It is important to remain Russian
The Russkiy Mir (Russian World) Foundation was created by a presidential decree two years ago. Its range of activities is much wider than its main mission of Russian language appreciation abroad. Political scientist and head of the Russkiy Mir Foundation Vyacheslav Nikonov tells VIP-Premier about activity guidelines of the organization.
Vyacheslav A. Nikonov has been chairing the Governing Board of the Russkiy Mir Foundation since June 2007. Born in 1956 in Moscow he graduated from the Lomonosov State University in Moscow and worked at the history desk of the University. In 1989 he became the youngest Doctor of Sciences, History, in the Soviet Union. In the same year he began to work in the staff of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. After August 1991 he worked as an aide to the KGB chairman. In 1993-1996 he was Russian State Duma deputy. He was member of the Political Consultative Council at the Russian president, of the Human Rights Commission, and the expert council at the Russian president for countering political extremism. Today he is a member of the Russian Public Chamber (chairs the commission on international cooperation and public diplomacy); head of the history and political science desk of the International University in Moscow; editor-in-chief of the Russian Strategy magazine; president of the Policy and Unity for the Sake of Russia Foundations. He is the author of over 600 publications, including seven books.
The Russkiy Mir is a very young organization and it would be arrogant to speak about any achieved tasks. We have actually only begun to fulfill the mission, but we have already succeeded in certain endeavors. In particular, we launched operating mechanisms for the creation of the necessary interaction network and a system of grant provision to foreign organizations. The main thing is that we succeeded to lay several “footways” along the legal green field uncultivated in many respects.
– Which of the events do you believe were the most important?
– When we speak about people and assistance to them, all events are equally important. When we speak about supporting the Russian language and developing the network of kindergartens, publication of manuals for higher schools and holding of world congresses, it is also important. There are big projects that demand major financial funds, as well as physical and nervous energy. For example, there are Russkiy Mir assemblies that bring together representatives of the Russian world from over the globe under one roof. They comprise distinguished politicians, including top leaders of our country, ministers, bankers and representatives of foreign associations and organizations… There are over a thousand participants.
– How do you determine a person as belonging to the Russian world?
– First and foremost, the person has to feel it himself. We have no strict criteria to determine the boundaries that allow to enter or exit the Russian world for a certain reason. I believe it is impossible to determine in general who is a representative of the Russian world. For example, there are such Russian natives and descendants of great people who damn our country and never relate themselves to it. There are emigrants in the fourth generation who do not speak the Russian language completely, but remain Russians. They go to Orthodox churches, call themselves Russians, and sincerely love Russia. There are people who study Russia and the Russian language and developed it into their profession.
One of the major projects is the start-up of the program to create Russian centers on the basis of major foreign universities and educational establishments. Twenty-four centers have been opened in 16 countries. I believe we shall shortly raise their number to 30. We accomplished major preparatory work for the Year of the Russian language in China. It was commissioned in Beijing at the very top level.
The provision of grants for the publication of new-generation manuals in the Russian language for secondary schools in European Union countries deserves specific attention. Those are not Russian language manuals, they deal with arithmetic, natural studies and other disciplines, but they meet all EU requirements and are designated for children who were born in those countries. A manual has been published for the first time for children from Russian families who freely speak Russian at home, but cannot write or read in Russian. It is a frequent situation in Israel, for example. Naturally, we need completely new educating methods that differ from those used in schools for teaching the Russian language as the second foreign language. And it is too long to wait when school curriculum gets down to it (at 12 or 13 years of age).
Our grants are used to produce manuals for CIS countries as well. Those used in Russia do not fit not only because they were not approved by local education authorities. When in Soviet times a boy from Kirgizia or Kazakhstan went to school he knew at least four thousand Russian words. Today 400 words are the maximum. As you may understand, it is a different level that demands completely different manuals. It is much better when former Soviet republics order the manuals, as it means a guaranteed license.
The Foundation provides grants for international contests of the Club of Lightheaded and Quick-witted (KVN), world contests of Russian-language advertisements, and for launching various Russian language courses abroad. In some places, for example in Hong Kong, it can be studied only at courses financed by our Foundation. We have financed a scientific expedition to Brazil to study the Russian community of Old Believers who have been living there for decades.
We cannot bypass major support to events in Kiev devoted to celebrations of the 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus. It is common knowledge that religious situation in Ukraine is rather difficult. Therefore, the visits of then Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy the Second and then of Russian Patriarch Kirill took place in difficult conditions, but were fruitful.
– Who would deal with all that if there were no Foundation?
– Nobody. However there is nothing supernatural in our work. All countries who want to position themselves created such foundations and organizations decades ago. In Great Britain it is the British Council, in Germany – the Goethe Institute, in Spain – the Cervantes Institute, in China – the Confucius Institutes… In Soviet times we had a similar organization, which represented a different system of cultural relations with foreign countries and which collapsed after 1991. The very fact that our foundation has emerged testifies to the growing maturity of the Russian state.
Some laymen claim the Russkiy Mir will stop operating in 2010, as current financing will end by the time. In reality it is the budget planning period in which we all live today. I have no doubts the foundation will continue to operate. It is a unique body and a single non-profit organization created by a presidential decree. It is the president who appoints the management and the Board of Trustees.
– How does Russian Diaspora perceive foundation activities?
– They perceive them properly, as a rule. Anyway, I have not encountered any blunt negative attitude to us. But I have numerously heard people say in various countries they have finally got someone to contact to resolve their problems, which earlier looked irresolvable. We do not compete with any existing organization of compatriots, as we are not related to them. We only cooperate with them and provide assistance, if necessary. But I would not say that everything is cloudless. It would be impossible in the world of our compatriots. The Russian Diaspora abroad is a very specific phenomenon. It is not by chance that a proverb emerged saying when a Russian man goes abroad he builds two churches and goes to one and never to the other.
We can often see when one country and even one city have several organizations that claim they are uniting all Russian natives.
– Does the foundation assist the implementation of the state program for voluntary resettlement of compatriots back to Russia?
– No, the foundation has nothing to do with it. Personally I have a dual attitude to the program. Firstly, it cannot be accomplished in the declared quantity. Secondly, the program will not yield the expected result. There is a question: who will resettle to Russia? In the current form the state program seems to target resettlement to backward provinces with a major shortage of human resources. But in reality we do not lack manpower in the countryside. In Russia the share of rural population is bigger than in any industrialized nation of the world. The task is to encourage our people to stay and work in the countryside.
The main aim of the state program should be the return of drained brains to the country. Today we experience a major shortage of intellectual potential. Thanks God, time has passed when professors drained to the West by 50 thousand brains a year, when graduates left for U.S. research centers in groups. Do you know, for example, that famous Silicon Valley in California overwhelmingly speaks Russian? Imagine how the country would benefit if the people return to Russia!
I asked many of the drained brains why they do not return back home. They cited several reasons and all concerned everyday life and material remuneration. By the way, the Chinese made an economic breakthrough mostly due to their compatriots who studied in western colleges. They pay them a lot and the people return enthusiastically.
– Are there objective reasons that impede foundation activities?
– There are many reasons, but the main one is very complicated work in conditions of Russian legal and bureaucratic environment. Most of the time is spent to resolve internal problems rather than promote international activities. For example, we have practically no legislation on grants. A Russian organization can receive a grant from abroad for certain activities, but there are no documents stipulating the reverse process – from Russia to abroad. They evidently thought our country would always receive grants and never give anything to anybody.
There are a lot of legal problems with charity both in cash and in kind. For example, it is very difficult to present a book or a picture to any foreign museum or center. You have always to overcome immense obstacles because every item moved outside the country is subject to complicated customs formalities. Unfortunately, differences in Russian and foreign legislation also pose problems. I am convinced we have to amend legislation to promote a normal cultural policy. I clearly understand it is not a rapid process, therefore we stoically learn to overcome existing bureaucratic barriers.
By Viktor SIRYK