An Evening With Pozner

Kasia Remshardt and Lili Bayer summarise a lecture by Russian media personality, Vladimir Pozner.

Pozner.Picture by Augustas Didžgalvis under Creative Commons License.

Vladimir Pozner.
Picture by Augustas Didžgalvis under Creative Commons License.

Hundreds of people crowded into the auditorium of St. Antony’s College to welcome one of the most outstanding figures in Soviet and Russian media, Vladimir Pozner, on 7 March 2013. Born in 1934 to a Russian father and French mother in Paris, Pozner spent his childhood in New York. In 1952 his family moved to the Soviet Union where he studied natural sciences at Moscow State University. Being a native English, as well as French and Russian speaker, Pozner went on to become a major spokesperson of the USSR.

Although he worked at Radio Moscow for many years conveying propaganda to Soviet listeners, Pozner is most famous today for co-hosting the televised “spacebridges” programme during the Perestroika years, as well as having his own show on the Russian First Channel (Pervyj Kanal’). In his show, Pozner interviews high-ranking representatives of the Russian and international political, economic, and cultural spheres ranging from Hillary Clinton to Gennady Zyuganov.

The key theme of Pozner’s talk was Western misconceptions of Russia. He began with a tour de force of Russian history, whereby much of his analysis focused on the impact of the Tatar invasion and the lack of a Russian equivalent to the Renaissance. Pozner emphasised that current leaders are not the only ones to blame for the absence of democracy in Russia. Instead, he connected Russia’s democratic underdevelopment to the late abolition of serfdom (1861) and what he terms a “slave mentality” of a mostly peasant population.  This mindset was kept alive after 1917 through a passport system which once again tied peasants to the land. According to Pozner, this mentality also accounts for the direction the Russian Federation took after the breakup of the USSR.

In Pozner’s view, Western ignorance of these historical particularities has led to misperceptions of Russia to this day. Somewhat echoing the official line of the Putin administration, Pozner insisted that Russia is a young democracy and is unfairly targeted in international human rights discourse.

At the same time not uncritical of the government, he made it clear that media freedom is virtually nonexistent in Russia today. When asked about the potential of the Russian blogosphere as a source of independent criticism and political opposition, Pozner rejected the idea that blogs may become an alternative platform for journalism due to their lack of professionalism and investigative capability.

Pozner’s talk was very well-received at St. Antony’s, not only due to high interest in modern Russia, but also due to his good humour and sharp observations.  There is no doubt that these qualities contribute to his continued importance and outstanding reputation in the Russian media sphere.

The event was co-organised by the Oxford Russian Society and Russkiy Mir.


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