Projects of the Eurasian Peoples' Assembly: Interview with First Deputy Secretary General, Head of the General Secretariat of the Assembly Svetlana Smirnova

15/12/2023 17:33

The International Union of Non-Governmental Organizations "Eurasian Peoples' Assembly" actively works on organizing dialogue platforms where it presents international projects. The platforms are aimed at promoting the ideas and values of Eurasian integration, protecting peace, strengthening friendship, harmony, partnership and good neighborliness between peoples.

On November 9-10, 2023 in St. Petersburg, such platforms were presented at the V BRICS+ International Municipal Forum “Between Past and Future: Global Transformation,” organized with the support of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Rossotrudnichestvo.

In total, more than 2,000 delegates from 59 countries attended the forum sessions, and as a result of the work, 200 international agreements were concluded. Participants especially noted two platforms - the session “Heritage of Eurasia: Rural Communities” and the Strategic Session “BRICS+: 2030”, held by the Eurasian Peoples’ Assembly.

The session “Heritage of Eurasia: Rural Communities” was dedicated to scaling successful cultural practices in rural areas of Russia and the Eurasian space, expanding the potential of partnerships of local communities in the preservation and development of cultural heritage. More than 100 rural areas became participants in the project. Among its main tasks is the development of cultural practices of local communities, training activists and village leaders in modern practices of participatory design.

The moderator and organizer of the sessions was Svetlana Smirnova, First Deputy Secretary General, Head of the General Secretariat of the Eurasian Peoples' Assembly (Russia), Deputy of the State Duma of the III and IV convocations, confidant of the candidate for President of the Russian Federation V.V. Putin in the 2018 election campaign. She became a guest of our editorial office, speaking in an interview about the activities of the Eurasian Peoples’ Assembly in the field of intercultural cooperation.

— Svetlana Konstantinovna, please tell us more about the Eurasian Peoples’ Assembly, about the projects it implements and government support for initiatives that are significant for Eurasian integration.

— Our Assembly was founded in 2017, so it is a fairly young community. However, we already have extensive experience in implementing grant projects with the support of both the Presidential Foundation for Cultural Initiatives and the Presidential Grants Foundation. Our first project, “EURASIA KIDS,” has been implemented for several years. It is aimed at introducing children to intercultural interaction and creative enrichment, developing interest in the historical and cultural heritage of their people through immersion in the design and research process. Literally next week, with the support of the Presidential Grants Foundation, the in-person stage of the project “EURASIA KIDS: Ambassadors of Peace” will be held in Moscow, which will bring together children from different cities and countries.

How much do you think the activity areas you have chosen are in demand at the moment?

- I think they are in demand. This year we won a new grant from the Presidential Foundation for Cultural Initiatives “Heritage of Eurasia: Rural Communities”, in continuation of the previously implemented project “Heritage of Eurasia: Cultural Practices of Rural Areas”. This time its geography has expanded. In addition to the regions of Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, we were also joined by Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Belarus. Now the first stage is underway, which will last until January 15. This is a competition for best practices in rural communities. Anyone - any organization or individual who already has experience in implementing cultural initiatives in rural areas - can participate in this competition.

— Svetlana Konstantinovna, the development of cultural practices is a rather general formulation. If we talk about filling it in, what do you mean by that?

— At the site of the V International Municipal Forum BRICS+ the participants represented the Republic of Uzbekistan, namely a village that is recognized as a world tourist attraction. This is the Navoi region of Uzbekistan. Their priorities are: the creation of open-air museums, landscaped and library complexes, co-working centers, sports facilities and cultural centers, that is any cultural practice that is aimed at the development of rural communities, including the involvement of youth, is welcomed, so that young people do not leave the village, but remain and, accordingly, develop their rural settlements.

— Which sociocultural practices can you name that have already been implemented or are being implemented?з

— In the near future we will monitor the implementation of best municipal practices. Despite the fact that the headquarters of the Eurasian Peoples' Assembly is located in Moscow, we know a lot about the Russian regions, and we have the best municipal practices for preserving the culture of the peoples of Russia, for example, the “Researcher” Local Lore Family Club (Udmurt Republic).

We explore the opportunities provided by federal and foreign projects and programs. For example, there is a federal competition on the best municipal practices in the field of interethnic relations. There is a competition “Village Leaders”, which is held by the Russian Union of Rural Youth, and this is also a very good project, because it is aimed at supporting young people, youth initiatives, so that young people remain in rural areas.

— Svetlana Konstantinovna, why did you choose the theme of the image of the future for the strategic session?

— The image of the future of BRICS+, the image of the future through the eyes of the youth - these are the topics we have taken up in order to attract young people to the conversation. Now we see that in the BRICS+ countries, almost 70 per cent of the population is under 35 years of age. This is a young population, and it is clear that the future of the BRICS+ countries is the future of youth. In this regard, it is important to understand how young people themselves see this future and how co-operation between these countries should develop. This is why we need platforms like ours.

— Let us return to the theme of the session on rural development. In your opinion, what should be done to keep young people in the village instead of fleeing to the city?

— There are many different factors here, but, firstly, there should be appropriate legislation. Let's say it is socio-economic development of villages, rural settlements, it is infrastructure development: roads, cultural facilities, health care facilities, kindergartens, schools - this is everything that is necessary for young people. After all, if young people stay, young families appear, children are born and, accordingly, infrastructure for young families and young professionals is needed. We know that today, both in Russia and in other countries, there are programs aimed at supporting young families and young specialists in rural areas, when flats, houses and jobs are provided. There is a whole range of social measures. But it needs to be actively developed and popularized.

— When you implement practices, who is your support and is more active in supporting initiatives? Maybe it is representatives of universities or non-profit organizations?

— We cannot say that only universities or public organizations. Yes, we work with higher education institutions. This happens within youth cooperation, student exchanges, scientific and educational diplomacy. But such activities are multifaceted; a wide range of civil society institutions are involved here. As an example, I will cite the thematic specialized councils of the Eurasian Peoples’ Assembly. These are public units that implement cultural, educational and social projects, organize events in the digital economy, spiritual culture, literary and musical activities, and the preservation of historical memory and traditional values. These are practically all areas of human activity.

If we look at partnership agreements, the Assembly has already signed more than 200 agreements with partners from different countries, these are organizations that are related to the development of entrepreneurship, small business, agricultural development, and higher education institutions. For example, our partner, the Union of Arab Universities, includes higher education institutions (over 400 in total) from all 22 Arab countries.

— Svetlana Konstantinovna, what geographical areas do you consider promising for partnership development?

— Today, cooperation activities are actively underway within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Agreements were signed with the Chinese SCO Friendship and Cooperation Committee, with the SCO Center for Public Diplomacy in Tajikistan, the SCO Center for Public Diplomacy in Uzbekistan, and a similar center in Kyrgyzstan. We have established the SCO National Center for Public Diplomacy in Russia. The same Union of Arab Universities, which unites the countries of the Middle East and Africa, is one of our active partners.

The Assembly develops cooperation within Eurasian integration. This is interaction with the Eurasian Economic Commission, with the CIS Executive Committee, with the Union State (we also signed cooperation agreements with them).

— Do you communicate in the Eurasian space mainly through events (organizing them), through project activities? Are there any digital resources that allow participants to communicate, interact and work on a regular basis?

— They are varied, but, of course, COVID taught us to work in an online format, so now we hold a lot of different events. The Eurasian space is huge; it is impossible to unite greater Eurasia and the whole world through offline events alone, so many events are held in person and online, remotely. We develop digital platforms. One of the areas of our activity is the preservation of historical memory. The Eurasian Peoples' Assembly, together with the national business partnership "Alliance Media", has created a special Internet platform where the names and surnames of heroes, contacts of organizations that implement projects to preserve the historical memory of the Second World War and the Great Patriotic War are collected. A Digital Transformation Laboratory has been established at the Eurasian Peoples’ Assembly. In general, our IT department is very powerful, and we are looking for additional sites to expand our information space; a lot of work is going on.

— Are the practices for preserving historical memory that you spoke about implemented throughout the Eurasian space?

- Of course. And when we even talk about preserving historical memory of the results of the Second World War and the Great Patriotic War, it is not just the countries of the former Soviet Union. It is also China and India; they are all participants in the Second World War. You know that the Second World War ended with China's victory over Japan on the 3rd of September, and this is today's commemorative day. It is a significant event in the Russian calendar, among other things.

— Do local authorities provide local support in the countries of the Eurasian Community?

Undoubtedly. Firstly, active support is provided through our partners. In addition, there are Days of the Eurasian Peoples’ Assembly in different countries. This is a large multifaceted project. The international delegation of the Eurasian Peoples’ Assembly travels to a country and for a week holds events aimed at bringing the countries closer together in different spheres: business, culture, education and science. For example, a business forum "Business Dialogue in the Eurasian Space" or a youth Eurasian forum "New Generation of Eurasia", or a sports forum "Sport Unites Peoples" and so on. In preparing the Assembly Days, we turn to the authorities of this or that country. Depending on the area, either the Ministry of Youth Affairs, the Ministry of Tourism, or the Chambers of Commerce and Industry of different countries take part in organizing the events. We actively work with the authorities of different countries.

— Svetlana Konstantinovna, you have repeatedly invited to join the Eurasian Peoples’ Assembly, i.e., can I, for example, as an individual or as an organization join the activities of the Assembly and propose my initiative?

- Yes, membership in the Assembly exists both individually (individuals) and collectively (legal entities). They can be non-profit organizations, medium and small business organizations, also large businesses. You can join our current projects, thematic specialized councils. You can become a member of one or another specialized council or propose your projects for joint implementation within the framework of the Eurasian Peoples’ Assembly. If your project is interesting and you and I can jointly find resources for its implementation, then, accordingly, we can move together in the chosen direction.

- Thank you very much for the conversation!