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90 Years of Russian Public Diplomacy

December 2, 2015

This year Russian cultural centres have been holding events to mark 90 years of ‘Russian public diplomacy’. April 1925 marked the formation of the All Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries frequently usually referred to, even in the West by its Russian acronym, VOKS. Rossotrudnichestvo (Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation), which has responsibility for what are now known as Russian Scientific and Cultural Centres, is making the explicit connection back to the Soviet era.  In the West we tend to treat Soviet external outreach in terms of Communist Parties, propaganda the KGB and the Bolshoi, but there was also a substantial component that followed the practices of  other nation-state cultural relations.   In Egypt or India the anniversary is being used as a reminder of the 40-50 year history of the cultural centres in the country. The important point is, as Tobias Rupprecht emphasizes in relation to Latin America, the the Soviet Union ‘looked fundamentally different from the South than from the West’ and this was as much about government perceptions as those of would be revolutionaries.

As far as I can tell there has been no attempt to track the development of the Soviet Cultural Centres networks, we don’t know how very much about how they were managed or what they did.*  There are good reasons for neglect of this in term of access to archives, language skills etc but the neglect of Soviet public diplomacies during the Cold War is signficant gap in our knowledge of the period.

*If you know different I’d really like to know what I’ve missed.

2 comments

  1. Hi, I am very interested in your blog and your statement that Soviet public diplomacy is not that different from Western states. In principle, I agree. I am working on Soviet friendship societies in Western Europe and the VOKS-SSOD-Organisation during the Cold War. It is amazing how they celebrate 90 years of continous (unchanged?) Russian-Soviet Public Diplomacy.


    • I initially saw the claim of the descent from VOKS on the Rossotrudnichestvo web site a few years ago and I was pretty surprised and was even more suprised by the 90 years celebrations. On the other hand from looking at other countries public diplomacy organizations often have surprisingly long histories – the relationships and the expertise that they represent are too valuable to abandon.



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