Staunton, April 9 – Pilar Bonet, the longtime Russian correspondent of Madrid’s El Pais newspaper, says that she has been shocked by how easy it has been for Soviet-style conformity to make a comeback under Vladimir Putin, a comeback that reflects more changes in the environment in which Russians live than in the Russians themselves.
In an interview with Svetlana Reyter of the Colta news portal, the respected observer of the Russian scene says that in recent times “it has become more difficult to find information or to speak with sources. As in Soviet times, people are suspicious of journalists and the number of sources is shrinking” (colta.ru/articles/society/17755).
But that is not the most important change, Bonet continues, noting that she “is struck by how people who were normal in the past have in breathtaking fashion made the transition” back to Soviet practices including double standards, hypocrisy and the elevation of the state to the status of the most important thing in their lives
One can understand why some people do this: they have their families and their careers to think about, she says. “But it is shocking how easily Soviet-style conformity has returned. People who think and understand are playing in some kind of a theater” in which they know how they are expected to speak and act even though “internally, they have remained the same.”
That is true not just in Moscow but across the country, Bonet says, a journalist who has distinguished herself from other foreign correspondents by her frequent travels not only throughout the Russian Federation but also in the former Soviet republics. She adds that she couldn’t have remained in Russia so long if this larger space did not exist.
Indeed, she says, her travels outside of Moscow are “in a certain sense, a continuing search for answers” to questions that arise from living in the Russian capital.
Bonet says that “the imperial factor is very strong in Russia,” and it is far from clear when it will be overcome. But Putin’s statement in his address to the Federal Assembly that “when the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia lost a certain amount of territory and population” is worrisome because “Russia didn’t lose anything.”
“Even according to the USSR Constitution, this was a federal country, the republics of which had the right to leave the federation. That is exactly what they did in 1991. The republics acquired freedom, although it is another question how they have used it. But expressions of regret about the Soviet Union’s end together with pictures of new weapons is frightening.”
Asked why there has been a breakdown in relations between Russia and the West, Bonet suggests that “the current leadership of Russia has a large number of complexes. It seems to [her],” she says, “that they do not love themselves. At the same time, they want others to love them, but to promote this, their main instrument is only fear.”
One must remember, Bonet continues, “that Russia is not only Putin” and not only Moscow. Outsiders must consider more than Putin when they think about Russia, and those who cover that country must “get out of Moscow and consider things from a different point of view, especially now.”
And journalists must tell the truth, carefully distinguishing between “those whose who seek truth from propagandists. Recently, the two roles have been so mixed together that we do not know where the one ends and the other begins.” But despite the time pressures the Internet imposes, journalists along with others must make an effort to do so, she concludes.