HOW TO PICK UP A PRESIDENT!
Dr John Russell, Head of the Department of Modern Languages, planned to meet several VIPs during his short visit to Moscow and St. Petersburg in the first week of September, but hadn't bargained on a handshake and a chat about Moscow with the
President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin.
Dr Russell was in the Russian capital on a visit funded by the University's PICKUP-CVE scheme, aimed at establishing contacts with new higher educational establishments in that country and promoting the Department's new course (run in collaboration with the Management Centre) in Russian Interpreting and Translating for International Business. He explains how the chance meeting with the Russian President occurred.
"I had completed my series of meetings for the day and had a few hours to kill before taking the overnight 'Red Arrow' express train to St. Petersburg. So I decided to revisit some of my old haunts in the city in which I had studied and worked for three years in the 70's and 80's. I had just left the building of the former Novosti Press Agency on Pushkin Square, where I had worked as a translator and noticed a crowd gathering at a crossroad. Upon enquiring, I was informed that Boris Yeltsin was due along in a few moments to open a nineteenth-century retro style cafe on Stoleshnikov Lane,
one of the many heritage sites being renovated to celebrate the 850th anniversary of Moscow. The Russian security police herded the onlookers across to the other side of the street from the presidential stretch limousine and penned us behind barriers. Soon we caught sight of Yeltsin's distinctive silver hair alongside the dapper flat cap of Yury Luzhkov, Mayor of Moscow
and the distinctive regalia of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksei II.
From the front row of well-wishers I took my snaps and waved my University of Bradford plastic bag. Suddenly, Boris Yeltsin caught sight of me. Had he seen the bag or did he take this fair-haired, bearded spectator as a typical Russian muzhik?
In the event, he waved and strode purposefully across the street, grabbed my hand in a suprisingly firm grip and asked how I liked Moscow in all its finery. I replied that it looked wonderful and invited him back to Britain. He shook with laughter (was it something that I said?) and plunged further into the crowd. Meanwhile, it transpired that I was the only person present with a camera, so I was soon besieged by what appeared to be Russian women of all ages pleading with me to send them copies of my photos to mark this memorable event.
After the President had driven away in his limousine, a Russian reporter came up and asked if the President had said anything about the war in Chechnya. Spooky really, as the article I am working on currently is about Russian perceptions of the Chechen War and I could have asked...oh well, next time perhaps!"