This paper seeks to explore the potential for, and barriers to, cultural industries and cultural tourism development in the Republic of Karelia, Russian Federation (hereafter, Karelia). It examines the legacy of the Soviet period; the principles behind current cultural policy; approaches and attitudes of individuals and institutions within the Karelian cultural sector today; the physical infrastructure for tourism and cultural industries development; and the impact of transnational working and funding. It concludes with brief outline case-studies of emerging small cultural enterprises in Karelia. The work arises from a research visit to tourist sites and cultural enterprises, meetings and discussions with policy-makers and creative sector managers, augmented by subsequent analysis of Russian/ Karelian policy documents and their implementation, and on-going correspondence with Karelian colleagues.
Its main findings show that, in the rapidly changing political climate of Russia, the most significant problems are those of Soviet legacy: an under-developed physical infrastructure for cultural development alongside outdated city planning; a lack of money to correct this, poor design of artefacts, and attitudes among some policy-makers and cultural managers inimical to concepts of "cultural industry"; “creative industry” (for distinctions, see Garnham, 2005); public sector cultural marketing; or the mission-driven organisation. As collaboration with the West becomes more possible and frequent, these attitudinal problems are being challenged: but equally it is important not to attempt to impose formulaic Western solutions to Russian problems.
Karelia, the northernmost Russian Federation republic, is culturally distinctive in its strong links with contiguous Finland, Nordic heritage and relative isolation and independence from Russian federal government. But seventy years of Soviet government have, as elsewhere in the RF, established an approach to cultural provision that has emphasized preservation of monuments, and cheap access to traditional theatre, music and museums, over the development of cultural industries, cultural tourism and public sector cultural marketing.
Today in post-Soviet Russia, Karelia finds itself in an unusual position. Its capital, Petrozavodsk is (by Russian standards) full of wine bars, cafes and restaurants, but these are supported largely by Finnish drink tourism. Visitors from across the world cruise daily to Unesco World Heritage site Kizhi Island (an outdoor museum of spectacular traditional wooden Russian architecture), but do not set foot in mainland Karelia or spend money there. Scientifically significant petroglyphs, a network of lakes including the largest in Europe, and one of the last, and largest, European areas of wilderness offer enormous tourism potential but are virtually unknown outside Karelia. A cultural bureaucracy trained in the Soviet period continues to run museums and performing arts spaces in total reliance on declining state subsidy, while more entrepreneurially-minded cultural managers, (inside and outside republican government) attempt to build the policies and infrastructure to enable cultural tourism and cultural industries to take off, and to make use of extensive EU funding available to Nordic Russia in partnership with Finland.
Despite its distant location and special circumstances, Karelia has by no means escaped the legacy of the Soviet period on its potential for cultural development, so it is valuable to review this before turning to more distinctively regional issues.
Since the collapse of the Soviet system, a demand-led, market economy has been developing in Russia in a very sporadic way. In some sectors the impact has been profound and immediate (the proliferation of multi-national retail stores, the growth of private car ownership); but in other areas, change has been slow, difficult and spasmodic. One of these is the cultural sector. The number of cultural organisations employing fewer than 50 people has fluctuated wildly (e.g. from 1550 in 2000 to 1100 in 2001 in St Petersburg alone) and their contribution to the economy in Russia has never reached 2% of that of all small enterprises. (Belova, 2002). There is little evidence of secure, stable growth, but this may be obscured by the number of organizations operating in the black economy: estimated to constitute 23% of all service industry, of which the cultural industries comprise 25% (Skvoznikov, Azernikova 2001).
This patchy growth may seems surprising, given both the incentives for change and the encouragement for it offered by western support agencies and Russian entrepreneurs. The need for cultural organisations to move away from a system of total state support has been economically compelling since the 1990s (Moss, 2005). Certain EU funds have been designated specifically for cultural development in Russia (most significantly, the TACIS programme) and many Western experts have visited with ideas, schemes and training for change. They have met with Russian colleagues also convinced of the need for a mixed economy of small cultural enterprises alongside diminished state support, the need for proactive arts marketing, and for the creation of critical mass to enable cultural sector growth. However, in practice very little of this has happened over the last 15 years, and outside the metropolitan cities of Moscow and St Petersburg, it is almost unheard of.
An exploration of the critical literature of this small field suggests some of the reasons for this. While both Russians and international commentators offer explanations, there is a differentiation in focus between work written and published in Russia and elsewhere. The Russians seem to concentrate on the immediate barriers to cultural growth. They make trenchant criticisms of the cumbersome, outdated state systems that limit financial and legal flexibility, and hence restrict small non-profit, mission-driven organisations. (Yakutova, 2004; Kolotursky, 2004). The impact on small cultural organisations of widespread corruption is also noted: in a sector so dependent on networking and mutual trust, this is more profound than on hierarchical or highly-regulated businesses (Glinkova, 1999).
The Russians also offer case studies of enterprises that have overcome such difficulties, (Ismailova, 2005; Sologoub, 2005) and the occasional article on the need for attitudinal change by cultural managers and entrepreneurs (Milkov, 2004). Since most of this requires intimate knowledge of current Russian administrative systems and examples, the focus is not surprising. Its whole flavour is enthusiastic, promotional of cultural industries, and condemnatory of systems that serve to prevent their development. It is, of course, still somewhat novel to these writers that such overt criticism of state procedures can be published within Russia, and this may encourage the identification and condemnation of specific problems. But what is lacking is any objective assessment of why the widely-recognised barriers to development have not been broken down over the last fifteen years.
While the same problems are acknowledged by international writers, they also seek to delve into the Russian psyche for reasons for the slow take-off of cultural industries. The current volatility of consumer choice in Russia, and the need to establish new social or moral norms since the demise of the Soviet system, are cited as reasons for the failure to adopt any clear progress in several areas of cultural development (Pilkington, 2002). O’Connor (2005) argues that Russia’s long-standing ambivalence about its relation with Europe, and its recently diminished status as a world power, have both served to feed suspicion about the wholesale adoption of any Western solutions. It is also suggested (Moss 2005) that culture and commerce have been separate for so long in Russia, and culture so crucial an agent both for both state glorification and dissident critique, that to “reduce” it to the status of commercial enterprise is anathema to many Russians. Also mentioned is the huge conceptual transformation needed to bring what for centuries has been dissident culture into the mainstream of legitimate democratic debate. Both authors note that distinctions between “high” and “popular” culture in Russia have been so profound for so long, and historical, economic, political and cultural difference from the West is so great, that non-Western models for cultural industries development in Russia may emerge or be adopted. These endemic (and less clearly defined) barriers to cultural industries development are not widely acknowledged in Russia, and indeed perhaps cannot be, since they call for an outside assessment of attitudes and practices implicit in Russian culture.
It may be that the Russian language itself is one of the inhibiting factors in the exploration of possibilities for cultural industries development, at least in the terminology commonplace in the West. It has been commonly asserted that linguistic structure and vocabulary impacts upon the type of intellectual explorations possible in it, for instance the notion that Hegelian logic was uniquely enabled and supported by the German language. Russian is a language of precise, complex constructions and clearly defined meanings. While this might be ideal for profound literature or mathematical explorations, it does not easily permit connotation as opposed to denotation, or the loose expression of associations of half-baked ideas. For instance, “cultural industries” in Russian is an oxymoron: “industry” refers to only heavy manufacture, and “culture”, to what many in the West would define as “high culture” or “national heritage”. Thus the field itself sounds nonsensical in Russian translation. Equally, attempts to discuss “street animation”, “café culture”, or “retail therapy” meet blank expressions. Even the verb “to think” in Russian cannot be used intransitively: one has to “think something”. For open-ended thinking, one has to use the verb “to contemplate” which gives a less incisive flavour. All this means that it is difficult to play with normally-disassociated concepts in Russian, and thus difficult to move on to make the kind of cross-sectoral links that are crucial to cultural industries growth.
Assumptions underlying Russian cultural policy may also be responsible. Russian legislation describes cultural activity as “work to preserve, create, disseminate and teach cultural values”. Creative activity is defined as “making cultural values and their interpretation” (law no.3612-1.92). Significantly there is no mention here of creative process: the focus is on its value and interpretation, not creation. Both definitions pertain to activities that result from creativity rather than encompass it. Thus, when policy documents refer to “cultural activity”, this is understood by government as meaning “valuing and interpreting (not making) culture”. It is useful to contrast this with British definitions in similar state documents about creative and cultural activity. Here the emphasis is on creative industries, or on the social benefits of cultural participation, rather than on “culture” per se. The widely-adopted British government definition of cultural industries, “ those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent” (Smith, 2001) makes creative process the defining factor, while no mention is made of activities that follow from it. This contrasts noticeably with the emphasis of the Russian definitions. The impact of this distinction is clear. Cultural industries (that have individual creativity at their heart) do not readily fall within the Russian definition, while the conservation and interpretation of national heritage are prioritized.
This understanding is exemplified in specific policies. For instance, the overall aim of the Cultural Action Plan for the Republic of Karelia to 2010 (in draft, unpublished) is “to raise the profile of culture, and to consolidate its social and economic infrastructure.” However the first priority for achieving this is to “preserve, restore, and interpret the Republic’s cultural heritage.” (p.1) In a list of eleven priorities, the first four concern conservation, and cultural industries development is not mentioned. The detailed proposals include training in innovatory techniques for young artists and the establishment of official support systems for cultural managers, but nothing specific about cultural enterprise. Cultural tourism development is predicated on the “museification” (museefitzirovanie) of rural areas through EU funding. (p.4) Thus even in current long-term forward planning, conservation and heritage are perceived as the key to cultural development, and the agents of social and economic benefits of culture. Such an approach still suffuses much state-funded cultural activity, with huge importance placed on national patrimony, while scanty state revenues are prioritised for the preservation and restoration of historic buildings,(including the building of replicas) over any investment in new cultural enterprise. The Action Plan designates a budget of 1000 million roubles of state funding for physical conservation of national heritage, but 0.3 million for training in new visual technologies for artists (p.16) and none for another priority, the training of young professionals in the cultural field.
Professional training constitutes a further problem. Most politicians, senior civil servants and cultural managers in Russia were trained during the Soviet period and some still operate with attitudes entrenched in that time. This is apparent in the emphasis of the Karelian Action Plan on cultural programmes to celebrate various events reminiscent of the old regime, for instance “Day of Victory in the Great Patriotic War” or “Day of the Russian Army”. For cultural managers accustomed to non-competitive total state funding, when all commercial activity was illegal and marketing unnecessary, it is difficult to adapt to a climate of enterprise and funding mixes, or to understand the notion of the mission-driven organisation. Further, the kind of opportunistic decision-making needed to run a cultural enterprise was not enabled in the Soviet period because policy-making was divorced from management, so integrated approaches of policy/marketing/management are not established among senior staff. It is also difficult for young cultural entrepreneurs to acquire this expertise except by trial and error, since a distinction between policy and management is maintained in Russian cultural management courses today. These focus upon a technical approach to the methods of cultural management rather than on the rationales of cultural policy-making and the centrality of marketing to policy in arts enterprises.
The impact of these problems is possibly more apparent in Karelia, where Soviet-trained cultural sector professionals are far from the latest trends of Moscow and St Petersburg, than in those cities which have a strong tourist industry and at least a nascent cultural industries community. Superficially it is most obviously apparent in the marketing and presentation of heritage organisations, where one might expect their prominence in cultural policy concerns to be reflected in presentation. For instance, the national museum of Karelia is labelled only with a small brass plaque, visible only from beside the heavy wooden door, which is itself kept closed even during opening hours. Inside, a limited range of postcards and museum publications are the only form of merchandising. The showpiece of the museum is a replica of an eighteenth century reception hall, which is used only for official meetings. I was the only visitor, but every room had its attendant.
It is almost impossible to find information about cultural organisations open to the public, transport routes or even the location of restaurants without speaking fluent Russian, i.e one has to ask. This is exacerbated by an apparent abhorrence of the sort of interplay between indoor and outdoor spaces that characterises many Western cities today, including northern cities such as Copenhagen and Bergen (Bianchini). In Petrozavodsk, most restaurants and bars are underground, accessed through double doors and without windows. Shop windows are screened off with crepe paper, or piled high with the backs of goods facing inwards. Cultural organizations are frequently behind closed, or even locked, doors. This may because as the tradition of segregating culture from everyday life is still considered to be appropriate. All this has the effect of creating a very historic atmosphere in the city (whole streets of coherent architecture uninterrupted by signage or shop fronts), but isolates public from private life, makes cultural activity invisible, and militates against street safety: a serious issue because of the drink tourism.
Petrozavodsk has the potential for other tourism developments. Unlike most Russian cities, it escaped massive reconstruction in the Stalinist period and so retains much of its eighteenth century layout, buildings and their attractive ochre rendering. Yet it is comfortable with its Soviet past (there have been no attempts to demolish statues of Lenin or to obliterate Soviet street names). Its small size by Russian standards (250,000 pop), and domestic scale of streets and buildings means it is possible to traverse the city centre on foot. Its most attractive feature, the ten-kilometre long waterfront on Lake Onega, is however planned in Soviet style, with a vast, windy, and hence under-used, open “park”, a collection of artworks given by twin cities and nothing else. The only building to take advantage of this magnificent outlook is the city council offices: all others turn their backs on the waterfront, which is thus segregated from the everyday life of the city. In this sub-Arctic region, enjoyment of the lake is limited to three months at most because it cannot be seen from indoors in any building accessible to the public. But there is strong resistance to building in this area, because open ground is recognised as public space, and public buildings are traditionally enclosed and inward-facing: the outwardly-focused glass-and-steel gallery-cum- café is not familiar in Karelia and it may not be wanted. When questioned, local people said they preferred their leisure-time spaces to be screened from public gaze. There has been little opportunity for new public building in Russia in recent years, so the Western architectural commonplace of visual links between inside and outside space has never been established. By Western standards the potential for waterfront development is enormous, as is the possibility of watersports and sailing through the complex topography of the lake, the second largest in Europe. But this would require an approach to town planning and tourism development that is certainly unfamiliar, perhaps inappropriate, and impossibly costly.
The island of Kizhi in Lake Onega provides one of clearest examples of the contrast between global cultural tourism possibilities and practice in Russia. Its World Heritage Site status (since 1990) makes it the destination of numerous large, international cruise ships that travel through the Baltic to St Petersburg, and then up the canal that once carried newly-forged cannon down to St Petersburg from Petrozavodsk. The site of a 16th century religious and administrative outpost, its remote location enabled the survival of fragile softwood monastic buildings, which were augmented in the post-war Soviet period with other surviving wooden churches and traditional wooden vernacular buildings of fourteenth- to nineteenth- century date from all over northern Russia. The result is a spectacular, atmospheric complex of dramatic and distinctive architecture, with multiple onion domes, crosses and spires of 75 buildings silhouetted above the low horizon of the lake. It opened as a museum in 1966, but at that date the whole region was barred to foreigners, and its inaccessibility made it remote for most Russians. It is only since perestroika that Kizhi has become internationally known. Now between May and October some 2000 visitors per day from all over the world disembark, but make almost no contribution to the local economy because of the lack of infrastructure. Their visits last less than three hours; they are accommodated and fed on their non-Russian cruise ships; they cannot spend much money on Kizhi because there is almost nothing to buy: a few wooden huts offer the same matrioshka nesting dolls that can be found all over Russia and a few postcards. These huts are staffed by seasonal traders from Petrozavodsk, who say that their stock is supplied and controlled by a cartel that will not permit any additions. There is no visitor centre, no restaurant, and bathroom facilities consist of holes in a plank over a ditch.
Kizhi is just one of the spectacular locations for tourism in Karelia. The Solovkhi Islands in the White Sea are probably the most internationally famous site since they constitute the Gulag Archipelago, exposed by Solzhenytsyn. But for most Russians their main symbolic value depends on the survival here of many fifteenth to seventeen century fortified monasteries which resisted and repelled waves of invaders. Visually spectacular, with their pathos and romance complemented by the remote and harsh situation, these islands also figure on the itinerary of the international cruise ships, with the same negligible benefits to the Karelian economy. The region also has some of the best preserved and most extensive prehistoric petroglyphs in the world, but these are known only to specialists. Despite being far more distinctive, complex and varied than those of the American South West, they first figure as 50th in a global web search, and only then in an independent visitor’s site and in Finnish tour promotions (the Russian Academy of Sciences website devoted to them does not appear). While this is a somewhat schematic indication of their popularity, it does demonstrate the lack of promotion by a government committed in policy to cultural tourism development. It is not possible to buy any images of the petroglyphs and no souvenir artefacts have been devised using their motifs despite their eminent suitability for this purpose.
Karelia also encompasses one of the last and largest areas of wilderness in Europe, a vast region of lakes, rivers, taiga and tundra. More than 49% of the republic’s area is covered with coniferous forest, 25% of the territory is water. There are more than 60 thousand lakes and 27 thousand rivers in Karelia. Combined with a population density of only 4 per kilometre, and 37% living in Petrozavodsk, this landscape comprises a huge resource for “wilderness tourism” from elsewhere in Russia and from the industrialised West. By the way, Karelian and Finnish epic literature “Kalevala” inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to write his famous “Lord of the Rings”. As far as I am concerned the Ministry of Culture does not plan (at least for now) any big investment projects though they are very possible with the participation of some private capital. But the only thing they can invent is to exploit it by establishing a Lord of the Rings theme park.
Such an approach epitomises attitudes and infrastructure geared towards group, rather than individual tourism. Until very recently, Russian tourists almost always travelled in groups (in most of the Soviet period this was the only permissible type of tourism for Russians and foreign visitors). Consequently accommodation, information and transport have evolved to support groups rather than individuals, and expectations are still limited by this (for instance, it is not possible to rent a car, small boat or a cottage in Karelia, or to buy a detailed walkers’ map). However, the potential tourism sites of Karelia are precisely those that will appeal to individual tourists: specialist historic monuments, specialist outdoor activities and remote landscape, often in combination. For the UK it has been argued (Urry, 2002) that organised group tourism appeals to those who prioritise social intercourse on their holidays, and find it in “interpreted” visitor attractions such as theme parks, designated resorts and organised games. Others approach holidays from a more Romantic perspective, seeking solitude and communion with nature. For these, theme parks are an anathema. It is the latter who would enjoy the Karelian wilderness. Urry notes also that recent years have seen an upsurge in skilled, specialist activity in leisure time: sailing, flying, riding, sub-aqua sports, shooting etc. All these are suited to the Karelian landscape although as yet they are offered in Karelia only by Nordic travel companies. But individual holiday habits are beginning to establish themselves in Russia, and if the international tourism market is also to be pursued, these new trends offer a more sustainable future than theme parks for groups.
How likely is it, then, that all the obstacles to cultural industries and cultural tourism development can be overcome? A number of agencies, individuals and small cultural organisations are trying to build a cultural and creative economy in Karelia. The republic is small enough for them to be able to operate cooperatively, and sufficiently far from Moscow for them to make progress without federal intervention. The pedestrian scale of Petrozavodsk also enables the development of effective personal networks between the forward-looking cultural providers located in the capital. They can make use of, and are the region of coverage of, a journal ‘60th Parallel’ which collates articles about cultural industries from around the extreme north of the Russian Federation, with contributions from Scandinavia. Most strategic among the organisations is the Centre for Cultural Initiatives, (CCI) funded by the Ministry of Culture of Karelia in an arm’s length way. The fact of its establishment is itself encouraging. Its main role is to develop links between cultural and tourism agencies and to encourage cultural tourism development. Much of this inevitably focuses on heritage and museums (in line with state policy), but the staff are well aware of other styles of cultural economic and tourism development. They run seminars for cultural managers. This is the only agency to collect and promote on the web information about all cultural sites (from petroglyphs to night clubs) in Karelia, but its sites are not easily located by search engines due to infrequent use. It also runs a media centre “Vykhod” (meaning “way out, exit”) which has a gallery/lecture space and stages rock concerts, some of which generate international reviews. The CCI is one of the few enterprises for cultural industries development in Russia to be supported by state money, alongside funding from international foundations. Within the Ministry of Culture itself there are also progressive voices, for instance those advocating a project “Karelian artisan and souvenir network” to bring Nordic design to Russian art colleges to improve the aesthetic standard of souvenirs.
Other enterprises rely on private finance, and struggle to be effective without meaningful state encouragement, marketing, or an established community of users. For instance, a maker of modern designer dolls and puppets, Tatiana Kalinina, works and exhibits in the ground floor of an out-of-town tower block of flats, unlabelled and impossible to find without special knowledge. She sells from her studio, and also in Moscow and St Petersburg, but is prevented by cartels from selling locally (for instance at Kizhi), despite the distinctive and regionally-celebratory nature of her designs. The Marine Historical and Cultural Centre “Arctic Odysseus” and Ship Museum, situated on and in the lake, is far more than its name suggests. It has a very interesting story of creation and great potential. The centre was established in 1978 when a group of people started sailing on a small wooden vessel called “Arctic Odysseus ” in the polar seas. In 1994 this centre established the Marine Historical and Cultural Centre with the help of Karelian Government. Petrozavodsk Administration gave the territory on the Onega lakeside for the ship-building development. The centre has perpetuated one of the most traditional local industries, wooden ship-building, through building of replica historic ships and providing apprenticeships in traditional ship-building techniques. These replicas then sail the world in re-enactments of significant historic voyages, offering seafaring experience to other young people, and taking the name of Karelia to global recognition among the international sailing community. The museum itself is housed in wooden huts among the shipyard, open without charge on one day per week, and accessed down an unsurfaced track. Some of the replica ships lie unfinished in the water for lack of funding, as does a half-completed jetty intended to provide both moorings and museum. The enterprise is genuinely a creative industry, providing employment, upholding a locally distinctive craft and offering huge tourism potential, but existing for twenty years on a shoestring earned income.
EU funding, designed to help build a market economy and democratic society in Russia, and particularly at the development of links between adjacent European countries and Russia, has attempted to tackle some of the infrastructural problems in Karelia, and Russians are adept at harnessing this wherever appropriate. The TACIS fund supported an exchange between Finnish and Karelian museum staff to expand the potential visitor profile of museums in Karelia beyond the international cruise ship stops (Sologoub, 2005). A TEMPUS project is planned to training for cultural managers on a Danish/Finnish model, and funding is being sought for visits by Karelian policy-makers to cultural industries quarters in the UK. But such projects can only scratch the surface of cultural industries development and are limited in wider impact by reservations about adopting Western solutions for Russian problems. The essential principle at the heart of EU support, the creation of a united Europe, is also regarded with suspicion by some. Significantly many of the more innovatory aspects of the Cultural Action Plan are predicated on the availability of “outside funding” (i.e. from EU or international foundations.) This suggests that the “core” cultural values, to which the most substantial state funding is committed, remain those of restoration, conservation and museum development, while creative activities are a lower priority and left predominantly to EU support. Many of the Karelian policy directions re-state long-established, essentially retrospective, priorities, but now through them expect to meet the needs of new sectors such as tourism development or the generation of income through culture. For a country invaded and devastated repeatedly over two thousand years, the survival of historic buildings and expansion of museums (the first and by the far the best funded area of the Action Plan) has emotional importance and serves to uphold national identity and prestige in uncertain and rapidly changing times (Bennett, 1995). However, while that may strengthen a sense of nationhood, it is unlikely to generate social cohesion or new income from culture. These benefits are widely believed by governments to be more likely to accrue from participatory arts activity or from creative industries (DCMS 1999 and 2004, Looseley, 2005, and critique in Belfiore, 2004) neither of which is seriously supported by the Action Plan or by state funding. Similarly, while the republican strategy will preserve and enlarge heritage, this is not necessarily the key to open the floodgates of cultural tourism. The existing historic sites are already world class, it is not a lack of museums or the condition of their contents that is holding back development. Much better information, presentation, interpretation, marketing, and an infrastructure of decent facilities, distinctive and tasteful artefacts are all crucial prerequisites to meet the needs and expectations of both international tourists and those from other parts of Russia. If the potential of the wilderness landscape and its outdoor activities is also to be exploited, then a focus on the requirements of individual tourists rather than organised groups needs to be established. This would involve the making available of specialist equipment (for instance, yachts and canoes for hire on Lakes Onega and Lagoda, chart agents, gunsmiths, angling supplies, camp sites and large-scale reliable maps) and transport and lodgings to suit individuals: cottages and cars for rent. It is through creative enterprise that these changes can be brought about, but this is unlikely to happen in a socio- economic climate so hostile to small mission-driven organisations, without a refocus of state support and strategy away from heritage and traditional arts and towards a wider, more inclusive concept of culture, cultural industries and creative industries.
Note. All translations from Russian documents by the author. I am grateful to Oksana Fedotova for checking my understanding of nuances of meaning in Russian.
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