Monday, 09 December, 2013
16:23 GMT 20:23 Moscow
Local Time: 20:23
25 Dec 2006
Russia's G8 presidency event of the year – Foreign Ministry
24 Dec 2006
Russia to focus on hydropower and nuclear power generation – presidential aide
21 Dec 2006
Germany ready to take over G8 presidency from Russia – German Foreign Minister
20 Dec 2006
Implementation of Russian and U.S. presidents’ initiatives a foreign policy priority for Russia in 2007 – foreign minister
News conference of Presidential Aide Vladislav Surkov, Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration
Host D. Peskov: Hello everyone. We are continuing our Tuesday program even though it is Wednesday. In the past few weeks, we have received a huge number of requests for an interview with Mr. Surkov. We could not grant each separate request, and therefore we asked Mr. Surkov to join us for one of our briefings to answer your questions.
This is an on-the-record, but not a televised, briefing. Mr. Surkov will answer questions on Russia's domestic policy. Please limit your questions to the broad issue of internal policy and do not ask questions about foreign policy, the economy or energy.
You have asked for an interview with Mr. Surkov in the context of Russia's G8 presidency, but we do not mean to emphasize its importance or the significance of the forthcoming G8 summit for Russia's domestic policies.
SURKOV: Ladies and gentlemen, I am ready for your questions.
NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO (U.S.): I have just returned from the Nenets Autonomous Area, where almost everyone I talked to, including members of the Untied Russia party, said that Governor Barinov was arrested because Rosneft wanted to buy oil resources there, and that the charges brought against him were archaic and vague. Will you comment on these statements and on events in that area, please? Is this a new chapter, or the old policy of building the Kremlin's vertical power?
SURKOV: I think that the people who told you that are either mistaken or were trying to delude you. In general, it has become fashionable here to explain the authorities' actions by a desire to take over different types of property. This is an effective way of eliminating questions, and allowing corrupt people and those who are guilty of infractions to present their problems as political. That is a lie, and I do not want to speak any more about it. That is all I am going to tell you.
ASSOCIATED PRESS: What is the biggest internal threat to the Kremlin now?
SURKOV: You said to the Kremlin? I detect a threat to the country. Threats are mostly hidden inside us, and the main threats, as the president has said clearly, are corruption, technological backwardness, flaws and major drawbacks in our political practices, and an almost catastrophic demographic situation. We are aware of these threats, and we are of course also aware of the fundamental problem of terrorism, which is connected, one way or another, with the weaknesses that I just mentioned. In my opinion, we should analyze these weaknesses and do away with them. As to threats to individuals or individual parties, that is not a relevant question.
KYODO NEWS (JAPAN): You often speak about "sovereign democracy," whereas opposition politicians criticize democracy in Russia and describe it as ... "managed democracy". What is sovereign democracy and how does it differ from managed democracy?
SURKOV: I will try to give my own definition of "managed democracy," which has become, also thanks to journalists, a fashionable term in Russia and outside it. In my opinion, managed democracy is a cliché that is being forced by certain centers of global influence on all nations without distinction. It involves economic and political regimes that are ineffective and can therefore be controlled by outside powers. This is our interpretation of managed democracy. I will not name the countries we think are managed democracies. You know them.
As for Russian democracy, it is true that we often describe it as sovereign democracy. That does not have any special meaning apart from the fact that we are building an open society but will not forget that we are a free nation and want to remain a free nation in the family of free nations, and to cooperate with others according to fair rules, without accepting external management. That's it.
I prepared for this question and want to quote Vice President Cheney, who, I think, was misinterpreted in Russia. I fully agree with what he said: "By aligning with the West, Russia joins all of us on a course to prosperity and greatness. The vision we affirm today is of a community of sovereign democracies that transcend old grievances, that honor the many links of culture and history among us, that trade in freedom, respect each other as great nations, and strive together for a century of peace."
I fully agree with Mr. Cheney's interpretation of sovereign democracy. We understand it in the same way.
EL PAIS: A constructive view. We all live together in peace, both Europeans and Russia. What can we learn from Russia, and what is it ready to learn from us?
SURKOV: Thanks for your question; it is better than the question about managed democracy. When Peter the Great was studying in Holland, he had a stamp with the words, "I am a student in need of teachers." In my view, the main thing we can learn from the West is how to overcome our technological backwardness, for which there are many explanations.
We want to cooperate with Western countries. Moreover, I firmly believe that Russia cannot be modernized unless it cooperates with Western countries. We could learn from some countries, especially European ones, the things Russia has always lacked - how to care for the people, a topic that has become fashionable.
Russia has an age-old tradition of disregard for the people. Many pages in its history are noteworthy for contempt for human life and dignity. I think our main task should be creating the foundations of a society where human life and dignity are the main priority. This is what we are striving for and what we can learn from Western countries.
As for what you could learn from Russia... I don't know - read Dostoyevsky.
EL PAIS: Still, what could we learn from you in culture, politics, whatever? Are you promoting your country or not?
SURKOV: I don't want to sound immodest, but I think it is for you to decide what you can learn from us. In my opinion, we are acting more straightforward - please, don't take offense. I think we take a more honest stance, and sense others' attitude towards us, which is not always sincere. If we want cooperation, we say so openly. We admit our shortcomings and do not interfere in others' affairs.
But our stance is not always reciprocated. Sometimes our partners say one thing and do another. For example, they tell us about democracy while thinking about our hydrocarbons. The aforementioned top official, when he visited Kazakhstan, criticized Russian democracy and praised democracy in Kazakhstan. The Kazakh people are our brothers, but I will never agree that Kazakhstan has progressed ahead of us on the path to democracy.
This is the attitude we would like to avoid. Thank you.
JAPAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION (NHK), Yulia Natarova, Moscow Office: I am asking you as a politician: What do you think about the current Russian political and other elite? Do they have an ideology? In the past, we had the Komsomol, the Communist Party, and so on. Can the current elite exist without an ideology?
SURKOV: No, certainly not, just like anyone else cannot if they are creative, thinking people who try to change the world or understand it better. It's not so much an ideology that is necessary, but rather a system of values, a world outlook. Of course, a nation cannot survive without an ideology, or rather a system of values.
Moreover, the much advertised and widely discussed construction of vertical power was absolutely necessary, and remains necessary. But a bureaucratic way of keeping the country together cannot last, and we will be unable to maintain the country's integrity without complementing this vertical power with an "ideology" recognized by the people.
Otherwise we will be unable to keep together administratively what should be kept together by a vision of the future, along with ideals, values, and belief.
It is a mistake to think that totalitarian regimes have ideologies and democratic ones do not. On the contrary, totalitarian regimes do not need ideologies because they use fear to make people repeat what the regime says and even believe it. A democratic society, where repression is used only in an emergency and people try to get others to understand them, can be kept together only on the voluntary basis of common ideals and values.
This is why the current Russian elite, as you say, though I do not like the term, has to find an explanation for everything that has happened to us in the past 20 years. This is not a very pleasant process, as nobody likes to say where they were and what they did in the difficult 1990s, and why we have lost such a big country. Nobody likes to admit their mistakes and faults. Yet the nation must do it; it must explain what has happened to it and try to predict what will happen in the future.
In my opinion, a country does not have a future without a leadership that is aware of social goals and objectives and selected by means of competition in an open society. These are the ABCs of politics, which we lack today because the inertia of our moral and cultural decline is too strong. We are still suffering from its effects, though we are regaining national awareness and learning to understand ourselves, and we now have interests in addition to illusions.
As for the foundations of this nascent national ideology, I think they will not differ fundamentally from common European values and models. Of course, the Russian version of European culture is different from European culture, just as the German, French or British versions differ from it. Like it or not, we consider ourselves part of Europe; this is how we see Russia in the world, and we hope that our neighbors and partners will eventually accept our view. Thank you.
RUSSIA PROFILE: Thirteen years ago, you spoke about your attitude to Lenin in an interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily. You said you did not care for his Communist ideology, but wanted to know how he made the country more manageable within five years and saved it from the disintegration that seemed imminent in 1918.
Russia has been marching along a new path for five years. Has it become more manageable? Is it still facing the threat of disintegration, about which Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev spoke recently in an interview with the Ekspert magazine? Or has this problem diminished?
SURKOV: The country has become more integrated, but I would not like to use the term "manageable". In my view, there are no societies or countries that have achieved a situation of absolute stability, where you can say that everything is completely normal and nothing threatens the country, or at least its territorial integrity. There are no countries in the world that have done that.
Maintaining integrity in all senses of the word - not only territorial, but also cultural, political, economic, etc. - is a hard daily effort that must not stop. And we must never think that we have done everything and can relax, because that is the way to a crisis.
Therefore, I think that threats persist, and we still have problems, which I have enumerated above and which can presumably become aggravated and have grim consequences. We must be aware of this, but we must not lose heart because of it. Instead, we must work together to solve these problems. Thank you.
MOSCOW TIMES, Stephen Boykewich: Vladislav Yuryevich, two questions, if I may. The first one: We all know that a very important thing for Russia now is the new government strategy of developing strategic sectors. From the point of view of domestic politics, is there a risk that it will give rise not only to new commercial forces, but also to new political forces that will in the future threaten the current stability? And the other question: What were the main drawbacks or even failures of the recent shaping of the Russian party system, in your opinion? Thank you.
SURKOV: We have not seen any failures in shaping the party system. And could you please repeat your first question?
MOSCOW TIMES, Stephen Boykewich: As new commercial forces are appearing in the process of implementing this new strategy of developing strategic sectors, is it possible that new political forces are appearing simultaneously, i.e. that the strategy is giving serious political power to certain figures...
SURKOV: Which ones?
MOSCOW TIMES, Stephen Boykewich: Top executives of strategic companies.
SURKOV: No, I do not think so. If we speak of state-owned companies, then these people are replaceable. When the authorities change, when other political forces come to power, they will most probably replace these people. I do not see a problem here. You should not view state-owned companies and their management as something that will remain unchanged forever. These people are appointed, they are not owners, and all this talk is irrelevant, it is not a problem at all. Everywhere in the world, where there are state-owned companies, they are headed by state representatives. What is wrong with that? It is normal. They are employees, not owners, so they cannot pose any political threat.
REUTER: Vladislav Yuryevich, I would like to go back to the question on sovereign democracy, because everything seems to be related to it in one way or another. The position of the West is clear. Let's speak of Europe, of good old Europe. We have a certain democratic pattern; it is more or less similar in different countries and it works. If Russia wants to be part of Europe, forgive me for overdoing it, you should adopt this pattern and be like us. As far as I understand, the essence of sovereign democracy is that we want to build democracy, but on your own, without instructions from outside. But, you see...
SURKOV: You haven't understood it correctly.
REUTER: Haven't I? Well, then I will just ask a question. For a long time, you tried to build a Soviet car, but eventually you had to start building Japanese, American and German ones here. Don't you think it's possible that some time later you will have to give up attempts to build a Russian democracy and will take the pattern that works in the West and bring it here? And, most importantly, what is the difference between your understanding of democracy and the one Europe has?
SURKOV: There is none, that is the thing. Those who can benefit from it are trying to create the impression that sovereign democracy implies self-isolation and some exotic Russian variant of democracy. But these patterns are not different at all. There is a cultural tradition and the speed of implementing reforms, the speed of developing political culture. Culture cannot change fast. You know, colleagues, you should not play with words. The word "sovereignty" just emphasizes that our elite should not forget that while building an open society, we have to preserve our self-identity, we should not dissolve and fall under external control. No one says that we should not listen to those who have a rich experience of democracy. We keep listening, and we are responding in a very constructive way. Moreover, we borrow much from Western experience and accept it with gratitude because we find it useful. It is very useful for our political culture, which is inclined to oversimplify the political process, that countries with old democratic traditions keep reminding us of the goals and objectives of this political system. You are right when you say that it is approximately the same in all countries, but you will agree that in some very important details, German democracy is different from the French one, not in the essence, in the pattern, but in the way it functions. There are different traditions and different forms. There are different cuisines, if I may say so, even in politics. Why does no one want to take that into account? Why do we have to accept someone's blueprint and follow it blindly? Don't we have the right to interpret it? This is what we are speaking of, of formal complaints to us, not of some meaningful claims.
REUTERS: How, in what way will you interpret it?
SURKOV: Colleagues, we have everything any other democratic country has. If you do not like something, I can go on forever quoting radical thinkers, even modern ones, from all European countries and the United States who lash out at Western democracy and do not consider it democratic. But let us decide whether we agree with these thinkers or not. Complaints about Russia's democracy are just a way to generate interest in the ideas of such radical people. They have the right to express their views. But somehow only their opinion counts when assessing Russian democracy.
I'll tell you once again, if you wish, I can send you what many well-known Western journalists write about democracy in the very outstanding democracies that a majority of journalists represent here today.
OK, let me give you some quotes. "We live in a state that is hated abroad and feared by its own citizens. Today this country has entered the post-Constitution era; it is an autocracy ruled not by law, but by those who violate it. A country where the spirit of impunity prevails, where corruption is not a deviation, but a way of life." Do you know who said that and about what? This is what a fairly well-known American journalist said about the U.S. But I still think that the U.S. is a democracy. Perhaps it would be better for me to agree with the journalist's opinion, but I do not agree with it. I believe the U.S. is a democratic country. I would also ask you to consider that in assessing Russia's democratic life, there are not only the opinions of those who always criticize for obvious reasons, but there are many other opinions, as well. It will not do you harm to listen to them sometimes and adopt a more constructive attitude towards Russian democracy. That's all.
MAINICHI, A JAPANESE NEWSPAPER: Vladislav Yuryevich, I have two questions. There is a popular opinion that the current authorities provide moral and financial support to only one party, United Russia. Wouldn't it be better for developing and preserving democracy to support either all parties or none of them? This is the first question. And the other one: There is an opinion that new oligarchs are now appearing in Russia. Do you think this is really happening and is this possible in modern Russia? Thank you.
SURKOV: On support to parties. Somehow different standards are applied to us. President Bush supports the Republican Party, doesn't he? Tony Blair supports the Labor Party, doesn't he? We support the party that supports the president. This is virtually the same thing. This is a real ruling party. How can we fail to support it? How can it fail to support us? We can have disagreements, it does not always agree with us. Overall, we have many misunderstandings, but this is normal.
We are often told that we have a managed parliament. Are we the only ones? Is it prohibited in a democracy for the president and his party to have a majority in the parliament? The Republicans have a majority in the U.S. parliament. Do you criticize them for it?
As to complaints that United Russia wants to rule for 10-12 years, I can tell you that Germany's CDU/CSU stayed in power for about 20 years after the war. Why isn't that seen as a deviation from democracy? Yes, we want to stay in power, we believe that the values we promote are important, we are fighting for them. We are a political force headed by the president. We are one of Russian parties. One of the Russian forces.
I want to remind you that in the 2003 election United Russia got just above 37% of the votes. Three other parties that made it into the parliament - the Communist Party, LDRP and Rodina - got about 35%, i.e. about as much. Where is our special advantage? We got about the same number of votes as the combined total of those leftist patriots. Where is the problem? Why do we have to refuse to support any party? Can you explain it to me from the point of view of formal democracy? Democracy is a political struggle between parties, is it not? United Russia is a party to which we - some of us officially and others not - belong. Where is the problem? I am sorry, but this is an absurd question.
As far as supporting other parties. Under law, the government gives money to many parties, to all parties that have received over 3% of the vote in the previous election. They all get money from the budget. This is about supporting other parties.
We have supported and will continue supporting United Russia. You can tell that to everyone. And they will continue supporting us. This is normal. This is normal and this is a common practice in all democratic states.
The reason we are always asked this question is that our President is not a member of any party. This is, alas, the price we paid for our fight against Communism. For some time we were preoccupied with getting rid of the Communist Party and we got carried away with it, and the current situation developed. But this can be easily corrected in the near term. Then, perhaps, we will no longer be asked such questions.
As to new oligarchs, I already answered this question when I commented on state-owned companies. It's nonsense.
BBC NEWS: Vladislav Yuryevich, how is the administration or state going to manage future oil and gas revenues? Do the current high prices help the whole country or just oil and gas companies? Thank you.
SURKOV: It seems incongruous that oil and gas prices are so high and yet important social issues remain unresolved. We are, of course, obligated to work towards a fairer distribution of our national product by modernizing our economy. I cannot claim that we have made any serious progress, but we are trying to do so through national projects and demographic programs.
Most importantly, we should not feel too upbeat about high fuel prices. We remember all too well that prices can not only be high, but also very low, and I think the main goal for Russia is to seize this opportunity and start modernization as soon as possible.
FRENCH NEWSPAPER LIBERATION: When will Putin's successor be known, and don't you think it will be an uphill task to make him as popular as Putin is now? And how will you go about it?
SURKOV: I do not know when and do not know who.
LIBERATION: And how?
SURKOV: Still less.
PESKOV: The successor will be known after the election, in 2008.
MAGAZINE EUROMONEY: If the next president is not Mr. Putin, do you think Putin will stage a comeback after the next man?
SURKOV: We shall see.
FRENCH NEWSPAPER LA TRIBUNE: Vladislav Yuryevich, do you work with television channels? If so, in what way? And how can you explain the fact that the opposition never appears on television now?
SURKOV: That is wrong. You can make inquiries at television channels. They will tell you.
LA TRIBUNE: It very seldom appears.
SURKOV: That is a matter of opinion.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE: Once more about the opposition. Mikhail Kasyanov met with members of the British parliament yesterday and told them that he would be the front-runner for president of Russia in 2008. What do you think of that? Do you consider it an attempt to run Russia from outside? A sort of interference ... Thank you.
SURKOV: I was not present at that meeting and do not know if it was an attempt to govern from outside. I cannot rule that out completely. Nor naturally can I confirm it. Regarding the intentions of Mikhail Kasyanov, everyone in this country upon reaching a certain age can run for president. It is his right.
THE GUARDIAN: Vladislav Yuryevich, how would you assess Ramzan Kadyrov as prime minister of Chechnya and what would you think if he were to become Chechnya's president?
SURKOV: As regards Ramzan Kadyrov ... I think he is a courageous man, like his father. He is devoted to Russia, and he believes that the Chechen people will be better off if they are part of this country, and we agree with him. He has a checkered past, but it is therefore all the more valuable that he has sided with us.
JAPANESE NEWSPAPER NIKKEI: I will quote the expert community. Reputable publications belonging to the so-called right-liberal or conservative-liberal movement often write that as time goes on the present executive branch is proving inadequate to the task of promoting Russia's strategic development. They are referring to the government. Do you share such views, and to what extent? In addition, the president has recently seemed to disapprove of what the government is doing, judging by some of his scathing remarks. Do you agree with such appraisals, and to what extent, and do you think it's likely that any key figures in the government will be replaced?
SURKOV: To begin with, I do not want to comment on possible replacements; personalities change periodically, and I belong to the category of people who are here today and gone tomorrow. It is normal. But I am completely in the dark about that issue, and cannot comment. As for the assessment of the government's record, I cannot give one, because it is not written in my official instructions for me to assess their performance. I can only say that our intellectual community generally lacks a strategic vision, especially in economics, and it is not a matter of the government alone. There is something to be done here, it appears, and we should acknowledge that.
SWISS NEWSPAPER NEUE ZURCHER ZEITUNG: You said Russian democracy in no way differs [from other democracies]. I have one question to ask. Under the Western model, governments are formed from the bottom up, that is, winning parties nominate their leader, head of state and so on. In Russia things work the opposite way. It is the president or the Kremlin authorities who set up a party. The other way round, that is. What do you think?
SURKOV: I think it is your imagination. And again it is a matter of assessment, of the kind of angle from which we want to see the situation in Russia.
I apologize, but may I again read a quote? Noam Chomski, a very well known American scholar and political writer, said: "Our society is not really based on public participation in decision-making in any significant sense." He is talking about America. This man sees the situation in America from the same angle from which you look at Russia. That sums it up. It is a complex process - going from bottom to top, or from top to bottom ... It seems to me such moves always occur.
But the model you suggest appears, frankly speaking, far-fetched ... it is probably an ideal to be sought, and I agree that we should work towards it, but in practice things are somewhat more complex. Most importantly, it seems to me we should not oversimplify matters, and people should not suggest that we use such oversimplified models in our work. Social life is more complex than what we are now discussing. Authority cannot be imposed from above in present-day Russia, which has a free flow of information and whose people have now gotten used to acting on their own, in which many people have money, where all systems of government are transparent - sufficiently transparent - I want to emphasize, and I do not mean to idealize the situation. I do not mean to say everything is fine in our country. That is not true, of course. We acknowledge our shortcomings. We know them. We have repeatedly recognized them. The president, all those who work alongside him in the government, and so on. There is no secret about it. But we are not inclined to exaggerate our failings. And it seems to me your assessment is unjust.
HINDO NEWSPAPER (India): I would like to hear your opinion of how the Russian public reacts to criticism of what have been called Putin's antidemocratic policies, the dismantling of democracy, and backtracking on democracy. Do you think something is happening as a result of this criticism? Does it undermine the government, or does it reinforce liberal opposition parties? Thank you.
SURKOV: I thought someone would ask me about that, backtracking on democracy and such. I don't think I can remember a single day when we have not been chastised for backtracking on democracy. Well, I also have something to show you, something about the thing we are so famously backtracking on. Here are some quotes from Western newspapers during the 1990s. Here is what The New York Times wrote in 1997, that a class of plebeian nouveau-riches, criminals, and thieves dominated in a country run under a semi-feudal system, you see? This is what we are backtracking on.
Then there is another newspaper, The Independent, I chose it at random. Here is what some of your colleagues, maybe someone present here, wrote in 1998 about the democracy we are backtracking on: mafia gangs infiltrating the banking and credit systems, cronyism at all steps of Moscow's political ladder; the Duma squabbling with the president and leaving the central government without complete control of the situation; regional governments probably even more corrupt. Quote, "Russia is not a democracy." Unquote.
This is how you and your colleagues saw this country in the 1990s. "Russia is not a democracy." Sorry, gentlemen, but it is in fact that non-democracy we are backtracking on, and we are happy to backtrack as far as we can. Hopefully we will all recognize this some day.
How do we react here... well, with understanding. Because we recognize when people say things because they are genuinely concerned, and we admit there might be many people in the West who really are concerned about this. I would like to reiterate that we are aware of our weak points, and President Putin agrees - and so do I and many people in the government - with many Western critics. However, we can also see when things like this are deliberately said to distract attention from some hidden agenda.
Take some of our partners, who tend to understand energy security as full control of our pipeline system and our natural resources. We understand it a little differently, and I think we have a right to such an understanding. Furthermore, I have a feeling that even if Moscow was run by a gang of cannibals, these cannibals would very quickly be called a democratic government if they took pains to give away the right things to the right people.
However, on the whole we admit that Western criticism is a very productive thing, something that we need in order to make sure that our society does not turn back into a nation it has been so slowly and painfully abandoning for two decades now.
THE INDEPENDENT: Do you think, I would like to ask, that the West is really afraid of Russia? If yes, then why? Do you think the West does not want to see Russia rise? If yes, then why?
SURKOV: We think about the West as a democratic system where different people live. Some see Russia as a weakened state, and want it to remain so, and are eager to find any arguments whatsoever to justify this approach. Others - we hope they are the majority - are normal people who can imagine a world with a good Russia, a strong Russia, a deeply involved Russia, a Russia it's good to be partners with. In line with the democratic vision, we are going to agree with the majority in the West and with their opinion.
We don't think anyone is afraid of Russia now. I would rather say, there might be some people who caught a cold during the Cold War, and are still coughing. Many people in the West think of what happened in the early 1990s - the demise of the Soviet Union and Russia's ensuing crisis - as their victory in the Cold War. Such opinions appear in abundance in Western media.
We do not think we were defeated in the Cold War. What we think happened was that we ourselves defeated our own totalitarian regime. We were not defeated from outside; that is the key difference.
Because if people think they have defeated us, then what do you feel toward a defeated enemy? Either disdain or remorse. We do not want to be treated like that. We do not think we are a loser nation; we think that we decided our own future, and, moreover, we know well enough that Moscow did more than Washington or London to democratize Eastern Europe and Central Asia. One should not forget that it was Moscow, not someone else, who democratized those vast territories, which are now leading a new life.
EFE (Spain): I would like to ask a question about exactly what you have just been talking about. You have mentioned the importance of different assessments of the 1990s. Frankly, I have spotted some inconsistencies in what you said today. I would like to ask you to clarify some things - without a "so's your old man" defense and quotes from Americans who don't like American democracy, if you could.
You have just said that the demise of the Soviet Union did not come as a result of the Cold War. Maybe it was the result of official insolence and lawlessness, you said. However, now you say that to cement the nation you need to construct an officialdom and an ideology. What will come of it, if not the same thing that you had before?
In this light, could you also please comment on your impression of how the officials treated people in the Butovo housing conflict. I am not interested in the conflict itself, just your position on the bureaucrats' behavior.
My last question will be about democracy and the party of power. How do you feel about a leader of a party of power saying that "parliament is not the place for political debate?"
SURKOV: I don't think there was any "so's your old man" defense on my part, to begin with. I understand that people need to talk for hours in order to understand one another a little better. I did not take the American example to set anyone straight on anything. My idea was just to show that there are different points of view, perhaps some I personally do not agree with. I would like to ask you to notice that there are different views of Russia, and one should not take only one and make it into a dogma. That was my only point, and I hope I have not said anything offensive.
Of course, the problem of insolent, as you put it, bureaucracy was one of the major factors that brought down the Union. I also think our government was utterly inefficient, and that our leaders were brought down by their own narrow-mindedness, lack of education, conceit, and unjustified ambitions. These are all things I agree with, I do not see any inconsistency here.
The modern Russian bureaucracy also leaves much to be desired, I can't agree with you more. However, there are no societies without bureaucracy, which means the institution is necessary. Russia is no exception. We don't yet know how to address public issues without bureaucracy. In other words, the bureaucracy we have is far from perfect, it is often inefficient - to put it mildly - and often, well, insolent. This is what we see.
Admittedly, the South Butovo incident is a vivid example of this approach. But I do not see that these problems are being somehow glossed over. I think there are many people at work on these issues, which just goes to show that we are coping rather well, and that we should not be reproached for this.
On the contrary, what has been happening in South Butovo sends a message that our people are increasingly becoming true citizens. And no one, mind you, prevents them from doing so. What I think Butovo shows is more the health of our society than its illness.
What you said about the leader of our most powerful party is true, I know that phrase and do not see anything funny about his slip of the tongue. Such things happen, regretfully, but there is nothing Freudian about them.
PESKOV: Ladies and gentlemen, it has been an hour already, so I think we should ask the last question.
ASAHI (Japan): Thank you. Having just read Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, I was left with the impression, considering what happens to its hero, Myshkin, that Russia is a special case and cannot be understood - or in any case is very hard to understand - logically. Do you think Russia is really something special? What are its peculiarities, in the context of the difficulties in communication with the West?
SURKOV: Sorry for the technical fault, I can see the previous question was also about ideology, I'd like to add some words to my answer.
Maybe the problem is that we are not very careful about terminology; maybe it's a common problem. What I was talking about was a mindset, a system of values; I elaborated on it in response to one of the questions today, I am sorry if you didn't hear. What I was defining as ideology was meant to convey an idea of a system of values existing in a society, devoid of any communist or totalitarian message. I think democracy is a good example that proves how effective it is for people to live together according to rules that have been established on the basis of a certain vision.
So if you are not comfortable with the term ‘ideology,' let us say 'vision' instead. Now, I would say that our bureaucrats desperately need a vision, some convictions because I know many regional governors who have changed political parties - I am serious - six times in the last 15 years. I won't mention any names, but these people know who I am talking about. So, would you really be comfortable knowing that a man who is in charge of a whole region has changed parties - and, one would guess, views - so often and in such a radical manner? Maybe it's just that he does not have any views at all? Do you believe that's normal? I don't.
What I do believe is that our nation, including our bureaucracy, needs to define itself as a whole. We need to be proud of our country, and we need to work in the interests of this country and this society - which, nonetheless, should not be done in a top-down manner. We need it desperately, and I do not see any problem with that. I believe that this is the top priority for the nation at this stage.
Now I would ask you to restate your question about The Idiot, I'm afraid I have lost you there.
ASAHI: Russia's peculiarities.
SURKOV: Dostoyevsky wrote a very good phrase in another novel, The Demons: "Russia is a play of nature, rather than of the mind". Though this phrase belongs to a rather flippant character, I think... well, I should rather ask you, if you will excuse me... You are a Japanese, aren't you, and Japan is just as mysterious as Russia.
ASAHI: Japan is an Oriental country, yes, but, unlike Russia, we have few conflicts with the West.
SURKOV: Well, your strongest party has been in power for 40 or 50 years, if my memory doesn't fail me. This is called democracy. That is why there are few conflicts.
I don't like it very much when we Russians say that we cannot be understood, that we cannot be measured by any objective criteria... We are a big nation, yes, but all the same, we are just another nation on Earth. We definitely have a national character, just like any other nation - with very serious disadvantages and advantages. We think one should take into account that we have these features, but we don't need any special treatment. We are definitely not "a nation with special needs," are we? As in, "normal people do things this way, and people in Russia do things differently."
These sayings about how difficult it is to understand Russia are too often used by some people here as an attempt to conceal their own backwardness, laziness and thievery. We are a normal nation, we have some unique things about us, just like others, we have a respectful record, but, frankly, I would not like to see the Russian people always treated differently, as if we were something really special and somehow abnormal.
You can assign many attributes to any nation. I would not like to do so because it would be impolite on my part. You are outsiders, you are in a better position to judge. Thank you.
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