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Russkiy Mir: The Role of Russian Orthodox Church in Cultural Diplomacy

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Russkiy Mir has its origins from the medieval Russian times but in post soviet era, it has its rebirth from the early 90s but post the annexation of Crimea it was brought to the spotlight as Putin referred to it as “reunifying Russia” and its policy of “near-abroad”. There are cultural and religious commonalities of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian foreign policy on the concept of ‘Near abroad’ as the Church and the state considers that current region of CIS and Slavic countries as the areas of primary interests. Russia’s cultural and religious diplomacy is under the control of the state as in it remains fairly autonomous institutional if it plays in favour of Russia’s national interest. Patriarch Cyril and Putin also share the common ideas of unipolarity in the Global context and they are against the idea of American domination as they primarily see it as a threat to global peace and stability. The Church’s interest against the americanisation or westernization of the world is due to the usage of American values like individuality, lack of family values and its sphere of influence of the same concerns it and it propagates an alliance of “traditional civilization” against westernization which ultimately favours Russia in the International arena.

The first sphere of influence that the Russian Orthodox Church can have is on the Balkan countries and the next sphere of influence can be with Muslim neighbourhood with its alliance of muftiates, especially in the international context where Muslims are seen as the enemy by the west and often ‘otherize’ and associate everyone with Islamic terrorism. Russia’s image for harmony between both the communities need to be portrayed and this can be only put in term of aspirational alliances of Muslim nations against the western civilizations.

The paper tries to be realistic in understanding the limitations of such diplomacy when it comes to praxis of the same. The cultural or diplomacy of Russia has brought out a newer dimension in the Russian policy that has been long suppressed during the Soviet era and despite of the suppression of religion by the state in the Soviet Union the large number of population in the CIS seems to have practice it in certain ways that reflects on the pew research survey of 2017 on CIS countries and Orthodox Christianity. The Orthodox Christian Church remains to one of the back-bone of the policy of Russkiy Mir and its advocacies have paradoxes when it comes to state’s understanding of it and the Church’s understanding but there seem to be an understanding between the both on the importance of Russia’s Identity, Language and Culture and bringing it out in the world Arena.

“the universal nature of the Christian teaching makes us interested in various spheres of the life of society. The Church acts on equal footing as a subject of relations with different states and with international public and political organizations. We defend our values and promote the rights and interests of our congregations”  – Patriarch Cyril


Understanding Russkiy Mir

The world Russkiy Mir plays an important role in Russia’s cultural diplomacy and it has its roots from the 11th century “Kherson and Russian World”. Although ideas like the russkii dukh – Russian Spirit, russki ideia– Russian idea, russkaia dusha– Russian soul were historically present. (Laruelle, 2015) Putin established the Russiy Mir foundation in 2007 for universalizing and promoting Russian Knowledge, Language and Culture and in the year 2009 the Russian Orthodox Church officially joined the foundation to construct the world view of the Russkiy Mir.Usually when we talk about the Russian World we usually refer roughly to the prime area of CIS states but more specifically to Ukraine, Belarus and sometimes Maldova and Kazakhstan. According to Patriarch Cyril Russkiy Mir States comprises of usage and development of Russian language, identity, culture and he is also of the opinion that the Nation-state boundary are the modern construct and the ideas of the Church predates all the existing boundaries today and that it transcends present boundaries and that it is a “project of integration”.

The construction of the the idea of Russkiy Mir is rather a biological one and writers world. Petr Shchedrovitsky, Efim Ostrovsky, Valery Tishkov, Vitaly Skrinnik, Tatiana Poloskova and Natalia   Narochnickaja are among the foremost authors of this concept post the disintegration of the USSR in the 90s. The idea of Russkiy Mir is also evolved at the World Russian National Council(WRNC) in 1993 under the theme of consolidating societies post the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Russkiy Mir in the present times is seen as an instrument of cultural and soft power through ‘compariots’ or the Russian Disapora and the 2001 speech of Putin reminds of the aspirational view on the concept of Russian world that claims the responsibility of Russians abroad and the same can be seen in National Security Strategy of 2015.

Russian Orthodox Church in Foreign Policy

After the disintegration of the USSR the Church found a new phase where it was able to interact with the stae and not be suppressed as before in the Soviet times. There were situations that claims how the Patriarch of Moscow was solely limited to it. Patriarch Cyril headed the Russian Orthodox Church’s Foreign Policy in 2009, immediately he visited Ukraine and Kazakhstan and there had been issues over the limitations of Russian Orthodox Church and Cyril emphasized on the borders are new creations and those should not be limited to the brotherhood of the orthodox Church and emphasizes on Russkiy Mir with former soviet republic flags on his throne and aims of integration of people and states. Few of the noted moments between the Russian Orthodox Churches diplomacy is recognizing good relations with the Ukrainian and Georgian Orthodox Churches and it had good relations with all the big leaders in the Ukraine and even supported the Georgian claims to the South Ossetia. Krelim’s support towards the Russian Orthodox Church is due to its similar policies in the neighbourhood and certainly ROC’s importance in the region is recognized by the Russian government despite minor discrepancies that is ROC usually accused of as well.


The ROC has given Russia a certain platform to regain its past glory by looking at imaginations of states from the traditional Russian Identity and the Russian Empire that is one the constant loggerheads with civilizational superiority than the West and the same has been implemented in certain ways today. The successes of its diplomacy in Ukrain and Georgia speaks on length for it and it provided the post Soviet Russia a banner to countries in the CIS under one banner. ROC and its connections with other national and local churches has beneficial for Russian strategies and in turn the Russian state despite its secular tendecies the ROC has challenged its seperation of powers especially in terms of soft power and diplomacy.

Conclusion

The cultural diplomacy can only boast many successes but few important amongst those would be promoting the so called expansionist policy of Russia through cultural and historical background that has been backed by the Russian Orthodox Church that has a significant diaspora abroad that reasonates to it. The Orthodox Church in collaboration with the Department of external Church Relations (DECR) has relations with Inter-governmental and International organizations as well that promotes the Russian interest in the Global Arena and the observer status at the OIC and extending relations with Iran is one of the vital success that gives it a doorway to the Islamic countries as the scope of United States and other western countries in matters to such cooperation is very limited.

The role of Orthodox Church in slavic nations and the CIS is incredible although though one of the major limitation for the Church is to construct a proper identity for itself that does not always reflect the ideals of Krelim that creates trust deficit especially when there are situations like Crimean annexation. Although there are various limitations for cultural diplomacy and the ideas of Russkiy Mir but it can be attributed in creation of alternative world that does not have to be necessarily dominated by the west and its hegemonic ideals. There are other important criticisms for the same Russkiy Mir that it propagates the idea of Russians being superior to everyone and creates enthno-nationalist claims that possibly seem redudant in the current International context that was obsessed with Nation-State boundaries and ideals.

Cultural Diplomacy and religion involved in Foreign Policy has been used since histories to establish relations with other states and to make alliances but in this neo-liberal world, Russia seems to have gone to the roots of civilizations and religion and want to tackle the western hegemony through it. Although the Russian World’s appeal is weaker outside the CIS, post the disintegration of the Soviet Union enhancing such alternative practices in Russian Foreign Policy indeed despite all its limitations.

Bio: Bhagya Raj is a post-graduate student of International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India.

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Diplomacy

Soft Power Dynamics in Middle Eastern Conflict

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The Middle East is synonymous with eternal conflict as being at the cross-point between Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The paper intends to understand how the power could be derived from the cultural roots in a world filled with pre-existing biases based on religious values, nationality, and interpretation of history.

Palestine receives strong international support through social media by sharing its pain and grievances increasing its soft power that hampers Israel’s international relations. A new question emerges can the soft power paradigm be used to resolve the problem?  

The roots of the Middle Eastern problem are driven by historical-religious literature which shows the Middle East to be the historic homeland of Jews and they wanted to get back to their original homeland due to two-millennium long suppression that finally ended up as the holocaust.

Israel continues to emphasize and promote stories related to Second World War which help them gain the legitimacy to exist as a state. It is also remarked that the holocaust may have been a decisive condition for the creation of a Jewish state but this action would have occurred sooner or later.

One of the biggest strengths for Israel and its legitimacy comes from the Biblical literature which has some historical stories in it and mentions Israel and Judah in the Middle East providing American Christian Support which seems to be dropping as a result Israel needs to work on its soft power.

A similar strength can be found in Quran for Israeli as Surah Al-Ma’idah in Chapter 5 verse 12 states about the Children of Israel and verse 21 explains that they are “destined to enter and not to turn back else they will become the loser.” These verses motivate Israeli for their cause which raises an interesting phenomenon that some pro-Israeli media would use Quranic verses to gain legitimacy.

History needs to be studied to understand how and where the differences between Jews and Muslims started. Originally there was a peaceful relation between Jews and Muslims but Jews refuse to acknowledge Muhammad a non-Jew as one of the prophets of God which caused the relationship between Jews and Muslims to deplete.

Finally, Banu Qurayza a Jewish community allied with Qurashites against Prophet Muhammad that caused Medina to suffer a war-built hatred towards Judaism.

However, even after looking at the differences Muslims, Christians, and Jews are Abrahamic religions maintaining their base Judaic-monotheistic tradition as both Roman Catholics and Arab previously had polytheistic culture and Israel has indirectly benefitted from this historical fact.

Israel could benefit from various religions by showing show respect to the leaders of Abrahamic religions and even maintain an apologetic attitude on behalf of some of the members of the Jewish community which may have conducted villainous actions as per some stories based on other religious doctrines.

The tower of one’s ego can prohibit supporting the national interest which could only be achieved by becoming softer to gain soft power.

It is argued that the ancient Philistine is related to present-day Palestine. Palestine as a result gets associated with David and Goliath or Samson’s struggle with Philistine. However, the term Palestine is more complicated which had developed in the period.

There are also claims that the Syria Palaestina was constructed as a punishment for Bar Kochba Revolt in 135CE while the name Palaestina given to the region seems to be older than Bar Kochba Revolt and even older than the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

The image of the Israel and Palestine conflict is connected towards mythical combat between David and Goliath. David was an inexperienced youth who later became king of Israel and defeated a giant from ancient Philistine called Goliath.

Some actors who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have also connected Palestine with David who was weak at the beginning of the story while they perceive Israel as an unjust giant and the toughest fighter in the region.

The Middle Eastern conflict goes beyond religion and history as it has multiple dimensions due to multiple crimes against humanity causing people to be refugees that inflict social, political, and economic damages.

A medium to obtain soft power is by resolving the humanitarian crisis and Israel being perceived as a perpetrator tampered with its national image.

Israel as an economically advanced country with large spending power can establish economic institutions to raise funds in providing education, training, and employment to victims of that conflict regardless of their religion, ethnicity, gender, or political views who have been scattered around the world which would help Israel gain legitimacy.

The economic recovery of the war victims can minimize some damage enforced upon the national image but there is a strong opinion that the Palestinian community lacks legal rights as being in Israeli jurisdiction. So, political rights might have to be secured to the Palestinians while they have to live in Israel for Israel to create a positive national image.  

The Israeli government also create an option for the Palestinian community to have the right to return, granting them protection in Knesset (Israeli Parliament), while promoting Arab Israeli politicians, and can even reflect how they have shaped the Israeli government in the international arena to build Israel’s soft power.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is the social affairs which are closely tied to the soft power paradigm.

There is a clear fear that the Jews are eclipsing the social identity of the Palestinian people but in reality, they are closely linked as Arabic language and Hebrew are Semitic languages, their scripts have common Aramaic ancestry, and Halaal and Kosher dietary cultures are also similar.

There should be an effort to study the similarities to build unity and to study unique qualities as to appreciate one another’s differences. Israel could also create Cultural Relations Centers around the world that promote both Jewish and Palestinian language, culture, and cuisine to create respect and solidarity. 

There can also be the production of television programs, movies, digital applications which could allow people to understand the Middle Eastern community.

Tel Aviv is the center for the development of many technological advancements and carries great potential to build creative applications and visual storytelling that could help spread awareness about the Middle East.

On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority could request the Israeli government to provide scholarships in various Israeli Universities which could enhance their credential for making effort to create a peaceful world as well as proposing exchange programs by inviting Israeli students to visit regular Palestinian colleges and working spaces decreasing bitterness.

The Palestinian Authority could also pursue Israeli investment in core-Palestinian settlements that could create employment as well as mutual dependence allowing Palestine to grow with a greater bargaining power while maintaining a symbiotic relationship.

Culture, history, and institutions can be combined to create harmony. A key aspect to gain soft power and legitimacy is by becoming softer by showing respect to the opponents while appreciating and accepting others’ viewpoints.

Therefore, the study of religion, history has to be conducted from a neutral perspective that can be trusted by all international actors and could serve as a uniting factor while maintaining an apologetic attitude towards historic mistakes. There needs to be an effort to provide economic and political compensation for the victims which have caused notoriety in the international arena and finally the culture of the two competing communities needs to be celebrated through cultural institutions to build trust and harmony.

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Diplomacy

Biden-Putting meeting: Live from Geneva

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19:00 The places of the flags on the Mont Blanc bridge on which President Biden and President Putin will pass to reach the meeting venue on Wednesday usually hold the flags of the different Swiss cantons. Not today. The American and Russian flags have been placed to welcome the two leaders. 

18:00 A day before the Geneva summit: Hotel Intercontinental where the American delegation and probably President Biden himself is staying, how the city looks like a day before the meeting, what are the security measures like, why isn’t the UN involved and are the usual protests expected?

Iveta Cherneva with live video political commentary from Geneva one day ahead of the Biden-Putin Summit

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Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

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In recent years, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, have been trying to bolster their ‘Soft Power’ in a number of ways; by promoting tourism, tweaking their immigration policies to attract more professionals and foreign students and focusing on promoting art and culture. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken the lead in this direction (in May 2017, UAE government set up a UAE Soft Power Council which came up with a comprehensive strategy for the promotion of the country’s Soft Power). Under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia has also been seeking to change its international image, and it’s Vision 2030 seeks to look beyond focusing on economic growth. In the Global Soft Power Index 2021, Saudi Arabia was ranked at number 24 and number 2 in the Gulf region after the UAE (the country which in the past had a reputation for being socially conservative, has hosted women’s sports events and also hosted the G20 virtually last year)

Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

   One other important step in the direction of promoting Soft Power in the GCC, is the attempt to popularize cricket in the Gulf. While the Sharjah cricket ground (UAE)  hosted many ODI (One Day International )tournaments, and was witness to a number of thrillers between India and Pakistan, match fixing allegations led to a ban on India playing cricket at non-regular venues for a duration of 3 years (for a period of 7 years from 2003, Sharjah did not get to host any ODI). The Pakistan cricket team has been playing its international home series at Sharjah, Abu Dhabu and Dubai for over a decade (since 2009) and the sixth season of the Pakistan Super League is also being played in UAE. Sharjah has also hosted 9 test matches (the first of which was played in 2002).

 Sharjah hosted part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament in 2014, and last year too the tournament was shifted to UAE due to covid19 (apart from Sharjah, matches were played at Dubai and Abu Dhabi). This year again, the UAE and possibly Oman are likely to host the remaining matches of the IPL which had to be cancelled due to the second wave of Covid19. The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup to be held later this year (October-November 2021), which was actually to be hosted by India,  could also be hosted not just in the UAE, but Oman as well (there are two grounds, one of them has floodlights). International Cricket Council (ICC) is looking for an additional venue to UAE, because a lot of cricket is being played there, and this may impact the pitches. The ICC while commenting on the possibility of the T20 World cup being hosted in the Middle East said:

, “The ICC Board has requested management [to] focus its planning efforts for the ICC Men’s  T20 World Cup 2021 on the event being staged in the UAE with the possibility of including another venue in the Middle East’

GCC countries are keen not just to host cricketing tournaments, but also to increase interest in the game. While Oman has a team managed by an Indian businessman, Saudi Arabia has set up the SACF (Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation) in 2020 and it has started the National Cricket Championship which will have more than 7,000 players and 36 teams at the school level. Peshawar Zalmi, a Pakistani franchise T20 cricket team, representing the city of Peshawar the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which plays in the Pakistan’s domestic T20 cricket league – the Peshawar cricket league —  extended an invitation to the SACF, to play a friendly match against it. It’s owner Javed Afridi had extended the invitation to the Saudi Arabian team in April 2021.  Only recently, Chairman of SACF Prince Saud bin Mishal  met with India’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr Ausaf Saeed, to discuss ways for promoting the game in Saudi Arabia. He also visited the ICC headquarters at Dubai and apart from meeting officials of ICC also took a tour of Sharjah cricket ground.

GCC countries have a number of advantages over other potential neutral venues. First, the required infrastructure is already in place in some countries, and there is no paucity of financial resources which is very important. Second, there is a growing interest in the game in the region, and one of the important factors for this is the sizeable South Asian expat population. Third, a number of former cricketers from South Asia are not only coaching cricket teams, but also being roped in to create more enthusiasm with regard to the game. Fourth, UAE along with other GCC countries, could also emerge as an important venue for the resumption of India-Pakistan cricketing ties.

Conclusion

In conclusion, if GCC countries other than UAE — like Saudi Arabia and Oman  — can emerge as important cricketing venues, their ‘Soft Power’ appeal is likely to further get strengthened especially vis-à-vis South Asia. South Asian expats, who have contributed immensely to the economic growth of the region, and former South Asian cricketers will have an important role to play in popularizing the game in the Gulf. Cricket which is already an important component of the GCC — South Asia relationship, could help in further strengthening people to people linkages.

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