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"When intelligent people leave, it's a tragedy for the country" - An interview with Dmitry Zimin [Radio Svoboda]

posted 29 Dec 2016, 05:02 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 29 Dec 2016, 05:07 ]
19 December 2016

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Svoboda] 

Below is an extract from 'Головы повернуты назад', Радио Свобода, 19 December 2016

In summer 2015 the Dynasty Foundation of Dmitry Zimin was declared a foreign agent and a year ago practically stopped all its activity. The festival of popular science literature, “Illuminator”, was organised last season for the first time without the direct participation of Dynasty, even though it continued to be funded by Dmitry Zimin, who promises to fund the prize even in the years ahead. Despite the closure of Dynasty, Dmitry Zimin continues to support educational and social projects, the last of which is the documentary biopic film about Boris Nemtsov “The Man Who Was Too Free” by Mikhail Fishman and Vera Krichevskaya, which was recently premiered during the Artdocfest festival.

Philanthropist, educationalist and the honorary president of Vimpelkom, Dmitry Zimin seldom gives an interview and has latterly only rarely appeared in the media. According to him, after Dynasty was defined as a foreign agent, Dynasty's founder was subjected to rather peculiar form of harassment from some state media outlets. One year on Dmitry Zimin has agreed to answer a few questions in an interview with Radio Svoboda.

One of the rumours doing the rounds after Dynasty was declared a foreign agent and the Foundation closed down was that you have emigrated. Allegedly you have already gone off somewhere or other and are not planning to return.

I did in fact leave. For a week. Generally speaking emigration can be the solution for a person, and even the only one possible, but it is always a human tragedy, without even mentioning that when intelligent people leave, it's a tragedy for the country. In London, in Berlin where I was recently, it is possible to meet many really intelligent people who cannot come to Russia. This is a crying shame.

But you didn’t leave. Despite the harassment.

I cut back, and though I did not stop completely, my philanthropic activity. I stopped funding Dynasty. Everyone was happy and the harassment ceased. In fact I can go leave the country to go wherever I want. But I am bored there. I belong here.

But in recent days, hasn’t it become boring in Russia?

It hasn’t become boring. It has become sickening from time to time. People who are genetically active in the social sense, are forced to act less openly. There is a limited number of active public figures left, people who have maintained their passion and rhetoric. Recently Alfred Koch published an article in which he says that serious criticism of the regime from within is just about impossible, while calling on others to fight the regime, sitting somewhere or other far away, is immoral. Nobody knows for how long this will go on. But it is obvious that the situation is unsustainable. I don’t remember who said that one of the indicators of the level of stability of a country is the degree of its autonomy from the personality of the leader. And, let’s add, the existence of procedures to regularly change the leader.

Don’t you think that adding Dynasty to the register of foreign agents was part of the battle with enlightenment? That today’s regime has no need for a large number of intelligent and independent-minded people, while the activity of the Foundation actually contributed to that?

I don't think the question has been put in that way. Although, of course, in principle there is an element of that in today’s politics: all education should be directed to so-called patriotic, even Orthodox-patriotic upbringing. We see how this expresses itself – in the cancellation of stage productions and the closure of exhibitions. [Read more in Russian

Translated by Frances Robson