Back to the future: Russian-American relations should be reanimated at the place they started
Fort Ross Dialogue brought together more than 50 delegates and guests
An interesting, and, given the current political context, non-trivial event was held in San Francisco (California, USA) in the end of October. It was a Conference dedicated to the problems of Russian-American relations in Asia-Pacific region. Conference venue was also chosen not accidentally. Fort Ross is almost the only historical monument preserved up to the present day, reminding of broad presence of our people in North America many years ago.
After the sale of the fortress, as well as other Russian America property, Fort Ross remained "left to itself" for a long time, until it was restored and given its original appearance under the auspices of the California authorities in 1970. Now the Fort complex and surrounding park areas are controlled by Fort Ross Conservancy non-profit organization, which is actively trying to develop it. The fund is actually a volunteer association: staff of employees is rather small and salaries, including those of managers, are symbolic. All the more surprising how carefully these people (Americans, having no relation to the Russian emigration) keep the memory of the most southern point of the "Russian-American Company" ownership, carrying out several dozens events on traditional Russian culture every year. It must be said that financial situation of the "Fort Ross" historical park is not good due to the lack of support by US authorities. Even though "memorandum of understanding" was signed between the "Renova" group and the State of California (the signing ceremony was attented by President Medvedev) in 2010, Fort Ross can not be maintained at the expense of tourists only and thus depends crucially on sponsors.
"Transneft", "Sovcomflot" and «Chevron» are traditional sponsors of the Fort Ross Dialogue conference, which has been carried out for the fourth consecutive year. Although the heads of these companies regularly declare their commitment to the spirit of Russian cultural heritage preservation in the United States (in particular, it was stated by M.Margelov, the vice-president of "Transneft", in the course of reception to mark the opening of the conference in 2015), real threat of support withdrawal exists.
Meanwhile, as was noted above, Fort Ross Dialogue now is one of extremely few platforms for free exchange of views on various aspects of cooperation, not limited by political or propaganda difficulties. It is the platform where both parties can voice their initiatives or speak openly on broad range of issues without regard to the official positions of their governments. Other events of such kind are Russian-American Pacific Partnership" (RAPP), with its annual meetings held annually, alternately in Russia and in the United States, and international conference of sister cities in Gainesville, Florida, planned for February of 2016 (interesting proposals from both sides on expanding public diplomacy are expected to be made there).
This year Fort Ross Dialogue conference brought together more than 50 delegates and participants, including historians and political scientists, representatives of leading energy companies of two countries, politicians and representatives of Russian diplomatic mission in Washington, as well as students and young scientists from Russia and US. The thematic sections were organized for discussion of a wide range of problems. Representatives of sponsor companies discussed energy industry in the Asia-Pacific region. Moreover, despite ban on the export of new high technologies in Russian energy sector, provided by the list of US sanctions, Russian companies demonstrated in their presentations not only the current situation but also many promising projects (for example, the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, with "Transneft" and «Chevron» as main shareholders). These projects aroused great interest of American participants and presentations were followed by a lively discussion. "Envoys" from the academic community discussed possible ways of strengthening cooperation between educational institutions on the both sides of the Pacific. Historians talked about the past and present of ties of Russia with Fort Ross: importance of studying experience of trans-Pacific trade in the XIX century in our days, new archive documents shedding light on way and organization of life in the Russian fortress. The real highlight of the conference was the presentation of the "Virtual Fort-Ross" project developed by specialists of Novosibirsk State Academy of Architecture and Arts. It is full 3D-reconstruction of the fortress original image as of the XIX century, which allows making virtual tour over it. As A.Molodin, Academy Associate Professor, noted in his speech, this project, supplemented with original quest, can become an ambitious computer game start-up.
Another feature of the conference was «Next Generation Forum», attended by 20 young men and women from different parts of both Russia and the United States. The young delegates including both students and young scientists and experts gathered at the round table to find answers to the most urgent issues of modern Russian-American relations during group discussions. Moreover, outcomes of the discussion were available not to participants only. At the end of the events the groups prepared a kind of communiqué, which was presented to the seniour participants and listeners of the conference by two top delegates (one from the US and one from Russia). Young diplomats came to the conclusion that the key issues of bilateral relations include: the problems of geopolitical dimension (whether the global world system is one- or multi-polar, what are the rules in this system and how US and Russia can interact there efficiently), security problems (disagreements on such crisis points of the world system as Ukraine and Syria), difference between two countries cultural values and their perceptions (difference between two countries governance models, political systems, whether it is an insuperable obstacle to cooperation). As recommendations to the seniors the following ideas were put forward: to promote increased dialogue by two countries government agencies, not only at the highest or governmental level, but also between other influential circles (business, humanitarian funds) representatives; to encourage student exchange programs (not only between Russia and the US, but also in other countries, for establishing closer personal ties between young leaders that would later negate the policy of unilateral sanctions, poisoning current Russia - US relations); to revise history teaching in the US education system and reflect real contribution of Russia in key global events such as the victory in the Second world War, space exploration, etc.
Such events are often given ambiguous estimations by observers, raising traditional question: "Is this game worth the candle"? The answer is yes, it is. As was quite justly noted by the main "speaker" - Mikhail Shvydkoi, ex-Minister of Culture, now special representative of Russian President for International Cultural Cooperation in his opening remarks, Fort Ross is an important symbol of Russian-American relations from a historical perspective. It is useful to remember that historically the Russian Empire - traditional monarchical state - was one of the few who supported American Revolution. Thus, is absolutely unessential to be completely similar to each other in order to conduct mutually acceptable and constructive policy. In conclusion we should note that it is great that after so many historical events that took place and produced negative impact on our relations, we still have the opportunity to return "to the beginning", epitomized by the "Fort Ross" park.photo: Ilya Sinenko