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Federation Council, the upper house of Russian parliament, has a traditionally tightly packed agenda for the autumn session, with the list of priority issues including the discussion and adoption of the state budget for next year and for the years through to 2017. But still our conversation with Valentina Ivanovna Matviyenko, the speaker of the upper house, began with a problem that has been keeping everyone on their toes for many long months.
ON ANCESTORS' TOMBS AND LOST FRIEND...
- How long ago did you visit your native Ukraine last time?
- My small homeland is the city of Cherkassy where I lived until the age of seventeen. My relatives and school friends are still living there. I went to Cherkassy a year ago last time to attend my sister’s funeral.
I haven’t been there since then and I don’t actually know how soon I’ll be able to go there again. The new authorities in Kiev have declared me a persona non grata. Along with many others who have voiced principled viewpoints regarding the more or less recent events in Ukraine. I hope the current Russophobic outrage will wind up some day and then I’ll surely visit the places where I spent my green years.
- Did they ban the entry for you officially?
- They didn’t but I realize only too well the kind of aftermaths that might be triggered by an attempt to cross the border on my part.
- Do you feel apprehensive they won’t let you in?
- Given the hysteria we’re witnessing there today, one cannot rule out any provocations.
- A member of parliament is almost like a parlementaire, a negotiator…
I’m prepared to go to Kiev right away but there should be a practical sense in it - I have no fear to myself personally and I’m prepared to go to Kiev right away but there should be a practical sense in it. There would be sense in meetings, contacts and agreements. We’ve tried to establish dialogue with legislators in Ukraine at various stages but we didn’t get any meaningful reply. Last spring, Verkhovna Rada speaker Alexander Turchinov was invited to a session of the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the CIS. He didn’t come and didn’t even answer us – something that’s not considered respectable in diplomacy. The assembly will have another session in St Petersburg in November and we’ve issued an invitation to the Ukrainians again.
- Rada deputies visited the State Duma in September…
- And were immediately condemned as national traitors back at home. Now they are facing a criminal prosecution. I think this doesn’t have anything to do with democracy.
- Have the Russian-Ukrainian relations passed the point of non-return?
- I certainly wouldn’t like to think so. I know how powerfully the Kiev media are brainwashing their audiences and setting them against Russia. Sadly, the campaign of rabid defamation goes on unabated. Misinformation has been streamlined. Incidentally, that’s why the Ukrainian authorities are banning the Russian media. They are afraid people will hear alternative viewpoints. Even access to the Internet is blocked or impeded in some parts of the country. People could watch recorded Russian TV programs in YouTube previously but now the Kiev government puts up obstacles to them. Everything is aligned with a uniform official position.
- Where do you get the information from?
- From the acquaintances of mine who live in Ukraine. We call each other and they retell to me any information appearing on the air or on newspaper pages is sieved stringently. Alas, this policy has had its fruits – many Ukrainians have a deplorable stance on Russia and the Russians today.
- Do you feel it personally?
- I don’t always find common language now even with the people whom I’ve known for many years. In fact, I’ve lost a very good friend of mine in recent months. She is not a mediocre retired old woman chatting with her neighbors by the doors of her house day after day. She is an educated person with a university diploma. And yet you start speaking to her and you feel like you’ve bumped into a wall. You try to explain something and hear propaganda clichés in response. As if people have lost ability for independent thinking. And then you just want tell them, don’t succumb to manipulations, switch your brain on. It’s time to do this!
There are no anti-Ukrainian sentiments in our society Please note one thing. Mass media in Russia are criticizing the policies of the Kiev government very sharply but still there are no anti-Ukrainian sentiments in our society. We don’t place the Maidan radicals or those who committed crimes against humanity in Donbass and the entire Ukrainian people on the same shelve.
No one is making calls to knock down the monuments to Taras Shevchenko that are found in a host of Russian cities and no one tears down the yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flag that waves over the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Old Arbat mall. I am convinced that the patrons and organizers of the Euromaidan aimed to ignite discord between the two Slavic nations. Not only to create complications for the Russian and Ukrainian political leaderships but to drive a wedge between peoples and to make the moskali (the Ukrainian colloquial diminutive nickname for the Russians – TASS) and the khokhly (the Russian colloquial diminutive nickname for the Ukrainians – TASS) hate each other. They harbor a longtime dream of splitting Ukraine away from Russia and the propaganda machine is getting out of its way to translate it into life.
- Kiev cites the inclusion of Crimea into Russia as the cause of escalation of the conflict, saying that Ukraine, and not only it, considered the event as an annexation.
- If we use that terminology, it should be admitted then that the de facto annexation of Crimea and its partitioning from Russia occurred as a result of Nikita Khrushchev’s arbitrariness. But in 1954 (the year when Khrushchev ‘presented’ Crimea to Ukraine as a gift – TASS), everything happened within the boundaries of a single country, the Soviet Union. There was an opportunity to restore historical justice in 1991 after the USSR had disintegrated but Russia’s leaders of the time didn’t do this at the moment of signing the Belavezha accords (on a formal dissolution of the USSR – TASS). It looks like they weren’t giving much thought to the future of Sevastopol then either. And that’s a place where our Black Sea Fleet has its main base for more than more than two centuries already. Crimea reunited with Russia only in 2014 and now that half a year has passed since the event the very thought about what would have happened otherwise is simply scaring. We’re watching the tragedy of Ukraine’s southeast and I daresay something along the same lines would have been staged in Crimea. Bloodletting would have been immense. But we managed to prevent it and the fact testifies to the correctness of the decision we took in March. As a result everything was peaceful, without gunfire or casualties.
- Well, there was some in fact…
- Some shots in the air were made there but not at people. Let’s recall Ukraine had more than 20,000 military stationed in Crimea and many of them agreed to take up positions in the Russian Armed Forces. And those who wished to leave the region did so without any obstacles.
ON BLACK SPOTS AND COOKIES FOR THE MAIDAN
ON A BLOCKED SUPPLY OF OXYGEN, BARN LOCKS AND GAS PIPELINES
ON ICEBERG'S TIP AND UNDERCURRENTS
ON THE VNUKOVO SNOWPLOW, 'SPICES' AND FOOD PRICES
ON RESIDENCE, OLD FRIENDS AND NEW NIVA CAR