Congratulating someone on their birthday is the polite thing to do, but apparently not when anti-Russian hysteria comes into play. The German public broadcaster ARD has just learned this the hard way.
Sergey Lavrov, who has been Russia’s foreign minister since 2004 and one of the most recognizable figures on the international political scene, turned 70 on Saturday. From the landmark Iran Nuclear Deal to settling the conflict in Syria, he was directly involved in the most high-profile global events of the last 16 years.
A diplomat with such a scoresheet surely deserves a few words of appreciation on his big day – that’s what ARD might’ve been thinking when they put up a tweet of congratulations to the Russian FM.
The message from the Moscow bureau of the German public broadcaster started with the words ‘Happy Birthday’ in Russian and continued in German, describing Lavrov as “a marathon Foreign Minister” for his long service.
It also retweeted a post from Russia’s mission at NATO, which read that a photographic record had been published to mark the FM’s anniversary and had some images of the birthday boy attached to it. The ARD tweet also had a line, saying that the photos are on sale.
S dnjom roshdenija, Sergej Wiktorowitsch! Russlands Marathon-Außenminister Sergej Lawrow wird heute 70 Jahre alt. Seit 2004 ist er im Amt. Zu seinem Geburtstag kann man sich jetzt einen Bildband mit seinen Fotos als Minister kaufen. https://t.co/prTMblqYkL
— ARD Moskau (@ARDMoskau) March 21, 2020
That did not go down well with fellow journalists in the German tabloid Bild. That outlet labeled Lavrov “Putin’s propaganda pioneer” and insisted that the ARD congratulation was totally inappropriate, when “Russia’s foreign propaganda on the subject of Covid-19 has been raging against the West for days.”
On top of that, retweeting Russia’s mission at NATO was also apparently a crime, as it “regularly spreads propaganda and lies.”
To further cement its position, the tabloid even addressed the Free Democratic Party’s (FDP) foreign policy spokesman, Bijan Djir-Sarai, for comment on the ‘scandal.’ Djir-Sarai replied that “one can congratulate the Russian Foreign Minister on his birthday.” However, he pointed out that promoting a book wasn’t something that a public broadcaster should do.
The outlet also demanded explanations from ARD, but got no response.
Bild is no stranger to jabs against Russian officials and its government. In 2018 it almost got into a conniption after Vladimir Putin dared to present flowers to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. For Bild this was –who’d have guessed?– not a gesture of respect but a clear “affront.”
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