Text by Nikolay Nelyubin
Translation by Vladimir Kolosov
Vitaly Shklyarov is a political strategist who worked for Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Ksenia Sobchak. He is a man who was in a pre-trial detention center of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus after the 2020 elections, but he was saved thanks to the actions of the US authorities. In his long interview with Novy Prospekt, a self-made professional talks about his life in Kyiv, how Minsk 2020 influenced current events in Ukraine, why he became a producer of the first feature film about the suppression of protests in the capital of Belarus as well as about the present and future of the former «fraternal republics» of the USSR.
Vitaly, I know that you lived in Kyiv after your release from the prison, but not so long ago you went to Tallinn. Why did you leave Kyiv?
— I live in Kyiv. Once during the last six months I went to Estonia for the premiere of the film MINSK. After my arrest, after my release, I still have a criminal case open. My life has changed a lot: I cannot go to my parents, I cannot continue my professional activity there as a political strategist, and I cannot be in Russia. Some doors closed for me in other countries as well. The first place where I wanted to come was Ukraine which I considered an island of safety for me. Since I am not allowed to go to Belarus, Ukraine is my new home. I have lived abroad too long. Now I want to be closer to something more native. Well, now people are ashamed to leave Ukraine. That is why I am here.
How difficult was it to get from Kyiv to Tallinn technically? Did it take hours?
— It took us days (smiles). From Kyiv to Zhitomir, 120 kilometers, just along the highway where Bucha and Irpen, where there were battles, instead of an hour drive, we spent five to ten hours. Now it is easier than it was in the first month, but you still cannot fly there. Trains are very rare, only in certain directions. And it is difficult to buy tickets inside a huge country of forty million people who use vehicles. Another problem is to cross the border. Then somehow to get to Warsaw or to Budapest where everything starts working. Step by step: Kyiv, Zhytomyr, Lvov, Krakovets, border, Warsaw. To Vilnius by plane, then to Tallinn by bus.
You are the co-producer of the first feature film about the events taking place in Minsk in the summer of 2020, which was shot by Russian Boris Guts. How did you find each other?
— A lot of good people work in his team. His co-producer is Nastya Gusentsova. She was not his wife at the time of filming, but now they are married. Another nice part of this story is that I have known Nastya for a long time. She was into social media. In my political technological incarnation, I also did many social networks, people communities. She and I spoke together at the same conference a long time ago. We were friends, we sometimes worked together.
When I was imprisoned, she tried to help me in every possible way — to draw public attention. I am very grateful to her for that. When I left, we called each other after some time. Nastya tried to find out what I was doing. In those days I was in rehabilitation in hospital… She said that they were going to shoot such a film, there was a script and Boris Guts acted as director. I volunteered to help them.
For me, this was the first feature film about those important events. I understood the importance of cinema, because it has always been an instrument of peaceful or soft diplomacy. In the White House in the United States, films were shown to chancellors and other political figures. The films were shown before their release, meaning some kind of political understatement or statement. In general, all of America from New York to Hollywood has been built thanks to cinema. It is still true.
Cinema is an important and powerful tool, especially when it comes to understanding the real cost of going out into the streets. Many people paid a very high price when they were grabbed and beaten for nothing. It is difficult to call people to the streets, knowing that they and their families will suffer. It is irresponsible. How can you get them understand that? It seemed to me that it could be done through cinema. Few people read texts. Apart from the Belarusians themselves, few people in the world understand what happened. The film is both therapy and an attempt to show to the world what happened in Minsk in 2020. I decided to join them. That was how it all happened.
Was it a success? How would you rate the reaction to the film?
— It has only just been released, and not everywhere. In addition, it depends on what you take for the rate concept. The film is now available, so from this standpoint it was a success. Is it a good movie? Yes. Because it is a serious technological challenge. Shooting non-stop in one camera is hard. The whole movie camera shows what is happening without interruption. It is like playing a game without an intermission on different stages, without making any mistakes. To make it we had a big team in a wide range of emotions: from everyday life with a sex scene to the loss of a loved one, fights and torment. Shooting without interruption, takes, cups of coffee, cigarettes. It is very hard.
Previously I did not think cinema was that difficult at all. This is my first experience of that kind. Titanic work. Especially for the person with the camera. In addition, the operator was a girl (Daria Likhacheva. — «NP»). Have you ever really run away in your life? Away from people who want to beat you, from cops who want to put you in jail. Terrible feeling! Legs run on their own. Shooting in this mode is not easy… In this sense, we managed to do everything in the film that shows in what way those events concerned everyone. During those months, people in Belarus experienced what nations have gone the same through in the past. It’s never happened in Belarus before that 35,000 people were imprisoned.
Society for the first time found itself in the position of an occupied nation, when you are subjected to both physical and psychological violence. Moreover, no one is still sure that he will not be subjected to all that again… The feeling of fear has penetrated society to the point that at any moment, whoever you are, you can be seized and imprisoned for 14-18 years. The fact that you do not know what can be done to you, this is horror movie. And this is just the beginning. I think about that as well on the topic of German Nazism. Despite the fact that decades have passed since its collapse, more and more films are made. There will be books, there will be dissertations. It will be good if MINSK is released worldwide.
It would be nice if they showed the film in Russia. Would you be surprised if they show it?
— Probably… However, nothing surprises me in this life any more (smiles). I would be glad to see that and probably will not say any anti-government statement about any dictatorship for which violence is the norm. Actually, this has become the norm as a way to maintain power. The film shows that one cannot live with violence. And in this sense, the film is anti-systemic. The system understands this well. This is our voice in the fight for life against violence. Violence breeds only violence.
After your arrest and stay in a pre-trial detention center in Minsk, did you personally understand what you did wrong, how could you protect yourself so as not to risk staying in prison for years?
— (Pause.) There were such moments, yes… I am a normal person, like everyone else. And anyone feels fear and reflection. A person who falls into isolation finds himself in the unknown. The unknown is very scary existentially. As Leo Tolstoy said about death, either we find out what it is, or stop asking. Until we find out and stop asking, we are always afraid of tomorrow, uncertainty. Therefore, we are inventing the future. We constantly think about either the past or the future. Rarely about the present.
We even imagine the future clearly, although it is impossible to know this. We are sure that tomorrow we will wake up, brush our teeth, go to work, in the summer we will go on vacation, and in the evening we will see our friends. Like soda, we neutralize acid and fear of life. Prison is good as an absolutely unusual place where they take away this mechanism of protection and future fantasy from you. You remain in a vacuum, especially if you are a political prisoner. OK, if you stole something, they put you in jail, you clearly know when you will get out. You sit and count the remaining time. But when you do not know what will happen when the cell doors open again: have they now come for you or not for you? Who will be assigned to you? To which interrogation will they take now? And you live in constant fear.
Of course, gradually you get used to it, you become stronger. First, out of that feeling of fear, you keep trying to design your future or to revise your past. When you start reviewing the past, naturally, you understand what exactly you did wrong. First, it seems to you that if you had acted differently, you would not be here. But it is not true. It is just a way to comfort yourself. And it works!
There is nothing I cannot do in order not to go to jail. This was predetermined by more than ten years of my opposition activities up to that moment. Sooner or later it had to happen. I guess I was ready for this in my head, but not in my body or spirit. As some prisoners say, you will never be ready for this, but the second time you get to these places, it is much easier to get used to this sort of things. The first attempt to calm myself, of course, was like that: if I had not gone into the street, they would have never arrested me. They would! And if I decided not to visit Belarus a month before the arrest? Maybe nothing would have happened at all. However, life is such a thing where there is no subjunctive mood.
The head of the State Department, Mike Pompeo, personally took part in your release. He spoke with Lukashenka about you. Today, it is impossible to imagine such a thing. How would you describe the point at which Alexander Lukashenka totally lost his independence from the Kremlin?
— Yes, it is impossible to imagine such a situation today… The Minsk events now seem like flowers… Then it seemed to me that that situation was worse than the fall of the Soviet Union: the collapse of the country and president image, the collapse of the image of a calm nation. I do not want to say that life in Belarus for the last quarter of a century was honey, but it was easy to live in such a way that real evil did not touch you. There were no wars, there were no landings. It is clear that the oppositionists got it, it is clear that the generals were sometimes imprisoned. As for 2020, the whole nation seems to have developed PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
This shock is worse than the scoop. At the end of the communist era, there were hopes, expectations of change. The future seemed better than the past. The fall of the iron curtain gave freshness. Nevertheless, the batons of 2020 happened. As Lukashenka said, they do not give away their beloved. Behind this is a centuries-old experience of domestic violence. It is like punching your wife in the eye because you are a dad. The Old Man can give it to you in the ear and you shut up.
However, the day Lukashenka completely ceases to be independent, will he stop doing that? His recent revelations with the generals about the need to learn from Ukraine, how to fight, is it too early to talk about his subordination to the Kremlin?
— We live in a regime, as the Anglo-Saxons say, of «wishful thinking». Reality is imaginary. We, like frogs, were slowly warmed up, we did not want to notice that. We were trying to go from a poor nation in the 90s to the middle class of the millennials. And Lukashenka has always been like that. The bird is visible in flight. People who grew up in a totalitarian system cannot be different.
I used to believe that people can change, but in a post-war generation it is hard to wait for another Obama to appear, a leader with a very free brain and soul. Unlike homo sovieticus. Homo sovieticus grew up in confrontation with the West, grew up on fear, in violence that continued for generations. I used to measure only the twentieth century, but this is much deeper. The violence was in your family, school, the army. The army has never been voluntary. It was five years, then two years, and always with hazing.
Institutional violence: without a piece of paper you are a bug. Violence at work. Right down to sports and culture. It is hard to imagine Lukashenka being different. And it is impossible to imagine that he suddenly began to obey the Kremlin. A mental addiction has always been there. Nothing has changed in this respect.
What about the politics?
— He will betray anyone at any moment. There is no person whom he will not betray. The only exception is his Kolya. Not even the older children, but namely Kolya.
Let us not touch Kolya. He is also a hostage.
— OK, we leave him alone. However, I saw his attitude towards Kolya. I know it personally. He has nothing sacred, except for his son.
Why did the West flirt with Lukashenka for quite a time? Money and benefits are more important than living people?
— (Pause.) The West never really flirted with him. The West is pragmatic, and always has been so. Instead, we believed that the West was obliged to help us. This is our infantilism, which stems from that same homo sovieticus. We always want our neighbor to do something for us. And if you change the light bulb in the entrance, then this is to Obama. In addition, the West has always lived based on values. At least in recent history, these values are constant. And in this sense, the West has not changed much: it has always tried to defend human rights, freedom and democracy. True, in different volumes and manners: sometimes aggressively, sometimes less aggressively.
The West and its officials have always tried to close their rear, not to flirt with Lukashenka. They believed that, based on «democratic values» and the structure of their culture, they were trying to do it through diplomatic channels. Lukashenka’s propaganda and the Kremlin called it flirting, based on their resentment. The reason is it is not about flirting. When you work as a doctor in a mental hospital for a long time, you can quarrel for a very long time, fight with a person who believes that he is Napoleon, while he beats everyone around him, but, as a smart doctor, you will most likely agree: here is a pill for you, calm down, everything is fine, I see your troops, Napoleon. Therefore, it is hard to blame the West.
Yes, the West has made many mistakes in relation to Belarus, Russia, and the region as a whole. The unexpected collapse of the USSR, respectively, and the end of the Cold War. It shocked them just like us. But everyone made their own conclusions, and all went wrong. The pragmatism of the West lives by different electoral cycles. Their right to be leader is very limited in time. Accordingly, in 4 years in the worst case, and in the best case in 8 years, you need to do a lot. This is a scheme, you will always look for easy and quick solutions, while under totalitarian or authoritarian regimes, where power is calculated for decades, you can simply sit out everyone: Obama, Merkel, and everyone else.
You have a very valuable resource in politics — time. In general, there are two main resources in politics: money and time. And when you have time, you can strangle your opponent with your agenda, as they said in the Kremlin. Well, the West monitors its interests, protects its voters, acts from the point of view of its own protectionism. Others are competitors.
That is, they are obliged to conduct healthy competition, economic opposition, and so on. However, the main secret of the success of dictatorships is time. In dictatorships, the price of human life is negligible. When life is expensive, as in the West, you seek consensus, but in dictatorships you pelt the enemy with corpses. Another resource of dictatorship is the lack of a balance of power. When there is an unlimited right to violence. In this sense, you are even stronger than a more economically healthy country.
Some EU countries, including those in Eastern Europe, made no secret of their sympathy for Putin. Are there any risks for Europe to preserve itself, because many people want to be like Putin (can you remember the same Orban in Hungary)?
— This seduction is part of the human DNA. It has always been so. If we are talking about the collapse of the West as a certain goal of Moscow, then as long as there are institutions and changes of power, it is not the mistakes that are important, but the reactions to those mistakes. Democratic systems cure themselves like organisms. Something like Trump might arise, but he quickly disappears. There may be movements within society, but they are still leveled, or there is a consensus. This is how institutions work. And I do not see any threats for Europe here. Old traditions and societies. It is very difficult to grind down the statutes of a thousand-year-old Europe.
Does Ukraine and its ability to resist in this sense inoculate against flirting with the principles of authoritarian power?
— Ukraine, like Belarus, is a huge vaccine for our entire region. The future of the region belongs to Belarus and Ukraine. These are the last nails in the coffin of the scoop. Yes, a couple more generations can survive on that sourdough, but then they just biologically leave. Now the battle is not against Ukraine, not against the West. This is the battle of two worldviews. The forcible Soviet and the nameless features are dying out. Against them rise the human, normal and modern trends.
When we say that the Ukrainian nation is being born, and in 2020 the Belarusian nation was born, this is self-deception. The Ukrainian and Belarusian nations have always existed, both before the protests in Minsk and before today’s events in Ukraine. Russia was an empire that understood its nation. Russia was always afraid of nationalism. Many believe that Stalin was handsome, but his empire was always afraid of nationalism.
In Ukraine, nationalism was clearly expressed, as in Belarus, as in the Caucasus. The USSR was well aware of who it was dealing with, and crushed them all with widespread Russification. I am an ethnic Belarusian, I grew up completely Russian-speaking. We must rethink our history and take back what the empire kept from the world, from ourselves. I think that is a point of this fight.
Is it frightening that many people in Ukraine are able to understand that nobody hears opponents of the current events happening in Russia and Belarus?
— I am still afraid of something that is unexpected. I do not think that this was unpredictable. The very beginning scared me. Yes, it was unexpected, but the human behavior was completely predictable. I understand that this type of behavior is not forever, it is temporary, and it will change. People will behave appropriately. Now it is a Russian psychosis. Psychosis is a bad word. I hope that this is the final phase of getting out of the state of Sovietness in order to build something new. Do not be afraid of the future.
Does Kyiv know that many people in Russia every day are engaged in solving the problems of refugees from Ukraine, helping people, among other things, to move to the EU? Is it a hope for the future mutual understanding?
— I think, they do know? people are always in search for some way out. Not only is it possible, but it is necessary that the scar does not remain very deep. I do not think that this is a question of «tomorrow,» this is a question about «the day after tomorrow»… I think that for the time being it is not worth looking for hope or mutual understanding with people who die every day and live in a different reality. They can only sympathize and help each other. It is obvious who attacked whom. It is too selfish now to seek understanding and sympathy.
Can Alexander Lukashenka be called Putin’s teacher?
— Probably, it is quite possible. But it I would rather call him «Putin's colleague.»
What did they teach each other?
— I would say that they are on the same course. They definitely teach each other.
Why did the West, neither in 2008 after Georgia, nor in 2014 after Crimea, act as it does now? Western politicians are not able to think far into the future due to the principles of democracy, where you cannot stay in power and you can’t accumulate ten years of experience in government?
— Western politicians are not stupid, many of them see and understand everything. The price of these decisions did not correspond to the price of the outcome. We must not forget that we were all born in the paradigm of fear of nuclear war: both Westerners, who are about 40 years old, you and me. This is our mutual deterrence, when no one fought each other with atomic warheads, maintaining the balance of power for many decades. It was easier to dance with the crazy, to agree with them, than to allow the hospital to be destroyed. Error? I do not think so. The mistake was that it was possible to act tougher. But there is no subjunctive mood in history.
Is Gazprom a weapon?
— Of course. This is integration into the global energy system, the purchase of clubs by sports oligarchs is the incorporation of the Russian virus into the operating system of the West. It works. Someone saw markets for turbines, and these are normal market relations. If there are crooks in the market, the market does not have to be closed because of them.
You just need to be vigilant. Well, they ran into a moneychanger, who, changing 10 thousand dollars, stuck a few false pieces of paper. Is the West to blame for that? Partly. However, this was the strategy of the Russian Federation, and not the original Western choice. We all woke up late. The power of the Russian Federation was faster, smarter and less honest. The image of the moneychanger is quite accurate to use. After all, you can change the currency in the bank, but it is more profitable to deal with moneychangers. A 30% difference is huge. There are mistakes that the West made, but it is not guilty.
NATO expansion. Many people inside the traditionally neutral EU countries, which were Finland and Sweden, are worried about the loss of familiar relations in society after a military alliance with the United States and other members of the alliance, the loss of independence. The musician Yevgeny Fedorov, who is talking with friends there now, told us about this. Are these fears justified technologically?
— (Pause.) You answered this question yourself. Switzerland was neutral for 200 years, lived without revolutions, and is partially losing its freedom. Any international institution assumes this, not to mention the financial component. These fears are partly justified. I do not want to say that this is hysteria, but it is fear. People see what is happening today, in the 21st century, in the center of Europe. This is scary. Finland and Sweden are not just joining the alliance. If Belarus and Ukraine have 300 km of a common border, then Finland and Russia have 1,200 km. This is a serious legitimate risk.
I do not think that these countries will get more problems. If we look at post-war history, at the Marshall Plan, we see that membership in unions has not only led to decline, but for many compatriots NATO is a terrible animal that eats children. This is not the case. They do not declare offensive goals. NATO has repeatedly shown that individual members may not take part in hostilities. By joining NATO, you do not become a slave to America. Of course, America will preside over this organization by right of being a greater payer and contributor to this union, but nothing more. It seems to me that NATO is strongly negatively charged precisely in our minds.
How many political prisoners are there in Belarus today? Can you explain what their freedom can be exchanged for? Hostages are commonplace. Eventually there were deals. Is it possible now? The world cut off ties with Minsk and, it seems, with Moscow.
— Less possible than ever. This is true. There are now more than 1,200 political prisoners in Belarus. But I am a realist in life and have some optimism, so I will say that there is always a solution. Sometimes it is uncomfortable, but it always exists. And I do not rule out that when Lukashenka is threatened by an existential threat or other circumstances force him, he will go for an exchange for the sake of his safety. What exactly will precede this, it is hard for me to say now. It would just be speculation.
After 2020, some noted that without Moscow’s support for Minsk the country leaders would no longer survive without each other. Is it true?
— Both politically and economically they are each other’s hostages. These are psychologically communicating vessels. If one of them leaves the political scene — then the other one will resign as well. They hold on to each other,» politician Lev Schlosberg told Novy Prospekt in August 2021.
The key to changes in Russia is in the Ukraine-Belarus-Russia sequence. I just do not see any other way. Victory in Ukraine is very important now, Belarus is the next to do that. Ukraine is becoming a democratic state, united, getting rid of the Soviet heritage and its legacy of corruption and oligarchy. And in this sense, Ukraine’s candidacy for the EU is important. Much depends on this for the success of the transition…
Europe is obviously not ready for such a merger yet.
— Europe is not ready, no. Nevertheless, they have little choice in this respect. I hope they understand that this is not a matter of Ukrainians and labor migration. This is a question of driving a nail into this Soviet world with its attributes, corruption, oligarchy, lack of rights and lawlessness. Belarus will be next, then Russia. It simply cannot be otherwise. Russia is too big.
Sergei Tikhanovsky, who you were charged with working for and prosecuted for doing so, received an 18 years sentence under a strict regime. If you could say something to him, what would be your words?
— (Pause.) I would say: «Sergei, I am proud of you! We will win!»
Did you understand that there would be such a figure?
— It is a terrible figure, yes… Both of us feel scared. Imagine what it is like for him inside. I know this feeling very well. During interrogations, they immediately told me «you will get 12 years». When you are already 45, you realize that by the time you leave the jail, you will be an old man. You will not see how your son has matured, you can forget about your profession, about the best years of life, you will become crippled…
The hardest thing in prison is getting used to the number. You can get used to beatings, you can get used to very difficult living conditions. To all this, oddly enough, you can get used to it. But it is hard to get used to hopelessness, the inability to change anything. It is hard to tell yourself that there is nothing you can do about it. There is some kind of firmware in a person’s DNA when you start to behave strangely. I got over it, but I do not know how long it will stay with me.
I sympathize with everyone who is in prison. After 3-4 months you start to smile — you get used to it. This is true. You will not find greater optimists than prisoners. But there are always some days when you just do not know what to do with yourself.
However, I know that Sergei will not spend these 18 years like everyone else. This will end as soon as the Lukashenka regime falls, and this will happen soon, definitely soon. Everything has sped up a lot. Then there will be a full amnesty. And not only for political prisoners. I am sure that absolutely all prisoners should be released, absolutely all people should be given a second chance to live. And this will be the very repentance and reconciliation that the nation is waiting for. Without this, there will be no new Belarus.
Do you regret helping Ksenia Sobchak? How would you now assess the contribution of 1 million 238 thousand votes for Ksenia Anatolyevna?
— I, with Sobchak and hundreds of young, caring young Russians, tried to create an opportunity to be heard. We tried to create the first, perhaps truly democratic party in Russia. We tried to use the mechanisms of the election race to say publicly what political prisoners are. We said that Crimea is not ours; we used legal mechanisms to speak, to collect a base of like-minded people, to travel around the country, to broadcast about what is important.
I did what I believed in. It certainly was not Putin’s support. Then I was punished for that. I did it from the heart, for the future of the Russian people. Not for Putin.
If we look for a positive outcome of that campaign for future changes, almost all the heroes of that fight with the system are now outside the Russian Federation.
— What happened in Minsk in 2020 has a huge impact on events in Ukraine. If it were not for our «failed revolution of intellectuals,» as many say today, which was smashed into blood with clubs and torture on Akrestsina, then I am sure that Belarusian soldiers would now be fighting against Ukraine. It was possible to create alternative points of attraction. Thanks to the efforts of Bolotnaya, Nemtsov, Tikhanovsky, Babariko, Navalny, hundreds of deputies whom we helped to get elected, thanks to the efforts of Katz and hundreds of other municipalities including Besedina that we brought to the Moscow City Duma, and the Sobchak campaign in particular, we may have delayed the beginning of this special operation. Who knows???
We were drowning but resisted. Even if now we all «lost», we are forced to emigrate, to state that it did not work out as we wanted. Nevertheless, something happened. Millions of people (even if they are just hundreds of people) were infected with the virus of dissent and disobedience. From these people in the regions, sooner or later, new Navalnys and Nemtsovs will grow up, who will lead Russia along a different path. Nothing is in vain. When you raise a child, you do not abandon him when he learns to walk after the first falls with the words «lost man.» No, you patiently help, sometimes for a long time. But he will go, and then he will run and win competitions. We tried to get up. We fell a lot. It’s OK.
There is one legal anti-war party in Russia, Yabloko. How would you answer the question as to why the Kremlin has not yet eaten them? Or already swallowed?
— These people are suffering the same way. If we were in a normal system, they would come to power. Now they, like all smart and independent people, are forced to hide, survive, and look for ways to make money. The party is not just a five-letter word, it is thousands of people who need salaries for really serious work, people who have invested their lives in it. This party played a big role for democracy in Russia. Will this party survive? Will it become a symbol of change? I doubt it. They are also conductors, like the Liberal Democratic Party, only with different values. It seems to me that the leading parties have outlived their usefulness. In the 21st century, these will be interest groups with a flat matrix structure. We tried to build it, but it is hard to do.
And this, in principle, can be done, given the mentality of the population?
— What is the mentality of people? It is changing. Yes, we can now talk about the Soviet in us. But that is not all. These are those who were born and grew up in that empire. They will leave. Politics will change a lot sooner or later. It will not be party, it will not be based on the principle of color or look. These will be alliances based on specific interests. And the parties will not be monolithic, like the Democrats and Republicans in the US.
Everything will be more flexible built into a unit of time. I exaggerate, but the unions of people in the future will be conditionally «democrats» in 2050, and in 2051 already «republicans». I exaggerate very much. And then everything will change. The type of person a la Fuhrer and leader has completely outlived itself.
You are a musical person. Did you imagine in your youth that David Gilmour would work with folk? Recent work with Andrey Khlivnyuk (read the interview with music critic Artemy Troitsky, who comments on this work of a living rock music classic)! Or that Portishead will sing Roads in T-shirts calling on the Russian ship to «love yourself»?
— Like any other person, I could not imagine that! It seemed to me, reading books in the 80s, that in the 2020s we would fly on saucers, do something fundamentally different. But equally, I understand that life is still about the same and changing. I grew up in the Soviet system, watched children’s programs once a week. It was impossible to imagine a person in the subway with a TV set, a telephone, a typewriter, a camera and a TV camera in his hand. Who watches everything from anywhere in the world for free.
It would have blown my head off when I was young. I remember how I recorded the first clips from TV on cassettes, and it was just a space for us those days! With a soldered plug! No, I could not imagine that, of course. And that is OK.
The topic of nuclear danger was extremely important in your life. If not for April 26, 1986, and the Chernobyl accident, would there have been no political strategist Shklyarov?
— Yes, you are well prepared!
Well, you just said that after Chernobyl you were taken to Europe, where you started learning languages. Do you also think that the risk is real, and we can see some kind of demonstration of the use of conditional tactical nuclear weapons?
— Yes, the risk is real. Since I was raised in the rules of what to do if the flash is on the right. They explained to us that the Earth would go out of its orbit, the planet would freeze, and everything would perish. But we must understand that this danger exists. Until people understand that it is impossible to take revenge on all living things for the supposedly imaginary insults of some dead person. You can mourn for some events of the past, you can be proud of some, but you definitely cannot cherish a grudge that something went wrong in history. It can force a nation to do terrible things to get rid of the guilt of its own failures. So, the threat is real and frightening.
When asked who is more interesting to have tea with Putin or Biden, a year ago you preferred Putin, because you have a lot of questions for him. Do you still have many questions for him? Or, after February 24, has the number of those questions decreased?
— You are damn well prepared! I do not even know what to say… I would not want to drink tea with either Putin or Biden today. If it were really necessary to drink, then I would rather agree with Biden. But still, neither one nor the other. I have no more questions for Putin. And there are practically no questions for Biden.
Tell me, as a political strategist, are people in Russia more suggestible than people in the US, Germany, or in any other country?
— Yes. But propaganda nonsense is a serious thing. Goebbels spoke about this: in order to believe in a lie, it must be terrible. And we underestimate the quality of propaganda that has consistently fooled people for 20 years. You can dig deeper on some topics, up to the 50s of the last century. I do not rule out that Western people would believe in the lies of such propaganda even more after so many years. Anyway, the fact that our people are susceptible to lies is a fact.
That is, let the professionals work, everything will be corrected?
— Of course! Take the same May 9th. If in the post-war Union the memory of the war is the memory of the victorious people, the memory of the dead, grief, then now my grandfather, who was in captivity, all wounded like a sieve, would be horrified by what they have now done with this memory. In the late USSR, they said that we, the victors, live worse than the vanquished. It was so. Did we have the present imperialism? We did not have it at all. And now it exists. Hence, we feel the tension in society, which did not exist before. Propaganda works effectively.
Do you understand why Vladimir Kara-Murza, a politician and citizen you know (included in the register of individuals — foreign agents) could not protect himself? They tried to kill him twice, but in the midst of the current wave of repressions, he did not leave Moscow…
— Why could not… Because there are no such mechanisms. The state has its power, it is always stronger than you are. If the government declares that there is a group of people who are its enemies, then the tools of the government are unlimited. Both in Russia and in Belarus. Navalny, Kara-Murza, Babariko, Tikhanovsky, Kolesnikova. And tens of thousands of those whose names are not known so widely. And in Russia, after all, hundreds of thousands of people, tens of thousands of families went through the 58th article (an article about enemies of the people. — «NP»). A huge number of them were shot or died in the camps. Here you can only mourn. One should be surprised here by the courage of such people as Volodya Kara-Murza. He is a hero, I am proud of him. His beautiful wife Evgenia keeps the rearguard. Boundless respect for women. We talk little about the wives of these people, about the same Yulia Navalnaya. Without them, there would be no husbands. Glory and honor to all of them.
You can read other articles and NP interviews in English in section English Prospect.