Monaco Celebrates Year of Russian Culture
Published: April 28, 2014 (Issue # 1807)
MONTE CARLO — During a traditional New Year cocktail on Jan. 8, the host and minister of state of the principality of Monaco, Michel Roger, announced to general surprise that 2015 would be the "Year of Russia" in Monaco.
This will be the first time that Monaco has dedicated an entire year to a single country, having previously only committed brief periods to other countries' cultural heritages. The decision was made upon Prince Albert II's return from an official October visit to Russia, where he agreed on the initiative after talks with President Vladimir Putin, according to the local Riviera Times.
Some may question the wisdom of preparing for a Year of Russia in the heart of Europe at a time when relations between Russia and the West increasingly sour over Ukraine. But Henri Fissore, the Monaco diplomat in charge of organizing the Year of Russia, said that the event only sought to celebrate historic links between the principality and Russia rather than stray from Monaco's traditional neutral stance in foreign affairs.
"Monaco is a small, neutral and independent state that has few strong political preoccupations outside things like environmental protection," Fissore said. "And in this case [Monaco] is simply a place of welcome for cultural, artistic, scientific, gastronomical and sport appreciation, to name a few."
Historic ties between Monaco and Russia go back to the 19th-century reign of Prince Charles III of Monaco and Tsar Alexander II. The two monarchs signed a number of treaties and agreements, and Alexander II became the first member of a royal family to be awarded the prestigious Order of St. Charles established in Monaco in 1858.
Monaco became a favorite spot for the Russian bourgeois and aristocracy after the construction of its first casino and luxury hotels. Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, which many deem the most influential ballet company of the 20th century, performed in Monaco from 1911 to 1929.
Relations diminished with the 1917 Russian Revolution but have sprung back in recent years thanks to Monaco's tax status and geographic location. It is now visibly a favored place of residence for wealthy Russian businesspeople and their families, whose numbers have increased from only 46 families in 2009 to 347 in 2013, making up about 1 percent of the total population of 37,579, said Roger, reported local Russian-language newspaper Monako.
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