Russia eyes rebirth in classrooms of former foe Afghanistan
By Amie Ferris-Rotman
KABUL (Reuters) - Russian culture and language are making a surprising comeback in Afghanistan, where the Soviets fought a disastrous decade-long war, as Moscow vies to regain influence ahead of the planned withdrawal of foreign troops.
Bulldozers are clearing the way for a sparkling Russian cultural center in Kabul, to replace its behemoth, Soviet-era predecessor which for many came to symbolize Moscow's war and its humiliating 1989 defeat that cost 15,000 Soviet lives.
"We are here in the region, and we will be in the future. And to have good, friendly, neighborly relations you must have some cultural component to it," Russia's envoy to Kabul, Andrey Avetisyan, told Reuters of the decision to rebuild the center.
Moscow fears the exit of most NATO-led troops by the end of 2014 will lead to a dangerous power vacuum south of ex-Soviet Central Asia's borders, threatening its own security and allowing for a larger influx of heroin.
The new center will teach Russian language, singing, dancing and handicrafts and will boast a concert hall, similar to the one built in 1983.
Its rebuild is reminiscent of Soviet influence in Afghanistan before the 1979 invasion, when they heavily supported education and the arts.
It also coincides with renewed interest by Afghans in the Russian language, who see it as increasingly useful in their country's changing landscape amid the emergence of new regional powers.
"Demand for the Russian language is growing. It is more widely spoken in Afghanistan than five years ago," Avetisyan said, adding: "Foreign advisers and experts are not going to be here forever. NATO, the European Union, they will all go". Continued...