In which the “gray cardinal of the Kremlin” Vladislav Surkov waxes philosophical about Putin’s holiness, the nature of freedom, and why mistakes are good in his first interview (1/2), conducted with Andrei Ivanovich Kolesnikov, since leaving office. See part 2 here.
Vladislav Surkov: I was by a Great Man’s Side
Russian Pioneer’s regular columnist Vladislav Surkov has, at the request of RP’s editor in chief Andrey Kolesnikov, broken his three months of silence after his retirement from the vice prime minister position, and told us what he thinks of Vladimir Putin, the opposition, his retirement, and what constitutes life.
AK: You once said that God sent Putin to Russia. Now that he has dismissed you, do you still think that way?
VS: On the divine scale my dismissal hasn’t changed a thing. So there is no reason for me to think otherwise. Yes, God. Yes, called upon him. To save Russia from a hostile takeover. He was a white knight, and a very timely one at that. At the last hour, you might say. And he dismissed me at my own request. Just another time he treated me with respect. I’m grateful.
AK: You promised to tell of the reasons you left when it would become appropriate. Has that time arrived? What were the reasons? Do you regret leaving? Some believe that it was simply an emotional decision, connected to some momentary problems.
VS: I left at my own request. That’s what the President’s decree says. That’s how it was. Naturally, the decision was emotional, like all serious decisions made by normal people. The emotion lasted for two years. So there was nothing momentary about it.
AK: Then what was it?
VS: The reasons were of an absolutely personal nature. Based on entirely personal, extremely subjective ideas of what one can tolerate, and what one must not.
AK: And what was it?
VS: That is not interesting. Because it’s too subjective. And to complete the answer to the long question, no, I don’t regret it.
AK: Where did the theory that you left due to the fact that Putin’s May decrees weren’t carried out come from?
VS: From the principle of corporate culture. Any corporation claims that no one inside it acts according to their own wishes, that everything is according to the will of the corporation. And I’m not really opposed to that. It’s as if my personal cause became a public one. Otherwise, how would it look? Yeah, he left, yeah, because he wanted to, whatever. But now, I didn’t simply leave, but I left for a cause, in connection with big tasks. That is, now it has significance. As a lesson to young people, so to speak.
AK: No one believes that you can leave big politics.
VS: But I did leave. It’s a fact.
AK: They said you could join the opposition.
VS: Nonsense. I understand that as a journalist you must sometimes repeat nonsense from other people. What about the opposition? After everything that happened between us… Either they’re my opponents, or outright enemies. No support for them. No breaks for them. Of course, I don’t have the means I used to anymore. But it’s okay, I’ll fight a guerilla war on my own. Their ideas are toxic, if they lie to good people. What do you do with them, if they pretend to be saints while being hypocrites? You have to fight them. Some say opposition is beneficial. Who can benefit from stupidity and lies?
There’s no way that people suffering from the most severe cases of frustration, deprivation and aggravation can make the nation healthier. It’s not they who should heal society – it’s society that should heal them.
AK: Now that your life has changed, who do you feel? Lighter? Freer?
VS: Why freer? I wasn’t in captivity, I served a good cause. A great and glorious cause. So I feel the same as always. Always free.
AK: What does freedom mean to you?
VS: Sartre once said: “Man is condemned to be free”. That is the hopelessness that is in freedom — you cannot surpass the boundaries of something that is boundless. Freedom is a religious problem. One of the indecomposability of the soul. The inevitability of separation and distancing of everything from everything. But most importantly — the unobtainability of humility.
AK: Somehow, the freedom you have is… difficult.
VS: It’s what I have.
AK: Then what about the eternal struggle of people for freedom? The yearning for it? Somehow, I doubt that people yearn for what you describe.
VS: People often mistake simple pangs of envy as a yearning for freedom. Or they mistake the symptoms of sexual deprivation for it. Or malnutrition. Or overeating… Why yearn [for this freedom], when any normal person has a whole ocean of freedom inside of him? Finding it is not a problem. The problem is in what to do with it. Naturally, I’m not talking about politics. Not about the human right to free cheese, and to speak nonsense. I’m talking specifically about freedom.
AK: Do you often make mistakes?
VS: In minor matters, all the time. But there’s little use from such mistakes. But two or three times I was able to make big mistakes. And it was very successful.
AK: How was that?
VS: The theory of errors, condensed course. After passing the point of no return and realizing that you’re on the false path, don’t flail. March forth boldly on that wrong path. But pay close attention to your surroundings. Then you might find something good. Even if it’s not what you’d been searching for. Wrong paths often lead to amazing destinations. The wrong way to India led Columbus to America. Euclid believed for some reason that parallel lines don’t intersect. What an unfortunate misunderstanding! But his method, based on the insufficient understand of space, allowed people to build beautiful cities and great mechanisms. There’s a multitude of such examples. Mistakes sell well. They work. The whole history of mankind is the use of side effects from all the mistakes that were made.
AK: Young people might not understand you correctly. As if you’re saying, “Do whatever you want, and the curve will lead you somewhere…”
VS: You have a magazine for young people? I didn’t know that. Let me amend myself: Kids, don’t try this at home. In order to make good and timely mistakes, you have to study hard and listen to your elders. Like Euclid and Columbus did.
AK: And when were you right?
VS: That has happened as well. And not just once. But I don’t often remember such cases. I don’t have the ability to delight in being right. My type of vainglory is different.
AK: Can you give any specific examples of when you made mistakes? And when you were right?
VS: I’d rather not. Else we’ll descend into the memoir genre. It’s too early for that.
The continuation of the conversation between Andrey Kolesnikov and Vladislav Surkov will be published on Monday.