From Elizabeth Roberts at Moffat Books
In her encyclical, Kathleen O'Neill mentions 'Moffat's international ambitions'. In the interests of history, may I explain how these came about? A remarkable woman came to Moffat as my personal guest four years ago. Her name is Dr Ekaterina Yurievna Genieva, Director of the State Library for Foreign Literature in Moscow, known as VGBIL for short.
Katya (O.B.E.and was elected the first ever female member of the Athenaeum Club) and I have known each other for thirty years, operating in the realm of 'soft diplomacy', establishing official and unofficial contacts between Russia and Great Britain, with demonstrably benign results for both sides. On her first visit to Moffat within days Katya became something of a local celebrity, greeted warmly in the street by all who had met her.
During that first visit she and I had the idea of holding an international conference on a subject dear to both our hearts, a man who was in the vanguard of outward-looking reform, murdered in 1990 by persons unknown but easily guessed at when he was at the height of his powers, poised to break onto the international stage: the Russian Orthodox priest Fr Alexander Men. With private sponsorship, the conference was held successfully in 2012 under the title 'Russia: Lessons and Legacy'. We immediately began to plan a follow-up, on translation, which took place last autumn under the title 'TRANSlation TRANSformed' with double the number of Russian participants.
It was Katya's idea to celebrate this year in Moffat the bicentenary of the birth of one of Russia's greatest poets and artists: Mikhail Lermontov (Lermontov was Scottish by descent from a Learmonth who served with the Russian army in the 17th century). Under Katya's auspices, a book of new translations by Scottish poets of his poems has been published by Carcanet 'After Lermontov' to be launched at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this August.
It is not often that the transformation of international relations between two countries (and in her case, many more) can be attributed to one person, but I have no hesitation to attribute this to Katya whose influence extends worldwide via her library connections and personal friendships with international leaders and chambermaids alike. She has recently been undergoing treatment for cancer, but is well enough to be travelling again and all in Moffat look forward to seeing her here again in October.