Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

They used to joke at the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs: "You only need to know two things to work as a diplomat: a foreign language and how to drive a car.”

Although it was true— the knowledge of a foreign language was a priority on Smolenskaya Square. Diplomats had to take foreign language courses twice a week during their working hours; the courses were taught by experienced professors. They had to do the same when working abroad. And they had to pass strict oral and written examinations once a year. Their salaries were raised by ten percent for the knowledge of European languages and twenty percent for others. After becoming Minister of Foreign Affairs, Eduard Shevarnadze learns about this and orders: "Leave the percentages the same and make it thirty percent for the knowledge of Georgian.” This was a Foreign Ministry joke from the 1980s. I think that instead of opening foreign language schools in the Armenian Republic, the current authorities should make a stipulation to pay their employees extra for at least sufficient knowledge of Armenian.

The Soviet ambassador in Senegal was also accredited in Gambia. The first was a former French colony, the second British. Their state languages had remained the languages of the colonial governments, i.e., French and English. Moscow had no embassy in Banjul, the capital of Gambia, and the Soviet ambassador, along with his advisor, driver, and cook, would visit the country at least once a month to work with the local government bodies and diplomatic corpus. Being a pro-Western country (more specifically, pro-British), Gambia wouldn’t issue long-term visas to Soviet diplomats and demanded a letter before each visitation for issuing short-term visas. And it would take a while; they always did it unwillingly.

This was also because after the unsuccessful coup against the government in 1981 the country’s president, Dawda Jawara, was persistently looking for a Moscow "trace,” although the Soviets had nothing to do with it. So you can imagine how the Gambians reacted when the deputy consul Viktor Petrov made a mistake in the letter with a list of names for the visas. Not being a professional diplomat and not knowing English so well, he wrote "crook” instead of "cook” next to Aleksei Denisov’s name. Needless to say, the latter didn’t get a visa and the Soviet embassy didn’t pursue the case. The ambassador issued a warning to the deputy consul and demanded that he learn proper English.
1611 reads | 23.01.2014

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