"We lived apart and had a rest from one
The Forum of the Creative and Scientific Intelligentsia of CIS Member States, which recently met in Moscow, provides a reason for talking about the way that the post-Soviet land area is once again interested in working together. This is 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The event in the capital brought together representatives of the various spheres of the humanities - culture, education, literature, the theatre, the fine arts and mass media. The work was broken out into different sections. Archives, libraries and museums all were in the section on cultural heritage.
The curators of the material and cultural heritage till now had not gathered all together. We have many common problems and the most diverse experience. These people from the former Soviet republics of the Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kirghizia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and even Latvia (which is not part of the CIS) all formerly knew one another very well. We understood that together we can achieve a great deal.
I have to admit that there were fears the forum would be just a formal event. But right away a good, one might say 'human' atmosphere developed. Everyone understood that the time had come to draw our conclusions on the life we have led apart and to think about what should be done in the future. In this connection, it is worth mentioning that in the Hermitage we recently held a Forum of Young Journalists of the CIS. It turned out that they have no nostalgia for the past but also know how to speak with each other about the most acute problems.
The experience of the Hermitage is illustrative of how museum life has developed over the past decade and a half. No sooner did Perestroyka and its related complications begin than we took ourselves in hand and by our exhibitions and opening of branch museums we showed to the world that the Hermitage is a great museum. Then the time came for big Russian programs - in Siberia, Kaliningrad and in the South. But there is a buffer between Russia and the rest of the world - namely, the countries of the CIS. We have lived apart, but our contacts were never severed. We have managed to maintain our archeological expeditions, and in the period between the end of last year and the beginning of this year the Hermitage moved on to a new level of work with the countries of the CIS. We concluded an agreement of cooperation with Belarus. We began preparing documents with the Ukraine regarding excavations in Kerch and the creation of a joint center for an archeological institute in the Crimea. We also have developed a program with Armenia and concluded an agreement of cooperation with Tajikistan. We have conducted similar negotiations with Kazakhstan. This work was done not because of some order from on high, but because we ourselves felt the need for it.
One of the main results of the forum is that it showed not everything is bad in our relations. There are a lot of problems and some of them are rather complex, but they can be solved. The archives were able to reach agreement among themselves rather quickly. The same thing occurred with the libraries, which just have to exchange books. We have our bilateral associations that function successfully. At the forum the idea arose of creating an association of CIS museums. As it appeared, this also is possible.
I can explain the success of the forum by the fact that we have had 15 years of living apart and we have had a good chance to rest up from one another. During this time we have all gained experience of dealing with the world at large and have had our independence both from "big brother" - Russia, and from cultural institutions as a whole. For example, in Yerevan there is the Yerevan University, as well as Russian-Armenian, American and French institutions of higher learning. One can be upset over this and say that they are preparing their own version of the "orange" revolution, or one can see this phenomenon as just normal competition.
The situation is such that today people living in the post-Soviet space have seen something of the world. They feel more at ease and it is simpler and cheaper for them to fly off to Paris than to Moscow. Nonetheless, these same people are drawn to Russia and Russian culture. Our culture is based on the Russian language. It includes Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Chingiz Aitmatov, Sayat Nova, translations of the oriental classics and much else. It is a powerful stratum of world culture, alongside which also exist other strata. These layers of culture are accessible and they bump into one another without need for one to dominate any other. It is important for people to have a choice.
The return to the Russian language today is not based on the need to communicate. There is one language of contact in the world today and that is English. There will be no other one. Knowing Russian makes it possible to read Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin and Sholokhov in the original and that is an asset that people don't want to lose. This is a perceived advantage over French, Americans and other people who do not know Russian and it is a new type of view of the Russian language that is not in any way connected to some colonial past. People are drawn to knowledge.
Not long ago I was delivering lectures in Yerevan. My subject was not something popular; rather it had to do with the archeology of the Koran and about universal museums. The thousand or more young people in the audience sat and listened. They know the language and understand what I was talking about. There is a need to preserve the Russian language. At the forum many people spoke of this.
One idea of extending cooperation in the humanities which arose is to create an organization like UNESCO for the countries of the CIS. The decision was adopted to establish a foundation and a permanent secretariat. Initially this will be undertaken by the Federal Agency on Culture and Moscow University, which was one of the organizers of the forum. Programs will be developed for those who live in the CIS countries. It is important to develop a system for supporting Russian culture to avoid its being swallowed up by mass culture and Western culture.
We should join forces so as to communicate with one another. For example, our orientalists should work in Central Asia, and our archeologists need to work in the Crimea. Students should travel on traineeships without suffering over visa applications. Meanwhile specialists in the CIS countries have a need to work in the Hermitage, the Russian Museum and in Russian libraries and archives. This type of exchange will reduce the mutual claims for return of this or that.
We adopted recommendations with regard to issues that bother us in our mutual relations with Western countries. Say, for example, that for exhibitions abroad we need guarantees against possible arrest of cultural works during the time of their stay outside of Russia. There is a worldwide practice of state insurance guarantees such as we do not have. Perhaps by acting together we can achieve adoption of such guaranties. There are problems which can be solved at the level of the CIS using different levers of political pressure and then we can make these solutions a model for dealing with the wider world. Therefore, in our relations there can be something more than the euphoria of spending time together well: some purely practical mutual interest.
Of course, various claims over who owes what to whom did arise. But the decision was immediately adopted not to discuss them in order that we not drown in disagreements. We have claims on one another, and there is no reason to pretend that everything is peace and accord. There are problems over who has kept what of the cultural heritage. The main thing is that this heritage is preserved, regardless of by whom, whom it really belongs to and on whose territory it is located. There are more important divisions between states. However, we have to be aware of the differences and not have to pretend that we are united on everything.
I think the forum is an important strategic factor for Russia. There are today many political schisms between the countries of the CIS. But we live in an age when the humanities are victorious and in this sphere we can create a mechanism which will substitute for what was best in political unity. Political unity will not be here for a long time to come and perhaps never again. However, we can create cultural unity that will be the envy of the world.