President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Dear friends,
Today we are paying tribute to Anatoly Sobchak, my mentor and friend. I am proud to say this. He was a very dynamic person. As we all know, he was St Petersburg Governor, this is an important post, but he was not the first, second or third person of the state. However, he surely was a politician of national scale.
He lived and developed as a politician (and he covered a short but exceptional and momentous path of development in politics) during a very difficult and critical period in our recent history. And the thing is that a person like Sobchak related to the spirit of that era. He was the kind of person our country needed, and he was there.
Of course, I am sure that there are no indifferent people in this hall; you saw his public speeches, and you know what a brilliant speaker he was. And I could see all this backstage from the inside. I will share my observations.
You know, in 1996, Anatoly Sobchak travelled as a confidant of Boris Yeltsin around the country, and to a very difficult region at that time, and proposed that I accompany him. I watched it happen in real life.
Those were very difficult times. We lacked everything. The economy had “cracked,” and the social sphere fell apart, to put it bluntly. People lived in very difficult conditions. You know, I remember how we would enter a hall (in 1996) met by hooting and whistling.
What was different about Anatoly Sobchak? Not only was he a very scholarly man, a well-trained person, but do you know what his peculiarity was? He was a very decent and honest man. And that was his essence.
You will now understand why I combine all of the above. We would enter a hall to hooting and whistling, but he would leave to applause.
We were on stage. I was receiving notes and, to be honest (this was a great lesson for me), at first I tried to put aside rude and abusive notes. When he saw that I was weeding out the rude comments he said to me, “Let me have them.” He took them and started answering the most difficult questions, but he spoke so sincerely, honestly and with feeling that people believed him. People believed him and this is the main thing that a politician must have: honesty, frankness and sincerity. He had all of these qualities.
Yes, of course we remember the year he lost the election in St Petersburg. This was no accident, either. He also had his drawbacks, but maybe some of them were in way virtues at the same time. He was too straightforward. He never fawned over anyone and was not a yes-man. He almost always said what he thought even when a seasoned politician would at least keep quiet. He was never silent and always was honest and straight talking. But these were hard times.
All his friends, the people that worked with him got a lot from him. This includes me, too. He did much for the city. What matters is not just that he returned the original name to the city. No, this is not the whole point. He returned a sense of dignity to St Petersburg as the true northern capital and gave it a new lease on life; more than anything, he gave the city its spirit back. He did a lot for the city and for this country and we – at any rate those who knew and loved him, and were his friends – will never forget this.
Thank you very much for your attention.