Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at the opening ceremony for the exhibition To the Shores of Latin America, Moscow, March 11, 2019
Mr Duda, ladies and gentlemen, your excellencies, friends,
I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak at the opening ceremony for the exhibition of rare books and manuscripts from the Russian State Library, an exhibition that reiterates the strength of the ties that connect our country with Latin America.
To begin with, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Mr Duda, Director General of the Library, for supporting the Foreign Ministry’s initiative to make today's event possible. This exposition is truly unique.
The foundation for Russia-Latin America cooperation, which today continues to expand and deepen, was laid more than two centuries ago, and the exhibition is evidence of that. Geographical distance has never been a problem for building up multifaceted human ties. Russia has always respected the sovereignty and independence of Latin American countries. Back in the late 19th - early 20th centuries, we, I mean the Russian Empire, established and maintained diplomatic relations with all the states in that region. Importantly, in 1907, Russia was the first to invite Latin Americans to the Peace Conference in The Hague for participation in the discussion of the then pressing issues on the international agenda.
Of course, many Russian travellers and diplomats noted the cultural and spiritual affinity of our peoples. Here are some examples: Ambassador Alexander Ionin, who became head of our diplomatic mission in Brazil in 1883, wrote the renowned three volumes of notes, Across South America.
Russian seafarers, researchers and writers were drawn to Latin America not by expansionist or colonial plans, but by love for research and exploration, and a genuine interest in the culture and traditions of this unique region, its people, and the desire to find ways for developing mutually beneficial trade. People of amazing destinies, they were inspired by the desire to see, understand and explore this unique and remarkable region.
In the 19th century, a Russian explorer, Pyotr Chikhachev, crossed Mexico on horseback, travelled from Acapulco to Guayaquil by sea and was the first Russian to cross the Andes. Years later, his compatriot wrote that in Mexico he had heard "about a guards officer, Chikhachev, who had a cheerful personality, spoke Spanish, and was popular with the ladies." In the early 20th century, translator and publicist Lydia Lasheyeva travelled all over South America on a bike. Our kind of woman!
Expeditions by Soviet geneticist Nikolay Vavilov made it possible to determine the centres of origin of cultivated plants in the New World and to create the world's first seed bank.
Outstanding Russian poets and artists, Konstantin Balmont, Vladimir Mayakovsky and Vasily Vereshchagin described the beauty of Latin America in their works. In his book, In the Land of Love and Earthquakes, published in 1915, writer Vladimir Krymov wrote that “it is always sunny and warm, and there is great passion and love” in the Caribbean countries. Today, as the carnival in Rio de Janeiro is drawing to a close, I believe this is an apt observation.
In the 19th and the 20th centuries, during the first and second waves of Russian emigration, specialists in various fields from science and industry to agriculture and military science came to Latin America. They have all contributed to the comprehensive development of the Latin American states and, in the case of Paraguay, played a crucial role in the political life of that country. I have been to Asuncion and I’m aware that 17 streets there are named after Russians dating back to the bloody Chaco War, the outcome of which, as the Paraguayans themselves emphasise, was largely determined by the military talent of Russian General Ivan Belyaev.
Today, there are communities of our compatriots in many countries of the region. They preserve the Russian language and culture and serve as an important link in strengthening the dialogue between what we now call civil societies.
I’m convinced that relying on rich traditions that took shape over the centuries and cultural cooperation between Russia and Latin American countries, we will be able to continue to promote our relations. Events such as today's exhibition make a major contribution to the overall efforts to build confidence and mutual understanding.
Once again, I would like to express my gratitude to all those who made this exhibition possible. I hope you will have the opportunity today to get familiarised with unique books and manuscripts.