Beware a plague of frogs…

If you’re superstitious and in international business, you must be having a pretty hard time of it right now. You’re just seeing your business – along with the wider economy – pull out of the worst financial crisis in living memory, you’re buoyed by the chance of getting those order books filling up again, when… wallop!

Like one of the plagues that beset the Egyptians as described in the Book of Exodus, along comes a cloud of volcanic ash which grounds aircraft for six days and then threatens to disrupt air travel for the next 20 years, according to some specialists.

As well as those whose travel plans from the UK were disrupted, I have friends and associates who were stuck in Dubai, Turkey and Moscow, the last one necessitating a 36-hour return journey by air to Vienna, then on to Paris and finally the Eurostar to London. To add to the trauma, it seems that the worst side of human nature emerged, as black-marketeers moved in quickly to buy up tickets for trains and any other form of transport to ensure that they, at least, made a fat profit out of this tide of misery which swept Europe. I hope they’re proud of themselves.

So you come back from all this to a general election in the UK which produces a hung parliament for the first time since 1974.

While being too young to vote then I remember the year well, with its strikes and power cuts. We didn’t even have the consolation which we have this year of seeing England play in the World Cup, following a failure to beat Poland in the last qualifying game at Wembley.

Thank goodness we didn’t have an Icelandic volcano to deal with then, or else the prophets of doom would really have been in their element.

The comparison with 1974 is a fair one, though, and seems to give pointers to the future in 2010. Life was grim and uncertain; but, guess what? We pulled through, thanks to or despite the politicians, and life not only went on but improved again, and in the UK there has been general stability ever since, but for the odd blip.

It was in 1974 that I first visited the Soviet Union. And since then that union has disappeared, and the upheavals in the largest constituent part which succeeded it, Russia, have made the political turmoil in Britain in 1974 and 2010 seem very minor indeed.

Russian people coped with the collapse of the USSR and the subsequent rampant inflation which followed (comparable with that of Germany after the First World War); a second loss of savings when it was decided to knock three zeros off the rouble, because the figures were becoming unmanageable (rather like the Italian lira in pre-euro days); and then the crash of the currency in 1998.

But, surprise, surprise, Russia has not imploded, no more than the United Kingdom has sailed out into the Atlantic and sunk. What the recent experiences of each country show is that when the going gets tough, the tough roll up their sleeves and get on with things.

Business is business and there are sufficient people who believe that while a global recession and an Icelandic volcano may cause problems of varying degrees, the problems are not insurmountable.

And such people will cope in the same way even if the next misfortune is a plague of frogs…

Stephen Dalziel is executive director of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce.

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