The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office, being a ‘hip, happening and generally with-it’ organisation, have recently been encouraging their staff to write blogs – some official, some not quite so official.
There are only a few Foreign Office bloggers at the moment, but their ranks include the British Ambassadors to Belarus and Latvia, and the Press Secretary at the British Embassy in Moscow. Oh, and the Foreign Secretary himself.
So, without further ado, here’s a quick roundup of the Foreign Office FSU bloggers (Note, as staff have moved, their blogs have been deleted – I’ve removed links to any dead blogs).
Most of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office blogs are hosted on a FCO account. Which is great for promoting the FCO’s corporate image, but not really all that great for actually making connections with real people.
If you’re in Russia or, in Nigel Gould-Davies’ case, Belarus, the best way to connect with people reading and writing blogs is to set up a Livejournal account – so Gould-Davies blog is published under the nickname of zubritanets.
The other thing that really helps is having the good sense to publish in Russian, rather than English – it means that Gould-Davies’ posts are actually likely to be readable by the majority of people in Belarus, rather than just English language bloggers like me, who follow events in the East from afar.
Gould-Davies has been blogging for just over a year – since February 2009 – and he’s posted on average once every couple of weeks since then, covering topics as diverse as the recent G20 summit, learning Belarussian, and (of course) Tigger and Suzy, the Ambassadorial Cats.
So far the content has, admittedly, been a bit bland. It’s not particularly surprising really – Gould-Davies is hardly going to be welcomed as an ambassador in a country like Belarus if he touches on sensitive political nerves, but all the same, it’s a bit disappointing to see his blog mainly used for fluff, rather than to actually debate and engage.
But what is really impressive is the number of comments on each post. Some of the debate is vigorous – and no doubt makes people back in London terribly uncomfortable to be associated with – but it does show that his blog is actually helping Gould-Davies to do his job of not just talking at people in Belarus, but of letting them know that he is genuinely interested in, and learning about their lives, politics and culture. In particular, it’s really nice to see Gould-Davies responding to their comments left on his blog.
Like Nigel Gould-Davies, Richard Moon has taken the pragmatic approach of hosting his blog on a local provider – in this case, the blogs section of Diena (The Day) – the largest and, I’m told, the most influential newspaper in Latvia.
Unlike Gould-Davies, Richard Moon has decided to post solely in English. I’m not sure why he took this approach but, in a country where people seem to speak English with almost Scandinavian expertise, I don’t think it’s going to hamper him all that much – only six posts old and, already, Richard Moon’s blog is attracting bucketloads of comments.
I was particularly impressed that Moon hasn’t been afraid to criticize his hosts (although he does have the good sense to criticize Latvians in the same breath as he trashes ill-behaved British louts on holiday):
But there is another side to the coin. The British Embassy wants to solve the problem of mis-behaving Brits who upset the poor residents of Riga and stain the reputation of my country. But my job is also to help Brits when they are in trohble through no fault of their own. In fact, it is this element which causes the real work for my consular officials. Not just the stolen passports and wallets. But small but persistent number of incidents of rip-offs and muggings, or young men honey-trapped into buying pretty young ladies very expensive drinks and then threatened with violence if they refuse to pay. Sometimes people are beaten up for the sake of it. It happened to me. And I have lost count of many occasions when taxi-drivers try to rip me off by running up bogus fares on the meter.
These incidents don�t justify bad behaviour. I don�t get the urge to urinate over a national monument as an act of revenge every time a taxi driver tries to extract an overpayment from me. But I do wonder about why the authorities responsible for licensing, in conjunction with the police and the private sector, cannot do more to tighten up regulation of consumer services such as the bars and rogue taxi drivers in the city. That way, all overseas resident and visitors to Riga can have a happy and safe stay and enjoy the treasures to be found here.
I’d thoroughly recommend reading the whole post – for, if nothing else, the entertaining discussion about Brits pissing up walls that follows in the comments.
James’ blog has been going since November last year.
A busy man, he’s only found time for 7 or 8 posts, which range from rather dry informative posts, to personal reflections on his work.
My favourite post so far is this one, which I’m going to sneakily re-post in full because, even though it has absolutely nothing to do with Russia, I think it brilliantly encapsulates the way the world – and diplomacy – has changed over the past 50 years.
I joined the FCO just over eleven years ago. In my first department was a gentleman, a year away from retirement, whose first posting had been to Accra. He’d travelled there by sea, as had his possessions, his mail, and what few family members had been able to visit him.
This week I discovered that my Dad’s now following me on Twitter.
According to his About page, James is a bit of a social media nerd, and has already started two other blogs. Sadly, no links to either blog – I wonder if they’re related to Russia at all?
Just before I go, a quick word about David Miliband. If you want to credit anyone with the FCO’s surge into blogging, it should be David Miliband.
Now that he’s moved to the FCO, Miliband is still blogging. Obviously he has a pretty wide remit – the whole world – but he writes about Russia fairly regularly and he’s worth reading for those posts alone.
Plug Your New Russia Blog
As ever, I’ll finish off with a reminder that I�m always keen to hear of new blogs about Russia. If you write one, or know of one, send me a quick message, and I�ll write a brief introductory post here on Siberian Light.