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Tatiana Zonova

Doctor of Political Science, Professor of the Diplomacy Department of the MGIMO University

Humanitarian cooperation between Russia and the European Union is an efficient instrument of soft power. It should be added here that the very term “humanitarian cooperation” has quite many meanings. In working languages of the European Union, the definition “humanitarian” is used in the first place in the context of countering human rights abuses and violence, and rendering assistance in emergency situations. In Russia, the concept “humanitarian cooperation” has a wider interpretation, engulfing as it does the area of cultural exchanges, inter-civilization dialogue and dialogue between civil societies, and also contacts with compatriots abroad.

Humanitarian cooperation between Russia and the European Union is an efficient instrument of soft power. It should be added here that the very term “humanitarian cooperation” has quite many meanings. In working languages of the European Union, the definition “humanitarian” is used in the first place in the context of countering human rights abuses and violence, and rendering assistance in emergency situations. In Russia, the concept “humanitarian cooperation” has a wider interpretation, engulfing as it does the area of cultural exchanges, inter-civilization dialogue and dialogue between civil societies, and also contacts with compatriots abroad.

As Romano Prodi, ex-President of the European Commission, aptly remarked, Russia and the European Union go together very well combining “like caviar and vodka”. Indeed, Russia is above all a country of European culture, it is committed to universal democratic values, including human rights and freedoms.

Russia on the Map of Stereotypes

Meanwhile, public opinion surveys carried out now and then indicate that there are rather wary attitudes among considerable numbers of Europeans towards their large neighbor. The Bulgarian artist living in London Yanko Tsvetkov drew a mocking map of Europe showing stereotypes in European perceptions of one or another country. Russia is shown there as a monotonous grey territory with the inscription “Gazprom” looming over it.

Obviously, practically all nations have stereotypes in their perceptions of each other. These stereotypes have been fueled by the nations’ concerns about their own wellbeing. In Russia’s case, this actually is associated with apprehensions regarding risks of failures in fuel deliveries from Russia in winter time. Furthermore, European mentality is harassed by media reports about criminal activities of “the Russian Mafia”, and corruption scandals in Russia’s power elite. In Russia, in turn, there are many people who oppose political correctness European style, who are indignant about recognition of homosexual marriages, and mistrust multicultural tolerance.

European-Russian Relations Easily Succumb to Politics

Photo: Yanko Tsvetkov
"Stereotypes. Europe through the eyes of

Russia and the European Union have since 2008 been engaged in talks on a new Cooperation and Partnership Agreement, and steps have been taken towards mutual abolition of visas. Both in Russia and Europe they declare that they are prepared to introduce the visa-free regime. However, some of the EU members invoking the EU consensus principle insist that “visa alleviations in relation to Russia should not come first but, rather, follow in the wake of visa alleviations for the Eastern Partnership countries”.

It is evident that bilateral relations with many of the member countries develop more dynamically than along the Russia-EU lines. In the latter case, we are faced with stagnation that, as RIAC Program Director I. N. Timofeyev aptly remarked, makes it necessary “to explore new ‘markets’ for our relations, that is, those areas of cooperation that have so far been underrated.”

Humanitarian Cooperation as an Instrument of Soft Power

An underrated area is apparently humanitarian cooperation. This actually is an efficient instrument of soft power that should serve to overcome the mutual confidence shortfalls. The new Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation states, “Soft power is becoming an inseparable component of today’s foreign policy as an integral leverage to tackle foreign policy tasks with reliance on the potential of civil society, information communications, and humanitarian and other methods and technologies that serve as alternatives to classic diplomacy.”

Let us add at this point that the term “humanitarian cooperation” has many applications. In the European Union’s working languages (English, French, German), “humanitarian” is associated above all with actions against human rights abuses and violence, and with measures to provide assistance in emergency situations (food deliveries, setting up medical services, terrain demining, etc.).

Our relations in this areas develop quite successfully. Cooperation is strengthening on the issues of migration, in the fight against organized crime and illicit drug trafficking, and in measures against financial support of terrorist organizations and cyber crime. Improvements are made in the work with compatriots abroad. Russia comes out for creation of a common European legal space and a uniform system of human rights protection on the basis of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

The European Union as an Unprecedented Social and Cultural Project

In Russia, the concept “humanitarian cooperation” has a much wider interpretation, engulfing as it does the area of cultural exchanges, inter-civilization dialogue and dialogue between civil societies, and also contacts with compatriots abroad. Thus, it is humanitarian cooperation that is called upon to serve as an important instrument to improve Russia’s image abroad and to expand its influence in cultural and humanitarian areas.

Rossotrudnichestvo (the Federal Agency for CIS Affairs, Contacts with Compatriots Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation) has worked out a “Plan of Measures for the Government of the Russian Federation to Carry out Activities in the Areas of International Humanitarian Cooperation and to Facilitate International Development on the Basis of Russian Science and Culture Centers Abroad for the Period 2013-2015”. To be sure, this has to do with only bilateral initiatives, like, in particular, setting up science an culture centers, conducting “years of reciprocal events”, and so forth. This, no doubt, represents an appreciable contribution to the development of contacts with Europe, but then, bilateral initiatives cannot make up for humanitarian cooperation with the EU as a whole. In this respect, Russia loses in its policies to the policies of the European Union. It should be born in mind that the European Union is not only a process of economic, political and legal integration, but also an unprecedented social and cultural project. Not accidentally, Russian politicians say that that it would be good if the Eurasian Union project emulates the European integration model in its development.

In the era of primacy of the economy and finance, Europeans emphasize that it is culture that is central to the development of human civilization, working as it does against confrontations, encouraging inter-culture dialogue, and paving the way to unity in diversity. EU documents state that the European Union seeks to become increasingly a model of soft power based on relevant standards and values, that is, respect for human dignity, solidarity, tolerance, freedom of speech, and respect for differences in opinions.

On the practical level, the European Commission has set the objective to disseminate in countries outside the EU information about European identity, and the experience of building culture-to-culture bridges. A special emphasis in this effort is made on the necessity for European values to be reflected in the EU’s foreign policies and diplomacy. Culture is also viewed as a means to promote creative initiative and innovation. In 2012, The European Commission called a tender under the title “Support of Culture as a Vector of Democratization, Diversity and Socio-Economic Development” with a grant totaling 22.2 million euros. The list of countries and territories invited to participate in the tender covers all countries party to the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument, including Russia.

Parliamentary Diplomacy and Confidence Shortfalls

Parliamentary diplomacy is one of the elements that should enhance the level of mutual confidence. The main institutional mechanism for interaction in this area is the Parliamentary Cooperation Committee (PCC) that includes members of Russia’s Federal Assembly and the European Parliament. An important element supporting the PCC’s activities is cooperation between parliamentary parties of the State Duma and deputy groups of the European Parliament. Parliamentary diplomacy has become especially important following an increase in the role of the European Parliament, which is stipulated by the Lisbon Agreement. It should be added, however, that it is the two parliaments that exchange the most scathing criticisms. Evidently, therefore, breakthroughs are needed in this area as well.

Public Diplomacy and Russia’s Image in Europe

Public diplomacy plays a great role in the development of humanitarian cooperation, and this concerns, in particular, non-professional diplomacy that involves non-governmental organizations, and also artistic and other creative teams and individuals. Top on the list in this field are the Russian International Affairs Council and the Alexander Gorchakov Foundation for Public Diplomacy. In 2008, the EU-Russia Center went into operation in Brussels, an independent expert organization that declared its intention to promote closer relations between the European Union and Russia. At the same time, as Russia’s representative at the EU V. A. Chizhov says, many Russian NGOs, including those in opposition to the federal government, take an active part in the dialogue, and their members are regular visitors to Brussels.

They Know Little about Russia

The scientific and expert community has a significant role to play in humanitarian cooperation. My teaching experience in European countries and the experience of many of my colleagues indicates that for all the great interest that the students show in Russia their knowledge of it is rather limited. The only exception is those who specialize in Russian studies.

As a step towards improving Russia’s image the Russian Government adopted the federal target program “Russian Language” that covers the period of 2011-2015. Popularization of the Russian language is, of course, important, but it is not sufficient as an effort in this area. Russia’s image depends to a high extent on how well the Europeans, young people in the first place, are acquainted with Russia’s history, culture and political realities. Russian scientists, teachers and experts should feature more prominently in Europe’s educational area. This may, among other things, be promoted by on-line communication, and on-line education.

Expanding exchanges in the area of education is yet another effect of soft power policies. An indication of this is the Bologna process. In particular, the European Training Institute was set up at MGIMO University in 2006 within the framework of this process, funded jointly by the EU and Russia. It offers training to officials of various Russian ministries and agencies and to M.A. students and post-graduates willing to take an in-depth course in European law, operation of European institutions and EU decision making mechanisms. They also focus on development of relations between the EU and Russia, exchanges of ideas, and ways to overcome differences associated with cultural contrasts. An important point is that the European Union also supports European studies and courses in European law in other universities in Russia.

Ways of Russia-Europe Rapprochement

Photo: Colta.ru
The project “Europe as Russians See It. Russia
as Europeans See It” was initiated by professor
of Moscow Conservatoire Vladimir Tarnopolsky

The inter-culture dialogue implies not only exchanges of opinions and experience, but also launching joint initiatives. The project “Europe as Russians See It. Russia as Europeans See It” is an example of this kind of collaboration. It was initiated by professor of Moscow Conservatoire Vladimir Tarnopolsky. The project won an EU grant and was supported by cultural centers and educational institutions in France, the U.K. Italy, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Austria, Bulgaria and Latvia. Musicians in nine European countries wrote compositions for the project associated with Russia, its culture and history, while Russian composers presented their works devoted to these nine countries, and this, as the organizers say, has contributed to rapprochement between Europe and Russia.

Russia could also take part in a number of cultural ventures undertaken by the European Union. For one thing, the Europeans plan a series of events devoted to culture and cultural heritage of farming communities. Russia possesses a wealth of folklore and can share it with people in other European countries. There are many other examples of opportunities in the area of cooperation in cultural exchanges.

Russia’s federal regions take an active part in the development of humanitarian cooperation. As a case in point, the subject of a regular meeting of the Council of Heads of Administration of Federal Regions that took place in Moscow on 22 November 2012 was prospects of cooperation between Rossotrudnichestvo and federal regions in the interest of development of their international contacts. Participant in the discussion reported that in 2012, federal regions acting in conjunction with Rossotrudnichestvo carried out events in this area in 35 countries.

The European Union’s public diplomacy is also active in this direction. The EU Delegation in Russia has in recent years conducted Europe Days in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan and Arkhangelsk, which have included festivals, meetings of the literati and discussions concerning prospects of participation by Russian organizations in the European Union’s research programs. In 2010, the EU Delegation in Russia and diplomats from several European embassies initiated the European Schools project that was launched in Kazan. At seminars within the framework of the project, participants discussed prospects and possible scenarios of development of European integration.

* * *

Relations between Russia and the European Union evolve in the conditions of global interdependence. Further progress in Russia-EU relations is dependent on such important prerequisites as development of constructive partnership with the countries that are part of the European Neighborhood and Eastern Partnership Policy, a qualitative breakthrough in relations with the United States, and formation of a Euro-Atlantic security space. In this context, humanitarian cooperation as a soft power instrument comes to the forefront as one of the priority directions in Russia’s foreign policy and diplomacy. Considerable efforts, political will and, of course, appropriate financial support are required to achieve success in this area.

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  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
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