Students ask: Is Russia’s President ready to be sentenced to death in a people’s court?

This installment is one of a series of questions from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s meeting with journalism students at Moscow State University this past Wednesday, 25 January 2012.

(Excerpts from transcript of meeting with students at Lomonosov Moscow State University’s Faculty of Journalism)

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev visited Moscow Statue University Journalism students, Wednesday, 25 Jan 2012.

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I congratulate all of our students most sincerely on St Tatiana’s Day – the day that students all around Russia, including at Moscow State University of course, celebrate as Students Day. Today is a special day.

Seeing as my last visit to you raised some mixed emotions, I thought it proper to come here again and congratulate you on St Tatiana’s Day and at the same time give you the chance to ask your various questions.

But before giving you the floor for questions, let me just say a few words first about the profession that you have chosen to study for. Journalism is certainly a very interesting profession. If I were younger now and decided to go and study, I am not sure whether I would enter the law faculty or some other faculty, but I certainly have no doubt that you have chosen a very interesting future profession. I say this not for the sake of compliment, not to try to please and tell you how wonderful or otherwise you all are. I started to develop a real interest in journalism when the new media started to emerge. Of course, I read and watched the traditional media, and still do, but the internet era has brought great change not just to the mass media environment but to life in general.

I say this because aside from the questions on our political and economic life, our country’s future, our various state institutions, and quite simply all of the various problems and interesting issues I am sure you will raise, I’d very much like us to talk, too, about the development of mass media. I am a lawyer, as you know, and though I do not overestimate the importance of laws and the legislative environment, I still think much depends on them nonetheless, and I think that the law on the mass media currently in force has turned out to be a remarkable success. It sometimes gets reproached with being too idealistic and never changing.

But the thing is, when a particular law does not change over the course of decades it is a sign that it actually works quite well. Usually, whenever proposed new amendments to the law on mass media get brought to me, I ask the media community what it thinks and the answer is always that it is better to leave things as they are. I would be interested to hear your views on whether or not we should make any changes to the law on mass media.

The other subject I would like to discuss with you is the development of the new media. They are the subject of much discussion now, but at the same time, we see that they lack a solid foundation on which to base their work. This is a problem all around the world. So, if you want to discuss this question too, I think this would be useful, not just for today’s discussion, but for the future too. This is because the kind of legal regulation we might eventually develop will play a big part in shaping your future work and have a big effect quite simply on the atmosphere in our country, its democratic spirit, and on the situation today and tomorrow.

Now let’s talk and let you put the questions you perhaps did not get the chance to ask last time.

QUESTION: My name is Vladimir Kulikov. I am a student in the department of television.

I am greatly saddened by everything currently happening in Russian journalism and television. I am even more saddened by everything happening in our nation. To be honest, for the past three years, I have been seriously considering moving to another country. I am very concerned by this.

In your interviews, you frequently talk about responsibility, personal responsibility, how you make certain decisions and feel that you will get feedback from millions of people. I would be interested to know the following. Right now, a very serious revolutionary situation is ripening in our nation. You can feel it in the conversations people are having, and I see it in the comments online. And I’m wondering what your personal strategy of behaviour will be during a revolution in our nation.

How are you carrying out your responsibility, your measure of responsibility? Are you prepared to enter a people’s court (which we will likely have in the event of a revolution) and would you be ready to defend your every decision and your ideals? Do you understand that this court will most likely be biased, because all revolutionary courts are biased? Do you understand that you might even be sentenced to death? Would you be ready to bravely accept it, as Saddam Hussein did, or will you leave and go to a friendly nation like North Korea, where you directed so much sympathy following the passing of their leader, unlike Vaclav Havel? Thank you.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: A quick remark concerning people’s passing. Unfortunately, you simply didn’t follow the events very closely. With regard to Vaclav Havel, I also sent my condolences. But that’s not the point.

Vladimir, you have probably asked the bravest question of your life. My congratulations. You prepared for a long time and asked it with all the proletarian frankness. I will give you a straight answer. Any person running for President must be ready for anything – and I, too, am ready for anything. Why? Simply because if you have made the decision to do this, then you must understand that the fate of an enormous number of people depends on you. We have over 140 million people, and Russia is a very complicated nation – a nation that has terrorism and many hidden conflicts; a developing nation with numerous problems, including in the political system and the economy; a nation with a high poverty level. And so, the President must be ready for anything.

If you are talking about the current political situation… You know, I am probably a bit older than you are … how old are you?

ANSWER: You are 20 years older.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Yes, I am 20 years older than you. So my attitude toward this is calmer. I remember 1989, and 1991, and 1993; I remember when we had tanks firing at the parliament. It was a sad situation for our nation. But we managed to pull out. Incidentally, television stations were seized too, and many other things happened. The point is that today we also have enough problems. And perhaps, in this regard, I cannot be fully satisfied with what I have done in the last four years.

As for predictions concerning the future – that is a thankless job. But in any case, I am certain our nation does not need any revolution, because Russia had its share of revolutions in the 20th century. Unfortunately, we made so many mistakes… I am referring to our predecessors, government leaders. And, not just the leaders. You understand, after all, that it is not just the leaders who take part in revolutions, but also an enormous number of people, different people: those who believe in the ideals of the revolution piously and devoutly, and those who are making a career. But ultimately, what do these revolutions do in general? Revolutions eat their children.

So I would be very unhappy to see the events in our nation develop into a revolution or other extreme situation. But I will tell you honestly, I do not see sufficient preconditions for it. We have a significant number of people who do not like the current political system and the current set of political leaders – that is absolutely normal. Perhaps after some time, they themselves will come to power and run the country, if they can prove their views right and show that they are capable of running state affairs.

I can agree that it is imperative for us to work on improving our political life, because I have my experience, I am older than you, and ultimately, I have been in the government for a long time. I remember the 1990s. We had one situation in the 1990s, and a different situation in the last decade; now, we are living in the second decade of a new century. And every decade has had its own political principles and mindsets, but at the same time, we maintained the backbone of our political system.

I can tell you earnestly that about a year ago, I also had the sense of needing to let fresh air into our political system, simply because it is over-regulated. For example, legislation on parties does not correspond to today’s needs, even though a few years ago, I felt that we should have exactly the legislation that was in place. Why? Because we need to have strong parties, rather than hasty ventures participating in elections in droves. But now, it is clear that these rules are no longer functioning properly.

This also pertains to other issues, including both Presidential elections and procedures for our parliamentary elections, and that is precisely why I submitted these suggestions on changing our political system in December. And I would like you and your friends, your colleagues, and everyone who can watch us via their iPhones and other gadgets (for we did not specifically plan to broadcast this meeting, it is being recorded, as far as I know, only for the needs of Moscow State University) to know that these changes have not been planned only last December; I planned to do all this a year ago. Indeed, I see that to be the duty of the President.

And to conclude my answer to this question, I would once again like to say: I am not afraid of anything; otherwise, I would not be able to work as President, and believe me, this is a difficult job.

QUESTION: Can you give us an honest and concrete message: are you prepared for death penalty, to die for your ideals, or not?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I understand. If you are interested in an honest answer: yes, I am prepared to die for my ideals. Incidentally, ideals are not just the Constitution or a set of high values. They also include such things as family, children, and everything else. These, too, are values for which we must be ready to suffer, based on various considerations.

(We’ll feature more questions and answers from this session soon.)