Behind the Scenes at the City’s Biggest Annual Event
Guests this year include the Finnish, Chinese and Indonesian presidents.
Published: June 17, 2011 (Issue # 1661)
Alexander Belenky / The St. Petersburg Times
This year’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum will be catering for a total of 5,000 guests.
Hundreds of people are involved in the practical organization of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum to ensure its smooth running. More than 5,000 guests attend the forum, which is expected to provide participants with high quality services — not least security.
While work at such a large-scale event does not differ in essence from other security work, demand is high at the forum due to the concentration of high-profile guests. To ensure the necessary level of professionalism, all security staff are required to complete a training course based on the specific rules of working at the Economic Forum. Top of the list, say representatives of security firms working at the forum, is appearance. Security staff must look smart and professional from head to toe.
To avoid the outbreak of any unfortunate diplomatic incidents at the Economic Forum, it’s vital that security personnel are polite and calm, even when under pressure. Potential staff undergo psychological testing to ensure they have the qualities desirable to work with VIPs from all over the world.
Employers who work at the forum should be able to deal with stress, and should react to everything in a cultured, polite way, said the representative of one security firm working at the forum.
No less capable of inadvertently causing a diplomatic spat are those responsible for making sure that all the participants of the forum understand each other properly.
Translation is a key factor in the forum’s organization. The translation process requires both interpreters, who perform simultaneous interpretation during the speeches, and translators who produce written translations. The translators work around the clock to provide quality translations in time, but first, a transcript of every speech made at the forum is expected to appear on the forum’s web site within three days of it being presented. The first stage of the translation process is therefore to listen to a recording of the speech and transcribe it.
“Here we face the first danger: The speaker, for example, a French person, might speak in English with a strong accent, causing difficulties for the transcriber. So the second stage is the work of the editor, who also listens to the speech, double-checks, and corrects things,” said William Hackett-Jones, one of the shareholders of Eclectic Translations, which is providing transcription and translation services for the Economic Forum for the third year running.
According to Eclectic Translations, a one-hour speech requires six hours to transcribe, four to five hours of editing and two hours of proof reading. Work on all of the translations takes an entire month after the Economic Forum.
“For three days, we transcribe all the audio files,” said Hackett-Jones. “Then it takes two to three weeks to do the translation. Almost all the speeches and reports are in Russian or English, so we translate them from English to Russian and vice-versa,” he said.
“In the event that a speech is made in another language, we may use the interpretation that was given simultaneously at the forum, but we try to avoid this wherever possible. The precision of written translation is about 98 percent, while the accuracy of interpretation is 70 percent, as many things are forgiven in spoken language. Using an interpretation only exacerbates errors in the resulting written translation.
“We try to hire only language specialists with whom we have already worked, as not everyone can manage this responsible job,” said Hackett-Jones. “We are ready to forgive some shortcomings, but in this job, quality is of the utmost importance.”
The organizers of the forum also spend time, money and effort on decorating the territory of Lenexpo, where the forum is held, and the neighboring district in order to make a good impression on the guests, who this year include Finnish President Tarja Halonen, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Alexander Aksakov / The St. Petersburg Times
Organizers have gone to great lengths to decorate Lenexpo for the event.
All the roads around the forum such as Nalichnaya Ulitsa, Bolshoi Prospekt, the nearby embankments of the Neva and Ulitsa Korablestroitelei and Hotel Pribaltiiskaya are all spruced up and planted with flowers and greenery to create the impression of a well-kept city.
“Everything should be attractive, contemporary, diverse and colorful,” said Alexandra Pelt, head of the Vasileostrovets park and garden enterprise. “Every year, we devise a plan for the floral decoration of these areas and think up new compositions.”
This year, the focus is on geraniums, with red and white colors dominating.
“The timing of the forum coincides with the beginning of the summer, so everything that we do for the forum, we do for local residents too, and all the flowers and decorations stay here and bring happiness to people for the next few months,” said Pelt.
“Guests who come to the Economic Forum see our district, and we hope they will appreciate our efforts,” she said.
The decoration inside Lenexpo is no less carefully thought out. Every year the decorators dream up something new to entertain participants. This year the compositions are inspired by the theme of “ceremonial St. Petersburg.”
“The decoration is reminiscent of the style of the parks and palaces of St. Petersburg’s imperial estates,” said Yelena Shikova, head of the architecture department of Neskuchny Sad company that has been responsible for the decoration of the forum for more than five years. “The weather in the city is changeable; it might be rainy, windy or cloudy, and we were afraid that guests might perceive St. Petersburg as an unfriendly city, so we have put the emphasis on the flowers.”
Some of the floral decorations are based on those in the city’s historic gardens, but the organizers have added modern elements in order to jazz up the designs a little.
“The idea of modern concepts executed in a traditional way also corresponds to the false-facades erected around Lenexpo,” said Shikova. “The old pavilions in Lenexpo are covered up by false-facades depicting various city sights, and every year they are different.”
This year the flowers inside the Lenexpo complex are predominantly white, in an attempt to offset the grey weather and potential for heavy rain.
“We have added some bright purple, yellow and pink for variety, but the preference is for white as this color can brighten up even our bad weather,” said Shikova.
“After all, we wanted the guests of the forum to see St. Petersburg at its brightest, as the most beautiful city in the world.”