Saturday, October 15, 2011

This was somewhat unexpected

On Thursday I participated in a somewhat unexpected event. The Russian Embassy had organized what they called a digital barbeque (though we were assured that the food would be real and very nice it was, too) to which a number of bloggers, diplomats, press officers and people generally concerned with the media were invited. Given past history and my continuing criticism of what happens in Russia, my presence was somewhat fantastic but I went along, carefully letting several people know what I was up to.

The event was actually in the Ambassador's Residence, which must date back to the pre-Soviet days and was certainly there in the Soviet period though heavily guarded at a time when other embassies and residences were not (apart from the Israeli and South African). The reception rooms are obviously meant to resemble the grandeur of the eighteenth century and there is even a statue of Peter the Great in the garden though it is, as I pointed out to the Secretary, too small. He agreed with me. Peter was a giant physically as well as mentally though something of a lout in his behaviour, attitudes and personal hygiene.

Lots of huge and not so huge porcelain pieces and truly dull but grand paintings on the wall. Surely the Ambassador to London can raid the Hermitage or the Tretyakovka and get some better art to hang on the walls. Whoever is in charge of that needs to be fired. I was amused to find the double-headed eagle in pride of place in one of the largest salons. Presumably twenty-odd years ago it would have been the hammer and sickle or a portrait of Lenin.

The two panels were of moderate interest. I now know that Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy is a crashing bore of monumental self-righteousness. He burbled for what felt like hours though was only a deeply forgettable ten minutes about his achievements, the main ones of which were preventing Rod Liddell from getting the editorship of the Independent and ensuring that the News of the World closed down. The first was never going to happen, anyway, and if it did happen it would have made the Indie slightly more viable, and the second meant that there are now fewer newspapers in Britain. Goodness knows what the Russians made of that.

Guido Fawkes, the other panellist (there was a third one, a Russian, who, for some reason did not talk about Russian bloggers laughing at Putin - here and here) made one good point: if you want a thriving blogosphere, he said, do not arrest your bloggers. True enough but it remains questionable whether Britain, where bloggers are safe, has a thriving blogosphere. One can't expect Guido to deal with that issue though he did say that a lot of bloggers have become tweeters, which is a very different kettle of fish.

The second panel consisted of a number of civil servants and one diplomat telling us how wonderfully well the civil service has expanded into social networking, blogging, tweeting, Facebook, what have you and how this helps democracy because people can now write to them directly, engage in conversation, suggest pieces of legislation and so on. When I asked whether this was not simply a matter of handing out the usual propaganda because, in practical terms, getting answers about legislation, regulation and just ordinary facts from the civil service is as difficult as ever if not so, two refused to answer and one waffled meaninglessly. I rest my case.

One interesting fact from the account of diplomats and embassies having websites, twitter accounts and blogs was that the most active site is the Israeli one. The ambassador, apparently, encourages debates and zestfully takes part in them. No kidding, I thought. Why does that accord with every stereotype we have of Israelis who say themselves that if you have three Jews there are five parties.

The food was good, the drink was copious and the blogging section of the audience lived up to its reputation by paying no attention to anything that was going on but constantly tweeting. They let me out, obviously.


  1. Apropos of something entirely different, I have long wondered if you will be getting around to talking about the struggle for the control of the Russian Orthodox church, St Nic's, in Nice. I mention it because it is a Russian thing etc.
    Anyhow, now is too late, as it has reached "Time'.

  2. I am afraid, Peter, that I try not to get involved in the internecine warfare of the various branches of the Russian Orthodox Church of which there is plenty in London as well. A plague upon all your houses tends to be my attitude. But how do you mean it reached "Time"? Do you mean the magazine or is it a reference to sporting contests?

  3. Sorry, Helen, to be truthful it was in a magazine that popped up into my sometimes errant screen, and it was headed "Time", so I assumed it was a manifestation of Time magazine, which I do not like anyway, so I closed it hurriedly, save for noting that the article displayed was about St Nic's. It appears that these little local R.O.C/Putin scuffles are going on all over the world. Religious it is not.
    Funny, that.

  4. Did the Russians seem chuffed that an ex-KGB man owned three London-based newspapers?

    [Off topic: because the in-out referendum crowd is getting excited about a possible (non-binding) vote in the House that might give the people a (non-binding) vote, I've posted links to three of your blog posts about Tory eurosceptics:

    There are others posts but those three make the point. Are you tempted to write a "Don't get too excited" post based on the mooted referendum debate and the previous voting patterns of all those hundreds of mighty Tory sceptics?]

  5. Funny you should say that, Clarence. I was just having a quick look at comments before doing a "Don't get too excited" posting about a possible debate that will give us a non-binding vote to get the government to introduce possible legislation to have a non-binding referendum that we shall probably lose".