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Consolidation Of Young Russian Compatriots Living Abroad As An Instrument Of Russia's “Soft Power”

Saturday, January 21, 2017 - 08:02
  • The entrepreneurial spirit of the youth is worth the experience of the aged.
  • J. Knorr


The events that occurred in late 20th – early 21st century (the collapse of the USSR, the “color revolutions,” “humanitarian interventions,” the information war) have become indicators of the emergence of a new system of international relations. The latter were the result of: on the one hand, the desire of a number of Western countries to justify their aggressive actions aimed at changing the status quo on the world political arena (saving their reputation of democracy outposts while initiating military conflicts); on the other hand, the impossibility of a direct military confrontation with the direct competitors due to their possession of nuclear weapons.


Against this background, there begin to crystallize the most appropriate tools of addressing the foreign policy objectives: the mechanisms of “soft power.” John Nay is the “scientific pioneer” who introduced this concept in the political discourse in 2004. He determines the “soft power” as the ability of one state to influence other states for the purpose of realization of its interests through a directed formation of a positive perception of its image by the overseas audience. According to John Nay, the following three components of “soft power” play the key roles in this respect:


  • - Culture: focusing the audience's attention on the attractive aspects;
  • - Political values shared by social groups in other states;
  • - Foreign policy: placing the emphasis on its moral grounds and justice.


All the above instruments are actively used by the United States. They have turned democracy into a universal brand of world public consciousness, linking it with the stereotype of a society of equal opportunities and maximum freedom, which is supposedly the best match to any man's ideas of justice and a decent life.


Worth noting, the main instrument of “the citadel of world democracy” lies in the activities of partisan NGOs, the media and various funds, which serve as a kind of “advertising agents” of Washington. They provide the populations of the countries that are objects of the US impact with the financial, technical, medical and educational support and implicitly show – especially young people – the broad possibilities of self-realization offered by the universal liberal-democratic values. In the post-Soviet space, the most telling example of the work of US agents is the recent coup in Ukraine, which took place under the slogan of the need for the country's accession to the “European liberal democratic family.”


However, the introduction of artificially universalized values of democracy in the unprepared soil of societies with very different axiological code of political conduct leads to a very fragmentary and ambiguous results: the country splits, and there occurs an activation of ultra-radical nationalist and religious factions (in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine).


These processes form the negative attitude of the population of one or another country to the United States, as evidenced by the results of the 2014 sociological research conducted in the CIS countries by the Wilson International Center. “The public opinion has begun to consolidate the image of the USA as an aggressor, a hegemonic leader that interferes in the internal affairs of other countries, cynically pursuing its own interests (based on the examples of the “Arab spring” and the political crisis in Ukraine). Noteworthy, the main reason for Washington's loss of its reputation capital is “Russia's criticism of the US policy,” according to the Center's experts. The results of these studies are confirmed by the aggressive statements of the official civil and military leadership of the United States. In particular, recently head of the US Air Force D. James called Russia the number one threat to the United States, while chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff George Dunford pointed out that Russia aims to limit the US ability to carry out its military presence around the world.


On this basis, we can conclude that the values of the Russian political culture – namely: a) sovereign democracy that implies the rejection of the universalist approach to democratic values; b) the government's moral responsibility to the public; – have a great attractant effect for certain social groups in countries around the world.


Based on this, it is necessary to acknowledge the need for the Russian leadership to stir up the use of a wide arsenal of public (mainly youth-orientated) diplomacy as one of the mechanisms of “soft power.” Certain work is already underway in this area, on both legislative and practical levels. First of all, worth noting is the fact that the new Concept of Russia's foreign policy (dated November 30, 2016) defines the “soft power” institutions as essential tools of modern international politics. It is emphasized that one of the key tasks of the Russian foreign policy is to protect the legitimate rights and interests of Russian compatriots living abroad.


In turn, among practical measures, worth noting is the Moscow-based International Forum of Young Compatriots held by the National Council of Youth and Children's Associations of Russia as an educational seminar on youth diplomacy. The red line of all three business days was the idea of ​​the need to form a network of young Russian compatriots living outside the Russian Federation as a tool of their consolidation, as well as satisfaction of their cultural, informational and linguistic interests. The emphasis was on the youth wing of compatriots, which is due to three factors:


  • - Firstly, young people are an active and enterprising social stratum due to their focus on the pursuit of excellence in the process of self-realization;
  • - Secondly, young people are exposed to negative manipulation due the fact they don't yet have strong backbone values;
  • - Thirdly, young people are a subsidized social group because they lack adequate material resources for self-realization.


However, the Forum revealed the main factors that are currently torpedoing the effective interaction of young Russian compatriots:


  • - the lack of adequate funding;
  • - the lack of available information on activities involving young compatriots in different countries;
  • - the lack of identification with the Russian world;
  • - the lack of coordination among the organizations of young compatriots.


With that, the last point is decisive and crucial for the resolution of all the remaining problems.


Meanwhile, the indicated challenges are faced by the youth organizations of practically all diasporas in different countries. In this aspect, a definite advantage of the Forum were the presentations delivered by representatives of German and Armenian youth organizations in Russia about their experiences and coordination of the interaction among compatriots. A comparative analysis has showed that a unifying point in the work of the German Youth Association and the Union of Armenians of Russia is the preservation of national identity through the study of language, culture and history of their people. However, in terms of organization of the project work, the German association is characterized by the “statist” approach, as its main partner is the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Germany, through which around $8 million are allocated annually for the work in Russia. In turn, the Union of Armenians of Russia is based primarily on self-financing: a system of membership fees plus sponsorships.


The Forum participants considered the experiences of the above-mentioned organizations and acknowledged the need to use the arsenal of all available instruments of “soft power” in the tense geopolitical situation, where the official-level dialog is facing difficulties. This enabled the Forum participants to a) formulate the basic goal of creating a network of young compatriots; b) suggest conceptual models of the future network of young Russian compatriots. The purpose of this network can be illustrated as follows:


Objectives of the network of young Russian compatriots abroad:

  • I. The network of young compatriots.
  • 1) Resolving subjective matters:
  • a) identity preservation (learning of the language, culture, history);
  • b) lobbying/protection of interests;
  • 2) Contributing to realization of the RF foreign policy:
  • a) creating a favorable image of Russia in the country of residence.


Based on these objectives, as well as the identified problems in consolidation of young Russian compatriots, the Forum proposed two models of the compatriots network. Their correlation point is the need for registration (to use Marxist terminology) of a “physical basis” in the form of an NGO and a “virtual superstructure” in the form of a web-site, which will be used as an information and communication platform.


Thus, the results of the International Forum of Young Compatriots (the educational seminar on youth diplomacy) have laid the conceptual basis for further work on implementation of the theoretical constructs in the practical plane. The need for and the vital importance of this event lies in the fact that young people – particularly, in the post-Soviet space – are losing cognitive interest in the CIS as a whole and Russia in particular. According to the 2015 “Eurasian Barometer,” there has significantly decreased the level of cognitive interests in the culture and history of the CIS countries, as well as the demand for higher education among respondents aged 35 years and older. Accordingly, the more time passes since the collapse of the USSR and the more active is the work of agents of the Western world, the weaker the inertia forces of the common historical past among the youth. Young people are less and less interested in cultural and historical heritage of the post-Soviet countries.


Based on this, we emphasize that the young compatriots living abroad are Russia's powerful (although yet diffused, non-consolidated) pool of agents of the “soft power.” They are the carriers of the Russian language and culture, they are a part of the Russian world – a part that needs the strengthening of identity through the consolidation of interaction. Accordingly, they perform the role of the communication channels that are able to reduce the negative social and political discourse generated by a number of countries about the “Russian threat” to world stability under the conditions of geopolitical tensions and the information blockade, which was manifested in the European Parliament's resolution on countering Russian propaganda.

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