What do you do here?
What I do now varies considerably from what I used to do when I first arrived in Moscow 14 years ago, then I was a consultant in tourism related projects and later in Property development and Sales. Prior to my arrival in Russia I had spent most of my working life in management of international tour operators, incoming and outgoing, hotel management and later owning two small hotels in Ireland. After the 2008 crisis I had to reinvent myself as a business consultant and trainer, mainly with SMEâs but had dealings in banking spheres, independent oil companies and through many of my previous contacts had such clients as the former Prime Minister of Kazakhstan and other high profile personalities. Apart from my consultancy and training work, clients use me to discuss more intense subjects, they would ask serious questions and require an honest answer to them.
Is the Irish community here important for you? You have been here a long time and are probably very well integrated?
I have been involved with the Irish Business Club now for over 10 years. My title â and it is the only title I have here in Russia â is Deputy Chairperson and Treasurer.
Ah, you are a very important person!
Well perhaps not as important as if I was doing the same thing for Sberbank! But itâs important because we have to be transparent and do everything correctly. When I first came here there were probably well over a thousand Irish expats, involved in virtually every type of business. We had top people in many financial institutions and in many other industries. That has dwindled right down now. Whilst there is still a nucleus of people who have been here a long time, a lot of the newcomers are not going into high-level positions, and there are fewer fields into which they can enter into than before. Most of the input from young Irish people now is in education, which is something they were enjoying up until November. Nevertheless, the feedback I get from them is that the biggest difference between teaching here and in Ireland is the respect that they get, whereas in the UK and Ireland, we have heard that there are many problems in that regard.
Why is it that Ireland is the only country in the world allowed to celebrate its National Day in Russia? How are Irish treated here in general?
A lot of Russians donât know, but it was actually an Irishman; Peter Lacy who won the Crimea for Russia, in a battle against Turkey in 1738. He was one of the Earls who had fled Ireland after fighting the English. He first went to France and then to Russia, and eventually became the governor of Latvia, as a reward for his services. He introduced non-confrontational fighting; something he had learned how to use effectively when fighting the English. He used these tactics, which could be described as almost guerrilla-warfare type methods, in the Crimea. Another example of the close relationship between Russia and Ireland would be that Ireland was the first country during the Cold War to allow Aeroflot to land in its airports for refuelling before the transatlantic flights. In the early â90âs the mayor of Moscow saw the St. Patrickâs Day Parade in Dublin and after discussions with leading Businessmen and the Embassy here decided to hold the Parade. It has run, with the exception of 2 times following the crisesâ in Moscow, consecutively and will also be held this year on the 14th March. Parts of the city will turn green!
And a certain warmness towards Ireland is still there in the present administration?
It is still there. We have a couple of advantages over most countries in Europe. Firstly, we have a huge diaspora in America, so we have a lot of influence and feedback to and from the US. Secondly, we have had a good relationship with Russia going on for a long time and being non-NATO also helps. So when the Cold War came down, because Russians got used to having their Irish Coffees and buying their Duty Free in Shannon airport, it was only natural that Aer Rianta set up duty free shops in Russian airports when the right time came. Since then, we have had a major influence on business in Russia; managers of such Companies as Coca Cola, Pepsi, Kelloggâs and many others were Irish. We still have people in very influential positions.
How do you see the expat world in Russia panning out over the next ten years?
I think it will really diminish. Many people will leave, for various reasons, contracts will not be renewed, the reliance on expat management is not as great now with the development of Russian management teams and international companies will only keep expats in key positions. Those who have married Russians will have a different agenda. Some have integrated well into society here and are well respected so will stay for the long road. Others are getting their children educated in Ireland because itâs cheaper than doing the same thing here. So in some ways the children will become a little bit more Irish than they would have been if they had been brought up here. I think in time, people will have to make a decision: is it worth staying here? One never knows what the future holds in Russia, we can all surmise that this or that is gong to happen, but we just donât know. In the end of the day, you have to ask yourself: Is it worth it? From my own point of view, I have many wonderful Russian friends, whom I can have serious arguments with, but those bonds of friendship are not broken whatever the outcome of the argument. Whereas in other places if you have an argument over a football team for example, you can be disliked. Over the years I have looked at how Russians live, and how they adapt. They are very resilient people. The worst thing you can possibly do is to tell Russians that you are going to destroy them or their economy, as it will only make them more determined. Some of the international leaders need to get a little bit more information about what Russia is, and Russians are all about.
For the Irish community here, Iâd just like to say: to remain positive, to keep supporting the Irish Business Club and the charitable works that we do, because there is always somebody worse off than us. Letâs keep positive about it.