Her Excellency Lyudmila G. Vorobyeva – Truly A Euro-Asian At Heart
Her Excellency is an elegant woman, and as soon as we stepped into the confines of the Russian Embassy, she overwhelmed us with offers of tea and coffee and biscuits. With a pleasant polka dotted dress and her smiling demeanour, she put paid to the myth that Russians are as cold as their country.
The legacy of the Soviet Union has cast a long shadow over public perception, even though the cold war has long been over. Modern Russia is not the evil empire that the West tried to make it out to be.
Tea, coffee and a small lesson in practical Russian behind us (Spasibo – is thank you in Russian), we settled down to talk about, among other things, Mikhail Gorbachev, Perestroika, and women.
She was born in a diplomatic family, she explained; her parents were posted in Bangkok and Laos. That was no act of serendipity; she has been in South East Asia since she was a year old. Her first few words, she told us with a laugh, were an odd mix of Thai and Russian.
That early exposure to Asian culture inculcated a lifelong love affair with all things South East Asian. Her passion for the many and myriad cultures of the Far East led her to the Moscow University, where she studied Lao.
Where was her previous posting, we asked. She was in the Asian department Of Foreign Affairs in Moscow, at the prestigious 3rd office which covers ASEAN, New Zealand, Australia and Japan, as Deputy Director General.
Her previous posting was Bangkok, and even before that Laos for 13 years.
Perestroika and the glass ceiling
It was a hard time after the fall of the old regime, she admits. She taught Lao at Moscow University, and though she loved it, she also wanted more, she confessed. It was a happy coincidence that the Laotian diplomatic contingent needed an interpreter, and so she joined the Foreign Service. Then on she has never looked back.
The Woman and the Diplomat
But with Perestroika, which literally means ‘The Restructuring’, the change that swooped through Mother Russia, signalling the end of Communist Russia and heralding a new age. Among the many changes it brought to her country, one was that women suddenly found that they had limitless potential.
She finds that her gender is a big plus. “Although at times I was not taken seriously,” she admits. Despite her seniority, she sometimes felt that the ghosts of Russia’s past have not been fully exorcised, and that the problems of the past have not completely disappeared.
But Perestroika will give freedom to women, in the end, she predicts. There are many young women in the Foreign Service now, she says with an air of great pride. “And do you know that sixty percent of university students in Russia are women?” she tells us excitedly.
She has spent her time doing what she loves, she tells us. She has travelled and experienced many different cultures, and has climbed the winding ladders of the Russian Diplomatic Corps to its highest.
But she freely admits that being a woman poses a challenge that is unique to her gender. They do not lie in the intellectual sphere, nor is it psychological in nature. The challenge there lies in family.
“Men cannot bear children,” she laughs, “but for a woman, it is an important issue.” Not for all women though, she stresses, ever the diplomat. To her, it is their personal choice, their burden to bear.
“But for me, personally, I could not choose between family and career,” she confides.
She looks wistful for a moment then tells us that her only daughter is back in Russia, preparing to enter High School. “It is hard when your family is so far away,” she confides, “but you learn to deal with these things.”
“Besides, it helps that my husband has been very supportive and understanding,” she says with a smile. “Behind every successful man is a woman. And behind every successful woman is a man. I believe that wholeheartedly.”
But was it hard to convince your husband to leave everything behind, we ask? “Well . . .,” she glances at her husband, who merely laughs, “I guess that answers that question,” she says, joining her husband in laughter.
“Sometimes I tell him that I do not need a husband, I need a wife,” she laughs.
To young women who aspire for a successful career in the Diplomatic Corps, she advises them to be sure to have a dream and a goal. “Only then can you achieve it.”
“Even if it is difficult,” she says. “Gender should never be the deciding factor.”