History of Rossotrudnichestvo: 95 years of people’s diplomacy
In 2020, Rossotrudnichestvo celebrates its 95th anniversary. The organization began its history as the All-Union Society for Cultural Relations with Abroad in 1925, continued from 1958 as the Union of Soviet Friendship Societies and Cultural Ties with Foreign Countries, as RusInterCenter in 1994 and since 2008 became a Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affair, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation.
All-Union Society for Cultural Relations with Abroad
The All-Union Society for Cultural Relations with Abroad (AUSCR) was established in April 1925. It was a difficult period in the formation of a new emerged state that did not have international recognition and contacts with other countries.
The new organization has set up science and technology, literature, studentship and language departments. The latter worked to popularize the study of foreign languages.
Such prominent Soviet figures as the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, composers Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich, writer Mikhail Sholokhov, director Sergei Eisenstein contributed to the work of AUSCR in the field of development of foreign relations. From abroad some renowned persons such as physicists Albert Einstein and Marie Curie, writers Theodore Dreiser and Herbert Wells advocated friendly relations with the Soviet authorities. At the invitation of AUSCR, delegations from foreign friendship societies, as well as famous foreign figures, came to the USSR: for example, on September 11, 1930, the great Bengali poet, writer and playwright, the first non-European laureate of the Nobel Prize in literature, Rabindranath Tagore, visited the Soviet Union.
Even during World War II, AUSCR continued to work actively with friendship societies in different countries. These organizations took part in the resistance movements created in the territories occupied by the Germans. The All-Union society sought to unite prominent figures of world culture in the fight against Nazism. The famous writer Ernest Hemingway wrote in July 1941: "I am one hundred percent in solidarity with the Soviet Union in its military resistance to fascist aggression."
AUSCR, together with foreign friendship societies, organized propaganda work, distributing materials that told about the exploits of the Soviet people in the struggle against the invaders, as well as about the atrocities of the Nazis in the occupied territories. AUSCR also helped to arrange foreign assistance and to establish supplies to the USSR of medicines and hospitals equipments, purchased at the expense of citizens of countries sympathizing with the Soviet Union.
Union of Soviet Societies for Friendship and Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries
The beginning of the "Cold War", the emergence of new political goals required a change in the format of the AUSCR activities, which in 1958 was transformed into the Union of Soviet Societies for Friendship and Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (USSFCR). The forms of implementation of the humanitarian activities of the USSFCR and friendship societies were different: the exchange of delegations and tourist groups, of experience of scientific and cultural achievements, the organization of exhibitions, festivals, Days dedicated to the science and culture of the USSR, mass friendly correspondence of collectives and individuals.
The USSFCR united all societies, associations, and friendship committees that existed at that time. The tasks of the organization now included not only the development of foreign contacts, but also the acquaintance of Soviet citizens with the culture and history of other countries. This process was facilitated by the emergence of regional branches of friendship societies. In addition, another distinguishing feature of the organizations that were part of the USSFCR was the massive nature of their activities. By the end of the 60s, the Friendship Societies united about 25 thousand enterprises, educational institutions, scientific and cultural institutions. More than 50 million people took part in the work of the USSFCR. Annually, only the branches of the USSFCR in the republics of the USSR held about 25 thousand events dedicated to foreign countries. By 1975, the USSFCR already included 63 friendship societies with individual countries, which contributed to the development of international cooperation. In the 1970s and 1980s, Soviet cultural centers, the Houses of Soviet Science and Culture were created, which became places of concentration of information about the cultural, scientific and social life of the Soviet Union. During that period, the centers were created mainly unilaterally.
Russian Association for International Cooperation (RAIC) and the Russian Center for International Scientific and Cultural Cooperation under the Government of the Russian Federation (RusInterCenter)
In the early 90s, in connection with the collapse of the USSR, the USSF, like many organizations and departments, underwent changes: in April 1992, the USSF was transformed into the Russian Association for International Cooperation (RAIC), and after a while - into the Russian Agency for International Cooperation and Development (RAICD) for the implementation of information, cultural and scientific-technical relations of Russia with other states through the system of foreign missions and centers of science and culture. Later, by a decree of the Russian government dated April 8, 1994, the functions of RAICD were transferred to the Russian Center for International Scientific and Cultural Cooperation under the Government of the Russian Federation (RusInterCenter). For the first time in the entire history of its existence, this organization became one of the state agencies. It was headed by the world's first woman-cosmonaut, Hero of the Soviet Union Valentina Tereshkova, whose authority and active work made possible to preserve the overall relations accumulated over decades.
Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo)
The expansion of activities required modern approaches and building a new format of international relations, the creation of a special federal government body that would have full powers in the development of Russian humanitarian ties with foreign countries. To implement this goal, on September 6, 2008, the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo) was created.
The main activity of Rossotrudnichestvo and of its foreign missions aims at the implementation of the state policy of international humanitarian cooperation, promotion abroad of an objective image of contemporary Russia. Also, an increased attention is paid to the support and dissemination of the Russian language in the world, the promotion of Russian science, culture and education abroad, work with compatriots, the implementation of activities in the field of promoting international development and public diplomacy.
Nowadays, Rossotrudnichestvo is working in 80 countries via 73 Russian centers for science and culture and 24 representatives of the Agency in Russian Embassies.
Rossotrudnichestvo lays special emphasis on working with youth. Annually about 2000 young representatives of political, social, scientific and business circles visit Russia for educational purposes within the framework of the programs "Hello, Russia!" and "New Generation". Rossotrudnichestvo supports and promotes the Russian language abroad. Thousands of people are currently taking Russian language courses at Rossotrudnichestvo offices in many countries of the world.
Modern Russia has a huge potential for expanding humanitarian contacts, for popularizing its culture and rich historical heritage abroad. Today, as well as many years ago, the need to form an objective view of Russia, debunking persisting myths and expanding the circle of friends both at the level of statesmen and among ordinary people remains extremely in demand.
Maxim Dobrokhotov is a Counsellor, Embassy of the Russian Federation & Director of the Russian Center for Science & Culture in Dhaka.