20 January 2018
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Ambassador's Notebook: Visa Regimes: What Era Are We In?

A new era in the history of passports and visas began in the 14th century. Merchants and travelers went to foreign lands and, to make it easier to cross borders, they prepared special travel documents. These documents not only gave the holder’s name and surname, but also their hair and eye colour and even nose shape. These were the first foreign passports. Moreover, since the 15th century, countries like England issued passports not only for their nationals heading abroad but also for inbound foreigners, enabling them to travel freely about the country.

Regular citizens remained unaware of passports till 1460. By that time, beggars, tramps and thieves had virtually inundated Europe. The authorities faced the pressing task of differentiating upstanding citizens from everybody else. Thus, they introduced passports.

The first internal passports appeared in Germany. In the event, the monarchs suffered most from this development: they had to sign thousands of identity documents by hand. It was quite a while before this task was delegated to a staff of secretaries.

The French King Louis XIV also played an important role in the history of passports and visas. Most of his subjects who travelled abroad opted to leave France by sea, so predominantly needed documents to let them through a port ¬– “passe porte” in French – and thus the travel document got its name.

By the 18th century, almost all European countries had their own passport and visa systems. Visas were stamped in passports at border checkpoints as a traveler entered a foreign country.

Strange as it may seem, the idea of strict domestic passport control originated in France in the late 18th century, during the Revolution. For the first time in history, a ban on appearing in public without one’s passport was introduced by Robespierre and his allies. Anyone unable to produce their passport could end up on the guillotine.

The rapid spread of the railroad in the mid-19th century led to the collapse of the passport system. From that time on, passport constraints in Western Europe started to ease gradually. France, followed by Germany, Spain and Italy, first abolished visas and then passports. From the late 19th century to the beginning of World War I, it was possible to travel around Europe without a passport, and borders were easy to cross. By 1914, passports had fallen out of use almost everywhere in Europe, seemingly forever. But then World War I broke out.

In 1915, the passport as we know it appeared. Its design, which has remained unchanged ever since, was invented by the British: a small booklet in a cardboard cover containing information on its holder along with their photograph (for security, they decided to keep the detailed description of the passport holder: facial features, eyes, eyebrows, nose, etc). By the end of the war, every country in Europe had adopted the English-style passport.

Russia has followed in Europe’s footsteps ever since the era of Peter the Great, including its revolutionary experience.

This passport and visa heritage became entrenched during the Cold War. The question now is how it can be overcome. In order to achieve this we must first understand the era in which we find ourselves, and assess whether or not we will be able to make progress in a political environment that has changed dramatically since those days.

Consequently, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act provision on freedom of movement throughout Greater Europe was both far ahead of its time and particularly timely. If anyone believes that now, 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, its time has still not come, then it would be interesting to hear their views on when the best time to scrap visas in Europe would be. British historian Niall Ferguson is right in saying that today’s globalization has yet to reach the depths of its pre-WWI counterpart. It is all about overcoming the heritage of the 20th century, with its two World Wars and, of course, the Cold War.

I am sure that this imperative forms part of a more fundamental general trend to the restoration of these positive aspects of European life that were lost with the formation of centralized states and the spread of nationalism. Just a glance at the European Union is enough to see that national borders are now losing significance, amid growing regionalization.

Another factor is that the old paradigm of economic development has run out of steam, so it is now possible for labor to reclaim its individual nature. It was lost as a result of the Industrial Revolution, which became one of the most important factors in the dehumanization of European society. In other words, everything is interconnected in an integrated societal organism.

I am convinced that, without constant progress in securing freedom of movement in Europe, advances in any other direction will not be possible. This in turn will have an adverse effect on Europe’s competitiveness in this radically new global environment.


17.01.2018 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's remarks at the unveiling of memorial plaque in Sayes Court Park

Dear Mayor, Dear Councillors, Lady Joan, Ladies and gentlemen, It is now 320 years ago that a truly remarkable man set foot in Deptford. As you know, the Russian Tsar Peter, later named the Great, visited Western Europe in 1697—1698 under the nickname of Peter Mikhailov, with his Grand Embassy. He was eager to find out about the latest achievements in science and technology and create new diplomatic alliances. Of course, England couldn’t escape his attention. He mostly studied shipbuilding at the famous Deptford Dockyard, but he also met King William III, and, reportedly, Isaac Newton. Peter’s landlord, the famous John Evelyn, was also a respected scientist – a founder member of the Royal Society.

13.12.2017 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's remarks at the Presentation of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia by Russia 2018 Local Organising Committee.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, I am pleased to welcome you to the Russian Embassy at the Presentation of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia by Russia 2018 Local Organising Committee. It’s a common knowledge, that football is the most popular game in the world. It is an honour for us to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup for the first time in the history of our country. I believe that those who come to Russia to support their national teams will leave with unforgettable memories.

08.12.2017 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's remarks at the Roscosmos "Sputnik" exhibition launch at Rossotrudnichestvo

Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's remarks at the Roscosmos "Sputnik" exhibition launch at Rossotrudnichestvo (7 December 2017)

25.11.2017 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's remarks at the reception at the Embassy dedicated to Russian Film Week (24 November 2017)

Ladies and gentlemen, Dear friends First of all, I would like to pay tribute to the outstanding Russian opera singer Dmitri Hvorostovsky who passed away this week. In 2015 he gave a concert in this very hall. I am delighted to welcome you at our reception dedicated to the Russian Film Week and the environmental causes it champions. This year their charity partner is World Wide Fund for Nature, which runs many projects in Russia in coordination and with support of the Russian Government. Russia has a unique, fascinating wildlife. A number of this week’s films show the natural beauty of our land and are sure to raise awareness of how fragile this beauty is. We appreciate the WWF effort in Russia and worldwide and call on everybody to become a supporter, especially this year, marked as Year of Ecology in Russia.

20.11.2017 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's remarks at the launch of the Russian Film Week (19 November 2017)

Ladies and gentlemen, It is a pleasure for me to be at the opening of the second edition of the Russian Film Week here in London – which this year also spans to Cambridge and Edinburgh.

16.10.2017 - Unpublished letter to the Editor of The Times (sent 12 October)

Sir, If British MPs are free to speak out, wherever they wish, on any issue, why try to block their freedom of speech (“Helping Putin”, 11 October)? If a TV channel wants (and is legally bound) to present different points of view, why slam those who express these views? If the mere act of giving an interview to foreign media amounts to high treason, why does The Times interview Russian politicians without fear? And finally - while MPs critical of Russia are welcome guests on the Russian TV channel RT, does your paper give the same treatment to those critical of the paper’s owner? Konstantin Shlykov Press Secretary of the Embassy of the Russian Federation

25.09.2017 - PRESENTATION by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk at the Christian Future of Europe Conference 22 September 2017, London

Your Eminences and Your Excellencies, dear Mr. Ambassador, conference organizers and participants, I cordially greet all of those gathered today at the Russian Embassy in London to partake in this conference dedicated to the question of the future of Christianity in Europe. This topic is not only not losing any of its relevance, but is resounding ever anew. Experts believe that today Christianity remains not only the most persecuted religious community on the planet, but is also encountering fresh challenges which touch upon the moral foundations of peoples' lives, their faith and their values. Recent decades have seen a transformation in the religious and ethnic landscape of Europe.

23.09.2017 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's remarks at presentation of the book "The Mystery of Repentance" held at the Russian Embassy

I’m glad to welcome you here to a discussion of two prominent hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Church of England, on Christian future of Europe.

12.09.2017 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's remarks at the exhibition opening (“Scythians: Warriors of ancient Siberia” 12 September, British Museum)

Today the British Museum and the State Hermitage of Saint-Petersburg are once again proving their unique world class by bringing a whole new civilization to London. Ancient, and almost mythical, but creative, powerful and very different from what we have all known about antiquity – the Scythians.

14.07.2017 - Letter of Consul General Mr Andrey Pritsepov to the Herald newspaper, published 13.07.2017

I NOTE a rather questionable article by Mark McLaughlin (“Russians lurking near Faslane to eavesdrop on nuclear submarines", The Herald, July 11). Do you really believe that 145 million Russians would elect a leader who would command his nuclear submarines to chase someone's sole and lonely operative U-boat which is firing missiles in the opposite direction or Type 45 destroyers with faulty engines or an aircraft carrier without aircraft on it, all of them being located in Scottish waters?

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