Berlin. Vladimir Yakunin is one of the best-known Russian politicians. He is president of the foundation “Dialogue of Civilizations” (DOC), which last summer moved to Berlin and has since been courting German public opinion. For example with a congress that recently took place in the capital.
Yakunin has been on friendship terms with the Russian president since their time in St. Petersburg. In 2005 he was appointed head of the Russian railways. When he surprisingly stepped down in August 2005, the likely reason was pressure from Putin’s side. However, Yakunin continued his career as president of DOC. That foundation’s openly stated objective is to support the development of a multipolar world. Instead of Western dominance there shall be a commonwealth of countries with equal rights, with China and Russia enjoying particular importance.
Thus it was no coincidence that a Chinese delegation was present at the annual DOC event on Rhodes this autumn. Equally present were Eastern-European politicians, e.g., the Czech president Milos Zeman and ex-president Vaclav Klaus. During the forum, the organizers tended to avoid any anti-western rhetoric. Instead, common interests were pointed out. Yakunin underlined: “The fight against terrorism will be the central task for the whole world during the coming years. The IS is the largest threat of mankind.” The Russian support for the Syrian ruler Baschar al-Assad was hardly mentioned at all.
Talk at the forum repeatedly centered around traditional values. That falls in line with Russian policies, where alleged Western value deterioration is often being criticized. In the past, Yakunin made several remarks of that kind, for example referring to “gay propaganda”. Same-sex marriage he commented: “Once I see a pregnant man I will acknowledge it.”
Most Rhodes participants rejected sanctions against Russia. Nevertheless, EU criticism was rather muted. The loudest attacks came from the Czechs: Zeman and Klaus did not hide their repudiation of the EU and in particular of the EU migration and Russia policies.
Avoidance of clear anti-West positions fits within the overall DOC strategy. In summer the institute moved headquarters from Vienna to Berlin. But it met with limited acceptance among German scientists. Up to now German experts for Eastern Europe cooperate only in the DOC’s expert council.
Among the best-known is the Göttingen political scientist Peter W. Schulze. Critics blame him for positions that are too close to the Kremlin. Schulze warns against too much influence of atlanticist political think tanks in Berlin and sees the DOC as a counterweight. During the Ukraine crisis, Schulze repeatedly stated understanding for the Russian approach and criticized the EU: “Brussels should at last accept that the Ukrainian conflict has multiple reasons. For Moscow, the time of humiliations is over.”
Recently the DOC presented itself to the German public with a conference in Berlin, again focussing on multinational subjects. In the center: the perspectives of the Eurasian economic space and Europe’s future in a globalized world. The event underlined the migration-related problems and the danger from terror.
DOC critics bemoan the proximity between the institute and Putin’s politics. Judging from the two conferences in Rhodes and Berlin, that reproach is only limitedly justified. What is unclear though is the institute’s financing. The DOC points out that it comes almost exclusively from private sponsors, mostly non-Russians. But their names it will not disclose.