Monday, January 21, 2008

British Council

This is getting closed down

because this guy

killed this guy
and this is how Russians feel about it


British Councils is an organization sponsored by the British government that promotes English-language learning through courses and access to books in its libraries. It has branches abroad (would be funny if there was one in the US) and much like the Goethe Institute which is subsidized by the German government and the Alliance Francaise which is subsidized by the French government, the British Council is subsidized by the British government.

The Russian government is forcing the all British Councils offices outside of Moscow to shutdown. Russian authorities have been giving various reasons for this, the most amusing and simultaneously most ridiculous is that they are centers for British spies in Russia. That is a laugh, something the British papers are quick to point out. I have seen these places. They have some books and really just try and help people to learn a but of English at a subsidized rate. To be sure there are British spies in Russian, and rightly so, but they sure as hell aren't wasting their time in the British Council branches, just as I am sure the Russian spies in the UK don't go to too many Russian cultural events.

Basically, what is going on is part of an ongoing British-Russian feud centered around Litvinenko poisoning (pictured in his hospital gown above). To make a very long story short, Litvinenko was a former KGB agent who was poisoned with radioactive polonium. He died in the UK and had been living there before being poisoned. The Brits sent a team over to Moscow to investigate and came up with the fellow they believed to be responsible, Andrei Lugovoi (blond guy above). The Russian refused to extradite him and he was later voted into the Russian parliament , giving him immunity from prosecution.

In a tit-for-tat response, some more minor Russian diplomats were expelled from the UK last summer and things have been simmering since then. The latest element of that was the forced closure of the British Council offices outside of Moscow (most likely so the foreign ministers kids can keep going to language class), on preposterous grounds. The British government has been quite resilient, lambasting the Russian authorities and so far refusing to shut those offices claiming the claims against them are baseless and any attempt by the Russian to close those offices would violate international law (not so sure about that one, but sounds good).

Anyway, essentially banning the British Council puts Russia in the fine company of Burma and Iran, the only other two countries to do so. Hence the ironic kidney punch of the Russian political cartoon above.

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