Before leaving for a trip to Yoshkar-Ola, the President visited Ms Alexeyeva at her home and presented her with a bouquet of flowers and an engraving of a view of her hometown, Yevpatoria, as well as a decorative plate depicting Moscow State University’s main building.
Earlier, Mr Putin sent Ms Alexeyeva a message of greetings, which reads, in part:
“You followed your heart’s calling and devoted yourself to serving society and defending human rights and freedoms with firmness and determination. Your particular moral strength and faithfulness to your convictions have enabled you to make a significant contribution to human rights activity and to strengthening the institutions of democracy and civic society”.
Following the meeting, the President spoke briefly with Moscow residents.
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Conversation with Lyudmila Alexeyeva
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon Ms Alexeyeva.
I would like to congratulate you on your birthday.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: This is quite a gift!
Vladimir Putin: I would like to congratulate you on my own behalf and on behalf of the very many people who love you and are grateful to you for all that you do for them.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: They have been calling me all day. I have just relinquished both phones for a time; otherwise, we would not be able to speak. I am very, very grateful to you.
Vladimir Putin: And I am grateful to you for all you have done over these many, many years for such a huge number of people in our country, people who love you dearly and are grateful to you for the life that you live in the service of others. Thank you very much for this.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: When I began all this 50 years ago, I asked myself, how many years would I get? If they charged me under article 70, I would get seven years in prison and five in exile, but if they charged me under article 190, I would be lucky to get three years in prison and five in exile. It certainly never entered my mind that the president would come to congratulate me one day.
Vladimir Putin: Much has changed.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: This is a rare case when someone was busy with goodness knows what and has earned recognition. I have just had a call from Mr Volodin [Speaker of the State Duma]; yesterday, Mr Kiriyenko [First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office] called, and today, you have come. People hope for this all their lives but do not achieve it despite their efforts, and I have it all come upon me without even trying. I was busy with quite different matters.
Vladimir Putin: I know. You were actually doing the most important thing of all.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: My work was with people.
Vladimir Putin: People, absolutely right.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn had a key idea about preserving the people. He worked on it in his way, and you in your way.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: I could only deal with one person at a time, but to save just one person is already such a great joy.
Vladimir Putin: This is true.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: When I spoke with Mr Volodin, it turned out we were both raised by our grandmothers, not by our mothers, those Komsomol members, but by our grandmothers. They raised us in the Christian tradition. They did not say so, but this was a Christian upbringing, all about people. They instilled it in us. These values have taken this modern form today.
Do you know what else we talked about?
I welcome your visit not only because it is an unexpected and surprising honour, an event. By the way, it was my plan to drink a glass of champagne with the president in honour of my 90th birthday. Would you drink a little?
Vladimir Putin: Of course, on such an occasion.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: Anyway, you know, I was thinking, me, this sinner, that I would ask the president to be the charitable Christian, and do what no one else in this world but he can do. This would be the greatest reward for me, and it would count as a good deed for both of us in the next world. Pardon Igor Izmestyev.
Vladimir Putin: Good, I will consider it.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: I ask you in all earnestness. You know, he has been in prison for 12 years now, and it has been12 years now that I wake at night, thinking about him. Please, whether he is guilty or not is not so important. I believe he is innocent, and others think he has sinned. When the people were asked who to pardon, Christ or Barabbas, those idiots said, “Barabbas”. But this was an act of mercy. Barabbas was a brigand and a killer, but when a pardon is accorded, people do not ask whether the person is guilty or not, they simply pardon, out of the goodness of their hearts.
Vladimir Putin: You have much goodness.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: All right.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: You know, we bought some excellent champagne, of course, but your people bought their own, Mr President.
Vladimir Putin: They probably bought some cheap stuff, saving money on us. (Laughter)
My best wishes on your birthday!
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: And I wish you good health, Mr President.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you. I wish you the same.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: You know, I think about you too. Sometimes, when I cannot sleep, which happens rarely, for despite my venerable years, I sleep like a babe. My conscience is clear.
Vladimir Putin: That is very good.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: And I think about various people, about you too. After all, it is no easy job to be President.
Vladimir Putin: Any job, if you do it conscientiously, is not easy.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: But you have to do a great many things that you do not wish to do.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, this happens.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: And so I think, why is this so?
Vladimir Putin: Because I was raised in much the same spirit as you were.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: Yes, also by your grandmother?
Vladimir Putin: By my mother, but I was my parents’ last child and my mother was already getting on in years. She was born in 1911.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: Ah, yes.
Vladimir Putin: Happy birthday to you!
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: Thank you. Best wishes to you too.
I cannot drink much otherwise I will kick up a ruckus. (Laughter)
Vladimir Putin: Never mind, give your loved ones a bit of a chase. It will make them all the merrier. Who wants to see them get bored?
Once more, my congratulations, and I wish you all the very best.
Allow me to give you a present. (Presents an engraving depicting a view of Yevpatoria.) This is your hometown. This is a modest gift, but it is a good engraving.
You graduated from Moscow State University in 1950. (Presents a decorative plate with a picture of Moscow State University’s main building.)
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: You know, the Moscow State University I studied at was different.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, it was a different building.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: When we were students, we were all sent off to help build this Moscow State University building.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, but what matters is the university itself, not the building.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: Yes, I still consider it my Alma Mater.
Vladimir Putin: Of course, of course.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: I will definitely find a place for it. Thank you.
Yesterday, the head of the local administration called and said, “I would like to come to congratulate you and present you with a gift from the President, a dinner set with the coat of arms, and a card”. I said, “Could I send someone to you to collect it rather than you coming here, because I have many visitors”. They agreed. They were very polite.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: So they will go today to collect your dinner set.
Vladimir Putin: Good.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: And as for Gzhel [traditional Russian ceramics]… I was in enforced exile, lived in America for 13 years.
Vladimir Putin: Yes.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: It is a good country, better organised than ours. But one’s own country is always home, no matter what it is like.
Vladimir Putin: They have no shortage of problems in America too.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: You are telling me! I lived there for 13 years and know what it is like.
Vladimir Putin: Of course.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: They have a great country, many good things there. But I could not return, but when I did come back, in 1990, you know what I did? I went and bought a lot of Gzhel, Vyatka toys and so on, and then Americans would come and say, “Oh, it’s absolutely Russian house!” I would say, “What else can it be?” I retained this love. I stopped collecting these things when I came back here, but the love remains. People come and say, “Ah, she’s got Gzhel. And what shall we get grandma as a present?” Me, I only eat porridge.
Vladimir Putin: I also eat porridge.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: Yes, I eat oatmeal porridge every morning. I do not need fancy clothes. I hardly ever go anywhere. People think, “We will give her Gzhel”. So, what am I to do? And now it is like a shop, absolutely full of things, but these are gifts from people, so it all stays.
Mr President, thank you. But please, do not forget about Izmestyev.
Vladimir Putin: I will not forget.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: Please do not forget. Do this good deed. It will be to both our names in the next world, for it is a Christian act.
Vladimir Putin: Not right away, but I will do this, all right?
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: As you wish.
Vladimir Putin: Fine.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: Yes. I know that you keep your word. I do, too. I either do not make promises, or, if I do promise something, I keep my word.
Vladimir Putin: Fine. Once more, my congratulations, and now, I must get to work.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: Oh you poor thing.
Vladimir Putin: I am flying now to Kazan, from there to Yoshkar-Ola, and then to Sochi, where I will meet with children.
I set up a big children’s centre at one of the Olympic facilities. We have turned it into a marvellous centre. We bring gifted children from all around the country there, young mathematicians, physicists, ballet dancers, musicians and athletes, hockey players and figure skaters. We organised it so that 900 children come at a time, from all around the country, and spend 21 days there. We accompany them; bring in the best teachers from all over Russia, from Moscow, academicians, professors all come to work with them. It is a very interesting place. The current group is coming to the end of their programme now and I would like to meet with them tomorrow.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: Yes. Kazan is a good city too. But what takes you to Yoshkar-Ola, I don’t know.
Vladimir Putin: We are going to hold a meeting on interethnic relations there.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: Ah, the president’s lot, in short.
Vladimir Putin: Well yes, I have to work.
I wish you all the very best, and a wonderful mood, especially today. I wish you high spirits in general, but especially today.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: You probably know how it is: when you are busy, you do not even know what mood you are in. (Laughter.)
Vladimir Putin: Good luck to you.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: All the best. I am very grateful.
Vladimir Putin: All the best. Goodbye.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: Thank you.