Russian State Duma deputy Yevgeny Primakov: «I'm not a forgiving guy»
Vladimir Legoyda
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Our next topic is forgiveness. Again I want to confess that this is the most difficult topic for me. Often, I have to approach it in abstract terms. Mr Primakov, you have a good example from your past: the smear campaign against your grandfather. If you don't want to, we may avoid discussing it. But my question is, would you forgive those who took part in that campaign?

I'm not a forgiving guy. People who did wrong and were unjust simply cease to exist for me. Let me give you an example. One of the instigators of that campaign recently died in a tragic accident. TV channels called me on the strange assumption that I would want to comment. I said I wouldn't, what was done was done. I leave my personal feelings to myself. 

You said in an interview that just like your grandfather you would not shake hands with certain people. So certain people were just dead to your grandfather too.

It didn't happen all too often. It did happen several times. My grandfather would trust a person no matter what. Once it became evident you could no longer trust them, however, my grandfather simply severed all contacts with them.

Do you banish people forever? What happens if a person feels sincere remorse? Have you seen it?

A few times. We didn't become friends again, but I probably forgave them, got over that issue. But you know, Russians have this great saying that he who doesn't let bygones be bygones should have his eye plucked out. It has an ending many people forget. You know it?

He who forgets about the bygones completely… 

… should have both of his eyes plucked out.

Both of his eyes, yes. You see, I've been thinking and it seems to me that on the surface it's understandable why we associate Juda's sin primarily with betrayal. And yet Jesus was betrayed by many of his apostles. When Jesus was crucified, only John and the women were present with Him. Peter had forsworn, while the other apostles had fled. So it seems to me that Juda's greater sin was that he couldn't feel remorse. 

There's a theory that he hanged himself.

Yes. That's what they say in the Gospel...

… so maybe that was his way of showing remorse. I think their betrayals are different for another reason.

What kind of remorse is that?

They betrayed Jesus out of fear. He didn't. He got paid with his pieces of silver.

Which he then threw away.

He got paid. He wanted to have a career promotion, he wanted to advance in life somehow. It wasn't fear that drove him, but ambition. So do we know whether he was forgiven?

We don't. Besides, Jesus did not chase him away even though He knew exactly what was going to happen. So that's why I'm asking what to do if something like this happens to you.

I can't give you any advice. 

(Legoida laughs) I'm not asking for advice, I'm just asking you a question.

I'm not giving any advice to our viewers either. I can only answer for myself. I wouldn't take revenge on people. I wouldn't talk with a person who betrayed me. If they expressed remorse, I wouldn't be friends with them, but I might forgive them.

It is easier for us to forgive a person if they've done something we think we might have done ourselves. You may disagree with me but does your hard stance on betrayal mean you can't fathom doing something that someone else would consider as a betrayal?

I can't imagine anything like that.

You can't imagine it.

No I can't. I had a close friend who did something without telling when we were working together and let me down. I'm certain he didn't realise he was letting me down because he was very preoccupied with his own difficult problems. 

OK. That means he didn't stop being your friend.

It was very difficult for me to forgive him. I think I might have done the same in his situation if I were deeply immersed in my own problems. I might have done to a different person what that person would have considered a betrayal and what in fact would have been a betrayal.

I understand that sometimes people misunderstand one another. But what I do I try to trust in the other person's integrity up to the very last moment. I will explain his or her actions away and justify him or her.

So your harshness is the weapon of last resort?

Yes. It happens when there's really no other way.

I've read in a book that in certain circumstances where you can understand and you can forgive. Then in certain circumstances where you can understand but cannot forgive. Finally, there are circumstances where you can neither understand nor forgive.

That's true, I guess.

Is this what you're talking about?

I think so, yes.

What about other kinds of resentments. You said you weren't easy on forgiving. But it doesn't mean that you break all ties if someone steps on your toe.

No, of course not. I don't remember any offense. If I have an argument with someone, a week in I do remember we had an argument but I can't recall what it was all about.


In two weeks' time, I won't recall that we had an argument. I'm not easily-offended. 

True, we were just discussing a rather extreme notion of betrayal, of absolute dishonesty.  


Still, there's a lot being posted about you on the Internet. By Saratov residents. Like, you're travelling around, while that roof is still broken.

Well, first of all I will be looking into why I haven't yet checked that roof and why it is still broken. As for posting, they alway do that. I've laughed at some things and even saved something or sent it to my friends. They've said for instance that I'm a rich man's son who's never lived in Russia.

True, right.

They've also said that I have business interests in Kazakhstan so that's why I need Saratov. I've never ever been a businessman. 

(Legoida laughs)

I don't have any talent for that sort of thing.


So it was quite funny reading this. I think you should take it humorously. 

Since becoming an MP, how much has your attitude changed towards the people and those in power? Are you ready to excuse more or less now that you've seen how it all works or doesn't? 

You know it hasn't changed much. Already as a journalist I saw these powers-that-be up close.

Still you said that as an MP it became more difficult to put up with certain things.

Now it was just that I started applying to myself people's attitude towards them. 

Towards yourself, I see.

Да. Вот. Это люди, они разные люди. Там есть очень и очень много порядочных, замечательных, умных людей. Есть своя доля идиотов. Есть своя доля… These are people. There are many wonderful, honest and smart people in power. There are idiots. There are embezzlers.

As there are everywhere.

So the healthy functioning of this large body depends on the predominance of the honest and the smart. It is important for the thieves and idiots to somehow

disappear. (He laughs)

disappear, let's put it that way.

Disappeared themselves.

Disappeared or were disappeared. 

In the good sense of the word, like they say now.

Yes. Although sometimes I want it to happen in the bad sense.

In the bad sense. (Both laugh)

Yes, I do want that sometimes.

What was your greatest disappointment and your greatest pleasant surprise after becoming MP?

I've mentioned my biggest disappointment. It was that I was now a bad person too. My biggest joy was that I got hold of a tool to really make a difference and help those who are really in a bad way.

Let me tell you another story. A young girl got down with a high fever in Saratov. She was admitted to a local infection hospital, but her situation worsened, and no one knew what could be done. Her parents got hold of a local MP, who approached my aide, who then told me. We tried to transfer the girl to a different hospital or find the right medicine. Local doctors wondered if that girl had some powerful parents. It was a shock for me not to be able to explain to them that it could've been their kid, too. So I called the head of a department at the Russian Ministry of Healthcare, who transferred the girl to Moscow. I'm so grateful to that woman for that. We also tried to move the girl to the Dmitry Rogachyov National Center for Oncology and Immunology and we sent more drugs to help her. But the girl passed away. She had zero immune function. It wasn't even possible to start a bone marrow transplantation procedure. Why am I telling you this? We know how to fight our way forward with paperwork, call the right people and get things done. Sometimes it works. But then everything might just break down, and it is important at that moment not to give up and to keep pedalling whenever something else comes up.

That bicycle metaphor is a very apt one.


As we move on to our topic of Love, I can't help asking about your grandfather, Yevgeny Primakov.  It's been already mentioned on this programme that you lost your father while still very young. You've also said repeatedly that your relationship with your grandfather was more like that of a father and a son. I can't help being moved by the story of your grandfather signing a book for you and writing 'To Sasha', his son's name, not 'To Zhenya', which is your name of course. He also often called you Sasha. They say that a father's love is more demanding than a grandfather's or grandmother's. So how did your grandfather love you?

It changed as I grew up and excited more interest in my father intellectually. There weren't a lot of people I could turn to for professional or life advice. After some time my mother did start a new family so I had a stepfather, though. So my relationship with my grandfather went on a certain trajectory where he treated me like a son he lost and I also understood that I don't really have anyone else for my father figure.

But it took time. It's not like my grandfather brought me up after my father died. But as I grew up I looked up to him more and more. So when he was signing that last book he wrote for me and my wife, he did dedicate it to 'Sasha', and I didn't correct him. His tongue slipped sometimes, too, and he called me my father's name.

So was that love he had for you more demanding?


Or was it different?

No, it was like that. He watched very closely what I did. 

Did he berate you from time to time?

He had a terrible swear word that he would use.




He would call me pot.

Was it reserved for grave offenses?

No, he could just call you pot affectionately or patiently. Sometimes, however, he levelled that accusation firmly.

So there were different kinds of pots, right?

Yeah, the degree of potness could change. But yeah, I got bashed at times. 

You've said repeatedly that he treated people with love. It's nothing new that a grandson would say nice things about his grandad. But recently I attended an international conference sponsored by the Gorchakov Foundation. It brought together people who personally knew Mr Primakov. So it's remarkable that although the agenda included many topics for discussion, each time it veered towards Mr Primakov. It was a night filled with love. 

 He truly loved people.

Few people get remembered like that.

He had many friends and he loved people. He did a lot of good things for them. He supported the kids of his classmates if they came to Moscow, even if they didn't ask him to. His classmates and he, they all kept close. Time is merciless, but I don't see that memory of him getting erased.

Do you have a lot of friends? Are you like your grandfather that way?

Я считаю, что… я считаю, что много друзей не бывает. В том смысле, что всегда хорошо, когда их еще больше. I don't think you can have many friends. I mean, it's always a good idea to have more of them.

(Legoida laughs.) In that sense.


So you like your grandfather?

Hard for me to say.

I'm talking about your general attitude. Some people believe that you only can have one friend, for example. 

I have some very close friends. Then again, I have many friends in the sense that I might ask them for a favour and so then can ask me, too. We can meet socially without any favours, too. There are no commitments that way. It's a good thing. There's another metaphor that I've mentioned and that my grandad has, too.

That metaphor, yeah.

Three supports. A stool should have at least three legs, or it falls over. Friends, family and work, that's what a man must have. If one thing is not there, the stool starts leaning over and falls.

Are the three equally important, or one can be thicker?

Equally. They may have a carved pattern on them, but the must be equal. (Primakov laughs).

Do you have a favourite leg?

I can't say that. Sometimes I get to think that I'm too busy working and my family is missing me. At that moment, I figure I need to transfer my weight that way.

It must be stable.

There must be three legs or it falls over.

There is a great English expression, I think, that goes as 'Don't try mentoring your kids, they will end up like you anyway'.  Do you agree? What's more important for you vis-a-vis your kids?

You're  sitting heavy on the third leg now.

(Legoida laughs)

They're different, my kids. All of them girls.They all are fantastic artists. I don't know who they got it from. I drew in my childhood. But they are fantastic drawers, all in different styles. This is an old story about fathers and sons.


Generations change, and the older generation grumbles that kids are not alright.

Different, right.

They are different. They consume information in a different way.


They have a different mechanic for that. Often we want to pass on values and ideas about life. And we find ourselves confused about how we could do that.

The English say, you shouldn't try. 

You see, the English have at least three hidden agendas. They say one thing, they do another.

They'll think another thing still.

The British education system is completely tyrannic. They may suggest we don't educate our kids, but they will educate them all right.

So you have to educate kids?


There's that thing I call 'Smoker's Syndrome'. It's when the father pulls in, then tells his son not to smoke. 

Don't smoke, right.

Because you see, son, smoking kills. 


So it may be necessary to educate kids, but what you tell them should be in harmony with what you do.

I agree.

So we, the older generation, have devices too, and we're fighting that screen addition in our kids, which just makes no sense. As I left home today, I told my eldest daughter who's down with fever to give me her phone and read a book instead. But as I was taking her phone with my left hand, I was holding my own phone in my right.


It just makes no sense.


It won't work.

But it's a shame. (Both laugh). Look, we were brought up on books by Fenimore Cooper. 


By Jules Verne. Where are these authors today? Many of the things we believe in life were shaped by the books that we read. These ideas are utterly unlike the new generation's.

What can be done?

I don't know. I'm open about it. I don't know.

I think we should suggest both Cooper and Jules Verne as reading for them..

I have.

They're not into them?

Devices. (Both laugh).

Mr Primakov, thank you very much.

You said I could ask you a question.

(Legoida laughs). Here's me forgetting that I'm dealing with a fellow journalist here. If you like to, you can ask me that question.

Yeah, I want to. You've met dozens or hundreds of people on your programme. Why haven't you lost interest in people? Why are you still motivated to do this?

I think there's no way for me to lose interest in this. Sometimes people comment that I should have invited an ordinary person instead of that actor or artist. I think you will agree that you can have a good talk with anyone. I get frustrated when my friends start finding faults with my guest. I ask them why they're doing that, because personally, I've learnt a lot from that person.

So you learn something?



Take your bicycle metaphor. It's the metaphor of the day.

Don't forget it's on fire. That's the thing.

I'm burning with it. It wouldn't be interesting otherwise.

So it's not easy.

No. So we're finishing our talk today, and at the end I want to ask you to choose between two statements. Here's a story I was told by a school headmaster. Kids in their fourth or fifth year. A whole group skips a class. The teachers go to hunt the kids down and punish them. It turns out the kids have agreed to shirk the class to go clean up a monument to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War. 

So would you punish the kids? Or would you praise them?

I wouldn't punish them.

You wouldn't?


What about that missed lesson?

They learnt a lesson. A very important lesson.

Thank you so much.

Thank you.