EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW. Art Fosters Peace and Mutual Understanding


Our magazine’s guest Alexander GRACHEV is the Consul General of the Russian Federation in Klaipėda (Lithuania).

The 63-year-old diplomat, Minister Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the second class, graduated from The Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), and has been working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation since 1982. Being fluent in both English and Arabic, he worked in Syria, the USA, Egypt, and has been running the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Klaipėda since 2015.

Mr Grachev, you are running the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Klaipėda in rather difficult times, but it seems that you know the secret of creating relations between individuals with different views on the basis of mutual respect and sincerity. You have relied upon the art as an eternal value fostering communication between people of different nations, religions and world-views. I have in mind exhibitions, as well as literature soirees and music performances that you together with your spouse Irina organize at the Consulate General, and where you sometimes perform as a singer, while your diplomatic staff provides guitar accompaniment. What role does the art play in your professional life? To what extent the art is important for foreign policy? What do you think of the famous quote by Fyodor Dostoevsky, stating that ‘Beauty will save the world’?

I cannot disagree that my work as Russia’s Consul General in Klaipėda, third largest city in Lithuania, coincided with a significant cooling between Russia and Lithuania. All this happened against our will, since Moscow has always been and still stands in favor of developing mutually-beneficial and neighborly relations, based on mutual respect, with all countries, not to mention Lithuania, with whom we share a common border. Although in recent decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union – quite a few issues have been accumulated, the majority of them are artificial.

It is my strong conviction that many of these problems could be quickly resolved, provided both parties resumed a normal dialogue and contacts on various levels. All the contacts were shut down by the Lithuanian side. It is high time to leave the Rusophobic rhetoric behind, and realize that both our countries and nations are doomed to be neighbors. So, let us be guided by the interests of the people living on both sides of the border, who still have much more in common than things that differentiate them, rather than be guided by selfish goals of different policy-makers. The great William Shakespeare once said: ‘And where the worser is predominant, full soon the canker death eats up that plant.’ We should change the current paradigm, abstain from hostile rhetoric, and start searching for common ground. Moreover, all objective prerequisites are available.

After all, the history of our nations is closely intertwined: both Russian language and the Orthodox faith have been widely spread here back in the middle ages, particularly during the Great Duchy of Lithuania period. This country was an important economic, military, and political region within the Russian Empire, as well as later, in the 20th c., when we fought against the Nazis together.

Back to your question about the place and the role of the art in our diplomatic life, I would like to quote here the famous Russian opera singer Anna Netrebko: ‘Art always builds up a path for peace and mutual understanding.’ I believe one can’t put it in better terms. My spouse Irina and myself, as well as our colleagues, do their utmost to maintain and build up - when and where it is possible – new ‘bridges’ of friendship and cooperation between our nations, keeping a hearth of Russian culture at the Consulate General. Of course, we are greatly inspired by the interest of Klaipėda citizens, no matter the nationality, because the door of our reception hall, which occasionally turns into a music or art salon, is always opened to all of our friends.

Otto von Bismarck has once said that politics is the art of the possible. To rephrase these words, one can say that nowadays the art seems to be the only policy possible. However, in order to overcome a deadlock in the Russian-Lithuanian relations, promotion of cultural ties only is not enough. It is the political will which is needed. In my view, we should put aside historical and other disputes, let’s say, for 30 years, and refocus on issues and challenges that are really vital to the people right now.

Speaking about languages, I wonder, what encouraged you to study Arabic? How knowledge of Arabic affected your life as a diplomat?

Based on your experience, could you please highlight major aspects of the Arabic culture, mentality and traditions that are often undervalued or misunderstood by the Europeans or the Asians? What wisdom have you learned in the Arabic world?

I chose Arabic while enrolling in the Moscow Institute of International Relations. Since the USSR relations with the Arabic world thrived at that period, it was quite natural for me to turn an eye on this region.

I’ve never regretted my choice, since it became possible for me to ‘dive’ into a completely unusual environment in terms of culture, outlook, and mentality. Living in the Middle East, I had to follow their traditions and lifestyle that are different to those accepted in both Russia and the West.

Talking about the characteristic aspects of the Arabic world, I should note that the Arabs often think and make decisions ‘at the call of their heart’, trusting their intuition, sometimes very emotionally, which differs from the coolly and calculating style, usual for Europeans or Americans. At the same time, it should be taken into account herewith, that the Middle East today is inhabited by various nations that are different in terms of their ethnic, religious, and even linguistic features.

Literary Arabic (‘Fusha’) is very beautiful and melodious. However, the true meaning of words and phrases is often hidden behind numerous compliments, idioms and graceful turns. While it is common for the Westerners to accept the direct meaning of the words, in the Middle East it is quite different. For example, instead of confirmation of an action or a fact (be it a meeting, a deal or an agreement, etc.) your Arab counterpart could say ‘in-sha-llah’ (‘if Allah wills’). Any European would be confused by such an answer. Moreover, we should keep in mind that ‘Fusha’ practically is not used in everyday life, since most people communicate at home using local dialects.

Though the Arabs are rather impulsive and hot-tempered, I’ve never witnessed them solving disputes in the street through violent means. Usually incidents are limited to mutual verbal insults, and are settled without serious consequences, although neither of the parties is expected to accept its fault, even if it is obvious (e.g. in case of a traffic accident). From my relatively recent Egyptian period of life I do keep warm recollections about old-school intellectuals whom, I met in Cairo and Alexandria. Those mature, well-educated, and experienced people were ready to share their knowledge and wisdom. They managed to do it in a very delicate, intelligent way, that is not very common for Americans or Europeans.

20 October 2020 marks the opening of the world EXPO 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which will take place until 10 April 2021, with the topic of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. The event, featuring more than 180 states, introducing their ideas, will also be participated by your homeland Russia, my homeland Lithuania and other countries that have historical, business, science, art and cultural ties.

In your opinion, what do the inhabitants of the Earth, often engaging in disagreements on certain issues, need to connect our minds and create a sustainable future for our planet?

Today we leave in the world, in which some countries or even state coalitions believe, moreover they have convinced themselves, that special rules are applied for them, while quite different rules – for the rest of the world. This situation resembles one described by my favorite British author – George Orwell – in his novel Animal Farm: ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’ Such a narrative has seriously unbalanced international relations, deprived them of clear ‘rules of the game’, that were followed by even during the Cold War era. While the International law is vividly violated, the concepts of the good and the evil are misplaced, and meaningful mechanisms of solving disputes are not available, and instead of the of international law, supported by solid proof and evidence, we hear groundless accusations, based on such a notion as ‘highly likely’. No wonder, people, including businessmen, are disoriented and often don’t see a positive perspective. That is why the mankind wastes enormous resources on the arms race, instead of investing in development and creation, including support for culture, creativity, education, medicine, maintaining our biological resources and avoiding environmental disasters.

One may ask if it’s possible to turn this process backwards? I’m quite positive, but to succeed in this endeavor we need to give up practice of double standards and restore true meanings of the words, as a great philosopher once said.

Like springtime birds, European and Asian transport and logistics professionals head to Moscow for meetings, discussions, exchanges of experience and signing agreements during one of Russia’s major transport and logistics events – TransRussia. As long as businessmen keep talking to each other, there still is a hope to maintain the dialogue. Should diplomats pay more attention to interests of business? Do you see prospects for closer and more productive cooperation between Russia and the Baltic states in transport, logistic and maritime areas?

Back at the beginning of the last century, Vladimir Lenin, the first head of the Soviet government, wrote in one of his theoretical articles that ‘the politics is a concentrated expression of the economics’. Today, we witness collective West’s attempts to reach narrow-minded goals by means of political and economic pressure, which has nothing to do with fair competition or market relations. So, Lenin’s thesis could be easily rephrased vice versa. Many states, first and foremost the USA, as well as EU members, applied economic and trade sanctions and created barriers for Russia (and not only for Russia) in dealing with our traditional partners. Such a policy yields rather dubious effect, since Russia’s economy has worked out immunity vis-a-vis sanctions, while our economy demonstrates signs of growth.

Back to the Lithuanian topic, it should be noted that in many cases thanks to Russian producers, i.e. in fact contrary to Vilnius’ course of curtailing the relations, Russia still remains its major trade and economic partner. According to last year’s statistics, our bilateral trade has grown by 40 per cent with our export nearly doubling. Russian railroad and auto transit of goods through Lithuania has also increased (by 27 per cent), some positive changes were reached in the tourism area, including passenger flow growth. At the same time Lithuania’s export has shrunken to less than one per cent of the Russian total trade balance. A rhetorical question arises here: who is a looser as a result of a current situation – Russia or Lithuania? I do not want to impose any advice on Lithuanian businessmen, including top-managers of major stevedoring companies whom I met while working in Klaipėda – they already do everything possible, but both them and politicians should realize, that sooner or later sanctions will exhaust and will be lifted. In the meantime, Russian companies do not waste their time, building up new ties, entering new markets. It’s hard to believe that Lithuania will be able to restore status quo, which existed in the pre-sanctions era.

This year JŪRA MOPE SEA celebrates its 20th anniversary. What would be your wishes for us and the readers of the magazine in more than 150 countries of the world?

My colleagues at the Consulate General and myself are faithful readers of your magazine. It’s my pleasure to admit, that your articles are characterized by in-depth analysis, urgent topics, and balanced presentation. We also admire the high-quality design and your reach-out to broad audience from both geographic and professional perspectives.

We wish JŪRA MOPE SEA editorial office new achievements in business journalism, and hope that this interview will help your readers to better understand the ongoing processes. It’s very important to maintain optimism, hope and patience. In conclusion, let me remind Shakespeare’s words: ‘time is the nurse and breeder of all good’.

Thank you for your answers.

Interviewed by Zita Tallat-Kelpšaitė


The magazine SEA has been published since 1935
International business magazine JŪRA MOPE SEA has been published since 1999
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The magazine JŪRA has been published since 1935.
International business magazine JŪRA MOPE SEA has been
published since 1999.

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