Vladimir Pozner is one of Russia’s best interviewers- well-read, well-spoken, well-travelled professional who possesses calm, wisdom and charisma, which in turn allows him to be a challenging and interesting host, showing a different side to the people he interviews.
In his weekly show ‘Pozner’ ( a talk shown on Russia’s primary TV channel, ORT ) he interviews famous people from different professional fields and lately he has been putting Russian presidential candidates in the spotlight. This week it was the turn of the ‘youngest’ contender, Mikhail Prokhorov, who is a well-known Russian businessman ( he is equally known for his private endeavours ), to answer the questions. And it turned out to be a very frank and enlightening 50 minutes that kept me in deep thought for the following 24 hours.
Prokhorov comes across as a very driven and ambitious businessman, who knows what he is doing and where he is going, but some of the things that he said left me speechless and I don’t consider myself to be naive. To hear that a very well-off man has all kinds of bureaucratic difficulties while gathering the required signatures in order to be registered as an official Presidential candidate is bad enough. To learn that many people ( and I am sure he has lots of powerful colleagues and friends ) are simply afraid to ‘officially’ offer him support is even worse.
Presidential elections in Russia are around the corner, they take place on the 4th of March, but one senses that things are already predetermined and Russia’s PM will win in the first round. What I don’t understand is why the most used political message that is being repeated again and again by regular people is that if the Prime Minister doesn’t win, Russia will rapidly deteriorate? Many democratic countries around the world regularly have elections, be it Presidential or Parliamentary and when the power changes-let’s say from Bush to Obama- the world doesn’t end. The new team sweeps in, there is a time for adjustment and then changes start taking place-some good, some bad, but the world continues turning.
If I am honest, I am of two minds about Prokhorov. Yes, he is an experienced businessman but then let’s take his publishing venture Snob/Сноб, as an example ( realistically I would imagine he can’t be ‘hands on’ with every business that he has a stake in, of which there are many but still…..) This monthly magazine that is also an Internet platform for blogging and opinion exchange has been loved by me since 2008, reminding me of a magazine I used to read when I was at University in Moscow, called Domovoi/Домовой( it was one of Russia’s first intellectual glossies and I miss it to this day ). Snob/Сноб has profiles of interesting people, frank discussions on various subjects, previews new literaryreleases and organises interesting events for its subscribers. Then, towards the end of last year, a big bulk of the permanent journalistic team behind Snob left and the editor who came in is not the type of person who inspires me personally, yet seems to socialise with the right people ( including Russia’s top It-Girl Ksenia Sobchak, who is the goddaughter of our PM and without whom no ‘worthy’ presentation, restaurant opening or fashion show takes place ). We are at the end of February and I am still awaiting my digital version of the magazine for my iPad-they are having technical issues I was told yesterday by the Zinio team. Snob’s content in the last few months has also left me uninspired and I used to look forward to every issue….). My question is, if you publication is behind schedule, a big ‘no-no’ in the publishing community, can you run a country as big as Russia without a glitch ?
In the meantime, Mikhail Prokhorov also has a very strong ally in his elder sister, Irena Prokhorova ( in general it’s not common for wives or sisters to appear during the campaigning process in Russia and I think it’s a great shame, as people who are close to us shed light on who we really are ). While PM Putin refuses to take part in political presidential debates, he has nominated certain people to act as his proxies and a couple of weeks ago I saw the debate between PM’s representative, Russia’s celebrated actor and movie director Nikita Mikhalkov, while Mikhail Prokhorov was represented by his sister-that debate was a masterpiece of wonderful public speaking and should become a lesson of sorts to politicians-a gracious, smart woman who stood her ground, listened to her opponent and won hands down in that debate, winning respect of her opponent in the process-believe me, that’s an exception to the rule, as one generally struggles to out-speak our famed movie director on any subject. Nikita Mikhalkov even went as far as to say that if Irena Prokhorova was taking part in the Presidential race, he would vote for her. You almost wonder why we don’t have many women in Russian politics, but then you realise that decent people try to stay out of politics, if they want to survive and remain true to their inner beliefs.
I think Russia has its own, unique path, but I also think we need change, desperately. Not a revolution, not a mutiny-we have had those, they don’t work to our advantage, but we need to become honest about things that are not working, thus preventing the country and the nation from flourishing and to rectify that, we need new blood. Will Mikhail Prokhorov bring change with his promise to support hard-working individuals, investments in medicine, education and infrastructure ? Will he inspire change by his promise to donate the vast majority of his wealth to charity, if he becomes Russia’s President ? Who knows if he really means what he says, but it certainly makes interesting viewing to see him trying to bring changes to the existing status quo…….
I also think that the field for the Presidential race needs to be even for all of the participants, so everyone starts the race from square one. Candidates have to have the same level of press exposure and air time and each politician needs to work bloody hard in order to win this battle, including personally taking part in political debates and campaigning, as opposed to making the decision about who runs our country instead of us-can you imagine that happening in the US, France or Great Britain for example ? I certainly admire Prokhorov for having the guts to try to tip the balance and to try to change the statically frozen things. Will I vote for him? Remains to be seen….