Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Nepal-Russia Relations: 60 Years of Cordial Ties

Dr. Rabin Man Shakya
State Education Director, NRNA-NCC-USA Oregon chapter, Portland, Oregon, USA.

Journalist Dr. Rabin M Shakya at the
Kremlin Red Square in Moscow.

Six decades of friendly diplomatic relations between Nepal
and Russia have survived both nations' tumultuous history -
the collapse of the USSR in 1992 and the abolition of
monarchy in Nepal in 2006. It is to be noted that the formal
diplomatic relations between Nepal and Russia was
established in 1956 when Nepal was still a kingdom
and Russia was a communist superpower - the Soviet Union.

Nepal was totally isolated from the outside world during the Rana autocracy, even as Nepal was not colonized by any foreign power during her entire history. The coup d' etat orchestrated by Jung Bahadur Rana in 1846 empowered the Ranas to usurp power and rule the nation until 1951. Rana autocracy's downfall at the hands of the popular upheaval in the modern history of Nepal had stunning implications for the nation and people. Therefore, the turning point in the Nepalese diplomacy came in the beginning of 1950s, when Nepal realized the need to diversify its relationship with the outside world.

The then Charge D' Affaires of the Russian Embassy Dr. Nikolai A. Listopadov (Center) with Dr. Rabin M. Shakya, late   Mr. Pushpa Shakya, founder of the then Nepal-Soviet Cultural Association and Mr. Dil Ratna Shakya at a function organized in Kathmandu in March 2000.

The then vice president of the Nepal Russia Cultural Association
Mr. Swaraj Shakya handing over souvenirs to Mr. Alexander V. Soloviev,
the then president of Russia Nepal Friendship and Cooperation Society
at a reception held in Kathmandu in March 2000
Going by the historical ties between Nepal and Russia, the names of two prominent Russians are note-worthy: (1) Ivan P Minayev, an Indologist  who visited Nepal along with India, Sri Lanka and Burma in 1874-75, and later on published articles about Nepal in Russian journals and (2) Boris N. Lissanevitch who launched the first tourist hotel "The Hotel Royal" in Kathmandu in 1951.

Therefore, the downfall of the Rana regime in 1951 paved the way for the process of de-isolationism
of Nepal from outside world. Thus, it was only on July 20, 1956 that the diplomatic relations between Nepal and the former Soviet Union was established. When the diplomatic relations were established between Nepal and the Soviet Union, the prime minister of Nepal was late Tanka Prasad Acharya and the president of the former USSR was late Nikolai Bulganin.

The former General Secretary of the then Nepal Russia Cultural Association Dr. Rabin M. Shakya throwing light on Nepal-Russia relations at a program held at Russian Center of Science and Culture in Kathmandu in May 2000.
When the diplomatic relations between Nepal and the former Soviet Union was established, the whole world was bitterly polarized and divided into two different political camps: capitalist and communist lines, heavily influenced by the cold war between the US and the ex-USSR.

Therefore, when a communist superpower and a tiny Himalayan Kingdom decided to establish diplomatic relations in 1956, many domestic and international right-wing forces had plenty of concerns that the influence of communism would substantially rise in this tiny Himalayan country. As it turned out, those concerns and apprehensions proved to be baseless.

The then minister of state for agriculture Tirtha Ram Dangol inaugurating the 40th anniversary of the then Nepal Russia Cultural Association at the Russian Center of Science and Culture in Kathmandu in May 2000. Also, seen are Dr. Rabin M. Shakya Dil Ratna Shakya, Ichha Raj Tamang, and Vladimir P. Ivanov, former director of RCSC.

There were high-level state visits from the both countries. King Mahendra and King Birendra paid state visits to the USSR in 1958 and 1976 respectively while Soviet President Voroshilov came to Nepal on a state visit in 1960. A lot of details have been published about exchange of friendly visits by Heads of States, Speakers of Parliament, Ministers, businessmen, writers, journalists, artistes and intellectuals of Nepal and Russia to each other's countries. But I would like to mention about one of the visits of  late Krishna Prasad  Bhattarai to the Soviet Union, not as a prime minister but as a journalist.

Late Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai was also the first and founder president of Federation of Nepalese Journalists. It was during the first Nepalese  journalists' delegation to Moscow in 1957 that Bhattarai as editor of "Nepal Pukar" had taken an interview with late Nikita Khrushchev, the former powerful general secretary of the then Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Prominent historian late Bhuvan Lal Pradhan, Dr. Upendra Mahato, former
president of the Nepal Russia Cultural Association with Dil Ratna Shakya,
Swaraj Shakya and Bhagvat Shrestha at a meeting of the NRCA in Kathmandu
in 2000.  
As soon as diplomatic relations were established between the Himalayan Kingdom and the Communist superpower, the bilateral economic and technical cooperation agreements were signed by two countries, as a result of which Panauti Hydro Electric Power Station, Birgunj Sugar Mill, Janakpur Cigarette Factory, Kanti Hospital, Agricultural Tools Factory,  Turpentine and Cement Factory and a section of East-West Highway were constructed by the then Soviet Union. The above mentioned Soviet aided projects gave a much-needed fillip to the development of Nepalese economy which was then trying to break up from feudal system. Therefore, Russia's economic cooperation to Nepal's development efforts in 1960s and 1970s has been highly commendable.

Though the diplomatic relations between the two countries was established on July 20, 1956, it was not until Oct 4, 1959 that the Soviet Embassy was opened in Kathmandu. Likewise, Nepal's embassy was opened in Moscow on July 27, 1961. It is just a matter of pleasant coincidence that this scribe had visited the Nepali Embassy at Neopalimovsky Pereulok in Moscow as well as  the Russian Embassy in Kathmandu several times in the past for formal as well as informal interactions.

Nepal-Soviet economic cooperation was a milestone in reducing the tiny landlocked country's dependence on many essential things like sugar, tobacco products, turpentine and cement, agricultural tools etc at that time. There is no doubt that the Nepal-Soviet economic cooperation gave a much-needed boost to the technical  and infrastructure development of Nepal. Just as significantly, however, Nepal-Soviet relations mirrored the trajectory of economic cooperation between a big communist superpower and a tiny Himalayan nation, while Nepal-Russia relations today is gaining momentum in field of trade and tourism.

The then flamboyant mayor of Kathmandu Keshav Sthapit inaugurating open children's chess tournament at Russian Center of Science and Culture. Also seen are the former director of RCSC Vladimir P. Ivanov and Dil Ratna Shakya.
More than 7,000 Nepalese have received higher education in various educational establishments of Russia and the former USSR. Today, hundreds of alumni of the Soviet universities have been working as top level officials at various ministries and departments of the government of Nepal and as professors at various universities of Nepal. Actually, training of thousands of highly skilled experts free of cost by the then Soviet Union was a testimony of cordial relations between the two countries.

Different bilateral friendship associations and bilateral chambers of commerce and industry as well as Mitra Kunja, an organization of alumni of Soviet-Russian universities have been playing crucial role in strengthening and consolidating bilateral friendly relations in public level.

Thus, late fifties and early sixties saw the mushrooming of friendship and cultural association whose objectives were zeroed in on strengthening and enhancing the friendly relations with  countries which have maintained diplomatic ties with Nepal.

Nepal-Soviet Friendship Association established in 1956 and Nepal-Soviet Cultural Association launched in 1960 were the outcomes of lofty ideals of some enthusiastic Nepalese youths to further strengthen and promote bilateral friendly relations in public level.

These friendship and cultural associations were instrumental not only in promoting Nepal's friendly relations with other friendly countries, they also acted as catalyst to raise public awareness and socio-political consciousness among the people at a time when political parties were totally banned in Nepal for thirty years (1960-1990) during the Panchayat system of governance.

Still when this scribe was the general secretary of Nepal-Russia Cultural Association, he was  conferred with 'Certificate of Honor' signed by chairwoman of Roszarubezhcenter, Moscow and first woman cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova in 2000 AD for his contributions in further enhancing Nepal Russia relations in grassroots level.

Similarly, Nepal-Russia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NRCCI) was established on June 19, 1997 in Kathmandu under the chairmanship of noted entrepreneur Lok Manya Golchha with the objective to further preserve and promote friendly relations subsisting between the two countries through the medium of industry and trade. Likewise,  enhancing the import and export of industrial, consumer and other products in the markets of both countries is also the prime concern of the NRCCI.

NRCCI's establishment a decade ago was guided not only by the objective of further promoting the joint industrial and trading investments between the two countries, but also by exchanging the bilateral visits of the delegations of industrialists and businessmen of both the countries for exploring the trade and investment avenues. No doubt, NRCCI champions the cause of further promoting the joint industrial and trading investment between the two countries. However, as a bilateral chamber of commerce, the modus operandi of the NRCCI should also be focused on tapping potentialities of the non-residential Nepalese businessmen in Russia.

Mitra Kunj, an alumni organization of graduates and post-graduates of educational establishments of the Soviet, Russian and CIS nations was launched in 1967.  Raison d' etre of the formation of Mitra Kunj was the growing awareness among  the alumni of Russian-Soviet universities for developing professional expertise and academic cooperation among them. According to Mitra Kunj, in spite of  a number of vicissitudes in its history, the organizations not only survived but also played a significant role towards the social, cultural, technical and economic development of the nation.

The implications of globalization and global migration have become so intense and forceful that, at present, the members and activists of Mitra Kunj are scattered across the world, and that even a Mitra Kunj Canada Chapter was reportedly formed several years ago.

During the Soviet period, there were several Soviet Nepalogists who were specialized in the study about different aspects of Nepalese literature, languages, history, economy and politics, such as, Ilya B. Redko, Ludmila Aganina, Natalia Karpovich and so on. I had the privilege to meet late Prof Dr Ilya B Redko at the Academy of Oriental Sciences in Moscow in 1985 to discuss about my Ph D thesis.

The then vice-president of Roszarubezh Center Vladimir Korolev (Center) being interviewed by journalist Dr. Rabin M. Shakya in Kathmandu in 2000. Also seen is Dil Ratna Shakya.
The zeitgeist  of free economic and technical cooperation in 1960-1970s provided by the former Soviet Union was replaced by the trade and tourism relations after the downfall of the Soviet Union.

Relations between Nepal and and Russia in tourism sector are expanding steadily. Given the fact that there is no direct flight between Kathmandu and Moscow, the tourist arrivals from Russia is more than satisfactory. If 5554 Russians visited Nepal in 2011, that number rose to 9763 in 2012.

Trade relations between Nepal and Russia is also expanding albeit slowly. Nepal's items of export to Russia include tea, spices, handicrafts, carpets, shawls, clothing accessories where as  Russia sells copper, paper, paperboard, rubber organic chemicals, oil seeds and aircrafts to Nepal.

The historical six decades of Nepal-Russia friendly relations is also a testimony of the fact that, no matter what, the friendly relations between two countries will continue to grow. However, the challenges facing the bilateral Nepal-Russia relations are indeed formidable. Needless to say, the bilateral relations must bear some fruits.

The rapid process of globalization have dispelled the prevailing mistrust among some conservative Nepalese folks that Russia today is, kind of, lagging behind in providing aid to Nepal. Now an atmosphere of trust and new diplomacy has been created in the foreign policy spectrum of Nepal as well as Russia that has helped the people of both the countries to come together to a common platform and move forward in a new direction.

In fact, in the modern age of globalization, Nepal and Russia have changed and have made it known that the status quo is no longer acceptable and that there should be new avenues and  new explorations in the bilateral relations. Therefore, despite the disintegration of the Soviet Union and tumultuous political vicissitudes in Nepal, the bilateral Nepal-Russia relations has always been resilient.

(Dr Shakya who is a former associate editor of The Rising Nepal is an alumnus of Belarusian State University.  He was  founding executive member and former secretary of Nepal-Russia Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He has published numerous articles on different aspects of Nepal-Russia relations in Nepalese newspapers and magazines.)

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