Power, Politics and Putin
Published: Friday, March 15, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 15, 2013 01:03
It started with a tweet.
One hundred forty characters mockingly thanking Russian President Vladimir Putin after she was fired for refusing to cover his latest publicity stunt. It led to a phone call, and a meeting with Putin.
This is the story of Masha Gessen.
Gessen, a Russian-born human rights activist and journalist, lectured Monday on her encounters with Putin. Educated in the U.S., Gessen returned to Moscow in 1991 with hopes for reform. Currently, she serves as the director of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service and as a biographer of Putin.
Putin invited Gessen to the Kremlin and then talked with her after only a two hour wait—a short time considering most reporters usually have five minutes with Putin after a minimum six hour wait. The Russian Press Office and the administration fought over how to best host the meeting.
Gessen said this showed how inefficient Putin’s administration can be.
Gessen explained Putin did not know about her unflattering portrait of him in her work. His staff clearly did not brief him about who she was. She believes Putin’s staff was afraid to tell him.
Instead, Putin wanted to know why Gessen had refused to send a reporter to cover his event, in which he personally donned a white coat and beak and piloted a hang glider to help guide Siberian cranes on their migration route. He also brought in the publisher that fired Gessen to their meeting.
Gessen explained she did not want to cover Putin’s event because she felt he was using the endangered birds to gain more political exposure. In the past, every time Putin attempted to use animals to boost his own image, he ended up causing them more harm than good.
Putin admonished her for the accusation but claimed it was wrong of her publisher to fire her for it. He demanded Gessen be offered her job back, without even asking Gessen whether she wanted it.
Gessen did not accept the offer. She did not want to owe her career to Putin, who she considered ill-informed and having no redeeming qualities.
She knew what she could be getting herself into.
Gessen bravely wrote about her experience at the Kremlin and shared it with Lafayette students.
“I found Masha to be a true inspiration. She knew what she was doing was dangerous, yet she refused to flee Russia,” Gerald Neto ‘15 said. “That is real dedication to her work and to what she thought was right. This is something we can all learn from.”