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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dima Talks

by Paul E. Richardson

On February 18, Dmitry Medvedev gave an extended interview with Itogi magazine. An English translation of the full interview is posted at www.medvedev2008.ru. Here are some of the highlights, which give some interesting insights into the mindset and personal experiences of the next president.

 

Men and Women

[My wife] Sveta graduated from the Voznesensky Institute of Finance and Economics in St Petersburg, worked as an economist in different places, then went on maternity leave and gave birth to Ilya. I then said that she shouldn't go back to work but should bring up our child.

[Interviewer] Patriarchy!

What to do about it? This is normal logic for a man, who wishes to have a solid and reliable rear guard behind. Of course, from time to time Sveta did say that it would be good to find some additional activity, but I explained that in my opinion it is better for the family if the wife stays at home.

 

Genealogy

I am a third-generation city dweller, but my grandfathers and grandmothers lived in rural areas. Before the Revolution Afanasy Fedorovich Medvedev was a peasant and then had a mid-level career in the party; he worked in the regional committee and the Krasnodar Krai Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Nadezhda Vasilyevna, my father's mother was, curiously enough, born in working-class Petersburg family. Her family died in the revolution and fate sent the orphan to a children's home in the Kursk region where she met her future husband. They were married at age 17 and remained happily married until old age. They had four children, two of whom survived - my father and his sister. My father passed away at age 77 and my aunt is still alive and lives in Krasnodar.

My motherâ??s relatives were from the Belgorod province and did, as they say, live up to their name. My grandfather's name was Venjamin Sergeyevich Shaposhnikov [literally ­ hat-maker] and his father - my great-grandfather - was a furrier, and made hats. My second great-grandfather, Vasily Aleksandrovich Kovalev, worked as a blacksmith. Many believed that he looked like the last Russian Tsar and now with Photoshop's help my picture is sometimes being made to look more like Nikolai the Secondâ?¦


Childhood

I must confess that I didn't like beach vacations. It's boring to spend the whole day lying on your back in the sun! Besides, at the beginning you had to search for a free place in the sun. In short it was deadly boring rather than a vacation! In general, I grew up playing outside and spent a lot of time in the streets.

As a child, of course, I was attached to my mama. Then there was a time when I saw that I was trying to copy my father. He taught me dedicated service to the cause that you've chosen and a love of reading.

[As a teen] there were two things that I wanted very badly. Jeans and LPs. And my parents could not buy me either. Real Wrangler or Levi's jeans were available on the black market for a couple of hundred rubles, and an average teacher's salary was a hundred and twenty rubles. And real vinyls were very expensive. I remember dreaming about a double album that had just come out, Pink Floyd's The Wall, but two hundred rubles were an astronomical amount for me at the timeâ?¦

In the summer [of my third year of university] I slaved away in construction where I could earn three hundred rubles a month. When the semester began I worked somewhere as a doorman. One time I had the territory around the Priboy cinema. It was a great job! You get up early, go from Kupchino to Vasilevsky, take a broom or a shovel in the winter, and you've done your excercise before nine in the morning. And you go to class in the morning bright as a bunny. And they pay you 100 sterling rubles for your thorough work. In 1982 you could live pretty well on 150 rubles!... I had some time left for public work and became a member of the Komsomol committee at the faculty and then at the university level. I didn't think of this as extra work. I enjoyed it.

 

Self Image

[Interviewer] You give the impression of being a very closed person.

Really? But I know why that is. I have a legal way of thinking, which has pluses and minuses. Dignity consists in the ability to correctly formulate your goals. This helps in making decisions. The disadvantage lies in the fact that often I say and explain more precisely than is sometimes needed. Because of this, you might feel as if I am Mr Dry-as-Dust, all buttoned up.

 

Rule of Law

To overcome the legal nihilism preventing the country from developing harmoniously is a long and difficult job. As it turned out, to establish a workable model of a market economy is much easier than laying the foundations of a state in which people respect the letter of the law. This is another demonstration of the thesis that democracy cannot occur in any given place after two or three years. It requires painstaking, persistent work to improve the legal and political system. Of course, one can not forget the distinctive characteristics of the Russian situation. You know, justice has always relied on a mechanism for enforcing its implementation, some kind of public stick. But if it is not based on a set of moral imperatives, on internal convictions and moral principles, if it simply aspires to the crude power of a punitive machine, then the structure it creates will be flawed and ineffective. In the nineteenth century, the Russian government was far from perfect but it was a developed system based on a set of moral and religious values. In the twentieth century, the second part of this disappeared: people were deprived of their faith in God and the state came to demonstrate either naked coercion, which at times was extremely cruel indeed, or weakness and complete failure. These are both equally bad. We all remember what the well known doctrines of the thirties and forties led to, when the talk was of class dictatorship and the presumption of guilt in criminal trials. This helped resolve some tactical problems, but in the long-term planted a time-bomb that ended the very existence of the Soviet state. You have to feel what justice is, accept it voluntarily, not obey it in some insanely prostrate way. The explosion was inevitable, it would have happened sooner or later. People rushed to the other extreme and took to systematically breaking laws. This is what happened in the nineties.

 

On International Relations

When you resignedly submit to a small amount of pressure, no one takes you into consideration any more. In international politics and diplomacy there are no minor issues or unimportant things. You need to think like a jurist.

Russia has always been built around a strong vertically-organised executive. These lands came together over centuries and it is impossible to administer them in any other way.

 

Presidential Debates

I don't need to win a bunch of verbal battles with those who have never been at the helm of state machines, whose programmes are outdated and obviously have no chance of being implemented.


Corruption

I am not a proponent of making examples of wrongdoers. The problem is serious and it must be addressed comprehensively. An attack à la Chapayev with sabres drawn won't solve anything. We need to create a system in which stealing from the state is dangerous and unprofitable. We need to think of the state as more than simply a source of income; we can't just put our snout in the trough and believe that we have made a success of our life. What an immoral position! Someone slaves away, studies, struggles all his life, creates a business and finally succeeds, and the other plunks himself down in a cosy armchair and wants everything given to him. It can't be like that. Leave the public sector and go to work in the private sector. If you don't understand that or are not prepared to live by the rules, you will be punished with all the severity of the law.


Pool Gap

Russia has problems insofar as swimming is concerned. As someone who is twice a day in a swimming lane, I want to point out that there is a disastrous shortage of swimming pools in this country.