Sergey Gradirovsky: ''We have always looked with admiring envy on Tatarstan''

Ally of the ‘’people's mayor’’ of Sevastopol tells about the was of the local elites and the Kremlin, dialogues with Geydar Dzhemal, and why Navalny is not the agenda of the Peninsula

Sergey Gradirovsky: ''We have always looked with admiring envy on Tatarstan''

Three years ago Russia acquired two new federal subjects — the Republic of Crimea and the hero city of Sevastopol. Has Crimea become ''our'' over this period? What are the fundamental differences between Sevastopol and Simferopol? What is the conflict between Chaly and Menyailo? Are there monarchist sentiments on the Peninsula? All these topics the correspondent of Realnoe Vremya discussed with a top official of Sevastopol Sergey Gradirovsky, who is also known as a PR expert, journalist, political strategist, colleague of Sergey Kiriyenko and Aleksey Chaly. Besides, the interlocutor told our newspaper about himself, the envy of Tatarstan, ''Russian Islam'' and Geydar Dzhemal.

''I have returned to my homeland''

MrGradirovsky, how have you happened to be in Crimea?

I have returned to my homeland, the land that gave me life. I consider Crimea to be my small motherland. Russia is my big motherland. I want to die in the land that gave me birth, that is why I have returned. I had several attempts to find a good use in Crimea. In 1994, I was a journalist at Nezavisimaya Gazeta, I covered the political life of the Peninsula, already dreaming of becoming an island. Do you remember the first president of Crimea Yuriy Meshkov and the rebellious parliament? It was a romantic era, full of strong and adventurous personalities.

Then there were 1998-1999 when we together with Vasvi Abduraimov under the patronage of Aleksandr Rybalchenko made a project of the public-political magazine The Island of Crimea. That time, we purposefully were building a complex and meaningful dialogue between Crimean Tatar and Russian communities of the island, realising that we needed to talk with the intellectuals, that we need to discuss projects of development of Crimea with them. As a rule, it is difficult to agree on a common picture of the past, but it is possible to agree on a common picture of the future.

Then in 2011-2012, I had another attempt to return, but that time I was told in no uncertain terms: go away with your ideas in your Russia! And I went to Tomsk.

What do you do now? What is the direction of your activities?

I am a member of the government of Sevastopol, I head the Department for priority development projects. Actually, the name of the body the executive authority quite accurately conveys what I do.

''Chaly literally exuded a development agenda. The smell of spring was hanging over the city.'' Photo:

Did you participate in the events of the Crimean Spring?

No, I was an observer. It is not we who determine our fate and our places in key nodes of the history. In these months in Simferopol my mother was dying. I was with her. I followed all the events from the sidelines. It gave a chance not to get involved in events, to keep the depth of the plan. My mother died three days shy of the historic referendum. But she already knew that the return was inevitable. She is not only of Russian blood but also of indigenous peoples of Crimea, but the return home (!) — it was her life's agenda. She helped many people during her life on this path.

Only at the beginning of May, when I was invited to Chaly for the conversation, I gradually began to become a member of the historical story. Chaly literally exuded a development agenda. The smell of spring was hanging over the city. We were visited by people from across the country, Russians came from abroad and they all had eager eyes. Everyone wanted development. But it didn't happen.

''Chaly was suffering when holding formal government position''

Chalyis perhaps the most charismatic leader of the Crimean Spring. Why for three years he hasn't found a place in the power elites of the Peninsula? Or you disagree with this statement?

It depends on what to call power. For example, is Mintimer Shaimiev power today?..

Chaly was not looking for a formal post, he quite soberly assessed his talents, aptitudes, and long-formed habits. He was literally suffering when holding the formal government position, right up to the illnesses, but he endured and stayed each time at the request of Moscow. As chief of staff of the Legislative Assembly, chaired by Chaly, each day I observed this human drama.

He is truly a gifted entrepreneur who has built and continues to develop a complex multi-billion technology business, a scientist with genuine international reputation. He is one of those who knows his place. But everyone needs to be in their place – it is the key to happiness.

So, answering your question, it is impossible to find what you do not look for.

How did the conflict with Sergey Menyailo arise?

When Chaly and his coterie realised that the appointment of Sergey Menyailo was a fatal mistake, Aleksey Chaly directly said in a personal conversation about this to Menyailo. Believe it or not, but he told him directly that he was not in his place, that it would be a problem for Sergey Menyailo, as well as for the city. After that, Chaly went on the air and publicly apologised to the citizens and the country's president for his fatal mistake. But Moscow didn't want to change anything, therefore handing out promises right and left, that they would fix it, they would direct Sergey Menyailo in the right direction, and all that the city needed would certainly be made. Then the Legislative Assembly, under unprecedented pressure, voted for Menyailo.

Value compromises always lead to a defeat, like it happened that time. Of course, nothing changed in the city fundamentally and it could not. There was no basic consensus of the elites, which would ensure the consistent upholding of the objectives of the city development. They did not find grounds for such consensus either. (We have always looked on Tatarstan with admiring envy, where such consensus exists). After that, we just had to fight. The fight ended with the dismissal of Menyailo and the abolition of the Crimean Federal Okrug. The city, of course, celebrated this news, but two years were lost in the struggle rather than creation.

''The fight ended with the dismissal of Menyailo and the abolition of the Crimean Federal Okrug. The city, of course, celebrated this news, but two years were lost in the struggle rather than creation.'' Photo:

What relationship does he have now with the new governor of Sevastopol?

Chaly supports the incumbent governor, as I see it, sincerely wishing him to become co-scale to the city-hero.

''Simferopol and Sevastopol have chosen different ways...''

It's been three years since joining the Peninsula to Russia. Has Crimea become ''our'' in the mental, political and economic terms?

Sevastopol has always been Russian. It is even more Russian than many other traditional subjects of the Russian heartland. Sevastopol has retained the romantic view of all things connected with Russia. It is now being faced with real Russia and it is maturing every day. But Crimea was subjected to Ukrainization much stronger. If to take the Crimean Tatar community, it was split between two civilizational projects, it is also the consequence of partial Ukrainization. By the way, Sevastopol citizens call this spring exclusively ''Russian'', but Crimea – ''Crimean''.

Should we start to distinguish between Sevastopol and Simferopol, but there are only 70 kilometres between them?

There are cultural borders between them. Sevastopol symbolises the outpost of Russia in the Black Sea region, Simferopol is actually a multinational Crimea. Fate and instincts of these two regional capitals have always been different. The willingness to ignore each other, or, on the contrary, compete and even to conflict have always existed. Let me remind you that the polarity between these two points was formed in the III century BC, when on the territory of modern Simferopol on the shore of the Salgir river there was formed the Scythian Naples, while on the territory of today's Sevastopol on one of the ''teeth of a comb'' from the sixth century BC there had existed a Doric colony Chersonese. These are projections of two basic geopolitical vectors — the land and the sea — thalassocracy and tellurocracy.

Chersonesos-Sevastopol has always been the outpost no matter whether Mediterranean or Northern civilisation. Therefore, in the Ukrainian period, it continued to dream about its mission. Sevastopol could be the outpost only in the service of a large and powerful state. Ukraine, by definition, could not give anything like that. The Ukrainian elites if not understood but they felt it well. Hence the attitude towards the city of Russian glory. The suppressed fear of the city. The denial of suffrage to citizens. The lack of any system investments in the infrastructure of the city. Why invest in what is not yours?

As I have said above, Sevastopol was really a Russian city, that is why it deployed the Kremlin policy in that memorable February. All of this happened not because Moscow wanted to ''take advantage of the disorder'' in Kiev but because the citizens revolted and having taken the power into their own hands turned to Moscow. So the decision was made and the real and timely help was provided in the first place to Simferopol citizens, where the nature of the meeting on 26 February showed that if Russia did not intervene, blood would be spilt.

Therefore, in Sevastopol, no one thinks so and guessing: has Sevastopol become Russian or not? It has always been Russian. This is true.

Sevastopol was really a Russian city, that is why it deployed the Kremlin policy in that memorable February

Why is the integration of the Peninsula in Russia difficult despite the substantial injections from the federal budget? Experts say that economic development is too slow than expected. What's the problem?

There was and is no personnel and elite situation that would be ready to take up and implement such large-scale development projects proposed by Moscow and which were generated by romantics in 2014. Simferopol and Sevastopol have chosen different ways — the first relies on its own, autochthonous, where there are Crimean elites, which were formed under Ukraine, have fully retained control over the situation; the second have relied on the newcomers. The result is approximately the same. Neither here nor there, there is a decent quality control. All this is now complicated by the extremely low level of legal awareness, lack of legal documents, silly conducted nationalisation and many other ills, the source of which is ''fools''.

Did the Sunday's protests take place in Crimea like in other Russian cities? Or Crimea is not ''our'' yet?

It's just not the agenda of Crimea and Sevastopol. Believe me, healthy representatives of our land, survivors of the Ukranian plutocratic state, are highly concerned about the level of corruption and the general culture of lies. But the street does not lead to purification of morals and growth of legal awareness. The Ukraine's example is very convincing. In this sense, we are really different. We have the experience at our fingertips which the mainland Russia does not. In Russia, there is the fear of the street and therefore they make mistakes. We are not, we have survived the street.

''I will always remember our walks with Dzhemal''

You are considered to be the developer of the project ''Russian Islam''. Have you managed to implement it and to bring to an end? Is there a need for it in the current situation?

As in any project, there are basic tasks and ideal ones. The base tasks have been implemented. A serious attention has been drawn to the phenomenon. However, everyone has understood it by virtue of their own ambitions and intellectual capacity. There was also the aim to prevent in the Volga region the development of a situation like in the Caucasus. This clearly did not happen. But to solve a more complex task — to create a genuine dialogue, to formalise projectly the activities of the Islamic intellectuals in the interests of both Russia and Islam, for the sake of the task, understood not narrowly, but as broadly as possible, — we have not been allowed to do this. This was our weakness and the power of those who held other views on Islam in Russia.

''Geydar Dzhemal, communicating even at a high level of abstraction, penetrated right to the heart of the interlocutor. Indeed, he burned the hearts of people by word.'' Photo:

With whom you have built the dialogue?

With very different intellectuals — from Valliul Yakupov and Rafael Khakimov to Geydar Dzhemal.

Speaking of Dzhemal. How do you feel about Geidar Dzhemal, the memory evening of whom has been recently held in Moscow?

I think he is a rare man and uncompromising person of faith. Gifted with an incredible talent for philosophical and religious thinking. Communicating even at a high level of abstraction, penetrated right to the heart of the interlocutor. Indeed, he burned the hearts of people by word.

Many people admitted that the impact of Geydar on them was that they were converted to Islam. What about you?

I have remained the one the Lord made me, a Christian. An example of a strong person of another faith allows us to work out own position and it does not force me to change religious identity. Geydar has given me the understanding of the agenda of Islam, has strengthened my confidence in this religion and respect for people of faith. Besides, Geydar has given me an understanding of the traditions of abrahamism, and his method of revealing this tradition. I never saw fear in Geydar, and it is a rare virtue for the man of our time. Geydar had a paternal attitude toward those who sincerely asked. I will always remember our walks with him through the lanes around the Pokrovsky Gate, when he spent hours and hours to develop a philosophical thought. A fascinating procedure. But I was worried so that he had the time to arrange his political theology in the book for the time allotted to him. It would have enriched the Russian intellectual space.

Mr Gradirovsky, are going to visit Kazan in the nearest future?

Only if big and sweet chak-chak awaits me…

We are waiting for you to visit! There is always chak-chak for a good person.

By Timur Rakhmatullin