Summing up all the sessions of the Boris Nemtsov Forum – 2019


Vladimir Kara-Murza: Good evening, this is the fourth final session of the Boris Nemtsov forum, at which we will summarize the sessions held today. There were 9. There is now a representative or moderator from each of them. But before passing the floor to them, I want to thank the founders of the forum. First of all, Zhanna Nemtsova – the founder of the fund. Executive Director Anna Cherednichenko and Olga Shorin, for everything they did to make this forum go so smoothly, beautifully, and interestingly. I want to thank the Boris Nemtsov Foundation, also the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, the organization “For Free Russia” and all involved. Next year we will meet for the fifth time.

I think that we will start talking about sessions in the order in which they are indicated in the program, so we will start with Sergey Aleksashenko, moderator of the first session, “Management through Fear. Where Russia is heading”

Sergey Aleksashenko: We have not received the answer to the question “where is Russia moving?” The hypothesis that we put forward is that Vladimir Putin has been seized with fears since he came to the Kremlin. And fears play a huge role in his decisions. He is constantly afraid of something. Accordingly, his response when he feels the danger is an attempt to inspire fear on the one he fears. We had a game scenario where there were conditional representatives of the Russian elite, the Russian political-civil society, the consolidated West, which is the main enemy of Russia, and a representative of East European liberal opinion. And now, in fact, it looks like the set of enemies that Vladimir Putin has. As a result of the discussion, the participants came to the conclusion that Vladimir Putin should not be afraid of anyone. That the West is busy with its problems, Europe would also be good to solve its problems, respectively, in America there is only one problem, but it is very big, and everyone is busy solving it, not paying attention to anything around, and no one is going to scare Putin.

The Russian administrative elite made an attempt to split at the turn of 2011-2012, associated with mass protests in Russia, but Putin took control of this matter quite toughly, and over the past six years he made a strong change of administrative position. His friends, the Chekists of the older generation, are being replaced by, conditionally speaking, 30–40-year-olds — young technocrats, people who have no distinct political views, people who made a career because Putin pulled them upstairs, and who are loyal to him. People who do not seriously attempt Putin’s place, for example, if the conditional Yakunin was presented as the ideologist of the Putin regime, then all new representatives do not have expressed leadership ambitions to become second or first. Thus, there is no particular threat from this side.

European opinion lives in a state of comfort, because what it feared in 2014-2015, namely the war in Europe with hundreds of dead every week, went far back. You know how “the war is over, forget it.” We were told that Putin is already invisibly present here in Europe and they are not afraid of him. We live quite comfortably in the neighborhood with Putin, understanding that geography cannot be changed.

Well, and accordingly, political-civil society has a charge and a desire to change something in the country, but, frankly, it is weak. According to the results of the panel, it turned out that Putin does not have such a threat, and his main fear, of course, is the loss of power. Moreover, not one of the groups is trying to take power from him, but Putin’s reaction is still rather harsh, the reaction does not correspond to the level of those threats that theoretically exist. Threats are pouring in from different directions, someone gets a little more, someone a little less. A paradoxical phrase was said that the most severe threats are towards the administrative elite, with which, for example, I do not agree.

Putin’s reaction – excessive repressiveness – means that fears are very strong in him. And, in fact, there are no optimistic notes that this fear will disappear from him – no. We live with it. This is both with geography, which cannot be changed, and with Putin’s fears.

Vladimir Kara-Murza: I would like to add that at the end of the lecture Sergey Aleksashenko arranged a survey for the audience present. The question was this: how many people think that within 10 years Russia will move away from this regime of fear and move on to something more free? And the vast majority supported it. And I also join. I really liked how political scientist Nikolai Petrov concluded our section, who said that Putin would still be alive, and his regime would die and he would see it. And it seems to me that this is the most optimistic conclusion. The second session was devoted to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Elena Babakova was responsible for this session.

Elena Babakova: We talked about civil society, but, of course, could not do without a political foundation. Therefore, most often during this discussion, two words were mentioned: the Steinmeier formula. And the way it is now affecting public discourse in Kiev and Moscow. Speakers from Russia and Ukraine, as well as from Poland, reminded us of the protest potential of Russian and Ukrainian society that it exists in the both sides. Only this potential is different, and it has different pain points. And if the summer protests in Moscow were caused, on the one hand, by corporate solidarity, on the other hand, by the inadmissibility of candidates for elections, then in Ukraine we see the so-called fear of surrender. Those victims that Ukraine suffered over the past 5 years – what if they were in vain? That is, near a strong emotion of fear of escalation of conflict, there is an all-consuming emotion of fatigue.

Beata Apelt said that she didn’t like the community of assessments of what was happening. Both Russians, Ukrainians, and Poles speak not of a civil conflict in eastern Ukraine, but of a Russian-Ukrainian conflict, of a Russian war against Ukraine. And this is a common language, and the point is not that this language is Russian. The fact is that this is the language of human rights.

It seems important to me that they remembered not only the numbers, since it is easier for civil society to convey the problems of the annexation of Crimea through a human story. Specific people who were imprisoned in Moscow, who are in cellars in the Donbass, who are in captivity, are Ukrainian political prisoners. These stories really mobilize public opinion not only in our countries, but also beyond their borders. The session ended at a very interesting moment, when we found out the status quo what is happening in the east of Ukraine, we talked about human contacts between human rights activists, lawyers, experts, but there is no institutional cooperation. It seems to me that this is a good message for the next years. And it seems to me that everyone was interested in the question from the audience from Professor Fukuyama, who said that it was possible that soon we would get some kind of political solution to the conflict in the Donbass and in Crimea. But how will people react to this? Are they ready for this? So these are three points…

Vladimir Kara-Murza: Thank you, Elena. The next session was devoted to regional elections. Journalist Fedor Krasheninnikov will tell about its brief content.

Fedor Krasheninnikov: Thank you, we had a very interesting session. Towards the end, it became clear that a whole forum on regional elections could be held. To paraphrase Tolstoy, I will say that each Russian region or city is unhappy in its own way. If I were to summarize, I would notice that it is local self-government that is what needs to be developed so that there is democracy in the country. A region is still a more abstract unit. Cities know more specifically that they live here and want to influence the standard of living. But this mechanism is completely destroyed. And what Putin managed to do with democracy in Russia, largely due to the fact that this democratic tradition did not take shape in regions and cities, no one stood in his way – neither city mayors, nor governors, nor regional parliaments. That means that when a system was created in the 90s, all this was ignored. At the Nemtsov forum, one cannot help but recall that Boris Efimovich was the first to start this campaign back, having elected to the Yaroslavl City Council. And it was not a step back, it was a step to the future. It became clear that regional policy starts from the bottom. Until we accustom people to democracy, we do not accustom to elect candidates in cities, settlements, until then we will not have federal democracy either. This is not a very pleasant conclusion, but it is good because we know which way we need to go.

Vladimir Kara-Murza:
Thank you, the next topic is the Internet in Russia. Fear of freedom of expression. Moderator of the session is Alexei Sidorenko.

Alexey Sidorenko: Thank you very much. We were eager to begin. The degree of state control over both the signal and the content has increased significantly. At the same time, the Internet does not give up so easily, it does not allow itself to be subjugated. This is not because the Internet is unique, but because there is a clear censorship position. For example, as the position of Telegram, which matters, while other companies have chosen the simplicity of doing business in Russia, some great prospects have not done anything to protect the Internet. In this regard, Roman Zakharov proposes to boycott at the European level large corporations that create such an ecosystem in Russia, and somehow try to influence them through a branch in Europe. Sergey Boyko advises that one can resist the trends that have arisen in Russia, firstly, through training in new technologies and consolidation.

We had Bernd Schlemen, he told the German perspective of this issue. For example, in Germany they are fighting for the right to be forgotten, including the Democratic Party. While in Russia this right is used mainly by criminal authorities. In Europe, the law on the protection of personal data is designed to protect civil society, while in Russia it is intended to show where this data is stored so that Roskomnadzor has access to it. Bernd said the Internet is not losing its promise of new opportunities. Despite the fact that there are new prerequisites for large-scale surveillance of us via the Internet, it still provides incredible opportunities.

In 2012, surveillance over the Internet was explained by the need to control drug trafficking, suicide and child pornography. The paradox is that the more laws are passed in connection with the Internet, the more this entire business thrives.

Vladimir Kara-Murza: Thank you very much. Everything that we discussed concerned the Russian aspects, the fifth session is completely devoted to international politics. Fear of Russia – what to do in Europe? One of the participants is Gulnaz Sharafutdinova.

Gulnaz Sharafutdinova: Fear works on two levels. The first is more hidden and works on memories, metaphorically it is in people in the blood in connection with their dramatic experiences. The second level on which fear acts is the result of a daily information attack. Europe cannot change its past, a painful past. However, Europe can work on a medical environment. At the lecture, we mentioned one of the projects that was developed in Britain to diversify Russian media. The project supports alternative voices that sound from Russia. Europe can shape the media environment, and this can happen through policies within Europe.

The second issue that we discussed and the American ambassador Daniel Fried said that we are talking about the victim’s trap and it is important that these dramatic moments do not serve as sources of hostility in our everyday life. Our speaker and professional in the field of economics also shared his personal experience. He faced such an injury while talking with his grandfather, who was sent into exile in Siberia. And our speaker expected his grandfather to call for hatred of Russia. Instead, grandfather talked about traveling, meeting with different people, and about what he had learned there. We must think about how to work with this trauma so that it does not negatively affect our perception, so that we do not consider other enemies. There was also a very interesting question regarding whether Europe has a real strategy and whether Europe’s actions are tactical in relation to Russia. I can briefly say that we also need to analyze our relations.

Vladimir Kara-Murza: We are returning to Russia, the sixth topic is freedom or fear, and its moderator is Vasily Gatov.

Vasily Gatov: Our panel was one of the most philosophical, because we were forced to turn to the concept of fear as a value and to value as a concept of fear. As you know, even Machiavelli defined fear as an instrument of power. The participants in our discussion agreed in three important theses that fear in the modern society is the norm. And this paradoxical normalization is based on two large columns. One of them is negative historical memory, and the second is the fear of going against the norm. These two columns do not exist separately from each other, they are intertwined, they affect almost any level of society and in many ways block people’s natural desire for change. The second conclusion is that the Russian fear of the future is in the context of global social fears, which are caused by global changes of decades. Russians have something to fear in their past, and a constant reminder of this makes them ready for collective action.

And the third is that the Russian values ​​of fear today are not so much a continuation of the totalitarian fear that was created in Soviet times, but an authoritarian version of fear. Fear, based on the fact that the state does not draw people into totalitarianism, but in every possible way pushes them out of there and strives for atomization of society, and politics cannot be collective.

After all these sad conclusions, we came to the good. The holistic picture is not as dull and monotonous as, perhaps, the Kremlin leaders wanted. People, of course, tend to be afraid of chaos, war, mass violence, but even in conditions of historical fear, current fear, not everyone can be convinced of its materiality. As well as depriving citizens of interest in collective initiatives, because only in this is the second main tool of power – hope. Only this is the power of the people behind whom democracy lies.

Vladimir Kara-Murza: Thank you, the next very important topic is art and fear. And the literary critic Alexander Gavrilov represents her today.

Alexander Gavrilov: Thank you. The concepts of “art” and “fear”, set together, unwittingly begin to produce some meanings. On the one hand, fear is what keeps the artist. On the other hand, this is what nourishes the artist in the big world and makes art move forward. And it’s wonderful that, having started thinking about this point, we were able to touch, as it seems to me, a wide range of issues. On the one hand, the interaction of art and the state, art and society. On the other hand, it is clear that any interaction with the state leads to intimidation. We were forced to recall that these days the case of the Seventh Studio returned to court and the state deliberately intimidates artists in order to build a political theater. Where society acts as a silent spectator. On the other hand, pretty quickly the conversation went to the point of working with fear, where the artist shares the work of self-restraint with the rest of society. It is clear that the issue of self-censorship is much more acute today, and it is it that makes artists silent.

Inside the conversation, the topic of displacement within the art of vertical and horizontal patterns arose. Traditionally, from Soviet art we got a principled vertical model of any act in the field of culture. There is a figure that constitutes a theater, museum, festival. These figures – they represent the culture, and everything else is lost in their shadow. But we see recently how this is problematized. Apparently, such a vertical model has exhausted itself.

And finally, why I think that our session was the most philosophical. Because a conversation arose in her about fears of not only social, not only political, but also fears of loneliness, inability to be understood, fear of marginalization and fear of losing a common language. What else is decent and what is indecent? Is it possible to indicate the place of power interfering in the cultural process? What forces are needed for this? In addition, we moved to the future and thought about what models of state-cultural interaction could be. Unfortunately, we did not come up with an ideal model, but ended up on a positive note – that art exists for the sake of nothing else but ourselves. And that means it cannot shut up.

Vladimir Kara-Murza: Thank you, Alexander. The next topic is dedicated to energy. Moderator – Ernest Vytsishkevich.

Ernest Vytsishkevich: Energy as an instrument of fear – it sounds sad. When we thought about how to organize the discussion, I thought that in this context they usually do not talk about energy. Then I thought how many fears I could list in this context, and I listed. Here our lecturers said all this. Intimidation of corruption, climate change is another moment. Here, in Europe, it may not be that way, but Russia is afraid of gas competition, afraid of political pressure in Ukraine related to the gas territory. And even I myself was surprised that so many different fears we were able to list. But Vladimir Milov gave us a positive answer to all these fears. Fear appears when a person allows himself to be intimidated too quickly. He tried to convince us that the answer is competitiveness, competition. He also said that market competition is associated with political competition. That is, if Europe wants to compete in this area, then it must first look at other sectors and make them more competitive. If Russia wants to eliminate its fears, then it must open up and become even more competitive and supportive of business.

On the one hand, the economy is used as an instrument of influence, and on the other, as an instrument of pressure. The geostrategic goals of the pipeline were also discussed. And the last point – fear in the context of energy – can be a positive factor on the path to change. I believe that Putin needs to build a monument in Brussels as the founder of European energy policy. Without a crisis, Europe would not have gone so far. Fear can still be used as a tool in this case.

Vladimir Kara-Murza:
Thank you. Maria Pshelomets will present the ninth session “National Myths. Fear of loss”

Maria Pshelomets: We changed the topic a bit. We talked about the role that national myths will play in our part of Europe and in relations between us. There were two examples. One of them is the beloved Polish myth “for ours and for your freedom.” On the other hand, the myth “Moscow as a fortress surrounded by enemies”, “Russia – as the only savior of the world from fascism.” Here was an interesting point of view of Professor Parishes, who said that myths simply should not play a role in modern society, and we must first look and build the future. An example of a “velvet revolution”, which had no mythological roots. On the other hand, there was Polish solidarity, after which the Russian authorities got a little. Although there are useful myths, for example, the “last address”. Then the question arose: how to prevent the myth from turning into a weapon against a neighbor in the hands of any authorities. The conclusions were as follows: the legacy of myths is the legacy of experience.

Vladimir Kara-Murza: Thank you all. Fear will appear if you fear it. What is the opposition of fear is its absence. John McCain said that a courage is not a lack of fear, but a willingness to resist it. And in the deepest sense, contrasting fear is hope. I would like to finish our forum on a note of hope, not fear. Moreover, for Boris Nemtsov it was always important. He did not stop believing in people, and he often said the phrase “and we will succeed.” He was really convinced that in our country there is a huge number of intelligent people. And all that he did was aimed at ensuring that these people had a voice in order to determine the future of their country. And I think that an important indicator of changes in the country will be the opportunity to convene this forum in Russia with all levels of free opinions and discussions.

Translation – Anastasia Bortual
Editing – Tatyana Thomas