Kyrgyz-born Mikhail Shvydkoy is no ordinary diplomat. Since 2008, he has been the Special Envoy for International Cultural Cooperation to President Dmitry Medvedev, which followed a stint as the Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation. Before becoming Minister of Culture, however, Shvydkoy held many prestigious positions, including editor-in-chief of Channel 5 and later Chairman of Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, Deputy Minister of Culture and General Manager of the Kultura Publishing Complex. Open Central Asia had the exciting opportunity to interview this remarkable man and capture some of his thoughts on journalism and Russian culture. “I was born in Kyrgyzstan and left there at the age of nine months,” Shvydkoy begins the interview. “I returned for the first time more than half a century later, when I was already Minister of Culture for Russia. The Kirghiz have a saying that “you come to die where the first drop of your blood at birth was spilled on the ground.” Kyrgyzstan –a place of my biological attachment, I get a great pleasure when I arrive there. I am pleased with all the positive changes that are taking place at my homeland.” Today Shvydkoy is a distinguished professor of foreign theatre history and a member of the Academy of Humanities. He is also a member of the Russian Writers Union, Union of Theater
Workers, and Union of Journalists having published numerous books, including Drama, Theater, Life; Secrets of Lonely Actors; and Notes on Foreign Theater of the Second Half of the Twentieth
Century. He has authored numerous publications in various newspapers and magazines and over
600 academic papers. “I graduated from the theatre department of The Russian University of Theatre Arts,” he continues. “I started working in journalism since 1967. I changed and the journalism in our country changed as well. In Soviet times I worked in the “Theatre” magazine. It was a “thick” professional journal in which it was possible to deal with professional issues that are not fully reflected on television, radio or newspapers.”

When it comes to the effect that this early career has had on him and the changes it had driven it is
clear that Shvydkoy has a bond to the profession, almost as strong as to his homeland. “Today,
it’s accepted to blame journalism, and, in fact, journalism is an intermediary between the public,
the authorities and the individual. The mission of journalism is very important, but if it is real, profound and truthful journalism.” Shvydkoy has been awarded the Order of Honor from the Russian Federation and L’Ordre du Mérite from the Republic of France. He also holds the title of Merited Master of Culture from Poland. These awards are a sign of the international reputation and regard that he is held in. The idea of Russian culture is easy to promote for a man so embedded
within it. “As you know, since 1993 to 1997 I was the Deputy Minister of Culture of the Russian
Federation, since 2000 to 2004 -the Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation, since 2004 to
2008 I headed the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography. So I do not need to convince you
that culture, which is the guardian of tradition, not only provides the identity of peoples, but also is an
important tool for development.”

But the promotion of Russian culture goes further and deeper for Shvydkoy. “Russia and culture
– they are synonymous today, especially when the consumer society in the world is in crisis. It is not so much economic in the value sense but Russian culture takes a special mission. Unlike oil, Russian culture does not change its price – over the years it has increased. Unlike the ruble, it does not threaten devaluation, it’s still demanded. For example, we hold a semi-annual festival of Russian
culture in Japan and the interest of Japanese viewers of different generations is increasing.” He is not fazed by a question about the newly independent states of Central Asia trying to gain their own independent identity, away from Russia and Russian culture, either. “After the collapse of the Soviet Union new states formed on the post- Soviet territory,” he ponders. “Of course, we tried to achieve not only state independence, but autonomy and their own cultures. National identity has become their national idea. But it is important to understand that the Russian language remains the language of communication in the post-Soviet space. But, nevertheless, they lack the education and culture in Russian, as often politicians and intellectuals say.

“Of course, I have no illusions. I know that for a quarter century, the range of the Russian language has decreased significantly. But at the same time it is clear that the reference to the Russian language
in publications is still in harmony. Russian language in the post-Soviet space is important, because
through it, many people are attached to the world culture, to its scientific and artistic achievements.
In the former Soviet Union, Russian classical and contemporary authors enjoy the increased
interest, but not so on the global book market, where Russian books occupy about 2% of the total
Shvydkoy is particularly enthused by the number of projects launched within the framework of
the Year of Russian literature in 2015. “This will be able to change the situation. Russia’s participation in international book fairs should bring positive results. Recently, Russia has adopted a special program for promoting Russian literature abroad. So, in conclusion I want to say that the Russian culture needs no artificial promotion in the world, it is a necessary part of the need for spiritual nourishment, which is inherent in civilized humanity.”

Text by Kristina Glazunova