Two Journalists in Kazan, Ten Years Later

On our original trip to Russia in 1995, Gary and I turned to journalist Vladimir Muzychenko for help in finding a local family to cover in Kazan. "Call me Bob," he'd barked, sticking out a meaty hand in greeting. He'd then proceeded to tear up the phone lines, making call after call and shouting into the receiver until he'd found a story for us.

Ten years later, David and I walked into Vladimir's office at the Kazanskiye Vedomosti newspaper to find he hasn't changed a bit -- though he did want us to note one difference. "I've lost weight!" he exclaimed, his opening volley of rapid-fire comments, only about half of which I understood. His desk is still strewn with papers, he still works the phones like a madman, and he still introduces himself to visitors as "Bob."



Journalist Vladimir Muzychenko still introduces himself to visitors as "Bob." (David Hillegas)

Vladimir's take on the situation in Tatarstan wasn't quite as rosy as those of others we've talked to. For one thing, he didn't like the fact that there are two official languages here -- Russian and Tatar, which his young son has to study in school. "Where do you live?" he asked me. "Washington? Are there two official languages there? Is there any state in America where there are two official languages? Russians don't like this -- certain forces here pushed this agenda, but we don't want it.

"Who needs the Tatar language?" he went on. "Isn't it better to learn English or French, a language that can actually help you in the world?" Vladimir's conversation is punctuated by bursts of boyish laughter. One of his favorite gestures, which he often uses to explain the cause of a given situation, is to rub the fingers of one hand together while saying in English, "Money, money!"



Mila Aituganova is an executive at Tatarstan's new satellite TV and radio company, Noviy Vek.(David Hillegas)

Later in the day, David and I went to see Mila Aituganova, another journalist I'd met 10 years ago. Then, she was a program editor at the government radio station, trying to finish up her doctorate in history. Now, she's a bigwig at a new private satellite TV and radio company, Noviy Vek, which broadcasts in Tatar and Russian.

We met with her at her spacious office, complete with plush executive chair, big desk and assistants bringing in coffee. Noviy Vek, she told us, was founded five years ago "to unite those who are interested in Tatar culture, all over the world." The company includes a TV station, radio station, newspaper and website, and plans are in the works to put broadcasts on the Internet.

Following up on our theme from yesterday, we asked Mila her thoughts about Chechens and their ongoing battle with the Russians. "War is profitable," she said simply. "The longer it goes on, the more profitable it is for certain people. The nationalism question has been built up by the Russian press, but it's a falsely created enmity."

I asked what she meant by that. "The Chechens don't like being painted this way," she said. "They don't want war either. When a terrorist act happens in Moscow, the Russians say, 'Aha, it's the Chechens.' But you can't blame it on all the Chechen people. An entire nationality is not terrorist."

Tomorrow: Solving the mystery of why Kazan celebrated its 1000-year anniversary this year -- just 28 years after its 800th anniversary.

By Lisa Dickey |  October 26, 2005; 10:52 AM ET
Previous: Kazan: Peace in the "Cauldron" | Next: How Kazan Aged Two Centuries in 28 Years

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This blog is getting truly bizarre...Since there obviously isn't enough hate for this "reporter", she is running around asking about Chechens. Even before describing Kazan, its people, its progress(or lack of thereof), etc. You aren't in Chechnya, Lisa, remember?

Singling out Russians for singling out Chechens??? Is there any logic in that sentence? No. None.
I guess only Tatars are perfect - when you are in Kazan.

But here is how it works in a REAL WORLD.
When Israelis kill Palestinians, Palestinians blame "Israelis".
When Palestinians blow up Israelis, US and Israeli press blame "Palestinians".
Indians blame "Pakistanis".
Americans blame "Saudis", then attack entirely wrong country.

So for Russians to blame "Chechens" is nothing out of line - Chechen track record is to blame. Russians never said that every single one Chechen is terrorist.

Posted by: oleg | October 26, 2005 04:57 PM

Whoa there! Slow down. If memory serves "Kazan, its people, its progress (or lack of thereof), etc" has already been touched upon in a previous article. Furthermore, there is nothing illegitimate about trying to elucidate a particular issue, however briefly. This is a bog, after all - one that has certain space limitations - it is not meant to be an in-depth discussion on Russian/Chechen realpolitik, but rather to provide highlights from Lisa and David's trip, their thoughts and their insights into people and places they encounter, as they encounter them.

For in-depth discussions, refer to your local library or go to school. For a more in-depth understanding, do what Lisa and David did, get a life and go traveling.

I understand that the Chechen question is a thorny one, for any Russian, be he/she a mythical pure-blood or a half-tartar, like the rest of us. Even I get tinges of belligerent impulses watching documentaries on Beslan. However, honest and well intentioned curiosity on the part of others is to be encouraged, and is certainly no reason to lose one's civility.

-Artem

Posted by: Artem K. Khamzin | October 26, 2005 07:57 PM

I meant to say that this is a blog, not a bog - as it is clearly not a bog ;-)

Posted by: Artem K. Khamzin | October 26, 2005 07:59 PM

C'mon Artem, get real.
I understand you not being very comfy with the turn this blog is taking. Good. You shouldn't be.

Here is how I see it.
This lady comes to Kazan and basically says: "Wow, these people don't seem to hate each other very much? How come? Let's find some hate, it's got top be somewhere around here...Let's talk about Chechens".

Well, if she wants to talk about Chechens -and, of course, she is free to do that - then talk about Chechen mafia, slavery, kidnappings, invasion of Dagestan(which precipitated latest war), Arab mercenaries, Beslan, Dubrovka, ethnic cleansing of Chechnya by jihadis, rampant criminality...

Let her get deep into the issue,and not just slap some thinly-veiled accusations against Russians(because in US Russia is always presumed being guilty) and then go on, as if nothing bhappened.
That is the real lack of "civility" if there is one.

In any case, I disagree with you. I don't expect any "travel guide" from reading this blog. But I did expect to read about Kazan the city. I don't have any idea at this point how Kazan had changed. Is it better, worse, prettier, uglier?
Mosque is built, fine. What else?

Posted by: oleg | October 26, 2005 09:56 PM

Artem, I'm sorry, I wanted to write "I understand you not being comfy with the turn this discussion is taking".
Not the blog.
You appear to be OK with the blog itself.
I didn't mean to try and put words in your mouth.
My apologies.

Posted by: oleg | October 26, 2005 10:09 PM

Oleg -

I thought I'd see how the comments played out before adding my own. Now that you're criticizing the blog directly, it's obviously time for me to respond.

I chose to compare relations between Tatars and Russians vs. Chechens and Russians for two reasons. First, I was struck by how vast the difference was between these relationships, and was curious about why that was. This is not, as you wrote, because "there is not enough hate for this 'reporter'." It is because, as corny as it may sound, I found it hopeful that a community consisting of a Muslim ethnic minority and Russians can coexist so peacefully (all the flaming on this blog notwithstanding), when there's so much hatred between another Muslim ethnic minority (Chechens) and Russians. I wanted to find out more about it.

Second, this is a "ten years later" blog. Ten years ago, I also asked people in Kazan about the war in Chechnya -- partly because our main story here was about a soldier who'd been killed in Chechnya, and partly because we simply wanted to write about the war, as it was a huge topic of conversation. So there's a parallel in our current blog with what we wrote about the first time around. It's difficult to always make this clear, as I have a limited amount of space for the blog each day; I'm trying to fit a lot of ideas and information into a small space.

The reporting about Kazan itself is coming. We are still in Kazan, and there is a new blog posting each weekday.

Also, regarding your earlier note that "I guess Osama bin Laden is also 'hot-blooded' guy, 'wanting to be free'." Bin Laden is a terrorist and murderer. But that does not mean that all Saudis are terrorists and murderers. That's the point people have been making to me regarding Chechens, and that is what I have reported.

Lisa

Posted by: Lisa Dickey | October 27, 2005 12:49 AM

Oleg:

I had hoped that the ad hominem attack in your earlier comment was merely a slip up. Clearly, I was mistaken.

To respond. If in reading a travel journal you did not expect to read a travel journal, then the problem is entirely your own. The people behind the Russian chronicles have never claimed to be conducting a sociological study, or to be writing a documentary. This is project with no other aim than to record on-the-road experiences, whatever they may be, in a brief, and I repeat, space-constrained format. My statement stands, if you wish to partake in a more in depth discussion, ad hominem commentary isn't a way to do it.

I am quite aware of the academic inequities and bias when it comes to studies of Russia in the United States. I am a history major. However, to ascribe thos characteristics to Lisa is the height of arrogance, and dare I say it, stupidity. You have not met her, and what limited information you have from this blog clearly leads to the opposite conclusion. I suggest that you examine your own biases, and do your own research before you accuse others letting theirs run amuck. Lisa's passion for Russia and her people was clearly evident from the first moment I met her, it is evident still, in her writing. The very fact that she put her life in Washington on hold, to live out of a suitcase for a number of months, and wake up in the different "middle of nowhere" every morning is a testament to her passion.

I would further submit that Lisa's question about Chechen vs. Tatar situation is a valid one. Especially from the point of view of someone who lives in the States. Russian history is complex, and even the basic facts are often mired in controversy - questions such as these are only natural. Moreover the role of Islam in various conflicts is a very pertinent topic in many countries of the world these days, Russia being foremost amongst them. I submit that it is vital for us to understand the difference between where islam ends and terrorism begins, whether or not there is a difference, or if that difference is intermittent and wholly dependent upon realpolitik of the region. Though the space does not permit Russian Chronicles to examine these issues in exhaustive detail, the fact that they are at least brought to a wider attention is an important one.


Cheers,
Artem

Posted by: Artem K. Khamzin | October 27, 2005 01:08 AM

Here is the site of "Kazanskie Vedomosty" newspaper, Vladimir's official work: http://www.kazved.ru

Posted by: Igor | October 27, 2005 06:00 AM

Artem, if you don't get the differnce between "tavel journal" and "travel guide", you should brush up on it. It's not that hard.

Second, reading your posts, I'm starting to realize that "stupidity" doesn't exclusively apply to me.

Third, I understand that you're very flatterd to be featured in this blog, and thus feel compelled to defend the author, who put you on the map.


Fourth, since you're in Canada, never served In Russian military, will never be called up to defend the land of your ancestors against Islamic jihadis and are unlikely to lose your kids in Beslan-like massacre, your calm maybe justifiable, though it strikes more as a pathetic indifference.

And fifth, I don't argue about author's passion for Russia. In all probability, she has much more of it than you do. What I'm saying is that all her sneaky "plunder and slaughter" sorties were aimed solely at the Russian side. That's simply unfair.

Posted by: oleg | October 27, 2005 11:58 AM

These are opinions. How you value them is moot. My brief time in Russia, while communist,was a delight. I was not critical but accepting. This attitude gained me much.

Posted by: David Clark | October 27, 2005 12:28 PM

Dear Lisa:

thank you again for sharing your experiences about Kazan and its people.

I understand, share, and support your interest in examining attitudes of the Russians, Tatars, Chechens, and other ethnic groups toward one another. After all, it IS curious why in one case people can find middle ground, and in the other - cannot. We do not live in a secluded, homogeneous world, be it Russia or the U.S., and if we want to get along, we have to be willing to make an effort to understand what others feel, think, believe in.

The question at hand is certainly more complicated than the black-and-white Russian-NonRussian, Christian-NonChristian generalizations that some would like to offer, and I commend your attempt to dig deeper.

If more people would do the same, instead of making generalizations and putting labels on anything or anybody who is "different," perhaps there'd be less violence and hatred around us.

Sincerely,
Liliya

Posted by: Liliya | October 27, 2005 11:17 PM

What I find strange is that in order to understand Tatars' pacifist mystery as compared to an outright war for Independence waged by our Chechen brothers, you, Lisa, have not met with a single Tatar human rights activist, e.g. Rafis Kashapov, Fauziya Bairamova, etc., but have preferred to find out the truth about us from the Russians. Very traditional, yet, very faulty approach. But anyway, thanks for what you've done. I am only trying to make good even better.

Posted by: Tatar | November 7, 2005 10:51 AM

Dear Tatar -
Thanks for your comments. I must take issue with your assertion that I "preferred to find out the truth about us from the Russians," however. In the "Peace in the 'Cauldron'" posting, I
quoted three Russians and three Tatars. And in "Two Journalists in
Kazan," I quoted one Russian and one Tatar. I'm not sure how I can
divide it up more evenly than that.
Re: your suggestion that I should
have contacted human rights activists:  Our goal for this posting was to interview random
people on the street. As I've said before, I have a limited amount of
space to write in this blog, and unfortunately there's just not room to
quote everyone who has something substantive to say on these matters!

Posted by: Lisa Dickey | November 7, 2005 12:09 PM

Well, Lisa, hopefully, in the future, you will still have interest and free time to write about us in more detail...:)) Thanks again for your excellent work and all the best!

Posted by: Tatar | November 8, 2005 02:54 AM

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