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'I was taught that every life is priceless' After 24 years at Russia’s main state news network, Dmitry Likin resigned last week. He explained his decision to Meduza.
As the war against Ukraine grinds on, Russia’s state television networks continue to rack up resignations. Last week, Channel One employee Marina Ovsyannikova staged a one-person antiwar protest on a live news broadcast; special correspondent Zhanna Agalakova resigned from the network at the same time. Shortly after, Dmitry Likin, who has worked as Channel One’s art director for over 20 years, submitted his resignation as well. Meduza special correspondent Svetlana Reiter spoke with Likin about his decision.
— Why did you decide to resign?
— For a long time, I’ve consciously worked with the state. As Channel One’s art director, as an architect — I did some urban projects. The main beneficiary was society, and the client was the government.
— Were you Channel One’s art director for a long time?
— Yes. 24 years. And that entire time, [Channel One CEO] Konstantin Lvovich [Ernst] made it pretty clear that we needed to stay close to the party line, the centrist position. The sort of center of balance, the equilibrium. Of course, he [Ernst] has his own outlets that are more free, but he spent a lot of energy on making sure Channel One maintained that balanced, centrist view. And he tried to keep it there as much as he could, not letting it fall either to the right or to the left.
Obviously, there are oversight bodies in place to monitor him — I don’t know much about them, but I don’t see how there couldn't be. In the 24 years I’ve worked at this network, I’ve never once seen him behave indecently at any company meetings. Sure, people in the newsroom got carried away sometimes, we all remember — but Ernst always tried to observe the principles of common sense and avoid extremes as best he could, and that’s the reason I worked with him.
— When I asked you why you resigned, you told me that in February, you were in Zagreb getting a COVID-19 vaccine. And on February 25 [the day after Russia invaded Ukraine], you returned.
— Yes, I returned to Moscow. It was totally unclear what was going on; it was impossible to tell whether this was just another show of force, more political muscle-flexing, or a real thing.
But — and this is really important — I don’t want to make my choice, my decision to quit, into a some kind of sociopolitical statement. It was my decision, and only mind. A purely human decision.
— What caused it? What did you tell Konstantin Ernst when you submitted your resignation?
— Here's what I told him. I told him I understand that there are different human professions. There’s the political profession, for example. Everything we’re told from the outside, let’s say, has its place. They tell us Ukraine is seeking to join NATO, and that sooner or later, it will happen; Ukraine will immediately start fighting to retake Crimea, the U.S. will join in, and we’ll end up fighting against the US across Ukraine and Europe. And everybody knows what that would look like: nuclear weapons. And in order to avoid this war, it’s necessary to wipe Ukraine off the face of the earth, because they’re setting a dangerous precedent. Yes, it’s bad, yes, it’s painful, everyone understands all that, people will die, but it’s better for 100 thousand people to die now than to lose the entire world later… And that’s essentially what Putin is telling us. And it’s a pragmatic argument that I’m not able to evaluate. It’s a politician’s logic. The kind of logic that apparently makes it possible to assess a decision and weigh the risks in units of human life.
But I’m not a politician. I believe the profession I belong to is a cultural one. In the cultural sphere, every life is priceless. Every life. That’s what I was taught. And that means I have to make a choice — either I move to the political sphere, or I start in the cultural sphere, where I’ve been for all of my 55 years.
— And what did Ernst say?
— He kind of sighed. I think it was an extremely hard and unpleasant experience for him. I don’t know, but I think he’s made of different stuff.
You need to understand, I’m not saying any of this with any scorn at all. He’s a true, genuine patriot. I don’t think it’s easy for him to find the strength to hold this all in his soul. He sincerely loves his country, and when I told him I was resigning, he truly didn’t understand: how could you do this, we’ve worked together for so many years, what happened?
I told him everything I just told you. He’s a complex thinker who’s able to tell hysteria from someone’s true position. I told him this was a very difficult decision for me because I really do love television. He and I had enormous plans to restructure Channel One, its alternative news service; we wanted to make it even more socially oriented than it is now. And it’s really painful to think I won’t be able to work on that anymore.
I love my work, and despite all of the weirdness, I believe it’s important: we need Meduza, we need Channel One, we need a large spectrum. I don’t really understand why we need people like [TV anchor and propagandist] Solovyov, but sure, he’s probably necessary for something, too. For some reason, the Lord has created all of these figures and allows them to exist. I told Ernst that not working in TV will be very difficult for me, but unfortunately, I don’t have a choice.”
— What are you thinking of doing next?
— Choosing a scooter to replace my company car.
I’m an architect. I believe the life-sustaining professions are important —we need people to raise children, bake bread, develop cities. It doesn’t matter what society you’re in; people shouldn’t have to live in their own shit, so the sewer system should work, and bread should be baked in such a way that nobody has to worry about getting sick from it. I don’t believe in the idea that a country should kill itself, destroy itself, for a happier generation to appear in its place.
— Do you really believe Ernst is still trying to “maintain balance?”
— Who am I to answer that? I don’t see him every day. He’s a deeply decent percent in my book — and you can write that wherever you want.
Do you remember the idea of the Union of Common Destiny in Vasily Aksenova’s book The Island of Crimea? My feeling is that Ernst has an idea like that. He’s a real patriot, he’s not pretending. And I think that despite everything he sees and disagrees with, he believes the right thing to do is to share in his country’s fate — not to jump ship in a difficult moment.
— So he constantly has to make compromises and find ways to explain things to himself.
— Or he’s acting with a politician’s logic, weighing risks by the number of human lives lost. That seems to be the way everything works in politics, but I’ve always had other paradigms.
I’m not a warrior, you see, I admire people who are willing to speak their mind. I’m an individual, and I make choices based on my own frame of reference: can I or can’t I? In my personal paradigm, every life has undeniable value. This is probably more of an emotional reaction — I look at the pictures, and regardless of who took them, I pity everyone. My throat tightens both at the sight of pregnant women from Mariupol and at the sight of the boys we’re sending to the front.
Translation by Sam Breazeale
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