Cross-border cultural projects were initiated by the “richer” regions in the early 1990s, when “desetatisation” of international co-operation expanded and trans-frontier events flourished. For Russian regions, they were of particular value because of a critical financial deficit in the cultural sector, thus providing them with the resources for e.g. emergency heritage preservation. The Nordic countries, in particular, placed an emphasis on developing special relations with neighbouring territories, e.g. helping to restore wooden architectural monuments in the Archangel Region.
Almost all the border regions have concluded bilateral agreements with neighbouring foreign territories, and organise tourist activities and cultural exchanges. In 2001, the national Concept of Cross-border Co-operation was adopted, which inter alia presupposes:
- preservation of architectural and cultural heritage while implementing investment projects;
- direct partnerships of educational institutions in the study of languages and cultures of neighbouring peoples; and
- promotion of tourism, joint use of culture and arts heritage, and publishing of tourist guides.
In 2002, 2008, and 2012 Russia ratified the European Framework Convention on Cross-Border Cooperation among territorial communities or authorities and its Protocols; cross-border cultural dialogue has become a national priority and falls within the competence of the Ministry for Regional Development. During the Russia – EU summit of 2009, five agreements on cross-border co-operation were signed including the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument “Kolarctic Programme” (see http://www.kolarcticenpi.info/en), which has direct collaboration of people in culture and arts as one of its priorities.
In July 2007, the Ministry for Culture and Mass Communications held a particular meeting concerned with the issues of cross-border dialogue and needs to develop feasible cultural infrastructure in the border regions of Russia. Urgent actions to improve funding for cultural institutions and heritage objects were proposed, together with the statutory introduction of a cultural dimension in the Federal Target Programmes of economic and social development in border territories.
Cross-border folk festivals within particular language or culture areas is an accepted form of regional cooperation, e.g. the Altargana festival showcasing the Buryat culture, arts, literature, film, and sports and supported by the Ministry for Regional Development. The festival was first organised in 2002 and takes place on a biannual basis with the support of the federal administration and the government, the parliament and the Ministry of Culture and Mass Communications of the Buryat Republic. It aims at intensifying cross-border cooperation and attracting Russian and foreign tourists; it was held in Mongolia in 2010 and in 2012 in Russia again.
Intercultural dialogue: actors, strategies, programmes
Providing for intercultural dialogue is an implicit and traditional part of cultural and social policy in Russia as a culturally diverse country, while Soviet concepts of “interethnic relations” or “peoples’ friendships” are common substitutes for “dialogue”. Most widespread forms are conferences, festivals, exhibitions, inter-regional exchanges, etc. Relatively new inter-religious dialogue has emerged and involving all the confessions became a very sensitive issue.
The Ministry for Regional Development is responsible for regulating both inter-ethnic (inter-cultural) dialogue and co-operation between the state administration and National Cultural Autonomies or religious communities. Practical work is organised at the regional level where special programmes are implemented. Routine cultural interaction of public organisations with strong ethnic, religious or parochial roots are mainly organised by the regional and local authorities. The “Friendship Houses” serve as focal points for actors and activities, many of which belong to the “folk” cultural movement. In large cities, teaching tolerance also became an instrument of promoting dialogue.