Tara Sonenshine
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Moscow, Russia
April 10, 2013

Privyet. I am delighted to join you this afternoon at the Moscow American Center, as we mark the 20th anniversary of the American Centers and Corners program in Russia. I also want to greet and acknowledge all the students and exchange program alumni here today.

This is an anniversary of a partnership that we consider very special. Before I continue, I would like to thank some people here today who have played – and continue to play – important roles in building and maintaining that partnership. Let me start with Ekaterina Yurievna Genieva, director of the Rudomino Library for Foreign Literature. Also, Kore Gleason, director of the Moscow American Center, and the staff of the Moscow American Center. Let’s give them all a warm Moscow welcome!

I look around this audience today, and I see all ages. The older ones – and you know who you are! – will remember 1993. It was a very critical year for the Russian Federation – and for its people. In the midst of that time of national definition, the Moscow American Center opened to offer the opportunity for Russian citizens to learn more about American society … and to practice their English by using an array of information resources and cultural programs.

The Center was the first of its kind in the world. Not just an embassy facility but an innovative partnership with a well known and respected Russian institution: the Rudomino Library for Foreign Literature.

What were the benefits of this partnership? Ekaterina Yurievna – you were there. You know. First of all, Rudomino Library helped the Center understand what people were interested in, and what they needed. And because people knew and trusted the Library, the partnership gave us credibility. And by working together in this way, we didn’t just build a relationship between two institutions. We built a new and special connection with the community – and in a larger sense between the American and the Russian people.

It was a very successful model – this Moscow American Center.

We called it an American Corner – and we saw just how well it connected people and cultures, and provided diverse, informed perspectives and information about the United States.

The idea of a cultural center, with the participation of both countries, quickly spread throughout Russia. It was so successful that it expanded throughout the world. Today, we have 800 such spaces, in neighborhoods, schools, and cultural institutions of all shapes and sizes.

They are called American Centers, American Corners, and Binational centers, depending on their different shapes, sizes and roles in the community. But one thing connects them all: they are two-way partnerships, with both countries having a stake in these spaces, that foster goodwill between nations.

As you can see, the Moscow American Center continues to be a vibrant meeting place and community center that brings local citizens and Americans together – to explore different aspects of American society.

In the past few days, for example, you could watch a Humphrey Bogart movie, attend lectures on the music of Leonard Bernstein and American jazz. Or find out about educational opportunities in community colleges in the U.S.

If you participate in our Red Square Dance Club, you know that the Moscow American Center is a place where you can learn about or even practice folk culture. You can learn business strategy, in classes on entrepreneurship taught by our exchange program alumni. Or through the Competitive College Club, students can prepare for higher education in the U.S. through an intensive program of presentations and community service activities.

Our American Corners – not only here but around the world – also provide opportunities to engage online. We are investing computing, networking, and videoconferencing resources, so we can support web chats, video production, and other tools that can enhance our connections around matters of common interest.

For example, here in our Moscow American Center, we have a program offered through the University of Maryland that can help you developing innovative ideas for new companies – through a virtual college class. And last December, on the occasion of Wildlife Conservation Day we hosted a live and online web chat program in all our American Corners throughout Russia and Belarus.

Thanks to technology, we could go beyond our four walls and engage Russians and Belarusians on a very important topic.

High school students and Russian environmental professionals and online participants everywhere discussed the challenges faced by Amur tigers, polar bears, hawks, and other species in Russia. It was a lively conversation between the expert speakers, audience members, and online viewers. And even though the hour was late for participants in Central and Eastern Russia, they stayed online to be a part of the discussion.

When we experience connections like these, we know how special they are. And it is our hope that we will continue into the foreseeable future. In this 20th year of our American Centers and Corners program in Russia, I want to congratulate our many partners throughout the country. And I want to thank them for their contributions to promoting cooperation and mutual understanding between the United States and Russia. Our Centers and Corners here are a success because of you.

But to keep this connection working and robust, we need to hear from you. So I would like to invite you to share your ideas for how we can help. What types of information can we provide about the U.S. that would be of most use? Which American thinkers, performers, or civic leaders would you most like to hear from, either in person or online? Are there other ways that you think we could support such activities as learning English, researching higher education opportunities, connecting you with others interested in similar topics for networking purposes? We are listening.

So thank you – congratulations to the Moscow American Center – and may this special connection between our people continue!