The origins of relations between the peoples of Russia and Papua New Guinea are deeply rooted in history and originate from the last third of the 19th century. Back then, in the 1870s and 1880s, the expeditions of the outstanding Russian scientist and traveler Nikolay Miklouho-Maclay (1846-1888) took place on the northeastern coast of New Guinea (nowadays the Maclay Coast or Rai Coast, Madang Province), which became an important milestone in science and the history of friendly relations between the peoples of Russia and Papua New Guinea. It was Nikolay Miklouho-Maclay who discovered the indigenous peoples of the Maclay Coast to the outside world and perpetuated a unique description of their culture and lifestyle. Throughout his life, Nikolay Miklouho-Maklay promoted respect for the traditions of Papua New Guineans and indigenous peoples of the Pacific through studying their cultures. He was confident that such an attitude helps to form a mature, well-rounded person who treats all nations with respect and impartiality. By the example of the indigenous peoples of the Maclay Coast, Miklouho-Maclay proved to the whole world that there were no superior or inferior races – all people are equal by nature.
The scientific and humanistic heritage of Nikolay Miklouho-Maclay is important for mutually respectful relations between the peoples of the two countries. The scientist left a good memory of Russia in the hearts of Papua New Guineans and he was the first to defend the indigenous inhabitants of the island from the slave trade and exploitation by Europeans. Miklouho-Maclay is rightfully among the top-five most significant figures for Papua New Guinea. He is a part of the nation’s history, he carefully collected and preserved their traditions, enabling future generations to enjoy the heritage that has survived to this day.
Having returned to Russia after more than 15 expeditions around the Asia-Pacific and New Guinea, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay began preparations to publish his expedition diaries, but he managed to release only one volume. The following generations of Russians continued this work: in 1930s, -50s, -70s, -90s and 2000s N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s diaries, the book “Journey to the Maclay Coast” were published in millions of copies both in Russian and English. Miklouho-Maclay N.N. Sobranie sochinenii (in six volumes), 2nd edition, published in 2020, confirms that there still is interest in the heritage of the scientist and his research nowadays. The publication was released in both printed and electronic versions and is available free of charge. At the same time, many books about the traveler have been published in English, including those in Papua New Guinea. Thus, the works of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay became known all over the world.
100 years after Nikolay Miklouho-Maclay’s first expedition, the interest of Russian ethnographers and anthropologists in the study of New Guinea and the island world of Oceania did not wane. Soviet scientists visited the Maclay Coast twice in 1971 and 1977. Thanks to the warm memories of the Russian scientist, which the locals keep to this day, they kindly shared information about their everyday life on the Maclay Coast with the researchers. While in the Northeast of New Guinea, Soviet ethnographers were amazed at how much the world described by N.N. Miklouho-Maclay was similar to the one they found themselves in — they seemed to be following the drawings of the traveler, hundreds of which he had left to future generations. Moreover, every day the researchers became more and more convinced that N.N. Miklouho-Maclay had left a significant mark in the folklore of the indigenous peoples. The locals keep passing on the tales about Miklouho-Maclay from generation to generation and even name their children Maclay. All of this allowed the Soviet ethnographers to collect unique material that formed the basis for new discoveries and caused a new surge of interest in New Guinea and the Pacific. It is important to note that the USSR was also one of the first countries to recognize Papua New Guinea’s independence. Moreover, the Soviet Union raised the issue of PNG independence at the United Nations as early as the 1960s.
The 1970s were an important milestone in the history of establishment and development of not only scientific, but also diplomatic relations between Russia and Papua New Guinea. After the country gained its independence on 16 September 1975, the relations between the countries began to develop rapidly. On 19 May 1976, the Heads of diplomatic missions of the USSR and Papua New Guinea in Canberra (Australia) signed a joint communique on the establishment of diplomatic relations, after which, at the invitation of the USSR Government, on 7-9 July 1976, the Deputy Prime Minister, First Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Minister of Defense of Papua New Guinea Sir Maori Kiki, as well as the Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of PNG A.M. Siaguru paid an official visit to Moscow. In November 1988, the PNG Government agreed to the establishment of the USSR Embassy in the capital of the country (Port Moresby), which was officially opened in March 1990. Due to the activity of the Russian Embassy in Port Moresby, relations between the two countries advanced in a number of areas: inter-parliamentary relations, public organizations delegation exchanges, cooperation in the field of education and culture.
At the beginning of the 21st century, relations between Russia and Papua New Guinea reached a new stage of development. At first, the traditions of exploring the Maclay Coast, started by N.N.Miklouho-Maclay in the second half of the 19th century, were continued by new generations of Russian scientists. In 2017 and 2019, scientists of the Russian Academy of Sciences from Moscow and St. Petersburg set off with expeditions to the Maclay Coast, led by the author of the article. The scientists followed the footsteps of Miklouho-Maclay, restored the continuity of research on the Maclay Coast and conducted comprehensive research. The expeditions affirmed that there still was a place for interesting discoveries in the world today, and that it was possible to build and develop bilateral relations between countries based on historical memory. This gave an incentive for further development of research activities on the Maclay Coast by Russian scientists and for enhancing educational and cultural relations between Russia and Papua New Guinea.
In 2018, the historic bilateral meeting of the Prime Ministers of Russia and PNG took place at the APEC summit held in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, which allowed the friendly relations between the peoples of Russia and PNG to actively and comprehensively develop. In the same year, at the invitation of the Miklouho-Maclay Foundation, the first delegation of university academics from PNG visited Russia.
In 2019, on behalf of the Government of the Russian Federation, the Russian Corner was established in Port Moresby to introduce Russian culture and language to PNG citizens. PNG residents of all ages liked the Russian Corner, partially due to a number of international educational projects about Russia organized by the Miklouho-Maclay Foundation. All this became possible due to cooperation between the Miklouho-Maclay Foundation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and Papua New Guinean partners. Many Russians dream of visiting PNG and seeing the unique world described by the Russian traveler with their own eyes. Now it is possible thanks to the convenient visa regime established between the countries. A number of events organized by the Foundation in Russia and PNG in the cultural and humanitarian spheres have laid a solid foundation for the development of business relations.
In 2019, business meetings were held in Russia with the participation of the Ministry of Economic Development and in Papua New Guinea with the participation of the Port Moresby Chamber of Commerce and Industry. At those meetings the most interesting areas for Russian and Papua New Guinean mutually beneficial business cooperation were defined. Active support from the Ministries became possible after the APEC summit and the bilateral meeting of the Prime Ministers of the two countries.
Currently, we are at the very beginning of the development of relations between the countries, but we already have deep historical ties and desire to cooperate. The International Symposium “Russia and Papua New Guinea” aimed at establishing and enhancing partner relationships in various spheres became possible due to well-coordinated work of the Miklouho-Maclay Foundation with representatives of the Russian and Papua New Guinean sides. The countries are aimed at comprehensive cooperation in a number of projects. Despite the obstacles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the dialogue between the countries continues online, which gives confidence in the realization of international projects, including the visit of the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea to Russia, as well as the development of cooperation in medical, humanitarian, business and cultural spheres.