28th Annual World Russia Forum: "US-Russia Relations: The Way Forward"

28th Annual World Russia Forum: “US-Russia Relations: The Way Forward”

April 27-28, 2009
Washington, DC; United States Congress, Hart Senate Office Building

Below, Dr. Olga Zatsepina reports on her reactions to the forum and provides the text of her remarks on the panel: Role of the Russian Diaspora in America in Bolstering Business and Cultural Relations.

For the 28th time Edward Lozansky, President of American University in Moscow organized the World Russian Forum in Washington D.C. He deserves high praise. The Forum was a great success!

This Forum took place during a new era, with new Presidents in Russia and the US, a new, evolving political environment, new developments in the structure of economic and social relationships worldwide, and with new and younger people participating.

The Forum was very interesting to me from so many points of view:

  • the names of experts in the field of Russian-American relations on both sides.
  • everybody who was present at the Forum was able to hear very different , sometimes opposite opinions, and was willing to respect the possibility for expressing these different critical opinions from the same floor;
  • we learned some really new ideas and facts and heard about developments in the relations between the two nations;
  • the floor was given to all sides, impartially;
  • there were many women- participants in the audience, which is also a new sign of women’s involvement in the political and humanitarian issues discussed;
  • a major achievement was the opportunity to interact and mix and talk to colleagues and partners whom you can meet only at such events;

In the Panel on the Role of the Russian Diaspora in America in Bolstering Business and Cultural Relations I had an opportunity to make a presentation which you can read below:

Dear Colleagues,

My name is Dr. Olga Zatsepina and I have several hats to wear. I am representing the International Council of Russian Compatriots Abroad (MSRS) – a big organization uniting today 122 organization from 48 countries. I am a member of the Board and the major representative of MSRS at the DPI level in the UN. MSRS became an affiliated member at the DPI level with the UN. That fact alone tells you that Russian Compatriots abroad have a voice in the UN today.

The President of MSRS is Peter Sheremetev and the vice-president is Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky, who is present here.

I am also the President of the Russian American Cultural Heritage Center and one of two representatives of the US compatriots’ organizations in MSRS.

The topic for our discussion today is the Role of the Russian Diaspora in America in Bolstering Business and Cultural Relations.

At RACH-C, the Russian American Cultural Heritage Center in NY, and we have actually been thinking and living the theme of today’s discussion for the last five years. So, I am very pleased at the opportunity to share with you what we have come to believe is the role of the Russian Diaspora in America in Bolstering Business and Cultural relations between the two nations. As with other weighty matters, the answer is not one dimensional and is not independent of the times in which we live.

We all see how, in recent times, the policy of the Russian Government has changed with regard to Russian compatriots abroad; How many organizations, foundations and media projects have been created that celebrate that communities’ accomplishments and recognize their continued connection to their origins. We do value and think that this is a very positive change, one that dramatically improves the opportunity for the Russian community in the US, to embrace its heritage while acknowledging, with pride and affection, Russian contributions to their adopted country.

In this context, we see our organization as part of a people’s diplomacy that can help promote mutual understanding and respect between Russian and American business and social interests through the sharing of Russian culture in America; an activity that helps “bridge cultures and connect people.”
RACH-C’s central mission is to save and share Russian Culture with our friends and neighbors in the US and we have been very active in bringing out Russian culture so that Americans will know more about it, understand more and come to respect it as they know more.

Our view of the term culture is based more on the perspective of cultural anthropologists for whom the term includes the beliefs, behaviors and traditions that unite a group of people. All of the arts are included in that idea but so are ways of thinking about life and remembrances of the history of a people.

Language is a part of culture but it is not all culture. Even though many Americans of Russian descent do not speak Russian, they can feel, act, take pride in and enjoy “things Russian” as can American “Russophiles” for whom being involved with the Russian community is a much valued means of enriching their experiences in life.

But, what language can be more expressive than the arts! Among the many projects that RACH-C has been doing for five years are the regular Russian opera and classical music concerts that we hold for Americans and Russians, at which Russian and American singers perform the music of Russian composers. These concerts have become the face of RACH-C in NYC and they are very popular. The language of music is understood by everybody.

Russian language is an important part of culture but, we should all understand that if events are organized and conducted by the Russian community solely in Russian, only bi-lingual Americans would come. By ignoring the dominant language of the US, we would be undermining our goal of sharing Russian culture by blindly considering only one aspect of our culture and thus promoting a very parochial view of our place in American society.

We need to get out of our shells. We need to have our web sites in English first, better in both languages but, English first. The world role and contribution of the Russian community to American life and culture is unknown to mainstream Americans today. They will learn and understand first in English. Unfortunately, very few young Russians know what a great role Russian Americans have had in the history of this country. Such names as Sikorsky, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, half of the Hollywood world, Russian engineers, even generals , etc are not known to Russian youth in America today, to say nothing about American youth.

Russian NGOs should be pursuing activities that instill rightful pride in our heritage and earned respect from our non Russian friends and neighbors. The resulting positive shift in perspective will go a long way toward providing fertile ground for social and business projects. It will also serve to remind Americans that the most important thing about the “Cold War” was that it was and remained “cold.” Our two nations were never at war. But, our military forces did fight arm in arm with Americas” “Greatest Generation” against sinister forces aimed at enslaving the world.

Another objective within our mission is the commitment to help American families with adopted Russian children who want them to know and conserve their Russian culture and roots. To make it clear, we are not involved with the adoptions at all. We try to work for and with parents who adopted Russian kids and who want to save their heritage for them. We know that such families don’t have the opportunity to reach out to the Russian world here (again one of the reasons that even if there are Russian American organizations in some regions, their sites are primarily in Russian and the American parents can’t find or are too intimidated to reach out to them).

We organize events at which Russian kids are invited with their Russian or American parents together where they can learn about Russian values, traditions, rituals; events such as Yolka, Maslenitsa, Krasnaya Gorka.

This year we are doing the third “Children’s’ festival of Russian Culture” in NYC where children’s groups from different cities of the US and Russia come to perform Russian songs, music and dances. This year we are having 18 groups from different states of the US and Russia. We hope that as we go on we will be able to have a huge festival of Russian Culture in Central Park in NYC where all of you will come and see how the kids can really make a difference on the issues we are discussing now!

We have come out with an initiative to the New York State Government to start a special project to expand our work in post adoption for American families with adopted Russian children. Hopefully this project will expand to adoptions from other countries and will give them an opportunity to save their heritage as well. I think that all of Russian American NGOs working in the states should consider embracing American families with adopted Russian children in their neighborhoods as well.

The theme of this panel specifies the term Russian Diaspora but, that name suggests a collective of individuals. The fact is that there are pockets of Russian Heritage communities all over the United States. Many of them have formed NGOs and are active in providing services similar to ours. We form the building blocks of a national Russian community but for a myriad of reasons, these blocks have yet to come together to form a cohesive structure.

Such a structure would be of enormous benefit. Many hyphenated American groups have learned this lesson; Irish-Americans, Latin-Americans, Italian-Americans and more have found their voices heard when they have elected their members to Congress or local offices. African-American’s recently used their sense of cohesion to help elect one of their own to the highest office in the land.

We need an organization that will provide the opportunity for all Russian American organization to connect, know about each other, share ideas, problems and issues, collaborate on projects of mutual value….

Perhaps now that the heritage country has changed and its policies are less divisive, there will be an opportunity for US Russian compatriots abroad to have the means to focus on where the glass is half full.

This forum was presented by American University in Moscow, Congress of Russian Americans, Discovery Institute, Eurasia Center, George Washington University, International Council of Russian Compatriots, Kontinent USA Publishing House, Russian America Newspaper, Russian Cultural Center, RussianDC & Informational Sponsor


Monday, April 27: Hart Senate Office Building , Room 902
8:00 – 9:00 AM : Registration
9:00 – 9:20 AM : Welcoming Remarks by His Excellency Sergei Kislyak, Russian Ambassador to Washington
9.20 – 10.45 AM: Managing the World’s Economic and Financial Crisis. Building a new Financial World Order.
Anatoly Aksakov – Russian State Duma, Association of Russian Regional Banks
Laura Brank – Chadbourne & Parke
Marshall Goldman – Harvard University
*Gerard Janco – Eurasia Center
Peter Loukianoff – Almaz Capital Partners
William Marsteller – Export–Import Bank of the United States
Aleksei Shishaev – Head of Economic Section, Russian Embassy
11.00 AM – 12.30 PM : U.S. and Russia : A Window of Opportunity. U.S. – Russia – China Triangular.
Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin – Institute of World Economics and International Relations
Robert McFarlane – National Security Advisor to President Reagan
Thomas Pickering – Hills & Company, former Undersecretary of State and U.S. Ambassador to Moscow
Sergei Rogov – Institute of USA and Canada , Russian Academy of Sciences
*Matthew Rojansky – Partnership for a Secure America
12:30 – 1:00 PM : Congressional Lunch Break.
1:00 – 2:30 PM : Strategic vision for U.S.-Russia relations
*Greg Guroff – Foundation for International Arts and Education
Andrew Kuchins – Center for Strategic and International Studies
Robert Legvold – Columbia University
Wayne Merry – Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy
Andranik Migranyan – Institute of Democracy and Cooperation
Margarita Simonyan – Russia Today TV
2:30 – 3:15 PM : Keynote PRESENTATION by Under Secretary Political Affairs William Burns
3:30 – 5:30 PM : America and Russia : Challenges and Opportunities
Jim DeMint – U.S. Senator (R-SC)
William Lind – Free Congress Foundation
*Edward Lozansky – American University in Moscow
Igor Panarin – Russian Diplomatic Academy
Gleb Pavlovsky – Effective Policy Foundation
David Satter – John’s Hopkins University
Sergei Tsekov – Supreme Council of Autonomous Republic of Crimea
7:00 – 9:30 PM : Reception at the Russian Embassy 2650 Wisconsin Avenue, NW

During the Day: Exhibition Selections from the Kolodzei Art Foundation Collection of Russian and Eastern European Art
Tuesday, April 28: George Washington University, 651 Duques Hall, 2201 G Street, NW
10:00 AM – Noon : U.S.-Russia Business Roundtable: Doing Business in Russia at a Time of Economic Stress.”
Dmitry Beskurnikov – Russian Chamber of Commerce in the U.S.
Dmitri Dubograev – International Legal Counsels
*Richard Robin – George Washington University
Bill Robinson – Attorney at Law
Pavel Tolstykh – Higher School of Economics
Maxim Voltchenko – Russian Speaking Professionals Network of Greater Pennsylvania
12.15 – 1.15 PM: Lunch at GWU
Transfer to Russian Cultural Center, 1815 Phelps Place
2:00 – 3:30 PM : American and Russian Agendas in the Former Soviet Space. U.S. – Russia cooperation in science and medicine.
Mike Averko – Independent Foreign Policy Analyst
Evgeny Brun – Department of Health, City of Moscow
Adgur Kharasia – Parliament of Abkhazia
*Edward Lozansky – American University in Moscow
Yuri Mamchur – Discovery Institute
Armen Markarian – Rosnor Energo
Aleksey Mazus – Department of Health, City of Moscow
3.45 – 5.30 PM: Role of the Russian Diaspora in America in Bolstering the Business and Cultural Relations between the two Nations.
*Greg Guroff – Moderator, Foundation for International Arts and Education
Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky – International Council of Russian Compatriots
Konstantin Khizder – Russian DC
Flora Maksumova – Academy of Peoples Diplomacy
George Sheremetiev – Congress of Russian Americans
Olga Zatsepina – Russian-American Culural Heritage Center
Alexander Zolotov – Association of Russian Youth Abroad “Zarya”
5:30 – 8:00 PM : Final Reception and Cultural Program at the Russian Cultural Center
* Panel Moderator