2014 UK-Russia year of Cultural Exchange ends in a whimper

Sep 3rd, 2014 | By | Category: Journal


Olga Golodets, Deputy Prime Minister of Russian Federations arrived in London in Janaury 2014 to inaugurate the UK-Russian Year of Cultural Exchange.

Olga Golodets, Deputy Prime Minister of Russian Federations arrived in London in January 2014 to inaugurate the UK-Russian Year of Cultural Exchange.












It all started so well for the 2014 UK-Russia year of cultural exchange with a dazzling series of events planned in Moscow and London including Pavlova, Nijinsky, Chekhov, Nabokov, Gagarin, Young British Artists, James Bond and Francis Bacon.  There were to be events at Spencer House, a Gala Ball at the Winter Palace and so on.

Russian deputy prime minister, Olga Golodets, arrived in London early in 2014 in advance of the inaugural event which was a dinner held at the Cavalry and Guards club in Piccadilly in aid of the Russian Sambo Commonwealth organisation.  The dinner went off well with displaced Russian Aristocrats mixing nervously with Oligarchs and the likes of HRH Prince Michael of Kent, The Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko and the former head of the British Armed Forces, Sir David Richards in attendance.

The idea behind the exchange was a good one and it was hoped that the two nations could communicate on a shared cultural level putting aside some of their political diffrences.  It is estimated that some 500,000 Russians live in England and there are numerous connections between the two countries.  Apart for the Crimean War (1853 -56), Russia and Britain have fought on the same side against Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Hitler.

However, with Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and the Ukrainian situation, events have been cancelled and the UK Government officially withdrew its support in July.  Although the exchange had been formalised at a government level in March 2013 when the then British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, signed an agreement, there was actaully little intersest at government level.  The event was mostly organised by the British Council, the Russian Embassy and those high up in the cultural hierarchy in both countries.  It was an easy target for the UK government who wanted to be seen to be doing something against Russia, in addition to sanctions, that didn’t actually damage the considerable commercial interests between the two nations.  A spokesman for the UK Government told the Art Newspaper, “In the light of the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia and continuing Russian support for the separatist destabilization of Eastern Ukraine, Her Majesty’s Government has withdrawn ministerial and senior government involvement in the Year of Culture.”

And with that events started being cancelled including The Young British Artists (YBA’s) at the Ekaterina Foundation in Moscow and the Russian Art Collective AES+F at the Royal Academy in London.  The final major remaining show, Francis Bacon at the Hermitage, scheduled for 7 Dec until March 2015 looks unlikely to go ahead.  BP, the major sponsor of the cultural year, has not withdrawn its sponsorship but is nervously watching its substantial investment in Russia that might be confiscated if sanctions between the two opposing sides escalate.

This morning President’s Putin and Poroshenko seem to be closer to a solution with Putin saying, “I had a telephone conversation with President Poroshenko this morning, and our views, so it seemed to me, on the ways of resolving the conflict are very close, as diplomats say.”  Stock markets jumped on the news with Germany’s DAX up 1.2%, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng up 2.3% and Russia’s benchmark MICEX up 3.6%.  It is hoped that this potential deal is not another false dawn and that Ukraine, The European Union, The US and Russia can put aside their differences to work out a peaceful solution to this dreadful situation.  But whether this really is a step towards a ceasefire or not it is too late for the UK- Russian Year of cultural exchange which has been a casualty of this debacle and proved once again that politics trumps culture.














Tags: Olga Golodets, Russian art market., Russian Sambo Commonwealth Organisation, UK-Russia Year of Culture, Ukrainian situation

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