On April 3, 2017, the Chulalongkorn University held the opening of a “Russian week”, organized by the University’s Russian Studies Center and dedicated to the 120th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Thailand.
The welcoming address was delivered by Vice President of the University Assistant Professor Dr. Pomtong Malakul Na Audhaya. With a burst of applause the quests greeted the Choir of the Bangkok St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral and the Folk dance ensemble “Katyusha” that showed marvelous examples of the Russian art.
The program of the “Russian week”, which will be held up to April 7, includes discussions and displays on Russian history and culture, screening of Russian feature films “Stalingrad”, “Romanovs – the Imperial Family” and “The Barber of Siberia”.
The opening ceremony was attended by H.E. Mr. Kirill Barsky, Ambassador of Russia to Thailand, who addressed the quests with a welcoming speech.
Dear Assistant Professor Pomthong Malakul Na Ayudhaya, Vice President of Chulalongkorn University,
Dear representatives of the European Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand,
Dear representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church,
Professors, teachers, students learning the Russian language, all those who work with Russia, who have interest in Russia, who love Russia,
It is a great honor for me to welcome the quests of the “Russian week”. This is a very special occasion for Chulalongkorn University, which celebrates its centennial birthday. But for the Faculty of Arts, the Russian Studies Center and the Russian Embassy in Bangkok this is a double jubilee, as this year commemorates the 120th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Thailand.
King Chulalongkorn, or Rama V, is known as an outstanding ruler, wise and progressive. The reforms carried out during His Majesty’s rule, on His Majesty’s command and under His Majesty’s mindful guidance made Siam a modern state. He abolished slavery, eradicated corruption, established a defense ministry, modernized the army, initiated countless infrastructure projects. King Rama V drove a car, liked photography and introduced a fashion of wearing Western suits.
One of his very important contributions was the practice of sending his sons and Thai aristocrats to study abroad. The King’s attention to education gave birth to Chulalongkorn University.
When we think back to Siam in the late 19th century, a crucial challenge it was facing was security. It was a difficult time for Siam, squeezed between two colonial powers - France and Great Britain, who invaded the region and conquered lands surrounding Siam.
Understanding the gravity of the situation, King Chulalongkorn came to a conclusion that the only viable solution was to make Western powers recognize Siam as an equal independent power. To this end King Chulalongkorn started looking for reliable and trustworthy friends among European nations. And such a friend Siam found in the Russian Empire.
The beginning of this friendship traces back to the visit of then crown-prince Nicholas, who would three years later become Tsar Nicholas II, Russia’s last emperor, to Siam during his long Eastern journey in 1890-1891. The visit proved to be a watershed event in international diplomacy.
When the Russian flagship named “Pamiat Azova” (The Memory of Azov Battle) anchored in the Chao Phya River on March 20, 1891, King Rama V arrived there to give him a warm welcome. Nicholas was the country’s first royal guest from a foreign superpower, and his tour of Siam raised King Chulalongkorn’s hopes in his political struggle to save the country from a foreign invasion.
After the great voyage of the Russian Crown-Prince, the imperial family was expecting King Chulalongkorn to make a return visit, as they all have heard magical tales about the exotic Kingdom and were thrilled to meet the King of a fairytale land.
In July 1897 already Emperor Nicholas II reciprocated by hosting King Chulalongkorn in Russia. He referred to his fond memories of Siam in a telegram handed to the King as his ship docked in Saint Petersburg.
“I recollect with such pleasure every detail of my stay in Your Majesty’s dominion and will be happy to thank you for it personally,” the Emperor wrote.
The two rulers spent 11 days together, continuing a dialogue they had begun six years earlier. On the second day a gala dinner was organized at the Grand Petergof Palace during which the King was introduced to ministers, chief commanders and the most important officials of the court.
During the dinner Nicholas II declared, "I am happy to welcome Your Majesty and am pleased to be able to once again thank you for the many signs of attention that you showed me during my stay in Siam. I cherish the fondest memories of the kind and friendly reception that Your Majesty organized. I drink to the health of His Majesty King of Siam.”
Chulalongkorn replied, “I am very pleased that I was able to come here and give Your Majesty my respectful greeting in person. Your visit to Siam is still fresh in our hearts. Our people remember those few days with great pleasure and we consider you a true and mighty friend. I am very moved by the warm reception that Your Majesty has organized for me and for which I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I drink to the health of His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Russia.”
The most important result of the visit for Siam was the decisive declaration made by Nicholas II that the Russian Empire would support Siam. The famous photograph of the two monarchs sitting side by side was taken to be later published in the European newspapers and this way to declare to the whole world that Siam now had a very powerful friend. Emperor Nicholas II treated King Rama V as an equal partner, called him “brother” and adopted his son Prince Chakrabonkse.
For King Chulalongkorn it was a major diplomatic success, which changed the pattern of Siam’s relations with the Western powers.
Many historic events have happened since late 19th century. Our relations have survived many ups and downs, but the bilateral friendship that sparked between two royal families has always been a sound, reliable foundation for building trust and cooperation. Our nations have preserved these cordial feelings towards each other through decades. From the very beginning, our relations were not mere contacts between the two countries but above all were relations between people and that is one of the unique features of the Russian-Thai partnership. Today, under the new circumstances, due to these traditions of friendship, the relations between Russia and Thailand are reaching new heights.
The leaders of Russia and Thailand are engaged in an intensive dialogue, Moscow and Bangkok have started to discuss security cooperation, our business communities are demonstrating growing interest towards each other, Russian-Thai economic and trade cooperation is on the rise. More and more students from Thailand are travelling to study in Russia. Our cultural exchanges raise the awareness of Russians and Thais about each other, and the Chulalongkorn University “Russian week” is one of the important cultural events to commemorate 120 years of friendship between Russian and Thailand by celebrating Russian language, history and traditions. Let me use this opportunity to thank the President, Vice-President, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Director of the Russian Studies Center for organizing this remarkable event. I wish you a successful “Russian week”.
What needs to be stressed is that this special day should also be a reminder for all of us that we should be forever grateful to our forefathers, King Chulalongkorn and Emperor Nicholas II, should be proud to belong to our great nations and should revere the great history that connects us.
I wish you a successful “Russian week”.