The Republic of Benin 2008


From September 16 to October 5 2008 in the Republic of Benin (in the cities of Abomey, Abomey-Kalavi, Allada, Cotonou, Ganvier, Ketou, Ouidah, and Porto-Novo) a group of social anthropologists from the Institute for African Studies conducted a research. This initiative was supported by the Russian State Foundation for the Humanities (projects 06-01-02083а and 06-01-02062а) and the Embassy of Russian Federation in the Republic of Benin and continued the respected research projects. The stuff of the expedition led by Dmitri M. Bondarenko included: Anastasia A. Banschikova, Ekaterina B. Deminsteva, Tatiana V. Evgenyeva, Oleg I. Kavykin, Anatoly D. Savateev.
The fieldwork in Benin made a contribution to the research projects "The Image of Russia in African Countries: Formation and Specificity" and "Russia and Islam: Civilizational Dialogue", began with the similar expeditions to the Federative Republic of Nigeria in 2006, to the United Republic of Tanzania in 2007 and two earlier expeditions to Tanzania, in 2003 and 2005 (see, for example, “Christian-Muslim Relations in Contemporary Tanzania", Moscow, 2005; “Inter-racial and Inter-ethnical Relations in Contemporary Tanzania", Moscow, 2008). Elaboration of these projects presupposes the study of preconditions of contemporary Russia’s image formation in the connection with the history of the Soviet-African and Russian-African relations (their present-day condition); finding out the specific features of this image; searching the possibilities of its improvement, in particular in the context of the Christian-Muslim relations in the modern world.
In the process of fieldwork a series of interviews (around 20) with the representatives of intellectual, cultural, and business elite, i.e. people who can form and influence the image of Russia was conducted. Each interview consisted of 16 standardized questions, took about 40 minutes and was taped. The meeting with the Ambassador of the Russian Federation in Benin was carried out, as well as with the Minister of Culture and stuff of the Ministry of Culture od Benin. Also there were the Informal meetings for discussing the problematics of the project with colleagues from the University Abomey-Kalavi and Educational College “A.K. Vereshchagin”. Besides, the members of the expedition visited traditional rulers of Allada and Abomey-Kalavi regions. Finally, a number of expert interviews with the Russians living in Benin for a long time was conducted. A photo-archive was composed.
The information got during three expeditions - 2006 in Nigeria, 2007 in Tanzania, and 2008 in Benin – i.e. to the countries with various attitudes to Russia (due to the fact that their relations with the Soviet Union differed greatly) allows to receive a complex if not contradictory picture of the image of Russia and her citizens in the eyes of continent's population.