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From Tolstoy to telecoms

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Galina Goryachkina, director of the Russian Cultural Centre, on Moscow's cultural and economic ties to Phnom Penh

How did you first come to work in Cambodia?

SEBASTIAN STRANGIO

Galina D Goryachkina, Director of the Russian Cultural Centre and First Secretary of the Embassy of the Russian Federation.

I have been in Cambodia since 2002. Prior to that, I studied at

the Institute of Asia and Africa at Moscow State University, completing

a master's in philology with a focus on Cambodian history, culture,

religion and language. I learnt to speak Khmer fluently and at one

point I also worked for a Russian radio station, which made

Khmer-language broadcasts from Russia into Cambodia. I love this

country very much and I think it was my destiny to come and work here.

When were cultural links between Russia and Cambodia first established?

Cultural links were established in 1956, when we first established

diplomatic relations with Cambodia. Before that, there were no real

links.

What principles guided the Soviet Union's cultural relationship with Cambodia?

The principle was always to create cultural links with Cambodia and to

provide aid and cooperation to the Cambodian people. In the end, it was

all based on a dedication to world development.

What activities does the Russian Cultural Center conduct?

We run two or three music concerts per year, featuring the music of

Russian composers like Tchaikovsky, Scriabin and Rachmaninov. In June

and July 2007, a group of Russian filmmakers came here and made a film

called Rainy Season, which will be released back in Russia shortly. In

September, a Cambodian delegation went to Vladivostok for a conference

on fine arts, and this October, a delegation from Russia, including 30

journalists, will travel to every province of Cambodia and then send a

series of reports back to Russia. The month after, we are also running

a Russian film week to showcase the best of Russian cinema.

What opportunities does the Russian government offer young Cambodians?

Since 1980, we have had around 8,000 students come to study in Russia,

and our graduates now work everywhere around the country in all sorts

of areas. Each year, 25 students are given the opportunity to take

master's degrees, and five are offered scholarships for doctorates in

Moscow. Many students choose to study engineering, medicine, law and IT

degrees, and they are eager to come back and help rebuild and develop

Cambodia's economy.

Do young Cambodians still want to learn Russian or do most prefer to study English?

The Russian language is very famous: writers like Dostoyevsky, Pushkin

and Tolstoy have made it well known around the world. Interest in

Russian is increasing again worldwide; 2007 was the Year of the Russian

Language. Many people are interested in learning Russian because of

economic opportunities. Our tourism is developing very quickly, and a

lot want to be tourist guides. There are also an increasing number of

Russian companies coming to Cambodia, who want to hire those who speak

the language. Economic development have spurred on the interest in our

language, and our enrolments are increasing day to day. We now run five

hours of Russian lessons per week.

What relationship does the Russian military have with its Cambodian counterpart?

There is no formal relationship. But the centre often visits Cambodian

soldiers and screens military documentaries from the Second World War,

about the battles against the fascists at Stalingrad and Kursk. They

find it very interesting.

How many Russians currently live in Phnom Penh?

There are around 100, including those who work here on contracts in

fields such as transport and aviation, and about 20 Russian women who

are married to Khmer men. Every year, there are more and more tourists

from Russia. In 2007, we had 5,000 Russian tourists, and in

Sihanoukville there is now a Russian tour company. Economic links are

expanding. Belanya, a Russian telecommunications company, will be

starting up here in the next couple of months, and in Stung Treng,

there is a large Russian operation manufacturing electrical components.

Kamaz, the biggest car manufacturer in Russia, is planning soon to

expand its presence. There are also more Russians who work here as

doctors or run restaurants.

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