This October 3rd, we celebrate the 195th anniversary of the establishment of Russian-Brazilian diplomatic relations. Over the years, our people and states have come a long way: times and forms of government have changed, great turmoil has been followed by periods of economic and cultural prosperity, but the rapprochement has been practically uninterrupted and, in the end, led to the creation of a strategic alliance Russian-Brazilian, in 2000.
While at sea weather changes depend on natural causes, in relations between powers the picture is clear, luminous and calm only when the efforts of diplomats, which aim to establish dialogue and seek points of mutual contact, are crowned with success.
We know a lot about famous diplomats and political figures of the present and recent past, but the names of the pioneers who were at the origins of Russian-Brazilian relations are not often heard. Therefore, I would like to remember the work of Franz Borel, the first Russian envoy to Brazil.
In the early 2000s, Russian historians at Saint Petersburg State University carried out a major study of his life. Since Franz Borel left no memoirs, historians have relied on archival documents and written reminiscences of his contemporaries.
Franz Borel, from a French family, was born in Turin in 1775. His youth was spent in Italy: Borel had the opportunity to travel extensively throughout Europe and receive a decent education at the height of the Enlightenment, a period of rapid development of scientific, philosophical and sociopolitical thought .
In 1799, in Naples, Franz Borel became an assistant to the Russian trade representative, and in 1804 he first visited St. Petersburg, where he met a talented Russian diplomat, the future Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Empire, Count Nikolai Rumiantsev.
Borel’s broad vision and qualities as a negotiator caught the attention of Count Rumiantsev, who, in 1804, invited the young man to join the Russian diplomatic service. Borel provided considerable assistance to Count Rumiantsev in creating the consular affairs expedition, writing several important works on the organization and peculiarities of the functioning of consular institutions, in which he put forward proposals on the inseparability of the political, diplomatic and commercial sides of their activities. In 1809 Franz Borel was appointed head of the Russian consular service.
Napoleon’s successes in the Iberian Peninsula forced the Portuguese royal court to leave the metropolis for Brazil in November 1807, thus establishing a unique precedent of governing the empire from the New World.
In January 1808, all Brazilian ports were opened to foreign ships, and Saint Petersburg saw this as a unique opportunity to intensify and expand bilateral trade. On the threshold of new clashes with Napoleon (the Tilsit peace of 1807 with France was very fragile even at the time of its signing), the Russian Treasury needed regular and voluminous replenishment, thus the task of establishing trade with Portugal and exploring the Brazil, entrusted to Franz Borel, became a strategic issue.
The diplomat personally visited Portugal, the island of Madeira (where he worked for three years) and Brazil, carefully studying the peculiarities of the functioning of trade routes and logistics chains. As a result of his research, Franz Borel prepared several notes on the country and a draft of an additional convention to the Russian-Portuguese commercial treaty, which emphasized Brazil’s special role and proposed the establishment of Russian trading houses in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador .
Preparation for the implementation of the ideas proposed by Borel took a long time, so he was able to arrive in Brazil as a Russian envoy only in 1828, after Russia’s victory over Napoleonic France (1814) and the proclamation of Brazil’s independence in 1814. September 1822.
Borel repeatedly expressed the need to recognize the new state – the corresponding act was delivered from St. Petersburg to the court in Rio de Janeiro in December 1827. In the same month, the diplomat received an official appointment, becoming the first envoy of the Russian Empire to Brazil.
From July to October 1828, Franz Borel prepared the draft of the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation between Russia and Brazil. A complicated bureaucratic procedure delayed the analysis of the project in Saint Petersburg, but the diplomat, continuing his mission in Brazil, wasted no time.
Working alone on the mission, Borel not only dealt with political, representative and administrative tasks, but also, without sparing himself, worked on creating unique studies on public administration, foreign and domestic policy, geography, trade and agriculture.
During the same period, the diplomat helped complete the first Russian scientific expedition to Brazil, carried out in 1821-1829 under the leadership of the famous Russian ethnographer and naturalist Georg Langsdorff. The unique geographical and ethnological descriptions, together with the botanical collection gathered during the expedition, were transported to Saint Petersburg thanks to Borel’s meticulous work.
Franz Borel had a genuine love for Brazil and took political upheavals seriously. As a convinced monarchist, he criticized the newly created republics in Latin America and did not want Brazil to suffer their “fate”. The political crisis of March-April 1831, as a result of which Emperor Pedro 1º of Brazil, under opposition pressure, was forced to sign an abdication in favor of his son and go to Portugal, dealt an irreparable blow to Borel, worsening the diplomat’s already fragile health. On December 23, 1831, the diplomat had a stroke, and on January 1, 1832, Franz Borel died.
Many years have passed, and the efforts of Borel and Langsdorff – pioneers dedicated to the idea of Russian-Brazilian cooperation – are still alive, supported by the work of new generations of diplomats.
The life and work of Franz Borel are an important example for us, as he proved, through his own experience, that neither geographic distance nor the fact of belonging to different cultural traditions can become obstacles to bringing two great nations – the northern colossus and the tropical giant.