John is joined by Konstantin Kisin, himself Russian by descent, for a conversation about the Russian mindset, popular support for President Putin, the Western response to and coverage of the conflict in Ukraine, Western resilience, the role of satire in public discourse, and much more.
John Anderson: It’s a great pleasure to be able to talk to Constantine Kissen here in London. And we’ve had a conversation before, but this one is really relevant in terms of what’s happening in the world today. He’s a well-known award-winning Russian, British comedian, social commentator, and podcaster. He’s written for publications, including Collette, the Spectator, the Daily Telegraph, and standpoint on issues relating to tech, censorship, woke culture, and comedy.
He’s a very funny man. He’s one of Britain’s most sought after commentators on the culture wars, and more recently owing to his intimate understanding of Russian and Ukrainian society on the Russian Ukrainian conflict. He’s co-host of the podcast, trigonometry and his first book, and immigrants love letter to the West.
Will be published in July this year. The title says it all, but, uh, Constantine, just terrific to see you again.How should we understand your homeland, Russia?
John Anderson: Uh, and for those who might’ve forgotten from our last conversation and so forth, can you give us a bit of a feel for the way in which your life has given you a unique capacity to understand the Russia of your homeland and the Britain that you now live in and understand today as part
Konstantin Kisin: of the West?
Mm-hmm. Well, I grew up in the Soviet Union, uh, with, uh, several generations of my family. I talk about it, uh, in the book quite a lot actually. Uh, you know, I come from three generations of people who, uh, were living in a totalitarian dictatorship, uh, and suffering the consequences being my grandmother lives in, in the uk Now you can go and talk to her.
She’s alive today. She was born in the Gulag, born in, born in
John Anderson: the Gulag. Was that possible that to, you know, to be born and
Konstantin Kisin: survive? Well, what happened was her father, uh, was uh, a very respected engineer who ended up in the Gulag. And so he had some privileges and one of them was when he got together with my grandmother’s mother that they were actually allowed to live separately from the camp, et cetera.
But she was born. In the Gulag, just
John Anderson: explain for those who might not, you know, a lot of young people, you, and I’m, well, you’re younger than me. Yeah.What is a 'gulag'?
John Anderson: Yeah. What’s a gulag? I mean, a pretty horrible place.
Konstantin Kisin: But what’s a gulag? A gulag is a, essentially a constant Soviet concentration camp for their own citizens who had misbehaved in one way or another.
Uh, misbehaved in quotation marks, of course, had said the wrong thing, had the wrong opinion, you know, whatever. Were, were the wrong ethnicity at points in time, you know? Um, and, uh, it was starvation diet, forced labor. I think approximately 10% of the population would be, would end up being dead at the end of the year.
Um, and of course, Alexander Soja Nitin, one of my heroes, he wrote the Gulag Archipelago, in which he exposed for the first time, really the extent of what was happening. Um,
John Anderson: and the West came to understand Russia, but we’ve forgotten it since. I’d suggest. Yeah.
Konstantin Kisin: And that’s where you come in. Well, we came to understand Russia very slowly.
There were a lot of people even in those days, even after it’d been revealed, who wanted to whitewash uh, everything that had been happening in the Soviet Union. So not only my own experience growing up in the tail end of the Soviet Union, but also the histories of my family. Hearing my grandmother in Ukraine, uh, alive today, she’s 96 years old.
You can go and talk to her perfectly. Compass lived through the German occupation of, of Soviet Ukraine. Uh, her husband, my grandfather was taken as a slave laborer to Germany. Uh, and, uh, the interesting thing I always say about him is, Uh, the most dangerous thing you could have been in that period of time was someone who’d been in Germany and come back because everyone liked that Stalin would get stray in the camp or executed ’cause they were a, a traitor or, or, or whatever.
So my grandfather never told anyone he’d been taken to Germany until the Soviet Union collapsed. He waited 50 years, John. That’s how terrified he was. That was the fear that people had in their minds. [00:05:00] And so I grew up with a family full of these stories. My grandmother, who I mentioned, uh, herb family, were Kol acts, uh, wealthy peasants.
They had a horse so that that was how wealthy they were. Uh, and uh, when the Soviets came and began to expropriate everybody’s property, uh, they sent, uh, basically took the house, took every, all their possessions, threw them out onto the street and actually deported them to Siberia. And my grandmother’s little brother, she, she tells the story starved on the way.
As a boy. So I grew up with all of that, um, all of these stories of my family. Um, and now I live here in the heart of one of the most prosperous societies in the world. So that contrast, I think helps me to see things perhaps from a slightly different perspective to most people, and that’s why
John Anderson: it’s so valuable.
Uh, and in recent times, uh, because of the Ukrainian, uh, conflict. You’ve been so sought out as a commentator that I’m, it’s just wonderful to be able to talk to you today. One more question before we, uh, we go to the, the themes we’re talking about, uh, as a, as a, the object of our conversation. It strikes me, and you’re a classic example of it, we think of Russians as very deep thinkers.The Russian sense of humour & culture
John Anderson: You mentioned Tson, but some of the great Russian thinkers, writers, people of extraordinary depth. And you have that about you, but you also have this capacity. To laugh and make others laugh. You’re a comedian. Although at the moment, I
Konstantin Kisin: think probably on a break from comedy now. Yeah, yeah. Uh, for, for reasons we don’t even need to get into, just lifestyle wise, it wasn’t working for me.
But, uh, you know, it’s, it’s a misnomer about Russians. Russians have a great sense of humor. Yeah. Actually, yeah. Uh, a great sense of humor and, and a very dark one. For, for reasons that are fairly obvious. If you, if you open a history book about the history of Russia, you kind of have to be able to laugh at dark things if you wanna have a sense of humor.
So Russians have a great sense, it’s different to, to the one that people have in the West. But, and also, you know, I, I, I, um, I wouldn’t want to, uh, let, I wouldn’t want to allow you to compare me in any way to Alexander Soja Nitin, you know, uh, I, I don’t claim to, to be, to think as deeply or to have gone through anything.
So he went, he was in the Gulag for 10 years. I went to a British boarding school. That’s where the similarities end. Yeah.
John Anderson: Except that you are helping us unpack a society we don’t understand. Mm. We’ve been lazy about. And now suddenly we have to grapple with it because anything could happen As you and I sit here.
Mm-hmm. I think we’d agree. Mm-hmm. Uh, in, in this part of the world. And as a, as an Australian, I’m struck by the fact that people here are not as aware of what’s happening in China. Mm-hmm. In Australia, in my view. We’re not as aware of either situation as we ought be, and you can help us understand it. So, so, so to come to, you wrote recently a fascinating article.Why does Putin enjoy such support in Russia?
John Anderson: It’s a really interesting article, um, on the support that Putin has even now amongst Russians. It’s, it’s surprisingly high. It appears to be directly correlated to the age of the Russians. Um, I sense that most Westerners simply won’t be able to understand that because of their experience of democratic capitalism.
Um, it’s so different to the experience of Russians. Can you unpack for us why, contrary to what we might expect, the anti-democratic Putin actually enjoys, not perhaps popularity, but amazingly strong support among many Russians. Mm-hmm.
Konstantin Kisin: Well, uh, I, I was, I was probably gonna begin my answer by asking you a question.
Uh, what do you think of when I say the word democracy? Uh, uh,
John Anderson: people who are in the end able to dictate to government what it is. Uh, that they want and to remove them peacefully if they don’t deliver. Hmm.
Konstantin Kisin: And with that comes the point of a pencil, not a gun. Prosperity. Yeah. Stability. Security and many other things
John Anderson: whilst people remain true to the ideals of democracy and understand its foundations quite, quite, quite, quite.
Konstantin Kisin: why, well, we can get into that conversation separately, but if we stick with, with answer to your que initial question is when you think of democracy, you think about the ability to remove a leader peacefully. Yeah. Transition of power, security, stability, and prosperity. That’s why we all think democracy is great.
If you say democracy to a Russian person, well, you’ve got to look at our history. We’ve never had democracy. Yeah. Russia has never had Russia. The first, uh, mention historically of Russia is 8 8 8 82. Um, so 1200, 1200 years ago, a long time ago. In that entire period, there’s never been a single democratic transition of power ever.
Ever. Yeah. The only time Russia experimented with quote unquote democracy, and for people listening, I’m using quotation marks was the period between 1991. Yeah. And the period, and 1999 when Vladimir Putin becomes prime minister and eventually president. That period is probably one of the most traumatic periods in the history of anyone alive in Russia today.
It was a [00:10:00] time in which, uh, you went from a poor and unfree society, which was the Soviet Union, and which most people didn’t really know how poor and how unfree they were to a society of complete chaos, rampant crime. Uh, you went from, you know, you were a university professor with a respectable job and, and today and tomorrow, and I mean, tomorrow you were selling your belongings in the street.
Your children who were in school and doing well. All you, all they needed to do was get the right grades and go to the right university, and then they would have a career. It wouldn’t be a great career, but it would be one that would, their life would be okay. Suddenly, your son was sent, shipped off to fight in Chechnya, which you’d never heard of before, and your daughter was a prostitute because that was how quickly the society changed.
I’m not saying that was every single person’s experience, but we all knew somebody. We all knew somebody who’d fallen, A woman who’d fallen preyed to the slave tread, or a person who, uh, you know, lost a son in Chechnya, or was wounded or was sent to the military, uh, or someone who ended up going from being wealthy to being in extreme poverty.
People who drank themselves to death, people who took drugs and, and, and overdosed on drugs. We all, and the thing that was most important about that, it was through no fault of your own, the society collapsed around you and everything. You’d worked for, all your savings gone overnight, gone. Think about that.
Yeah. Think how shocking that is to people. It’s very hard to come to grip check. Yeah. It’s hard to imagine. People will listen to this and go, oh, but you can’t imagine it. Everything in your life, think about your life now, your family, your friends, your finances, how much money you have, your job, all of that gone through.
No fault of your own. You’ve done nothing wrong, but the society has collapsed and suddenly it’s chaos and you are not prepared for this market capitalist society. You were told all your life, be a good Soviet citizen, go to school, go to university, do your job, do what you’re told and you did and you had a decent life.
And suddenly all of that’s over, right? He was extremely traumatic, extremely shocking. And Vladimir Putin is widely seen in Russia as the person who ended that chaos. He comes in, he ends the Warren Chene, he deals with the threat of terrorism. Uh, he stabilizes the country economically, mainly because oil prices are extremely high.
And so he’s able to share some of that wealth with the people. And so, yes, of course. And also importantly as well, he stabilizes the country by nationalizing the crime and corruption. Crime and corruption doesn’t end, it just becomes controlled. And it is exercised through the state. He’s the person who is the chief oligarch and he has other oligarchs under him who are all appointed.
They’re all appointed. There is no such thing as an independent, uh, there is no real private property at that level in Russia, if you are a billionaire, you’re not really a billionaire. You’re a billionaire as long as you are faithful to the regime. Mm-hmm. Right? So it’s controlled that rampant sort of, uh, capitalism, exploitative capitalism that we saw in the nineties is over in Russia.
It’s controlled, it’s nationalized. So he’s widely seen as having brought stability. And the worst of it is, John, is that this layers on top. Russian history in which every time there’s been instability of some kind, or almost every time, what happens is a foreign invasion, some kind of deep, deep, uh, social, uh, discord, strife, et cetera.
There’s a period in Russian history called Times of Trouble. Mm. And this is the thing every child is taught about at school. And this, this was the time the, the, the polls and the Lithuanians, whoever it was, came and, and took over our country and humiliated us, and we, this great people were under the boo.
And before that, we were under the Mongols. And Russian history is all about these periods of chaos and instability in which some external force comes in and ruins us. And all it takes is a strong leader who’s gonna come in, stabilize things, and take control. So if the only thing in your mind when you hear the word democracy is the 1990s, why on earth would you want to go back there?Why hasn't democracy worked in Russia?
John Anderson: Can you give us a bit of a feel as to why the Russian experience with democracy was so different? I, I’m thinking of Peter Hitchens, who lived there for many years and said that decades of atheistic communism stripped the soul out of, of the people. And they became perhaps very ill-equipped, I’m putting maybe words in his mouth to understand how to make democracy work.
Uh, and, and so what you got was a, a, a very perverted form of doc democracy. And if you like, croy crony capitalism rather than real capitalism, you’ve touched on it in your writings, the very wrong people, the ver the people that decent Russian citizens would’ve seen as, as, as crooks and, and, and, and low life, suddenly under this new form of capitalism had all the wealth and the power.
And, and I remember 25 years ago running into some of them in Europe thinking, These are not the sort of people that you’d expect to be wealthy and influential. [00:15:00] No. You wouldn’t trust ’em as far as you could throw them. No.
Konstantin Kisin: They’re common criminals, most of them. Yeah. Quite, uh, I look, I I don’t, I can’t give you an exact answer of, it’s a very complicated question.
The other things I, I didn’t even mention in my previous answer is you also had a massive financial crisis. Several of them. Yeah. Defaults. Yeah. Ruble, all, all kinds inflation. In 1998, John nine, not 19 91, 19 98, inflation was 84%. 84%. 84%. Right. So we’re talking about a society that is completely unstable and unpredictable.
Uh, I don’t know exactly. I think one of the difficulties was, and this probably would’ve happened no matter what, and no matter what country it was, when you go from state ownership of everything. Mm-hmm. You gotta remember in the Soviet Union, nobody owned anything. Yeah. You did not have private property.
You were given an apartment. Yeah. But it wasn’t yours to own. It was allocated to you by the state. Right. Um, all, all the manufacturing plants, the oil refineries, all of that was owned by the people, quote unquote. Right. How do you go from that to a market economy in which it’s private property? Well, someone has to own it.
And in a situation like that where um, you know, one of the corroding effects of communism on people’s minds is it completely strips everybody of any morality because it’s, uh, man is wolf to man as they say. It’s about what you can do because everything is about bribes, corruption. Can I get this? Can I get that?
Because, uh, the market mechanisms of going, well, look, I have this thing and you have $10. Let’s exchange doesn’t work. I have a thing, you have $10, but it’s not money. I want, I want a favor from you when I need one. And everything becomes about that. And so you’ve got a a, you’ve got a huge amount of assets to divide and a deeply corrupt mentality that exists, uh, already in place, of course, that those assets, that wealth is gonna accumulate in the hands of a small minority of people who are prepared to rob steal murder and, and do everything that they need to do to achieve it.
John Anderson: Um, I thought when I read your recent, uh, material on all of this, that, uh, the point that really, the thing that really proved up what you were saying was a direct correlation between the age of Russians and the degree to which they were prepared to support Mr. Putin younger Russians. Have quite a different view to older Russians who really experienced the horrors of the nineties.
Konstantin Kisin: Uh, they do. Uh, that’s not to say, by the way, just still 50% of young Russians according to official polling anyway, support, uh, Putin, you’ve gotta be careful with opinion polls in totalitarian regimes. I, I always give this example, uh, or at least dictate, you know, maybe totalitarian has gone a little far, but authoritarian dictatorship style regimes.
You know, c Chao Chesca in, in Romania, for example, had a 93% approval rating the day before he was overthrown. And it’s some early executed, right? Mm-hmm. So opinion polling in these kind of countries is not as reliable, but there’s a lot of support in among young Russian people too, um, is just lower than it is elsewhere.
And, and, uh, you probably start to see it actually go up now, John, because, uh, of the, the mass campaign of propaganda that’s happening in Russia, it, uh, you know, I, I hesitate to make this comparison, but I do think it’s accurate. So, Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting Vladimir Putin is Hitler or the Russia’s Nazi Germany or anything of the kind, but you’ve got to understand 80% of Russians get their news from television exclusively.
80%. None of this Twitter. Yeah, newspaper, whatever. Television exclusively. Russia does not have any more, is single independent TV channel does not have a single, not one, not one. Radio channel, newspapers. They’ve all been shut down. All of them, uh, children as young as three and four and five in kindergartens are being lined up for photo shoots with this Zed thing.
Teachers, I know this personally because I have friends in Russia who are in the teaching. They’re required to give a daily or weekly update on the quote unquote special operation in Ukraine. So children are being indoctrinated with this stuff in, and the teachers that they are learning their maths and whatever from, are the ones delivering it to them, lining them up for photo shoots, et cetera.
So the level of propaganda in Russia is bels, like, uh, and of course some of the messaging is, is hitting all the sweet spots of, of Russian mentality, which is we’re under attack, we’re fighting Nazism again, just like we did in, in the 1940s. And we are the ones that defeated the Nazis, uh, et cetera, et cetera.
So, uh, I don’t see support for Putin going down until, uh, until, and unless things change dramatically.
John Anderson: So that’s a really interesting thing. You’ve been monitoring what the Russian people and you understand what it’s hap what’s happening as a result of that in a way that we haven’t been, we, we’ve not been at seeing and hearing what the Russians are seeing and hearing.
You’ve been monitoring their media quite [00:20:00] closely, I understand. Yes. Yeah. Um, the, um, you yourself have done a lot of interviews on this subject now, and whether you have intended it or not, as I alluded to earlier, you’ve now actually emerged as one of the most insightful, uh, British analysts on what’s happening.Mainstream coverage of the Ukraine conflict
John Anderson: Can I ask you how that varies from, um, the coverage of the conflict in the, in the broader UK and Western media? Uh, do, do you think we’re getting more real. Or not in our understanding and our
Konstantin Kisin: coverage. Well, as you know, I’m a massive critic of the mainstream media. Yeah. Uh, on, on many different issues, uh, over the last, in fact, trigonometry on the set of which you sit is really comes out of going well.
Look, we we’re constantly being told things that aren’t entirely accurate and our country’s being misrepresented and the things that are happening politically are being misrepresented. Uh, I think on, on the situation in Ukraine, my main criticism if I had one of the mainstream media is not so much that they’re misrepresenting what’s happening, but you, you know, there’s this, if it bleeds, it leads effect where we are focusing very heavily the individual tragedies and they’re horrific.
And of course they deserve coverage. Uh, but I think the, the bigger strategic picture and what’s actually happening and why isn’t really being covered properly. That’s my main criticism. Uh, I think obviously I. With in a war, truth will be the first casualty. So there’s a lot of propaganda flying around from both sides.
Uh, and the western media have fallen for a few. Just, uh, you know, the story with Snake Island and a few other things that, uh, where the Ukrainians are obviously fighting a war of survival. And so they’re gonna, they need to motivate their people. They need to create new myths, and I don’t use that word, derogatory in a derogatory way.
They need to create narratives about we are defending our land and sometimes they’re gonna say things that aren’t entirely true ’cause this is what happens in war. And some of the western media have been a bit too. Uh, to keen to rep to reproduce some of that. Um, but broadly speaking, I, I haven’t had, my main criticism, as I say, has been that we’re not really being told about what’s happening, why it’s happening, uh, in terms of the actual war, and we’re focusing a little bit too much on the individual and slightly, perhaps irrelevant.
Uh, de no irrelevant, that’s the wrong word. Uh, the, the details don’t tell us anything about the bigger picture. That’s my main concern, I would say. Tell
John Anderson: me, um, uh, I think one of the, uh, the things that you’ve commented on when we were talking earlier is that it’s hard for us to understand in the West what happens in the east, what, what really happens there, what those cultures are like, because actually Ukraine is an incredibly resource rich country.
Mm-hmm. Um, that’s of interest to Australians, for example, it’s the fifth largest grain trader in the world. Australia’s number six. Mm-hmm. Uh, and food inflation even availability is gonna be a horrendous problem, I think coming up. Unless something unforeseen comes along to resolve some of these issues.
Um, yet, you know, here we are, we’re all great admirers of Zelensky for very good reason under the fighting spirit of the Ukrainians. It’s very easy to forget though, that they are different for societies. They’re, they’re, they’re not like us. That despite being resource rich, for example, I understand the people of Ukraine were poorer than the Russians, despite all of those resources that corruption was rife.
Um, and in many ways we need to go into this with eyes open. They’re very different societies to ours.
Konstantin Kisin: Yes, I think of all the post-Soviet countries other than Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, which were never really part of that world anywhere. They were just annexed by Stalin in, in, in the 19, uh, thirties and forties.
Um, the Ukraine has done the most to move in a westward direction, but of course, people shouldn’t delude themselves. If you remember a few minutes ago, we were talking about how Putin nationalized corruption, And took it under his personal control in Ukraine, that never quite happened. So Ukraine is, uh, still in to some extent what has been, we will see what emerges on the other side of this conflict.
Uh, and I, I very much hope that the West would, the acceleration of the already existing pro western movements in Ukraine results in a freer and more transparent, uh, and economically more transparent society. But, but of course, Ukraine is and has been in the grips of battles between different oligarchs who control different parts of the country, different industries, et cetera.
So yeah, of course Ukraine’s a corrupt country in Europe. What, what did people expect? It’s not Norway, it’s not Sweden, it’s it’s Eastern Europe. Um, and. The legacy of the Soviet Union and, and everything that had come before that. Uh, and you’ve gotta remember as well, this is a country that’s been ravaged by war repeatedly, over and over.
It’s not a country that’s enjoyed stability for centuries, like a country like Britain, for example, right? Which has not been invaded, hasn’t had its territory occupied by an o o occupying enemy force. Et cetera. Uh, so, you know, it’s not gonna be a Western style [00:25:00] democracy, but the movement has been happening in that direction since 1991.
So, um, uh, I remember my, uh, grandfather, uh, a Russian speaker all his life. Ukrainian, uh, the moment the Soviet Union collapsed, the first thing he did is started speaking Ukrainian. I remember so well ’cause he used to annoy the hell outta me. ’cause I couldn’t understand. And this was my beloved grandfather.
Um, and I, I often give this example, uh, we didn’t have double glazing. Is that the same term in Australia? In the Soviet Union, we didn’t have it. Mm. And when it first appeared in Ukraine, do you know what they called it? No. Euro windows. Right? Euro windows. Yeah. Because everything that was good. Yeah. That was developed technologically more new and, and sophisticated was seen as coming from the west.
That’s the direction Ukraine took. Russia didn’t take the same direction. Russia. In Russia, people are much more skeptical, uh, and antagonistic towards the west. Generally speaking, they see the West as interfering and meddling in, in, in their affairs. Whereas in Ukraine, it was much more widely perceived as helpful.
So that’s one of the reasons that Ukraine has moved towards the west, uh, while, while Russia hasn’t. Uh, but, but yeah, these are countries in Eastern Europe. There’s gonna be a lot of corruption and a lot of other things that we wouldn’t see in the Western democracy.
John Anderson: Well, let’s give credit where credit’s due.
Mm-hmm. Uh, it, it’s a, a very admirable thing that they stood up the way they have. Yeah. They want control of their own destiny. Mm-hmm. That’s a tremendous start. Absolutely. They want their sovereignty. Um, Putin and I suspect his friends in Beijing must have been truly stunned at what they ran into. Uh, uh, uh, you know, uh, Well-trained people.
I understand the Britts did a lot of the training, so their chains of command work better. Mm-hmm. You know, if a senior officer was knocked out, the next knew what to do right down to the common soldier where it’s in Russia, you take the senior bloke out. Mm-hmm. No one else knows what to do. Then there’s the technology of those Western weapons.
They’ve, they’ve we’re all watching with enormous interest. I mean, you have relatively modest weapons wiping out tanks and sinking capital ships. Mm-hmm. This must have been an incredible surprise to Putin.The Achilles heel of autocracies
And does that make it even more dangerous in one way? Or does it mean that they, both the Russians and the Chinese are saying, whoa, the West’s not quite as degenerate as we thought.
Konstantin Kisin: I don’t know, uh, what Vladimir Putin’s thinking. Mm-hmm. I think there are very few people in the world who know exactly what he’s thinking. I think it seems to me at least that, uh, as you know, for, well, every system of government has its strengths and weaknesses. One of the big strengths of an authoritarian system like the one that Russia has is the ability to plan long term.
The same with with, with Beijing. They’re able to think 20, 30 years into the future and plan things and put things in place in a way that a democratic society simply is unable to do. Um, but the drawbacks of that system, particularly where, where there’s a single leader, uh, who wields complete authority over everybody in that country, is that they become, uh, someone that people are afraid to speak truth to.
Uh, speaking truth to power in a democracy means you might lose your job. Speaking truth to power in Russia means you might lose your head. Yeah. And under those circumstances, yeah, what you create is a structure where people are being told, you are being told as the leader of what you want to hear, as opposed to what the truth is, which is why you saw immediately after the invasion, several of the key intelligence people, uh, under Putin being put under house arrest.
And there’s a lot of internal recriminations now happening in Russia because it’s quite clear he was told a lot of lies about what would happen. He was told Ukrainians would welcome the Russian liberate as well. That hasn’t happened. It’s happened quite, the welcome has been rather different and so on and so forth.
So that’s part of it. I think also we shouldn’t underestimate, uh, the impact of morale. On all of this, I’m not a historian, but from the history that I’ve read, for example, the, the, the Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union was extremely successful in the first year and a half of the war. And part of that was the Soviet soldiers didn’t wanna fight for Stalin, the man who had just massacred and butchered and imprisoned their families.
And so one of the things you saw is the soldiers unwilling to fight. Well, imagine that on top of that, you now have, you’re being sent to a foreign country where you are supposed to do things and risk your life. Uh, we’ve seen quite a lot. I think that the morale is not very high among Russian troops. Uh, if you know that your generals are the one who sold your rations off, uh, for money, uh, and you are now having to raid Ukrainian supermarkets for food, I don’t imagine that inspires a strong fighting spirit either, uh, whereas the Ukrainians, of course, are fighting to defend their homes and their land.
So I think that’s been a big difference as well. And as you say, You know, we we’re seeing as well, militarily, and I’m not an expert on it, but I think we we’re seeing that, um, you know, if, if a, if a handheld missile, like a javelin or a, or an in-law whatever, can take out a, a, a, a multimillion dollar tank, [00:30:00] um, and they’re effective at doing this, you know, that, that, that would suggest that Ukrainians are, are, are gonna be able to defend themselves more effectively than some people thought.
John Anderson: Now I see you as somebody who, uh, really understands the West and loves it, but the title of your book’s very interesting, an Immigrant’s Love Letter to the West coming up and it brings to mind a saying, uh, that I heard someone utter the other day. Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I don’t love you.
Indeed. It might mean that I do love you. And what I, what I hear is a tone of wake up in the West. You’ve been a great critic of wokeness and perhaps you see that, and I certainly do as a product of an indulgent society that. Hasn’t been terribly realistic about the big challenges confronting
Konstantin Kisin: it. I think that’s true.
Uh, but I don’t disagree with the West. I very much agree with the West and with the things that underpin it. And that’s my point. Yes,
John Anderson: you’re a great respecter of it. Yes. But as an outsider, yeah. We should honor the fact that often someone outside the family, for example, who can pinpoint, Hey, listen mate, you, you know, you realize there’s an area here that you need to think about.
Mm-hmm. ’cause you’re not helping your own family or whatever it is, you know? Yeah.The depths of Western foundations
Konstantin Kisin: And look, there are plenty of people in and you say, because you care. Yeah, absolutely. I do. And, uh, as you know, my wife’s about to give birth to our, our first child. Congratulations. Thank you very much. And I, I, um, We mentioned Alexander, so Nitin earlier.
Yeah. And one of the things that he did, and he, he kind of, um, he turned a lot of people off in the west when he came from the Soviet Union. He went to America and he was perceived as sort of lecturing Americans about their moral decadence and, and, um, I, I’m not someone who’s, I’m not an outsider here to tell you how to run your country and run your life.
I’m one of you now. Yeah. I’m here and my children are gonna live in this country, and that’s why I care deeply about what’s going to happen in this society. So, uh, all I’m trying to do is remind people of the things that are underpin, the value, the values, the freedoms, the prosperity that we enjoy here.
They didn’t fall out of the sky. John, as you well know. Yeah. They come from centuries of. Ideological discussion of war. People have bled to make this country as prosperous and as free as it is. And I think we owe it to ourselves to not forget that and to remember the value of everything that, that, that that’s been created here.
These are not accidents. It is not an accident that Russian people like Sergey Brin, uh, have to leave the Soviet Union with their family and go to America, and that’s where they start Google. It’s not an accident that people have to flee China and, and Russia and immigrate and build their businesses and create the things that they create elsewhere.
It’s an accident. The West is not more technologically advanced by virtue of some kind of historical misunderstanding. There are reasons for that, right? And of course, part of that reason is Western countries have been dominant in the world. But another part is the system of government and the way that we do business in the West has facilitated that.
I. And, uh, I don’t want us to lose that. And I don’t want my children to, to live in a society that falls behind. You know, uh, this, this is one of the big concerns I have, uh, with many people in the West is they, uh, we’ve been so successful in the West. We’ve been so comfortable in the West that we forget that at the end of the day, life is a competition.
And there, as we talked about last time when you interviewed me the first time I made this point, people in Russia and China are not sitting around doing identity politics. As I said at the time, they’re getting ready. And now you’re starting to see the Serge Var of the Russian Foreign Minister talked only days ago about how the purpose of what they’re doing in Ukraine is to push.
America out of Eastern Europe, and it is to end the American global dominance in the world. That’s what people want. And make no mistake about it, they’re coming for what we have. And I’ve tried to make this point to people over and over and over again. We don’t live in some magical, rainbow colored world in which everyone wants to live happily and, and trade and whatever.
Yes, that’s part of it. But there are, there are a lot of people in the world who just want what we have, and they’re coming.
John Anderson: Our prime minister deserves a lot more credit for his framing up of the very things you’re talking about. He’s talked about an arc of autocracy. Uh, and we need to be alert to that.
And it, this is what’s so valuable about what you’re saying because you understand what autocracy is like. Mm-hmm. You can see what we’ve got and why it’s worth fighting
Konstantin Kisin: for. I, I feel that very strongly. I think it’s really important. Uh, and you know, one of the things that I think we, it’s very difficult not to take for granted things to which you’ve never experienced an alternative.
If you’ve always lived in a prosperous democracy, how it’s like the sky, what you don’t expect the sky to fall down upon you, right? In the same way, you don’t expect democracy to end. You don’t expect your freedoms to be curtailed. [00:35:00] But we’ve seen even over the last two years that, uh, that, um, softness that we’ve developed and that comfort causes us, I think to be vulnerable.
Uh, we are so attached to, to safety and comfort and stability that we will throw away our rights. And freedoms when push comes to shove. And that worries me.
John Anderson: You touched on the fact that it took years, centuries, and bloodshed and a lot of deep, deep thinking and what have you, uh, to, to develop the institutions of freedom in the West.
We’re now very cynical about our leaders. That’s dangerous. When we become cynical about the institutions, that’s even more dangerous. I had a searing moment of seven or eight years ago. I, um, through a a, a charity I was involved with, embedded myself in a tertiary education institution in Myanmar, the old Burma.
Mm. And after I’d been there about three or four days, I was about to leave. It was really noticeable. Many of them, they saw me as some sort of quasi authority figure. You know, I’d been something in a western country and they were a bit weary of me. The sort of natural leaders in a class came up to me afterwards.The Western reaction to Russian aggression
John Anderson: You could tell they were the natural leaders and they spokesman. Uh, a young man looked me in the iron. He said, in terms of great exasperation, we’d just like to ask you. We think the generals that were tragically wrong are going to open up, we’ll get some democracy. And he said, how do we build a democracy?
How do we build a system of elections, uh, and what have you that work? How do we build a justice system? How do we build a welfare system? How do we build an education system? How do we build a fund plan for infrastructure? Mm-hmm. And I thought, these are such big questions, and all I could say was it took us year centuries to do it in the West, but we could throw it all away far too
Konstantin Kisin: quickly.
Mm-hmm. Well, I, I think that’s true. We could do, but I also have never been more optimistic in the last few years than I ha I am now. It could be just the, the upcoming fatherhood is, is forcing me to take an optimistic view, which is extremely unnatural for me, both as an individual and as a Russian. But, um, uh, I won whether.
I’ve been very surprised by the West’s reaction to Ukraine. Yeah. Very pleasantly So, yeah. John, uh, when the, the invasion happened, Francis and I, my co-host sat here and, and we talked about live or about I. What was happening and I said many things which have turned out to be correct. I said some things, which we are yet to see if they’re correct.
And I said some things which haven’t turned out to be right. For example, I said, NATO’s over. Mm. I don’t think that’s true. Yeah. Anymore. We’ve seen a strength of response from the west that’s been unexpected. Now we can quibble with, you know, should Germany have sold off or closed down the nuclear power plants?
Probably not. Right. And I’ve been saying this for years. Should they have made themselves as reliant on Russian oil and gas as they have? No, they shouldn’t. But generally the reaction from the west has been far stronger than what I expected. I don’t know if you were surprised by it
John Anderson: as well. Uh, very much so.
And, and like You delighted? Yeah. The greatest danger is we drop the ball, get bored and back off. Yeah.
Konstantin Kisin: So Germany, we haven’t done that. No, we haven’t done that. But there’s a long way to go. There’s a long way to go. But Germany paying a very
John Anderson: high price at this point. Very impressive. And a left of center government with a green foreign minister is saying We’ve got a double defense expenditure.
Konstantin Kisin: extraordinary. Yeah. Well, it’s the wake up call perhaps that the west is needed. Yeah. So I’m optimistic on that. I think on the cultural stuff, we’re starting to see shifts. You know, I don’t want to get too, too deep into the weeds of the culture war, but I’ve said from day one that I thought the trans issue, I.
Would be what broke this whole thing. And I think slowly but surely you’re starting to see that as you see waves of people who’ve transitioned because they were encouraged to, uh, and now regretting it. Tragic stories, by the way, John, these are people who’ve mutilated their own bodies and now coming back.
And by the way, look, we’ve had a ton of trans people on our show who deserve to be treated respectfully, who deserve to be, uh, enjoy every opportunity and freedom in life just as all the rest of us do. Uh, but some of the excesses of that ideology, not the people, but the ideology, we’re now starting to see the consequences of that, about which we’ve been warning for some time.
You had the Keira Bell case here. We had the Kera Bell case, but there’s thousands of people like Keira behind that as well. You’ve got to remember, uh, and you’re starting to see them pop up now, and hopefully the, you know, we can stop all this craziness before it gets too late and before the numbers just become astronomical.
But you know, we’re starting to see. Uh, enough pushback against some of these excesses that, that at least the pendulum is slowing, perhaps maybe even starting to swing another direction. And so my concern is that we don’t over swing back because there is a risk always that if you antagonize people, uh, along racial lines, [00:40:00] if you antagonize people along sexuality lines, you end up with a position where we actually start to roll back some of the advances we’ve had.
And, and instead of going, well, look, maybe the trans ideology has gone too far. We’ve gotta protect our children from being encouraged to transition in one way or another. People start to actually go, well, this whole L G B T Q thing and gay people, all of that gets thrown out with the bath water. We’ve gotta be careful.
So that I think is actually one of the concerns for me as well. As we adjust and, and our culture starts to shift perhaps back somewhere or in a different healthier direction, we’ve gotta make sure we don’t overs winging. As well. Um, so I’m starting to see some positive moves on that side of things as well.On slavery & ethnic tensions
Konstantin Kisin: Uh, so I’m optimistic. I’m, we’ve got to be optimistic, John. We must be optimistic. And, uh, of course I, uh, you know, one of the reasons I wrote the book is I want people in the west to wake up and to recognize the, the, the tremendous value of what we have here. But I also have to say, you know, I hope it’s your children and grandchildren and my children and grandchildren who are the ones who are building that better society.
And if we take responsibility, which we should do for making sure that we are educating our children correctly, which we haven’t been for quite a long time, if they understand history, not just British history or colonial history, but history, John history, history means context. It means you understand not only what the British Empire was doing in the 18th century, but also what the Russian Empire was doing in the 18th century and what the Arab slave traders were doing while the western colonial powers were engaging in the horrific.
Transatlantic slave trade, that’s history. If we can teach our children that, if they can understand the context, I think there’s a very real chance that the west can prosper. Again. I
John Anderson: couldn’t agree more ’cause he’s really hit on something that strikes me as really important here. Um, who says slavery’s wrong?
Where did that idea come from? It was endemic in just about every culture, in every society across the world. And we’re right here in the city where it was determined by a culture that it was wrong. Mm-hmm. And a massive investment was made in any, not just in this country, which is the most powerful on earth at the time, but in obliterating it everywhere else, but that part of the story’s not told it’s contextualization.
Mm-hmm. So now we’ve got move to d statue. I understand. In Edinburgh, um, uh, the, uh, Livingston, you know, the famous, uh, African Explorer and abolitionist. Mm-hmm. On the basis that when he was 10 years old, effectively a, a slave laborer, I suppose he worked in a cotton factory and the cotton would’ve been produced by slaves.
Where’s the contextualization? That’s the point you’re
Konstantin Kisin: making. That is the point I’m making. I have a whole chapter about slavery in the book and I talk about my grandfather being taken a slave laborer to Germany. The fact that, as I told you, my great-grandfather who was in the Gulag as the engineer, do you remember what we talked about earlier?
Yes. Yeah. He served his sentence on completely spurious grounds of 10 years. And he was kept in the camps for another three years. ’cause he was needed, he was a slave. And this was in living memory, right? So we shouldn’t pretend that slavery, um, is in any way unique to the west. It’s an awful, awful thing, John.
Uh, but every society has engaged in it throughout history, and that’s the context for which we need to look at ourselves. Uh, it’s easier for me being a dark skinned immigrant to talk about it, which is one of the reasons that I wrote the book because I think there are plenty of people in the West who disagree and criticize and critique some of these cultural movements that we’ve seen.
But I think as an outsider, I have perhaps a little bit more leeway and, and I can give a bit more context that people aren’t necessarily aware of because we’ve been guilt tripped. We’ve been guilt tripped about our past. You, you don’t have any responsibility for things that happened 400 years ago, and I don’t think anyone should feel guilt because of the color of their skin.
I think the reintroduction of racialized thinking into our societies is one of the worst things that we could do to ourselves. That’s why I’ve been pushing back so strongly against it. I don’t. I want my black friends to be treated differently because they’re black, and I don’t want my white friends to be treated differently because they’re white.
And the fact that we now live in a society where it’s become acceptable to say, oh, you are a white man, or, or whatever. And that is somehow a dismissive thing that, that like, that implies with that, that you have some sort of lower value in the hierarchy of who’s allowed to express an opinion and whatever.
I think it’s outrageous. I think it’s disgusting, and I think it needs to end. And I am determined, uh, that as a result of the conversations that we have on this show and you have on your show, and the broader leaking of that into the public domain, because I think a lot of people have fed up it, frankly, John, uh, I, I am determined that that ends.
Yeah. We’ve got to go back to the point, and I, I sort of tweeted a quip about it the other day. I said, I, I, I have a dream that one day, um, our ideas will be judged on their merit as opposed to the color of our skins. Yeah. We should be able to say what we think, uh, and irrespective of where we come from, that is the western idea.
That is to me why the west is west. Preserving it is the only part of the world, John, in the history [00:45:00] of the world where that idea has actually been embraced. Ever. Ever. And you know, there are challenges with building multi-ethnic societies like the ones we have in the west. It dealt very differently in other countries.
As you know, in China it’s very different. In Russia it’s the same. Uh, most of the rest of the world operates on a very simple basis. There is an ethnic group that is the dominant one of that society. Everybody else is some sort of second class citizen. And that’s the way that it is. We are trying to do better here.
We are trying desperately. And it comes with difficulties and it comes with challenges and it comes with problems. But we are desperately trying and we should be encouraged and celebrated for that. Not talked about like we’re the worst people in the world ’cause we’re not.
John Anderson: It’s the western liberal democracies that give people an opportunity to correct the things that need correcting.
Mm-hmm. I think is what you’re saying. Absolutely. That’s gold. I mean, it’s just fantastic.On the response to Covid-19
John Anderson: Um, COVID had people drawing all sorts of conclusions about what a sort of society we’ve become. Frankly, I think there’s a lot of nonsense out there, particularly in my own country, where you’ve had everything from state governments that have handled it well through the state governments that have handled it terribly.
But I’m not sure in the end, the Australian people haven’t found the, the people, I think they got there ahead of the politicians to a sensible balance. And, and I think the same in Britain actually. You got there, it was messy, it was untidy. Maybe it was like bismarck’s sausage making, you know, you don’t wanna see it.
And it wasn’t a good thing to go through. But I, I’d
Konstantin Kisin: quibble with that somewhere. Where are we now? I’d quibble with that somewhere, John. Okay. I think we went way too far in this country. Right. We went way too far. And I’m not talking about the medical
John Anderson: side. You written about this, haven’t you? Something you said
Konstantin Kisin: went viral.
Yes. I, I wrote a, a long Twitter thread, which became an article, which became a video on our YouTube channel, uh, which explained why people are hesitant about taking the vaccine. Uh, and my critique there was mainly about how we’ve been misled by the media for so long. It’s understandable. That some people are hesitant about the messaging they’re hearing, and I, I think that’s a legitimate point, but I’m not talking about that.
What I’m talking about is we had, uh, in this country a genuine conversation about forcing people, individual free citizens to inject something into their body because the governments decided that this is what they must do. That is a line that is, in my opinion, way too far. I don’t agree with the government being able to force you to inject something into your body.
I agree with that. Right? Yep. And,
John Anderson: and we had that freedom of conscience is critical in the end. You’ve,
Konstantin Kisin: you’ve gotta be able to decide what goes in and outta your body. I, I’m, that’s why I am in favor of, I know we, we probably disagree on this, but, uh, decriminalizing certain types of drugs because I think that is your freedom to do that, even if it’s to your detriment.
We are free citizens and we’re free to make decisions for ourselves, even if they have negative consequences for us. And I felt that pushing that line was inappropriate and it was wrong and I was out. In Parliament Square with a tiny number of people who felt the same as I did, not because I was some wacko who thought the vaccines are, you know, some globalist conspiracy to, to whatever.
Whatever the nonsense was that was being spread around. I felt the lines about our freedoms and our right as individuals were, were being crossed. And the reason I love the West, which is why I’ve written the book, is I think this is one of the few societies that respect your right as an individual to make your own choices.
So I think we went too far. Now did we row back from that eventually? Thankfully, yes we did. But I thought that the amount of protesting and screaming and shouting and writing to members of parliament, you know, we, people watch our show, politicians, whatever, having to contact them and go, Hey, what the hell are you doing?
I’ve had these conversations with ministers in the government. What the hell are you doing? Who do you think you are? Why do you think you have the right to tell a person in this country? You must take this injection, which carries risks. They’re tiny risks, but they exist. And if you are a healthy young person, you should be free to make that decision for yourself.
I don’t see any reason that the government should be pursuing that sort of strategy, discriminating against people, uh, for not choosing what the government would like them to do. So I think we went too far. And I think there are many countries like Austria and Germany that locked unvaccinated people in the homes.
That went way too far. Yeah. I
John Anderson: should backtrack a bit. There was quite a bit of that, particularly in some states in Australia. Yes. And it’s had international attention. Yes. I happen to come from a state where I think it was better handled than Australia. We were like America, we’re a federation. But I think my real point, the reason that I sounded as I did, is that.
I actually think in our, in my own country, the people got there before the politicians. I think you’re saying the same thing. They shouldn’t have had to make so much noise, but my impression is the people got there before the politicians said, this is ridiculous.
Konstantin Kisin: Don’t that live like this, so we’re not going to live like this.
It would be the right thing for me to say in order to be liked by the largest number of people watching this, but actually I don’t think that’s true either. The opinion polls that we saw in this country, the, the, the people, the 20% of the public at one point want, wanted all nightclubs permanently shut down, right forever, [00:50:00] irrespective of Covid.
There was a significant proportion of people in this country who wanted everyone to be forced to wear a mask forever, irrespective of covid. I think a lot of people lost. Lost the plot over Covid, and I don’t blame them. They were locked in their home for two years. They were told there was a terrifying disease and people were dying.
And it was understandable. But, uh, I think we panicked John. I think we panicked as people. I think we panicked as a society. I think our governments panicked and overreacted, uh, and did some things they never should have done. And I hope that we have the right lockdown inquiries to look at the scientific evidence, uh, and we draw our conclusions from that.
I don’t think we should ever again be in this position. Now, look, if this was Ebola that was spreading like Covid, we’d probably have a different conversation, but I just thought, uh, that we reacted in a way that was disproportionate, uh, people and, and government. And I hope that we’ve learned some lessons from that.
I really, really do, because to me, I think it’s a very real threat that in order to buy more safety, we give away more and more of our freedoms. And that is not a trade off that we should be making in the West because the west is built on very different principles. Okay, well I
John Anderson: think that’s a really valuable set of insights and, and I simply, I, I guess I plead my position only on the basis that I think in the end in my country, the bulk of people got there before all the politicians.
Well, I’m glad
Konstantin Kisin: to hear that. Don’t know anything about I wrong what happened in Australia. I may be wrong.
John Anderson: Yeah. You know, I have a great interest in history and often it’s not until you can look back over several years. ’cause the test is, will we allow something like this to happen again Quite, you know, next time round will we be more measured and more sensible.
And, and the thing that does annual me about the debate in Australia was the way in which most of the media, which is left of center, refuse to talk about the costs of what we were doing. Mental health, young people, um, and frankly economic and
Konstantin Kisin: physical health too. You’ve gotta remember there, there were people who were suffering.
Yeah. There wasn’t a balance. No. And that’s because we overreacted and panicked, as I said, which you can understand when people are scared, you know, things are difficult, people will panic. But I, I think we’ve got to make sure that, uh, we are more sensible next time, uh, as people and as governments.The power of comedy and satire
John Anderson: Now I know that, uh, you know, for reasons that we need to elaborate on, you’re doing a little less of the, the satire and the comedy that you are very, very good at.
But you know a bit about the entertainment community and so forth. Has it been changed in your view, the way we, what we look for in humor, the way it’s presented, the, the way we look at ourselves, which satire and humor is so good at, has it been changed as a result of Covid?
Konstantin Kisin: Uh, I dunno if it’s been changed as result of Covid.
I think it’d been changing for some time anyway.
John Anderson: Yeah. We, you’ve touched on this before and you’re not alone in this country that wokeness is killing our ability to Yeah,
Konstantin Kisin: I, I think what, it’s not killing our ability to make jokes because on, on trigonometry, we put out a satirical piece every week, and Francis and I do a live stream three nights a week where we do the most outrageous accents and the crazy jokes and, and really I reverence stuff that probably would be too much even for you, John, if you, if you don’t mind me saying, but um, So you can still do it.
Can you do it in the mainstream? Can you do it on television? Can you do it on radio? Probably not. And so what I see is a split of the, the mainstream, uh, comedy is getting bland, uh, and less interesting. And the, the real exciting stuff is in the comedy clubs that are, that are pursuing a different way of looking at things.
And it’s, it’s on the internet. So I think, uh, I think there are some positive changes happening on that front as well that I see. You know, you, you get YouTube channels or millions of subscribers who are doing something different to the mainstream and, and they’re very successful because the mainstream doesn’t provide it so often
John Anderson: in drama down through the age, the fool, the person playing the fool in, in, in the king’s courts, only playing the fool.
Mm. They’re actually brilliant and they’re using that humor to expose poor thinking, absurdity. In this sort of suffocating atmosphere that you sometimes get now in the public arena in western countries and its impact on, on Humorlessness. Do, do you, you know, just to sort of almost repeat the question, do you think the comedian and uh, and comedy, uh, has, has some sort of unique power to draw people towards truth or to at least expose absurdity?
Konstantin Kisin: You know, I’ll maybe answer with an anecdote. You had a version of spitting image in Australia That’s right. Called Rubbery Figures. It’s a long time ago now, and, uh, we had spitting image in the UK, obviously. Uh, and we actually, believe it or not, had a period in the 1990s under the Boris Yeltsin’s government where we had spitting image, the equivalent it was called Ley, which means, uh, puppets in Russia for the first time ever.
Yeah. The politicians that you saw on your television would be made fun of and ridicule and cha caricatured on television. The first thing. The first thing that Vladimir Putin did when he came into office is he Shut it down. Yeah. That tells [00:55:00] you everything you need to know about the power of comedy.
Authoritarians and dictators, that’s the first thing they do. They shut down comedy. They shut down literature that criticizes and mocks them, that satirizes them because it is powerful. Uh, and so I think, uh, of course comedy has, has power and thank you for calling me a fool. You know, I don’t think that at all.
I’m kidding. I
John Anderson: remember once, uh, as a young mp, uh, I, uh, I. Tried to answer a question seriously from a kid in a classroom. He said, oh, are you offended by rubbery figures? Of course, I featured, um, and I tried to answer the question in terms of, um, the government of the day being rubbery with economic figures.
I made a complete fool himself. A kid was driving in something completely different. Yeah. Um,John Anderson as a target of satire
Konstantin Kisin: how was that for you? What being a character in these, uh, sketches? Uh, the
John Anderson: honest answer is sometimes it hurt. Yeah. And sometimes it was just downright funny. Yeah. And there were times when I thought, I’ve created an impression now I, you know, I, I, I deserve it.
I need to wake up. You know? I thought it was valuable. So
Konstantin Kisin: that’s the power of, as long
John Anderson: as it doesn’t spell into, there’s a difference, isn’t there? Between genuine humor and, and cruel cynicism. Yeah. And so much of the humor we get now is just weaponized in the age of identity politics. Mm-hmm. So it’s not helpful.
Konstantin Kisin: it’s destructive. And also it’s one sided. Can’t do anything with citizens. It’s one-sided. One-sided. I don’t mind a bit of cruelty to politicians ’cause I think often they deserve it. Forgive me John. I agree. No, no, I agree. But as long as it’s balanced up. Yeah. As long as you, everybody’s fair game. Yeah.
Then I think you go, well look, they, they were harsh to me this week, but next week they’re doing Julia Gillard and or whoever it would’ve been at the time. That’s right. And that’s fair. Yeah. And we can, we can work with that. I think that’s the biggest problem in mainstream comedy is it’s extremely one-sided.
Yeah. Extremely. One-sided. That is true in
John Anderson: Australia. Yeah. At the time of rubbery
Konstantin Kisin: figures, it wasn’t quite, and that’s why you could take it in that way. And by the way, it’s a useful tool to to, to prick your ego a little bit as a politician. Exactly. I think it’s important.
John Anderson: Couldn’t agree more. Yeah, I couldn’t agree more.
But today we need to employ it against not just politicians, it needs to be employed against many of the elites quite who are so dismissive of common sense in the common community, if I can put it that way. There’s a lot of that in Australia. Yeah. I think it’s probably alive and well here as well. It is.The 'age of religion'
John Anderson: You recently wrote an article, uh, called The Age of Religion is Upon Us. Mm-hmm. Now, uh, many of, uh, many of us would’ve thought that, particularly here in Britain, the age of religion, uh, has gone. But your argument is that the religious impulse for meaning in people is being filled by, by other things. Can you just fill us in on your thinking around this sort of, um, what might be called God void in people in our allegedly secular age and, and and where you think that might be
Konstantin Kisin: going?
Well, it’s an extremely unoriginal thought, John, to suggest that the, the God fill, the God shaped void in all of us. Yeah. It gets filled by other things when it’s not filled by God. And, you know, I’m not a believer, I’m a non-believer myself. I’m agnostic. I think probably it’s a word that doesn’t accurately describe how I think about these things.
But, uh, I’m not, I’m a non-believer. I don’t go to church. I don’t think there’s a bearded man in the sky who sits and judges all of us individually and wants Israel and Palestine to be a, a multi millennium conflict. I, I’m not convinced of that way of looking at the world. Um, but at the same time, as I say, it’s an unoriginal observation to note that when people lack some kind of structure to explain the things that we’re unable to explain, we look for other things.
And I, I see, particularly in the political realm where I. Some of the ideas we’ve talked about, like wokeness and a, a certain type of thinking about things. It, it’s, it’s, uh, an ideology based on faith alone. And, and so we are moving in that direction on that side. And of course, on the other side, you now start to see in certain pockets of the right, uh, a new ideology and religious ideology emerging as well, which is having, uh, had all our faith in the mainstream destroyed by lots of lies and misrepresentations and being called names for, for doing perfectly reasonable things and having perfectly reasonable opinions.
There is now a sort of, A very primitive religious, I almost feel like it’s insulting to organized religion to suggest that that is a religious instinct. But if you think about primitive ways of thinking about spirituality and religion, there, there are ways to explain things that we lack the scientific and technological explanation for the time.
So if you are a, a person living 50,000 years ago and water starts falling from the sky, well that’s. It happens, but, but it is quite an impactful thing on your life. And you have no explanation of the formation of clouds and droplets and, and whatever. So you go, well, the angry man in the sky is punishing me for whatever.
And I think you are starting to see now, particularly in pockets of the online sort of anti-establishment, right? The belief in an overarching global conspiratorial forces Yeah. That are taking over the world [01:00:00] and they are punishing the west for its decadence and, and, um, the embracing, embracing of wokeness.
And really what Covid was all about was about government taking control of your life. And by the way, some governments tried. I just don’t see that as a global conspiracy. Um, But this global conspiratorial explanation, it is actually a very primitive religious way of looking at things. Uh, and I think that is a big part of what’s happening on, on, on all sides of the political spectrum.
As we move further away from a set, a one way of looking at things that is imposed on us by society and by religion. Uh, we are opening ourselves up to, to a lot of cults, uh, this cultish on the left in terms of wokeness and this cultish on the right in terms of the things that I’ve just described. And I’m very aware of that because, uh, religion is a very powerful thing and it can be used for good, uh, but it can also be used for evil.
And I think, uh, in this instance, all of these cults are very, very dangerous.
John Anderson: Uh, I’m not gonna argue with you on that. Uh, let me just explore that a little bit on reflecting identity politics. There are all sorts of weird ideas starting to take hold, and I’m not sure the outcome isn’t a great degree of despair, even cynicism.Replacing conflict with conversation
John Anderson: In Middle Australia, middle Britain, there’s this breakdown of trust and of respect, and people think, well, what do I do with it? You know, I talk to Australians, particularly my generation, they say, oh, it’s a great supporter of your party and of your government and what have you, but I’m just so cynical now.
I’m so despairing.
Konstantin Kisin: Mm-hmm. It is a problem, John, just lack of a common narrative. It’s a problem. Now, I’m not saying that we need to get everyone to think, uh, all the same things. ’cause that’s something I’m very much against in many ways. You have that common narrative in Russia and you have that common narrative in China.
We should be able to think for ourselves and have different opinions and ideas. I know you weren’t suggesting otherwise anyway. Um, I just, I I don’t have an answer to this one, I’m afraid. I think, uh, social media has had a huge impact, and I know this from myself. I’m not always as respectful and kind to people as I should be, particularly online.
Uh, because, you know, it, it’s the sort of perpetual battleground between people who don’t matter to each other. That’s, that’s part of the problem. It’s taken that physical interaction out of it. Uh, and I would never say something to you in person that I might be tempted to say to you online, and it’s something I struggle with to be honest.
I’m someone who has a bit of a temper and, and I’m trying to work on it, uh, as best I can. But social media certainly doesn’t help. Uh, I don’t know what the answer is. The, to that cynicism. Uh, people go, we need to rebuild trust in our mainstream media. Do we? Why would we rebuild trust in something that’s notworthy of trust?
They have to rebuild their trustworthiness first and then we can trust them again. But that’s a difficult process and I don’t know how we get there. Well, yeah, you
John Anderson: you raised something. Now that I’ve got to sort of, I have to push back on a little bit and say, go for it. We’ve gotta fight. Alright. Put the media aside and put aside, even if we don’t trust our politicians, but what if we say we just don’t trust our parliaments.
We don’t trust the institution, we don’t trust the legal system. We don’t trust, oh no, it’s, the education system
Konstantin Kisin: at the end of that road is ruined. I’m just saying, I don’t know how you get off that path right now with the technological situation we’ve got ourselves into, I suspect a lot of this is coming from modern technology and I suspect a lot of the answers will come from new modern technology that, uh, disincentivizes conflict somehow and the incentivizes.
Respectful conversation. We don’t have the tools for that now. We have the opposite tools that are driving us further apart. And how you do that is way above my Pancreat pay grade.
John Anderson: Yeah. Well, it’s probably getting to the heart of the issue and I’ll, I’ll cease on this point, but I think that western democracies and freedom depend upon and underlying foundational reason, if you like, for us to say whether I disagree with that person or not.
Irrelevant as to whether or not that person has worth and dignity. Mm-hmm. And, and, and that’s our problem. On what basis now in this post-Christian age, do we find an answer to the question of how do we get on with people? When we deeply disagree. Right. And I
Konstantin Kisin: think that’s a fundamental problem. The problem you have in addressing that situation is that if you’ve just spent six years calling everyone a naughty and a racist that you don’t agree with mm-hmm.
Why would those people now trust you? Sure. Or respect you agree. And we’ve got ourselves into a big hole there because the reason many people are cynical and distrustful is they’ve been smeared and lied to. Yeah. I accept all of that for a long time.
John Anderson: And you can’t do much with cynicism, that’s the problem.
Absolutely. We end up in a
Konstantin Kisin: cynical place. The, the difficulty I have is, I can’t sit here and go, I think we need to rebuild trust in the institutions because I don’t see them as trustworthy. Yeah. I’m not cynical. I don’t open the B B C news website and go, this is all nonsense ’cause it’s on the bbc. I read it and try and make my own mind up about it.
[01:05:00] But we have to be honest and say that a lot of damage has been done. And how you unwind that damage, I think is a very, very difficult process. Uh, and as I say, I don’t have the answer.Concluding remarks
John Anderson: Well, I think you’re, uh, more of the answer than you think. Uh, if I can pay you that compliment because you’re teasing out issues in a very honest and realistic way, and your concern that people live in freedom and dignity and so forth, shines through, give us a taste.
Give us a teaser. You’ve got a book coming out in July. Mm. What should we know about it so that, uh, we can decide whether to go and get a copy?
Konstantin Kisin: Well, uh, I talk a lot in the book about things that you probably don’t know about. Uh, and I relate them to what’s happening. I mean, one of my central themes in the book is to relate my family history, my own experiences, experience of my parents and my family.
Uh, whether that was being born in the Gulag or my grandfather being exiled from the late Soviet Union for his views on Afghanistan, or whether it’s other things that most people in the West probably are not familiar with, um, and how they relate to what’s happening here. I talk, for example, about where political correctness comes from.
Do you know? No pol it comes from the Soviet Union. It was invented in the Soviet Union. It had nothing ever to do with any sort of politeness or respect for other people. Political correctness was a way of saying to people, Comrad, this is factually correct, but it’s politically incorrect. And what it meant was it was inconvenient to the party line.
And many of the things that are now happening have an explanation. And I, I dig into some of that in the book as well. And, you know, one of my. And then I suppose my main argument is, and you’ll like this because of your religious uh, beliefs, I suppose is we have to learn gratitude again for what we have.
And I think the only way to do that is to appreciate how unique it is. How unusual it is, how extraordinarily unlikely. What we enjoy in the west is a garden
John Anderson: in a jungle quite, and we’re letting the weeds take over the garden. We’re in danger of letting the jungle encroach quite.
Konstantin Kisin: And the only way to do that is the garden has to be protected, John.
It has to be guarded, it has to be nurtured, it has to be watered and appreciated by the people who walk in our garden and enjoy the fruits of it.
John Anderson: I don’t wanna add or subtract anything from that. That’s fantastic. Really appreciate your time and it’s been a lot of
Konstantin Kisin: fun. Thanks for having me, John. I appreciate it.
And thank you for coming here to our studio. Thank you.
When I stepped down from public leadership in 2005 I did so with a clear and optimistic vision of where this country was headed.By and large, politicians then were men and women of character and principle. READ MORE ABOUT JOHN