“The role and lessons of Decembrists” was the title of the ambassador’s soiree. It should be noted that RF Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov, the host of the diplomatic salon, postponed his first public appearance in Ukrainian society. For several months after his appointment, he was practically inaccessible for the mass media, refused to give interviews, explaining his refusal by the need to understand the situation first.
It will be reminded that in June 2009 Viktor Chernomyrdin left his office as RF ambassador to Ukraine, and Zurabov was appointed to take his office in August 2009, but started to perform his duties only in January 2010. The reason why Zurabov could not come to Kyiv was a political battle: RF President Dmitry Medvedev accused the then President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko of an “anti-Russian political course.” Therefore the Russian leader sent his ambassador to our capital only after the first round of the elections, when it clear that Yushchenko had not earned enough votes to stay in the president’s office for a second term. Zurabov held his first press conference in June, timing it to his country’s holiday, The Day of Russia.
Zurabov has changed the popular ambassadors’ soirees, revived by his predecessor, giving them a new grand and glamorous format. Earlier the venue of the event was the embassy building, and the evenings had a cozy atmosphere: there was a small concert, followed with a stand-up meal, some “off the record” communication and ceremonies. Incidentally these tete-a-tete talks were the very reason why diplomatic salons were attended by politicians, fellow diplomats, the business elite, and workers of science and culture. This time the guests were invited to the most fashionable hotel of our capital, Interkontinental, and they had to follow a dress-code (business wear for men and cocktail dress for ladies; however, forestalling the events, I will admit that not all of the female guests stuck to this rule). The guests were treated to contemplations on what would have happened, had the Decembrists won, on whether revolution is good or bad, and the cyclic nature of history, with parallels drawn: Pestel-Tukhachevsky-Khodorkovsky. Recent events were also mentioned, including the Orange Revolution, which has had an effect on destinies of people not only in Ukraine, but in Russia as well. The format of discussion mimicked Mikhail Shvydkoy’s TV show Cultural Revolution, but there were no TV cameras and opponents restrained from sharp remarks. The people present for the most part were passively observing the verbal battles between the soiree’s host Mikhail Shvydkoy, Moscow writer Dmitrii Bykov, and Russian political scientist Vladimir Pastukhov, who came to Kyiv from London specially for the event. The Ukrainian team included politician and businessman Petro Poroshenko, science editor of the website Polit.ua (www.polit.ua) Andrii Portnov, art director of the Lesia Ukrainka Russian Drama Theater Mykhailo Rieznikovych, and the historian and head of the Archeology Institute at the NAN of Ukraine Petro Tolochko. As Shvydkoy jokingly noted, “I feel like a wall. First we had a party meeting (the discussion), then hot meals (stand-by party), and finally a disco (dances)!” Indeed, the guests were fed wonderfully, they were treated to European cuisine and entertained by romances performed by the Bolshoi Theater soloists (singers: Nadia Kariazina, Alina Yarova and Illia Hovzych; grand piano: Kyrylo Kuzmin). Musicians of the Kyivska kamerata ensemble also performed, and the jazz band Sounds of Brasil Quintet played passionate Latin-American beats. Both professional dancers — winners of several sport dance championships Denys Khalmatov and Milena Usanova — and amateurs (guests and diplomats headed by Ambassador Zurabov) danced. And it should be admitted that the non-professionals danced quite aptly. Though the soiree featured not many VIP persons (politicians and business leaders), unlike in Chernomyrdin’s time, Zurabov’s event was well received. However, the habitues of Chernomyrdin’s soirees admitted that the event had too much theatrics. Nevertheless it was interesting, because, one must admit, people want to celebrate in the dark autumn evenings, and at such salons one can communicate with intelligent and interesting people, the ladies can show themselves (and their attire) and look at others.
“To hold the soiree in the format of a discussion was Mikhail Zurabov’s brainchild,” the attache on questions of culture at the RF Embassy to Ukraine Natalia Batova told The Day. “We have decided to go on with the tradition of diplomatic salons, but revive them in a new quality, so that there was a possibility to talk with partners and fellows, with whom the ambassador and other diplomats communicate during work, and do this informally, see concert performances, discuss some questions and simply talk off the record. It was not accidental that we chose the topic ‘The role and lessons of Decembrists.’ This year marks 185 years since the Decembrists’ rebellion. We wanted to hold a discussion in this salon with a very interesting communicator, Mikhail Shvydkoy, an author and host of the TV show series Culture Revolution, to recall what noble people did in 1825, and what was taking place at the time in the spheres of music, literature, culture, Tsarist Russia and why people went on the Senate Square. We hold the narration in a way of a discussion. People known in Russia and Ukraine came as opponents. It is quite non-accidental that the music part of the soiree featured a Brazilian band (until recently a Decembrist descendant Andrey Muravyev-Apostol lived in this country), and quite a few people know that Gypsy and classical Russian romances are forerunners of Brazil folk jazz, specifically the famous bossa nova. It turned out that as we were holding preparations to the ambassadors’ evening, the parts of our program were threaded like beads. At first we made an agreement with Shvydkoy and his Culture Revolution, and discussed his concept of holding a diplomatic salon. Coincidentally, November 19, when our soiree was held, is the date of death of Emperor Alexander I. If we recall history, there was a three-week period of disturbances, which ended with the Decembrists’ revolt, stirring the entire country, and though they failed to implement their romantic ideas, many Decembrists and those who sympathized with them, paid a terrible price — some of them were executed, others were sent to exile or hard labor. Yet we remember their breakthrough nearly 200 years later. It was also fortunate that the musicians of the Sounds of Brasil Quintet came to Kyiv in this very time, and we took advantage of this and invited them to give a performance at our soiree. We are glad that our partners from the information-analytical website www.polit.ua gathered opponents, and the discussion was attended by scholars, Ukrainian and Russian politicians, public persons and historians. The soiree showcased historical items and artifacts from the Sheremetev Collection, and representatives of the Kamianka Museum, established in the former family estate of Raevskys and Davydovs, attended the soiree and brought unique items, specifically the picture Pushkin and the Decembrists. Hopefully, the renewed ambassador’s soirees will be as popular as previously, and we will hold them on a regular basis.”