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Strengthening Sino-Russian Ties

Olga Melnikova

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During her speech at the New Year’s celebration, hosted by the Russian Cultural Center in Beijing, in late December 2017, Olga Melnikova, Counsellor of the Russian Embassy and Director of the Russian Cultural Center in Beijing, said Russia has many cultural symbols that come from China. In her opinion, Sino- Russian bilateral relations are an example of “the most stable, healthy, mature and lasting relationship between countries in today’s world.” The Russian Cultural Center for years has organized cultural, educational and science- related activities to stimulate Chinese citizens’ interest in learning the Russian language and culture.

In her recent interview with Women of China (WOC), Melnikova said she hoped the Sino-Russian strategic partnership would be strengthened, and that cultural communications between the people of the two countries would be  enhanced.

Had you visited China prior to assuming your post as Director of the Russian Cultural Center in Beijing in September 2017? What is your impression of China and the Chinese people?

I first visited the capital of China, Beijing, in 2012. I was a tourist at that time. Beijing impressed me as a modern metropolis that also kept well its traditional Chinese flavor. I saw magnificent ancient temples and palaces coexisting with modern buildings and small cozy streets. The architectural styles of many buildings, the decorations on streets, and the designs of parks clearly showed how much Chinese people had been respecting their history and traditions.

Now, I look at Beijing through the eyes of one of the city’s residents, not as a  tourist. In modern Beijing, people are    paying great attention to physical education and sports, and to taking care of their health. I have watched, many times, the Chinese citizens who gather in the morning to exercise together. They perform qigong , a system of deep breathing exercises that Chinese use to train their bodies and properly maintain the energy flow in their  bodies.

My job has pushed me to travel around China, and to meet people from all walks of life, including government officials, diplomats, representatives of academic institutions, professions, teachers, students and schoolchildren. Based on my personal communications,   I think Chinese are friendly, polite and  kindhearted. Chinese always l isten attentively to  interlocutors’ opinions, and they know how to correctly defend their points of view.

Please tell our readers about some of the events your center has organized in China to promote Russian culture.

Under the circumstances of globalization, culture becomes an important “language,” or factor, that lays the foundation to build the whole system of international relations. Cultural exchanges include communications in tourism, the scientific and educational fields, business contacts, and cooperation in the sports, mass media, art, music and film  industries.

Russia is a country that has a great cultural heritage and centuries-old traditions. Within the framework of popularization of Russian culture in the world, our Russian Cultural Center regularly hosts events, such as concerts of Russian folk artists, music and dance groups, meetings with Russian celebrities in the cultural field, exhibitions of contemporary artists, photo exhibitions of Russian museums’ archival materials, film screenings showcasing the latest achievements of Russian cinematography and theater performances for both children and  adults.

Every year, we celebrate our victory in World War II, the day of the first space flight of cosmonaut Yuri Garagin and the launch of our first space satellite. Soon, we will celebrate the date of lifting the blockade of Leningrad and the anniversary of the battle of Stalingrad. Those events are great and memorable, not only for Russian people, but also for humanity all around the  world.

Are you interested in Chinese cultural symbols?
Developing mutual interest in our cultures helps us strengthen the “ties” between our peoples. For example, the  Chinese horoscope, which includes the tradition and meaning related to the Spring Festival, is very popular in Russia. Some symbols of good fortune, such as the dragon, fish and frog, can be found in decorations that Russian people place in their houses, offices and private shops. Although the images with auspicious hints are used as decorations, most Russians do not fully understand the meanings that those images imply. Perhaps the most popular auspicious inscription is a picture of the upside-down Chinese character of “fu,” which means “happiness.”

What roles are women playing to enhance bilateral communications between Russia and China?
It is a global trend that women play more active roles in different spheres of life — business, politics and diplomacy … In some countries, women occupy the highest positions in government. There are women ministers, prime ministers and even heads of state. Women and men should complement each other while they are dealing with political issues.

Actually, the Russian- Chinese Commission on Humanitarian Cooperation is chaired by Olga Golodets, Vice-Premier of the Russian Government, and Liu Yandong, Vice-Premier of the State Council of China.
The Russian Cultural Center is the representative office of Rossotrudnichestvo — the State Agency, which is headed by Eleonora Mitrofanova, a Russian diplomat of high level with significant experience in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and in international organizations. Our center will continue to make contributions to strengthen the ties between Russia and China, advance the promotion of the Russian language and culture in China, and stimulate the development of mutual exchanges.

Women of China

Counsellor of the Russian Embassy and Director of the Russian Cultural Center in Beijing

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Arts & Culture

The Art, Artist and The Pandemic

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Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night, 1889

Irrespective of how many times one visits, a spontaneous trip to Paris is always a good idea. The perennially alluring city of lights never disappoints.

Palatial building houses of centuries gone past us offer a contemporary aesthetic fusion of French sophistication with oriental grandeur. The enchantment of Paris is gilded with rich, jewel-toned shopping arcades, Haute couture-inspired artworks and ornate vases filled with freshly-cut camellias. A mist of tranquillity prevails in the city which stretches from the lush greenery of the glorious gardens. Paris and her pleasures exude a special kind of serenity and tranquillity. While Parisian pleasures cannot be fully roistered, art, which can fill the void of empty walls and souls alike, comes to the rescue. Paris dawns a mystical ensemble of history and art. And, art, despite the world being in a global lockdown has not stopped admirers from drooling over mastery of expression.

Evidence to support my claim and love for the human ingenuity and the love for expression are limitless. Museums and auction houses have retaliated by banding together to ride out the crisis. A plethora of blue-chip biennale like the Art Basel Hong Kong are being virtually conducted with complete oral narration. Eminent auctioneers such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips’ are accepting bids online.

Artists like Spanish painter Silvestre Santiago recently recreated van Gogh’s Starry Night directly on the hood of iconic British marque, the Jaguar. Speaking van Gogh, for whom the world was an imagination. van Gogh spent a year in the mental hospital facility, making more than 150 paintings depicting the hospital grounds and surrounding landscapes. His madness is depicted in his drawings through broad strokes and the brush movements depict his vision of the things around him. One is tempted to simulate the spectacular spectacle. In summer 1889, the expression of the turmoil in the artist’s imagination finds resonance and familiarity with the sky.

His unorthodoxy eroded the fascination of the night sky. van Gogh’s art adds a spark of life to the dead and dull night sky. Unlike his previous works, van Gogh is said to have created ‘The Starry Night’ from memory and imagination rather than mere observation of reality. Critics feel that the 30-inch x 36-inch canvas painted 13 months before its maker’s death held motifs that symbolised his frame of mind, sense of isolation and a search for hope during a period of great distress. They see ‘The Starry Night’ not just as an image bursting with uncontrollable emotional energy, but also of van Gogh’s struggles and insanity at the time of its creation.

It is evident that van Gogh was always enthralled by the mysteries of the night. The dark sky and shining stars provided him with space for meditative reflection and soothing comfort for his mentally disturbed condition.“The moon comes out of eclipse, the stars blaze and heave, and the cypresses move with them, translating the rhythms of the sky into the black writhing’s of the flame-like silhouette,” writes art critic Robert Hughes. The remarkable ‘Starry Night’ encapsulates intensely blue and vibrant sky which is excited and yet at the same time, agitated. The sky and the stars have radiating concentric rings of light. The moon has the same set of rings around it. They are set in the sky which is not like the sky which one looks up to at night but it is this vivid depiction of van Gogh’s imagination. The sky has swirling patterns which force the viewer to imagine the circles to move in the most psychedelic fashion possible. The village below, in the south of France, St. Remis is where van Gogh painted the ‘Starry Night’. “It often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly coloured than the day,” he wrote to his brother and confidante Theo. “When I look at the night sky, I see the mysterious brightness of a pale star in the infinite…then life is almost enchanted after all.”

Art historian and curator Joachim Pissarro writes, “Starry Night has an imaginative force and that the night was a very big catalyst in van Gogh’s mind; van Gogh lived his life by the night. He didn’t sleep until three or four in the morning. He wrote, read, drank, spent nights in cafés…or meditated over the very rich associations that he saw in the night. It was during the night hours that his experiments with imagination and memory went the farthest”. For scholars like Pissarro, ‘The Starry Night’ stands out as a truly iconic image — an emblem not only of van Gogh’s work but also of art and the mind’s unimaginable creative ingenuity.

Finally, like me in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the chances are you are not standing in front of this painting alone, you are probably surrounded by quite a few people also looking at exactly what you are. That, to my mind is the magic of art. I look back fondly and realise that the painting compels one to realize the part of the reason for the paintings’ status as of a ‘treasure’ and love from so many people has to do with van Gogh’s way of touching one’s emotional well-being and vergangenheitbewältigung. Vergangenheitbewältigung, which, from German to English roughly translates to coping with the past. This offers a deeply philosophical and stoical resemblance towards times which bear semblance to the life of van Gogh whose life like ours in such times is marred with ennui.

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Arts & Culture

Working for the future

Anastasiia Pachina

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Art or (and) science

We are used to perceiving science and arts as two separate areas of our society that exist more or less independently. Science is exact. It necessitates rules and regulations, deals with laws, explains and interprets phenomena. Objectivity plays one of the most important roles in science. Arts, in turn, creates something abstract, something that is based on feelings and emotions. It reflects reality through the prism of images and symbols. Objectivity in arts is not so important. It seems that these two areas rarely, if ever, intersect and therefore should be considered separately.

However, if we take a look at the procedures for creating the final product rather than the end product itself, we will find out that science and arts have some processes in common: observation, visualisation, experimental testing, presentation etc.[1]Science and arts can also become complementary elements that together represent a more complete picture of the world. Therefore, we might consider these two areas in conjunction in the framework of culture as a whole.

Unifying Potentials for the Future – Culture for Peace (UPF – Culture for Peace/the Initiative)[2] is an initiative, which was founded by scientist and artist Sofija Bajrektarevic. It brings together several areas including science and arts. Its goal is to create a platform where talented people as well as organisations and institutions from various fields of culture have the opportunity to express their ideas and contribute to the sustainable development of our society. The interaction of science and arts is the core and basis of the initiative.

The main tools of the Initiative are the implementation of projects in the field of culture, support and presentation of cultural events, artists, scientists and active cultural figures. The Initiative detects, promotes and enlarges the network of creative ideas, talents and skills aimed at maintaining a sustainable future. Cultural maintenance of this network implies the continued establishment and development of a peaceful society and contribution to its organisation.

Projects and their participants

Currently there are several projects under the Initiative. These are:“’Culture’ for Sustainable Future: Art/Artists in Fore- and Background”, “Narratives of Hope: Applied Science in the Culture” and “Music as a Culture”. The first two projected are being actively implemented, while the third is under development and its start is planned for a fall 2020.

As a long-term project “’Culture’ for Sustainable Future: Art/Artists in Fore- and Background” presents a message of visual arts (sculpture, painting, photography, design). In the framework of this project, artists from around the world have the opportunity to express themselves and their attitude on the topic of “Sustainable Future – quo vadis: Process, metamorphosis, directions of movement (motion) of matter and spirit as essential building elements of being (existence)”. First, the works of artists are shown on the start page of the site of the UPF – Culture for Peace initiative and thus they become a visual representation of the site. Works change every two months during the year. Then the pieces of arts will be presented at annual exhibitions and presentation. This project format creates an interaction between a wide audience and artists from different parts of the world. At the same time, it provides a platform to maintain a balanced society and sustainable future developments. Several artists with their selected works have been already presented under this project.

“My works deal with processes that change matter; I recreate and/or document those changes”[3], -says the Croatian sculptor Alem Korkut[4] about his art. Prof. Korkut’s work was presented in the framework of the project “’Culture’ for Sustainable Future: Art/Artists in Fore- and Background” as the first visual message, and became an inspiration for the project theme. In the relief, which he featured fortheInitiative, the viewer can observe the processes of merging, healing and separation, and can move to the point of confluence or separation depending on the viewing angle.

Korkut’s philosophy is focused on the idea that nothing is fixed but is in flow, in the process of constant flux. The sculptor mainly creates aluminum reliefs that express his philosophy. Alem Korkut has exhibited at about two hundred exhibitions including solo and group exhibitions in Europe and beyond. He is the winner of many awards and the author of several public sculptures. In addition to his artisan works, Korkut is in the position of Associate Professor at ALU in Zagreb, where he has been teaching since 2007.

Sustainable future – Quo vadis,  Alem Korkut

A significant figure within the project is also Juan Trinidad, a conceptual sculptor of the 1980s generation from a central portions of American continent –Caribbean (Dominican Republic). A special feature of the sculpture, which he presented, is the reflection of the Dominican tradition and Afro-Antillean identity that is characterized by totem carvings of oak and centenary mahogany. Since early 1990s, Juan Trinidad has participated in numerous exhibitions in Central, Southern and Northern America, in Europe and beyond. It also includes UNESCO Paris. Trinidad’s works adorn spaces on four continents and are part of private collections as well as many prestigious cultural institutions. Henry Loyrette, the Former President – Director of the Louvre in Paris, commented on his work as follows: “Juan’s works wonderfully contributes in re-approaching our cultures, seemingly distant, but so close”, while Juan Trinidad himself says: “Without forgetting the past, I make sculptures today, thinking about the future.”

Without forgetting the past, I make sculptures today, thinking about the future. Juan Trinidad

The painting of the young artist, designer and social activist Anastasia Lemberg-Lvova[5]has also become part of the “’Culture’ for Sustainable Future: Art/Artists in Fore- and Background” project. In addition to her bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, Anastasia has received trainings in Belgium, the Netherlands. Her works are in private collections in Belgium, Estonia, France and Russia. Lember-Lvova’s artistic searches and studies focus on personal introspection and through aesthetics reveal the possibilities of social interaction. With the help of her works, Anastasia questions the constructed perception of the value and potential of individuals. Inspired by the project and created for it, the painting of Lemberg-Lvova expresses the idea that natural human qualities such as anger, fear, and doubt can be fenced with socially approved characteristics. Anastasia believes that “to explore our potentials as individuals and to unite in the wish for a prosperous future, we need to dispense with the need to hide behind false displays and make sure that we feel valued, worthy and capable from within oneself”. Besides fine arts, Lemberg-Lvova is engaged in social activities. She participated in several sessions of the European Youth Parliament, where she also created projects aimed at the sustainable development of society.

To explore our potentials as individuals and to unite in the wish for a prosperous future, we need to dispense with the need to hide behind false displays and make sure that we feel valued, worthy and capable from within oneself. Anastasia Lemberg-Lvova

Among the artists who presented their work under the “’Culture’ for Sustainable Future: Art/Artists in Fore- and Background” project is Naj Phonghanyudh[6]. She studied art and art history in Bangkok, Kent and Paris. Her professional activity involves art and design. Naj Phonghanyudh is a professor, a full-time lecturer at the prestigious University of the Arts in Bangkok. Besides numerous solo and group exhibitions, she also takes part in presentations, social projects and initiatives. Being engaged in art and design, she is also working as a curator for the non-profit organisation, United Thailand that creates and supports art activities for young people from various areas in Thailand.

The selected work the Artist endorsed by the following words: “…like the techniques which made the protruding object stands out against the flat surface of the print I am different because of who I am and I accept me more as I am. Some who appreciates traditional beauty may feel intruded by this imperfection, whereas some may find that it encourages them to speak out against the flatness and norms”.

Some who appreciates traditional beauty may feel intruded by this ‘imperfection’, whereas some may find that it encourages them to speak out against the flatness and norms. Naj Phonghanyudh

Since the project “’Culture’ for Sustainable Future: Art/Artists in Fore- and Background” is a long-term undertaking, it is planned to engage more artists of different sorts and types.

Another project “Narratives of Hope: Applied Science in the culture” complements art in the UPF – Culture for Peace Initiative and presents an opportunity for experts from various fields of science and culture to discuss topics that are united under the general keynote: Sustainable Future. Energetically engaged young generation is an essential element of the project. This creates new, active synergies that are capable of raising questions, finding answers and discussing the challenges of modern society. The first thematic evening of the project took place in Vienna last fall. The topic was “Narratives of Hope: The urban phenomenon – future of a perennial story”.“Narratives of Hope: Applied Science in the culture” is also a long-term project that deserves special attention and a separate article in the future.

Further development

The world has recently witnessed an unprecedented calamity. Disturbing news about the virus and its spread shocked the planet and brought it to a halt for months. Disruption and deprivation along with the imposed social distancing are of yet unanticipated severity and duration of secondary effects.

Narratives of hope, re-humanization of humans through arts and applied science (science with a human face) are the key.

The UPF – Culture for Peace Initiative is here to bring us all back to the future.


[1]Kemp, M. (2000). Visualizations: the nature book of art and science. Oxford: University Press. Pp. 4.

[2]https://www.upf-cultureforpeace.org/

[3] Alem Korkut : Contemporary Croatian Sculptor. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.singulart.com/en/artist/alem-korkut-5655?campaign_id=202.

[4] https://alemkorkut.com/en/bio/

[5]https://www.lemberglvova.com/

[6]https://www.najphonghanyudh.com

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Arts & Culture

Remembering legendary Nigerian drummer Tony Allen

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Exactly in August 2009, legendary Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, who created the Afrobeat along with his old bandmate Fela Kuti, and I had our first historical meeting in Paris, France. I had flown in from Shanghai, China, to meet with him for an informal encounter. Despite our heavy working schedules and limited time, the meeting lasted for about two hours. During the discussions, I asked him several questions about his professional musical career and life. In fact, he was extremely passionate and enthusiastic talking with me, and to remember him here are a few excerpts:

When did you begin your musical career and who are your favorite musicians?

My career started at the age of 20.  In fact, I was hired by Sir Victor Olaiya to play claves with his highlife band, “the Cool Cats” and was able to fill the drum-set chair when the former Cool Cats drummer left the band. I also played with Agu Norris and the Heatwaves, the Nigerian Messengers and the Melody Makers.

In 1964, I joined Fela’s ‘Koola Lobitos’ and stayed with Fela for 15 years. When I was learning to play I’d check out LPs and magazine tutorials by Gene Krupa, Art Blakey and Max Roach, Guy Warren was also an influence. Of course, I was also a fan of Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Bernard Purdie.

I was asked to name my dream band to play with, and I chose: Oumou Sangare and Salif Keita on vocals, Bootsy Collins on bass, George Benson on guitar, Wayne Shorter on sax, Joe Zawinul on keys, Don Cherry on trumpet, and with a line-up like that I’d have to be the drummer!

What was the motivation behind your chose profession?

My parents were…not keen. Back then, musicians were more or less thought of as beggars, or worse. But I just put it in front of them. I was an electrical technician, but I wanted to make a change. My mother was never happy about it, but my father, who was an amateur musician, eventually agreed.

How is this profession influencing or shaping your own social life?

It has had a profound effect.  Our albums with Afrika 70 either provoked or described a series of increasingly brutal attacks by the Nigerian army and police. Fela and his immediate family bore the brunt of this long and shameful catalogue of assaults, trumped up charges and jailings, and I myself was jailed on one occasion.  With Fela it was like being at university, and you don’t run away from education. We learnt so much by not being cowards.

When I left Fela’s band that had a big effect on my life.  Lagos was too small for me and Fela. It was a small place, and I wanted room to take off without causing competition, I eventually chose Paris partly because the British immigration people were giving me difficulties, but also because African music was more happening then in Paris than in London, and my record company at the time was in France. It was the only place I felt I could exercise my knowledge. The only place to make a living. Being a musician, the line between work and social life is, often blurred doing what I do for a living is what I do for enjoyment.

There seems to be some truthfulness in your career. Which songs spiritually appeal most to you personally when on stage?

Absolutely, as a musician and an artist you have to be true to yourself. Different songs appeal to me more at different times and under different circumstances, it can depend on who you’re playing with, where you’re playing and how the audience respond to what you’re playing. Playing music is very spiritual but I won’t say that one thing I do is more spiritual than another as I try to invest all in everything that I do.

Of what importance are the messages you convey through your songs to our society, in your interpretation?

Afrobeat has always been about the struggle, then and now. Fela was right about everything, especially the messages in all his songs.  Everything he sang about is still happening. Nigeria’s not getting any better. It’s all misadministration and corruption, survival of the fittest. Lagos is a complete mother ****** of a place. These messages we send to the government, they never listen to them. The people wait for an effect, but there’s no effect. These guys do nothing. Afrobeat is rebellious music. We have to keep shouting.

Do you mind talking about your experiences (both positive and negative) in previous European tours?

Laughs! I don’t mind at all but this is a big question that I’m not sure how to answer.  The fact is that the good experiences overwhelmingly outweigh the bad, which is why I’m still out on tour at nearly 70 years old. As long as people want to come and see me play, I’ll play.

How do you usually visualize your audience during musical performances?

I am very pleased to have had the chance to play at many festivals abroad. The foreign people know all about social and political upheaval, so even though our cultures and heritage are completely different, they feel the power of Afrobeat and confirm my belief that music is the great healer in the world. It was a long musical trip, there is no way back but well worth it. You just don’t have to return, I have to move forward!

Many people think going into musical world is just to make quick money. What is your reaction to this?

Ha! Most musicians are struggling musicians only a small minority make serious money, musicians all around the world play for the love of it, to express themselves creatively and for the interaction with the audience. A lucky few might make millions but you can’t judge everyone else on that basis, lawyers, accountants, bankers, those guys make the serious money. Also, those motivated by money don’t make as good music, if your inspiration isn’t true, then it shines through in music.

Would you have opted out of stage if you were offered an alternative job? Not all, as I said earlier, I had job which I left in order to be a musician, that wa almost 50 years ago and I am still in it. I think I made the right decision.

If you could have lunch with anyone, real or fictional, alive or dead, who would it be and what is the first thing you would ask him or her?

It’s impossible to pick one single person, there are loved ones that would be great to see one more time, but musically the most obvious person would be Fela Kuti, and I’d ask him if he’s happy with what’s happened to the music that we created together.

What are your goals for the coming years?

I want to keep on doing what I do, improving and doing new things.  I’m very happy with my band and our new album, we can do great things together.  I’m very fortunate that I get the opportunities to work with all manner of artists doing different and interesting projects, long may it continue.

Music is my mission. I never get satisfied and I’m still learning from others. The musical world is very spiritual, and I don’t think there’s an end to it. The best legacy is your professional work and leaving an indelible mark on the minds of people.

Additional information: Agence France Press (AFP) wrote that Allen was the drummer and musical director of Fela Kuti’s band Africa ‘70 in the 1960s and 1970s. During that time, the pair created afrobeat, combining West African musical styles such as highlife and Fuji music with American imports jazz and funk. Afrobeat went on to become one of the totemic genres of 20th century African music.

Over Allen’s thrilling beat, Fela laid out his revolutionary and pan-African message, which led him to become one of the abiding icons of the struggle for freedom across the continent. Allen and Fela recorded around 40 albums together in Africa ‘70, before parting ways after a mythic 26-year collaboration. Such was the hole that Allen left in his band, Fela needed four drummers to replace him.

Allen taught himself to play drums from the age of 18, drawing inspiration from American jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker as well as contemporary African music. He remained hugely influential and beloved by generations of musicians.

British musician and producer Brian Eno has called Allen “perhaps the greatest drummer who ever lived.” Allen was the drummer in the supergroup The Good, the Bad & the Queen, also featuring Blur singer Damon Albarn and The Clash bassist Paul Simonon, which released its second album in 2018. Tony Allen died suddenly at the age of 79 in the Paris suburb Courbevoie, France.

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