Interview with Oleg Radzinsky: “It’s over with Russia as an empire”

Three prominent Russian immigrants Dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, writer Boris Akunin and economist Sergei Guriev You have an association “True Russia” (“True Russia”) was established. In an interview with ntv.de, Managing Director Oleg Radcinsky spoke about the organization’s goals. With Putin’s war in Ukraine, “Russia stopped being an empire,” says the 63-year-old writer and son of the famous Russian historian Eduard Radzinsky, with Putin’s war in Ukraine. “What can the system offer now? Just a model for a wartime empire like Genghis Khan.”

ntv.de: “Real Russia” was established in March, shortly after Moscow launched its main offensive in Ukraine. What are your goals?

Oleg Radzinsky: Our motto is: “Against war, for democracy.” Our first reaction to the events in Ukraine was emotional. We wanted to help the people who need it most because the country with which we feel connected to the culture attacked the neighboring country without any provocation and ruined the lives of the people there.

“Real Russia” has begun a collection campaign. Meanwhile, more than £1 million has been raised. Where does the money go?

It ends up in the Disaster Emergency Committee charity’s accounts in London and is then distributed to Ukrainian refugees as part of the humanitarian appeal for Ukraine.

Do you have any other initiatives planned?

Yes, of course. We also want to support people fleeing Putin’s Russia. Many academics are now deprived of their livelihood. More than 200 journalists have fled Russia and do not have access to professional activities. Together with the European Endowment for Democracy, we wish to conduct training courses on practical governance in a democratic country. It will target young people who have left Russia but would like to return there one day. We will also collect information about democratic and anti-war initiatives on our website. We are now witnessing the emergence of the first “real Russia” branches all over the world: in Silicon Valley, in Spain, in the Netherlands, in Poland. In Germany we want to work with director Alexander Smoljansky, who has been living in Berlin for more than 30 years. It is about showing that the real Russia is Russia without imperialist consciousness. It is non-aggressive and based on liberal values. Above all: it is not outdated but capable of modern thinking.

With all due respect, many people today would find it hard to believe something like that. “We must stop making a distinction between Russian culture and Russian imperialism,” Ukrainian philosopher Professor Vakhtang Kibuladze said in an interview with ntv.de. “What we understand today as Russian culture is poisonous and xenophobic,” says Kibuladze.

After what Russia did on February 24, Kebuladze’s view became fully understood. The only way we can change this perception of Russian culture and the people who belong to it is through action. Because after the massacre in Ukraine, after the destruction of Mariupol by Russian forces, words and explanations are not enough anymore.

Do you feel personally responsible for Russia’s actions in this war?

I am not a Russian citizen [Anmerkung: Oleg Radsinski hat die Staatsbürgerschaft der USA und des Vereinigten Königreichs]. I have never voted in Russia. So I have no guilt. But I feel responsible. Not in the sense of collective responsibility. Rather, it is my personal responsibility to confront the system that has corrupted the culture to which I belong. It is my responsibility to face this. I must now carry a bucket and a rag and begin to wash the bloodstain from Russian culture.

They were convicted in 1982 of spreading “anti-Soviet propaganda”. In 1987 she left the Soviet Union. How do you think immigration at that time differed from today’s journey from Russia?

It was very difficult to leave the Soviet Union. Today, the state does not prevent people from leaving the country for the time being. On the contrary, he is pleased with the migration of the “traitors to the homeland,” the “fifth column,” as he calls them. The Soviet Union was an empire where everyone counted because he or she was a cog in the system. On the other hand, Russia is an autocratic country. It does not need people who serve the country, only people who willfully serve this kind of government. Loyalty is the quality that Vladimir Putin values ​​in those around him.

Emigration in the USSR was a business, and today it is relatively easy. Doesn’t that put the whole message associated with it into perspective?

Many of those immigrating today know what to expect; They’ve been abroad before. On the other hand, we had no such information. For us there was no turning back. When I left, I couldn’t stop looking through the plane window at the snow outside, thinking I’d never see the snow cover again. Many people today think they are only gone temporarily. They were putting their lives on hold for a while and waiting outside until they could come back.

Back in 2018, I talked about the possibility of war. In your opinion, what has changed in the status quo of Russia when it actually began on February 24?

Russia is no longer an empire. The construction of an imperial mentality began in earnest in the seventeenth century with Peter the Great and lasted about 300 years. What an empire needs at all is a mission. Either a civilized, administrative-economic, or messianic mission. Thus, the concept of communism was attractive to many in the Soviet Union in the 1970s. But what idea does Russia have today? Nobody. What can the system offer now? Just a model for a wartime empire like Genghis Khan.

What geopolitical consequences do you expect now?

We all know what a “successful little war” with Japan led to in 1905 and what happened to the Tsarist regime twelve years later. I think we are witnessing the last bout today [des letzten Krampfes, des letzten Zuckens] of Russian imperialism. I am also thinking of the disintegration of the territorial unit. And I think that this process will most likely begin in the Far East of Russia, because the infrastructure links with the European part of the country are very weak.

Russian intellectuals are now accused of having increasingly distanced themselves from politics since the 1990s. This paved the way for the civilization catastrophe that Russia is experiencing today.

The problem with Russian liberals is that they lack technocratic skills. They don’t like to be judged. They prefer to be thinkers [soll heißen, sie analysieren lieber, statt selbst einzugreifen]. Therefore, power was seized by people who were already part of the system in Soviet times. They are the defenders of antiquity and gain the support of the population.

How do you explain the reasons for this support?

State propaganda has been very successful in Russia over the past decade. It had a strong influence on the population. The system has evoked feelings of the greatness of the past and turned it into a simulation relevant to the present [also nicht in ein Imperium, sondern in ein Gebilde, das einem Imperium ähnelt].

What role did relations with the West play in this process?

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West had a choice. He could not have treated Russia as the successor to the country that lost the Cold War. The USA is also to blame for this, which did not take the opportunity in the 1990s to accept Russia into the Muslim Brotherhood. On the contrary, they drove away Moscow.

Today we see, among other things, how cultural bridges with Russia are being cut. Is this a logical complement to Western sanctions?

I think it is absolutely wrong to impose collective responsibility on the representatives of culture and sport. Also, the idea that the Russian oligarchy needs to pressure Putin to end the war is just a misunderstanding of how this system works. Not many of them were able to influence him for a long time. The West is only pushing them back into Putin’s arms. Nobody wants to repeat the fate of Yukos.

Is there a chance for Russia to come to terms with a moral shift, which would be a possible way out of this historical impasse?

I don’t want to sound disbelief – I’m not sure this would be a necessary process. I wish people had practical education and not repentance. How can we build democratic institutions, effective oversight mechanisms, and independent branches of government? How do we train technocrats who can enforce liberal values? This is what we will do in real Russia.

Ekaterina Vinkina spoke to Oleg Radzinsky

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