At a time when relations between Germany and Russia are at their most cordial, cultural exchange initiatives appear to be benefiting with a number of high profile events highlighting the bond between the two countries.
Putin and Schröder agree that their cultural heritage is worth sharing
It's would be difficult to overestimate the prestige that comes with being named the Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the largest of its kind in the world and a Mecca for the publishing industry. The award of this prestigious title at such a global event can be seen as a gesture of respect and friendship to whosoever receives it. So bestowing the accolade on Russia and further lauding Russia's impressive exposition, "Russia - New Pages" at this year’s event, could be seen as one way of currying favor on the diplomatic front.
Frankfurt Book Fair.
Only there seems to be little need for Germany to offer any incentives to increase the cosiness of its relationship with Russia, particularly on the cultural front. Both countries are enjoying their closest ever relations with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder now meeting with his counterpart, Russian President Vladimir Putin, for the seventh time this year.
Thanks to the Russian-German cultural dialogue that was initiated by the two leaders, exchanges in the cultural-humanitarian sphere have been developing positively between the two countries with a number of high profile events underscoring the determined efforts of both sides to bond on levels other than the political and industrial.
Cultural meetings provide framework
In 2003, Germany is playing host to "The Year of Russia's Culture," and next year Moscow is planning to return the favor with a celebration of German culture. The cooperation, so far, has been a great success and marks the first stage of the Russian-German Cultural Meetings 2003-2004 initiative, a series of events unprecedented in its scale and range of regions.
Another segment of the initiative, the large historical-art exhibition "Moscow-Berlin - Berlin-Moscow 1950-2000" opened in Berlin on Sept. 27. The exhibition details 50 years of relations in Russian-German art through 500 works by 200 artists. The collection of paintings, sculptures, video, film and installations, some of which have been especially created for the exhibition, are meant to illustrate the direct differences as well as similarities between East and West in an unprecedented manner.
The exhibition will run at the Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin until Jan. 5, 2004 before moving to Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery. The exhibition will be shown there from March 21 until June 15.
Culture helps understanding
It is exchanges like these that have convinced the Russian Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi that the German public has revised its attitude toward Russia. Shvydkoi told the Gateway to Russia website that, thanks to the German-Russian Cultural Meetings 2003-2004 project, Germans have learned more about Russia.
His German counterpart, Cristina Weiss, speaking at the Frankfurt Book Fair, told reporters that the diversity of music and pictorial art demonstrated by the Russians in Germany during 2003 has helped the Germans take a keen interest in Russian culture. Referring specifically to the impact of the Russian exposition at the book fair, she said, “The names of Nabokov and Bulgakov are known not solely by experts, but by the general reader as well.”
Educational exchanges planned
As well as artistic exchanges between the two countries, there are also plans to prepare “an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the study of the Russian language in Germany and of the German language in Russia,” according to Kremlin sources quoted in the Russian press. This and the intensification of other exchanges between Russian and German students and educational bodies are expected to be discussed at the Russian-German conference taking place in Yekaterinburg this week.
The personal affinity between Schröder and Putin appears to grease the cogs of cultural exchange, making the arrangement and execution of large scale, high profile initiatives possible. The interaction between the two leaders is unparalleled in modern times.
Putin comfortable with German culture
Putin is rare among Russian leaders in having significant first-hand experience of Germany, having worked for several years in Dresden as a young K.G.B. operative in the 1970's. "This has been very helpful, of course," said Vladimir Grigoryev, the deputy minister of press, television, and radio broadcasting, who heads the Russian delegation at the Frankfurt Book Fair. "He lived here, he speaks fluent German and he feels somehow comfortable with German culture."
Interstate meetings begin this week
Putin’s engagement with Schröder has what Kremlin sources describe as “a stimulating effect on interaction with Germany at all levels,” something that will be once again evident at this week’s Russian-German interstate meetings.
The interstate consultations have been held alternately in Russia and Germany every year since 1998 with ministers from the economic, foreign affairs, interior, and education departments of both sides invited. This year, the heads of the German and Russian secret services are also participating.