An interview with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

An independent press is essential for government to function properly in a democratic state. The point is that in order to make the government accountable to the people for its actions, the people need information. And this information can be found and conveyed only if there is an independent press.

Of course, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice granted us this interview because of the recent murder of our journalist Anna Politkovskaya. One of the interviewers was Anna’s son, Ilya Politkovsky, and Ms. Rice was able to find some precise, firm, and sorrowful words for him.

No introduction

Condoleezza Rice: I’d like to start with something that causes me deep sorrow – the brutal murder of Anna Politkovskaya. She was a heroine for me. Anna Politkovskaya was a symbol of all the best things about independent journalism. She sought to find out the truth at any cost. And I’d like to say that the whole world has lost a person who was a very important symbol.

As for the role of the independent press, it’s very important for any society, especially one that is setting out on the path of democratic development. This role is important not only because it’s an important values factor in a democratic society.

An independent press is essential for government to function properly in a democratic state. The point is that in order to make the government accountable to the people for its actions, the people need information. And this information can be found and conveyed only if there is an independent press.

An independent press plays a very important role when it comes to fighting corruption, questioning government policies, or keeping the government informed about the people’s concerns. I’d like to say that we support your work and hope you will continue it, because we understand the role played by independent media in Russia.

Question: We can continue this work, of course. But this has been our newspaper’s third terrible loss in the past six years. Igor Domnikov was murdered in 2000: he was killed by hired hitmen, and they are now on trial. He was killed for his professional activities. And the contract on him was taken out by a corrupt official – the deputy governor of one of Russia’s regions.

Three years ago, there was the mysterious death of Yuri Shchekochikhin, deputy editor-in-chief, Duma member, head of the anti-corruption commission. That case has not yet been investigated. And now Anna has been killed. Isn’t this too high a price to pay for the right to pursue our professional activities?

Condoleezza Rice: The things you’re describing are our common sorrow. I’m aware of these tragedies. We have let the Russian government know that the murders in the past few years – those you mentioned, and the murders of other journalists – must be investigated, and that the people who commit such murders must know that they will answer for them.

It’s very hard to answer your question in the abstract, since I know that all this has been a personal grief for you, personal losses. But if we look at history, we can conclude that people in many countries have sacrificed themselves for their principles. For a very important cause.

And such sacrifices are never in vain, because freedom will win in the end.

As for journalists – especially muckrakers, investigative journalists – this is indeed a very dangerous occupation, because by their very nature, they tell people the truth about what actually happened. And in the process, they make enemies. After all, the people involved usually have a great deal to lose if the truth comes out and is made public.

But democracy cannot function without independent journalists who engage in such investigations.

I don’t think this will be any consolation for you personally, but I’d like to tell that all these murders have drawn a response worldwide – people all over the world have been deeply affected by them, and have insisted that they should be investigated and those responsible should be punished.

I repeat: you are not alone in your battle.

Question: What do you mean by “a feeling politician”? How important is it for a politician to experience strong feelings? Are politicians made stronger by their kindness and openness?

Condoleezza Rice: It seems particularly important to me that people who are involved in politics should experience the human emotions of which you speak. That they should truly treat people with compassion. And, most importantly, that they should take principles seriously. That’s because I often observe the influence and impact that a politician’s actions can have on people’s lives. So it’s very important for politicians to have such feelings, so they can understand the feelings of others. I think it’s very important for politicians, especially in a democratic society, not to lose touch with human beings. With the people. With those they represent.

Ultimately, however, a politician should lead the people, not be led by them. That is why people who are political leaders often have to make hard decisions. Sometimes these decisions can be unpopular. All the same, this is precisely what people expect from politicians: that they should make hard decisions. Because if they only made easy decisions, then anyone could do it. But making hard decisions requires special qualities. I have to say that I admire people who engage in politics and are prepared to accept the burden of hard decisions for the public good.

Question: So politics isn’t a form of business?

Condoleezza Rice: No, it’s a form of service. It’s a form of serving the people and the country.

Question: We have received the results of a study done by Reporters Without Borders. It ranks Russia 138th on freedom of speech. But the United States ranks 137th on coverage of events in Iraq. Is this self-censorship by journalists or state policy? Is it fear or patriotism?

Condoleezza Rice: It certainly isn’t state policy. I always watch the TV news, and I must say that journalists sometimes speak out very harshly about the US government. For example, reports about the unfortunate events in the Abu Ghraib prison first appeared in the American media. Thus, though I’m not aware of the study you mentioned, I think that the press in the United States is trying to report what it sees, and do so precisely.

Because freedom of the press is accompanied by great responsibility.

All the same, there are cases where the American press does indeed refrain from reporting. This concerns situations when the lives of American soldiers might be endangered. Then a newspaper or a magazine might decide not to report certain circumstances, knowing that people might be killed for it. However, the American government can’t force the New York Times, for example, to refrain from publishing something. Only the newspaper itself can make that decision.

Question: You’re completing a long and difficult tour of a number of countries related to the problem of nuclear testing in North Korea. So will there be a second test or not? What should be done about this problem?

Condoleezza Rice: It has indeed been a long tour, but a very good one. That’s because I have seen how the whole world is united on this – how the international community unanimously condemns what North Korea is doing. I’ve just spoken with Sergei Lavrov, and I’ll be speaking with President Putin later today. The most important thing for all of us is to ensure observance of the latest UN Security Council resolution on North Korea, in order to manage the risks related to that country’s nuclear program.

I don’t know if there will be a second test.

When they conducted the first test, they crossed a certain line drawn by the international community.

But if they do conduct a second test, they’ll only deepen their isolation, because the world’s reaction would be even harsher. Our most important goal is to make North Korea abandon its nuclear program. There is already an agreement, reached during six-party negotiations in September 2005, concerning how that program can be dismantled. But that agreement needs to start functioning. You’re quite right in saying that the situation is very dangerous and the international community must respond to North Korea’s actions very firmly, in order to convince the North Koreans that if they wish to obtain any benefits from the international system, they must abandon this program.