think it was Caroline who mentioned the human aspect. I think that human aspect in cultural experience is very important. And we should certainly make sure that this remains a key part of the cultural experience. Of course online makes access possible. It is possible when you’re in Antwerpen or in Brussels not just to go to the Flemish opera or to the Monnet for an opera. You can watch, if you like, the Boris Godunov from the Bolshoi. Or you can hear Gergiev conduct in the Mariinsky Orchestra from St. Petersburg. So there is certainly enrichment. It is on top of what you normally have as a cultural experience. And this, I think, it’s certainly very worthwhile.
And I would link it up now with cultural diplomacy, part of public diplomacy that has been discussed before. And I completely agree with Sieglinde with the definitions the limitations, that she formulated, and the doubts that also Fyodor has formulated around public diplomacy. But I think cultural diplomacy can do a number of things by making access to cultures of other people and way other people think in a very important manner accessible across the world, and thereby increasing understanding. These are big words, but I think there are a number of conditions that are necessary in the future policy that we will apply to this cultural diplomacy and the further development of access to online events. First of all, I think it’s important that it is not the monopoly of big institutions. I think we have to make an effort as policymakers and also as big institutions to involve smaller, young, innovative groups that show what is living like now. I mean looking at a performance of an opera that was written in the XIX century is one thing. But living through or watching a performance which is contemporary, up to date, with young people, questioning things, dealing with problems in their own society is very important for developing this understanding across the borders and contribute to the benefits of public diplomacy.
At the same time, I think in cultural diplomacy we have the tendency to concentrate on what you could call “high culture” and we forget popular culture. I think when we, from a policy point of view, start developing the online-access to cultural events across borders that we also have to give a specific place to this to popular culture. The last point is perhaps a legal point. It is important that in all this discussion the interests of the artists are not forgotten. And I’m talking here specifically technically about copyright. Copyright for uploading, downloading, streaming is a very complex topic, particularly if it extends across borders. And I think that is an area where we should work on, so that not only can we watch across borders what is happening in other countries and listen, I mean, get some information about the topics that are being discussed and how they’re being discussed in a particular society, but also that the artists involved get the benefit from their performance.
So that was kind of the main points I want to make. First of all, virtual cultures are okay but let’s not forget live experience. Secondly, access across borders is very important for everybody, so it’s a good thing we should certainly stimulate it. It plays a role in cultural diplomacy, but if we really want to play the role, we should involve not only the big institutions, but also smaller institutions and small groups of young people. We should not only look at the high culture, but also at popular culture. And finally we should make sure that the status of the artists is ensured through an adequate treatment in the copyright legislation. Thank you!
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you very much, Marc! My personal experience during lockdown was that I never watched so many movies online of course, because I never had time to go to the cinema. But now it’s possible. But I completely agree with you that culture cannot be replaced with the virtual version. To certain extent, yes! But in general it should be perceived personally and with certain collective experience.
Alexei Lebedev is with us, The Head of international cultural program Russian Seasons. So for you that period probably was quite difficult or not? Please!
Aleksei Lebedev: Thank you very much, dear colleagues! Thank you very much, Mrs Bunina, for bringing us all together to communicate! I have learned a lot for myself in the framework of cultural diplomacy as well. Indeed, «Russian seasons» is a key project of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation to present our culture abroad. This year we wanted to present our project in a rather ambitious way, because for the first time in the short history of the «Russian seasons», this year it was to be held in three countries: France, Belgium and Luxembourg. We have already managed to hold some events and win the attention and love of the audience. But unfortunately, in March when the pandemic began, I think we, like all cultural institutions around the world, had to switch to the online format. And we were among the first to do so. On March 23, we launched the first streaming of the «Stay Home With Russian Citizens» project on our website, in our social networks and on the social media accounts of our partners. And I am happy that our project has managed to unite the interests of almost all participants of the Russian seasons: the leading ensembles such as the Bolshoi theatre, the Mariinsky orchestra, the Bolshoi Symphony orchestra, Denis Matsuev, or regional art groups. We do it because one of the tasks that we are trying to accomplish is to show the diversity of our country’s culture to the foreign audience. In our streams we have also shown the Arkhangelsk Northern folk choir, the Ryazan folk choir, the theaters of the Komi Republic, the theaters of Bashkiria, and so on, and I think we will not stop. So far we have surpassed the 25 million audience that has watched our streams. Just in a couple of days, we will be celebrating our mini-anniversary — 100 days since we’ve launched this project. But I absolutely agree with all the previous speakers, that digitalization, especially digitalization in culture, is a rather dangerous thing that has some positive things, and at the same time, something negative. If we speak about positive points, the audience that we were able to show Russian culture to through our project, or the audience that has watched the Mariinsky theatre performance is certainly incomparable with what we could show, bring to these countries, or what the audience could watch live for such a long time, whether it was a performance by the Mariinsky orchestra or ballet. And this is definitely an advantage. It means that people all over the world can get to know a culture of any country, someone’s favorite or unknown artist. But today I think that the audience has already had enough of all sorts of broadcasts, because apart from us, apart from the Mariinsky theatre, almost all artists and institutions have gone online. And there are several problems here. The first problem is the quality of the content or even the quality of the video that is used and streamed, because, unfortunately, not all members of the world’s cultural community expected offline activity to stop for such a long time. And just giving them the opportunity to show what they had recorded in advance is sometimes not enough.
The second point is, of course, the linked with copyright issues that we have also faced. Believe me, many of our stars have long been overly cautious, and everything that concerns video broadcasts and copyright protection is alright in this regard. Now the problem is that the entire online format that we or our colleagues present is essentially a free stream. But in order to keep on creating interesting high-quality, online format in future, which, of course, I think will continue to exist in the global cultural environment after the pandemic will have ended, it needs to be somehow commercialized. Any high-quality work or production – is quite expensive. We don’t know when the cultural life in the world recovers, how soon it will be able, frankly speaking, at least to begin to pay off. Because if we are talking about such major events as the Bolshoi theater and the Mariinsky orchestra’s concert tours, it takes quite a lot of money, because it is actually not commercially profitable to take somewhere a hundred-plus people, pay them wages, daily allowances, and let so many artists perform in front of half-empty halls. And I know that many colleagues, including the ones in France, simply had to close their theaters before the end of this year, because they understand that it is very difficult to create a quality product for a large audience in our time, due to the pandemic.
Therefore, to put it briefly, of course, the format of online events, this way of getting to know some cultural institutions, exhibitions or, perhaps, movies, will stay. And this is the right thing, it is necessary! But we will never be able to replace the atmosphere and emotions that we get when we come to the hall, when we come to the cinema, when we come to a festival, even an open-air one, with the online format. And as long as we remember this, as long as we understand it, we all will be developing culturally. Thanks!
Fyodor Lukyanov: Okay, thank you very much! I think this event took place in the most problematic atmosphere, which some of us can remember since the Cold War, for the cultural exchange and cultural diplomacy. I’m not sure if it will work as efficiently now, because at that time any exchange between Soviet Union and the United States, for example, was such a great event, such an exceptional presentation, because they were rather rare. Now with all due respect to states, culture is guided by so many different actors that they operate regardless of the political atmosphere. So on the one hand it is great, much better than at that time. And on the other hand, it cannot replace the political demise which we can see now. And maybe we’ll even see escalation in future, not only between Russia and the West, but now also it between China and West.
So we have been online for two hours now and I have one request. Arthur Demchuk, is he with us? Is there anything that some of our distinguished speakers would desperately need to say as a conclusion to our discussion? Because we’ve touched upon so many issues that of course it’s quite difficult to choose but still. If not, I think we can conclude for this time. This discussion was very rich and diversified. Of course if we continue these series, I hope we will be able to focus a little bit more on particular issues and aspects, but certainly as some of our colleagues mentioned here, the necessity to speak in this way might become very regular, because, if not this pandemic, something else will inevitably happen, and to discuss all possible forms of intellectual cooperation is certainly in our common interest.
I should congratulate Rossotrudnichestvo so for this initiative and thank Mrs. Bunina for initiating this event. Thank you very much and hope to see you again some other time!
Vera Bunina: Thank you very much Mr. Lukyanov for being our moderator today! Thank you everybody for being with us today! We have a lot of questions and your opinions in our chat. And we’ll try to send you our answers or answers of our speakers. And all the materials of our discussion today will be published on the website of the Russian Cultural Center in Brussels. So follow us on our Facebook, YouTube and our website russiancentre.be Thank you very much for being with us today! See you later!