Aleksandr Malkevich: ‘People want the authorities to be strong and competent’

Journalist and head of the Foundation for National Values Protection on the voting on the Constitution, the origin of fake news and threat of a repetition of Black Lives Matter riots outside America

Aleksandr Malkevich: ‘People want the authorities to be strong and competent’
Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov

Aleksandr Malkevich arrived in Tatarstan last weekend as an observer of the election on amendments made to the Constitution. He is a famous journalist and head of the Foundation for National Values Protection. He highly appreciated the level of organisation of the voting in the republic — so high that Malkevich thinks that the only problem is to repeat what’s been done in the republic during the week on one day. Realnoe Vremya talked with Malkevich about the voting on the Constitution, where fake news about elections comes from and what the people wants from the upcoming election.

How Malkevich made up educational reform

Aleksandr, could you tell our readers about yourself?

Aleksandr Malkevich, a member of Russia’s Civic Chamber, vice chairman of the Commission on Mass Media, I chair the Foundation for National Values Protection. I am a journalist, I have worked in a lot of regions.

In December 2018, I was blacklisted by the US Department of the Treasury — I am the first and only Russian journalist who was imposed US sanctions. Moreover, with a very honourable formulation from a perspective of journalism “for publishing reports that can split American society over political motives”. I was one of the first people to start writing about the problems they have. And now we see every day that their society is split. I deal with a lot of public projects on Russian citizens’ rights protection abroad, journalists’ rights protection, I am an author of some legislative initiatives on the Internet.

Like what?

My colleagues and I once achieved softening the liability of the law on likes and reposts to stop jailing people. We achieved the adoption of the law on opposition to fake information. Now we are trying to get the law on self-regulation of social media to be adopted, it is otherwise called Law on Information Intermediaries.

I tell a user: “You go and write what you want, we have freedom”. Then a security worker comes and says “Follow me”. And if this were like it’s in the West, you simply couldn’t publish a dangerous post. I mean you write something extremist, and a social network doesn’t permit you

I am fully convinced that a site must be held accountable for content. If such a law worked here, while there are such laws in Germany and France, people wouldn’t be jailed for likes and reposts. Here the cynicism of our social media is demonstrated. Imagine that I am the owner of a social network. I tell a user: “You go and write what you want, we have freedom”. Then a security worker comes and says “Follow me”. And if this had been like it’s in the West, you simply couldn’t have published a dangerous post. I mean you write something extremist, and a social network doesn’t permit you this.

How should it be technically? Is it an army of moderators or a special algorithm?

Either way. You can write an algorithm, a set of stop words. Or on the contrary, you published a post, but the moderator deletes this post because of a user’s reasonable complaint. But you are protected as a user. You write evil abracadabra, but you won’t go to jail for this. While a social network will pay huge fines if it leaves it. But it is unprofitable for social networks — it is expenses. This is why here everything thrives: extremism, pornography, sale of weapons and drugs, communities where school shooting is discussed and so on

Also, I have an initiative to change the educational programme. Might the Ministry of Education kick me, but I think that half of the subjects can be excluded from the school programme. Let’s exclude them, nothing terrible will happen.

Which subjects?

What terrible will happen to a young person if the school doesn’t have geometry and even algebra?

In the current system, he will at least won’t pass the United State Exam and won’t enter a university.

It must be a large-scale reform that will include the United State Exam too. Okay, you graduated from school, will you need this geometry?

Might the Ministry of Education kick me, but I think that half of the subjects can be excluded from the school programme. Let’s exclude them, nothing terrible will happen

I will need it during the first year at university. I am not trying to argue with you now, I am just following the logic.

If you choose a technical university.

Many choose technical universities.

Then here is another situation. By the way, when I am asked about the functions of the Civic Chamber of Russia, I say that, first of all, the task is to create a big discussion, like now. You will start to sort it out and find out that every subject has a lobbyist.

Fine, if you chose physics and mathematical disciplines, then you won’t need other subjects. If I choose humanities, I won’t need these subjects at all, most importantly, I won’t need them in life. There is cosines, tangent, cotangent... There is a calculator for it. Latin is more useful, one can at least use a beautiful saying in a speech.

It is much more important to learn other things, for instance, information hygiene, information security. Imagine: a 10-11-years-old girl who might be an A student how to behave on the Internet, what she can write, what can be published, she doesn’t know she shouldn’t publish intimate photos on her account and participate in doubtful flash mobs and “tasks”. Who will explain this to her?

We are told that schools have had the third hour of IT or that it [information hygiene and safety] will also be explained a bit on Health and Safety — but this isn’t enough. The coronavirus showed that adults clicked on unnecessary links, inserted information of their card here and there, a lot of people suffered. Who had explained all this to them?

I decided to test first-hand what it means to vote in modern conditions with safety precautions. There is a popular contest “tested first-hand”, so I did test it

Fake news machines in the bushes

You decided to vote in Kazan and be an observer of the election to amendments made to the Constitution. Why?

I simply like the city and republic very much. I agreed to participate in the work of Volga expert club and decided to mix business with pleasure. I decided to test first-hand what it means to vote in modern conditions with safety precautions. There is a popular contest “tested first-hand”, so I did test it.

What did you pay attention to when visiting polling stations? What are the positive, negative moments?

There aren’t negative moments. Everything is very scrupulous, the organisation is decent. The only difficulty I see is that such a high bar was set to organise the voting that now it can be a problem in September, at the Tatarstan presidential election.

Why can this be a problem?

I will say humorously, people will be spoiled now. Have you already voted?

Yes, I did on the first day.

Now you will go to vote on 13 September. Let’s discuss a situation. Moreover, I am sure that my “favourite” fake news machines will try to do bad things there. So you are going to vote on 13 September. You voted on the first day, now the voting will be held for several days. And in September it will be one day. Many people will want it to be as safe and comfortable as it was. If it is as safe and comfortable as it was, probably there will be queues. You go to a polling station and understand you can’t vote instantaneously. You lined up in the queue, this already irritates you a bit. There is a crowd of people behind you. For instance, your colleague sits in the bushes and writes an article.

There can be a lot of options. The first fake news is that “the authorities are malicious, gather people”, but nobody will believe it. The next is “look, here is a hotspot”. And then this can develop as much as one wants. And it is a serious challenge.

For instance, the news about the pandemic has disappeared give or take, such strict protection measures aren’t necessary anymore. But somebody keeps sitting in the bushes and writes that “everybody will die, there are no protection measures, how come”. If one wants, one can comment on any situation badly. And there will be such a desire because Tatarstan is a strong, blossoming region, and not everybody likes it.

I know that the authorities are very smart here, the information policy is very smartly built. I am saying this to make sure when this fake news starts to appear, it is done consciously, to tune up and psych up people correspondingly.

How to fight this? Will perhaps online voting join the battle?

It would be cool.

As for fake news. Have you often faced fake news about Tatarstan in your project?

Tatarstan has been affected by a couple of big fake news on the voting on the Constitution. It is a famous video about “pens with disappearing ink”, and the fake news that everybody will be put in quarantine after the voting against was very popular in Tatarstan, and Naberezhnye Chelny would be the first. Such fake news has spread across the country, its task is to lower the turnout. “Why vote if ink disappears, you vote, while you will be shut at home.”

The ability of authorities to protect you, moreover, the authorities must be competent, in the economy too and be able to explain its decisions — there are a lot of requests. But Tatarstan doesn’t have problems with it

“There is demand for protection”

As for September election. What do you think is the main demand of society from the authorities? What do people want from this election?

I think that people want the authorities to be strong and competent. We see how hard it is. In general there is demand for protection, the state must be paternalistic, to protect in health care and personal security.

We see what’s happening now in America when the state isn’t able [to provide protection] at federal and regional level. When the centre in big Seattle has been seized by anarchists for several weeks, there are robberies, assaults, rapes, and the authorities can do nothing with it. When monuments not only to their presidents but also writers, poets, Columbus are demolished. An ordinary person asks: “Where are the authorities?”

The ability of authorities to protect you, moreover, the authorities must be competent, in the economy too and be able to explain its decisions — there are a lot of requests. But Tatarstan doesn’t have problems with it.

Precisely current President of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov recently presented his electoral programme. Do you think he reflected these moments in it?

Yes, all basic things were mentioned. And I hope this programme will expand. The first statement was strong, clear, I think these points will develop.

You are the president of the Foundation for National Values Protection. How is the protection of these values doing in Tatarstan?

These values are always under an external threat. Somebody dislikes the peace, harmony — it is special in Tatarstan, this is why a blow will be landed here. Fake news will proliferate. I will say another thing: at the peak of American protests Black Lives Matter, we discussed with experts in Moscow what if the plague arrived here. And a question arose: “Who are our black people?” Whose lives must matter, who must go on strike?

Sooner or later a slogan might appear “Minorities’ Lives Matter”, “Deported People’s Lives Matter”, “Somebody Else’s Life Matter”, “Let’s destroy”

And I think the blow will be landed on the regions where deported people live. The Caucasus will be hit, Crimean Tatars and related peoples. We see this in subsidiary projects: Freedom Radio, Crimea.Realities, Caucasus.Realities, Idel.Realities, there is North.Realities in the northwest that cause troubles around our minorities. There is Siberia.Realities. It is their long-term goal.

We must make sure that decision-making people see this because sooner or later a slogan might appear “Minorities’ Lives Matter”, “Deported People’s Lives Matter”, “Somebody Else’s Life Matter”, “Let’s destroy”.

Now, this sounds like anti-utopia a bit. Who could imagine that in America, on this famous Mount Rushmore where four presidents were carved...

They would get there too?

They would get there because in Washington several statues have already been desecrated, some will be. It is offered to demount Lincoln’s memorials because he insults people somehow. Jefferson’s statue has already been demolished. Roosevelt’s statue is already removed from New York’s Museum of Natural History. So the four have already been damaged, now they just have to dynamite the mount. Who could imagine it? It is in all brochures. This is why they would like to stage this in Russia very much.

And what should authorities reply to this?

It is a topic for another big talk. Now we have paid attention to this, those who need will read it. I have two topics for Volga expert club at once. The first is possibilities and difficulties of online voting in September, the second is very serious — what measures destabilising Russia, especially national territories, will be taken from the outside to burn us like they did America. If my colleagues support me, we will host them with the press, we will have fun, in a good way.


Interviewed by Aleksandr Artemyev. Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov
Tatarstan