‘Gift from the souvenir shop on the ground floor’

Ksenia Melnikova

New Year is the time for gifts. Usually politicians and dip-lomats give each other so-uvenirs – embroidery, pai-ntings, jewelry or weap-ons. The protocol service tries to take into account all the nuances, but it does not always succeed. Some of the presentations caused embarrassing situations and sometimes international scandals.
A precious memory
End of October 2021. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Norwegian counterpart Anniken Huitfeldt lay flowers at the monument to Soviet soldiers at the cemetery in Tromsø.
“Many Norwegians keep the memory of World War II. My grandfather was in a concentration camp with Soviet soldiers and remembered this until the end of his life, he even learned Russian and read your poets,” said Huitfeldt, showing the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry a family relic – a box, which keeps at home “as a precious memory.”
But the interlocutors did not understand each other. Lavrov, considering it a gift, thanked his colleague: “This priceless souvenir will find its place in the museum of our ministry.” Huitfeld smiled a little shyly. Later, the Russian minister returned the box.
But Lavrov still took something from Norway. Rector of the Arctic University Dag Rune Olsenom presented the Russian guest with the book “Rapprochement of Russia and Norway in 1814-1917” and a blue glass vase with images from Scandinavian mythology. Accepting the souvenir, the minister joked: “Is it for water or for whiskey?” – “For whiskey”. Olsen guessed right with the present – of all the spirits, Lavrov prefers this one.
But the gift from Bosnia and Herzegovina almost led to an international scandal. The representative of the country’s presidium from the Serbs Milorad Dodik presented an Orthodox icon to the Russian minister who had arrived for the talks. It was reported that she is three hundred years old, they found her in Lugansk. Upon learning of this, the Ukrainian embassy in Sarajevo sent a note demanding to explain the origin of the shrine, calling it “an object of the cultural heritage of Ukraine.”
The media wrote that the icon was worth 12 million euros. Publications close to the Republika Srpska authorities claimed that it belonged to the owner of the bankrupt Lithuanian bank UKIO Bank. Dodik’s advisor Radovan Kovachevich denied this information. He estimated the icon at two hundred euros: “It is spiritually dear, not materially.” Lavrov still refused the gift.
Thousand Dollar Watch
Sometimes presentations help establish normal contact. Vladimir Putin and Joseph Biden met in Geneva in June. The American leader brought a crystal bison figurine and aviator glasses. They were made to order by Randolph, a company that manufactures products for US and NATO military pilots. Putin responded with a written set “Moscow” with Khokhloma painting.
And the President of Switzerland, Guy Parmelin, presented the guests with high-tech wrist watches from Tissot T-Touch Connect Solar: a black and silver case, a black strap, a dial protected by a sapphire crystal, inside a compass, an alarm clock, a timer and a pedometer. The cost of the model is just over 1.1 thousand dollars. They will appear in Russia only at the beginning of 2022.
The summit lasted about four hours. Putin called the conversation with Biden “constructive”, the head of the White House said he wanted “to build predictable and stable relations with Russia.”
Tie with Erdogan’s initials
For two and a half years in power, Vladimir Zelensky received several hundred gifts. They are transferred to the Fund of Presidents of Ukraine, created by Leonid Kuchma.
Polish leader Andrzej Duda donated the volume Crimean Sonnets by Adam Mitskevich, and Israeli President Yitzhak Herzog presented books on the Babi Yar tragedy and an amphora with the inscription Jerusalem. The head of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, presented a personalized tie with his initials.
American leader Joseph Biden handed over a white metal bowl to his Ukrainian colleague, his predecessor in office, Donald Trump, presented a cigarette case for the inauguration, the President of Hungary presented a statuette of a hussar, and Estonian leader Kersti Kaljulaid – an Ampler electric bike. This type of transport was used by Zelensky’s hero, teacher Goloborodko, in the film “Servant of the People”.
The head of the Pentag-on, Lloyd Austin, presented a sculpture with the Ame-rican flag, and US Secreta-ry of State Anthony Blink-en – a tray. For some reason, Zelen-sky is often presented with dishes. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar brought a handmade porcelain plate and service with national painting, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut C-avusoglu – a porcelain dish with a lid for desserts, the Egyptian ambassador – a metal plate with the flags of the two countries. And the Latvian colleague Egils Le-vits handed Zelensky a cartoon depicting both presidents and the Ukrainian leader taking a selfie.
In early September, members of Congress presented him with the book “Minor Traumatic Brain Injury”, published by the American-Ukrainian Medical Foundation AUMF. “After all, a book is the best gift, whatever one may say,” reacted the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova.
“Gift from the souvenir shop on the ground floor”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Joseph Biden have met several times this year. The new American leader needed to mend relations with a colleague and ally and resume air traffic between Britain and the United States, interrupted by the pandemic. He approached the choice of the present thoroughly – he presented a touring bike and a helmet, made to ord-er. The “friendly gesture” i-ndicated a general interest in cycling among politicians.
At the next meeting, Johnson presented Biden with a book by British astronaut Tim Peak “Hello, is this planet Earth?” with a dedication: “A reminder of what our countries are trying to save by fighting climate change.” Then he assured the journalists of the success of the negotiations – “An hour and a half with Joe passed, as always, in a friendly atmosphere and were productive.”
Biden was more restrained in his comments on the meeting. It turned out that he presented the British prime minister with a framed photo of their meeting in Cornwall at the G7 summit, and a souvenir wristwatch. The British media felt that Washington was showing disrespect for London as a junior partner. “Biden clearly forgot about gifts to Johnson, since he fumbled in a hurry with a watch with a picture of the White House. Nothing says about the devil-may-care attitude more clearly than what was brought to you at the last minute from the gift shop on the ground floor,” The Guardian reacted.
Many Britons joked: this present is still better than the one that Johnson recei-ved in 2017, when he headed the Foreign Office. Aust-ralian Foreign Secretary Julie Bishop then gifted him with compression running leggings. He did not show them to journalists, saying only that they were “like Hugh Jackman’s.”