Clashing Cultures in the British Council Row

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Week in review. Cultural Clashing
January 18, 2008 – Yezhednevny Zhurnal
Aleksandr Golts

Russia this week upheld another shining foreign policy victory: The work of regional branches of the British Council in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg was suspended. These brazen British, who have been soiling Russia for more than just the past century, reckoned on defending themselves with certain arrangements, like the 1994 bilateral agreement on cooperation in the domains of culture, science and education. Since in accord with [the agreement], Moscow pledged (oh, those “accursed 90s”) to “foster on its territory the opening of centres of culture, education and information of the opposite side,” and “provide every assistance to such centres.” Those shysters from foggy Albion were also counting on the fact that the British Council in Russia holds the status of a cultural branch of the embassy, and that all diplomatic privileged are extended to it. They were calculating, no doubt, that our mighty state would be proving somewhere, that the activities of British Council employees were illegal.

The good people studied our history poorly. Otherwise, they would have known how [Count Alexander von] Benckendorf rebuked the unfortunate [Baron Anton Antonovich] Delvig, who risked making reference to the law: “Laws are written for the subjects, and not for the authorities, and you don’t have the right to refer to them or use them to excuse yourself in your explanations with me.” And [the laws] are not strong in the ideology of the present-day Russian government. Otherwise the [students] would remember how one of Benckendorf’s successors explained the essence of “sovereign democracy” a few years back: “We must be the masters in our own country.” Not the law, not the people –THEM. And that’s why [the authorities] can demonstrate their truth by having “prophylactic talks” with Russian citizens working at the British Council, or by arresting Stephen Kinnock, who heads the St. Petersburg branch, for driving under the influence.

In truth, this whole comical war with the British Council—an organization called to serve the dissemination of the English language [and] knowledge of Great Britain’s culture—very clearly demonstrates the fundamental differences between the political cultures of the two countries.

More than a year ago, even before [Alexander] Litvinenko’s poisoning, when the Kremlin was taking pleasure in badgering the British ambassador with the help of the Nashi [youth group], one of Russia’s political analysts couldn’t bear it and asked a question: why don’t the British respond appropriately. Why not establish an “Ours” movement (preferably out of the most die-hard Liverpool [Football Club] fans”) and establish a merry existence for the Russian ambassador. Any why not, at present, make use of the circumstance that the children, wives and mistresses of Russia’s highest-[ranking] civil servants permanently reside in the United Kingdom? A Scotland Yard special division, in collaboration with MI-5 could easily discover a couple cartridges, or a baggie with heroin on family-members of some ardent British detractor. Under an “eye for an eye” logic, they would entirely have the right—remember, that the Stephen Kinnock arrested in St. Petersburg is the son of Neil Kinnock, the former head of the [British] Labour [Party].

Finally, why don’t they use the bank accounts of Russian citizens as a pressure lever. Well, why not review them for money laundering? And block them for the period of examination.

In a word, a lot of things could be contrived. And all that would remain would be to marvel at the desperation of Russia’s higher-ups, who had turned their loved ones into natural hostages on enemy terrain. But that’s just it, what the representatives of the so-called Russian elite understand perfectly well is that on the territory of the United Kingdom, nothing will endanger their families or even their money. For the simple reason, that even now, as in Benckendorf’s times and even earlier, the authorities in that country serve the laws, and not the other way around. The court there isn’t [like] Basmanny. And it doesn’t hand out arrest warrants on the prime minister’s command. And it allows extradition only in the event if a person’s guilt is proven.

And Russia’s patriotic superiors are perfectly aware of this. They prefer to keep their families in England, as at any moment, their close ones could become hostages in their native land.

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