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The International Women’s Club of Moscow

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“Nothing brings me more happiness than trying to help the most vulnerable people in society. It is a goal and an essential part of my life – a kind of destiny. Whoever is in distress can call on me. I will come running wherever they are”. – Princess Diana

The article 2 of the Constitution of The International Women’s Club of Moscow says, “The purpose of the Club is to promote friendship and to further cultural activities among women of all nationalities residing in Moscow and to raise funds to be donated to charitable activities.”

The International Women’s Club of Moscow was established in 1978, when the world was different. The international community, residing in Moscow, had limited mobility by Russia and contacting to other countries in Soviet times. There were only several buildings in Moscow allocated for the diplomatic community. Local people did not have any contacts with international community apart of some departments of the Ministry of Foreign. Adaption for Russian culture and traditions took much more time for international community than now. In the basis of the club was the idea of Delmar Fall, wife of a Consul of the British Embassy, she wanted to create a club for women of all nationalities residing in USSR, to promote friendship and cultural activities. The first meeting dedicated as a cultural exchange was organized by the wife of Consul Ambassador of the Embassy of the Republic of India, Devika Teja. The first charter of the Club was written by the wife of a Consul of the Embassy of Liberia that had been studying law at university. That fact raised deliberate attention of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of USSR, which expressed its concerns about the danger of this association. The leaders of the club have constantly emphasized their status as an international organization, potentially not dangerous to the Soviet government, because the purpose and objectives of the club were focused on the cultural sector.

iwcmAccording to the memoirs of Alla Semenova, the former head of the Protocol Department of the Main Directorate of the diplomatic service, the first organization of joint trips and excursions of the Club, which are now one of the components of the club, was held under the auspices of trips of the Indian Embassy employees and their families. It was not possible to do in another way. That time was set up the tradition of holding meetings in the Embassy, at that time in the USSR there were little more than 100 Embassies. Every Embassy tried give cultural tinge of their country to each meeting, they organized demonstration of national clothes, taught handicraft production and national cuisine. Also there were organized interest groups to study the Russian language, culture and literature. In 1986, the Club consisted of more than 300 participants and there were organized 23 interest groups (Russian and foreign languages, literature and art, national dances and music, etc.).

The wives of prominent politicians of the Soviet Union including Nanuli Shevardnadze, wife of the Minister of foreign Affairs of the USSR, later first President of Georgia, attended in the Club’s meetings.

On December 1987 the meeting of the club was held at the Embassy of Sweden, where in addition to the traditional performance of the host country, was organized Bazaar, where one could buy products of national creativity of different countries. In 1988 there was a proposal to hold the first Winter Bazaar, which was the first charity event of the club. The first Winter Bazaar was held on December 1988 in the U.S. Embassy, all proceeds were donated to the government of Armenia, which suffered after devastating earthquake in 1988. Winter Bazaar 1989 was held at the Embassy of Sweden, where for the first time there was a lottery, all proceeds were donated to the Children’s Fund.

Perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet Union gave a great opportunity for the development of the Club. The result of these changes was the new version of the Constitution of the Club in 2000, where article 2 was the amended, which describes the main point of creation and existence of the club since 1978. The collapse of the USSR opened up new possibilities for Russian women who wanted to help other people. Now the percentage of Russian citizens is 5% of the total number of members, the international community represented in the club not only by wives of the diplomatic circles, but also by representatives of international business, who moved to Russia.

The International women’s club is focused at Charity projects, raising funds and interest groups.

Currently in the club there are about 50 interest groups that provide to members a wide range of creativity. The main areas of creativity and self-realization are: art, foreign languages, Russian language, cooking classes, music and dance, as well as a wide range of activities for body and soul, such as yoga, discussion club, nonverbal communication and the study of the Bible. The tradition of the club, founded in 1978, is the common tourist trips and excursions in Russia and in other countries. International Women’s Club gives the opportunity every day at any time of the year to develop your talent, make new discoveries, to learn the culture of other countries and meet different people.

In the early 1990s the charity group, which consisted of volunteers, visited several orphan homes. Club activities were limited by the government and charity organizations, fearing to invite the foreigners to their homes. The end of Perestroika promoted the activation the charitable activities of the club, by providing material and financial support. There was opened the office for collecting clothing, shoes, furniture and other necessities. The club members drew attention to the social and psychological aspects, which had been marked in the conference on pediatric psychology in 1994 under the patronage of the wife of the first President of Russian Federation, Naina Yeltsina. Now the Council of the Club for Charity coordinates 20 projects in four main areas: children in poor or unstable families, children in orphanages or other institutions, children with medical need and elderly and destitute. Furthermore, the club is open to support various groups of people in need, such as assistance in rehabilitation and reintegration of women into society after prison, the purchase of medical equipment for hospitals and for people with disabilities. Always there’s necessity of volunteer help on projects on daily care for children with diseases, as well as necessity of teachers, doctors, translators and assistance in organizing the provision of food to disadvantaged people. Today, charity is the main part of the International Women’s club, many members of the club is actively involved in the process of Charity assistance. Each group project has a coordinator and an assistant who work under the guidance of the Chairman of the Charity board, which has been headed for the last few years by Doctor of Sciences and Professor of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration under the President of the Russian Federation (RANEPA), Katalin Diossi.

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Two annual charity events help to involve large amount of material and financial support. The main event for many years is the Winter Bazaar. It is traditionally held in the end of November in hotel Radisson Slavyanskaya, which takes more than 80 foreign embassies, represented on the territory of the Russian Federation. Donations of embassies and companies are transferred for the lottery. Winter Bazaar attracts more than three thousand visitors annually, allowing guests to experience the culture and traditions of different countries, to buy clothes, jewelry and souvenirs. The peculiarity of this event is the presentation of dance groups from around the world. The guests enjoy the food variety of the Bazaar, where you can try unique dishes and drinks, as well as buy products. Among the guests of the Winter Bazaar you can meet the heads of diplomatic missions, prominent Russian politicians; special visit to this event was marked by a visit the Winter Bazaar of Lyudmila Putina, in 2000.

The tradition of holding the Annual charity ball was founded by the wife of the Consul of Belgium, Micheline Champenois, in 1996. Initially, the ball was held in the Embassies, but increasing number of guest promoted to transfer the Ball in the most luxurious hotels of Moscow, keeping the tradition of carrying a dinner before the ball in the Embassies. The hotel Metropol, which is famous for its magnificent ballroom, takes a special place in the hearts of the members of the club. Various musical groups and artists entertain the guests, the well-loved lottery is conducted.

The General Officer of the IWC, Neelam Garп who moved to Moscow a few years ago from New Zealand thinks:

“My start in Moscow would have been very slow if I hadn’t known the International Women’s Club of Moscow! I just hit the ground running with this club when I moved here from New Zealand. I created very valuable friendships, found reasons to be excited in this foreign land with so many new things to learn, explore and try. I have never met before with so many people from so many different countries in such a short time. All impacted me positively.

The women in the club are professionals, high achievers and very intelligent. They are either on their expat assignments or following their husbands. Together, we in the club help each other in meaningful ways and make a valuable difference in the lives of children and elderly in Moscow.

I hope and wish to get more support from local and international businesses to work with us so we can even do more to help these sick and needy children and elderly. I’m going to take so many positive and life-changing experiences with me when I leave Moscow!”

International Women’s club in Moscow passed a long way from meeting in a narrow circle for the mutual support of foreign families residing in Moscow, to huge international community, which helps the integration, the adaptation and personal development of foreigners and finding new friends, moving to Russia. It cannot go unmentioned the kindness of the hearts of the club members that help to socially vulnerable groups of Russia.

Co-organizer the expo "Discover Russia" Project Manager of The International Economic Forum of the CIS member states

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Diplomacy

Soft Power Dynamics in Middle Eastern Conflict

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The Middle East is synonymous with eternal conflict as being at the cross-point between Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The paper intends to understand how the power could be derived from the cultural roots in a world filled with pre-existing biases based on religious values, nationality, and interpretation of history.

Palestine receives strong international support through social media by sharing its pain and grievances increasing its soft power that hampers Israel’s international relations. A new question emerges can the soft power paradigm be used to resolve the problem?  

The roots of the Middle Eastern problem are driven by historical-religious literature which shows the Middle East to be the historic homeland of Jews and they wanted to get back to their original homeland due to two-millennium long suppression that finally ended up as the holocaust.

Israel continues to emphasize and promote stories related to Second World War which help them gain the legitimacy to exist as a state. It is also remarked that the holocaust may have been a decisive condition for the creation of a Jewish state but this action would have occurred sooner or later.

One of the biggest strengths for Israel and its legitimacy comes from the Biblical literature which has some historical stories in it and mentions Israel and Judah in the Middle East providing American Christian Support which seems to be dropping as a result Israel needs to work on its soft power.

A similar strength can be found in Quran for Israeli as Surah Al-Ma’idah in Chapter 5 verse 12 states about the Children of Israel and verse 21 explains that they are “destined to enter and not to turn back else they will become the loser.” These verses motivate Israeli for their cause which raises an interesting phenomenon that some pro-Israeli media would use Quranic verses to gain legitimacy.

History needs to be studied to understand how and where the differences between Jews and Muslims started. Originally there was a peaceful relation between Jews and Muslims but Jews refuse to acknowledge Muhammad a non-Jew as one of the prophets of God which caused the relationship between Jews and Muslims to deplete.

Finally, Banu Qurayza a Jewish community allied with Qurashites against Prophet Muhammad that caused Medina to suffer a war-built hatred towards Judaism.

However, even after looking at the differences Muslims, Christians, and Jews are Abrahamic religions maintaining their base Judaic-monotheistic tradition as both Roman Catholics and Arab previously had polytheistic culture and Israel has indirectly benefitted from this historical fact.

Israel could benefit from various religions by showing show respect to the leaders of Abrahamic religions and even maintain an apologetic attitude on behalf of some of the members of the Jewish community which may have conducted villainous actions as per some stories based on other religious doctrines.

The tower of one’s ego can prohibit supporting the national interest which could only be achieved by becoming softer to gain soft power.

It is argued that the ancient Philistine is related to present-day Palestine. Palestine as a result gets associated with David and Goliath or Samson’s struggle with Philistine. However, the term Palestine is more complicated which had developed in the period.

There are also claims that the Syria Palaestina was constructed as a punishment for Bar Kochba Revolt in 135CE while the name Palaestina given to the region seems to be older than Bar Kochba Revolt and even older than the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

The image of the Israel and Palestine conflict is connected towards mythical combat between David and Goliath. David was an inexperienced youth who later became king of Israel and defeated a giant from ancient Philistine called Goliath.

Some actors who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have also connected Palestine with David who was weak at the beginning of the story while they perceive Israel as an unjust giant and the toughest fighter in the region.

The Middle Eastern conflict goes beyond religion and history as it has multiple dimensions due to multiple crimes against humanity causing people to be refugees that inflict social, political, and economic damages.

A medium to obtain soft power is by resolving the humanitarian crisis and Israel being perceived as a perpetrator tampered with its national image.

Israel as an economically advanced country with large spending power can establish economic institutions to raise funds in providing education, training, and employment to victims of that conflict regardless of their religion, ethnicity, gender, or political views who have been scattered around the world which would help Israel gain legitimacy.

The economic recovery of the war victims can minimize some damage enforced upon the national image but there is a strong opinion that the Palestinian community lacks legal rights as being in Israeli jurisdiction. So, political rights might have to be secured to the Palestinians while they have to live in Israel for Israel to create a positive national image.  

The Israeli government also create an option for the Palestinian community to have the right to return, granting them protection in Knesset (Israeli Parliament), while promoting Arab Israeli politicians, and can even reflect how they have shaped the Israeli government in the international arena to build Israel’s soft power.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is the social affairs which are closely tied to the soft power paradigm.

There is a clear fear that the Jews are eclipsing the social identity of the Palestinian people but in reality, they are closely linked as Arabic language and Hebrew are Semitic languages, their scripts have common Aramaic ancestry, and Halaal and Kosher dietary cultures are also similar.

There should be an effort to study the similarities to build unity and to study unique qualities as to appreciate one another’s differences. Israel could also create Cultural Relations Centers around the world that promote both Jewish and Palestinian language, culture, and cuisine to create respect and solidarity. 

There can also be the production of television programs, movies, digital applications which could allow people to understand the Middle Eastern community.

Tel Aviv is the center for the development of many technological advancements and carries great potential to build creative applications and visual storytelling that could help spread awareness about the Middle East.

On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority could request the Israeli government to provide scholarships in various Israeli Universities which could enhance their credential for making effort to create a peaceful world as well as proposing exchange programs by inviting Israeli students to visit regular Palestinian colleges and working spaces decreasing bitterness.

The Palestinian Authority could also pursue Israeli investment in core-Palestinian settlements that could create employment as well as mutual dependence allowing Palestine to grow with a greater bargaining power while maintaining a symbiotic relationship.

Culture, history, and institutions can be combined to create harmony. A key aspect to gain soft power and legitimacy is by becoming softer by showing respect to the opponents while appreciating and accepting others’ viewpoints.

Therefore, the study of religion, history has to be conducted from a neutral perspective that can be trusted by all international actors and could serve as a uniting factor while maintaining an apologetic attitude towards historic mistakes. There needs to be an effort to provide economic and political compensation for the victims which have caused notoriety in the international arena and finally the culture of the two competing communities needs to be celebrated through cultural institutions to build trust and harmony.

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Diplomacy

Biden-Putting meeting: Live from Geneva

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19:00 The places of the flags on the Mont Blanc bridge on which President Biden and President Putin will pass to reach the meeting venue on Wednesday usually hold the flags of the different Swiss cantons. Not today. The American and Russian flags have been placed to welcome the two leaders. 

18:00 A day before the Geneva summit: Hotel Intercontinental where the American delegation and probably President Biden himself is staying, how the city looks like a day before the meeting, what are the security measures like, why isn’t the UN involved and are the usual protests expected?

Iveta Cherneva with live video political commentary from Geneva one day ahead of the Biden-Putin Summit

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Diplomacy

Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

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In recent years, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, have been trying to bolster their ‘Soft Power’ in a number of ways; by promoting tourism, tweaking their immigration policies to attract more professionals and foreign students and focusing on promoting art and culture. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken the lead in this direction (in May 2017, UAE government set up a UAE Soft Power Council which came up with a comprehensive strategy for the promotion of the country’s Soft Power). Under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia has also been seeking to change its international image, and it’s Vision 2030 seeks to look beyond focusing on economic growth. In the Global Soft Power Index 2021, Saudi Arabia was ranked at number 24 and number 2 in the Gulf region after the UAE (the country which in the past had a reputation for being socially conservative, has hosted women’s sports events and also hosted the G20 virtually last year)

Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

   One other important step in the direction of promoting Soft Power in the GCC, is the attempt to popularize cricket in the Gulf. While the Sharjah cricket ground (UAE)  hosted many ODI (One Day International )tournaments, and was witness to a number of thrillers between India and Pakistan, match fixing allegations led to a ban on India playing cricket at non-regular venues for a duration of 3 years (for a period of 7 years from 2003, Sharjah did not get to host any ODI). The Pakistan cricket team has been playing its international home series at Sharjah, Abu Dhabu and Dubai for over a decade (since 2009) and the sixth season of the Pakistan Super League is also being played in UAE. Sharjah has also hosted 9 test matches (the first of which was played in 2002).

 Sharjah hosted part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament in 2014, and last year too the tournament was shifted to UAE due to covid19 (apart from Sharjah, matches were played at Dubai and Abu Dhabi). This year again, the UAE and possibly Oman are likely to host the remaining matches of the IPL which had to be cancelled due to the second wave of Covid19. The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup to be held later this year (October-November 2021), which was actually to be hosted by India,  could also be hosted not just in the UAE, but Oman as well (there are two grounds, one of them has floodlights). International Cricket Council (ICC) is looking for an additional venue to UAE, because a lot of cricket is being played there, and this may impact the pitches. The ICC while commenting on the possibility of the T20 World cup being hosted in the Middle East said:

, “The ICC Board has requested management [to] focus its planning efforts for the ICC Men’s  T20 World Cup 2021 on the event being staged in the UAE with the possibility of including another venue in the Middle East’

GCC countries are keen not just to host cricketing tournaments, but also to increase interest in the game. While Oman has a team managed by an Indian businessman, Saudi Arabia has set up the SACF (Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation) in 2020 and it has started the National Cricket Championship which will have more than 7,000 players and 36 teams at the school level. Peshawar Zalmi, a Pakistani franchise T20 cricket team, representing the city of Peshawar the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which plays in the Pakistan’s domestic T20 cricket league – the Peshawar cricket league —  extended an invitation to the SACF, to play a friendly match against it. It’s owner Javed Afridi had extended the invitation to the Saudi Arabian team in April 2021.  Only recently, Chairman of SACF Prince Saud bin Mishal  met with India’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr Ausaf Saeed, to discuss ways for promoting the game in Saudi Arabia. He also visited the ICC headquarters at Dubai and apart from meeting officials of ICC also took a tour of Sharjah cricket ground.

GCC countries have a number of advantages over other potential neutral venues. First, the required infrastructure is already in place in some countries, and there is no paucity of financial resources which is very important. Second, there is a growing interest in the game in the region, and one of the important factors for this is the sizeable South Asian expat population. Third, a number of former cricketers from South Asia are not only coaching cricket teams, but also being roped in to create more enthusiasm with regard to the game. Fourth, UAE along with other GCC countries, could also emerge as an important venue for the resumption of India-Pakistan cricketing ties.

Conclusion

In conclusion, if GCC countries other than UAE — like Saudi Arabia and Oman  — can emerge as important cricketing venues, their ‘Soft Power’ appeal is likely to further get strengthened especially vis-à-vis South Asia. South Asian expats, who have contributed immensely to the economic growth of the region, and former South Asian cricketers will have an important role to play in popularizing the game in the Gulf. Cricket which is already an important component of the GCC — South Asia relationship, could help in further strengthening people to people linkages.

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