Thursday, 23 September 2010

05. November 18, 2008

Esteemed Mikhail Borisovich!

I was surprised by your reply, which was quite unexpected: for half our lives, we draw up stereotypes, all kinds of hackneyed labels and clichés, then they start suffocating us, and years later, when the accrued stereotypes begin to crumble, we are very happy to be liberated from them. For now I am speaking about my own impressions. Gradually, I hope, we will get to yours as well.

And so, your parents were solid people of the sixties with pedigrees - engineers, production people, honest and decent - your dad with a guitar in one hand and a shot glass in the other, cheerful and lively; your mom, always ready to receive guests or to help a girlfriend in difficult circumstances. And their attitude to the Soviet power is understandable: bug off…

The children of the people of the sixties, read typewritten copies of Solzhenitsyn’s GULAG Archipelago and Orwell’s 1984 in grade nine. They squeamishly kept their distance from power and in the best case wrote their dissertations, worked as doctors or elevator operators or participated in a social movement which subsequently was called “dissident”.

Some of the children of this generation went through the experience of jail and camps in the 70s-80s, some emigrated to the West. But somehow you protected yourself from this and successfully fit yourself into the machine of that time, found your own place in it and worked there effectively. Particularly affecting is the innocence with which a young person is prepared to go even into the “D”, [24] because the motherland needs to be defended.

Two decades of difference in age rule out a situation which would be easy to imagine if we were the same age. When I came to the departmental Komsomol committee to get a character reference [25], with a feeling of revulsion and a travel permit, there were sitting either hard-boiled careerists or idiots and I managed to answer the question about who the secretary of the party CC [26] in Bulgaria was. I went there in the 60s, and you were sitting there, or in the office next door, at the beginning of the eighties. Without a doubt, you belonged to the circle of people with whom I was, to put it mildly, not on friendly terms.

Turns out - and this is what amazed me in your letter -, that someone of these people in the 80s could have had a “positive” motivation. You were there as a young, talented person, dreaming of becoming a “plant director”, of sensibly and correctly producing something, maybe even weaponry for the defense of the motherland. And there, in this environment, there were “progressives”, like Yeltsin, and retrogrades, like Ligachev. You were found inside the system, and found yourself a place there, and created a team. You say that ideology did not interest you, and that “striving for leadership” had significance. But this striving is a respectable definition of the concept of “careerism”. This is not an invective, but a definition. A career, business, is the most important part of the life of a normal man. Today it is for a woman as well. But, as it seemed to me, the rules of the game being offered there, inside the system, were such that it was impossible for a decent person to accept them. And you were a boy from a decent family. How did you ever manage to grow up as a “true believer” Komsomol member without any doubts about who are the friends and who were the enemies? You say it was possible. I have no grounds not to trust your analysis. That means I was biased in my total aversion to all party and semi-party people.

In the eighties, any societal ideology was already completely extinguished in the leadership of the country (and indeed at all levels, down to the bathhouse and the pre-school), and what was left was only an empty shell.

Now I see that I did not have the complete picture. Perhaps even a completely wrong one. My aversion to the Soviet order was so strong that I did not allow that one could rely on, or trust anyone, in this late-communist time. Or even find someone to look up to. Yeltsin was for me one of the party workers, and I got frightfully worried when all my friends ran off to the White House, while I sat at home and lamented: “Why do I not want to run to this demonstration with everybody else?”

Several days later I said: “If there will be a purge, like in Germany after the defeat of the nazi regime, then I will believe”. There was great enthusiasm around, but I could not share it. There was no purge: nearly all the bosses stayed the same, having switched chairs, only a few were driven out.

I understand that Yeltsin had charm, and scope, and good intentions. Only it ended badly - he surrendered his country into the hands of the KGB. He found “clean hands”. And you, having expressed it in some other words, also, as it seemed to me, admit this.

How do you assess the figure of Yeltsin today, a decade later? If this reassessment did take place, then when was it?

There was a moment when it seemed to me that Gaidar’s reforms [27] could create an efficient economy, but he did not pull it off. His book about the fall of the empire is very interesting, explains much, but retroactively.

Did you at that time have some kind of conception of an overhaul, or were you completely satisfied with those big opportunities that then opened up for entrepreneurs? There are no doubts that you turned out to be a very good director of a very big - half the country - plant.

Finally, the most painful of all possible questions. So painful that I am prepared not to get an answer to it. To simply withdraw the question. There was a moment when people close to Yeltsin were getting huge pieces in the form of plants, newspapers, marine fleets. There was one distribution, then a series of subsequent “redistributions”. Often very ruthless. By this time you had already become a “plant director”. Where in this period did the boundaries of what was permitted stand for you?

Yes, concerning Voltaireism. The elder stirred up the whole world with his ideas. But children sired with a maidservant he caused to be handed over to an orphanage. Or was that Rousseau? This is simply some kind of capital law of nature: the more exalted the ideas, the more odious the practice of life…

There. I introduce an amendment to the question: what did you retain from the ideas of your youth, when you dreamed of being a “plant director”? What did you lose? I am, of course, talking about the system of values.

I singled out your name from the ranks of the oligarchs when in a children’s correctional colony, where I had ended up together with psychologist girlfriends, I discovered a computer class, organized with your money, and then again in different spheres I bumped into traces of Open Russia, your brainchild. Several years later, when you were already arrested, I ended up in the Koralovo lyceum, made the acquaintance of your parents and saw there an unimaginably wonderfully appointed island for child-orphans and half-orphans. I had not seen anything like this anywhere in Europe. Also a cause built by your efforts.

The Koralovo lyceum

You write that for you the turning point in relations with the power was the rout of NTV. Every person truly does have “his Rubicon”. But until this time you somehow lined up relations with a power that was more and more losing a sense of decency. Yet another tough question: did you have a feeling that this process can be changed? If NTV had been preserved, would you have been able to fix the damaged relations with the Kremlin?

The press is for sale and obedient to the powers everywhere in the world. The question is that in different countries there is a different-sized exhaust pipe for discharging negative emotions. Can it really be that your conflict took place because of the diameter of not an oil pipe, but an informational one? For me this would mean that you, being a pragmatic and practical person, have not lost romantic illusions.

You will forgive me, maybe something came out harsh in this letter. But the “golden age” is ended. The illusions have been dispelled. There is little time for reflection. On top of that, I have a most acute sense of catastrophically “shrinking” time. I want to ultimately “get to the very essence”. By the way, nobody has managed to. Well, at least to get as close as possible.

And there is also one problem that I would like to discuss: a person - his personal life and the pressure of society. How to preserve one’s dignity, one’s values… How do these values change? And do they change? When a person is found in camp, there arises a unique experience, distinct from the one here. This is me warning you in advance of what else I would like to talk with you about, if there will be such an opportunity.

I wish you health, hardness and tranquility.




[24] The “D” stands for "defense".

[25] Character reference - Soviet citizens required a positive character reference from their college Komsomol committee or workplace party committee in order to be permitted to travel abroad.

[26] CC stands for Central Committee

[27] Yegor Gaidar (1965-2009) was a Soviet and Russian economist, politician and author. He was the Acting Prime Minister of Russia from June 15 to December 14, 1992. He was best known as the architect of the controversial shock therapy reforms administered in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which brought him both praise and harsh criticism.

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