The long-awaited summit between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin shook up the news this week. After 36 years, the two great world powers met in Geneva and debated for more than 3 hours on various subjects such as the US presidential elections, hacking and cyber security operations, nuclear arms control, the Ukraine issue without forgetting the Navalny case and now the Protassevitch case.

One American, the other Russian, one might ask how the two presidents managed to understand each other?

A major challenge.

In order to ensure perfect and fluid communication between the two great powers, interpreters are indispensable. But this is not as easy as it sounds. In addition to their ability to “listen and speak at the same time” in two different languages, they have to be extremely concentrated for long periods of time.

In keeping with diplomatic protocol, each leader travels with his or her own interpreters working for the White House or the Kremlin. In addition, UNIGE interpreters also worked for the delegations and for Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS).

Words that can be misinterpreted.

During this meeting, Joe Biden repeated the words of the ABC News journalist and reproached Putin for being a “killer” by assuring that he would pay the price for his actions. Because of the translation, this sentence could have been misinterpreted by Putin. This is why the mistranslation of such words can worsen important international relations.

Translation at the heart of the agreements.

In order for everyone to adhere to the different issues discussed during the meeting, it was essential to translate the agreements into writing. This translation task had to be accomplished with great delicacy and subtlety by professional translators who are experts in this field.

Switzerland is extremely fortunate to be recognised for its multilingual profile and its neutrality in international decision-making. A Biden-Putin meeting in the US or Russia was out of the question. Relations between the two are too bad for either of them to accept an invitation. According to Guy Parmelin, “it is Switzerland’s role to interfere between the great and the good of the world.

This is how the profession of translator/interpreter is valued and indispensable in this magnificent country and how the two icons of world power knew that such a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland would be a success.

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