Cultural Resource of Diplomacy (Russian-Polish Experience)

    • Belgrade 2017
    • Presentation speakers
      • Natalia Goncharova, Art Historian and Curator, National Center for Contemporary Art, Moscow, Russia


    My presentation refers to the Cross-Cultural Year of Poland and Russia which was cancelled in July 2014. Cultural diplomacy, according to a well-known definition of American researcher Milton Cummings is “the exchange of ideas, information, art and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understandings”(1). On July 23, Polish Press Agency (PAP) reported the decision of Polish government, announced by its spokesperson Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, to cancel the pre-planned 2015 Polish Year in Russia. The decision was due to the ongoing situation in Ukraine and the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines flight. Foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski and culture minister Malgorzata Omilanowska unequivocally came to the conclusion that in current political situation it would be impossible to follow through with the organization of the Polish Year in Russia. Kidawa-Blonska said that “culture should bring together spectators and artists, there should be a good atmosphere, and it must build unity. However, current events do not allow for this”. Culture once again became a hostage to the political situation. The decision was announced when I was in Poland negotiating a series of Polish art exhibitions to be organized in Russia. It is hard to convey the feelings I experienced that time. In complete disarray, I was calling the artist Jaroslaw Kozlowski: the statement was a blow to all our plans, almost finalized at that moment. Just over two weeks the Adam Mickiewicz Foundation was going to announce and provide financial support for the projects. Obviously, we had to postpone all the plans and cancel some of them. National Center for Contemporary Art, where I worked, had long-standing and strong relations with Poland, our plans for 2015 were extensive. Those included solo exhibitions of Katarzyna Kozyra and Jozef Robakowski in Moscow and a series of events, evoking great interest in Polish culture. Within a month, we had a flurry of refusals, the projects were foiled. The issue was much debated in the Polish media, and the government’s spokesperson stressed that many Polish artists said forcefully that the event had to be postponed or cancelled. But opinions were far from being uniformed, the New Poland magazine presented positions of two prominent figures of Polish culture. So, film director Krzysztof Zanussi made the following assessment of the government’s decision, “I know that the public opinion has been stirred by the latest events. And the government should reckon with it. However, with regard to our long-term relations with Russia, I regret that this year has been cancelled because it could have been an opportunity for a dialogue which is now interrupting on every front. […] Russia broke away from the world community. I believe that culture people should maintain contacts […]. Our situation predisposes us to be the first in Western Europe to pursue dialogue with the Russians”(2). In September, I took part in a round table discussion organized by Stefan Batory Foundation in Warsaw where there broke a serious debate on the issue of culture year’s cancellation. And I tried to convey my idea that the exchange between our cultures should not be stopped, government officials had their agenda but it would be very unfortunate if the artists became like them. We should not erect, with our own hands, a wall between our cultures and so, between our countries. People from the arts and culture field of different countries belong to a single community, a Single Territory of Arts. Art should not directly fall under the policy area, should not become an instrument of manipulation. But it does not negate the art’s involvement in urgent contemporary processes. Closed borders and cancelled projects just deepen misunderstanding between us, and narrow cultural horizons.

    (1) Cummings Milton C.Jr. Cultural Diplomacy and the United States Government. Washington DC: Center for Arts and Culture, 2003 P. 1’
    (2) Elżbieta Savitskaya Cultural Chronicle. New Poland Magazine 2014. № 9. Online version: