Abbreviation of the Russian name (Vsesojuznoe obschestvo kul’turnykh svyzei s zagranitsei, or All-Union Society for Cultural Contacts with foreign countries) of a Soviet organization that promoted cultural contacts with foreign countries from 1925 to 1958.
Established in 1925 as an important Soviet propaganda vehicle abroad, VOKS was formally a public association involving the participation of Soviet scientists, writers, artists, musicians, actors, educators and sportsmen. One of its official goals was to introduce the Soviet public to the cultural achievements of foreign nations, and simultaneously, to popularize Soviet culture abroad – promoting friendship and mutual understanding between the people of the USSR and other nations in the process. VOKS organized exhibitions, the screening of Soviet films and tours by Soviet entertainers and artists; arranged for the exchange of books and periodicals; promoted the performance of modern Soviet music; and facilitated contacts between Soviet and foreign scholars, writers, musicians and other cultural figures. Among its active partners were prominent Western writers, scientists and thinkers, such as physicists Albert Einstein and Marie Curie, writers Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and Theodore Dreiser, and many others. VOKS-authorized representatives in foreign countries established and maintained contacts with liberal intellectuals and like-minded government officials there, serving as a de facto auxiliary of Soviet foreign policy efforts. By 1957, societies for friendship with the USSR had been established in 47 nations.
However, VOKS also often served as a convenient “roof” for operations of both branches of Soviet intelligence, whose residents and operatives used opportunities provided by VOKS to establish and maintain contacts in intellectual, scientific and government circles. These contacts were, for the most part, unaware that they were dealing not with “cultural representatives” and diplomats, but with intelligence officers.
In 1958, VOKS was reorganized into the Union of Soviet Societies for Friendship and Cultural Contacts (SSOD), which existed until 1992, when it was reorganized again, this time as a government agency. Since 1994, this agency has been called The Russian Center for International Scientific and Cultural Cooperation of the Government of the Russian Federation. The records of VOKS are deposited at the Russian State Archive (GA RF).