Thursday, January 29, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russian Politicians and Officials No Longer Writing Memoirs, But Oligarchs Increasingly Blog

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 29 – Many Russian officials and politicians in Boris Yeltsin’s time wrote their memoirs, either after leaving office or even while still serving, but that pattern, a dramatic break from the Soviet past, has now been reversed, and few if any of their counterparts in the last decade have done the same, according to a Moscow columnist.
But while officials and politicians have stopped publishing their recollections since Vladimir Putin came to power, a new source of information about the upper reaches of the Russian elite has emerged: personal blogs prepared by some of the richest and most powerful of that country’s oligarchs.
In his column this week in “Gazeta,” Gleb Cherkasov notes that he has two shelves in his book case devoted for memoirs written by post-Soviet officials and politicians. The first, which contains books written by Yeltsin-era people, is jammed full; the second, intended for Putin-era people, is just about empty (
Among those whose books are on the first shelf are late Lev Sukhanov, who worked as Yeltsin’s personal assistant and who published his memoirs even before leaving that position, Vyacheslav Kostikov who worked as Yeltsin’s press secretary, and presidential bodyguard and confidant Aleksandr Korzhakov.
But in addition to these and other first-rank members of the Yeltsin command, memoirs by his opponents, including Ruslan Khasbulatov, Aleksandr Rutskoy, and Aleksandr Lebed, and by second rank people like Natasha Konstantinova, who served as the press secretary of Naina Yeltsina.
Many of the memoirs published in the 1990s were intended to settle political scores, but because they appeared so close to the events they described, they represent a valuable resource for future historians and all those who want to try to understand what happened in the Russian Federation in the first decade after the end of the Soviet Union.
But what is striking, Cherkasov says, is that this “tradition” lasted only a decade, and now has almost completely “broken off.” Neither those who retire, nor those who win backroom battles, nor those who serve at the top or as assistants to those at the highest levels have chosen to write about what has happened.
Instead, either because of fear or calculation about their political futures, those who might be writing memoirs have decided that “silence” is the better choice. Obviously, many like Mikhail Kasyanov and Aleksandr Voloshin have much to say, and they may ultimately take pen to paper. But if they wait too long, “many details and nuances will be forgotten.”
If memoirs by politicians and officials are thus rarer in the Russia of today, another window on the developments at the highest levels of the Russian elite has opened: the blogs of the oligarchs, most of whom appear interested in using this new medium to promote themselves (
The current issue of “Sobesednik” reviews some of these blogs, including those maintained by Mikhail Prokhorov (, Yevgeny Chichvarkin (, Sergey Polonsky (, Aleksandr Lebedev (, and Sergey Mavrodi (
None of the posts from these blogs at least reported by the “Sobesednik” article break any new ground politically, but many of them provide insights on the personalities of the oligarchs and the importance of Living Journal, as the Russian blogosphere is known, for those at all levels of Russian society.
As oligarch Aleksandr Mamut said when he decided to purchase Living Journal’s infrastructure, “the Russian people need to have a space where they can speak openly and discuss any themes.” As that becomes more difficult for politicians and ordinary people and also for the oligarchs, these blogs could serve as the last bastion of medium freedom in Russia.

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