Nothing conclusive has yet taken place in the world. For this reason, uncertainty about the future should not be comprehended in a negative fashion. The majority of great people that significantly contributed to the conduct of international affairs did not know where their path led. Konstantin von Eggert is one of them. His career achievements and attitude towards Russia’s current foreign policy inspire and affirm that the very search for certainty guarantees fascinating discoveries along the way.

Konstantin von Eggert did not study journalism. After graduating from Moscow University he was enlisted to serve at the national army services in the Yemen Arab Republic for three years as a military translator. ‘It was an interesting time. The Cold War was on its lasts legs, the first contacts between Israel and Palestine had been established and Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The latter had a major effect on American-Soviet relations. Because the Soviet Union decided not to back up Saddam Hussein’s regime, the American officers suddenly started to invite us, Russians, to parties and be grateful for our state’s international position. Everything was changing and new openings and possibilities were emerging. In the late 1980s and early 1990s in the Middle East it felt as it was spring, as if everything was unfreezing, becoming alive. It was a unique feeling, a testimony of a very deep effect that the Cold War had not only on the political systems, but on people as well. Having witnessed this period of the history of mankind in the Middle East I know that a positive change is always possible’.

A change was evident not only in the Middle East. ‘It was thrilling – I left one country in 1987 and I when I discharged from the army in 1990 I came back to a completely different one. The Soviet Union was ostensibly disintegrating in front of everyone’s eyes: once occupied countries, such as the Baltic States, had already declared their independence and all Soviet institutions were in a state of complete chaos. I realized early on that my inclination, my nature drew me towards communication with people; hence I wished to work for one of the Soviet news organizations, but due to the overall disorder, for quite a while I could not find a job’.

It was not until Gorbachev’s glasnost was introduced that the possibilities for journalists to find a ‘proper’ job increased. By virtue of the freedom of speech, new media organizations – newspapers, radio stations – emerged. Konstantin von Eggert was accepted to work as a reporter for ‘Kuranty’ and later as a diplomatic correspondent for Izvestia Daily. ‘At that particular time Russian media organizations sought people who were not tainted by the Soviet understanding of journalism based on propaganda and lies. In the early 1990s Russia experienced a virtual influx of journalism, as scientists from different backgrounds – biologists, historians, actors – joined the ranks of new, innovative newspaper writers. Journalism became a very respectable profession in the eyes of society. Journalists were heroes, according to the general public’.

In 1998 von Eggert started working as the Editor-in-Chief of the BBC Russian Service Moscow bureau. He admits it was rather difficult to cope with his responsibilities. ‘Russian journalism is frequently based on a mixture of opinion and facts. It is driven by people’s egos, by their perceptions of themselves, their opinion and its significance. In the BBC one has to forget about that and had to present facts by reserving my own personal opinion. I had to put the corporation’s ethics above my personal ambitions. This had a very profound effect on me as a person. I had to restrain my quick temper and the desire to impose my opinion on others. Having to take a step back from the limelight at the end was a great experience. It taught me to listen to other people, to take into account and value different points of view’.

In terms of power politics, maintaining objectivity might also be viewed as a challenge. Having witnessed the recent crisis in Ukraine, one inevitably raises the question whether Russia is continuing its Cold War policies. Russian intellectuals who are fleeing their country appear to support this argument. Is Konstantin von Eggert a proponent of this part of Russian society? ‘I plan to pursue my career in Russia as long as it possible. However, I know friends that are leaving the country now; they feel uncomfortable in the current political climate. Economic considerations also play a part, since Russia’s economy is not doing particular well and international sanctions will surely not add to its economic well-being. Nonetheless, I trust that my friends will still contribute to Russia’s, at least, intellectual development. Yes, it is unfortunate that so many people are leaving. It testifies to the ineptitude of Russia’s political regime. It identifies one of the main characteristics of the Kremlin’s policy over the last couple of years – a demonstrative mistrust of intellectuals. President Putin and Russia’s rulers are committing a huge mistake that other people committed before them. Nicolas II and the Politburo also failed to recognize what kind of role intellectuals play in society. They provide a platform for debate; show the government where the flaws of the system are. Intellectuals hold a mirror up to authorities. If there is no mirror, the government ends up believing its own propaganda. Thus intellectuals have to be trusted, since the opposite will lead Russia’s government to problems rather than solutions’.

Russia is an empire. Imperial powers die hard and die last. We imposed communism on ourselves and thus we have to solve our problems ourselves as well.

‘The fate of Russian intellectuals is closely linked to the fate of Russia as a country’ – claims Konstantin von Eggert. More importantly, its destiny is inseparable from the fact that Russia spent nearly three quarters of a century being a communist country. ‘Combined with the authoritarian tradition of the past, transformation into a democratic state could not mean anything but difficulties. In other words, the Soviet Union collapsed too quickly. The Russians still do not understand that it fell apart because it was badly governed, that it was corrupted and morally bankrupted. This understanding must be brought by the intellectuals, who present the multi-faceted truth and emphasize the ethical side of an issue. The Soviet Union was a country that committed a considerable number of crimes, including crimes against its own people. The Russians must comprehend that. Moreover, communism was not imposed on Russia and in this sense, Russia has a more difficult task than, for example, the Poles or Lithuanians, for whom communism was forcefully implemented by the occupant. Thus what we see in the Ukraine and in Russia’s conflicts with Georgia and Moldova, are the last vestiges of the Soviet Union. Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia are finding their post-post-Soviet identities. They are saying goodbye to the Soviet Union, elements of authoritarianism and immorality. In response, Russia is trying to regain its imperial power; hence Crimean annexation can be interpreted as a collective psychotherapy session for the Russians who long for their lost imperial glory of the USSR’.

‘Russia is an empire. Imperial powers die hard and die last. We imposed communism on ourselves and thus we have to solve our problems ourselves as well. For this to be achieved, one must look into the eyes of truth. We have to understand that the so-called greatness of the 20th century was built on blood. As long as we do not admit this, we are forever trapped in our past’.

Dossier

1981-1987 Honors student of the Moscow University Institute of Asian and African Studies (M.A. in History and Arabic language)
1990-1992 Reporter for the Moscow daily “Kuranty”
1992-1998 Diplomatic correspondent/Deputy foreign editor of Izvestia Daily.
1998-2009 Editor-in-chief of the BBC Russian Service Moscow bureau
2008 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II created Konstantin Honorary Member of the Civic Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

 

1 thought on “Quill and Ink versus Power Politics: The Continuation of the Cold War Era

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