The world community got scared of the assessment of Russia’s foreign policy, given by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili from the rostrum of UN General Assembly. Fair and honest words were not accepted in the language of diplomacy. In the world of Realpolitik such non-diplomatic candidness shocked many people, and unfortunately this geopolitical shock, prevented the world community from full realization of Georgian president’s words. Incidentally, few of Russian and world experts dare speak about the real picture in the post-Soviet space. Such people are pronounced outcasts right away. Valerii Balaian, a film director and author of intellectual documentaries, who is known to The Day’s readers owing to his very acute assessments of Putin’s regime, admitted that there is hardly any room left for him in Russia. I met with Balaian at Dovzhenko Film Studio, where he was working on a film ordered by Ukraine’s State Film Agency.
Mr. Balaian, tell us about the project you are working on. What is this film about?
“We are in the middle of the shooting process. The film tells about almost forgotten story of evacuation of the Dovzhenko Film Studio to Ashkhabad. Many coryphaei of Ukrainian cinema, such as Dovzhenko, Donskoi, Savchenko, found themselves there. There Mark Donskoi was shooting his Rainbow based on Vanda Vasylevska’s script. We raised this entire human story and made interesting discoveries. It turned out that those who played the roles of children in Rainbow are still alive. One of them is Academician of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine Oleksandr Letychevsky, who played a seven-year-old boy in the film. Another one is Emma Malaya (Perelshtein), who currently works in Moscow-based Museum of Cinema. At the moment we are involved in organization of their meeting. They haven’t seen each other – imagine this – for 70 years. They all remember very well both Donskoi, and the shooting. We’ve filmed Larysa Kadochnykova – she is a daughter of Nina Alisova, a movie star of that time, who starred in Rainbow. Mark Donskoi’s son has arrived from Germany. So, the result is quite interesting. Two civilizations, European and Middle-Asian, meet in this story; they succeeded in finding common language and helped each other.
“I am thankful to Ukraine’s State Film Agency for entrusting me with shooting of this film.”
Our latest interview with you was published under the heading “Warning.” You said that the air in Moscow smells of a civil war. Literally a month after you said those words the events in Manezhnaya Square unfolded. What does Moscow air smell of today?
“Almost all objective and unbiased observers say that tension and threat overhanging in the air can be felt in Russia. There is a feeling of inevitable crisis. And ‘crisis’ is translated from Greek as trial. Everyone understands very well that the state as an apparatus is now focused only on maintenance of the Putin clan and his nearest fellow-fighters, who are called ‘Lake Cooperative.’ The unfairness of crooked justice is triumphing in Russia. This refers both to the Bolotnaya case and the girls from Pussy Riot, as well as a very strange verdict to Navalny.”
In 2011 in an interview to Telekrytyka you mentioned the “strange combination”: Nazi and liberals being on the same side of barricades in their struggle against Putin. Is Navalny a product of this combination?
“In a sense, it is a challenge to time, some need inside of a person who is able to accumulate the entire protesting energy which exists in the country, as well as the entire fatigue with Putin’s regime, which is really marasmic. Navalny has been known to many for quite a while. Frankly speaking, many have a skeptical attitude to him. And the reason is not about his nationalistic statements and participation in Russian marches, which has taken place in fact. Most likely, the reason is that he is not a big intellectual, and he is apparently not a future Roosevelt or Churchill. Someone called such people political animals. He very precisely feels the moods of the crowd, he says what many people like to hear, he is popular with women, and he is a ‘true Arian.’ And his considerate xenophobia...”
It is considerate so far.
“Yes, so far considerate xenophobia attracts to him sympathies of nationalists of all kinds. At the same time, right liberals say that this is a crow-bar that can break a hole in the Kremlin wall. Part of businessmen has returned to Navalny – I don’t want to call names, but several big fishes in the banking sector and world of business are associated with him. Moreover, without a party he has created a movement where each person transfers a thousand rubles to him, thus he has raised 100 million rubles only for mayor elections. So, he has an unlimited financial resource. He has a beautiful wife with all qualities needed for a first lady. Many people say she has a great influence on her husband and is making career for him.
“Someone has aptly said: there is a crisis of power when everything it does is only to its own disadvantage and harm. They sentenced Navalny – and made a hero of him, they released him – and made even a greater damage to themselves. These illogical and inconsistent steps of the power indicate that in higher echelons of power different groups are fighting with each other and they don’t understand what to do with it. October 9 is, by the way, a very important date when Kirovsky Court of Appeal will decide what they will do with this verdict to Navalny: either close it for five years or reconsider the case. After this decision is made, it will be clear which of the forces will win in the Kremlin. For some reason I think nobody will put him to jail.”
Many people on the Internet express the idea that Navalny is in fact the Kremlin’s figure.
“No, it is all cheap conspiracy theory. We know his path. He became noticeable in the early 2000s. Everyone who remembers Navalny from that time noticed that he wanted to break through very much. And he has broken through. Besides, he does not hide his president’s ambitions. The appearance of Navalny’s figure is probably the most interesting thing which has taken place in Russian policy in the past two years. Let’s see what will come out of it. I for one am troubled by many things. He is a politician of internal Russian scale. Being a representative of a national minority, I am not content with the fact that he has an openly bad attitude to national minorities. Yes, Russians make 80 percent of Russian population, but the rest 20 percent include North Caucasus (very active people), Tatarstan, Kalmykia, Buryatia. Russia has such a political tendency when everyone who pronounced some nationalistic ideas becomes successful. This is an indication of the country’s disease. However, we can see that radical right forces are coming to power in the European countries. The collision of civilizations, described by Huntington, is taking place before our eyes. The East and the South are conquering the North and the West. We can see how easily their multiculturalism has blown out, and hordes of people from overpopulated countries have become a gigantic problem for Europe. What to do? Who should we pick up from and whose example should we follow? How can we civilize these people and teach them the rules of the game that are a norm in another space?
“Migrants are doing all dirty work in Russia. There are no indigenous people among the drivers of trolleybuses and route taxis, or on Moscow’s construction sites. This is a conscious policy: to involve the emigrants and bring them to the shadow. This is advantageous for a huge number of people from the governmental structure, but they impose on the populace the reverse idea that these people are overrunners. But this powerless slave labor is advantageous for everyone.”
An entire generation of Russians has grown up on the principles of the neo-serfdom, and they are voting for Navalny today. What kind of population is this? Are there reasons to be afraid of it?
“This question is not on the agenda today. Whether we like it or not, the nationalistic tendencies are the exhale of this country at this moment. Anyway, for Ukraine it will be better if Putin’s regime collapses. Ukraine is bound by certain threats, like in the Crimea. And people that are sitting in the Kremlin are totally inadequate. All these Sechins, Naryshkins, Volodins, who surround Putin, are narrow-minded politicians with Soviet brains. It is their fault that Russia has no allies at the moment. Only North Korea and Venezuela. Their last ally is Assad, who kills hundreds of children with his chemical weapons. Therefore, to whichever side this regime changes, it will be a sigh of relief for Ukraine. But as long as Putin is in power, neighbors won’t have any rest. These people see imperial dreams as they sleep. And this is the tragedy of Russia, a great country of great intellectuals, from which everyone is running away now. It became especially strongly felt after the process in Bolotnaya Square – up to million people a year are leaving Russia. Those people belong to the Navalny generation you’ve just mentioned. They are managing business from abroad, they find their place in the civilized world.
“I’ve just thought about myself. I have practically left, too. I have no job in Russia, I am on the stop list of all TV channels. The only thing that connects me to Russia is teaching at the Higher School of Journalism based on the Higher School of Economics. Incidentally, the Higher School of Economics has become a shelter for all disgraced scientists and economists.
“I want to say that many people living in Ukraine are criticizing the government. Of course, I don’t like it either. But on the other hand, I can see that the financing of culture has increased. Movie projects have appeared, which get funding, and the system of pitching is developing. Only two or three years ago it was hard to imagine. People in the Dovzhenko Film Studio have raised their heads a bit. They allow Hres, Tomashpolsky, Zahdansky, Bukovsky and other interesting directors to shoot films. Many things are perceived in the context. So, in the context of Russia, everything is not so bad in Ukraine.”
While I was preparing for the interview, I wanted to watch your film Yegor Gaidar. Collapse of an Empire. But it was problematic to find this film on the Internet, unlike other films that you shot. On most of websites it was removed by the Yegor Gaidar Foundation.
“Nonetheless I have uploaded it. Two years ago Yegor Gaidar Foundation invited me to shoot a film about Gaidar and I made this film, based on Gaidar’s book Collapse of an Empire. We agreed on all the characters and shooting sites. When the film was ready, the representatives behaved in quite a strange way: they did not give us any remarks, wishes, but they said that they were completely dissatisfied with the film, and that they will pay us the money, but they will file away the film. However, I dared to upload it on YouTube. But it is my rough director’s copy, the film was not fully accomplished.”
To some extent I understand them. Gaidar turned out to be quite a contradictory character in the film.
“He was contradictory. As a result this person found himself back at the bottom of a ladder. And this is a huge drama of his. He and Chubais were reformers who sincerely wanted to see a different kind of Russia. As a result they paved the road to power for Putin with their own hands. And they saw the consequences of this. If we get into it, this is a huge human drama and even a catastrophe, especially for Gaidar, who was a disinterested person and idealist. By and large, everything that we are using in Russia now – market economy, plenty of goods, development of business, and property – was created by Gaidar. He was in power for eight months, he implemented the reforms during that period, he became their victim, his career was practically sacrificed on the altar of the reforms (and there could not be a different price) – and you understand how he felt when he saw what happened later. But we hardly tell this in this film.
“We simply give an opportunity to intellectuals to speak about Gaidar and his book. Therefore, it seems to me, the motives of banning this film are purely protective and cowardly.”
But with the help of the Gaidar Foundation Francis Spufford’s book Red Plenty – about the Russian Union of the Khrushchev time and its chances – has been published in Russian. Maybe, this film is discordant to the imperial minds of these people? The film, by the way, mentions this as well.
“Gaidar was a real imperial man. For example, in 1992 the military base Lourdes in Cuba was facing the threat of liquidation. And Gaidar in the hardest years for Russian economy found several dozen million dollars to prolong the existence of this base. Only fools could think that Gaidar was a liberal and a Chicago boy. He really wanted to preserve Russian influence in the world. He was a patriot without inverted comas, unlike the present-day patriots of banks where they keep their accounts. And people sitting in this Foundation wanted the only thing: to stay in their comfortable, well-paid chairs.
“The film features Yuri Afanasiev, one of Russia’s last great intellectuals, who has been deprived of the possibility to speak publicly for eight years. I have heard implications that one of the reasons why this film was not approved is that it shows too much of Afanasiev. And I think there is too little of him. He enunciates the notion of Russian matrix, which he knows from inside. For it is possible to understand present-day processes only from such deep historical positions.”
In fact the film about Gaidar of the early 1990s is quite topical for present-day Ukraine. On the eve of the Vilnius Summit we are witnessing many things it describes: the nourishing of the Western economy with oil, endless Russian polemics of imperialism and liberalism, and imperial mind in action. A sociological survey has been published recently, according to which almost one-third of Russians consider Ukraine their territory.
“This is simply insulting, of course. But it seems to me, Ukraine’s EU integration is a settled question. The consensus of the elites has been achieved. Their motives are another question. Sure, it is quite hard to overcome this for the Kremlin. On the whole, Moscow perceives very painfully any alternative to Soviet model. They want everyone around them to keep to their KGB model. Of course, they won’t be able to apply Georgian scenario in Ukraine. After all, Ukraine is a huge European country. Most likely, there will be a repetition of the Baltic scenario; economic threats, closure of markets for sales. But when the Baltic States showed their firmness and readiness to suffer economic losses for the sake of sovereignty and independence, Russia left them alone. Therefore Ukrainians need endurance and understanding that they will have to refuse from some temporary economic benefits. And the market will be restored, the economic interests of both sides will win. Of course, they will use a variety of methods: they will try to influence the populace with the help of television and use civic affiliated organizations as agents of influence. If the documents are signed in Vilnius, my forecast is that November and December will be hard.
“But this should be explained to people. Incidentally, Gaidar in the last years of his life most of all regretted that they explained very little what they were doing. They thought if they would change the economy, the conscience would change on its own. No, it won’t change on its own. There should be a dialogue with the population, it should be shown how these processes were taking place in other countries.
“Ukraine has no other way than Europe. Mamardashvili, who is an indisputable authority for me, said, ‘The worst of things is to wake up in someone else’s dream.’ You need to learn to see dreams of your own.
“And wake up from your dreams. Now Ukraine is coming back to its historical path. Its own unique way. Of course, European.”