On March 20, 2018, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg in the Russian Federation, Jean-Claude Knebeler, delivered a lecture in English on the topic: "Luxembourg in the European Union and its relations with Russia: historical connections and current situation" at RSUH.
The lecture was attended by Deputy Head of Mission, Consul Mr. Gilles Bauer, Vice-Rector for International Cooperation Prof. Dr. Vera Zabotkina, Vice-Rector for Scientific Affairs Prof. Dr. Olga Pavlenko and the Director of the Center Benelux Prof. Dr. Maria Pushkova.
At the beginning of his lecture, Mr. Knebeler raised the issue of the stereotypical image of Luxembourg as a prosperous country with a huge number of banks. Mr. Knebeler drew a historic parallel, as most recently Luxembourg was a poor country of emigrants, where a third of the population left the country in search for a better future. Luxembourg experienced all the horrors of the German occupation, which strongly affected the national identity mainly related to the resistence against the German invasion. Only realizing that it was no longer possible to hold neutrality, Luxembourg joined the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community), which later became a pretext for the creation of the EU.
Nevertheless, according to Mr. Knebeler, EU membership is not a "golden ticket" and has its disadvantages mainly concerning internal differences between the 28 participating states. Luxembourg is also experiencing the problem of migration (although, as Mr. Knebeler assured, it is greatly exaggerated in the Russian media). In addition to that, the problem of low fertility is acute in the country.
The relations between the EU and Russia Mr. Knebeler characterizes as quite favorable, noting that there is still some room for improvement. According to Mr. Knebeler, the key to their improvement is a dialogue when both sides not only speak, but also listen to each other. According to Mr. Knebeler, for the last 20 years Russia and the EU could not build this dialogue because of mutual misunderstanding.
Mr. Knebeler has been in his current position since the end of 2016, and he loves his life in Moscow. During his professional career he has traveled over 5 continents, visited the largest cities in the world, and he has something to compare Russian capital to. According to Mr. Knebeler, Moscow has a splendid cultural life, wonderful people and a high standard of living. But Mr. Knebeler perfectly understands that Moscow does not reflect the full picture of Russia.
The key to any international dialogue, according to Mr. Knebelera, is the respect and tolerance to other countries and cultures. And the only way to broaden one's horizons and develop these qualities, according to Mr. Knebeler, is travelling.
The ambassador's lecture aroused keen interest among the students, who began to ask questions. One of these questions touched the problems that exist now in the relations between Luxembourg and Russia. Mr. Knebeler assured that there are no acute problems in the relations between the two countries, but there is a difference in views on the current situation in Ukraine concerning the influence of Russia in the Donbass and the annexation of the Crimea. Unfortunately, right now Mr. Knebeler does not see clear ways of resolving these differences, but it is obvious that this is the main condition for establishing closer relations between the countries.
Another question concerned Mr. Knebeler's opinion on Brexit and the possible withdrawal of Italy from the EU. Mr. Knebeler explains that the EU is not a utopia that many believe it to be. At the beginning of its existence, the relations between the participating countries were ideological and related to the resistance against the horrors of war and economic problems, now that the situation normalized, these relations became more formal, and the desire to leave EU is a consequence of irreconcilable internal differences.
The lecture ended with a gratitude speech by Prof. Vera Zabotkina and a round of applause from the audience.