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Russia: Cultural 'soft power'

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By Lesley Alexander
Russia: Cultural 'soft power'

What is it like to be a Russian abroad?

At a time when the Motherland is under fire and under pressure from the international community, the diaspora is pulling together.

"We are engaged in the promotion of Russian culture," said Olga Degay, head of the 'Russian Project' cultural association in the French city of Lyon.

"We don't organise any political events. We are focussing exclusively on things that don't provoke disagreements but that, on the contrary, unite people."

The group, which organised an all-singing, all-dancing Russian fair in Lyon, insists that it has no funding from Russian authorities.

However experts say that Moscow is well aware that cultural clout does count.

Speaking of the diaspora, analyst Michail Suslov from Copenhagen University said: "The Kremlin is tryng and has always tried to use this resource." 

He said there are "millions of people who can potentially be promoters of soft power," but added that "the Kremlin's influence is certainly focussed on the former post-Soviet space".

In other words, the West need not fear a hidden agenda in events like cultural fairs.

Nonetheless, opinions are firm.

"It is very important for us to preserve Russian langauage and culture," said Olga, a mother who has lived in France for 10 years..

"You know I am...such a patriot! 

"I could say I am focussing more on the Russian-side," Olga said, adding that she would try to explain "the Russian position," to her young son, in order "to support it".

Patriotism aside, it seems there is no need to make a song and dance about Russian soft power, in the cultural realm at least.