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Russia: A Dual Interview With Viktor Shenderovich And Aleksandr Levin

Viktor Shenderovich at RFE/RL's Moscow bureau (RFE/RL) On 24 October, RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Sharogradskii spoke with political satirist and writer Viktor Shenderovich, best known as the creator of the television program "Kukly." Shenderovich is now running in a by-election for a seat in the State Duma. The same day, Shenderovich announced that he had asked the police to protect himself and his family from harassment by the presidential administration.

Shenderovich said that Aleksandr Levin, editor of the NTV program "Real Politics," had told him that some members of the Kremlin administration were unhappy with Shenderovich's decision to run for the Duma seat from the University district in Moscow and that they had threatened to take measures if he didn't withdraw or agree to "follow the rules." According to Shenderovich, "Levin explained that in the presidential administration, in his opinion and in the opinion of some unnamed confidantes, there are people who are capable of taking criminal measures toward myself and members of my family -- for example, there was mention of a possible road accident involving my wife."

RFE/RL asked Levin to comment on Shenderovich's announcement.

Aleksandr Levin: Yes, indeed, I had a conversation with Shenderovich. Until recently, I thought Viktor and I were friends. We met quite a few times, played pool, etc. Recently, we met in a club where we usually hang out. We indeed had a conversation -- a private one -- but that in no way translates into what he’s saying now. I asked Shenderovich what purpose he had for going into politics. He said he saw it as a continuation of his work as a publicist; that he is going there as a provocateur -- that is, to test how ratty the government really is, so to speak. It's quite a compelling argument. Then we had a conversation concerning "the powers and the opposition."

I demonstrated, using as an example the recently passed-away [Soviet-era Politburo member and ideologue of perestroika] Aleksander Nikolaevich Yakovlev, that the real opposition in Russia is usually the opposition from inside the powers that be and that the opposition outside of them rarely has a chance to achieve real power. I explained to him my point of view that politics is a sort of closed, elitist club, in which there exist certain internal agreements, and so on. I explained to him that it is a club with its own strict rules. This conversation as a whole was concerned with power and the dynamic of power in Russia as I saw it. It was in no way related to Shenderovich, and his election to the Duma. I am extremely upset that, first of all, all this is being disseminated without anyone’s permission; and second of all, that for the sake of that stupid car with flashing lights and a seat in Okhotnyi Rad, a man is able to betray everything -- a long-time friendship, respect for private conversationm and so on.

When they read this text to me, I called Shenderovich and told him that I’m crossing him off of my list of decent people and that I refuse shake his hand again. This is, basically, it. I mentioned [Soviet-era Communist Party First Secretary for Belarussia Petr] Masherov [who died in a mysterious car accident that many believe was punishment by the KGB for his liberal policies] to him, and various other "difficulties," nicely speaking, that politicians have experienced in the past. This was only to substantiate my thesis about politics as a harsh reality. He asked me several times whether I was someone's messenger and whether or not there was some hidden message in my words. And several times I told him, "Look at me. Would anyone ever try and convey anything through me?"

RFE/RL: And this is what Viktor Shenderovich said in an interview with Radio Liberty.

Viktor Shenderovich: According to Aleksandr Levin, I betrayed a 10-year-old friendship with him in order to increase my chances of getting a car with flashing lights. I don’t understand how he was friends with a dweeb like me this whole time. Having said that, I want to move on to what’s actually important.

The conversation occurred in the presence of my wife. She, too, has been long acquainted with Aleksandr Levin -- we even worked together. There was no theoretical talk. There were, of course, some deviations from the key topic, but the conversation was directly related to my candidature. It wasn't an abstract conversation about the fate of Russian democracy. It was a conversation about the fact that I, without permission, was breaking the rules, and that he felt that people he knew were unhappy about my candidature and that, in their opinion, I was breaking the rules and trespassing into their territory.

Indeed, I asked him straightforwardly whether or not he was someone’s messenger. He said no – and this is reflected in my statement to the police. There was no mention of Masherov. The road accident he mentioned was quite specific, with my wife in it. Not a word about Masherov. My family’s safety was mentioned in a direct cause-and-effect relationship with my actions, with my ability to go to "them" and begin to discuss conditions under which I was entering this political field.

Honestly speaking, when my family's life and health are in question, I have little concern for Mr. Levin's moral critique of my person. I am much more concerned with the fact that he, as a conscientious and well-meaning person, as a law-abiding citizen, should tell (and I hope the police ask him) who exactly it was in the presidential administration that was so annoyed by my candidature; who it was that -- even if they didn't personally tell him -- he sensed such annoyance from, and such danger to my family. He mentioned this danger quite frequently and specifically. Who did these people have in mind, when they mentioned that they knew some potentially criminal elements in the president's administration, which would resort to these measures like road accidents or other unfortunate events? I am much more interested in his testimony than his moral critique.

In my statement, which can easily be found online, the role of Mr. Levin in this affair is articulated quite neutrally and with a presumed innocence. It mentions twice that he was not a messenger -- in his own words -- and that his actions were motivated by concern for my family. From his present comments I must make further conclusions about his role in this affair. And I must note that, based on his reaction and present comments, he indeed was a messenger of the criminals who made me this dirty offer. To what extent he realizes that he was used is a question he can answer himself, but I won't ask him, since I've been unfortunate enough to be crossed off of his list of friends. I repeat, however, that I am interested not in his moral critique, but in his testimony, which I hope to hear soon.

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