The Voice of Russia

Wednesday, 28 September 2011 23:03
The press office of the British Psychological Society gets many calls from journalists who want to speak to a psychologist about a story in the news. To deal with these requests the press office keeps a list of psychologists who are prepared to talk to journalists about certain topics. Amongst the topics that the BPS lists for me is politics. This means that I get some interesting phone calls.

On September 20 a young man called Dan Moody phoned and said that he had got my name from the BPS. He was from the Voice of Russia and would I do a recorded interview on the topic of dictators. I thought that might be interesting, and agreed to do the interview on September 22. My interviewer would be Catharine Kudashkina.

The home page of the Voice of Russia was very informative. It stated:

The Voice of Russia was the first radio station to broadcast internationally. On the air since October 29th 1929, VOR has been shaping Russia's image worldwide and introducing Russia to the world and highlighting its opinions on global events.

Today VOR broadcasts to 160 countries in 38 languages for a total of 151 hours per day, on short and medium waves, in the FM band, via satellite and through global mobile communications network. In 2003 VOR was among the major international radio broadcasters to launch daily broadcasts to Europe in Digital Radio Mondiale.

VOR programs are broadcast to the USA through satellite channels of the global network, by cable, in the FM band, and through mobile communication links in 16 states. VOR is among the world's top five radio broadcasters which include the BBC, the Voice of America, Deutsche Welle and Radio France International. According to a survey carried out by International Media Help (Switzerland) among radio listeners in 50 countries, VOR is the third in popularity after the BBC and the Voice of America.

When Lenin died in 1924 he was succeeded by a troika of Joseph Stalin, Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev. Lenin did not want Stalin to succeed him because he did not trust him. The Voice of Russia was founded in 1929 when the paranoid Stalin was getting rid of Zinoviev and Kamenev. Getting rid of enemies was an activity Stalin continued to enjoy until he died in 1953. The people working for the Voice of Russia would have had to be very, very careful what they broadcast.

However, I was in England and Russia was now a democracy. When Catharine phoned me and asked me about dictators I felt I could tell her what I thought.

I began by explaining that, although I had not known Hitler and Stalin personally, they had played an important part in my life. Like many people in the 1930s, my father hoped that Communism would be the salvation of the world's poor and dispossessed. He had yet to learn about the horrors that Stalin was inflicting on his people. At home my father talked about politics, and I learned how important it is to know what is going on in the political sphere. I knew about the economic depression we were in, the effects of which were all around me, but it was my father who told me about the civil war in Spain where socialists and communists were fighting the dictator Franco. Throughout the Second World War that followed we schoolchildren were the objects of much government propaganda. We learned to call Britain, the USA and the USSR our Allies. They were the goodies, while Germany, Italy and Japan were the baddies. Of the three leaders, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, I liked Uncle Joe best. He looked like my dad.

At the end of the war when the Holocaust could no longer be denied I began a long quest to understand how it was that an apparently decent people like the Germans would want to have a dictator and willingly carry out a dictator's terrible decrees. As the news of what was happening trickled through my father had to abandon his hope that Communism would bring fairness and justice to an unfair and unjust world.

I did not tell Catharine about my visits in the 1970s and 1980s to East Germany and the USSR, and how frightening such places were but I did tell her that I had come to the conclusion that the most dangerous people in the world were those who believed that they knew what was best for other people. Be they dictators, prime ministers like Margaret Thatcher or apparently ordinary individuals, they always cause harm.

Catharine then asked me about the type of person who became a dictator. I explained to her that, as a psychologist, I did not use a theory of personality types. I talked about how it is that we cannot see reality directly but only the guesses or theories our brain makes about what is going on. Our brain creates these guesses out of our past experience and, since no two people ever have exactly the same experience, no two people ever see anything in exactly the same way.

I went on to describe how, when a person wants to become a dictator, he needs to find people who do not want to take responsibility for themselves but who look to a dictator to make decisions and tell them what to do. It was this symbiotic relationship that gave the dictator his power. I quoted Lord Acton, 'Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

When the recording was finished Catharine thanked me very warmly. She said that she had learned a great deal from what I had said.

Two days later the ruling political party in Russia, the United Russian party, while holding its annual conference, was addressed by President Medvedev. He told them that he was not planning to have a second term. Instead he proposed that Prime Minister Putin, the former KGB spy who had had two terms as President, should be the party's candidate for President. When Putin was President he had not banned opposition parties but he had made it very difficult for them to take part in public life. Medvedev's proposal meant the Putin would be elected unopposed as the new President of Russia.

I think it very unlikely that my interview will be broadcast by the Voice of Russia.

Last modified on Thursday, 03 November 2011 00:21
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