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Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Sunday Travel Section: If Russia Thinks its New Ally is China, it had Better Think Again

In a pathological manner, Russia has spent the last few months infuriating and alienating the Western world. Some think Russia is turning East. Maybe it thinks so itself. But blogger Paul Gobel shows that the East has quite different ideas.

Tourism officials in Moscow have expressed outrage that Chinese tour guides working in the Russian capital have described Russians as “wild men, drunkards and idlers” and Russia’s history as that of “a barbarian kingdom which illegally took away the Far East and Siberia from China.”

But as of today, more senior Russian officials appear to have decided not to make a diplomatic issue out of this case but rather to impose stricter licensing requirements on those who guide Chinese visitors around Moscow and other portions of the Russian Federation.

At least so far, this issue, raised by interviews given by Russian tourism officials in the current issue of the Russian nationalist newspaper “Tvoi den’,” and so far discussion of it has been confined almost entirely to the nationalist portion of the Russian Internet. But the officials’ anger suggests that it is likely to spread to mainstream media.

“Up to now,” Nadezhda Nazina, deputy head of Rosturizm, said, “only tour guides of Baltic delegations permitted themselves to make such comments. But in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, this is the policy of the government, but in this case, [she hoped], it is simply personal antipathy and ignorance of individual representatives of the Chinese Peoples Republic.” In a similar vein, Dmitriy Shul’tsev, the head of the Tourism Committee in the Moscow city government, expressed the hope that what had taken place reflected the failure of Chinese tour operators to recruit and train those who lead Chinese visitors to Russia in the proper way.

But Shul’tsev warned that the city of Moscow will demand significant improvements in this area, including requiring that all tour guides now be tested for their knowledge of Russian history before they are given their licenses to practice their trade in the Russian capital.
And both he and other Russian officials, “Tvoi Den’” reported, made clear that if it should turn out that the comments of the Chinese tour guides were not the work of individuals but reflected “the official policy” of China, then officers of Russian security agencies would be asked to get involved.

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