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What Would You Ask Putin? Rock Veteran Shevchuk Makes Most Of Rare Opportunity

Yury Shevchuk (right) delivers a speech, while Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (left) listens during a charity event for children's cancer in St. Petersburg on May 29.
Yury Shevchuk (right) delivers a speech, while Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (left) listens during a charity event for children's cancer in St. Petersburg on May 29.
ST. PETERSBURG -- Opportunities to see Russia's Vladimir Putin confronted by his critics are rare. But during a weekend charity event in St. Petersburg, the prime minister was on the receiving end of surprisingly harsh questions about media repression and government's crackdown on public protests like the March of Dissent demonstrations.

Putin surprised many on hand by voicing support for public protests, saying they "point to critical issues the authorities should pay attention to." Putin also acknowledged he was aware of growing public discontent in the country.

Many of the sharpest questions came from veteran rock musician Yury Shevchuk, who also made headlines in March when a concert video showed him harshly criticizing the country's "brutal, cruel, and inhumane" system. Tatyana Voltskaya of RFE/RL's Russian Service spoke to Shevchuk about his meeting with Putin. (Here's the Russian-language exchange, which was broadcast on state television.)

RFE/RL: You told Putin that one of his aides called you ahead of the meeting and asked that you not ask pointed or difficult questions. Putin replied that it was a provocation, and that it couldn't have been a member of his staff.

Yury Shevchuk:
That was his joke, his comeback. To which I replied that probably it was some idiot playing a joke. In fact, I think...well, what can I think if I spent half an hour on the phone being told which questions not to ask?

RFE/RL: And what were your overall impressions of the conversation with Putin?

Shevchuk:
The discussion wasn't as long as I would have liked. There were a lot of questions I wasn't able to ask. But I did manage to ask the main one: in what kind of country are our children going to live?

I talked about a dark, corrupt, unmerciful, and soulless country. With miners who go to work like penal battalions sent to their final battle. With a polarized society where there are princes and noblemen -- with party membership cards or without, with flashing blue lights on the roof of their cars -- and the ordinary toiling population?

The only condition for getting out of this situation is equality before the law, democracy. Putin agreed with me that without equality before the law, without democratization of the country, Russia has no future. Those were his words.

RFE/RL: Regarding the March of Dissent, were you satisfied with his answers?

Shevchuk:
Of course I wasn't satisfied. Why? Because when he said that the "marches" shouldn't get in the way of dacha-goers or sick people being taken to the doctor, I simply didn't get a chance to respond.

After all when some kind of bureaucrat arrives, then the whole city shuts down and everything stands absolutely still. [Actor] Oleg Basilashvili supported me.

There was also a conversation about the city, about the destruction of architectural monuments, about the construction of the Gazprom tower, and so on. He also didn't answer to any of that. He said that was for the city administration to resolve.

'Better To Talk Than Fight'

RFE/RL: And what was he like as a person? We've been reading his comments everywhere, but you were able to actually look him in the eyes.

Shevchuk:
When I asked him, "Are you aware that the protest element in society is growing?" I looked him in the eyes. He, sighing very heavily, whispered yes. And he wasn't pretending.

The prime minister knows about it -- and that's probably already a pretty good thing. But on the other hand, it's not clear what our leadership is going to do about it. In a word, what took place was the kind of traditional conversation that's been going on between artists and authorities for the past 200 years. A lot of people were talking, and I also spoke.

RFE/RL: Do you think there was a point to doing it?

Shevchuk:
Of course.

RFE/RL: As you remember, there was a meeting between Putin and a group of writers. Some of the writers refused to go, citing fundamental reservations.

Shevchuk:
That's their right. For me, I believe that you have to talk about these things. It's better to talk than to fight.
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Katya
May 31, 2010 18:39
Talking with Putin?? but he doesn't let anyone talk! either you are with him or you share Politkovskaya's fate.. wake up Russia..
In Response

by: Richard from: launceston
June 01, 2010 10:44
What? Watch the video. The guy openly confronts Putin. This isn't the first time he's done it either and he's still alive. Wake up Katya!
In Response

by: marko from: USA
June 01, 2010 16:25
While the Russian media isn't completely free, it is far from completely unfree. Russia isn't Saudi Arabia or China. Lots of bad things get said by political opponents about the generally very popular Putin (those saying them generally continue to say them). Some Putin opponents have met untimely ends, but there really hasn't been any evidence tying the Russian government or Putin personally to those killings. The impact of many of these folks was also very marginal, and it wouldn't make sense for Putin to strike out at them. The Russian opposition "leaders" that get sporadic notice here (in the US) are mostly discredited Yeltsin types (I lived in Russia for two years in the disastrous 90s and that lack of support for these folks there makes total and complete sense) with next to no support inside Russia. The real opposition to Putin and Medvedev is the KPRF (which hates the West and the USA in particular). Why so many at RFE/RL and in the US press generally seem to want a change of government in Russia is thus baffling-- we wouldn't get the toadies of the 90s but the Communists who view any accommodation with us as treason! Pragmatism people-- take half a loaf when the alternative is none with a vengeance!

by: vlad from: Moldova - US
June 01, 2010 13:39
I love Shevchuk's songs. Hope he is not going to die in a car accident or shot at the home door at night.

Putin was nervous. Democracy and freedoms help. The world competition from China, India, Brazil, US, EU will make Russia irrelevant. Hope Putin understands it.

Wish the best to Russia.

by: Eddie
June 01, 2010 15:20
show must go on for Kremlin...

U2 tour in Moscow is WRONG! World campaing

Irish rock band U2 will perform for the first time in Russia - on August 25th, 2010 at Moscow BSA Luzhniki. Bono is musician, singer-songwriter, activist, philanthropist ..... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bono

The Truth about Russia. What is situation in Putin’s Russia?

© The Times May 'Puppet President' Dmitri Medvedev takes power in Putin job swap

©Telegraph Media Group Limited Leading Russian critic of Putin's regime is poisoned in London

©Guardian News and Media Limited Russian journalist dies after beating in police custody. New scandal for force involved in 100 grave crimes a year.

© http://ecopress.livejournal.com

"Mr. Putin has sad glory in the Europe. So the representative of European Commission Pierre Dibman has declared that victims of corruption in Russia already are practically all population of the country."

“The situation with human rights in Russia " is completely not sterile ", it is a lot of infringements of human rights, and they should be eliminated. As if to a situation with human rights and their consideration in corresponding court, that, in my opinion, it also consequence of imperfection of our judicial system. We should change it and should adapt under interests of our state and the most important our people ", - the president of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev - has declared RIA of News.

"The Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, has not delivered on the promises he made about human rights during his first year in power," Amnesty International has said.

“We should protect their (rights) in all possible ways, first of all, judicial. In their this sense (infringements of the rights) so much because there is no effective state, effective court ", - the president of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev - RIA of News has told.

© Carnegie Endowment for International Peace "Out of her blunt, often acerbic, account comes shrewd insights into Putin’s transformation from an implausible, contrived successor into a dominator unchallenged by oligarchs, legislators, or regional bosses, let alone a democratic opposition." —Foreign Affairs

Who's U2's leader? Bono... "Today, Bono, the U2 singer, global activist and one of the most powerful leaders on the world stage,"

Criminal Russia: the traditions behind the headlines. New footage of Moscow cop massacre released
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GuJdTzsxS8

CHRONICLES OF POLITICAL PERSECUTION AND ACTUAL SITUATION ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN PRESENT DAY RUSSIA. News, articles, reports, appeals, analysis, comments. http://www.zaprava.ru/content/view/60/

Russian MPs caught in voting scandal. reports. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8709517.stm

P.S. 3 Feb 2010 ... AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson says Bono's a cheap *******. For a man who is barely coherent when he sings, Brian Johnson of AC/DC is making ...
celebrifi.com/.../Brian-Johnson-Bono-Should-Do-His-Charity-Work-In-Private-1472570.html - United States -

by: KZBlog from: Astana, Kazakhstan
June 01, 2010 17:06
Interesting the level of discourse. People still make remarks as if Putin is a king who follow his whims. Comments like "He's going to get it" about a director of a school when someone complains to Putin do give the image that he can control anything he wants.

Also kudos to Putin: a full transcript of the video, warts and all, is up on premier.gov.ru

by: Liz E from: NSW Australia
June 02, 2010 04:46
I am so sick of these conspiracy type theories about the Russian Government and Vladimir Putin. I have read the government website regularly for many years now, and read stories by independent journalists that are intelligent, well researched and are non biased. I can tell you that Vladimir Putin has a much wider vision of Russia and the Russian people than many people could ever realise. He is highly intelligent and is always working for the good of the country and it's people. Instead of making unfounded accusations I suggest people use the brains they were given and read books like 'Understanding Russia' by Brian May, the last few chapters especially of that book may be an eye opener for them of how much turmoil Russia had been through and how much Vladimir Putin cared about his country and the people and what he went through to pull the country out of an abyss. We should be lucky if we had politicians like that.
In Response

by: Maksim
June 02, 2010 18:36
Liz -- I entirely agree with you.
I'm Russian living in Russia, and I'm glad there are foreigners like you who recognize that Putin is not what he is portrayed in western media.
Putin is extremely intelligent, educated, hard working, personable, and dedicated to the good of his country
In Response

by: Dmitry from: Russia
June 02, 2010 19:49
Australia is so far...
In Response

by: Jakub from: Poland
June 06, 2010 08:04
Liz - the victim of Putin's regime brainwashing. Putin is a head of russian mafia, just as Godfather. He stole milions of dollars in Petersburg, and noone know he has stolen since 2000.

by: Roman from: USA
June 02, 2010 21:08
If there is any real hope for real freedom, and real democracy in Russia, then it comes from Jesus. If it does exist, then there is hope that Putin may take the time to answer the rest of Shevchuk's questions. And if that hope is real, then there is hope that Putin has an explanation for what crime Khodorkovsky commited to spend a lot of time behind bars, and there is hope that Medvedev will open the Russian SBU-KGB archives, and we will know if Ivan Maisky did murder General Sikorsky in 1943 by orders of Stalin, and there is hope that a real investigation will tell who tamperred w/ the Airplane controls and gadges, in place of Maisky, on the plane that crashed with the president of Poland, and there is hope that the next crackdown in Russia will come down on the Russian Police Force who continue beating up protestors, and putting them in the hospital, or continue taking bribes to look the other way while a chechen woman is raped by a Russian soldier, or payed to look the other way as a Human rights worker, a translator, and fellow journalist all get blown up in the same vehicle, and then gets payed not to tell where their bodies disappeared to! If there is any real hope in Russia for freedom, a good life, a good education, and a good job, it comes from Jesus Christ, not Putin, and his expert KGB police force! Good luck to Russia, in this century after all the people who starved and died with a bullet in the back of the head by one of Stalin's Reds for the dream he had of an empire in the last century, which also involved the crime of the Ribbentropp-Molotov agreement which made Hitler and Stalin allies which split Poland between eachother in 1939, beginning WWII! May Jesus help the poor people of Russia, indeed. Mr Medvedev was right when he stated that Stalin can not be pardoned for his war crimes, and atrocities against his own people and against the Russian Veterans of WWII as well! May God have mercy on every politician, KGB, Mafia, Drugtrafficker, in Russia, as well as the poor people living there in search of a future and a decent wage, and having their voice heard when it comes time to vote for a governor, or president promising reforms, education, and a higher wage! Lord have mercy on those poor Russian people who have escaped the past twenty years of more Communist Corruption and thievery! Lord have mercy on the people of Russia indeed! May the Lord bring justice to the people of Russia and make the Communist party be brought to Justice in a version of the Nuremburg trials for the Soviet and Communist thieves and murderrers of Europe and Russia! Amen.

by: Roman from: USA
June 02, 2010 22:13
If there is any hope for real freedom and democracy in Russia, then there is hope that Khodorkovsky will get out of jail soon, and that the peoples' right to vote will be respected. There is hope that the murderrers of Human Rights workers, and journalists will be brought to justice, and those Communists who forced so many to starve to death, and later signed an agreement with Hitler through Ribbentropp and Molotov will be brought to justice at their own version of the Nuremburg trials! May the Lord have mercy on the poor Russian-Muscovian-Mongolic Peoples!

by: Bogdan Solteniuk from: Toronto
June 03, 2010 01:17
The Russian media is far from unfree? Are you kidding me? As an ex resident of Moscow I can tell you its far from free. The State closely controls ALL stories in the media in Russia. Those that do slightly cross paths with the official party line get on a plane and commute weekly to do their shows from Kiev, Ukraine. They acknowledge they can't do their TV shows in Russia and its pretty bad when they say that the Ukrainian media is light years more progressive and open than the Russian media. The Kremlin knows its reaching a very important juncture for Russia's future. Carry on status quo with the small minority making huge amounts of money and the average working class citizen who can barely keep up. Ordinary Russians aren't stupid. They look at the living standards in Europe and then look at what is happening in Russia and there is no comparison. Gazprom can't fund the country like it was able to in the 90's. The entire economy needs to fund the national goals but that's impossible right now due to the massive corruption in Russia and its Oligarch's running the show.

Putin wants to restore Russia's place in the world as a leader. Fair enough but without actual reforms, Russia will simply continue to be viewed by others as a corrupt bully and a has been. Russia needs to reinvent itself, not try to put back the pieces of the old USSR. Forget Ukraine, Belarus and the other former republics. Russia needs to take care of Russia and stop worrying about what Ukraine or others are up to. Or one day the Kremlin will wake up to "Orange" type movements that will force change.

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