Russia’s image in Europe has worsened over the last twelve months. High-ranking Russian officials admit that things went from bad to worse following the Litvinenko case. Who can help Russia improve its reputation? Does Russia need this assistance at all? There are some people abroad who think their mission is to give Russia "a helping hand."
Face down in the dirt
“The image fell flat and never went back up,” Sergei Yastrezhemsky, a special representative of the Russian president on the development of cooperation between Russia and European Union, was quoted as saying. Yastrezhemsky was referring to Russia’s reputation, which suffered quite a blow in Europe in the last several months.
The question is: Who brought Russia’s reputation down? Who are those nasty people involved in a smear campaign against Russia? As it turned out, those people can be identified by the name though it is hard to hold them responsible or do something to change the situation for the better. By courtesy of President Putin we now have the description of the Russians who do damage to Russia’s image. Speaking at his annual press conference in the Kremlin last week, President Putin blamed some people abroad “who are hiding away from the Russian law, those responsible for committing crimes in the territory of the Russian Federation, primarily for economic crimes. They are the so-called self-exiled oligarchs hiding away in Western Europe or the Middle East.”
Those self-exiled oligarchs are pretty far away. Russia’s other superrich tycoons responsible for the latest highly publicized scandal at a luxury ski resort in France do seem to have any intentions of fleeing the country. On the other hand, those caught in the act are not going to launch any PR campaign for whitewashing the image of a Russian entrepreneur either.
According to Prince Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky, the oligarchs should have known better. Lobanov-Rostovsky is a chairman of the International Council of Russian Compatriots. “People like Abramovich and Berezovsky are the first ones to blame for harming the image of Russia. For example, they stir up hostility among the local residents, the British, by buying luxury property across London. All over the world, the oligarchs are buying a lifestyle that seems indispensable to them at the moment. However, this is the very lifestyle that does damage to the reputation of their country of origin. The same thing happened to the Arabs some 20 years ago,” said Lobanov-Rostovsky.
In the light of the “Litvinenko case,” the task of whitewashing Russia’s reputation is getting increasingly difficult. Lobanov-Rostovsky voiced the overall attitude of the Europeans toward Russia: “The attitude to Russia is overtly negative. Most foreigners are confident that all the fuss about the killing of the former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko stems from a real botch on the part of the Russian secret service. They’re certain of it. Likewise, they’re confident that the Russians are to blame for damage done to the staff of that London restaurant.”
Now, it is about time we did something about this deplorable situation.
Around the world under the Russian flag
There are several ways of giving a boost to one’s reputation. Lobanov-Rostovsky has his own recipe. “We should open Russian rooms in the world’s largest museums. That’s the most harmless yet very effective way of changing things for the better.
Almost every major museum of the world has special rooms to show off cultural achievements of a particular country. For instance, Islamic rooms are funded by wealthy Muslims. Aside from the Muslims, the Japanese and Koreans have been sponsoring their national art in the same way for the last 20 years. So far the Russian billionaires haven’t been involved in these projects. It is most unfortunate because there’s lot of Russian masterpieces kept in the storage rooms of the world’s major museums. It would be hard to paint Russia black while staring at a great collection of Russian art in a museum,” said Lobanov-Rostovsky.
Valery Tokmakov, a representative of the Moscow House of Compatriots in Toronto, called for the use of right media for the purpose of boosting Russia’s image in the U.S. and Canada. “Those countries are populated by immigrants, and some of them don’t have a perfect command of English. Therefore, pictures are the best way of conveying the message to those people. Things like cartoons, comic strips, musicals have to do with a sequence of images telling a story. Basically, the image belongs to the same category,” said Tokmakov.
It is the Russian émigrés and their offspring who are making a conscientious effort for the benefits of Russia’s reputation abroad these days. The next PR campaign is expected to go under way in six months, according to Count Pyetr Sheremetyev, an honorary chairman of the International Council of Russian Compatriots. “We are planning to show up Russian culture to the entire world. The project is called ‘Around the World under the Russian Flag.’ We are going to charter a vessel for the occasion. The ship will be upgraded to hold exhibitions, concerts and lectures. We will be calling on all major ports of Europe and America. We are going to encourage all the visitors to get firsthand knowledge of the Russian talent and abilities,” said Sheremetyev.
By the way, the International Council of Russian Compatriots and Moscow government have recently awarded special prizes to some of our compatriots who helped improve the image of Russia. One of the awards was shaped like of a crystal globe with a sample of Russian soil sealed inside. It was handed to Lyudmila Kudryavtseva, a well-known philologist and specialist in Russian language from Ukraine. Speaking about the choice of a recipient, Yuri Kaplun, director of the Moscow House of Compatriots, said that the Russian language was the cornerstone of Russia’s image. “There’s a complicated situation around the Russian language in Ukraine. Lyudmila Kudryavtseva has been making a lot of effort for the benefit of Russian language studies in Ukraine,” said Kaplun at the ceremony.
Translated by Guerman Grachev