Hans Koelman, Owner of ‘The Nachtwacht’ restaurant

Selection_007How long have you been in Russia?

25 years

So you have seen a lot of changes?

Yes, and they are still going on. This is the first time in 25 years that I’m not sure what is happening. In the past there were crises, but the rest of the world was not against Russia. There are a lot of bad things happening right now, but there are also some good things. The sanctions are bad but they bring many opportunities. A lot of my friends have gone out of business and a lot of foreigners are not here any more.

But you are not leaving?

No if the time comes when my family is threatened and there is hostility against foreigners, then the time will have come to leave.

But you don’t feel that now?

No not yet. I am basically pro-Russian, but I see the discussions going on and of course you have to be careful now. And this is something new, I have never had to be careful like that in the 25 years that I have been living here.

You have a family here, you must really like it here, otherwise you would have left.

I like the people and I like the culture, and I like the combination of both. When I first came here in 1989 I liked it. I must say that in Europe a lot of the traditions have gone, but they’re still here.

How do you find working with business people in Moscow in comparison to working with Dutch people back home?

There is no comparison, it is completely different. They move quickly, they make decisions quickly. Of course now people understand due diligence and that takes a bit of time but usually things are done very quickly here, and then they move on to the next thing. Us Europeans sometimes miss opportunities because we cannot move that quickly.

So do you think that Russians should learn from Europeans or Europeans from Russians?

I heard the most ridiculous thing a few days ago, when the new head of NATO said that we had tried to make Russia a partner for many years, but it didn’t work out. The attitude is that we have to teach the Russians something; we have to show the Russians how to behave. If I go to Belgium or to France people behave in completely different ways than in The Netherlands. Why should I expect and why should NATO expect everybody to believe in the same things, and behave in the same way? Yes of course there is corruption here and there are a lot of bad things; but at the same time, there are more good things. I do not know if democracy is the right thing for this country, it needs a strong hand to keep it together. Look what happened in the 1990s, there was chaos everywhere, and people were actually selling off bits of Russia. These people, and it’s not just Putin, it’s a group of them, are putting it back together again and keeping it strong, and now it is one of the strongest countries in the world. So can you say that Putin is doing a bad job? I don’t think so. For me it’s difficult to talk about such things because I’m both a European, and pro-Russian, and that isn’t accepted back home.

Let’s get back to the restaurant, who are your clients?

It’s more of a community bar and it’s also kind of centre for the Dutch community as well. There are a lot of expats who live here in this area, and maybe they didn’t know each other before they came here, so that’s nice. It’s like in Amsterdam where somebody’s going away and they leave the key with us so that their daughter can pick it up the next day.

Is the Dutch Community a strong community?

We are not strong in numbers but there are a lot of Dutch here heading international companies. There are a lot of Dutch all over the country, not just in Moscow. I’ve seen some new faces coming recently so the community is here, it exists and it will continue to exist.