‘If You Want to be Strong, You have to Open your Doors’: Swiss Ambassador Yves Rossier Visits HSE
At the invitation of Professor Vladimir Kantor, Head of the International Laboratory for the Study of Russian and European Intellectual Dialogue, Swiss Ambassador Yves Rossier visited HSE on Wednesday, 13 February, to give a lecture and meet with faculty and students. In addition to Professor Kantor and students of his International Laboratory, Vice Rector Ivan Prostakov and faculty and students of the School of Philosophy and the HSE Lyceum were in attendance. Vice Rector Prostakov delivered the opening remarks.
Ambassador Yves Rossier (who, to the delight of guests, arrived with his dog in tow) spoke with HSE faculty and students of HSE about Russian-European relations and shared political interests between the two regions. Within this framework, he also discussed common (mis)perceptions of Russia and the importance of a country’s self-perception.
To begin, Ambassador Rossier stressed the commonalities that Russia and Europe share—not only in terms of a shared historical roots in Christianity, but in terms of contemporary culture. ‘To what extent is Russia considered part of Europe? Very few people consider it so,’ he said. However, after having spent two years in Russia as ambassador and travelling to parts of Russia such as Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Rostov, Mr. Rossier asserted that he considers Russia to be part of Europe. Whether he is in Sweden or Russia, he feels at home — in Europe.
And yet European perceptions of Russia nonetheless change all the time, vacillating between viewing Russia as something European and something very foreign. Why is this? Does it have to do with Russia’s foreign policy at a given moment? According to Ambassador Rossier, contrary to what one might think, it has more to do with Europe’s conception of itself in relation to others. For example, despite Russia’s aggressive military presence in Europe under Alexander I, Europeans largely viewed Russia as culturally similar or European in essence. Roughly a century later, in 1917 after the Bolshevik revolution, when Russia is not occupying parts of Europe, the country was suddenly viewed as something not European at all. It was something different. In the ambassador’s view, these changes thus have more to do with European self-perceptions than actual perceptions of Russia or Russia in reality. And today, for example, while many conservative opponents of immigration in Europe tend to view Russia as a haven of Christian values and ethnic homogeneity, it is actually a country of extraordinary religious and ethnic diversity!
Thus, Ambassador Rossier stressed, perceptions are never stagnant. Perceptions, he says, should also never be taken at face value—especially when it comes to Russia, which, for one reason or another, often serves as a foil upon which people in the West projection their own biases and ideas. Russians, the ambassador says, should therefore ask themselves not how others view them, but how they view themselves, and what kind of future they envision for their own country.
At the close of the talk, faculty and students in attendance asked questions on a variety of topics including immigration, European impressions of Russian philosophers, and potential areas of Russian-European collaboration.
When asked about potential areas for increasing Russian-European collaboration, Ambassador Rossier affirmed without hesitation: science. ‘You have excellent brains here in Russia,’ he said. ‘We should continue and increase our exchange of international teachers and students. If you want to be strong, you have to open your doors.’