Remnick in Russia
Since taking the helm of The New Yorker in 1998, David Remnick has returned the magazine to its profitable glory days. A graduate of Princeton University, he began his journalistic career as a night police reporter at the Washington Post in 1982, becoming the paper's Moscow correspondent in 1988. His coverage of the Soviet Union's collapse led to his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1993 book "Lenin's Tomb." His latest book "The Bridge," is a biography of President Barack Obama. He lives in New York with his wife, Esther Fein, and their three children.
David Remnick: When I arrived in Moscow in 1988, there were protests and even strikes in Moscow because of a lack of soap, matches, and other personal items.
When I was in Moscow a few months ago [circa late 2007], outside my hotel there was the single largest billboard I have ever seen in my entire life, and it was for watches that I didn’t even know existed. They were so Swiss. It was extraordinary, and this is what Moscow looks like.
The presence of the rich or the super rich Moscow is amazing. And we all know that it’s not the case in the provinces; but this is a startling, startling change.
The economic change is different. There are beautiful women everywhere. Where did they come from? There are these kind of thuggish looking men. Where did they come ? All these crazy questions come to the fore.
But politically it’s deeply depressing because what you have is an autocracy. That’s what you have. This election is no election. It’s a one party state. It’s kind of neo-Soviet.
Right now there’s a movement called, which is a youth movement that its opponents relate to the Hitler; I don’t know if I would go that far; but it’s certainly not what we anticipated in 1991 – not what one hoped for in 1991.
Question: Is it harder to be a reporter now?
David Remnick: No. I don’t find that there’s access to the Kremlin. Right now there’s no access to the Kremlin except on special occasions Time magazine decides to make Putin “Man of the Year”. They comply with an interview and so on.
But I think it’s still, for a foreign reporter, quite possible to get around a lot, find out a lot.
The books that have resulted; David Hoffman’s book, for example, on the ________ is as fine a piece of economic political reporting as I’ve seen. It’s just the story is radically different.
Question: What is your prediction for the March  elections [in Russia]?
David Remnick: My prediction for the election in March 2008 is that whatever [Vladimir] Putin wants, Putin will get. And what Putin seems to want is to have Demetri Medvedev become the president.
And shock of all shocks, Putin will be his Prime Minister. And I’m guessing that’ll be suddenly a rather powerful prime ministership.
Question: Do you agree that Russians are incapable of democracy?
David Remnick: I find that historical predicament for Russia is such that it makes the establishment of democracy incredibly difficult.
But do I think there’s something in Russian genetic makeup or blood that somehow mitigates against democratic development? No. No. Anymore than I think that that would be the case of any other people.
Recent years have shown that the desirable conditions for the rise of democracy have to do with the rise of the middle class. And therefore middle class comes to desire political normalcy and political agency and all the rest.
There is no doubt that I and millions of others in 1991 watching fireworks go off over the White House in Moscow were naïve to think that it would be a quick and straight line to political democracy. I plead guilty to such emotionally induced naiveté.
But do I think the only path is the path that’s happened? No. I don’t believe that as a historical principle at all.
Well where did they not go wrong? I think beginning in 1993 with the firing on the White House; with the wholesale giveaway of Russian properties to _________ for nothing; the horrendous war in Chechnya; the installation of a KGB-oriented government in 2000; and so on and so forth.
Recorded on Jan 7, 2008
Are Russians incapable of democracy?
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