As McDonald’s stops serving in Russia, here’s a brief history of McDiplomacy

The company’s chairman at the time, James Catalupo, told him: “We are focusing our development on the most developed economies – the ones that are growing and the ones that are big – and the risks of adventure are probably becoming too big.”

For a multinational to invest in a country, it must be politically and economically stable, which is why McDonald’s Golden Arches are one of the most visible signs of its place in the global community.

McDonald’s presence in a country does not in itself prevent it from entering into conflict, but does mean that its economy is tightly integrated with others and would have much to lose by alienating trading partners.

This is a brave new world of fast food was predicted by Immanuel Kant in his 1795 essay perpetual peacein which he asserted: “The spirit of commerce sooner or later seizes all nations and is incompatible with war”.

What would Kant think of McPolitics? “I like this!” he could have said.

Test the theory

However, the Golden Arches theory was shaken in the late 1990s, after NATO began airstrikes on Belgrade (with its seven McDonald’s outlets) during the Balkan War.

Friedman, however, claimed this as “a temporary exception that proved my rule”. Writing in the New York Times: “Once NATO turned off the lights in Belgrade and shut down the power grids and the economy, the citizens of Belgrade demanded an end to the war. It’s so simple. They wanted to be part of the world, more than they wanted Kosovo to be part of it. They wanted McDonald’s reopened more than they wanted Kosovo reoccupied.

Further tests of the rule came in 1999 when India and Pakistan threatened nuclear strikes over Kashmir, hostilities between Israel and Lebanon in 2006 and when tensions between Russia and Georgia escalated. overwhelmed in 2008, but these conflicts were relatively small and quickly resolved. , Friedman would say, thanks to economics.

In 2022, the Golden Arch theory has been tested more seriously than ever.

Thirty-two years ago, there were long lines around the Soviet bloc when the first McDonald’s in Russia opened in 1990. After 14 years of negotiations, customers were promised: “If you don’t can’t go to America, come to McDonald’s in Moscow”. and the business quickly spread across the country.

This is the very first McDonald’s to open in Moscow. Image: Steven MacKenzie

In 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, McDonald’s was on the front line. The three branches in the region were closed in Sevastopol, Simferopol and Yalta. The following month, five more were closed in eastern Ukraine, including three in the rebel city of Donetsk.

A statement from McDonald’s at the time said this was “primarily due to safety measures for our employees and guests”.

As anti-American sentiment grew, McDonald’s became a target. A poll conducted in April 2014 found that 62% of Russians would like to see the company leave the country. That summer, McDonald’s was served with a lawsuit by a Novgorod regulator, alleging that the cheese in its cheeseburgers contained “banned antibiotics.”

Even Vladimir Putin has joined in the debate, supporting the expansion of a more Soviet-style franchise “based on different types of traditional Russian cuisine.” [that would] compete in quality standards with restaurant chains such as McDonald’s”.

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Following Putin’s lead, in July 2014 the RusBurger chain opened on the site vacated by McDonald’s in Sevastopol, serving its signature Czar cheeseburgers instead of Big Macs.

At that time, in Europe, 73% of branches were owned and operated as franchises by local businessmen and women. In some countries, such as Belarus, Bulgaria, Greece and Malta, 100% of McDonald’s restaurants are franchised. There were only two countries where each branch was owned by the company: Russia and Ukraine.

McDonald’s today

In Kiev, there is a McDonald’s ostensibly positioned in Independence Square. According to Google Maps it is temporarily closed.

One day, hopefully, Big Macs will be served again in Ukraine and Russia. It will be as good a sign as any easing of tensions.

For all the negatives of a fast-food lifestyle, the homogenized but harmonious – albeit slightly more unhealthy – world it represents, at least it promotes peace.

About Robert Moody

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