Our Society 21 january — 13:07

Mikhail Gusman: 'Government must allow criticism' (Series of talks with Gusman)

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INTERVIEWED BY EYNULLA FATULLAYEV

I remember two very lively conversations of Mikhail Gusman with King of Jordan Abdullah II. The son of the great statesman, King Hussein, continued his father's delicate, well-adjusted policy, strengthening the country's image as an island of stable prosperity in the burning Arab region. Indeed, in this century, King Abdullah, like Hussein in the 1970s, faced the fateful test of saving a small but prosperous country in a complex, torn apart by a new geopolitical war, contradictory triangle. In the north, Jordan borders on Syria and Iraq, in the east and south on Saudi Arabia, in the west on Palestine and Israel... Only political skill, the genius of a statesman and the art of a diplomat were able to save the country in this boiling pot.

Allah saved Azerbaijan and our region from a brutal bloody war. However, our region, torn by geopolitical contradictions, is permanently swept by the fire of colour revolutions and local hybrid wars. Only the political genius of Heydar Aliyev and his greatest experience of a Soviet statesman saved Azerbaijan involved in the tragic war with Armenia, squeezed into the geopolitical grip of Yeltsin Russia and belligerent Iran. The successor of Heydar Aliyev, the current president, Ilham Aliyev, also had a difficult time, because during his rule, the explosive international situation manifested itself most of all in the strategy of isolating Iran. Ilham Aliyev managed to preserve and increase the gains of his father, protecting the Azerbaijani island of stability from the destructive processes in the region.

That is why, discussing the dangers looming over Azerbaijan, we often turn to the experience of Jordan and the beloved interlocutor of Mikhail Gusman, King of Jordan Abdullah II.

Azeri Daily presents the third and, hopefully, not the last part of the conversation with the well-known Russian journalist, TASS first Deputy Director General Mikhail Solomonovich Gusman on the eve of his 70th birthday.

Links to the previous parts of the cycle:

1. Mikhail Gusman: 'There is nothing worse than stagnation' (Our new series) http://azeridaily.com/society/53455

2. Mikhail Gusman: 'In big politics, one mustn't lose one's sense of danger' (Series of talks with Gusman) http://azeridaily.com/society/53476

- Recently, communicating with Western analysts, we came to a common denominator that the current situation, place and role of Azerbaijan in the system of regional security and world politics is very reminiscent of the position and role of Jordan in the Middle East. A peculiar Caucasian Jordan in the light of modern challenges, geopolitical risks and threats. How relevant is this parallel?

- I agree, there are many analogies. I never spoke about this, I am telling you first. At one time, I called King Abdullah the leader of the modern Sunni political world. And I can confidently call Ilham Aliyev the leader of the modern Shiite political world. By the words 'civilisation world' I mean conformity with religious origin, historical roots, attitude... The strength of Ilham Aliyev lies in the fact that, being a man of his time, his history, his country, devoted to his national and cultural roots, he is an ultramodern leader. Ilham Aliyev is a politician with a perfect understanding of global processes. In addition, he is associated with the religion of his people. Repeatedly performed Hajj.

- If I am not mistaken, three years ago he performed Umra too...

- As far as I know him, I can't call him an extremely religious person. But at the same time he is devoted to his religion.

- By the way, King Abdullah is not prohibitively religious too.

- That's what I mean. Religion is a state of mind. But in the modern multi-confessional world, religion should not narrow the scope for a politician. If a politician puts his religious feelings at the forefront, he limits himself in a set of available political instruments. The strength of modern Azerbaijan's policy is in its multi-vector nature and openness to different azimuths. We agree with something, disagree with something, argue with someone, agree with someone... Azerbaijan is a country open to dialogue. In the modern world, this is the main superiority. The principle of militant intransigence in the modern world does not work. A state professing such a principle is included in the category of outcasts.

Azerbaijan has excellent relations with Iran and Turkey, perfect partnership with Israel, worthy relations with the United States and there is an understanding in many issues with the European Union. And Azerbaijan is tied with Russia by such friendly ties as never before in the entire history of relations between these countries. This is the brilliant success of the foreign policy of Ilham Aliyev. What could be better when no one can call you one's enemy? What could be better when you cannot call anyone your enemy?

- The political establishment of Azerbaijan perceives you not only as a well-known journalist, but also as a political consultant to the Azerbaijani authorities...

- To tell you the truth, it would be flattering for me if it were true. I have many friends in Azerbaijan, and some of them occupy some positions in the government. By my nature, I am not an indifferent person, especially to my Homeland. And my lack of indifference is manifested in communication with my friends. God be a witness, I did not impose my point of view on anyone and did not offer my advice. It is a great honour and an object of my professional pride, if there is any benefit and demand in my thoughts. What could be nicer?

I am a man of Russian culture, Russian language and even the Russian tradition. By ethnicity, I am Jewish. I have never abandoned my roots and historical memory, and not going to abandon. I am a citizen of Russia, honestly and devotedly serving it. And at the same time, I am a patriot of Azerbaijan. Because 111, Montin street is the place where I lived exactly half my life! I do not perceive the categories of a large, small or microscopic Homeland. I was born in the Soviet Union, but this country is not here now. But, being a Russian and a devotee of the Russian Constitution, at the same time I call myself a Bakuvian. I never felt like a Muscovite... Although the second half of my life I lived in Moscow. Remember, Okudzhava's lyrics: 'arbatism dissolved in blood'? Here I have a bacterium dissolved in the blood. And this is inescapable. This is what predetermines my feelings for Azerbaijan.

I follow very closely the development of many countries in the world, in particular, the State of Israel. I'm worried about Israel, in some ways I sympathise with this country. But it is not my state. I have no patriotic feelings for Israel.

- How so? You, as a Jew, have no patriotic feelings for Israel? I am surprised...

- Of course not. I can feel sympathy. But patriotism? Never! This is not my Homeland. So many things in Israel, especially in domestic politics, I don't apprehend.

- As far as I know, Netanyahu and Lieberman are very reverent and respectful to you. And are even preparing a congratulatory letter on the occasion of your anniversary.

- I respect them too. I don't know about congratulations... But if so, thanks, I will be very glad. Israel is a dignified and wonderful country. Extremely dignified! If only because courageous people live there who are constantly at risk. But I can't imagine that one day I can live in Israel. This is not my country. I repeat, in many matters I criticise Israel quite harshly. In addition, I am vice-president of the World Association of News Agencies. Oddly enough, Israel is the only country that does not have its own national news agency. From the Palestinians to the Albanians, I'm not talking about the West: everyone has world-class news agencies.

Taking this opportunity, I would like to say kind words to your colleagues from AzerTAc (Azerbaijan State News Agency). Why? Because it was AzerTAc that broke the attitude towards Azerbaijan in our Association.

- We come to a very important part of our conversation. The current situation of post-Soviet journalism. You really surprised me with your attitude towards AzerTAc. After all, this is an agency built in the style of classical Brezhnev journalism. Sovietism is largely visible... I sincerely admit that I did not understand you.

- This is an official organ.

- TASS is also an official organ. But we only read AzerTAc because it has the exclusive right to news about the activities of the President. You will not find anywhere else about Ilham Aliyev.

- A state news agency has a lot of restrictions. Yesterday, a news was posted on haqqin.az under the heading 'Mother-in-law beat her son-in-law.' Can AzerTAc aford to post such a news? No. And TASS cannot afford such information.

- But this information is from the report of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

- But such things happen in the reports of the Ministry of Internal Affairs sometimes! So what? Haqqin.az can afford to publish it, and there are many readers for this news. But a state agency cannot do so.

This is a matter of editorial policy depending on the place that the media occupies in the information space. The implementation of state information policy and work for the general reader are not quite the same thing.

The main problem of TASS today is the departure of a generation of great writers. Alas, a whole galaxy of irreplaceable journalists is leaving. I am proud of our correspondent corps, but today our best correspondents are more than 60 years old.

- In Russia, as in Azerbaijan, the main problem is that the new generation does not come to journalism.

- Lightness, superficialism of modern journalism is a big problem. Blogging is not journalism. I respect social networks since they are an integral part of our modern life. But this is not journalism.

- Once Leo Tolstoy was asked when the literature would end. The prophecy of the great writer has been confirmed in our time: literature will end when humanity will openly and without shame discuss social problems, when people will call Anna Karenina by name and not convey a fictional and generalised image. After all, literature has developed largely thanks to social prohibitions. Don't you think that the era has come when journalism is supposed to end?

- You have mixed concepts. Journalism is a profession.

- Just yesterday I came across your old interview on the Echo of Moscow radio station. A million grammatical errors. And this can be understood: in modern journalism, speed is ahead of quality. And speed is a social network. Here it is a new property of information transfer.

- Once again, as a professional, you immediately stepped on a sore spot. But sore spots are caused by several reasons: from a minor virus to tight shoes. There are several treatment methods: you can lubricate with ointment, but you can cut it off. We will not mix everything in one pile. You say what I repeat daily on the briefings of our TASS. You portend death to journalism.

- I'm just making a hypothesis.

- I understand. This is how Tolstoy turned out to be wrong, since there is literature and its death is not visible in the foreseeable future.

- If literature is alive, then where is the new Tolstoy?

- Now we are not talking about scale. There is literature, and it exists.

- But it is degenerating.

- We are not such connoisseurs of modern German or French literature. We read only the responses. Yes, in Russian literature, as in Azerbaijani, stagnation is observed today. I agree with that. My late friend Magsud Ibragimbekov once wrote a brilliant work 'And there was no better brother.' This is the best work written in Russian by a non-Russian writer...

But back to journalism. The main problem of journalism is that, due to the enormous technological capabilities and techniques, current journalists have simplified the quality of writing. The task of media leaders is to curb this dangerous trend. It is necessary to oblige the journalist to look into the depths of the issue, it is necessary to demand more professionalism, work on oneself, dedication. And now everything is much simpler: one, two, construct the material and put it into virtual space. The main thing in the profession of a journalist is quality of implementation. But I can't explain one dilemma: why is there better text on newspaper pages than on the Internet? Please note that the whole world refers to the New York Times or the Washington Post, and this information is unquestionable and absolute. No one refers to websites.

- Why, after all, there is a wonderful American site Politico. And the most widely read media in the USA is USA Today.

- Also a good newspaper. This is like 'Evening Moscow,' which was the most popular in the USSR. USA Today is not a site. So, some things in the people did not change.

- But they are changing slowly...

- No. You can consider me a conservative, call it an anachronism.

- Rather, retrograde...

- If you say so. Everybody points to youth. But after all, I saw several generations of youth who became old people. That is, the natural process of transformation took place, and it will be forever and ever, as long as humanity exists.

- And how do you feel about journalism of the resistance? There was literature of resistance, and in countries with problematic democracy resistance journalism began to appear, which entered into a political confrontation with the authorities. Why did the most vivid and talented journalists in Moscow gather in critical media, for example, in 'Echo of Moscow' and 'Novaya Gazeta'?

- Please, stop. What resistance? The Russian government is very smart, and it understands that society must have a panorama, a diversity of opinions, and pluralism. 'Echo of Moscow' is financially supported by Gazprom Media.

- But they harshly criticise Putin himself...

- In any society - democratic, authoritarian, developed, closed or open - for political or social reasons there is a part of the population dissatisfied with the authorities. And this part of the population should be able to express their discontent through legal institutions. This may be an authorised rally, publication and criticism in legal and systemic media. The authorities must allow this. What's bad about it? And thank God that this exists in Russia!

'Echo of Moscow' and 'Novaya Gazeta' are created by talented and gifted people. The editor-in-chief of 'Novaya Gazeta' Dmitry Muratov is a talented and brilliant journalist who has assembled an excellent team. Alexey Venediktov is a powerful radio manager. But there is still a whole bunch of journalists that you don't know and I know little. So they are not worthy of our attention.

Your publication haqqin.az, with all my strict perception of it, I will say intelligently, is made by talented people. At least gifted.

I am from a family of doctors. And I like to compare journalists with doctors. In my opinion, journalists are divided into three groups. The first is journalist-surgeons. The second is journalist-neurosurgeons. And the third is journalist-gynecologists-proctologists, who decide everything in a peculiar way. I am the son of my father, a journalist-therapist.

- My wife is an obstetrician-gynecologist by profession. Do you think the influence of my spouse affected me? Do you refer me to the journalist-gynecologists?

- No. Most likely, you are a pathologist. Here haqqin.az likes to work with dead bodies: you open up corpses and work with internal organs. Nobody says that this is an unnecessary profession. Well, how without pathologists? But for me personally, such journalism is alien.

I cannot blame you for the lack of patriotism. You are a patriotic media. But as a friend I would warn you against being categorical in your foreign policy assessments. Remember, there is a famous expression: 'how our word will echo...' Often what you write is perceived as the attitude of the country.

I have the same problem. When I go for an interview with heads of state or significant people in the world, they are almost sure that Putin dictated the questions to me, and I will definitely show their answers in the Kremlin. Of course, this is ridiculous. But at the same time, I acknowledge my responsibility, and I have to take into account the response. You won't be able to convince them of the contrary...

Returning to your first question about the parallels between Azerbaijan and Jordan, I emphasise once again that Azerbaijan is located in the most dangerous geopolitical region. And only the greatest skill of your President, conducting a skilful foreign policy balance of interests, saved the country from many problems and troubles.

- Mikhail Solomonovich, taking this opportunity, once again from the bottom of my heart I congratulate you on your anniversary. You are a great friend of our country, have made a solid contribution to strengthening information security of, as we have already decided on, 'Caucasian Jordan.' In Azerbaijan, we are proud of you and rejoice at your every creative success. Thank you for the interesting conversation. And I hope it will not be the last.

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