venessa redgrave and jeremy corbyn

Chechnya

Between 1994 and 1996 there was a violent conflict in the Caucasus that resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians. The war was between the Russian armed forces and Chechen independence fighters, and heavy Russian bombardment inflicted appalling casualties and obliterated the capital, Grozny, as well as much critical infrastructure. The war ended in August 1996 when, under the terms of the Khasavyurt Accord signed by Russian General Lebed and Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov, Russia withdrew federal troops from Chechen territory and granted the country de facto independence.

WorldPR was hired by the government of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov to communicate its identity as a new state on the international scene and help secure recognition, political support and inward investment. This was a difficult, complicated and sometimes dangerous assignment, fraught with obstacles and diplomatic hurdles. We organised two international delegations to Grozny led by Imran Khan, the current prime minister of Pakistan, and Lord McAlpine, former Treasurer of the British Conservative Party, accompanied by teams of bankers, investors and journalists, including the legendary war reporter, Sandy Gall.  Working with the actress Vanessa Redgrave and Jeremy Corbyn MP, we supported an information campaign in parliament to brief MPs and gather support for the fledgling country. In the words of Vanessa Redgrave, “The important thing is to seek for truth, to help, to do something.”  

In March 1998, we organised President Maskhadov’s first overseas visit to the UK, as he looked “to Britain and our friends in Europe to help rebuild our country”.  While in London, Maskhadov dined at the Ritz Hotel with former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, met with Foreign Office officials and attended a glittering party at Church House attended by, among others, Imran and Jemima Khan, Lord Tebbit, Lady Annabel Goldsmith and many European leaders of the exiled Caucasus diaspora.  The celebrated British writer and journalist, Simon Sebag Montefiore, described this extraordinary event in a colourful article for The Sunday Times.

For a long moment Chechnya’s profile and the dogged bravery of its fighters had captured the hearts and the imagination of global audiences.  But Chechen dreams of independence were to be short-lived.  In September 1999, Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered his armed forces to re-occupy the country. Thus started the Second Chechen War. President Aslan Maskhadov was killed by Russian special forces in the village of Tolstoy-Yurt on 8th March 2005.

jimmy goldsmith

Sir James Goldsmith
and the Referendum Party

In 1994, the Anglo-French billionaire and MEP, Sir James Goldsmith, launched The Referendum Party, the most ambitious political campaign ever undertaken to secure for the British people the right to vote on leaving the European Union. He asked Patrick Robertson to put his plans into action.

In the run-up to the 1997 election, under Patrick’s direction, The Referendum Party created from scratch a national political organisation capable of fighting an election against the established political parties. Chaired by former Conservative Party treasurer, Lord McAlpine, and led by Sir James, the party recruited and trained 547 parliamentary candidates and 180 political agents, opened ten regional offices served by a fully-staffed HQ at Westminster, and signed-up more than 160,000 registered supporters.  The Referendum Party’s £20 million media campaign, launched in 1996, produced twenty-five million copies of the newspaper “Referendum Now” posted to every household in Britain, six million VHS tapes of a compelling film called “The Most Important Video You’ll Ever Watch”, and the biggest media advertising campaign of any political party.  On the eve of the election, The Referendum Party held a rally of 12,000 supporters at Alexandra Palace, the largest political gathering of any party since the war.

The historic achievement of Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party was to secure, before the 1997 election, a cast-iron commitment from the main political parties to hold a binding referendum before joining the Euro. That promise protected British independence until the historic referendum campaign of 2016.  In the long term, the legacy of the Referendum Party was to provide the educational foundation, training and organisation for a generation of committed Eurosceptic campaigners, many of whom went on to make important contributions to the success of the Leave campaign in June 2016. 

Sir James, who had been bravely battling cancer, died a few weeks after the 1997 election.

Sir James Goldsmith on Campaign in 1997 (AP Archive)

benita ferrero waldner

Austria and the EU Sanctions

In February 2000 an unexpected political drama unfolded in Austria. The newly elected federal government, led by the centre-right People’s Party politician Wolfgang Schüssel, was placed under diplomatic sanctions by the European Union and ostracised from meetings of the European Council. The trigger for this unprecedented demarche against a fellow EU member state was the secret denunciation by the Austrian president, Thomas Klestil, of his own country’s government.

Klestil was violently opposed to the inclusion in the coalition of Joerg Haider, leader of the right-wing Austrian Freedom Party (FPO).  This was the first time that the FPO had been included in government at federal level, although it was no stranger to coalition in municipal and regional government:  since 1956 it had been a frequent and dependable partner of the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SDP).  From its inception, the SDP helped to nurture the FPO by providing it with state funding from the Ministry of the Interior, which it controlled.  Historically, therefore, the FPO was a useful instrument with which the SDP could split the centre-right vote at federal elections.  By including Jorge Haider in the new People’s Party-led coalition, Wolfgang Schüssel had beaten the SDP at its own game, but in so doing he had deeply antagonised the post-war Austrian political Establishment.

The French president, Jacques Chirac, was particularly outspoken and led an aggressive campaign of public vilification of the Austrian government.  Despite the confrontational stance adopted by France, it soon became apparent that the sanctions against Austria were unworkable and politically embarrassing to the European Union.   WorldPR was hired by the Austrian foreign minister, Mrs. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, to develop a strategy to resolve the impasse.  The result was a dynamic, Europe-wide campaign that significantly changed the balance of opinion and ended in the complete lifting of the EU’s sanctions against Austria.

Working closely with Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner, WorldPR organised a diplomatic, political and media tour of the key European capitals, including London, Paris and Madrid.  At these high-level meetings, which included speeches to lawmakers and leading opinion-formers, the Austrian Foreign Minister presented a carefully researched report that showcased Austria’s exemplary record of social justice and economic achievement since the Second World War.  This included the peaceful integration of the largest proportion of foreign-born nationals of any country in the European Union, fully 25 per cent of the population.  The seminal report was converted into a pamphlet and distributed in multiple languages to key audiences throughout Europe. 

The second prong of the campaign was to assemble a committee of respected external experts to provide a balanced and unjaundiced view of Austrian society.   The three experts, Professor Jochen Frowein, the director of the Max Planck Institute in Germany, Martti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland, and Marcelino Oreja, the former Spanish government minister, gave the Schüssel government high marks for taking concrete steps to fight racism, xenophobia and anti-semitism.  The committee issued their clean bill of health and on 12th September 2000 the, almost immediately after that, the EU Council lifted all sanctions against Austria.

The European Union Lifts Sanctions Against Austria, The New York Times, 12th September 2000

swimming pig

Regroup in The Bahamas

Anyone who has ever set foot in The Bahamas knows that it is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.  With a population of 300,000 people centred on the island of New Providence and dispersed over 700 islands, islets and cays in the Lucayan Archipelago, The Bahamas is a paradise on earth with an extraordinary climate, a deeply welcoming culture and an extraordinary range of wildlife. 

The third-wealthiest country in the Americas, The Bahamas also offers a home to foreigners looking to settle in a stable, low-tax and English-speaking democracy based on the rule of law.  Famous Citizens, residents and home-owners include Sydney Poitier, Sean Connery, Mariah Carey, Tiger Woods, Nicholas Cage and Johnny Depp, among others.

Following the crippling financial crisis of 2008/9, The Bahamas hove into view as a welcome shelter for ex-pats looking to regroup and build a new life in a tranquil, prosperous and business-friendly Caribbean island.  WorldPR’s 2012 digital campaign to promote The Bahamas as a prime destination to relocate emphasised the rule of law, a stable and prosperous property market, the business friendly and low-tax fiscal environment, its proximity to the US, it’s connectivity and daily British Airways flights to London and, above all, the natural beauty of the islands. 

borat

Borat and the
Branding of Kazakhstan

When the comedy film “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” was released on the world’s cinema screens in 2006, it unleashed a tsunami of international media acclaim.  Strongly received by critics and the industry, the film’s chief protagonist, Sacha Baron Cohen, won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in comedy and the film was nominated for multiple awards, including Best Adapted Screenplay at the 79th Academy Awards, and by The Guardian. It was also a huge financial success, grossing $262 million at the box office worldwide.

The global phenomenon called Borat was marred only by the immediate and palpable sense of injury that it generated in Kazakhstan and throughout Central Asia.

To ordinary Kazakhs the enthusiastic reception Borat received among audiences worldwide came as a shocking surprise. Apart from its name, it had no connection whatsoever to Kazakhstan. It was filmed in Romania, not Kazakhstan. The languages spoken by Borat and the lead actors included Hebrew, Armenian, Czech and Polish, but not Kazakh. The azbuka script was cod-Russian, not Kazakh. Even the cast did not contain a single Kazakh actor. For these reasons the Kazakh government was, at least initially, as deeply astonished as its citizens. It was even more puzzled when Borat dominated US news bulletins during the state visit to Washington of the Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in 2006.

The underlying reality, however, was that Borat the movie also amounted to a gigantic global branding campaign for Kazakhstan that had the potential, if properly harnessed, to have a dramatic and hugely positive effect on Kazakhstan’s worldwide recognition.  Our mission was to convert the widespread negativity generated by Borat in Central Asia into a forceful energy for good that could secure important gains for Kazakhstan in the West.  We engaged in a sensitive diplomatic task whose first priority was damage limitation followed by an intensive effort to repair the cultural broken telephones in both East and West. We seized opportunities to convert misunderstandings into informative talking-points placing, among other news items, two op-Ed’s in The Guardian and The Spectator to explain the Kazakh point of view (see below).

Sure enough, over time Borat the movie played an important role in sharpening Kazakhstan’s visibility, as its rapid economic growth helped it to ascend the regional ladder to assume a leadership role in Central Asia.  There was a noticeable change of mood and approach in Kazakhstan.  In November 2006, on visit to the London, President Nazarbayev displayed his sense of humour when he asked at a press conference in Downing Street if there was a question “from our dear friend Borat”. This gesture, which was widely reported, marked an important new departure for Kazakhstan and will undoubtably influence the way in which the country perceives Sasha Baron Cohen’s latest iteration of Borat, due to be released later in 2020.

Article by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, The Spectator, 25th November 2006

Article by Erlan Idrissov, The Guardian, 4th October 2006

pinochet with lucia hiriart and margaret thatcher

Senator Augusto Pinochet

In October 1998 a corrupt Spanish judge, Balthazar Garzón Real*, issued a warrant for the arrest of Senator Augusto Pinochet, former President of Chile.  The 83-year old Senator, who was convalescing in a London hospital after a back operation, was arrested late at night while a guest of HMG.  At the time of his detention, he was in possession of an accredited diplomatic passport. 

The Madrid court warrant, which was strenuously opposed by the Spanish government, alleged historic human rights abuses by the Pinochet administration.  Unknown to the authorities in Spain or the UK, the list of alleged abuses was assembled by the Communist Party of Chile and was a cut and paste of dated denunciations that had either been addressed or dismissed by the National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation in the 1990s. Joan Garcés, a Spanish communist member of the parliament of Madrid and former Revolutionary Adviser of Salvador Allende, the former president of Chile, was the link between the Chilean Communist Party and Judge Garzón in Spain.  Garcés had been an instrumental ally of Allende during the 1970s in seeking to tilt Chile onto the side of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.  Pinochet had stopped this by removing Allende in a military coup in September 1973. Allende killed himself in the presidential palace during the fighting but Garcés, a Spanish national, had been arrested and deported to Spain.

The objective of the Pinochet arrest was, firstly, to throw Chilean society into chaos and turmoil following years of successful reconciliation. (Recent political events in Chile, historically the most stable country in Latin America, show that in this respect at least the Chilean communists achieved their goal). Secondly, Garzón and Garcés sought to establish a far-reaching and controversial change in international law, under which activist left-wing lawyers acting on alleged human rights violations in any jurisdiction of which they disapproved could, in effect, secure the arrest and trial of any individual, of any nationality, anywhere in the world, including a former head of state. This new legal principle would trump the long-established doctrine of sovereign immunity, and it nearly succeeded.

Augusto Pinochet was defended in the UK courts by a brilliant legal team led by Clare Montgomery, QC, the distinguished criminal barrister.  During the protracted and sometimes abstruse legal manoeuvres, which pinged back and forth for many months, the House of Lords was forced for the first time in its thousand-year history to set aside a judgment because Lord Hoffman, one of its senior judges, had failed to declare that he was associated with Amnesty International, the co-appellant in the action against Senator Pinochet.  In judgment after judgment, the House of Lords failed to reach a decision on whether to allow the extradition of Pinochet to Spain.

Outside Parliament and on the international airwaves, WorldPR orchestrated on behalf of Chilean Supporters Abroad a vigorous worldwide campaign to secure the freedom of Senator Pinochet, who was held with his wife, Dona Lucia, under house arrest in Virginia Waters, Surrey.  The campaign was led by former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and supported, among other parliamentarians, by Lord Lamont, former Chancellor, and a large number of Chilean activists that arrived in the UK to support the former president.  The campaign culminated in a seminal speech by Lady Thatcher the 1999 Conservative Party conference in Blackpool, which dominated the party conference and deepened the predicament of the Labour government.

After 503 days of house arrest, amidst deadlock in the Law Lords and unprecedented demonstrations in Virginia Waters by Chilean protesters from both sides, British Home Secretary Jack Straw stepped in and issued an order to release Senator Pinochet on grounds of ill-health.   On 3rd March 1999, the Senator flew home on a Chilean air force jet to a rapturous welcome by his supporters.

(* In 2012. Balthazar Garzón was disbarred by the Supreme Court of Spain for illegally recording the meetings of defence lawyers with their clients.)

BBC Radio Interview with Patrick Robertson, BBC World Service, Witness History, 2010

Speech by The Rt. Hon. Margaret Thatcher of Kesteven, O.M., F.R.S., C.H., at the Conservative Party Conference, 6th October 1999