The Snack Thief

Burov & Sova

by Kim Waddoup

Sometimes it’s good to be different! This certainly was the Motto by which eminent members of the Moscow Good Food Club were welcomed as the made their way through the doors of the charming Burov and Sova Russian Bistro on Kuznetsky Most. In a short time since its opening this rather humble establishment has made quite a name for itself!

Rather than the normal Aperitif and Canapes favoured my most Restaurants, the talented Chef at Burov & Sova decided to welcome us with a vast buffet consisting of Russian favourites including Deer, Duck, Roast Beef, Beef Tongue, home made duck and deer pate, amazing Rabbit pirogi’s, his own unique black caviar and much more!. To complete the uniqueness of this welcome we were invited to savour the delightful tastes of their Wormwood and Horseradish house liqueurs. This really set the mood for the evening. Following an introduction we were asked to take our seats in the main hall.

This Russian feast continued with a Sauerkraut soup with smoked duck washed down with a glass of the unique Garlic & Pepper Polugar. This was followed shortly after by another Russian favourite, Herring under a Fur Coat with fragrant Pacific Herring, roasted vegetables and light beetroot mouse accompanied by our first Russian wine of the evening, a light, rather young Sibirkoviy Vedernikov 2014.

The next dish was quite a surprise, Kamchatka Crab cooked in butter with cheese and tomatoes. Initially many were intrigued y the cheese covering the crab and the first bites did confirm that this was maybe too much protein at one time, however, almost as if by magic, the plates were cleaned and nothing left to waste. Maybe this was due to the impeccable taste of the Roussane de Gay – Kodzor 2015.

The next dish was a meat Skoblyanka of beef, pork and duck with white mushrooms and salted pickles. The dish favoured a hearty creamed sauce that was then delicately balanced by the inclusion of a specific berry that broke the creamy flavour and cleansed the palate. However the robust Dostoiny Premium Zaporozhskoe from 2014 was excellently paired proving to admirably complement the intricate flavours of this exceptional Skoblyanka.

Dessert was a generous slice of Bird Cherry pie with orange sauce which proved to be a tart tasting cake and a speciality of the restaurant when the bird cherries are in season. The almost bitter flavour of the cake was beautifully balanced by the superb Muscat White Red Stone. An amazing wine and a superb end to a magnificent Russia banquet worthy of a Tsar.

With our members suitably fortified the spokespeople from each table, eloquently delivered their Critiques. All were unanimous in their praise of Burov and Sova and the amazing efforts of their talented Chef, Vlad Labutin. They all admired his creativity combined with his respect for tradition in preparing an excellent meal.

Excellent ratings for an independent restaurant. All were unanimous for their praise for the waiters who carried our their duties so proficiently and quietly, it was almost as if they were not even there. Hearty congratulations to this excellent team.

As is the custom at the Moscow Good Food Club our members were challenged with the question: ‘Winter is just around the corner. Imagine someone coming to Moscow for the first time to start work, what essentials would you recommend?’ Well inebriated, naturally the range of answers went from practical to sublime to the ridiculous including bringing ample supplies of bacon & sausages, bring plenty of vitamin D, obtain a large box of Polugar, buy a season ticket to a banya, good hat, gloves and good shoes. However it was mostly agreed that a sense of humour would be most essential to face a Moscow winter.

Bidding their fond farewells, the members left these hallowed halls and made their way back to real life!

Café Russe in the Ritz Carlton

Kim Waddoup

An invitation to the Moscow Good Food Club in the Café Russe in the Ritz Carlton is hard to refuse and 38 venerable members made their way into these hallowed halls with the expectations of yet another great culinary experience. And they were not disappointed as it was set to be an evening of superlatives.

The Café Russe has become a refuge for many in a city that seems to run on adrenalin! It is elegant, yet comfortable and does not require the ‘airs & graces’ that so many other establishments employ. One would refer to the Café Russe as refined elegance.

As the members entered the waiters served them with a rose champagne. It was interesting to observe how many were pre-occupied greeting old friends but as they raised their glasses for the second or third time, the looks appreciation formed. We were drinking a Balaklava Brut Rose from the Crimea. This raised some eyebrows but this aperitif and the amazingly succulent canapés set the scene for the evening.

As is tradition, all members were asked to seat punctually at 20:00. We were welcomed by Bernie Aird from the Ritz Carlton and then introduced to our Chef, Pavel Belyalov. “Is he not a bit young mentioned one of our esteemed members!”). Then to the amazing personality of Anton our Sommelier for the evening. Pavel explained the menu and then disappeared into his kitchen. Anton explained that for this evening, he has specially selected wines from Crimea.

Our first course was Beetroot Marinated Salmon with green apple horseradish cream and fresh herbs. Many were surprised by the colour of the salmon as it was deep red from the beetroot. The tastes were immaculate and individual and the dish excellently paired with a Sary Pandas from the Zaharin Estate. An extremely well balanced wine and perfect for the salmon.

This was followed by Slow Cooked Chicken Breast, with smoked celeriac puree and chicken Jus. This dish received mixed reviews, the chicken was succulent but a little bland, however the crispy nuggets of well roasted skin flavoured the dish and suited the overall taste. Anton had warned us that this wine would be controversial and how right he was. The Chardonay Reseve Baccal Su, divided the group with some liking and some totally against it’s almost sherry flavour. However it was noted that few glasses remained full and the top up from the Café Russe’s excellent waiters were never refused!

On to the main course of Grilled Venison with pan fried Chanterelle, Herb Brioche, fresh berries and Venison Jus. Admirably paired with a bold and deep Kefessia from the Zaharin Estate, the venison was succulent and full of flavour. The brioche was quite surprising and added well to the combined flavour with the fresh berries providing some final sharpness. An excellently paired course with suggestions of the Winter to come!

Moscow Good Food Club members are canny and new to keep space for dessert. As the last of the dishes were cleared and the Kefessia being bid a fond farewell, the desserts appeared. The colour and decoration had most members grabbing for their phones to take pictures of this beautiful Raspberry Composition with intriguing Pain Perdue and Vanilla Chantilly. Again perfectly balanced providing an excellent flavour to cleanse the palate from this amazing meal. Always one for surprises Anton served a Berry Bitter, Beluga Gold to conclude this gastronomic journey.

Tea and coffee were served as the members discussed and prepared their Critiques. These have become an important part of any Moscow Good Food Club evening and lead to lively discussions on each table.

As each spokesperson took to the floor, it was evident that, even if there were some points for discussion, the general impression was excellent with great praise for the young Chef, Pavel Belyakov. Whilst each course was ‘dissected’ by our juries, you could see Pavel making note of each comment. A Chef rarely has such an opportunity to hear an honest appraisal of his creations.

The wines were also discussed in some depth with varying critiques but always to the pleasure of Anton who really appreciates such feedback. Once again the general impression was that Russian wines are certainly coming of age and will soon take the justified place in world markets. Once correlated, the ratings from our MGFC Members were:-

So congratulations to Pavel, Anton and the entire team at the Café Russia, for another excellent Moscow Good Food Club!

As is customary our members are asked some relevant questions. On this occasion the question was: The centre of Moscow has changed so much over the Summer with so many projects. If you had 3 wishes for the mayor’s Department for more improvements what would these be? As usual the answers varied from practical to outright hilarious and included:- Less Disney Land styles; more parking; food trucks in the centre; better communication with residents prior to re-construction; lifts to be provided in Metro stations: re-launch small shops in or near the metro stations and a 24 hour Metro.

Suitably fulfilled by the excellent meal and with the warm feeling produced by the Berry Bitter Beluga Gold, the stalwart members of the Moscow Good Food Club bate farewell to the Café Russe and made their way out of the grand entrance of the Ritz Carlton to resume normal life in Moscow.

Bar BQ Café – Great Expectations Justified!

by Kim Waddoup

Great Expectations! Many restaurants are able to create quite a reputation and mostly because of this one wants to try them out. Therefore, one’s expectations are generally higher than they should be, and it is then a challenge for the restaurant to come up with the goods, provide food and service that is worthy of that reputation. Often in reality the expectations are higher than the actual experience.

When we heard that the Moscow Good Food Club had been invited to the Bar BQ Café we were intrigued. Yes we had heard that their steaks, burgers and ribs were good but was this not a bar where younger people are encouraged to drink from oversized glasses through straws?

Long term expat and owner of the Bar BQ Café Chain, Henrik Winter worked with his team to prepare what looked like an amazing menu with many very interesting wine pairings, but would they really be able to come up with the goods? With these thoughts, Moscow Good Food Members descended on the Bar BQ Café on Trubnaya Pl. The place is modern, bright and the interior decorations very comfortable. We were shown to our curtained-off area for our MGFC Dinner. Lovely waitresses with beaming smiles were quick to serve us with a very pleasant Nino Franco Brut, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superior accompanied by the Chef’s selection of creative and delicious canapés.

Soon we were asked to take our tables and our feast could begin. With each course our hosts Sacha Murachev, the chief Culinary Director explained each course and Georgy Maximov the wines and why they have been selected for us. The meal started with a delicious Spicy Pumpkin Soup that packed so many additional flavours including pumpkin seeds and watercress. This was paired with a very soft and gentle Tenuta Sant’Antonio, ‘Fontana’ Soave.

The next dish of Salmon Tartar with ginger-citrus ponzu was soft and delicate but could maybe had done with a splash more lime to complete the effect. This was paired with a Jerman Pino Bano, Frui-Venezia Giulia IGT which was crisp and flavoursome and perfectly complemented the ponzu dressing.

Could this quality and flavour continue? Yes it could and it did with superbly prepared roast beef served with an onion chutney and back radish admirably paired with a Gaja ‘Promis’ Ca Marcanda, Toscana IGT.

Then came ‘la piece de resistance’ delicious King Crab prepared in warm butter with black salt and stewed white onion. Rumour had it that this is the signature dish in one of Copenhagen’s most famous restaurants and now admirably prepared for us also in Moscow! The robust Muga, Blanco, Fermentado en Barrica, Rioja proved that Rioja does not always have to be red and it’s white variety with bursting flavours was excellent for this comprehensive dish.

This was followed by Brisket served with fresh coleslaw, mustard sauce, leek and pickles. Once again the chef had prepared the Brisket to perfection and the coleslaw was fresh, crispy and full of flavour rather than the dull, mayonnaise soaked varieties that we are generally used to receiving. The Catena Zapata, ‘Catena’ Malbec, Mendoza proved to be an excellent choice, not as heavy and overpowering as many Malbecs but soft and mellow whilst remaining fully flavoured.

By now many of our members were showing the strains of packing away 5 courses and 6 different wines, but as well prepared connoisseurs, they had saved space for the dessert of Raspberry Lavender Mouse with fresh berries, a delightfully light concoction that freshened the palate. The Beringer, Moscato California Collection proved to be a worthy dessert wine, not over sweet but perfectly balanced by the berries and raspberry flavours.

As tea and coffee was served, each table was busy conferring with their spokespeople to prepare their critiques. All were unanimous in their praise of Bar BQ Café and the endeavours of Henrik Winter’s highly talented team headed by Chef Sergey Liminko. All mentioned that they were intrigued with the idea of attending a Moscow Good Food Club in a restaurant generally not so associated with haute cuisine but based on our reputation for Good Food, Good Wine and of course Great Company, non were disappointed, in fact quite the opposite all were delighted with the amazing high quality, the flavours, the attention to detail and the exceedingly well paired wines. Each spokesperson also praised the waitresses who were efficient, so friendly and never without a smile.

This ranks Bar BQ Café on a level similar to many of the great restaurants that we have attended over the years! Hearty congratulations to Henrik Winter and his incredible team. It goes to prove that the adage that ‘you can’t judge a book by it’s cover’ is also appropriate to a restaurant called Bar BQ Café!

The question of the evening was “Christmas is coming and it is time for a wish. To make our lives in Moscow more enjoyable what would your wish be and what are your reasons?” Naturally after several glasses of Prosecco and 6 different wines, some of the replies are best forgotten! Others included:- Magical Walks along the Boulevard, Come back EasyJet, lots of deep snow and of course many Christmas Presents.

After a really super evening it was time to bid farewell to Bar BQ Café and head out into the clear Winter’s evening in Moscow!

Sailing through Russia From the Arctic to the Black Sea

Sailing through Russia From the Arctic to the Black Sea by John Vallentine & Maxine Maters

Review by Maxine Maters

In 2012 Russia began opening its vast network of inland waterways to foreign pleasure craft. A year later, Australian yacht Tainui became the first foreign-flagged vessel to traverse Russia’s Volga and Don Rivers from the Arctic to the Black Sea.

This richly illustrated book describes Tainui’s ground-breaking journey. It is a laconic and amusing account of a 3,000 mile adventure by two intrepid sailors through a vast landscape, giving unique insights into a Russia which has for so long been inaccessible to foreigners. Detailed descriptions of the villages and cities which lie along the banks of the mighty Volga and Don Rivers are accompanied by 340 colour pictures and navigational charts. The appendix contains an historical overview of the Volga watershed, together with geological and botanical notes and much practical information for cruising yachtsmen venturing into Russian waters.

‘Sailing Through Russia’ is at the same time a personal account of the crew’s trials and tribulations en route, and a detailed cruising guide for adventurous yachtsmen who may follow in their footsteps. It describes candidly the difficulties and triumphs, both personal and bureaucratic, which the crew faced along the way.

Skipper John Vallentine is an Australian doctor who has sailed for most of his life. But he was new to Russia and his frequent exasperation, bewilderment and frustration, couched in wry, light-hearted prose, are clearly evident. If John initiated the trip however, it was Maxine who made it happen. Her struggles with the complexities of Russian bureaucracy were at times gargantuan but always successful. As John says, she was by turns QC, arbitrator, administrator and seductress. Originally from the Netherlands, Maxine began sailing before she could walk. A lawyer by training and fluent in Russian, Maxine is a long-term Moscow resident who used to work in the media.

The book is partly based on John’s award-winning blog, for which he won the Cruising Association’s 2014 Lacy Award. It is essential reading for anyone interested in the Volga River. As a cruising guide it is unique, unlikely to be superseded for many years.

‘Sailing through Russia’ is published by its authors and as from 1 September 2016 is available through Amazon, Arthur Beale in London and Morkniga in Moscow.

Website: sailinginrussia.org

Available: Amazon, Arthur Beale in London and Morkniga in Moscow

Paperback: ISBN: 978-15262-0258-1

318 pages. 340 full colour pictures

Contact: Maxine Maters maxine@sailinginrussia.org

Back Stage Tour of the Bolshoi Theatre

By unashamedly in love with Moscow

The cost of this backstage tour is considerably less than the price of a ticket to one of the Bolshoi Ballet’s performances, which cost the same if not more than trip to Paris and back. Living in Moscow provides the opportunities to learn through touch, hearing and feeling, in comparison to just reading about these places. I learned, for example, that the massive restoration work that closed the Bolshoi from 2005 to 2011, was also an opportunity to expand the theatre underground, towards the fountain which stands proudly outside the front of the theatre. Underground, there is a new theatre hall, the Betkhovensky stage, which we visited. As soon as it opened, our helpful and knowledgeable guide Maria told us, it was closed because of the noise factor from the nearby underground station, and the whole underground complex was sound insulated.

History is imbued into the walls of this place. On looking at Nikolai II’s and Alexandra’s (his wife) initials made into a logo above the entrance to the Tzar’s Box, Maria told us, in brief, the history of the Bolshoi. A theatre was first built on this site in 1776. The location was chosen because of its close proximity to the Kremlin, and the cheap price of the land there because it was right next to the Niglinnaya river; the land was damp and used for rubbish dumps. The original Petrovsky Theatre was replaced by the Bolshoi Petrovsky Theatre. Both previous theatres burned down, and in 1856, the present theatre was built quickly, in 16 months, in the shape of an unidentified musical instrument, for the coronation of Emperor Alexander II. One of the rooms used to celebrate the coronation has the most amazing acoustics I have ever heard, it beats EMI, Apple’s studios any day. It is possible to hear somebody speaking quietly 10 meters away when there are 50 other people in the room.

One of the other unexpected surprises was a rehearsal stage, way up above the main theatre, on the 9th floor, complete with a stage that is as long and as wide as the main Bolshoi stage. The ceiling is far lower, and this stage is used for rehearsals as the main stage is almost always being used. A lone ballerina was rehearsing her steps for Don Quixote, completely engrossed in her painstaking work on points. Unable to understand all of what we had just witnessed, we visited the costume making studios, which are located in a room with windows looking out onto the roof where Apollo is drawn in a chariot by three horsemen. Here are the day time creators — the women who slave away at the costumes day after day.

We learned many fascinating details; for example, that during Stalin’s campaign against religion, the theatre adopted 35 church bells, from churches in Moscow that Stalin had demolished. The theatre itself was untouched because it was the only building big enough in Moscow then to house the Communist Party’s Congresses, and because Stalin liked to watch the occasional opera here from his own box that still exists today.

The Art Deco Museum Moscow

by Scott P. Cordrey

I had heard someone talking, on TV one evening, about the beauty of the Art Deco style of visual arts, architecture and design that first appeared in France and became popular in the 1920s and 1930s, influencing the design of buildings, furniture, jewellery and so much more. So I looked on the internet one Saturday morning, to see if there was an Art Deco exhibition anywhere in Moscow that weekend and, voilà, I discovered an Art Deco museum and decided to make a visit.

I took the metro to Vorobyovy Gory station, located on a bridge over the Moskva and then spent ten minutes walking along Luzhnetskaya Quay, next to the river, enjoying the late autumn colours of the trees until I reached the Museum, a little hidden from the main streets.

Entering, on a Saturday afternoon, felt a little odd as there was no-one waiting to greet visitors in the main reception. So I wandered through the outer doors, and eventually found myself entering a very large room full of paintings and some glass panels in the style of Alfons Mucha, the Czech Art Nouveau painter.

On the left I found the entrance to a similarly large room which houses a considerable collection of sculptures, furniture and decorative arts all in the Art Deco style. This is the Art Deco Museum, founded in 2014 by Mkrtich Okroyan, a businessman and Art Deco collector for more than 15 years.

Here I discovered a beautiful exhibition of bronze and ivory sculptures representing an extensive display of the work of Demetre Chiparus, but also including Ferdinand Preiss, Claire Colinet, Bruno Zach and many others. These beautiful objects are so delicate and tactile with wonderful attention to the details of that time. Each piece seemed to consume my complete attention for minutes at a time as I searched to understand the method, the magic and the rhythm of these creations.

I also enjoyed the decorative lacquered panels by Jean Dunand, who produced gilded lacquered wood panels for the legendary French ocean liner SS Normandie.

There is a collection of the most elegant furniture featuring works by Paul Follot (my own particular favourite), Jacques-Emile Ruhlman, Jules Leleu, and others.

The final items that caught my eye are some wonderful pieces of wrought iron works including floor and table lights by the famous French blacksmith Edgar Brandt. He produced the gates at the entrance to the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris from where Art Deco took its name.

After an emotionally fulfilling tour of the exhibition, there was a comfortable seating area with Art Deco books available to peruse, read and purchase before saying goodbye and heading home. I felt I had discovered yet another little pearl of delight in Moscow and if, like me, you are captivated by the Art Deco style then I can recommend a visit without hesitation.

Art Deco Museum

Luzhnetskaya quay 2/4,
building 4. MOSCOW

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

by D. West

What perspective does this little-known treaty cast on the current relationship between Russia and NATO?

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was the treaty that ended Russia’s participation in the First World War. It marked the success of Germany’s strategy of allowing Vladimir Lenin to return to Russia in a sealed railway car from his exile in Switzerland in April 1917, following the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II after the February Revolution. The Provisional Government continued Russia’s participation in the war, with resultant large numbers of casualties and food shortages in the major cities. Lenin agitated for ‘peace, land and bread’ and, after the October Revolution that same year, became head of the new Soviet Russian government. The treaty was signed on 3 March 1918 between Russia and the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. The British and French continued fighting on the Western Front with the participation of the United States, which entered the war on their side during 1917. In November 1918, an armistice was declared, Germany having been defeated militarily. This effectively terminated the treaty, fortunately for Russia. When Germans later complained about the harshness of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, the riposte was that it was more benign for them than Brest-Litovsk had been on Russia.

What did the treaty do?

Under the treaty, Russia gave up all claims to the territories of Finland, the Baltic States (which were largely ceded to Germany), Belarus and Ukraine (which by another treaty of the same name and date was established as an independent republic under German military protection) – all of which had been part of the Russian Empire at the start of the war. So too was Congress Poland, not mentioned in the treaty but in respect of which Russia in effect also gave up any claim. Russia also transferred Ardahan, Kars and Batumi in the South Caucasus to the Ottoman Empire. It is commonly estimated that Russia lost at least a quarter of its population, arable land and industry and most of its coal mines. The treaty returned Russia to the European boundaries it had before the start of the Great Northern War against Sweden in 1701 – apart from the area around St. Petersburg east of the Narva River which Russia, led by Peter the Great, took early in that war and retained ever afterwards.

Ironically from a contemporary perspective, no issue arose over Crimea, which remained part of Russia and was shown as such on the treaty map.

What were the German objectives?

These were not clear, and it seems there were two schools of thought. The German Foreign Ministry wanted to establish a series of buffer states that would isolate the Soviets from the heart of Europe. They envisaged that the new states would establish strong ethnic and national identities which would lead them to assert their independence of outside control. On the other hand, the German Army High Command, headed by Paul von Hindenburg and driven by his chief of staff Erich Ludendorff, wanted permanent mastery over the periphery of the Russian Empire, with puppet governments facilitating German strategic and economic exploitation of the region. When asked why the annexation of the Baltic States was necessary, von Hindenburg said: ‘to secure my left flank for when the next war happens.’

What happened afterwards?

The treaty worked out badly for the Germans. Although they moved large numbers of veteran troops to the Western Front for the Spring Offensive, they had to leave over a million soldiers behind to maintain their presence in the huge area they occupied from Poland eastwards.

In the wars and civil war that followed during the next three to four years, Ukraine was recovered by the Bolsheviks and became one of the republics of the Soviet Union, Poland and the Baltics emerged as independent countries. However, in consequence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 the Soviet Union annexed the Baltic States and Poland was divided between it and Germany. At the end of World War II, Poland’s sovereignty was restored but with its north-south borders moved westwards on both sides of the country. The Baltics only became independent again during the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

What is the significance of this today?

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was formally nullified as between Germany and Russia by the Treaty of Rapallo of 1922. However, some treaties – even short-lived ones – have a way of asserting a ghost-like presence in international affairs long after they have become defunct as legal instruments.

To see this, let us first review the period from the end of WWII until the end of the Cold War based on traditional, non-ideological “realpolitik.” During this time, most of Europe was divided into two ‘blocs’ (only a few states being neutral). One, under US tutelage, consisted of the NATO alliance which included most of western Europe (but not Austria, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Switzerland and Yugloslavia) and Turkey. The other, driven by Russia, had two layers. The first was the Warsaw Pact, a central and eastern European alliance intended to counter NATO. The second was the Soviet Union itself, which consisted latterly of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics, the largest and most dominant being that of Russia.

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 (25 years ago next month), Russia’s western boundaries have been the same as those following the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In the Caucasus, they have been reduced by the independence of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

This may have seemed relatively inconsequential at first because there was no apparent reason for Russia to be concerned militarily about its western or southern frontiers. However, NATO expanded into much of central Europe – most significantly including Poland and the Baltics, both of which had been within the Russian Empire (although only in part for Poland) and subsequently either the Warsaw Pact or the Soviet Union.

Furthermore, for so long as neutrality was maintained by Ukraine, Belarus and Finland on Russia’s western flank and Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia to the south, they effectively provided a buffer zone. Once discussions started about including Ukraine and Georgia in NATO, there was no longer any assurance to Russia that their neutrality would necessarily be continued.

It is in this context that the differences in German strategy relating to the Brest-Litovsk Treaty come back to life. The policy of establishing (or reviving, depending on one’s viewpoint) states with strong ethnic and national identities that would assert their independence has clearly been effective. However, extending NATO to Poland and the Baltics and holding public discussions about including Ukraine and Georgia inevitably revives (consciously or unconsciously) memories of the plans of the German General Staff in 1918.

It also inevitably raises again the question put to von Hindenburg – what do you need it for?

DC West
London
8 November, 2016

Legal Wrangling Engulfs Brexit

Luke Conner
General Director,
Conner & Company LLC

In my last column for Moscow expat Life, I reacted to the aftermath of the Brexit referendum and highlighted my concerns that there was no clear plan for Brexit and that a soft-Brexit might end up irritating those on both sides of the political spectrum, rather than having a unifying effect on Britain’s voters. As it happened, and presumably based on similar reasoning, Theresa May’s government has seemingly since opted to form a policy centred on an altogether harder form of Brexit. On 3 November, 2016, the High Court of England and Wales threw a proverbial spanner in the works, by ruling that the government had no right to invoke Article 50 without obtaining prior parliamentary approval. This in turn, led to sections of the press referring to the judges concerned as “enemies of the people”, resulting in a fair amount of anger and confusion amongst sections of the voting public.

To better understand the reasoning behind this judgment, we should take a quick look at the background. Theresa May’s government always contended that invoking Article 50 (of the Treaty of European Union) was a foreign policy matter and therefore under the government’s sole purview pursuant to an ancient constitutional legal convention known as the royal prerogative. Gina Miller, a fund manager from London, and Deir Tozetti Dos Santos, a Spanish-born hair-stylist living in London, begged to differ and brought a claim challenging the catchily named, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. With a powerful legal team assisting them, (which was ostensibly financed by Mrs. Miller and funds raised through crowd-sourcing), Miller and Santos argued that, as a matter of law, invoking Article 50 should only be initiated by the government subject to the prior approval of Parliament because the rights afforded to British citizens under the European Communities Act 1972 (which ratified the treaty) were also provided by Parliament domestically.

In summary (and please note this is necessarily concise), the court, presided over by Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Terence Etherton, the Master of the Rolls, and Lord Justice Sales, agreed with Mrs. Miller and Mr. Santos, for the following reasons:

1. Parliament (essentially the two Houses ((Commons and Lords)) plus Royal Assent) is sovereign;

2. ‘Parliament intended EU rights to have effect in domestic law and that this effect should not be capable of being undone or overridden by action taken by the Crown in exercise of its prerogative powers’;

3. Parliament would have legislated in vain (when originally joining what is now the EU) had the Crown been able to withdraw the UK from the EU without further legislation, something which could never have been intended; and

4. the legislation constituting the referendum process was only ever passed by Parliament on the basis that the referendum was to have advisory effect, which conclusion reflects “the basic constitutional principles” already applicable in the UK.

Having read the judgment in full, I can assure the reader that it was distinctly apolitical. The judges stressed that “nothing we say has any bearing on the merits or demerits….. of withdrawal from the EU ….nor does it have any bearing on government policy.” They also strongly emphasised the “pure legal point” which was put before them to decide. It is abundantly clear from this judgment, how little respect the judges had for the legal (not political) reasoning provided by the Secretary of State. They demolished each of his arguments, one-by-one. With hindsight, it was surprising to hear Theresa May claim afterwards, that the government’s case was sound and they would appeal. Based on what I read, she should stop wasting tax payers’ hard earned money on legal fees! The Supreme Court will surely uphold this verdict in early December!

Women’s Careers: 5 Career Killers You Thought Were Your Best Strategies

By Olga Lavrinenko, Career strategist, Executive coach (Olga supplies a contemporary Russian view on the workplace for Russian women, it makes interesting reading. Editor.)

Entering the corporate world is not easy for a woman. Succeeding in a corporate job and keeping our femininity, is even harder. Should a woman dress up and flirt in the office? Should she bring her radiance and charm to her day routine? Will it help her career …and will it help the business?

Throughout my own corporate career of 15 years, and the years spent helping managing careers of my clients, I have noticed a few major errors which we women make. These mistakes are like poisonous pills; they rapidly bring our careers down, and put our careers at stake. They slowly but inevitably kill our self-esteem, our radiance, and – our careers.

Mistake Number 1: ‘Be Perfect.’

Were you an ‘A’ student in school? Or have you seen those girls, with perfect outfits, perfectly sharpened pencils, and perfect grades? Were you a top performer at school, you always did your homework? Well, now you can forget about it. Welcome to the real world: nobody cares how perfect your handwriting is. In this real world, competitors are hounding your clients, while you perfect your reports. The ‘A-grader’s’ mistake is that she plays too closely to the rules, and tries to please the teachers. The corporate world doesn’t play by school rules, and there are no teachers (or adults) but yourself.

Mistake Number 2: ‘Be A-Sexual’

You do not want to be seen as a woman, so you cut your hair short. Forget about high heels and a low cut blouse. You dress in business suits, dark colours, matching jacket and skirts. In trousers, you walk fast and take large steps. Big gestures. Have you seen robots? That is now your style.

And most important – forget about flirting, even the idea is banned! Forget feelings and emotions in the office. Being joyful, being sad, smiling and laughing – prohibited from now on and forever. What happens to you then? You are not a woman, not a man. You are a walking office zombie. Do zombies have great careers?

And if your boss happens to be autocratic and patriarchal? Somebody who believes women should better stay at home and raise kids? He would kill your career – and your self-confidence – sooner or later. The only way to disarm him gracefully is to use your shy smile, soft trembling fingers and that deep look in the eyes… And please remember from now on: your deep décolleté is your best argument.

Mistake Number 3: ‘Play small‘

And keep silent. I was 25 when I got a super job with General Electric at their European Headquarters. That was a big step for my post-MBA career. I was invited to Board of Directors meetings. I watched senior grey-haired men talking about marketing strategies and was so impatient to stand up and tell them ‘Look!! I know what you are talking about! We just had a great marketing case like that in my MBA.’ I was so excited and really wanted to stand up and say something. But some tiny little voice inside my head whispered: ‘who do you think are you? They have worked here for 20 years… they are so senior! You speak up and they will see how young and unexperienced you are. You will look stupid.’ And I kept silent. That time. And then again. And again.

Only years later did I learn to stand up and speak before this tiny little voice would start its traitorous whispering. Because every time you shut up when you get hurt, when your idea is criticised or rejected, when you have something to say – you become smaller. You reduce yourself. Shrink. You get less energy, less space, less importance, are less visible, then non-visible. And the invisible ghost will have an invisible ghost career.

Mistake Number 4: ‘Be Cinderella.’

Cinderella is hyper responsible, she is very caring, an extremely nice girl who is so comfortable to have around and ask to do favours! She never says no. Even if you are not an evil step mother, you ask Cinderella to do a favour, once. And twice. And every day. And she smiles in return, sighs, and does everything.

You never hear: “I am in such a rush, my three children and five dogs are hungry at home and I need to leave immediately… please could you stay a bit longer and finish this work for me? Oh that would be sooooo nice and kind of you…” And you stay. You wait to be appreciated? You will be soon. Very much appreciated and be given an extra amount of work – because you are so damn good and efficient in doing it!

A client of mine called me some time in January. After the new Year holidays she found herself…in a hospital. “What happened?,” I asked. She got the ‘news’ about a tax inspection right before the New Year Eve – when everybody was packing for the holidays. All her colleagues left including her expat boss. How could she leave? Cinderella cannot leave until she finishes all her tasks. So she stayed and spent 14 days getting ready for the tax inspection. All by herself. And on the 15th day this young beautiful woman was taken to an emergency ward with cardiac arrest symptoms. Not exactly to the ball in the palace. Do you think this helped her career, in any way?

Mistake Number 5: ‘Be alone.’

Or hang out with the men. Make friends with men, copy their style, be like them. Ignore women. Because ‘it is a man’s corporate world.’

In my childhood, the most exciting games I played were with the boys: we played ‘the war,’ and ‘pirates’ – and almost boys only. Girls were not allowed to play, only to watch. And so you watched, and got it – the right strategy to survive and have fun was to behave as a boy, to be accepted and included. And to succeed – in men’s games you had to forget your girls’ friends and stop talking to them, stop playing dolls and ignore all women around you.

And yes, all women groups – what was good about them? Intrigues, chattering, stupid jokes, envy and jealousy, blablabla… When we, women, choose to ignore each other, avoid talking and sharing with each other, choose to compete not collaborate with each other, we cut ourselves off the greatest source of energy, the power of female sisterhood.

Whoever could understand a woman as another woman? Who would listen to her that carefully and share her feelings? Who would stand for her when she may feel weak? Who would be next to her, back her up when she is up to something, to feel safe and supported? So you know that one day, when you dare for something bigger and important, you would not be alone. You would have other women around. Sisters.

Because every woman is a sister to another woman, and the sisterhood of women – wise, experienced, joyful women, is a great power in this world.

Not only in corporate world, but also in politics, and in the world in general. On our world on this planet Earth, the female sisterhood community could change so many things for the better.

These strategies may help you once you are a young graduate to sneak your way into a top company. Top grades, modest looks and yes-to-all-work-attitude could secure you your first job and help you stand out from the other candidates. But as you raise through the corporate ranks, you have to let these strategies go. Otherwise they may sink your ship as extra weight. Spread your wings and fly to the sky.