Joint Statement of the Free Word Association, PEN St. Petersburg and Masters of Literary Translation Guild
On the Decision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to terminate the activities of the British Council in the Russian Federation
March 19, 2018
Russia terminates the activities of the British Council, an organization which has been working in the sphere of culture and education since 1992 and whose team has established outstanding professional Russian—British ties. This is the final blow in eliminating the British Council because ten years ago thirteen out of its fifteen Russian offices were closed in similar circumstances. Soon after the British Council started working in Russia (then, the USSR) in 1945, the organisation experienced a 45-yeear-long break in tis activities, as in 1947, with the beginning of the Cold War, the British Council was closed. Such historical parallels look highly alarming.
The British Council has been acquainting Russian citizens with the best cultural achievements of the United Kingdom by supporting Julian Barnes’s visit to Moscow for the NonFiction Book Fair, as well as tours of British theatres, William Blake’s exhibition in the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, concerts of Benjamin Britten’s music in the Moscow Conservatoire, literary translation workshops, music festivals and other events and presentations not only in Moscow and St Petersburg, but in many other Russian cities. There were lectures, Internet projects, English language courses, IELTS exams, support in enrolment to the U.K. universities, such was the scope of the British Council’s work. The organization that is to be closed not only brought over pieces of British culture, but also helped to promote Russian culture in the U.K.. With the support of the British Council, Russian writers, poets and translators went to England and Scotland to show their work. These joint activities always brought results and helped to build up friendship and understanding.
It is not surprising that an institution engaged in culture and education has become a victim in a diplomatic conflict. Such is the logic of the present times. However, a political attack at a cultural organization always impacts the citizens of the attacking country. The closure of the British Council in Russia will not make Russians stop loving the British culture, but it will deprive them of many wonderful opportunities. Dozens of highly qualified professionals capable of establishing cultural and business contacts will lose their jobs. Pictures and sculptures will not be seen, poets and musicians will not be heard. All for the sake of pounding the table.
It is not just an ill-considered, but a destructive decision for the culture, hence for the future of Russia.