Projecting Ideal Selves: EU’s and Russia’s Competing Cultural Narratives in the Post-Soviet Space

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Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi state university, Faculty of social and political sciences
This article attempts to analyse the European Union’s (EU) and Russia’s cultural diplomacy in the post-Soviet space (Eastern neighbourhood and Central Asia) and in particular their cultural narratives in the region. At the EU policy level, awareness of the role of cultural relations has risen sharply in the past decade, and in 2016 a more precise European approach to the role of culture in external relations was issued for the first time in a joint communication by the European Commission and the High Representative (EC and EEAS, 2016). In the Eastern Neighbourhood cultural relations have been an integral part of bilateral and multilateral agendas, and the EU has developed a sound experience in supporting the cultural sector. As the other key regional player, Russia’s soft power rationale arose in the aftermath of the colour revolutions in order to counter western activities and enhance Moscow’s image. This quest for attraction resulted in a number of policy initiatives and in the creation of a number of public and mixed agencies dealing with cultural goals. To analyse EU’s and Russia’s cultural narratives it is proposed to apply Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) theory and methodologies (Fairclough & Fairclough, 2012) to a selection of key legal and policy documents from European and Russian key institutions and agencies, together with political declarations released in pan-European and Russian media. Overall, this study hypothesises that the EU and Russia promote two contrasting approaches to cultural diplomacy in the region. Whereas the EU seeks co-creation and mutuality and targets the civil society sector, Russia displays a nexus of culture and security and the broader idea that cultural difference leads to conflict. Somewhat close to Huntington’s analyses (1997), to ensure its national security Russia portrays itself as ‘doomed’ to lead and reshape its neighbourhood through its culture and spiritual values. Similarities nevertheless appear when it comes to the way ‘others’ are depicted: in both actors’ narratives, civil society and broader foreign people are not synonymous with the best-representative sample of post-Soviet populations, but rather a cherry-picked selection of those forces and grouping that uphold European or Russian (and Eurasian) values.
Cultural diplomacy, Cultural relations, European Union, Russia, Post-soviet space, Eastern neighbourhood, კულტურული დიპლომატია, კულტურული ურთიერთობები, ევროკავშირი, რუსეთი, პოსტსაბჭოთა სივრცე, აღმოსავლეთ სამეზობლო