The Baltic Platform in St Petersburg discusses the historical and cultural heritage of the Baltic-Scandinavian region
The conference The Greater Baltic region: historical and cultural heritage, ethnocultural and educational specifics of the international discussion platform Baltic Platform has been held in St Petersburg University. It is part of the 11th Baltic Forum of Compatriots.
The main topic of the event was the cultural aspects of cooperation between countries in the Baltic Sea region; the preservation of the intangible cultural heritage of small peoples and nations; ethnocultural issues; the best Russian practices and mechanisms to support the development of the national culture of Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and other peoples living in the Baltic-Scandinavian region; and projects of continuing education in the Russian language for Russian-speaking citizens living in the foreign countries.
Opening the conference, Nikolay Kropachev, Rector of St Petersburg University, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, highlighted the importance of the initiative to bring together expert and civil communities. The projects, including the Baltic platform, is an important and timely step forward in efforts to fulfil academic potential, ensure mutual understanding and develop solutions appropriate to solve acute problems in the Baltic region.
Responding to today’s geopolitical challenges, we have to search for new effective mechanisms of interaction and platforms for building a constructive dialogue. We have been waiting for this format of communication for too long. We need to identify narrow topics that require an extensive discussion.
Nikolay Kropachev, Rector of St Petersburg University, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences
In his speech, Nikolay Kropachev also said that the University’s commitment to supporting our compatriots is an important area of the University’s activities. ‘New educational technologies have opened up a wide range of opportunities to ensure access to education in the Russian language. On 1 September, St Petersburg University opened the first distance school of general education St Petersburg University Online School. It has 120 students from 30 countries. There is no charge to students. All costs are borne by the University via its extra-budgetary funds. Upon completing the programme at the St Petersburg University Online School, the students will receive Russian standard educational credentials. We also continue to implement the online education project for international schoolchildren, launched in 2018. It offers opportunities to study some of the subjects of the Russian general education school curriculum in a distance format and free of charge. This autumn saw the beginning of the 6th academic year of the project. More than 3,000 people from 25 countries started to study 11 subjects of general education. We understand that today Europe has left limited opportunities to receive education in the Russian language. We have therefore created such opportunities for children,’ said Nikolay Kropachev. ‘This year, when we started our admissions cycle in our online school in the Russian language, we thought that there would be few applications. Yet we received applications from as many as 44 countries!’
The event was moderated by Irina Novikova, Professor and Dean of the School of International Relations at St Petersburg University; Mikhail Koryshev, Dean of the Faculty of Philology; and Nikolai Mezhevich, Professor at St Petersburg University, President of the Russian Association of Baltic Studies. Irina Novikova spoke about the historical and geographical aspects that influenced how the Baltic region had been evolving. In her opinion, two trends are prevailing, i.e. integration and disintegration. ‘The first trend was predominantly related to promoting international cooperation and building a common sociocultural space. Yet, for a very significant period of its history, the Nordic-Baltic region was the arena of serious confrontations between the peoples who inhabited it. These two trends, i.e. cooperation and competition, have built up a comprehensive picture of international relations in the region,’ said Irina Novikova, Professor at St Petersburg University.
The meeting also featured a report on the historical transformation of the processes of national self-determination by Nikolai Mezhevich, Professor at St Petersburg University, President of the Russian Association of Baltic Studies. ‘Why have the paths of national self-determination in the 1920s and especially at the turn of 1990-1991 led to the results that we have now? I would like to point out that we have a large and influential Belarusian delegation here today. The socio-economic, political and moral model of the Belarusian state shows that there was a different path. Neither the one taken immediately by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, nor the one followed by Finland. Europe has reached a dead end, and the Baltic region obediently followed Brussels. Yet the situation will be changing. You cannot move forward when you are stuck in a dead end,’ said Professor Nikolai Mezhevich. He also highlighted the need to create and develop new platforms for discussing current issues relating to the life of the entire region.
For example, such a seemingly insignificant issue as setting quotas for Baltic herring is actually a matter of survival for thousands of people.
Nikolai Mezhevich, Professor at St Petersburg University, President of the Russian Association of Baltic Studies
The unique path of development of Russian civilisation was the focus of report by Naim Farah Suheil, President of the Open University of Civilization Dialogue. ‘Russia occupies not only the largest geographical area in the world, but is also the oldest civilisation in Eurasia. Russian civilisation influences not only the Baltic region, but also the development of other civilisations,’ said Naeem Farah Suheil. The researcher also spoke about the eternal Russian values. Among them he highlighted fairness, collective spirit and willingness to do good deeds.
Agnieszka Piwar, an independent journalist from Poland, spoke about her personal experience when a journalist was not only illegally denied professional accreditation, but was also persecuted for seeking ways to independently show the multifaceted relations between the two states and to highlight the history of friendship between Russia and Poland.
Dmitry Vasilenko, Vice-President of the Baltic Sea Region University Network (BSRUN), spoke about how dialogue within the academic community contributes to the development of international relations. ‘The Baltic scientific community gives hope for building fruitful cooperation in many areas. It also helps to identify intersections in research strategies in the nuclear field, energy, economics, to conduct a systematic analysis of scientific infrastructure, and to formulate proposals for collective use of scientific resources and infrastructure in order to save resources,’ said Dmitry Vasilenko. He also made a number of proposals as to how we can develop the Baltic region. ‘What we need to do is to invest in the Baltic region brand. Large countries, unlike small countries, are less focused on the Baltic region. It is necessary to lay the foundations today. Otherwise, it will be too late tomorrow. We should also develop mobility programmes and a joint scientific fund,’ said Dmitry Vasilenko.
Andrei Rusakovich, Professor at the Belarusian State University, spoke about cooperation between Russia and Belarus within the Union State and about the factors that influence this process.
The Union State is a single space. Largely due to the challenges in the Baltic region, the issues of integration of the Union State are becoming even more pressing.
Andrei Rusakovich, Professor at the Belarusian State University
Igor Avlasenko, Associate Professor at the Belarusian State University, gave examples illustrating the crucial importance of cultural diplomacy. He also spoke about the principles that make such diplomacy more effective. ‘Cultural cooperation can underpin the process to reform the system of international relations in the Baltic region,’ said Igor Avlasenko.
During the conference, ethnological specialists touched upon the topic of preserving small peoples and nations. Thus, Sergei Egorov, Assistant Professor at the Institute of History at St Petersburg University, focused on the importance of supporting the Vepsians and analysed Karelia. ‘Karelia pays special attention to the protection and development of the Vepsian culture. Since 2018, Vepsian communities have been constantly created in the Republic of Karelia. The region is reviving the traditions and culture of the people who were at the very origins of the ancient Russian state,’ said Sergei Egorov.
The Baltic Platform is an international discussion platform created in July 2023 on the initiative of leading Russian universities and scientific institutes. Among them are the following: St Petersburg University, the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), MGIMO University, Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University, and the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The conference also featured reports on the preservation of cultural intangible and tangible heritage in Russia, unique folk customs, and native languages. The reports were delivered by experts from St Petersburg University, the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, St Petersburg State University of Economics, and MGIMO University to name just a few.
According to the conference participants, the Baltic Platform has already become an open platform for experts and representatives of civil society and for everyone interested in ensuring effective development of the Baltic region. Such projects will continue to contribute to developing a new world of mutual understanding and development in the interests of all countries. In this regard, universities have a special role to play in securing such interaction, said the conference participants.