On August 18, 1845, by the highest order of Emperor Nicholas I, the Russian Geographical Society was formed. Since then, it has not stopped its activities for a single day, despite all the calamities striking our country. Sergey Shoigu has been managing the Society for almost 12 years. During this time, the Russian Geographical Society once again took a worthy place in the scientific and social life of Russia, rightfully becoming its flagship. On the 176th anniversary of the Russian Geographical Society, the President of the Society recalled the most difficult periods in the Society’s journey and shared plans for the future.
"Many thanks to those wonderful people, thanks to whom the Society managed to survive the hardest years. These are real enthusiasts who literally saved it, did not leave, while receiving salaries of six thousand rubles," Sergey Shoigu said in an interview with the “Vokrug Sveta” (eng. “Around the World”) magazine.
“When in the early 2000s I first came to the St. Petersburg Headquarters of the Russian Geographical Society, the historic building on Kazan Island (with which the names of Sergey Yulievich Witte and Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin are associated) was leased to a dozen different organizations. I asked the then management about the rent income, because with this money you can do a lot of useful things.
‘We don’t charge them,’ they answered me.
"You see, they are working in tourism, and tourism is also promoting geography ..."
Those who remember how the business was done in those years will understand what was going on. They just took the cash and ...
I went into the archives: water was flowing along the wall. And there were stored the diaries of Nikolai Nikolaevich Miklouho-Maclay and Nikolai Mikhailovich Przhevalsky!
They say to me:
"Yes, unfortunately, the roof is damaged: a shell hit during the war ... And the water is still flowing!”, the President of the Russian Geographical Society shared his memories.
According to Shoigu, the idea to work with the Russian Geographical Society did not come immediately. This happened later, when he got immersed in the affairs and history of the Society, got acquainted with its library and map storage, with biographies of people who developed the Russian Geographical Society in different years.
“Then it became clear that it was incredibly interesting. I will not hide it, I hope to continue this work after leaving the civil service,” the President of the Russian Geographical Society emphasized.
It was not by chance that the Russian Geographical Society attracted the attention of the country's top officials. Its revival has become a symbol of fundamental changes in Russia as a whole, noted the head of the Russian Geographical Society.
“Since 2000, we have been solving pragmatic problems. We needed to build the country, to make people feel safe in every sense. So that the economy would work normally, and society would recover from the upheavals of previous years.
When it became clear that Russia was finally on its feet, we began to ask ourselves essential questions. We remembered that we actually live in the largest and most beautiful country on Earth. We have something to be proud of and something to keep for posterity. Finally, that Russia is worthy of our love and attention. I wanted to place this tangle of different themes in a certain outline. But not to create another ministry for this with a detachment of officials! We began to look for public organizations that were engaged in natural science, nature conservation, and geography. To our surprise, there were about two thousand of them.
They were operating, as they say, willy-nilly. And some simply served as a front for other activities. In the end, we discovered the Russian Geographical Society. And it was perfect. The Russian Geographical Society with its glorious history, great names, colossal scientific heritage and, most importantly, sincere interest in the country turned out to be exactly the point where our interests converged. We shared the idea with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and proposed to revive the Society. He warmly supported this initiative," recalls Shoigu.
The President of Russia has long been concerned with the fate of rare and endangered species of animals: tigers, polar bears, whales, snow leopards. This work has become a natural part of the life of the Russian Geographical Society. Thanks to the attention of the Russian leader and the efforts of the Russian Geographical Society, the “Land of the Leopard” National Park and the “Amur Tiger” Center have appeared in Russia, and the populations of protected species have increased.
“But the first thing we did 12 years ago was to completely renovate the building. Then, we began to digitize the library and archives. We found a way to adequately finance the work of people. I want to name those heroic women who have preserved unique funds, and in fact, the history of the Russian Geographical Society: Maria Fedorovna Matveeva, Lidia Ivanovna Yarukova, Tamara Petrovna Matveeva, Nina Fedorovna Bakhvalova, Nina Mikhailovna Loshkomoeva ... We gathered around us caring people, like-minded people. It turned out, there were a lot of them all over the country," noted Sergey Shoigu.
The participation of Vladimir Putin and Sergey Shoigu in the life of the Russian Geographical Society increased the interest in the Society on the part of patrons of the arts. This made it possible to raise the level of funding for many of the most important and most interesting projects, put archives in order, and restore headquarters. The task, according to Shoigu, took a lot of time.
"Take, for example, the building of the Moscow Headquarters of the Russian Geographical Society, where we are located. We had to take matters to court six times for the building to become ours! Special thanks to Sergey Semyonovich Sobyanin for support. In the early 2000s, it turned out that the funds of the Russian Geographical Society were preserved in Vladivostok, Omsk, St. Petersburg. And in Moscow in the 1990s, the owners of the building charged simply unaffordable rent for the Russian Geographical Society. As a result, the archive and library of 27 thousand volumes, which was collected by Ivan Dmitrievich Papanin, was lost. In Moscow, we had to start restoring things from the ground up," recalls the President of the Russian Geographical Society.
However, the achieved results are worth the effort. Now the RGS is literally "revealing Russia anew" to the general public, introducing the unique natural and cultural resources of our country to its entire population.
“We live in a strange era, when it is considered improper if you have not been to Courchevel, the Dominican Republic or Bali. And in my understanding it is improper not to know your own country,” stressed Sergey Shoigu.
According to him, there are a lot of places in our country that you definitely need to visit. To understand this, it is enough to look at the photographs of the album "Where I should go to get to know Russia" released by the Russian Geographical Society. Shoigu himself, for example, would like to climb Mount Mongun-Taiga in Tuva – the highest point of Eastern Siberia.
“My father told me that at its top there was an iron raft – a kind of Tuvan Noah's Ark. I was about to go there, but it takes time, preparation is needed. I would also very much like to go along the Chersky Range. We even considered an expedition there when I worked in the Ministry of Emergency Situations. However, it takes not days but weeks, so, unfortunately, I haven’t realized this dream either. There are plans to raft down the Kheta River and reach the Khatanga or, conversely, go from the Khatanga to the center of Taimyr. Hopefully, someday I will have enough free time to implement all my plans," admitted the President of the Russian Geographical Society.