"Some of the people on top are scared," says the legendary Russian journalist.
As one of the most recognizable personalities on Russian television, Vladimir Pozner is no stranger to the spotlight. But the 78-year-old veteran journalist found himself in the midst of a controversy last month after lambasting the state of justice in the country during his popular show on state-controlled Channel One.
Pozner harshly criticized the abduction and alleged torture of opposition activist Leonid Razvozzhayev, which he said was reminiscent of KGB tactics. He also condemned the prison sentences of members of the feminist punk rock collective Pussy Riot. The October 28 broadcast led to calls for Pozner to be sacked, including
from United Russia State Duma Deputy Ilya Kostunov, and rumors that he
may flee the country. I spoke to Pozner on the sidelines of an event hosted by the Eurasia Foundation in Washington.
For the record, will you continue to host your Channel One show and do you plan to stay in Russia?
The answer is yes. There has been a rumor spread that my last show was going to be on the 11th of November and then I'd be leaving Russia forever. [That's] totally without any kind of basis.
Why did you decide that this was the moment to come out with such a sharp critique -- and to do it on state-controlled television?
First of all, it's the only place I can do it if I want to reach anybody. Of course, I could do it on my site and I could do it in a magazine that is read by a very small number of people; but if I want to reach any large number of people, my only way of doing it is on one of the three television networks that are all, directly or indirectly, controlled by the government. That's point No. 1.
Point No. 2: I said it because I felt that this was something that had to be said. I felt that the whole Razvozzhayev story was absolutely incompatible with even the remotest understanding of a half-normal judicial system, and I felt that it was important that I speak out because I am not seen by anyone as being a dyed-in-the-wool opposition person nor, for that matter, dyed-in-the-wool pro-government. I'm seen more as being someone in the middle. And therefore if I say something very critical and very loud, it's prone to generate more interest, because the others are predictable in that sense.
I guess I'm not. And that's why there was the outcry that ensued.
Do you see any signs of fracture within the Kremlin and a faction that would perhaps be more receptive to the critical points you've made?
I find it very difficult to answer that question. You know, we sometimes see what we'd like to see, but it isn't there. I don't think there is any real split. I think that basically, Mr. [Vladimir] Putin is in charge. There may be some differences between the way he sees what should be going on and, say, what Mr. [Prime Minister Dmitry] Medvedev does, but this is not a split. This is just normal human differences.
I'm certain that there are some people in the Kremlin who support my
view, and there are some who don't. But whether it's Medvedev and Putin,
I would very much doubt. I don't know, to be quite frank with you.
You've sounded the alarm on the Razvozzhayev case, but there have also been recent legal changes in Russia -- relating to foreign-funded NGOs, the definition of treason, political rallies, et cetera -- that some say signify deepening authoritarianism. Overall, how would you characterize the way things are going?
I would characterize them, first of all, by saying that I don't like the way they're going and I do feel that there's an element of paranoia. This is reflected in these laws: the law on meetings, which on the surface is a normal law but can be used in a very repressive way; the law pertaining to who is or who is not a traitor -- again, it can be used in very different ways.