Ahead Of Vote, A Look Back At Russia's Changes

Host Rachel Martin talks to veteran Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner from Moscow about how Russia has changed since the days of glasnost and perestroika and under the hand of Vladimir Putin.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we just heard, Russians are divided in their views on who should win this upcoming election, as well as their vision of what their country should be. But back in the heady days of glasnost and perestroika in the late 1980s and early '90s, things were very different. As George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev met in Malta to declare an end to the Cold War, many Russians were looking ahead to a future of Western-style democracy and unprecedented freedoms.

Vladimir Pozner was right in the front of that crowd - a standard-bearer, even. A well-known journalist in Russia, he co-hosted international broadcasts which used brand-new satellite technology to introduce Russian and American audiences for the first time. Today, he is still a journalist, but reports on a very different country.

Vladimir Pozner joins me from Moscow. Welcome to the program.

VLADIMIR POZNER: Thank you very much. Thank you.

MARTIN: I'd like you to take us back to that time, if you would. What did Russians want for their country in those days?

POZNER: It was an unbelievably exciting time for most people. There was a sense, on the one hand, that the promise of socialism with a human face would come true. And that was for those who did believe in the idea of socialism - but not the kind that existed in the Soviet Union but rather, the kind that they tried to create once upon a time in Czechoslovakia, and that was crushed by Soviet tanks. And then there were others who thought that finally, Russia would become a democracy in the Western sense.

MARTIN: On both sides, there was enormous hope. And I think that that holds true for the overwhelming majority of the people who lived then, in what was still the Soviet Union.

There was this sense of optimism, this hope. Did that start to dissipate over time?

It started to dissipate under Gorbachev, actually. What happened was that Gorbachev was not at all used to dealing with what would be called, in Russia, liberals. They kept arguing. So what Gorbachev did was, he brought in the old-timers - the ones he was used to working with, thinking that it would be much more easy to deal with them. And a lot of people began to wonder, what is Gorbachev up to? So that's when the first feelings of disappointment, if you will, began to make themselves felt.

So fast forward to today, 2012. Who is doing well in today's Russia? Where do they live? What do they do for a living? What are their politics?

POZNER: Well, I'll tell you this: Never in the history of Russia have people lived as well as they live today. They've never had that much money. People are living much better - and people are grumbling like never before. So the question you want to ask yourself is, well, what are they grumbling about? Well, they're grumbling about the fact that they are not satisfied with what's going on in their country because it's become a very corrupt country.

The police pretty much can do what they want. There's a lot of things that they're unhappy with. The country is a country today that's divided, in the sense of who should be president. It's clear that Mr. Putin is going to win. He still has the support of the vast majority of the people.

MARTIN: But to what extent do Russians hold him responsible for the problems you just outlined?

POZNER: It depends what Russians we're talking about. There's a large segment - but not the majority - that hold him responsible. You know, the Russians have a saying that the fish rots from the head. And therefore, if things are wrong, it's because things are rotten upstairs.

The apathy, the sense that well, there's nothing I can do about this - that used to be so typical of most Russians - has now changed. There are more and more people demonstrating in the streets, voicing their disagreements or unhappiness with Mr. Putin.

MARTIN: So who makes up the opposition?

POZNER: Well, it's hard to put your finger on any one, single group. I would say mainly, it's people who are A, younger - that is to say, up to the age of 35; people who are educated; people who are relatively well-off financially. The people who support Putin, first of all, it's people who are less well-educated. Secondly, it's people living in small towns and villages across Russia. Third, it's older people - that is to say, 55 and over. And you may laugh at this but fourth, it's women.

MARTIN: You've said that Vladimir Putin is likely to be the winner in this election. What, then, will be the legacy of the opposition movement that we've seen - which has really been extraordinary.

POZNER: I believe the opposition movement will continue. It will grow, as a matter of fact. And I think what people should try to understand is that Russia is still a Soviet country. And what I mean by that is that the leadership of this country are people who were born and grew up in the Soviet Union, went to Soviet schools. They still have that mentality.

And I realize that people are impatient in the West. But you have to understand - when you grow up, you can't skip an age. You have to go through a certain process. That, really, is the major problem for Russia today

MARTIN: Writer Vladimir Pozner, speaking to us from Moscow.

Mr. Pozner, thanks so much.

POZNER: Thank you.

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