My participation in the Paul Klebnikov Fund’s event “What is Russia Thinking? The Word from the Last of the Independent Media” was a great honor. Paul’s widow Musa Klebnikov and his brothers Peter and Michael were amazingly gracious and thankful for my participation. The pleasure however was truly all mine. They’ve built a vary warm, lively, sophisticated and touching community around Paul’s memory. Being a part of it was certainly an emotional and intellectual experience. For those who’ve never read Paul Klebnikov’s work, I highly recommend it.
What of the event itself? I would say that well over 100 people were in attendance. Being in a crowd of such politically well connected people was intimidating at first. I still consider myself a lowly graduate student who lacks the proper credentials to mix with such a crowd. But thankfully people were incredibly nice and any nervousness I had wasn’t anything that a few glasses of wine couldn’t smooth out. Most attendees seemed to have some connection to Paul, whether they were friends and neighbors, colleagues, or admirers of his work. At the same time, many people who I talked to had a deep interest in Russia, and particular America’s relationship to it. What was perhaps most encouraging was that many appeared frustrated with the typical thinking about Russia, and my sense was that there was a real craving for a more nuanced discourse. Hopefully, Mikhail Fishman, Sarah Medelson, Andrew Meier and I provided that.
The forum was a dialogue that lasted around an hour and followed by a half and hour of questions. As often the case in forums like this, not to mention topics as complicated as Russia, time proved to be our greatest enemy. Not only was there not enough time to cover everything, there was barely enough time to adequately address the questions Andrew Meier posed to us. Topics ranged from what advice we would give Barack Obama in formulating a Russia policy, the workings of Kremlin politics, the state of Russian journalism and English language journalism on Russia, the Georgian War, the effects of the economic crisis, and the state and future of Russian-American relations. I won’t recount the details of the discussion. I doubt my memory would do it justice. I’m told that the event was recorded and I will provide information about how to get access to that when I find out.
The star of the event was Mikhail Fishman, this year’s recipient of the Paul Klebnikov Prize for Excellence in Journalism. By all accounts, Fishman is one of the “rising stars” of Russian journalism. Fishman covers Russian politics for Russian Newsweek, though he wonders how much time he will have to do this since he was just recently promoted to the magazine’s chief editorship. If Fishman’s comments at the forum were any indication, his stewardship of Russian Newsweek will certainly be something to follow.
What was the final answer to the event’s title/question: What is Russia thinking? Well to paraphrase how Andrew Meier ended the evening: We don’t fully know what Russia is thinking, but we know what the three participants think about Russia. Very true. Speaking for myself, I would never presume I could speak for Russia or Russians. My only hope is that through this blog and participating in events like Monday’s, I can at least attempt to be a fair mediator for Russians to speak and think for themselves.