Moderator (Moscow): Good afternoon, colleagues. Please put your cell phones on mute.
Margarita Simonyan: Good afternoon, colleagues. I am happy to welcome you to our press center. I welcome all the cities taking part in this conference. Good afternoon, everyone.
We have entered the final stretch of this spectacular, fantastic and euphoric event… I am at a loss to describe the World Cup which is concluding in Russia. Everyone involved deserve more than a mere A+ for their work. It's as if they got a hundred in every subject on the high school graduation exam, especially those who have been working to promote this event. I know many of them personally. It was a job really well done. There are still a few days left to the closing ceremony… I am superstitious, and so I try not to make bold claims, but this World Cup and the way it was organized, how it has helped enhance Russia's image, and how subtly yet effectively the information aspect of it was handled could serve as a textbook example.
That concludes my short speech. (Addressing the cities) I am ready to answer your questions now.
Moderator (Moscow): Thank you very much. If I may, here's the first question from Moscow. What do you think about how Russian and foreign media have covered the 2018 FIFA World Cup?
Margarita Simonyan: I think about the work of foreign media before the championship the same way as I think about the work of foreign media in general. Clearly, there were the usual set of clichés and insane stories: Don't go to Russia, the Cossacks will whip you. One remarkable publication described in detail the "medieval tortures" (I'm quoting the source) awaiting fans in Russian prisons, where they will inevitably end up, because Russia is a police state and, of course, none of the fans will escape it; empty shelves in grocery stores and stuff. This was before the championship.
During the championship, I'll give it to them, the same media were writing "Dear me, how surprising that the shop shelves are fully stocked, that no one has been taken to prison or whipped, that everybody smiles. I even wore a British flag and no one tore it off me. I even ventured out into the streets wearing the T-shirt of my club and nothing happened. I even met an ultra, and all he wanted to do was hug me." I'm quoting verbatim. What can I say to that? Thanks for that. Dripping water eventually wears away stone, and finally we have got through the hard hearts of the mainstream Western media that finally saw us how we truly are."
In fact, this only confirms my long-standing theory that there is no special conspiracy against us in the world press. And those buckets and tons of mud that is slung at us on a daily basis from television channels and mainstream Western printed media are not based solely — although this also happens — on the foreign policy interests of the country a press belongs to, but on simple ignorance. As a rule, those who write about Russia do not know it well. Their knowledge is stuck somewhere in 1987 or 1984 and remains roughly the same.
I feel very happy, and I'm even gloating a little seeing the fans who came here despite the fact that they read their press and watched endless films aired by the BBC before the championship about terrible Russian fans all being bad guys, and things being too scary to go there… So, I'm gloating about the fact that all these people will, probably, no longer wholeheartedly believe what their media say. That is, I believe that these media and television channels, which manipulated the expectations of their audiences, lost a lot on this. They shouldn't have done it.
The Russian press varies a lot but is mostly patriotic. We were well aware that there are no bears roaming our streets and Cossacks would not whip fans. With the rare exception, such as the press which calls itself Russian but has long since become anti-Russian and financed by God knows who, everything was fine all things considered. Thank you.
Moderator (Moscow): Thank you very much. Let our colleagues in other cities ask questions. Volgograd will be the first. Please go ahead. Hello, good afternoon!
Moderator (Volgograd): Good afternoon, Moscow, Ms. Simonyan, colleagues in other cities.Margarita Simonyan: Do you have hot weather in Volgograd?
Moderator (Volgograd): It's quite warm. Ms. Simonyan, can you please answer the following question: How will the World Cup influence Russia's image in the eyes of millions of foreigners? Can we expect an increase in the number of tourists from Britain? Will fans be able to tell their compatriots the truth about Russia? Thank you.
Margarita Simonyan: I'm sure that, of course, we can expect an increase. Moreover, human nature is such that people first believe their own eyes and then their friends, relatives and people they know. The press is probably fifteenth in this respect. Naturally, having come home and shared their excitement with their families and friends, they are bound to infect them with at least some of these feelings.
I hope very much that this will have a positive impact on tourism in Russia. But we should make an effort as well. It's true that our visa rules are not the most trouble-free and liberal in the world, to put it mildly.
In general, I would substantially ease visa requirements for those who have already come or used to come to Russia. But it's not up to me since I don't work in the Foreign Ministry or the Government. However, if we make a push in this respect, if we overcome our main problem at least in this area — and I consider red tape our main problem — it would be great. We can't afford to miss this opportunity.
Now that the wave of joy, excitement or hype, to use a modern word, is rolling we are simply obliged to prevent all this from being forgotten in three months, so when they think about where to spend their summer vacations and what to see next year, people will come here. What should not happen is that they want to come here because their friends or relatives told them about Russia but they can't because we have created obstacles. I would very much hope that this does not happen.
Moderator (Moscow): Thank you very much! Now we'll give the floor to Nizhny Novgorod. Good afternoon, colleagues.
Margarita Simonyan: Good afternoon.
Moderator (Nizhny Novgorod): Good afternoon Ms. Simonyan and our colleagues in Moscow and other cities. I will give the floor to my colleague who will ask a question from Nizhny Novgorod.
Question: Ms. Simonyan, good afternoon. Greetings from Nizhny Novgorod.
I'd like to say a few words about the excitement you mentioned. The point is that we journalists are communicating with people a lot, here in Nizhny Novgorod as well. And everyone, even people who weren't interested in football, tell us that they want to get to the stadium, the Fan Fest, or the sports bar because they have fun getting together and rooting for a common goal. This was especially true when the Russian team played, of course. Everyone was happy together, doing something together and worrying about our team together.
Do you think the World Cup has changed the Russian people themselves? How can we take advantage of this feeling and direct it into a constructive channel? Thank you.
Margarita Simonyan: Thank you for the question. I think it would take a social psychologist to analyse this, and I'm not the one, but as a small part of this society I can judge these things. I believe we have begun to love ourselves more. It doesn't often occur to us that we are cool. It often seems to us like, I'm a good, decent person but look how many people around me are evil, unfriendly, corrupt, etc. They are not what we would like to see.
Now we see large crowds of people and not only on Nikolskaya Street in big and refined Moscow but also in other cities, in other regions, and even in cities that are not big at all, like Saransk for one. All of a sudden our citizens — and thank God we heard about very few incidents and problems so far — almost everyone without exception turned out to be very hospitable, friendly, cheerful and open to everything new, calm and at the same time capable of being happy and having fun — exactly like each of us would like to see ourselves.
Suddenly it seems that not only I'm like that, but we are all like that in Saransk, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod and everywhere else, that there are many of us and this is the nation we are, and we have what to love and respect ourselves for.
So I don't know whether the World Cup has benefited Russia's image abroad or at home, in our own eyes. We still have to change this. It's great!
Do you have another question?
Moderator (Moscow): Please go ahead if you have a question. Wait till they give you the microphone. Don't forget to introduce yourself.
Question: Good afternoon. Zoya Bardina, Khristianskoye Slovo magazine. How important is the coverage of our inter-religious and inter-ethnic relations? After all, just like our country, sports are for all religious and ethnic groups… How do you see the value of such information? Thank you.
Margarita Simonyan: Frankly, I'm not sure I understand your question. With regard to the value of information, any information is valuable.
Question: Inter-religious relations. Is it important to focus on them during major events like this?
Margarita Simonyan: Of course, yes, thank you. You see, tolerance is something that is nurtured in a society. This is an ongoing process. It takes years, decades and centuries, not only in our society, but any society. Take, for instance, America of the 1940s-1950s. These people are still alive today. And look at today's America. I mean in terms of racial and ethnic tolerance, at least the way it is being officially represented. Our society was subject to a variety of "swings" in this sense at different times. I will probably not exaggerate too much if I say that I can not even remember a time when we were so tolerant, tolerant on a mass scale, and peaceable from the point of view of inter-religious relations as we are now. It is customary to say that back in the Soviet Union there was such wonderful friendship among peoples, but unfortunately, I have a different viewpoint as a descendant of a family that was persecuted solely on the basis of ethnicity. Generally speaking, there was no great friendship of peoples. Now, I'm happy to see people with different skin colors and eye shapes on our streets. It's a joy to see our people treating different people who come here in the same way and with the same cheerfulness, hospitality and joy. Thank you.
Moderator (Moscow): Thank you very much. Samara is next. Good afternoon, colleagues.
Moderator (Samara): Hello Svetlana, hello, Moscow. We are glad to see you, Ms. Simonyan.
Margarita Simonyan: Thank you.
Moderator (Samara): Let's get back to football. Which team did you like most?
Margarita Simonyan: I'll give you three guesses.
Moderator (Samara): In addition to our national team. What are your predictions for the finals? Who will win? Thank you.
Margarita Simonyan: I will disappoint you, probably. I know nothing about football, I never followed it before and would have never watched it if it were not for this big event that interests me from a perspective that has nothing to do with sport. I am interested in it as a social, political, cultural and civic event. I was rooting, of course, for our team, because they are our team. The men in my house tell me that they played brilliantly, and I take their word for it. Frankly, I cannot tell a brilliant game from a walk on the pitch. I will root for everything to go smoothly without a hitch. I don't care who wins the finals, since our team is not there, so what do I care. I will root for everyone to like it here and for us to succeed at keeping the pace, the rhythm and the music of this championship alive.
Moderator (Moscow): Thank you very much. Good afternoon, Saransk, greetings.
Moderator (Saransk): Good afternoon. Greetings from the City Press Center in the small city of Saransk to all city press centers. Good afternoon, and of course, good afternoon Moscow. Good afternoon, Margarita. We have a question from my colleague Olga Dadykina.
Margarita Simonyan: Good afternoon Saransk, a small city but no less wonderful for this reason.
Olga Dadykina: Good afternoon. I'm Olga Dadykina, Rossiya Segodnya. Ms. Simonyan, has the number of RT subscribers abroad increased during the World Cup? Has RT been criticized by the foreign media for its coverage of the World Cup?
Margarita Simonyan: I will tell you more than that. Of course, it has increased and the audience has grown and not only abroad. We have a website in Russian —
RT-Russia — and it now has the second largest audience among the sports media although it's not a sports outlet, just a small page written by five people. They haven't bought a single broadcast. We haven't invested anything in it because we are not a sports channel.
Nevertheless, we are rated second in the number of clicks on the website and in unique visitors. You have probably noticed, if you saw it, that we had some great flagship names from the football world like Jose Mourinho. We tried to do our best for him and helped him meet with President Vladimir Putin. As I wrote on my social media blog, we introduced one good person to another good person. And also Peter Schmeichel and Carlos Valderrama… Have you seen what is going on around our studios? We have several visiting studios in Moscow and other cities hosting the World Cup… When these people are in our studio, Jose Mourinho, for example, they comment on the matches. So he worked in our studio as a commentator during this time. Or take Valderrama… There are crowds of people around these studios. We had to disguise the moderators and commentators with hats and caps so they could leave and not be torn to pieces.
Now regarding your question on us being criticized. For the first time in our history The Guardian that has written nasty things about us dozens and hundreds of times… (here's our Press Secretary Anna who can confirm this). This is a newspaper that is designed to write negative things about us, but suddenly it published an article saying that, to be honest, RT is an excellent channel. They saw the football coverage, Mourinho and everything else. We were surprised and didn't know what to think. Will they be dismissed for this article on the following day or not? Nevertheless, owing to the World Cup, the tone has changed not only with respect to Russia and the coverage as such but also toward our channel. In other words, The Guardian directly devoted this article to the fact that… Well, it's understandable, Putin's propaganda, of course… But how cool the channel is! Thank you.
Moderator (Moscow): Many thanks! Now we are sending greetings to our colleagues in St. Petersburg. Good afternoon.
Moderator (St. Petersburg): Good afternoon, colleagues, Ms. Simonyan. Pleased to have you here. My colleague will take over. Go ahead.
Margarita Simonyan: St. Petersburg is a big city.
Question: Vladimir Lebedev, RIA Novosti. A big city, indeed. Ms. Simonyan, as a follow-up to what you were just talking about: Mourinho, your tweet about his photo with Vladimir Putin which said that two good people were introduced to each other. There were so many such contacts, and this can be called popular diplomacy…
Margarita Simonyan: International diplomacy.
Question: I mean popular diplomacy in the sense that ordinary people are coming into contact rather than professional diplomats. What is the effect of such contacts at the level of ordinary fans, non-professional diplomats?
And a quick second question. Let us in on a secret: What did Putin talk about with Mourinho? Thank you.
Margarita Simonyan: I have no way of knowing what Putin talked about with Mourinho, since I wasn't present there, and the secret has not been revealed. But they looked quite happy to meet each other the way we saw it.
The effect of popular diplomacy cannot be overestimated. We already mentioned today that people are coming back home and busting the myths. Look at the video by that excited 17-year-old British teenager as he talks with his father and debunks 10 myths about Russia surprising even himself in the process.
You say, popular diplomacy vs. diplomats… Now, most importantly, we don't want the diplomats of all these wonderful countries to spoil everything for us again. The most important thing, of course, is to make this effect last. Much depends on us, but also on Western diplomats and the press that promotes their goals and narratives. We'll see how great their desire to erase these achievements will be. I hope that won't be the case, but we'll see.
Moderator (Moscow): Thank you very much. Our colleagues in the audience have a question. Please go ahead.
Question: Hello, I'm from the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi television. We met different people from different countries here. However, there were very few people from Europe. Mostly, there were Latin American and Arab fans, because we represent four teams. However, we noticed that they say they have heard lots of bad things about you, but when they came here they saw something quite different. Like you said, there are no bears in the streets, security is at a high level, and everything is beautiful. Do you think that European policy affects the sport, or was your marketing not strong enough? For example, South Africa made the vuvuzela, a small thing, a symbol. There are many things in Russia which speak for themselves. People were surprised when they came here. This is my first time in Russia, I come from the Emirates, but your country is very beautiful. Here, you lay the blame on inadequate marketing…
Margarita Simonyan: I got your question. We are not blaming anyone, but I didn't see any particularly massive campaign in the European media against South Africa, which you are citing. I don't see South Africa hit by European sanctions or being subjected to daily and hourly fire by all — almost without exception — European media and European leaders. Of course, when the European media have been writing for years that ours is a terrible country with a terrible regime, that the situation here is dangerous and monstrous — for years! — and you will never see the European press… Prior to this championship you could never read a single positive article about Russia. None. Nowhere. Do you get my point?
And when, before the championship, a major popular British paper explodes in dozens of articles to the effect that the fans shouldn't go to Russia, because they will be killed, beaten up, raped, imprisoned and tortured — anything goes — and a week into the World Cup the same newspaper is lamenting about the small number of British fans who went to Russia… Well, there is a real split personality at this newspaper's editorial board, it's a psychiatric case. We are glad that those brave people who nonetheless came here and saw that we are different will no longer take what their media have to say for granted and will be more skeptical toward it in a way. We hope that is the case. Thank you.
Moderator (Moscow): Let's give the floor to Kazan. Good afternoon, colleagues!
Moderator (Kazan): Good afternoon! Welcome to the Kazan City Press Center. We have a question from the Tatar-Inform news agency.
Question: Good afternoon, colleagues! Olga Golyzhbina, Tatar-Inform news agency.
Margarita Simonyan: Hello!
Question: Ms. Simonyan, in one of his interviews Gianni Infantino said that this World Cup may be the best in FIFA's history, above all, in terms of World Cup novelties: the video replay system and FAN ID, as well as security. What, in your opinion, are the strongest and the weakest aspects of World Cup preparations in Russia?
Margarita Simonyan: If my memory serves me correctly, Mr. Infantino, in an interview with us at the very start of the World Cup, said that this is not one of the best, but the best beginning of the World Cup he has ever seen. I hope that I am not mistaken and that this is a correct quote, but this is fairly easy to verify. Everything was wonderfully organized.
The work of the police deserves separate mention, the stamina with which police officers are enduring the rush of the enormous, unusually enormous crowds of people who do not speak Russian, who do not know our rules or our traditions of behavior in the streets, in a car or elsewhere. And at the same time, these people have to be protected, including from themselves, because, well, suppose they had a drink somewhere and behaved oddly… And it somehow needed to be stopped, in the good sense of the word, to prevent a person from getting into trouble. Judging from what I saw, the police are working perfectly. Polite and smiling, they are showing the way and helping, and if they do not speak some language, they ask passersby to help with translation. Here, there are no problems, which is certainly pleasant to observe.
Unfortunately, I had no opportunity to travel to other host cities, but I hope that everything is the same over there. What I read about the way things are organized proves that it is just so. I would mention the work of the utilities services. Moscow is perfectly clean. I just do not understand how they manage to keep the city that clean. If we recall June, late June: awfully hot, unusual heat for Moscow. Crowds of fans, all with plastic bottles, wearing some masques or kokoshniks, with candy, cigarettes, glass and plastic… Where is all that? All that should be all over the streets. We visit other cities, including in Europe and America, do we not? After any football celebration, you make your way, up to your knees in trash, through often, let's be honest, stinking streets… Where is all that? Everything smells good and everything is clean, and you do not see any titanic efforts being put into it. It all seems so effortless, but I imagine what enormous work is behind it.
And, of course, I would mention media coverage of the World Cup. I know not from hearsay, but from the inside, how problems that could have erupted in a huge scandal in an instant were addressed professionally and with lightning speed, in cooperation with various cities and various agencies. I know the people who were in charge of that, it was really cool. It was really cool how it was done, and it really could be a textbook example.
As for what disappointed me during the World Cup, I have only one thing to complain about. I cannot regard the failure of our team to make it to the semifinals a disappointment, because we did not imagine that it could go as far as it did, so this, on the contrary, is a source of joy and pride for us. I have only one disappointment, namely that my native Krasnodar with its magnificent arena that can rival the best European stadiums, did not host the World Cup. But then, Sochi, which is also home to me, did, so that's good. All the rest is just excellent. But then, this is my personal sentiment, as it is my native city. I believe that this did not affect the fans in any way. In all other World Cup host cities, they received a wonderful welcome.
Moderator (Moscow): Thank you very much. Now let us speak to our colleagues in Sochi. Good afternoon!
Moderator (Sochi): Good afternoon, Moscow! Good afternoon, Ms. Simonyan! The resort city of Sochi is sending its greetings! You must be following the developments in the Krasnodar Territory very closely. There are reasons for this, especially considering that four cities in the Krasnodar Territory were training camps for the 2018 FIFA World Cup national football teams, and since Sochi hosted a total of six World Cup matches, with one of which, featuring Russia's national team, being legendary. You have already mentioned that you are not exactly a football fan, but I have to ask you — did you, by any chance, attend this match? Did you manage to visit Sochi, if not to attend this match, but at least to see the city before the World Cup? We would like you to give an assessment of Sochi's readiness for the World Cup. Did Sochi do a good job on this daunting task, hosting the World Cup?
Margarita Simonyan: Sochi is the best city on Earth; it can host anything, including 15 similar tournaments. My only regret is that you are out there, and I am here. Unfortunately, I could not come, but I hope to come back home in August for sure. Greetings to my hometowns.
Moderator (Sochi): Ms. Simonyan, we agree that Sochi is the best city on Earth. We are with you on this. Even media representatives here started clapping as soon as you said that; they are ready to shout "Bravo" and "Hurray" out loud. We have one more question from the Zvezda Sochi journalist. It is very relevant ahead of the meeting between the US and Russian presidents.
Margarita Simonyan: But it won't be in Sochi, will it?
Question: Thank you for holding this news conference with the cities; your opinion as a journalist means a lot to us…
Margarita Simonyan: Thank you!
Question: Not only because you hail from Sochi. We're pleased that we're having a rally of people of all ethnicities who live here, in particular in Sochi. Let me tell you something. When our side scored a goal, Armenian families next to me shouted even more enthusiastically than Russians: "We scored!" It was really great. We are as happy as children, it's all so great. My question is whether you think the Anglo-Saxons will start feeling more positive about us, without so much prejudice.
Margarita Simonyan: Well, their attitude to us is quite normal.
Remark: Their attitude to us is affected by all this propaganda…
Margarita Simonyan: Generally, their attitude toward us is normal. Unfortunately, people are being brainwashed by their country's elite media and tabloid journalism, and by their governments who, broadly speaking, are pursuing their own geopolitical goals, which is clear. Some people fall for it, while others do not. But not everyone can sort things out on their own, as not everyone is capable of critical thinking. Of course, many people are falling for it. This will end only when the trend is reversed at the top level. This will immediately lead to a change in tone in the media and, accordingly, to a change in the attitude of people who have been duped by the media. Believe me, a large section of the population has never been duped by the media and feels positive about us. So, don't worry, we'll be friends again and everything will be fine.
Moderator (Moscow): Thank you very much. My colleagues in Moscow, please, feel free to ask questions. Please raise your hand if you have questions.
Margarita Simonyan: We have two more minutes, don't we?
Moderator (Moscow): In this case…
Margarita Simonyan: Colleagues, thank you very much. Greetings to all the cities. Thank you for your great work at the press centers. Thanks to the entire Rossiya Segodnya team for making this happen. It was very cool. And all the people who took part in this World Cup, people who cheered with all their heart — all of us have something to take pride in. Thank you.
Moderator (Moscow): Thank you very much for coming.