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Remembering legendary Nigerian drummer Tony Allen

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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.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

Arts & Culture

BRICS Alliance and its Quest for Cultural Cooperation: Interview with Victoria Panova

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Modern Diplomacy brings you the final in the series of interviews that focus on BRICS Alliance and its Quest for Cultural Cooperation. In this interview, Victoria Panova, Co-Chair of the BRICS Civil Forum, Managing Director of the National Committee on BRICS Research, Scientific Supervisor of the BRICS Russian Organizing Committee Expert Council and Vice President for International Relations of Far Eastern Federal University, discusses most of the salient points. Here are the interview excerpts:

In 2015 you headed the NGO Working Group on BRICS, what would you say were the main non-government directions and, to what extent, these have been implemented over these past five years?

Panova:Back in 2006, when there was still the G8 and Russia was chairing the Group that year we, a group of dedicated representatives of civil society and academia led by prominent activist Ella Pamfilova, who was back then chairing the Council on development of human rights and civil society organizations in Russia together with our colleagues in the other G8 countries came up with the idea of the need of much deeper involvement and need for enhanced influence on the part of civil society of our countries on the otherwise quite closed process of governmental meetings of the G8 countries.

There were meetings with business that interested official representatives, but also parallel anti-globalist process trying to counter the official process. We thought that it is vital to make sure our governments here us, but we realized we have to act constructively and joined efforts to launch the full-blown Civil process at the G8, in fact that year was the first time that we garnered attention of all the nine Sherpas (including that of the EU) and had our ideas promoted among the governmental representatives urging them to be bolder and have a real connect with their proper civil societies.

The year 2015 came, the second time for Russia to host initiated BRICS alliance, the G8 was no longer existent at that time, but we were sure changing the composition of states is not altering the essence of what we were trying to do. And it goes without saying that in today’s world it should be two-way movement – not just people and society working for their country to be strong and efficient, but the country – its officials – should be ensuring the State does understand the vital needs and wishes of its people. And importance of this idea doesn’t change from one type of political regime to the other, doesn’t have a different meaning in the Western or Eastern hemisphere, doesn’t depend on the level of economic development of the given country and group of countries. Thus, once again, partly with the same enthusiastic civil society representatives, partly the newcomers we came up with the idea to enrich the second track of diplomacy and ensure a broader engagement of BRICS local communities in shaping the global agenda (it should be noted, that two years earlier similar process was also initiated at the Russian Chairmanship in the G20). Our goal was to create an environment for a constructive dialogue between governments and its citizens, promoting mutual understanding and acknowledgement of people’s concerns as well as encouraging strong problem-solving relations and generation of innovative ideas.

Within Russian Chairmanship in 2015, we kick-started the BRICS civil process by holding the first Civil Forum. We were looking at previous experience of the kind, but also tried to innovate with extra formats of involvement to ensure our voices are heard to their maximum. This year with the pandemic we experimented even further. In fact momentum wasn’t lost even with the travel restrictions and globally introduced lockdowns. We’ve held unprecedented number of online round tables across all the eight working groups in order to work out comprehensive and inclusive set of recommendations featuring wishes and needs of global, not just BRICS, civil society community.

This format received attention from the BRICS governments and it speaks volumes. As the BRICS governments’ officials traditionally attend some of our events, the credibility of our interaction platforms is widely recognized. I think that our important result is the creation of conditions for public sector and civil society representatives to discuss sensitive issues where they can go beyond official talking points and explore new ideas. These consultations provide policymakers with a better understanding of motivations and interests of the other actors and a clearer sense of how their policy initiatives are perceived by the citizens of BRICS countries.

Capabilities to offer policy advice and produce positive effects provided food for thought regarding institutionalization of the BRICS civil process. It would allow our societies to have more profound people-to-people connections, a wider range of joint activities, including cultural exchange. Emerging of intra-BRICS association of NGOs may also upgrade our current consultation platforms and mechanisms. It seems that we are on the way to it.

How would you argue that some of the initiatives have largely remained unrealized primarily due to diverse challenges and due to the geographical locations of BRICS members?

Panova:Challenges related to the geographical remoteness of the BRICS countries have been consistently associated with peculiarities of people-to-people cooperation. Long distances and high costs of travel within our countries, certain underdevelopment of services sectors and tourist infrastructure as well as burdensome visa procedures remain the foremost barriers for BRICS. We also have to remember that BRICS represents 40% of the world population and about 30 % world’s land surface that is why it takes time to raise awareness on BRICS and engage our societies into activities of the grouping. Our countries thereby seek to expand the geography of BRICS official events and promote each other’s cultures.

Outcome documents elaborated within the BRICS track 2 diplomacy have traditionally comprised recommendations and suggestions in these fields. Among them – to simplify visa procedures, to launch initiatives on cultural tourism, to harmonize standards of educational systems, to establish scholarship schemes promoting cultural and educational exchange. We may witness that these recommendations are gradually addressed, but tangible results could be expected in a long-term perspective only. 

Could you please discuss why empowering women, in particular, has become important as one of the latest NGO directions for BRICS? How has this stimulated interest among members of BRICS? 

Panova:A primary reason for the growing relevance of women empowerment agenda for BRICS is that in this context our countries encounter a variety of common challenges. Performance of BRICS countries in the international rankings, such as WEF Global Gender Gap Index and the OECD SDG Gender Index displays that we tend to be ranked lower than most of developed and some developing countries are. Despite the fact that our five countries demonstrate relatively high performance in the fields of education and health, we have major gaps in women’s economic and political participation.

Among these challenges, we may see the lack of transparency in gender budgeting, low participation of women in decision-making and political processes, gaps in implementation of women’s labour rights, including gender pay gap. In all BRICS countries women have to overcome barriers such as lack of professional training to obtain necessary digital skills, prevalence of informal employment and unpaid care work, lack of financing for women-owned businesses, and many others. In addition, stereotypes about the role of women in the society aggravate this situation.

I should say that this issue gained momentum in 2015, when BRICS countries made their commitments to adhere to Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. It also encouraged women and men worldwide to take more active roles in gender mainstreaming. It evolves as a trend, and upstream initiatives began to emerge. Topics on gender equality more often appear at BRICS events organized by our civil society organizations. 

Our civil society organizations persistently draw the attention of the BRICS Leaders to the gender agenda. Our governments repeatedly recognized empowerment of women as a driving force for economic growth and agreed on a set of key policy principles to improve the status of women. This year BRICS Women’s Business Alliance was established to foster female entrepreneurship and participation of women in international trade. There is still a room for action. Recently the world has seen implications of these gender disparity trends catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic. I can say that balance upset caused by the pandemic revealed those pre-existing problems and pushed forward gender mainstreaming in all countries of the world, not only in BRICS.

I think that continuing efforts of our civil society in this regard will contribute to further formation of BRICS as a prominent example of an alliance uniting socially responsible economies, attaching great importance to ensuring the inclusiveness of its communities and to meeting the needs of citizens.

Despite all you have said above, in what ways would you argue that the group has a unique for developing Civil Society? 

Panova:Indeed, BRICS is the grouping of countries from different parts of the world, countries with distinctive histories and cultures, but similar values. At the same time, BRICS brings together great minds of humanity with outstanding creative potential. BRICS is paying higher attention to its human capital and it is but natural to opt for the taking advantage exactly of this potential.

There is one thing that may “kill” the most innovative idea – lack of political will. In this context, BRICS represents an open platform established by our governments as a priority. This is also an important precondition for laying a solid groundwork for the advanced development of our societies.

So, are the negative perceptions really changing about BRICS? What keeps you personally motivated working for this Civil BRICS?

Panova:For over a decade the public image of the grouping has been transforming from “BRICS as marketable product” to “BRICS as a strategic partnership”. For some time, BRICS was perceived as not a very successful interpretation of Jim O’Neil’s ideas, for another period BRICS has been viewed as “a power to confront the Western dominance”. Luckily, the reality has nothing to do with both judgements.

BRICS perception of itself is close to the ideas or Yevgeny Primakov, Russian former Prime Minister. He drafted the concept of the need for maximum multi-vector engagement, championed the idea of no other alternative to the multipolar democratic world and as one of the prerequisites of such – the Russia – India – China strategic triangle which is considered to be a progenitor of future BRIC, and later – BRICS. Still, BRICS as a newly established club mechanism had to earn its place in the system of global governance.  

I should say I see much less skepticism about BRICS lately. Probably it is changing due to certain global outcomes of the BRICS economic cooperation while it is only one of three pillars of our partnership (other two are “politics and security” and “humanitarian and cultural cooperation”). Let me give you some examples: in 2020, the total GDP of the BRICS countries amounted to 25 % of the global GDP and in 2015-2019 our GDP have been growing faster than the global GDP. In 2020, the share of BRICS in international trade reached 20 % while over the past five years the mutual exports of have also grown by 45 %. BRICS countries were capable of establishing the New Development Bank and launch effective solutions globally. I must emphasize that it became the first case in history when so called “club mechanism” managed to create its full-fledged financial institution and created it in less than five years.

What keeps me personally motivated is keen interest of our countries’ citizens to shape and take part in BRICS agenda. This interest is growing beyond BRICS – today we witness ever-increasing engagement of representatives from non-BRICS societies that is also a positive trend. BRICS is getting more demanded for people, and there is a strong message from our governments that BRICS should be a people-centered institution. I think these are the most essential conditions for creativity and innovation.

In terms of strategic outlook, is it appropriate to conclude the discussion here that BRICS is purposefully looking for a unified Soft Power as part of efforts in dealing with dominance by Western and European countries?

Panova:As I briefly mentioned in my previous answer – BRICS has never intended to be the power dealing with dominance of any states or groups of states. BRICS has grown to be self-sufficient mechanism, and it means that our governments need to respond to the needs of their citizens. These needs formulate grand strategy of the grouping, and it coincides with interests of the most countries in the world. Expanding outreach to its networks, BRICS serves as a proponent of the renewed world order that implies several decision-making centers. I think this circumstance could raise the idea that BRICS endeavors to undermine the world order.

On the contrary, our countries aim to play a stabilizing role in global affairs by promoting respect for the principles of national sovereignty, non-intervention in internal affairs, mutual respect and consideration of each other’s interests as well as respect of the international law. As BRICS stands for multipolar, democratic, just and fair world order, it undertakes efforts to make the voices of the developing world heard. And aren’t those the core features of peaceful and harmonic world?(Modern Diplomacy)

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“The City of Tomorrow” Shows the Future Left Behind

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Fragment of a project documentation. Sokur rural settlement. Novosibirsk Region Architect Vyacheslav Misin (Aurora Bureau), 1987.

“The City of Tomorrow”, the exhibition project of the international group of curators and researchers, is currently on view in Novosibirsk within the framework of the Year of Germany in Russia 2020/21. The show considers the life and afterlife of the Soviet city, focusing on the social and ideological fabric that once wove the Soviet Union together. The vast body of documentation presents the evolution of Soviet modernist architectural heritage from the early 1920s to its end that coincidedwith the collapse of the Soviet Union. Numerous thematic sections include both architectural projects implemented in the Soviet Union as well as utopian projects left in paper.

The current moving exhibition is a visible manifestation of cultural diplomacy and research thinking. The curators of the project Ruben Arevshatyan  (Armenia) and Georg Schölhammer (Austria) have been researching and documenting the architecture from across the CIS countries and beyond for almost two decades. Previously much of this legacy has been left out of architectural history books. In an attempt to bridge that gap a big team of researchers and consultants later joined the project. As a result, the current show presents over 600 acclaimed masterpieces and not widely known architectural monuments from Russia and the former Soviet republics displayed in the form of photographs, models, plans, and film fragments from more than 70 archives.

Grandeur palaces of culture and gigantic stadiums, brutalist industrial structures and residential districts, sanatoriums and swimming pools, boulevards and monuments, cinema houses and even bus stops – all these components of architectural landscape expressed the spirit of the Soviet project embodied in stone, giving the urban space a certain flavour so characteristic of those times.

The exhibition was launched back in 2019 in Minsk, and since then the Goethe Institute project has been in Yerevan, Moscow. In 2021 it will travel to Kiev and Tbilisi.

The show organized by Goethe-Institute Novosibirsk in the Center of Culture (CK19) includes a new section, especially developed for the Novosibirsk edition of “The City of Tomorrow”. It encompasses the architectural processes in Siberia throughout the 20th century. “We talk here about architecture and urban development with a reference to the Bauhaus school in Germany. The exposition consists of two main sections – the core that is exhibited in different cities and the local extension with a focus on paper architecture – projects that were not realized in construction”, says Mr. Per Brandt, Director of the Goethe-Institute Novosibirsk. Our observer Elena Rubinova spoke with Anton Karmanov, Novosibirsk edition curator, about the role of Soviet modernism for architectural history and practice, the second wave of paper architecture, and young viewers’ impressions of the exhibition.

As far as I know, the curators of the entire project have been researching for the project across the former USSR for almost two decades. Why has the project finally emerged in recent years as a traveling exhibition? ​​​​​​

The research project began around 2004. At that time, the first discussions about the phenomenon of “Soviet architecture” were initiated. Large-scale architecture seemed solid, but in fact, complex ambiguous processes were behind its declarative nature. And finally, it was possible to talk about it and do major research. In the 2000s, Soviet modernism started to be seen not as a homogeneous, but multifaceted phenomenon, described by the notion of “local modernities”. With this new approach, it became possible to see the whole picture of Soviet modernism, on a different level and in a different quality. In parallel, interest in modernism was spurred by a number of popular publications. In 2011, Frederic Chaubin’s book “USSR” (“Cosmic Communist Construction Photographed”) was published. The book was a dizzying success and became a bestseller in the West: The architecture described in it did not exist in the Western countries, the audience did not know it existed and did not expect to have such a revelation. Interestingly enough, this architecture was not expected to be discovered in Russia as well. The book became a revelation both for the professional audience and for the general reader. So the growing interest in the Soviet heritage and the discovery of new layers of the architecture of that time were the catalysts of the exhibition process.

What is the significance of Soviet modernism today?

Speaking about Siberia, the importance of Soviet modernism is fundamental: urbanization of its vast lands falls largely into the 20th century, the height of modernism. Much of the infrastructure, transport, energy, education, culture, and cities in general are the result of processes where modernism as a philosophy and modernism as a style prevailed. Cities in Siberia were often formed from scratch, from square one, so to say. The structure of the future cities immediately implied that they would be populated by a new type of people, society would not be “traditional” – with kitchen slavery and class distinctions. In these cities of tomorrow schools, kindergartens, and colleges were built from the start.

What is behind the blanket term “Siberian” modernism, the concept which has been in focus in the current edition?  What cities other than Novosibirsk and territories does this term describe?

First and foremost, “Siberian modernism” stands for a modernist architectural school formed in Siberia, its institutions and architectural heritage, which territorially refers to this region and implies the idea of this place. Of course, the school did not include only local architects who designed Siberian, Far Eastern, Northern cities or cities of Central Asia. Here in Siberia there were many leading specialists who received their architectural education and began to work here such as the renowned Soviet architect Mikhail Posokhin (the Palace of Congresses, New Arbat street in Moscow, and a number of international pavilions of the USSR are among his projects), or the engineer Nikolai Nikitin, who went through the progressive “concrete” school at the Siberian Institute of Technology. He used his knowledge in the design of the Ostankino TV tower, the sculpture “Motherland calls!” and a number of other iconic projects. To outline briefly, the Siberian modernism is a modernism of the bases which is supposed to convey “more ethics – less aesthetics”. Siberian modernism has an essentially strict, universal character.  And, of course, this concept refers not only to Novosibirsk, but this city was one of its centers.

Does the exhibition trace ideologically-induced changes? How is this aspect reflected in the exhibition?

Architecture is always a manifestation of its epoch, a story of economic and political power telling a viewer how social relations were perceived.  It always provides rich material for studies. It is these particular issues that thematic sections of the main part of the exhibition address. For instance, the exhibition includes such sections as “Ideology in Stone,” or “Parallel Ideologies.” In the latter section one can find what was behind the declarative nature of Soviet modernism, what ideas were conceived within the architectural process but were camouflaged under Soviet norms. On the display viewers can see examples how post-modernist or nationalist motifs made their way in Soviet architecture. Or the section “Free Time and Leisure,” tells us about the concept of “free time” in Soviet society. It was only in the early 1960s that a 5-day working week was introduced, and the employees were meant to enjoy an extra day off in libraries, cinemas, and houses of culture.

For a wide non-professional audience, the concept of “paper architecture” is not always familiar. What does this special phenomenon stand for? How is this theme presented in the exposition?

“Paper architecture” is a phenomenon of the 1980s, which emerged as a reaction to overregulation. “Paper architecture” was an alternative, a step away from the mainstream of Soviet architecture with its functionalism and standardized construction, it was an idea of a generation, a special character of the sensibility of that time. In the Novosibirsk edition of the show “paper architecture” fits into the architectural and urban history – it demonstrates the transition from Soviet urbanism to urbanism, which then in the postmodernist mindset and theories was popular among architecture students in Novosibirsk. We focus on the main architectural groups – some were employees of design institutes, others opened the first private architectural studios in 1985. In the show, this inclusion of “paper” as part of architectural history builds a bridge to the 1920s, to late-Soviet architecture, to the architecture of the 1990s, and to what is happening now. But it should be noted that “paper architecture” as a mass phenomenon did not appear everywhere. There were two centers – in Moscow and Novosibirsk, they had different backgrounds, but they were in a dialogue. The architectural schools of Leningrad and Yekaterinburg did not engage in paper architecture en masse and remained mostly conservative and pragmatic. It should be noted that many of the Novosibirsk “paper” projects are quite realizable and quite modern to this day.

What is the Soviet style in architecture – details, certain elements, dimensions? How will the audience, especially viewers who did not live in the USSR – imagine a “Soviet city” after they visited this exhibition? I assume, this must have been one of your goals as a curator ….

As a curator, I set myself the task of breaking down the one-sided understanding of the “Soviet style”. It was important to me to show the multiple concepts that were born in the Soviet period and were in dialogue, in development. In order to show this, there was enough material. I cannot say that people who did not live in the Soviet Union have absolutely no idea what a Soviet city is. In Novosibirsk, there is almost no historical development of the city, and all significant public buildings are Soviet buildings, with very few exceptions. Even younger generations who have not lived in the Soviet Union, were born in Khrushchev time residential blocks and grew up in bedroom communities. Rather, the exhibition gives enough material to make it clear what projects were originally like, before multiple reconstructions, without advertising, banners, and the infamous siding. General knowledge of architecture ends in the 30s at best. The history of Soviet architecture is not taught in institutes of higher education; this experience is not understood, not studied, not engaged. The oblivion of modernism, its invisibility despite its ubiquity, is characteristic not only of the philistine, but also of the architecture student. And the exhibition certainly fills this gap.

What is happening to the legacy of Soviet modernism today? Will gentrification be most common in terms of conservation? What is the situation like in Novosibirsk?

“Gentrification” often hides a meaningless development that does not increase the quality of the territory, but reduces it. If most people thought about development rather than profit, then the doctrine of modernism aimed at development would have come true. Even if the urban modernist framework changes, the spirit of modernism is unchanged – the desire for development. One other problem is also most common – what are the criteria of a piece of architecture or monument to be under protection? At the city and regional level, let’s say, a run-down crooked hut of Peter the Great times is more likely to be considered a monument than a well- preserved masterpiece of modernist architecture. I think that the situation in Novosibirsk is no different from many other cities. It is clear that nowadays there is no need to have a large number of huge cinemas and libraries with auditoriums for thousands of people – the distribution of video, films and texts takes place by other means. However, the need for public buildings, public relations, and cultural practices remains; it does not disappear, but takes new forms. And we have to work with this.

From our partner International Affairs

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Cooperation in culture is a priority for the BRICS alliance: Interview with Alena Peryshkina

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In this interview, Alena Peryshkina, Co-Chair of the BRICS Civil Forum, Director of the AIDS Infoshare Foundation, Co-Chair of the BRICS and G20 CSOs Working Group, discusses some aspects of multicultural dimensions, especially the need to institutionalize cultural ties and further pointed to developing a mechanism for evaluating and monitoring the implementation of NGOs recommendations under BRICS. Below are the excerpts of her interview:

What aspects of cooperation strike you most during online roundtable discussions on “International Cultural Cooperation for Strengthening BRICS Unity” organized in Moscow?

Peryshkina:It is really worth noting that the discussions on “International Cultural Cooperation for Strengthening BRICS Unity” were extremely interesting. Our roundtables covered a wide range of issues in the field of culture and the most fruitful dialogues were about institutionalization of cultural ties, development of people-to-people exchange through literature and art, and the most urgent issues in protection of the BRICS cultural heritage.

In your opinion from BRICS 2020 Chair’s position, how important could cultural cooperation strengthen unity among BRICS? Do you agree that there are diversities in culture among the group?

Peryshkina:Certainly, the cultures of the BRICS countries are very diverse and very different from one another. But our cultural ties are getting stronger, since they are based on the values that unite peoples, and therefore states. Cooperation in culture, sport, art, youth and tourism is a priority for the BRICS alliance. By developing and strengthening these ties between nations, we are building a language of communication based on mutual understanding, respect and support. The dialogue of our cultures, even the dialogue of the civilizations, if I may say so, is a symbol of our desire for harmony, trust and productive interaction.

Could you discuss some of the initiatives that were presented during the meeting? What were the reactions of your colleagues from Brazil, India, China and South Africa?

Peryshkina:The experts who participated in the meetings introduced many initiatives contributing to the institutionalization of cultural ties between the BRICS countries, such as creation of the «BRICS Non-Governmental Organizations Union (Association)», establishment of the joint Fund for Grant Support for Cultural Projects and Civil Initiatives or establishment of an organization for promoting joint projects in the audiovisual market, mass media, television and Internet, promoting exhibitions of cinematic and audiovisual content.

Obviously, such ambitious projects require elaboration and can be implemented in the medium or long term. Along with this, I also found very interesting initiatives that would contribute to the development of the culture of the BRICS countries right now, such as establishment of a general Register of cultural, architectural and landscape monuments of the BRICS member states and the inclusion of the given cultural heritage sites in the World Heritage List or establishment of the BRICS Literary Prize and organization of the BRICS Literary Forum with the participation of specialists and professionals of a wide range of knowledge from the five countries, including writers, thinkers, historians, sociologists, and philosophers.

I should note that all of the initiatives proposed by the Russian side were very positively received by our BRICS partners. The proposals included in the recommendations to the BRICS leaders are the result of the consensus of all five countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

What challenges are there in promoting civil society, youth and tourism exchanges as part of public diplomacy of BRICS? How did the roundtable meeting participants looked at these in practical terms?

Peryshkina:If we talk about the practical aspects in the implementation of programs and initiatives in the sphere of civil society, youth and tourism exchanges, then we are always talking about addressing three key issues: the support of governments, funding, and the capacity of implementing agencies. Where there are political will and administrative support, where the issues of co-financing are solved, where there are human potential and experience – there is guaranteed success.

What could be the best way to systematize and to combine efforts in implementing all these new initiatives and recommendations arrived at the BRICS Civil Forum? In you view, how best do you see the way forward for the Association of NGOs as part of BRICS?

Peryshkina:Indeed, the best way to consolidate the efforts of BRICS civil dialogue partners could be the creation of the BRICS NGOs Association to unite the organizations within the Alliance, acquire new opportunities for providing effective cooperation, organize and coordinate multilateral activities, create a unified base of BRICS NGOs. Similar to any institutional process, the creation of an association should be a step-by-step process. In my opinion, the first step should be the creation of a steering committee of the BRICS civil society forum. This committee would not only ensure the continuity of the agenda from presidency to presidency, but also develop a mechanism for evaluating and monitoring the implementation of NGOs recommendations to the BRICS leaders.

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