An exclusive by Alexander Bisley with Masha Gessen:
AB: On stage at the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival earlier this afternoon (Sunday, May 19) you said in response to the risk you face for courageously criticising Putin: “That’s my least favourite question. When I was working on the biography, I kept it secret. My partner she knew, my editor, no one else knew I was working on it. When the book came out to a great deal of publicity throughout the West, I think it gave me some kind of protection. It sounds horrible, but the death of Anna Politkovskaya taught the Kremlin that the cost of killing high-profile critics in the West is extremely high… There are journalists and other people in much greater danger than I am precisely because the eyes of the world aren’t on them. Because nobody knows their names.” You told Kim Hill yesterday your son’s going to boarding school in America this year because of the significant risk to his safety?
MG: And I’ll probably join him soon. We’ll probably go to New York. I haven’t said that in 20 years. Last year I was in Sydney and my answer to this question was, “This is my home, Putin can leave. I’m staying.” I can do the work in Russia, and I would do the work in Russia, but I have three kids and it’s one thing to bring up your kids in a place that’s risky and difficult; I think in many ways it’s enriching them, and I’m glad my kids have that experience. It’s another thing to bring up your kids in a place that’s hopeless. Now that I’ve lost hope, I need to take them out.
This story has been picked up by Slate, The Guardian etc.
AB: You describe Putin as a “bloody executioner,” saying he’s created the climate where it’s open season on journalists and opposition politicians and dissidents. On March 4, 2012, his “re-election” night, Putin cried: “We showed that no one could impose anything on us.” How do you think he’s going to respond to growing opposition? Will he crackdown harder?
MG: I think at this point they’ve set in motion just this unstoppable countdown machine. He’s going to turn the screws tighter and tighter. That brings more and more pressure on the people—it’ll ultimately explode, the longer it goes on the more violent it will be and also less the likelihood of a good outcome of something good coming afterwards. The worse life is and the less hope there is, the more people leave [Russia].
Putin has been genuinely popular in the past, but there is a growing dissent to his rule, and as reported the more he tries to repress criticism, the more intense it may become.
The interview is a very interesting insight into Russia and Putin, especially the story of when she was summoned to meet him.
Tags: Alexander Bisley
, Masha Gessen
, Vladimir Putin