Friday, April 26, 2013

al-Akhbar on the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister's Visit to Beirut

Arabic original here.

"Prince Vladimir's" Emissary forms the "Russian Party"

by Ghassan Saoud

Who loves Russia more than the member of the Orthodox Gathering Samir Naima? He has transferred his whispers from the ear of Cain to that of Abel (or vice-versa), in transferring from the political machine of the candidate for the Orthodox seat in Ashrafiya Michel Toueini to the machine of his brother and candidate for the same seat, Nicholas Toueini. "Nicholas is more honorable," they say in Ashrafiya. 

Naima intones, "Russia, you are our holy country... Russia you are our beloved country... You are an ancient union for brother-nations." As soon as the Russian national anthem ended, the competition began: the president of the Orthodox Scouting Association, Elias Hasbani, loves Russia, naturally as does the president of the Lebanese Greek Orthodox League, Nicholas Ghulam. All those who found it difficult to get up from their chairs on account of their old age were the "League". Not to forget Nicholas Toueini, who yesterday defined himself as the representative of the Orthodox families of Beirut, who does not forget the Russian czar's standing with his forefathers against the Ottomans in 1904 and against the Turkish massacres in the region. As for the president of the municipality of Amioun, Jirji Barakat, he does not mention Russia without following it with the adjective "the great": "Russia the great has not ceased for a day to love the people of Lebanon." Aside from the municipal council of Amioun, Barakat heads the "Imperial Lebanese Cultural Association" and expends more sweat than anyone just thinking about monetary proceeds for the Russian spiritual intentions of reviving the "Imperial Russian Society", which was concerned with countering Ottoman political and educational influence in the region. At the invitation of "Orthodox associations" to a meeting with the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mikhail Bogdanov, the Russian embassy in Beirut has done something unprecedented in terms of sectarian activity that no other embassy has done. The date of the meeting, at the beginning of Bogdanov's visit, which goes until this coming Sunday morning, indicates its importance for the embassy, noting that the only invited group that was absent, under the pretext that they do not participate in political gatherings.

In his speech, Bogdanov revealed aspects of Russian policy and diplomacy that had been hidden for many: "I am the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and at the same time I am the deputy of the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society." This makes clear the weight of the connections between the Russian political position and the feeling of this group of Russian diplomats of a religious duty that requires them to turn to the Middle East. The society, which was founded in 1882, was concerned with countering Ottoman influence in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Jordan, as the Russian Empire was awakened to the danger of Ottoman influence in this region. However, it withdrew when the of the French and British mandates took control over these countries, and it was practically dissolved during the days of the Soviet Union. Today, however, it is under the leadership of former Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, who is now the chairman of the Accounts Chamber of Russia, and his statements give the impression that "regaining what Russia has lost" in the region is a national duty.

In a statement that Bogdanov addressed to those present, "We are joined by a unity of faith and a unity of purpose and vision." The majority of those present do not understand the Russian language that the the Russian functionary spoke. However some of them, such as Nicholas Ghulam, Salah Rustum, and Gabriel Harmouch nodded their heads in agreement with what he was saying even before it was translated for them. When the translator made an error, Bogdanov corrected him, amidst the laughter of the audience. In the speech, the former Russian ambassador to South Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Occupied Palestine noted the worry in Russian society (first) and the Church (second) and leadership (third, in his enumeration) about the kidnapping of the two bishops in Syria. He promised to relay what he heard to his leaders in order to convince them to strengthen bonds, not only between Lebanese organizations and their Russian counterparts, or between the organizations and the Church, but also between the organizations and the diplomatic apparatus.

In the hotel overlooking the Bay of Saint George, a Roman military leader that the Orthodox Church considers to be one of her chief saints, it was clear that Russian diplomacy should be numbered as one of the pillars of Russian influence in the region, in addition to the military apparatus in Syria. In the opinion one of observer, there are many friendships between Russia and Lebanon, but the Russian state is no longer content to support its relations through a party that owes ultimate allegiance to a regional state or to another state. It must have a special group that understands Russian interests very well and that works to deal with them by applying the Russian line first and last. They are Orthodox interests before anything else, based on fear of an Islamic blockade around Moscow.

In that hall at the Phoenicia, the characteristics of the "Russian party" in Lebanon became clear, after the characteristics of the other parties had already been known: Saudi, Iranian, Syrian, and American. It became clear that there are two chief forces that Russia can count on, the Party of the Levant, which is a group of young activists led by Rodrigue Khoury recalling the Orthodox Youth Movement of fifty years ago; and the Orthodox Gathering, which includes the majority of Orthodox former ministers and deputies, among whom Nicholas Saba plays the role of secretary-general. Khoury grabbed the first photo-opportunity, by entering the hall accompanying Bogdanov, without it being known whether this was coincidental or if he had really arrived with him. The second photo-opportunity was taken by Saba, when he embraced the Russian guest and gave him an icon of his patron, the Archangel Michael, who bears in his right hand the sword of justice and in his left hand the whole world. In his speech, Saba recalled the long history of Christian-Muslim coexistence in this region, bringing up "the Islam of tolerance, mercy, and love." In contrast to others who were content with generalities and flattery, Saba defined the requests of the Gathering: scholarships for Lebanese University students in Russia, support for relations between the Russian and Antiochian Orthodox Churches, encouraging the Russian state to purchase substantial land in Beirut a major Russian church educational facility. As for Khoury, he distinguished himself from the other speakers by his calm voice, precise expression, and looking up from his papers to make eye-contact with Bogdanov. Khoury recalled the spread of Orthodoxy in Russia, after "Michael the Syrian" in the year 988 convinced "Prince Vladimir" of it and he thanked "Vladimir the Russian" for sending in the year 2013 "Michael the Russian" to the Middle East. Khoury outidid himself and all the others in his courtship of the Russian embassy by recalling the testimony of a Russian visitor to Lebanon in 1896: "The love of the residents and their children for Russia almost reaches the point of madness. There are children who start to cry if anyone curses the Russians in front of them," without making it clear whether this Russian was distributing money or sitting behind a canon so that "the residents and children" would love him that much. After that, Khoury took a half-step back, making eye-contact with Bogdanov, and said, "Beloved, we here are the sons and grandsons of those children.  It is up to you to assess how we have grown up and what collective memory we bear." The Russian ambassador and the Deputy Foreign Minister were almost crying, they were so strongly affected. As for Ferzli's tears, they were ready to confirm Khoury's words: curse the Russians and you will make the former deputy prime minister cry.

 And from an-Nahar, here.

Bogdanov after his meeting with Audi: We will work to free the two bishops

After his meeting with Metropolitan Elias Audi, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov declared: "We are greatly affected by the His Eminence's assessment of what is occurring in the region, especially with regard to the situation of the Christian community. These problems raise the concern of Russian citizens and Orthodox Church circles... We in the Russian political leadership seek to strengthen the bonds that tie us to the Christian communities in the Middle East." Bogdanov condemned the kidnapping of the two bishops, affirming that "we will make the utmost effort to learn the fate of the two bishops and to secure their release."

No comments: