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By John Helmer in Moscow

Until the Beest of Fleet Street – aka Richard Beeston, Foreign Editor of the London Times – referred to President Dmitry Medvedev as Vladimir Putin’s “diminutive partner”, none of the establishment media in the world had thought to make an issue of the physical size and proportions of either of Russia’s current rulers.

Beeston had been participating in the latest séance of the Valdai Discussion Club, which met with Putin on September 6. Apparently, he didn’t attend Medvedev’s talk show four days later – Beeston’s assistant said she hasn’t the details because he’s “talking to someone and is too busy.”

There have been ambiguous reports claiming the Valdai Club members were scheduled to meet with Medvedev four days after Putin, on September 10; that Medvedev had refused to meet with the club at all; that the club had not asked for a meeting with Medvedev; and that Medvedev had arranged his own talkshow called the Global Policy Forum at Yaroslavl. According to the record of those participating in the latter, some of the Valdai clubbers showed up.

In the dialogue with his questioners, Medvedev didn’t challenge the history of anyone else’s country, as Putin had of Beeston’s. But Medvedev did say that China’s history definitely isn’t for Russia to follow, though somehow he omitted his reason for that. Medeved also revealed that for the small fry in his own family, he’s keen to remedy the gaps in their historical knowledge.

Still, Medvedev might well have pointed out that in the history of free speech in Europe, on which he placed a great deal of emphasis in his remarks, small men have played a mighty role. The history of disours, juglers, jokers, jesters, and royal fools reveals a thousand years of public truth-telling that was tolerated, even encouraged because of the diminutive size of the truth-teller. Other camouflage for the truth has included such tricks as those of the famous Roland le Pettour – saltum, siffletum et pettum*.

So here, without such diversions, or the motley, baubles, bells, and slops, is a selection of Medvedev’s truths:

Against passing wind

I don’t think the problem now is that there are forces that oppose modernisation, but that a large number of civil servants, and part of the business community too, unfortunately, still see it as a passing thing. They see it as the slogan of the day, but nothing more.

Against fear

Of course only free people can carry out modernisation, only people who consider themselves free, and this is something I will talk about in my speech at the plenary session today. Blinkered, intimidated people who fear the state authorities, fear the law enforcement agencies, fear competitors and even life itself cannot carry out modernisation. Only free people can be modernizers

Against the Chinese model

China has its own road. I think this road is not an option for Russia, and not just now, but 20 years ago too, when we were choosing the new model for our society. This is for a number of reasons – historical and economic reasons, and a question of mentality. We simply could not follow this road. There are some groups in our society that like to repeat, “What a pity that we didn’t follow such and such a model. If the Communist Party Politburo members had had more foresight, Gorbachev and the others, and had taken a more cautious approach in their modernisation, we would have had economic success like China and a stable political system within the Soviet Union’s borders”. But you know, I don’t believe this and don’t think it would have been possible.

Against universities doing the wrong thing (again)

In Russia, universities have traditionally been bastions of liberal ideas; they have often been a place where a variety of events have originated – in essence, a place where revolutions have been masterminded. Certainly, I would prefer the universities not to serve this function today, because Russia has had enough revolutions; we already reached our quota on revolutions in the last century, we may say.

Against dodging history

When I talk with my son, I understand that there are many things he simply doesn’t know because he has never seen them. He has never seen empty shelves in stores, he has never seen a black and white TV screen showing the Vremya [Time] news programme and the Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR speaking, and he has never seen a local Communist Party Committee in his life. I am not saying that these things are necessary, but these are certainly things that people need to know about – the things that we have gotten away from. Hence anyone who says that we are currently living in a totalitarian system is either dodging or has a terrible memory.

For doing something online

I believe that the age of representative democracy may at some point give way to direct democracy, democracy through direct vote via the Web, not only on political but on a variety of issues. Because every time we do something online, we vote for something, be it making a purchase or applying for a public service – that is tantamount to voting. In the same way such advanced methods are used in voting on political issues.

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