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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)

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.

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Experiencing Chinese Society and Culture

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Today Chinese Culture and society is a combination of ancient traditions, customs, and modernized developed and also westernized lifestyle. The Chinese culture and traditions are ancient, its history has huge diversity and variety. Historically, Chinese society is rich in arts, science, and literature. The culture of china has maintained its unique identity till the beginning of western culture in the 19th century. The historical influence of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism is the reflection in Chinese society and culture. Confucianism spread the love and rituals to give respect for society and social hierarchy. The characteristics of Chinese culture unchanged over the period despite the influences and several invasions from the outside. The philosophy of Confucianism stressed that people could be good if they follow the moral principles and made the rituals that respected the gods. In the hard times and war times, Confucianists emphasized carefully follow the traditions that could maintain unity within the society. historically, several Chinese rulers have adopted the core principles of Confucianism. During the Hans dynasty, Emperor Wu had encouraged the hierarchical social structures, the Emperor believed these principles would bring and also maintain the social harmony within the Chinese society throughout history. The Confucius philosophy was dominant during the Hans dynasty in ancient China. during this period the core principles were flourished and reached within the societal structures. The state ideology was based on Confucius’s philosophy, it has improved the societal values and norms. During 500BC the teachings of Confucius have played an important role in shaping the character of Chinese society, shaping behavior, and the way of life of Chinese people. The main objective was to achieve societal harmony and social norms and values. Another core principle and value of Confucianism is forgiveness, compassion, and tolerance.  Even today, Chinese society and academicians give immense respect and also promote the core principles of Confucius’s philosophy.

Modern Chinese society and culture are rapidly influenced by western cultural values and traditions. It’s quickly changing nowadays with popular American culture and other cultures of the world. The youth in urban areas are more influenced by popular western culture. Their lifestyle although reflects their wish to adopt the world’s popular culture. This is the 21st century and era of globalization, no society in the world is pure now. The free flow of information through different sources of media has been influenced by the societal existing order. So the modern Chinese society especially in urban areas, developed cities are more likely to become modern, acceptance of new cultural values, lifestyles and easily adopt it.

Personally, it is my observation so far, I interact with general people in the market, train stations, shops, many other public places. The people more like to open to the world now. The youth want to interact with other cultures, curious to know about other people thinking, ideas. But in rural areas and the countrysides there still traditional societal norms and values exist. The people have strong connections with their family backgrounds and also the Confucianism. The strong family system, the hierarchy with the society, and obedience exist.

Here I want to share an example of Chinese modesty when I was doing volunteering in Wuhan railway station, the general people came to me and tried to speak, I just can speak, hello, thank you, bye-bye in Chinese, but still, they are complimenting on my excellent Chinese by saying that (your Chinese is very good). The Chinese people are excellent compliment givers and encouraging other people to learn. They never discourage, although they complement that, you are handsome, wow your nose is so big it’s beautiful. Indeed the traditional Chinese traditional food, delicious and also healthy. The hotpot, although its too much spicy but its interesting to eat in the winter season.

In the winter season, when chilly temperatures and frigid winds prevail over the land, people like to eat food that instantly warms their bodies and lifts their spirits. For that, the hot pot is a delicious and hearty choice. Families or groups of friends sit around a table and eat from a steaming pot in the middle, cooking and drinking and chatting. The hot pot is not only a cooking method; it also provides a way of eating, it is also a cultural mode.However China has opened its doors to the world now, it means that society is more sophisticated and also the acceptance of new ideas and thinkings. The youth want to interact with the world and also want to contribute to the peace and development of the world’s underdeveloped societies. The philosophy of Confucianism works here, dominance in every sector of society.

I would like to conclude by one sentence that yes there should be accepted for new ideas and values but also should promote their societal rich traditions and values to the world.

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Rising Pak-Turk Cultural Diplomacy: “Dirilis Ertugrul”- The Prime Catalyst

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Amid massive success of famous Turkish drama series Dirilis Ertugrul, also titled as Resurrection Ertugrul in English for Netflix, is both a fictional and historic story based on the life of father of Osman I; Ertugrul Ghazi- set in 13th Century made records across Pakistan in terms of its views and popularity. It gained massive fan-following among all age groups inspiring them to value integrity, steadfastness and have faith. The current Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Imran Khan urged people to watch this series to increase their knowledge about the glorious history of Muslims and true essence of Islam and learn from it. The high-budget drama got dubbed in Pakistan’s national language; Urdu, therefore reaching mass audience.

The viewership of the series shoot up primarily during the month of  Ramadan. As a result not only did the people of Pakistan get enlightened and entertained but also the state television earned huge profits. Most importantly it boosted cultural, media and public diplomacy between two Muslim countries; Turkey and Pakistan. The drama serial promoted people-to-people contact, join forces for mutual media and cultural ventures and promote Pak-Turk Tourism, and last but not the least – strengthen relationship between the Muslim countries purely based on love and mutual respect. Therefore, establishing a strong mutual alliance is raison d’être for these potential efforts by the both ends. Pakistan having a strong support-system in Europe and for Turkey to have in South Asia is a prerequisite for both to counter the future challenges – as it has become the need of times keeping the geopolitical dynamics in perspective. Speaking of challenges – Saudi Arab; with whom Pakistan’s relations are already struggling – expressed their reservations regarding the broadcasting of Turkishdizi (dramas) in Pakistan. Irked by the success of Dirilis Ertugrul – Saudi Arab has come up with their own counter narrative version of historical series titled, “Kingdom of Fires”, with an aim to combat Turkish cultural invasion and growing global influence. Fatima Bhutto, in her article for Foreign Policy, ‘How Turkey’s Soft Power Conquered Pakistan’, says that in contemporary times – Turkish dramas has come second only to American ones, otherwise it has toppled the previously most viewed languages in the world, such as, French, Spanish, and Mandarin. Turkish has now become the most watched language worldwide.

Acknowledging the blockbuster success, the lead actors visited Pakistan receiving a warm welcome, immense praise and love from people. The actors too expressed  their gratitude and happiness. Several lead actors of the super-hit series namely Engin Altan Duzyatan aka Ertugrul, Cavit Çetin Güner aka Dugan Bey, Nurettin aka Bamsı and Ayberk Pekcan aka Artuk Bey etc.on their short visits met selected Pakistan’s media personnel henceforth expressed their willingness to strengthen the cultural bond by collaborating with each other in future media-based projects and bring together the people of the two nation. Rumor has it – both the Muslim countries are already in talks to come forth with a Pak-Turk TV series; a Pakistan-original with joint efforts for the project by Ansari Films and TRT Films named, “Lala Turki”, commemorating the Khilafat Movement – with an ultimate aim to aware the unaware about the legacy of Islam.

It must be mentioned here that it is not the first time that any Turkish drama series had been aired in Pakistan. The trend was set few years back by URDU 1 channel which ran mostly Turkish dubbed dramas in Urdu so that people of Pakistan would also get a taste of Turkish flavor of serials. It gained massive popularity. Thereon, the trend to air Turkish productions became a new normal. Another series that gained massive popularity was “the Magnificent Century” locally known as “Mera Sultan”. This was run by the channel Geo Kahani. The trend of Turkish dramas never seized till date. However, what “Dirilis Ertugrul”managed to do in this past year can’t be matched. This is the only drama that started involving the two nations on diplomatic level and opened up new ways for collaboration among the brother countries. It helped people realize that not only the flags but the hearts of the two nations are also very similar united by a shared magnificent past and a hope for an incredible future.

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New European Bauhaus: Commission launches design phase

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Commission launched the design phase of the New European Bauhaus initiative, announced by President von der Leyen in her 2020 State of the Union address. The New European Bauhaus is an environmental, economic and cultural project, aiming to combine design, sustainability, accessibility, affordability and investment in order to help deliver the European Green Deal. The core values of the New European Bauhaus are thus sustainability, aesthetics and inclusiveness. The goal of the design phase is to use a co-creation process to shape the concept by exploring ideas, identifying the most urgent needs and challenges, and to connect interested parties. As one element of the design phase, this spring, the Commission will launch, the first edition of the New European Bauhaus prize.

This design phase will lead to the opening of calls for proposals in autumn this year to bring to life New European Bauhaus ideas in at least five places in EU Member States, through the use of EU funds at national and regional level.

European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “The New European Bauhaus is a project of hope to explore how we live better together after the pandemic. It is about matching sustainability with style, to bring the European Green Deal closer to people’s minds and homes. We need all creative minds: designers, artists, scientists, architects and citizens, to make the New European Bauhaus a success.”

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth said: “With the New European Bauhaus our ambition is to develop an innovative framework to support, facilitate and accelerate the green transformation by combining sustainability and aesthetics. By being a bridge between the world of art and culture on one side and the world of science and technology on the other, we will make sure to involve society as a whole: our artists, our students, our architects, our engineers, our academia, our innovators. It will kick-off a systemic change.”

Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira commented: “The New European Bauhaus is about how we live together, our values, our common spaces of work and leisure, our collective and private experiences. This is a project for all regions and territories in Europe. In promoting affordable solutions, it should contribute to social cohesion and to solving housing problems. If we want to bring real change around us – for a more beautiful, sustainable life together, we need to think about how the New European Bauhaus can bridge the generation of new ideas with implementation in physical places. We are therefore exploring across the Commission how our tools could be mobilised to launch a first set of concrete New European Bauhaus actions.”

Background

The New European Bauhaus is a creative initiative, breaking down boundaries between science and technology, art, culture and social inclusion, to allow design to find solutions for everyday problems. 

On the dedicated website launched today, artists, designers, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, architects, students, and all interested people can share examples of inspiring achievements for the New European Bauhaus, their ideas about how it should be shaped and how it should evolve, as well as their concerns and challenges.

This is the beginning of an innovative co-design process. Organisations that want to put more effort into their engagement in this process can become ‘Partners of the New European Bauhaus,’ by responding to the call on the website.

In the coming months, the Commission will award prizes to existing examples that represent the integration of the key values of the initiative, and that may inspire the discussions about, and the transformation of, the places where we live.

In the next phase of the initiative – the ‘delivery’ phase, five pilot projects will be set up to co-design new sustainable and inclusive solutions with style. The objective of the third phase – ‘dissemination’, is to spread the ideas and concepts defining the New European Bauhaus via new projects, networking and sharing of knowledge, in Europe and beyond.

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