In February 2020, Russia announced that it would soon be offering a simplified and cheaper online visa application for tourists from EU countries.
If you were asked to describe Russia, your immediate thoughts may be of snow, bears and vodka. Unsurprisingly, Russia does contain all of those things. Think a little more and you might settle on political tension, corruption and the mafia. Unless you had visited, you probably would not envision the long summers in a cottage surrounded by countryside, LGBT activists, or a local taxi driver cracking jokes in elementary English.
Visitors report of Art House cinema, the zero-waste movement and good old-fashioned hospitality being as much a part of Russia as Samovars and Russian dolls. The best way to offer an alternative point of view is to visit and form your own opinions.
Russia: An elusive and unexplored destination
Russia is elusive as a tourist destination, despite sharing its land border with many countries from Central Asia to Central Europe. Trying to summarise Russia is as impossible as trying to sum up an entire continent. (It is actually bigger than the continent of Antarctica, and almost as big as South America). The world’s interest in Russia rises, falls, is demonised in the press, and romanticised in classic literature.
The imbalance of noisy headlines versus those able to see for themselves further damages our perception of scapegoated countries. There is often a patronising notion, alleging indoctrinated citizens oblivious and unable to think for themselves. Thanks to assumptions dressed as fact, this diminishes the amount of people who want to see Russia’s capital, Moscow, or cultural capital, St Petersburg – Both of these cities are pin pricks on Russia’s landscape, but let’s begin with these as they have the infrastructure for international tourists to easily enjoy them.
Tourist visas: paying and praying
Russian tourist visas currently require a considerable stack of papers, there is a lengthy application form and a visit required to the application center that involves queuing up, paying and praying. Often people pay an additional fee for the support of an agency. Traditional tourist visas can take weeks to process and cost more than the flight to Russia. However, this varies between application centers around the world. A simplified and cheaper alternative to this process is a welcome relief.
Many people are surprised to learn that Moscow is only around a 3-hour flight from London. It feels so much further, due the administration required to get there and the added cost of the traditional visa application process. There simply are not as many people talking about their short-haul flight to the Red Square last weekend. This should not be underestimated as a major barrier to questioning the image projected of Russia in the mainstream media.
With the implementation of simplified and cheaper online visa applications for many citizens (this new process does not apply to citizens of the UK, US and Canada yet), I am optimistic that false and damaging portrayals of Russia and its people may be laughed at before they could be published.
Tourism plays a major role in international relations
It is well known that tourism plays a major role in international relations. Getting to know another place and its people can contribute to peaceful resolutions. A significant experience as a tourist can melt prejudice and breed compassion, tolerance and understanding.
Russia is full of surprises and humour, Winston Churchill once famously described Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” With a quick online visa application and increasingly competitive flight prices, does that not pique your curiosity to come and have an adventure?