“BRICS: In the Mirror of the Times”. The Role of Cultural Diplomacy in Russia-Brazil Relations
The sixteenth episode of the joint project of TV BRICS and GAUGN is dedicated to the importance of cultural diplomacy in Brazil
In the sixteenth episode of the joint project of the international network TV BRICS and GAUGN “BRICS: In the Mirror of Time”, dedicated to the role of cultural diplomacy in relations between Russia and Brazil, Lyudmila and Olga Okunevas, authors of the Russian translation of Boris Fausto’s book “A Brief History of Brazil”, spoke about what makes it so interesting to Russian readers.
The project was supported by a grant from the Russian Ministry of Education and Science under the federal project “Popularisation of Science and Technology”.
Russia and Brazil are separated by more than 10 thousand kilometres, but every year the countries are getting closer to each other. Their areas of co-operation are constantly expanding. And how did it all begin? And what does cultural diplomacy have to do with it?
– What is cultural diplomacy and what role has it played in the relations between the two countries?
– Cultural diplomacy gives an opportunity to get to know both societies, the peculiarities of historical, civilisational, cultural development of different peoples and thus bring them closer together, which is very important for cultural diplomacy, for cultural exchange. And maybe not everyone knows this, but in Brazil there is a huge interest in Russian culture, in Russian literature and Soviet literature. There is a huge and fundamental school of translation. They translate, I think, all the Russian classics, poetry of the Soviet times. For example, a poet as difficult to translate as Vladimir Mayakovsky, they have translated just superbly.
One of the most important Brazilian universities, the University of São Paulo, publishes a journal called the Journal of Russian Literature and Culture. I would like to quote very good words of the Brazilian Ambassador to Russia Rodrigo Baen Soares, who spoke about the influence of Russian culture in general and literature in particular on him: “I got acquainted in my youth with the works of Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky”. I understand that he learnt the works of the Russian classics in translations, in truly remarkable translations into Portuguese.
Here are some recent events: another translation of “Eugene Onegin” into Portuguese was presented, the translator spoke about how he came up with the idea, he came to translate Pushkin through Tchaikovsky’s opera. And all this was happening during the COVID-19 pandemic. And when he was working and explaining his interest in what was happening, he compared his situation to the Boldin autumn. He told his readers about what the Boldin Autumn was like, about how the poet was creating while confined and suffering from the quarantines imposed at that time because of cholera.
In the XXI century we have another plague on the planet, and a situation in which a person does not draw, but speaks very naturally, with excitement and inner feeling about how he put himself in the poet’s place and actually repeated his path – this is very charming and attractive, because it is not strained, it is not edifying, and this person shared his feelings, which are understandable to us.
– Lyudmila Semyonovna and Olga Vladimirovna, you have translated Boris Fausto’s book “A Brief History of Brazil” into Russian. What makes it so interesting for the Russian reader?
– When we were offered to translate this work by Fausto, we were very happy because it is not just any ordinary book – it is a landmark work of Brazilian historical science, Brazilian stereography. The author, Boris Fausto, is a very prominent Brazilian historian, he unfortunately passed away at a very old age.
This book was first written in 1994, has been reprinted countless times, at one point almost every year. It is studied in schools, it is used in universities. In general, no Brazilian can pass by this book, it is part of the Brazilian educational space. The book has been well received here, we have a lot of feedback that it really helps to know Brazil.
This is truly a part of cultural diplomacy, because this book allows the reader to know the complex, contradictory, very dramatic path of Brazil, to understand the peculiarities of Brazilian civilisation, Brazilian national character. This is what brings peoples together, what helps them to know each other better.
The author brought the book to the end of the twentieth century, but in order to actualise the content and show the reader “what happened next”, we also wrote an afterword, which literally brought us to the year when the book was published.
– Olga Vladimirovna, and to what extent was this book by Boris Faustu adapted for the Russian reader?
– I must say that the book was written by a Brazilian historian for a Brazilian audience, and the author did not expect it to go beyond this audience, so he does not explain those things which are obvious to his Brazilian readers and which are absorbed by these readers from the very beginning. In the very first sentence, the author stated: we all learn at school or at home that Brazil was discovered by Pedro Alvaris Cabral. Since for technical reasons it was impossible to transfer this “we” to the Russian audience, as the Russian reader does not learn right from an early age at school or at home, in order to keep the original message of this phrase, but at the same time to adapt it, we decided to change a little bit the letter, but to keep the spirit. So the very first phrase was “All Brazilians learn at school or at home about who discovered this country, when and under what circumstances”.
Even this very first run at the very first chapter already shows how careful and careful, very precise adaptation to the Russian audience the book required, because in order for the work of a foreign author to speak Russian, it is necessary to make sure that the reader who picks it up gets all the necessary tools right under one cover. Facts from the history of the country, which are not obvious to us, were also provided with comments. Some phenomena that have to do with the logic of the Portuguese language have been commented on.
An example: the author’s completely innocent phrase that Portugal was a colonial empire and took over Brazil, which was important for it as a stopover on its way to India. If you think about it even for a moment, how can Brazil be a stop on the way to India, how can you go right while thinking you are going left?
It is quite impossible, unless you take into account the scale of communications, where in order to go round Africa, you really have to diverge at some point in the Atlantic Ocean, to be closer to Brazil than to Africa. And Brazil becomes a stop on the way of ships, which do not stop there, on that continent, but go further, go round Africa and pass from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean.
The Brazilian story is dramatic, and the author has made his book like a compressed spring that straightens out and leads us. When we translated it, we had the feeling that at every turn there was a surprise, an unexpected discovery, as if we didn’t know it, as if we were about to learn something new. And this is the uniqueness of this book and its originality – and the interest for the Russian reader, because sometimes he may not even imagine what awaits him.
– You have been to Brazil many times, you know this country well, and you know Russia well. How do you currently assess the prospects for cultural diplomacy in the relations between our two countries?
– Cultural diplomacy can do a lot, and I must say that Brazil is very developed in this respect. Even now they say that there is a cultural dimension to Brazilian foreign policy and in Brazil it is seen as a tool to achieve foreign policy goals. Moreover, there are different levels at which this cultural diplomacy unfolds, because there is the level of signing some agreements at the highest interstate level, but there is also the level where these agreements are implemented, where these projects are implemented and where people talk to people, not papers talk to papers.
We do not always realise when we pour coffee into our cup in the morning and take a piece of sugar from the sugar bowl that there were times when these commonplace products, which are banal in our opinion, were the basis of the economy and the subject of interstate agreements, contradictions, wars and conflicts. When pirate ships could go to sea in order to repel a cargo with sugar and it was considered a rich and wonderful booty. Such small things make a big surprise, and a big surprise is the key to looking around with friendly interest and discovering things that enrich us later on.
The cornerstone of cultural diplomacy is that by giving someone our attention, our interest and our good attitude, we do not impoverish ourselves; on the contrary, we make more friends, open new horizons, make more new discoveries. And at the end of the day, cultural diplomacy is a tool to strengthen a country’s influence in the world, and every country wants to strengthen its influence and its soft power, to broadcast its culture. This is very characteristic for Brazil and it should be important for Russia as well.