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This last sentence was chosen by a retired Deputy Head of the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malcolm Templeton, to be the title of the book he wrote about the New Zealand Legation in Moscow and the people who worked in it.  (Top Hats are Not Being Taken: a short history of the NZ Legation in Moscow 1944-1950, New Zealand Institute of International Affairs and Ministry of External Relations and Trade, 1989).  The title reflects, at least for a New Zealand reader, the exotic nature of the location and the work of the diplomat.

From the first the Moscow Legation was a cause of political controversy in New Zealand.  In the aftermath of the Second War, as the “iron curtain” descended over Europe and the Cold War began in earnest, disillusionment in New Zealand about prospects for cooperation with the Soviet Union set in.  At that time New Zealand did not trade with the USSR.  Attempts by the Moscow Legation to convince the New Zealand Government to diversify markets away from the United Kingdom and to sell agricultural commodities to the Soviet Union were met with little enthusiasm.  When the term of the Head of the Legation, Charles Boswell, ended in 1949, the Labour Government of the day did not attempt to replace him.  The National Government that replaced Labour at the end of 1949 decided to close the Legation, for reasons of cost.  This took place in 1950. (When the New Zealand Government gave up the Legation building on Metrostroievskaya the property continued its diplomatic associations, being occupied by other diplomatic representatives.) 

Despite its short life, the New Zealand Legation in Moscow contributed significantly to the development of the New Zealand Foreign Service.  During its period in operation the Legation showed that New Zealand diplomats could operate in a strange and difficult environment  - something that came later to be a matter of course for New Zealand diplomats as New Zealand extended its worldwide network of diplomatic missions. The work done at the Legation also began for New Zealand a process of discovery of Russia that has continued to this day.

For almost a quarter of a century there was no New Zealand diplomatic presence in Moscow.  During this period there were several international crises involving the USSR – particularly the invasions of Hungary in 1956, and of Czechoslovakia in 1968 – that reaffirmed, in New Zealand eyes, that Moscow was the “enemy” in the Cold War.  From time to time the question of upgrading diplomatic relations was raised in New Zealand but events of the Cold War and the emergence of other foreign policy priorities for New Zealand (such as the need to expand diplomatic representation in Asia) meant that political circumstances were not right.


Russia - New Zealand History

Every day that we were there the Zealanders would arrive at our sloops at about 10 in the morning and would remain until evening. Having traded their goods they would have lunch with us. They ate our dry bread, peas, kasha and sugar with real appetite. They did not like our salt beef at all and were not great fans of the pork, nor were they able to drink our rum and wine. From time to time they would help our sailors in their work, for which the hardest workers would be rewarded with nails. Sometimes, making merry, they would give us the pleasure of watching their dances and listening to their songs. For this, about 15 men would stand in a single line. One of them, stamping his foot, would begin to sing. In mid-verse there would suddenly be a common, quite quick and wild shout, then they would lift their arms up, extend them, and let them fall, while strongly stamping their feet, distorting their whole bodies and making fierce faces. They would finish this song by going down on one knee and making a frightful, lingering laugh. Our sailors adopted their dance and song very well indeed, and on our sloop at the South Pole where the daily dangers depressed the spirit, they would sometimes cheer everybody up with their imitation (of the haka - translated by Prior Group). N.Galkin, surgeon on board the Russian vessel “Mirny” (Peaceful), during their stay in New Zealand, Queen Charlotte Sound, Russian Expedition, 1820

Stuart Prior, Honorary Consul for Belarus in New Zealand

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