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14 Apr, 2010 00:19

Russian president gives interview to RT’s editor in chief

On the sidelines of the nuclear summit in Washington, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev found time to meet with the head of RT, Margarita Simonyan.

Margarita Simonyan:Hello, Dmitry Anatolyevich, thank you for coming to our studio, we’re very glad to see you here, we know you’ve had a very busy day, and we’re very happy that you’ve found the time to come here. This gives us great encouragement which I know means a lot to our team.

We’re now in Washington, and just recently President Obama got through his healthcare reforms. Many people criticize this plan, saying that it goes against the country's development.

Back in Russia, you are proposing modernization, you speak about innovation, about fighting corruption, you focus on this, and conservative-thinking people in government and among the Russian public also silently resist this, because it goes against their habits. We often hear you criticising offcials, their laziness, their unwillingness to look into the future, redtape. How difficult is it to break this inertia and to convince people that modernisation is firstly, neccessary and secondly, possible?

Dmitry Medvedev: First of all, I'd like to say that it's a great pleasure to be here in your studio, and to see the technology here is up and running – it looks great, especially as you only started working here recently. It looks to be world-class – at least I hope it's so. So I wish to all the staff success in all their endeavours.

Speaking about the U.S. economy and President Obama's initiative to modernise the healthcare system, I think it's a brave deed. And I would go so far as to say it's a brave deed even for a president! Because such decisions can require huge effort, and about a year ago President Obama told me "You know, it's my biggest domestic problem". But I think he has succeeded. I don't know how successful this reform will be, and in keeping with its original intentions, but on the surface it looks quite interesting, because it does, so to say, restore fairness, but on the other hand, I know that opponents of this reform consider that it contradicts the foundation of the political system of the U.S., that it contradicts the constitution. I know that some states argue against it, maybe it's part of the normal democratic process, but I repeat it's a courageous deed. And I think if this reform succeeds, my colleague President Obama will make it into American history not only for his achievements in foreign policy.

How much does it match our ideas for modernisation? Well it does match, because modernisation always involves confrontation. I can't say whether it’s more difficult than the challenges that our government and I face, but I can say for certain that these goals are close, but our goals aren't segmented like those in America. It’s not only healthcare, we have problems with our healthcare system too, but it's not our only problem. Technology modernisation, developing new industries, switching to innovative technology, developing new energy sources, space exploration, the pharmaceutical industry – these are the areas where we have a lot of work to do.

There are always officials who will oppose things, they’re in any society during any kind of changes. Not because they're bad, it's because there can be a conservative mentality. People get used to living within certain parameters, so it's necessary to convince some people – and to confront others. That's how life goes.

MS: You lived in Soviet times like me, like most of the Russians…

DM: I lived longer than you.

MS: A little longer. That was the time when it was common in Russia not to believe the U.S., to be afraid of them and vice versa. Can you remember your first visit to America, what was your impression of the country and has it changed? What do you think of the United States now?

DM: Of course, I remember the first time I travelled to the United States. By the way, it certainly was far from the worst city in the world, it was New York. I like New York, it's a very beautiful and energetic city. I feel comfortable there. By that time I had seen almost all Europe, so I can't say that I came here and saw something I'd never seen before, because for a Soviet citizen it was your first ever trip abroad that was a real shock. Beyond the Iron Curtain you found yourself in a different world where there's a big variety of things from democracy to food, that was quite impressive. America, frankly speaking, appeared to me just as I'd pictured it to be with all its advantages and disadvantages. But what I can say for certain is that New York impressed me very much especially with its strong energy, drive for results, with lots of businessmen and at the same time a kind of routine life. I hadn't seen that in Europe. That's what stuck in my memory most. At that time, I was a normal carefree person because I could stroll along the streets of New York, drop into restaurants and shops, see how Wall Street works, which wasn't much criticised than, not like today!

You know what also impressed me much, and I’ve remembered it for the rest of life – was how well-dressed young people, obviously successful and earning good money, were just standing near their office blocks eating hamburgers and drinking cola. That was a surprise for me, because in other countries wealthy people usually went to restaurants or went home for lunch. But here there's an adaptability that greatly distinguishes Americans from other nations. It doesn't matter if you're rich, a piece of hamburger and a glass of cola must give you enough energy to keep going for the rest of the day.

MS: The recent tragedy near Smolensk in which the Polish president and a large number of the Polish political elite died shocked the entire world. People were on the way there to commemorate another tragedy, the execution of Polish war captives by Stalin’s regime. As we are approaching the anniversary of WW2 victory, in the West, many have been writing recently that Stalin is still a cause for argument – or perhaps is a source of renewed vigour for such arguments; or perhaps a revaluation of history. In your opinion, how long will these arguments last for? Can we finally close this chapter in our history, or do you think we will keep discovering who was wrong and who was right for generations to come?

DM: You started your question with the tragedy that took place near Smolensk. It really was a very dreadful tragedy, for the Polish nation first of all, not to mention family members of the deceased, but also for the world order in general too. When a country’s president and a significant number of leaders die in a catastrophe, to some extent it’s a trial for a society as well as for the international system. Therefore there was such a united response from the entire international community and from the Russian nation to this tragedy. But it was a really tragic accident. There was something mystical about it, and perhaps there were rational reasons too, which the investigation must find – and explain what happened there. This is very important.

Regarding the occasion, it was a difficult one too, even though recently, we’ve come a long way. An assessment was made of the Katyn tragedy, and it was objective. It had obviously happened with the will of leaders of that time, including Stalin. Characters of this kind will always provoke different responses in people. It’s not a question of the mentality of one country or another, whether it’s totally liberated or whether it had been formed by a totalitarian period. It’s rather a question of people’s personal perception. As strange as it may seem, whether the assessment is positive or negative can change with time; understanding can change as well. But it doesn’t mean that we should call black white, and white black. Regarding Stalin and people under his leadership, the Soviet leaders of that period, it’s clear and obvious to everyone that they had committed a crime. A crime against their nation first of all, and against history to some extent too. I have no doubts that the activities of Stalin and his nearest colleagues will always be assessed differently. The question is, what assessment dominates. And I believe that nothing has changed in our country over recent years regarding this issue. When I hear that a renaissance of Stalinism is happening now, it sounds totally far-fetched to me. Some people do like Stalin and everything associated with him. And it’s for God to judge them, so to say. But modern society’s assessment of that period hasn’t changed. I believe it’s a strong exaggeration, or perhaps an attempt to explain one situation or another in our country through a prism of previous events. But this is not correct, because Russia is not the Soviet Union. And I hope that people in charge of Russia are quite significantly different from Stalin and his supporters. I am not talking about myself right now as people shouldn’t be talking about themselves, but about the new generation of our leadership in general. The set of values and ideas about the state, society, human rights, and the people have radically changed during recent years, during the Russian period. And it’s impossible not to see it. That’s it.

MS: Thank you very much for this interview and for being here.

DM: Thank you.