The Putin Files: Yekaterina Schulmann

The Putin Files: Yekaterina Schulmann

MICHAEL KIRK –  … Let’s imagine we are
watching Boris Yeltsin on New Year’s Eve, and he’s giving us an assessment of how
he did as president of Russia, and he’s about to anoint Mr. Putin. Are you watching it on television when it
happens? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  Of course. I remember it very well. I watched it on Dec. 31. I remember I was crying my eyes out. It was very sudden. No matter what the expectations were, when
you actually see it and you feel the era, the epoch going away, it’s very impressive. MICHAEL KIRK –  What did he say that was
important, impressive, emotional for you? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  Forgive me what I
haven’t managed to achieve, for what I have not done. That was, I think, the high emotional point
of this address, for me at least. MICHAEL KIRK –  Was he right? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  To ask forgiveness? It’s always right. MICHAEL KIRK –  What was he right to—was
his assessment, his self-assessment right? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  It wasn’t the self-assessment. He didn’t mention specific failings, specific
defeats that he meant. He just said that it was a difficult time. “I know it was a hard time for you, and
I’m sorry that I couldn’t make it better; I couldn’t make it easier for you.” That was his point. And it sounded very humane. It sounds even more this way in retrospect,
because we’ve had so few admission of faults from this level of power since then. It has been almost 20 years, and who has admitted
that he has been wrong since then? That was the human touch that has possibly
been lacking during these years. MICHAEL KIRK –  To many Russians, what had
happened during those nine years to them? What were their feelings about the hope that
maybe they had carried in 1990, 1991, and the reality of 1999? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  You know, these impressions,
these feelings about certain years, about certain epochs, they changed with the time. The whole legend of the 1990s has been in
the making during 2000s, partly by social consciousness, partly by efforts of state
propaganda. When people say the 1990s, Likhie ‘90s there
is no exact English translation of the term the difficult ‘90s, the hard ‘90s. They actually mean sometimes one thing, sometimes
another. … But it was in very real truth a very difficult
period, the period of tectonic change for very many people. People really did lose their accustomed lifestyles. Their lives underwent dramatic change.  For some people it was a change for the better. I think that in terms of real quality of life,
it was a change for the better for almost everyone, because the conditions of the late
Soviet Union were (unintelligible) and horrible. I had my childhood in the provinces, and the
difficulties of just buying food were unimaginable. So retrospectively, those mythical 1990s,
those generalized 1990s, are perceived as the time—for some, it’s the time of catastrophe. For many, it’s the time that they are not
very fond of remembering, because they don’t like the image of themselves at that moment. They have lost their social status. They were forced to do things that they were
not accustomed to do. Even if they succeeded, as many people from,
for example, who were the Soviet intellectual, the Soviet intelligentsia, and they went into
business, they succeeded, but they had to go through this very difficult and for them
very humiliating period. That’s why the ‘90s have such a reputation. MICHAEL KIRK –  So when you watch Yeltsin,
when Russians watch Yeltsin, what are they longing for? What do they think will happen? What do they hope will happen with the new
president? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  The social expectation
generally was for a few things that may seem contradictory. For order, yes. For a younger, more predictable, more rational
president, because Yeltsin was perceived, especially in those last years, starting from
‘98, I think, he was perceived as unpredictable and really irrational in his decisions. There was the crisis of ‘98, and there was
the rapid change in the government after that, what emerged, retrospectively, as a search
for successor. But at that moment, it was seen as just chaotic
movement of people at the very top, and society doesn’t like that; it likes predictability. So order and predictability, and at the same
time positive change. There was this demand for positive change
and for reform, which was associated in turn with younger leadership. Maybe it’s not so contradictory now that
I list those demands. But still, it was the demand at once for more
stability and for more change. MICHAEL KIRK –  Yes. Help me understand the adding to the psychological
chaos of the time, the apartment bombings in Moscow. EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  So what’s your question? What do you want to understand? MICHAEL KIRK –  Part of the process, part
of a generalized fear, a desire for safety. Terrorism had been emerging. What role, what importance does it play? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  I was in Moscow at
that time. I remember it very well. Yes, it was a shock. But I would like to—I know the legend, roughly
speaking, that those terroristic acts helped bring Putin into power, if we put it just
at its most basic. I want to contradict this a little. In the ‘90s, we lived in the atmosphere
of constant emergency. Those bombings would have ripped apart the
consciousness of a more stable nation. But in Russia at that time, it was another
thing in a row of things that used to happen before that, and sadly, they continued happening
after that. … So my point is, it was not an isolated
something that happened and resulted in increased demand for security, for safety, for fighting
terrorism. There was [the] Chechen War at that time. There was the previous one. And for public understanding, it was, again,
an unbroken line of wars and terrorist acts and emergencies of another kind, which was,
again, that it was an atmosphere we lived in. Cumulatively, of course it created this demand,
but not those events alone. MICHAEL KIRK –  So when Putin is picked by
Yeltsin, even factoring in the power of the legend, what is the need, the societal need
that Putin is satisfying for Yeltsin? EKATERINA SCHULMANN – I think in May of 1999,
the magazine Kommersant-Vlast, which is a weekly magazine published by Kommersant Publishing
House, they had a very curious psychological survey entitled, “Ego raziskivaet strana,”
“For Him the Country Is Searching For, the Country Is Looking for Him.” They had a survey of whom among the cinema
heroes would you like to have for president? They had a number of movies, Soviet classics
most of them, some of them Hollywood classics of that moment, and they had a poll. The first place was held by Stirlitz, [a James
Bond-like character played by the actor Vyacheslav Tikhonov] from—I think you know this classic
Soviet TV series, Seventeen Moments of Spring, about a Soviet spy in Nazi Germany in the
last days of the war, in spring of 1945. He is the main hero. The second place was held by Marshal [Georgy]
Zhukov, [the most successful Soviet general during World War II, portrayed by Fedor Blasevich],
from the movie Osvobozhdenie [Liberation], one of the classic Soviet movies about the
war. I remember reading this magazine on the subway
going to work, and it struck me at that moment as important. I think that such a survey should be held
now, that the results again would be very interesting and characteristic. First place was held by whom? By a secret hero, a kind of Superman who was
at the same time a spy, who was a hero in disguise, pretending to be an enemy in order
to help Soviet people and to advance the course of war, not on battlefield but behind the
scenes. That was almost exactly the public persona
of the last of the successors, the new president. At the moment of this publication, he was
not prime minister; he was head of FSB [Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation],
and he was not a public figure at all. MICHAEL KIRK –  So he meets what test? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  He met the specific
demand for a savior and a hero and a Superman, and at the same time not a military hero,
not the Lebed-type person, maybe even something more intellectual, because Stirlitz is an
intellectual figure. He’s not a fighter; he is a mastermind. He is a kind of Sherlock Holmes of the secret
service, among other things. … [The survey revealed] this very curious
and multidimensional demand. It’s not just for order at any price, not
just for security at any price, because in this case, figures like [Alexander] Lebed
or other military-type figures would have met this demand. But this is something different. MICHAEL KIRK –  That’s very interesting. And as he comes, I mean, people don’t really
know anything about him, so that he is a noumena in lots of ways. You can project yourself and your desires
onto him? Is that what you’re saying? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  Not exactly. People don’t know him personally. No one knows him personally, I think, even
at this point of time, 20 years after. But still, he as a public figure has a certain
role, a certain image that he projects. He has his history. He has the previous positions that he held,
and he has his public image. This is exactly that of a person from secret
services; at the same time a patriot; at the same time a loyal figure to the previous regime,
because with all these demands for change, with all the dissatisfaction for Yeltsin,
I think the social demand was not for a revolutionary change. The fact that he was a successor actually
played in his favor, because at that moment, the state per se was already gaining more
weight and was already starting to dominate the public sphere, the political system. People didn’t want a revolution. They wanted something new, but they wanted
it at the lower price than the price of a drastic revolutionary change. MICHAEL KIRK –  So how do people feel about
the changes as he begins to initiate them, taking control of the television networks,
moving the oligarchs to another stage and replacing them with different oligarchs, creating—I
know it takes time, but creating a vertical power? How are people responding to [these changes],
realizing that of course oil prices are going up, and economically life is improving, I
gather? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  Oh, yes, it was improving. MICHAEL KIRK –  OK. So help me understand. EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  In a very real way. … It looks like a straight line when we
look from the point of view, from the point of time as of now. But at that moment, there was no direct line
to be seen. There [was] a mass of news every day. Everything, something was happening. A lot of things were happening at once. It wasn’t clear that anyone was pursuing
strategic policy. For myself, I don’t believe there was any
strategic plan. It looks like that now. But that’s the usual mistake, what is called
the survivor’s bias, right? We see the successful things. We see the survivors, and we create the story,
people, by survivors. We don’t see the end of policy. We don’t see the losers, because they don’t
tell their story. I think that what the power machine, what
the political machine was doing, was trying to survive from day to day, and to pursue
the nearest goals that it could perceive. It played out in a certain way. I don’t think it was the result of any master
plan that anyone had in his or her collective pocket. I was on civil service since 1996, first in
a municipality, and then in the state Duma. I know something about the inner workings
of the decision-making machine. It’s anything but strategic. It lives from day to day. It has no plans. Its plan is to survive and possibly to get
new resources, to defeat an enemy of today and to gather a friend for tomorrow. Three days is its maximum horizon of planning. Again, we speak about this pact of nonparticipation,
meaning that someone said to the people, “You stay passive, and I feed you.” But who could propose such a deal? These economic conditions that we are describing
were mostly due to natural resources’ prices rising, and Russian government had absolutely
no control over that. So it had nothing to offer; in a sense, it
just happened. MICHAEL KIRK –  … What I’m really interested
in is, how do people feel about this? Has it changed? Do they perceive it? Do they care about it? Are they willing to make a pact that says,
“I’ll look the other way on that,” even if it’s an accretion, right? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  I don’t believe
in a pact. I think it’s a retrospective illusion. It wasn’t a pact; it was a stage in the
development of Russian society and Russian political system, of Russian political regime. It looks like it was something that somebody
did on purpose. But in reality, the circumstances were such
that this behavior, both on the part of society and on the part of the political system, was
the most rational and the most easy. When you talk about authoritarian tendency—and
here I find myself in the strange situation of having to defend our political development—you
have to keep in mind the previous situation. When you talk about Kremlin taking control
over television, you are describing a very real fact. Yes, it happened. But at that moment, in the beginning of 2000,
it looked like not the state taking control, but the law taking control over what was previously
a playing ground of the oligarchs who acknowledged no law and no order and no authority higher
than themselves, higher than the power of money and the power of political connections. … At that moment, in the beginning of 2000,
it was the establishment of the rule of law, or at least it was perceived both by the society
outside and by many people who were actors of those changes. If you ask, for example, Alfred Koch, who
was instrumental in bringing NTV back to Gazprom, he was not perceiving himself as playing on
the side of the president. He saw himself as a defeater of the oligarchy. Again, we can call it a self-delusion, or
even the retrospective self-delusion. We can assume that maybe he understood his
role at the very beginning, and he was just willing to do it for any profit that he expected
to receive. By the way, I don’t believe he received
a lot for this. And thus, his subsequent fate is a demonstration
of this. But again, we have to keep in mind how we
looked at that moment. It looks very different that now that we remember
those events. But at that moment, the situation was different. Public opinion was different. The actors and their agendas were different. MICHAEL KIRK –  When we talk about something
like Beslan [school siege], we think about it, and we see it one way. How did the Russian people see through the
terrorists and the antiterrorist activities? What did they see the implications of the
decision and what happened at Beslan? Was it a central moment? Was it an important moment in the collective
consciousness of the people? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  It was a decisive
moment for the political system, not because of the terrorist attack itself, but because
of the legislative changes that were implemented after this. The consequences of Beslan tragedy was the
breaking up of our electoral mechanism. And this happened, again; as of now, it happened
forever. There was no going back after this. We have lost the regional elections, the gubernatorial
elections, and we haven’t got them back, not in any free form. MICHAEL KIRK –  Why? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  Why what? Why we haven’t got them back? MICHAEL KIRK –  Why did you lose them in
the first place? What was the argument? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  The argument was that
the terrorist threat necessitated a vertical of power and more tight control over regional
authorities. It wasn’t a very good argument. I remember even at that moment—and it was
a moment of national horror, of course, because of the dreadful details and the scope of this
tragedy. But even at that moment, there was a surprise. Why? What’s the connection between a terrorist
act in one of the northern Caucasian republics and the elimination of elections, both gubernatorial
and the deputies, the single-mandate districts, parliamentary elections all over Russia? Of course it was pretext. And that’s why now we see this as a decisive
moment, again, not because of the tragedy itself, but because of the reaction. This is what happens with many terrorist acts. Not only they are horrible in themselves,
but they are damaging, extremely damaging in their consequences. I think this is the very mechanism of terrorism. It doesn’t kill so many people as a frontal
war or the wars of the 20th century, but it starts the chain of events that severely curtail
the freedoms of the country where the terrorist act happens. It expands the possibilities, the resources,
the strength of specifically the secret services and of the government in general. That’s the double tragedy of terrorism. MICHAEL KIRK –  … One of the things we
know, from talking to people close to President Putin, is that he feels strongly that the
United States has been involved in fomenting and causing things, from the early color revolutions
all the way up. What is your perception of the perception
of the United States’ involvement and whether that argument works? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  Of course I can’t
know what is passing in the heads of our decision makers. I have heard this rhetoric, of course, time
and again, from many people on the top levels of our hierarchy. From my point of view, it’s some sort of
psychological disorder called external locus of control. If you know the term, it’s the situation
when a person thinks that everything that happens to him or her is determined by some
external agent. It’s a very bad thing, because it makes
you lose your existence as a real person. It makes you exist only as a focus of others’
wills. This is the strange and phantasmagoric picture
of the Russia of today as painted by the state media. What is Russia? Russia is something that is threatened from
the outside. And if there is any threat from the inside,
this is also because of somebody external or some external will. It could not be more absurd. It’s absurd in itself, but it’s specifically
absurd in case of Russia, which is a bigger, complex society, whose problems and victories
and achievements and defeats are all determined by internal reasons, by internal factors. So again, it couldn’t be more—more stupid. I would not go into the question of whether
they believe it, really, or they just pretend to believe it. I don’t think it matters. It’s the specific consciousness of the people
with secret service backgrounds. They perceive the world as this great playing
ground of secret forces. They believe in conspiracy theories of every
kind. And there is this additional curse of today’s
Russia. It’s that people in power, people on the
top levels of power, belong to a very specific generation. They are mostly males, age 60-plus, if you
look at the demography of the thing. This generation, people born in the ’50s,
has been the most Soviet generation of all. They were born after the war, and the war
has severed any ties of the Soviet Russia with the previous Russia by just killing off
all the people who could remember the time before the Soviet revolution. These are the people who underwent the full
Soviet indoctrination, starting from the kindergarten and through high school. Those of them who, for example, got candidate
degrees or doctors’ degrees, they were indoctrinated into the Marxist theory. Even if they thought they don’t believe
it, they just have to do the lip service, unfortunately we are influenced not just by
what we believe in, but what we think others believe, and what we have to repeat, it also
seeps into our brain. They were very much grown up when the collapse
of the Soviet Union happened. That’s why it was so much a tragedy for
them, because they were already at the age when people don’t like rapid and dramatic
changes. So it was their full Soviet generation, the
most Soviet one. It’s uniquely so. Those who are younger, every next generation
is less and less Soviet. And these very people are those that hold
the power today. They dominate the power pyramid. They think that—of course we all tend to
think of ourselves as representatives of humanity. They think that all the other people, the
Russian society in general, also hold the same beliefs and the same systems of values. But that’s not a fact. So for Russian political development, for
the development of Russian society, the simple generational change will do more than it’s
usually rational to expect, because we are in this very specific situation, demographically. MICHAEL KIRK –  That’s fascinating. Really interesting. EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  That’s political
demography. MICHAEL KIRK –  … The manifestation of
it is his Munich speech in 2007, where he declares essentially, at one level, Russia
is now becoming a superior force in the world under my leadership, and the world must leave
us alone or face the consequences of a new and powerful Russia. EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  I remember when this
Munich speech happened. It wasn’t perceived at that moment as something
of a milestone, but now, retrospectively, it’s a great milestone, mostly for foreign
observers, for external audiences, more than for our Russian audiences. MICHAEL KIRK –  Why is it such a milestone? Is it because of what I’ve just said or something
you can bring to it? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  I hear it mentioned,
again, mostly by foreign commentators, by foreign politicians. It wasn’t such a big deal for the Russian
audience. But again, it was addressed to external audience,
so maybe that’s natural. MICHAEL KIRK –  … What do you think he
was trying to do, by the way, parenthetically, with all of that? Who knows? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  No, I am not going
into anybody’s heads. I know the story, this great story of unanswered
love and disappointment and betrayal. We were trying to be good, and you rejected
all our advances; you stabbed us in the back multiple times, and now we are disappointed. But we still want your love and respect and
whatever, but we can’t get it. Therefore, we will go away and have—I know
the story. I have heard it a number of times. I don’t know how much of this is self-delusion,
how much of this is propaganda, how much of this is genuine feelings or emotions. Do emotions matter on this level? Again, I don’t know. It’s such a mess of things. MICHAEL KIRK –  … Are people happy that
Putin steps back and becomes prime minister and Medvedev is president? Does it signal a change? Is it an evolution? EKATERINA SCHULMANN – I remember this moment. For the power machine, for the political machine,
it was a moment of relief, because before that, there were months of great tension with
this successor game being played all over again. … Any decision was announced, it was a relief. For the society in general, I don’t know
if these were, I think, the best times for the political regime in general, the times
of the highest oil prices, the time of most unity within the power [structure], the times
when the vertical of power was less of an illusion than with any other moment. So they could afford any decision. That was the general feeling. Things just couldn’t go wrong, because everything
goes right. MICHAEL KIRK –  And it’s Medvedev. EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  But that was the mood
of the moment, now that I remember. MICHAEL KIRK –  And Medvedev is a representative,
maybe. Is he in that age group, or is he younger? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  He is slightly younger. As far as I can see, he is, being what he
is and being aware, he is trying to play up to the standards of the older generation. He is trying to blend in, because again, the
higher levels of our power structure are dominated by this very specific group of people, both
agewise and backgroundwise, so to say, not just people of a certain age, but people of
certain upbringing, of certain education, of certain set of values, brought up in very
specific surroundings, and having had their careers in very specific structures, vertically
integrated structures, military, secret service, law enforcement, mostly. MICHAEL KIRK – … Putin takes it [the presidency]
back. The people hit the streets. At least some of the people hit the streets. Why? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  Quite a lot of them. MICHAEL KIRK –  Why? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  I remember this moment,
too. It was a moment of not just disappointment. For many people in Russia, for the more educated,
for the urban dwellers, for the younger people, it was, to put it simply, it was seen as an
insult. This decision [was] so unexpected, without
any previous public discussion, without any reason given, just, “We have decided to
change places again.” It was this cavalier mode of doing it, which
clashed with the growing, I would say, maturity of Russian society. Even if this nonparticipation pact wasn’t
in existence, still, in the beginning, in the middle of 2000, people were happy to let
political life go its own way. But then, with their rising incomes, with
the better life conditions, with the information era hitting in, with the freer flow of information,
with more people traveling abroad, political consciousness also arose, awoke, I would say. People wanted to be heard. People wanted to participate. People wanted to feel themselves important,
to feel themselves political actors. This was the growth of Russian society. I would also remind you that in the end of
the 2000s, in the beginning of 2010, we saw the emergence of Russian organized civil society,
what could be justly termed the Russian civic renaissance. We saw the NGOs. We saw the emergence of broad charities. It was a very new thing for Russians. It was the thing that they had to learn how
to do, because there was no precedent; there was nothing like any corporation. In Soviet times it was strictly forbidden. All this had to be done by the state and by
the state only. In the ‘90s, in early 2000s, there was very
little of this, because people were so poor and so very much intent on survival. But then it started to emerge. It’s a very great school for corporation. It’s a school for becoming citizens. So this was a very unfortunate moment for
political decision of this kind, because people already started to feel themselves citizens,
and at this very moment, they received this slap in the face. That’s why there was this public outrage. It was totally unexpected from within, of
the power system, from within the political system, which got used to the public indifference,
to the society minding its own business. MICHAEL KIRK –  And when the elections, the
Duma elections are shown to be manipulated, rigged, video cameras show up; the Web is
starting to exist. That’s a societal tectonic shift almost. EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  Yes. Those elections saw the emergence of volunteers,
of overseers, of people who were present at the elections, at the counting of votes, who
wanted to see that everything is done according to the law. And this was a new thing. This was the first time ever. For the political machine, again, it was a
surprise, like: “We’re not doing anything different from what we used to do. Why suddenly [did] it become a problem? It wasn’t a problem four years ago, so what’s
happening now?” MICHAEL KIRK –  What did happen? How did it happen? Why did it happen? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  It happened exactly
because of the reasons that I have just delineated. It’s a very natural process. It’s the process described by political
science time and again. Now again, people who have solved the question
of survival, of physical survival, people who have got a little bit of free time on
their hands, people who became part of the information sphere of media field, who began
to participate in social media, they would want their civic rights; they would want political
participation. This is the next stage. It’s the most natural thing that could happen. MICHAEL KIRK –  And if you’re Vladimir Putin
sitting in the Kremlin, you don’t own a computer, or at least you don’t use a computer. EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  You don’t trust
the computer, and you don’t trust the Internet, because this is some CIA project. MICHAEL KIRK –  Tell me that again. What do you mean? EKATERINA SCHULMANN – Haven’t you heard this
famous quotation, that Internet has started, has emerged as a CIA project, and it has developed
as a CIA project ever since? MICHAEL KIRK –  Who says that? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  The president of the
Russian Federation. You haven’t heard it? MICHAEL KIRK –  No. EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  It’s quite famous. MICHAEL KIRK –  Well, that explains a lot. If you’re sitting there, and you suddenly,
however many thousands of people are standing on an island outside of your office and holding
signs that say, “Stop Putin,” that’s got to be a serious change, and you’ve got
to wonder why. EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  Yes. And then you have to come with some explanation. An explanation, of course, is that Hillary
Clinton has done that. Isn’t it the most evident answer? MICHAEL KIRK –  And why Hillary Clinton? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  That I think was,
again, some unfortunate sequence of events. She was the state secretary. There always for some reason, there always
has to be an American female politician to be demonized by the Russian political consciousness. It used to be Madeleine Albright. Then it was Condoleezza Rice. Then it was Hillary Clinton and the lesser
demons like Victoria Nuland or Jennifer Psaki. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it has some roots in our folklore or
whatever. I’m not ready to go into this, but I just
see the standards. MICHAEL KIRK – Well, it’s absolutely true
that he does say and is quite angry about the fact that she seems to have initiated
the march, but it isn’t true that that was where the protests came from. They sound like grassroots to me. Do they to you? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  Truth is in the eye
of the beholder, like beauty. For me, any political process will always
be determined by internal factors. I am a political scientist, for God’s sake. I don’t believe in magicians from abroad
who make passes and who change the weather in Moscow. No more do I believe that any funding, even
if it did go into NGOs, was instrumental to bringing up mass protests. You can’t bribe people into protesting. That’s just a fairy tale. MICHAEL KIRK –  … One of the things that
we’ve seen is the development of various methods, using the Web, using cyber, using information,
using propaganda, that is sort of adopted either on an ad hoc basis or actually in a
kind of formal way by the Kremlin to get into the game, the social media game, the Internet
wars game. From what some people tell us, he sees the
Web, he sees the West, and he says, “I want to play this game.” Does it make sense to you? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  So what is your question? MICHAEL KIRK –  Is that true? Is his response obvious, a manifest, in any
way, that you can see or that you know about? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  It’s not him; it’s
the system. It’s the machine. It’s a pretty big machine. Russia is a state-centered country, a state-dominated
country. We have a lot of civil servants, and we have
even more people who are working for the state indirectly, people who work in state media,
in state banks, state corporations, etc. All this is this big state machine. We have quite a lot of decision makers, each
on his or her own level and each with his or her level of competence. Personally, as a scientist, I do not fully
endorse the personalized autocracy theory. I think that Russia is ruled by collective
bureaucracy, and it’s a quite wide social strata. Of course, not all decision makers are equally
powerful. We are usually told that the most important
decisions are made by the president and his five friends. The names of those five friends change from
time to time. There are people who go into that. I do not very much. I am not interested that much in this personalistic
politics, because I perceive the political machine as a collective decision maker, and
its decisions are determined very much by internal competition and by fight for resources,
not by anyone’s specific will. So the information era came for everyone. It wasn’t something that happened in the
West and then Russia had to react. It happened for the society, for the simple—I
don’t like the word—for the citizens. It happened for the politicians. It happened for the state services. It happened for the ministries and for the
army, for everyone. Everyone was using these instruments, these
mechanisms. So there was no response, as you put it. Still, on the top, it would be just to say
on the top of our power pyramid, there was this deep distrust of the Internet, of the
free flow of information, as of something which you can’t control and don’t quite
understand. The attempts to control it were chaotic and
random and have remained so, to the present moment. We never had anything like Chinese policy. The Chinese policy started 20 years before
now. We have nothing of this kind, no strategy,
no deep planning, here as in every other sphere. We have this tactic of random responses to
threats as they are perceived on a daily basis, on a day-to-day basis. … MICHAEL KIRK –  We had a very interesting
conversation with somebody talking about the evolution of propaganda in the state, from
an argument that “Let us try to convince you with our propaganda, to see our side of
the picture,” to something that the Web uniquely satisfies, which is, “Instead of
justifying what we’re doing, we will give you a lot of different things to argue with.” EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  “We will create
the white noise,” yes. MICHAEL KIRK –  Exactly. EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  A lot of white noise. MICHAEL KIRK –  “We’ll make everything
as opaque as possible.” Have you noticed this? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  There are people who
are more into studying propaganda than me. I would mention Peter Pomerantsev, who has
published a famous book about this, or Vasily Gatov, who is a Russian media expert now based
in United States. These are people who understand more about
this than I do. I don’t follow the intricacies of state
television. But yes, it is impossible not to perceive
this change, this transformation, this what is popularly called “post-truth situation,”
where there is no correct version which is imposed upon you by the state, but there is
this cacophony of versions trying to convince you that there is no truth, that any scenario
is as likely as any other; any opinion is as viable as any other opinion. MICHAEL KIRK –  … When you think of it,
what is the impact on the population? What happens then in a society where such
a thing is occurring? EKATERINA SCHULMANN – I think this is a phase. Humanity will figure out how to deal with
this post-truth situation. So far, we have the destruction of the previous
hierarchies of truth, where there was almost in any country, in any political system, a
monopoly for opinions. Either it was a monopoly of the state, or
it was a monopoly of corporations which owned the media, or it was a monopoly of the generally
understood academia, the educated people who were the producers of the correct opinion
of the right thing to believe. With the information age, with the Internet
era, we have the destruction, the fall of this great pyramid. Basically, this is the democratization process. The people have become not just consumers
of content, but producers of content. This has created the situation which is currently
perceived as chaotic and post-truth, where anyone can say anything. But I think that new hierarchies will form
themselves. We do not yet know how this post-truth future
or post-post-truth future will look, but there is no going back to the monopoly. The nearest parallel that I can perceive is
with the invention of publishing, the Gutenberg press. Before that, the written book was monopolized—the
written knowledge was monopolized by the church. It was the producer of content of the Middle
Ages. Then, with the emergence of the press, almost
anyone could print anything. It produced tectonic political effects, because
if we look at history, what were the people printing after Gutenberg? Three things: first, religious literature;
second, music notes; and third, erotic pictures, so to speak now in modern terms, extremist
literature, entertainment and pornography. That was the first use of the newly invented
printing press. This influenced public consciousness. This influenced political behavior. This broke up the Christendom, the general
community of Christian countries under the pope of Rome. This introduced the nation-state. This introduced the idea of ethnic nation,
because the printing of bibles in national tongues did that. This contributed to the spread of [the] Reform
church, which broke up this Christendom unity. This produced religious wars. It produced many things. It was a global catastrophe of [its] time,
exactly like the Internet of today, only we hope for a little bit less [in terms] of religious
wars. But even this is a vague hope at best. So these are changers. Humanity has to deal with that somehow. Coming back to our little local propaganda,
this new era arrived for everyone. The state, the state media, the state political
management had to try to make use of this. I must say that, on the Internet, they were
not very much of a success. They are not that at this moment. They don’t understand how it works. They don’t understand the difference between
the television and the Internet. They just think that it’s a channel that
you transmit your message through. They don’t understand that the point of
Internet is communication, is give-and-back, give-and-take. That’s why their Internet presence, the
state Internet presence is not so much of a success as state television presence. The situation with the consumption of media
is very interesting in Russia. The usual simplistic picture that old people
watch TV and young people are on the Internet is not exactly correct. TV is still the number one media, but for
[a] reason which is not often understood by external audiences. The Russian people don’t go to TV for news. They don’t go to TV for information. Television is perceived as the voice of the
state, the voice of power. Because you’re so dependent on the state in
your daily life, because so much danger can come from the state, you have to keep an eye
on what they are up to. So you listen to this news. You listen to your weekly dose of Kiselyov
or Solovyov, or whomever you prefer, and you try to tune your ear to the message and understand
what are they going to do. What is the hot topic now? What will happen tomorrow? Do I have to sell the rubles and buy dollars? Do I have to buy up salt? Or should I take mortgage today or maybe wait
a little bit? Will they close up the frontiers? Will there be no free exit from Russia to
abroad tomorrow? Or maybe not. That’s what the people are trying to understand. That’s why they will and they do listen
to the state television. There is no other sort of television. MICHAEL KIRK –  So messages about Crimea
or Ukraine, are they paying attention? Does it matter? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –   … The Crimea euphoria
was really quite short-lived. It was the spring and summer of 2014. Its pinnacle [was] the May celebrations in
2014. Starting autumn, the economic crisis hit,
and the incomes began to go down, and this euphoria declined. It has no impact on this understanding that
Crimea belongs to Russia—please understand me rightly. But the euphoria, the joy, the holiday and
the celebration, they were over by the end of the year. MICHAEL KIRK –  Now let me ask you about
the American election of 2016 and the Russian sensibility, when suddenly the allegation
appears that it seems Russia is trying to influence the American election. This is the summer of ’16, intensifying
into the fall, and now a done deal, as far as the American intelligence services are
concerned. How does it play in Russia? How is it perceived? And are people happy about it? Is it of no consequence? Help me understand. EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  It’s impossible
to speak for the society in general. There was a lot of media attention in Russian
media during and before and after the American presidential elections. It’s a known thing that Russian television
is mostly about stories of what happens in foreign countries. It’s either Ukraine or it’s Syria or it’s
United States or it’s Europe overrun by migrants, or whatever. It’s a TV series which the state TV feeds
the people with. It’s free entertainment. Let’s just understand it at its face value. It’s free emotions. You see, if you don’t have much of an internal
political life, if you can’t express the tension or the protests or the disagreement that you
feel, then you have to have something else, some outlet for your emotions. And this is, again, it’s free. It’s safe. It doesn’t entail any demand for action
on your part. You just consume it. So it’s purely TV series. It’s your House of Cards; it’s your Boss;
it’s your Sopranos or whatever you prefer. So you have this season upon season and episode
upon episode of those stories about somebody else. I think this is more or less an understood
conscious policy on the part of state TV. We don’t focus on our internal problems
or even on internal news a lot, because internal news demands reaction. And external, not so much. I can’t quite say, … given this situation,
what is the reaction of the average Russian TV viewer or consumer of this news. I think he is or she is being entertained,
on one hand. On the other hand, there is this growing irritation,
with exactly the absence of the agenda, which is of most interest to the people themselves. I am interested in issues number one, three,
and four. Then I turn on TV, and then I hear or read
what the officials are saying. They are speaking about something else. So there is this gap in the agenda, and it
produces a lot of, I think, so far more or less hidden, but it manifestates [sic] itself
from time to time, even in mass protests, this public irritation, public dissatisfaction. Specifically about the Russian involvement
in foreign elections, not just American, as far as I can see, the presentation, the media
presentation of this plot or this story is twofold. First of course there is denial. And there is this (unintelligible) talk about
it being paranoia, psychofrenia, hysteria, whatever the medical diagnosis of today happens
to be: “See, they are using this Russian story for their own internal political bargaining,
competition or something,” or, “They are trying to harass poor President Trump, who is trying
to do good to his country, and he is being constrained on all sides by those bulls—
Russian interference stories.” That’s one type of presentation. Another type is what I would call hidden pride. We deny it, but at the same time, we are sort
of proud of it. It’s like the polite people in Crimea. They are not ours, but yet we know they are
ours, and we are proud of them. You see, we are so mighty, and we are so powerful,
and we are so clever, remember the Stierlitz trope, that we can influence the things that
are going in other democracies which are considering themselves so powerful and mighty and clever. We are too clever for them, it appears, which
is a source of pride. MICHAEL KIRK –  Let me ask. Other things? DAVID HOFFMAN –  Just one question. In 2011, when it was announced that Putin
would come back and that Medvedev would step down from the presidency, many people told
us that those who were enthusiastic about democracy all these years, they felt insulted. EKATERINA SCHULMANN – Those who were enthusiastic
about what? DAVID HOFFMAN –  Democracy. EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  Oh, democracy, OK. DAVID HOFFMAN –  That they felt insulted
by this moment. Did you feel that way? And can you describe that feeling? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  I think I have described
it in answering this same question previously. It was a specific historic moment in the development
of Russian society when people began to feel themselves citizens. It’s not the question of individual emotions. It’s more of a question of the stage that
society has reached in its growth. That was my point. If you speak about my personal feelings, I
was unpleasantly surprised. I don’t know if anyone’s individual emotions,
again, matter at this point. I still think it was a very unfortunate decision
entailing a lot of consequences that appeared after this. MICHAEL KIRK –  Thank you. DAVID HOFFMAN –  But people say, aren’t
we the voters supposed to make this decision? EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  Yes, yes. That was one of the points of dissatisfaction,
that it was such a behind-the-stage agreement, that it was announced in such an offhand way. If you remember the TV coverage, they came
and said, “Well, we have a surprise for you.” The presentation itself was unfortunate—not
just the subject matter, but the presentation. MICHAEL KIRK –  Thank you. EKATERINA SCHULMANN –  Thank you.

Comments (5)

  1. Her knowledge made her so sexy

  2. Schulman for RF President in 2024

  3. Русские субтитры бы сюда…

  4. I couldn't help but replace Russia with United States in most everything she said. Who will get the oligarchs to respect the law?

  5. She has intelligent and kind eyes

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