Thousands of guests from around the globe gathered at Fort Ross, one of the oldest Russian settlements on U.S. soil, July 28-30 for theatrical and choral performances, traditional Russian craft and food displays, and panel discussions about U.S.-Russian cooperation. I was honored to participate in the celebration, which took place in the Russian River Valley in California and commemorated the bicentennial of the fort’s settlement and 200 years of U.S.-Russian relations in the region.
I spoke on a panel with Mikhail Shvydkoy, President Putin’s envoy for international cultural cooperation, on U.S-Russian relations and the Bilateral Presidential Commission. We highlighted current and future trends of cultural diplomacy, where I emphasized thelongstanding people-to-people exchange programs the State Department has implemented with Russia. We spoke of successful educational exchanges such asFulbright, as well as the excitement that surrounds the new American Seasons and Russian Seasons programs that are currently sending some of each nation’s best performance groups to engage audiences in the other country.
Despite these successes, however, we agreed that although we have made great progress in overcoming Cold War-era stereotypes, there is still much to be done in order to build understanding and trust between the two countries. We must continue to find ways to reach out to new, young audiences — always striving to shed light on what our countries and cultures have in common instead of areas where we differ.
The Fort Ross Conservancy organized the weekend of events, which included two days of cultural performances and activities at the fort, as well as the conference, which took place in the nearby town of Guerneville. Fort Ross is the southernmost Russian settlement on the west coast of North America and represents Russian contributions to early American culture and development.