Our latest interview is with Eduard Khayrullin, author of Tatarstan 100: Before and Now, host of Tartary, and deputy head of Tatmedia.

In his interview with Kaitam.ru, Eduard tells us why he moved to Moscow and why he returned, how he danced at a corporate party with Berezovsky and drank vodka for the first time in the army, and how he went from janitor to press secretary for the president of the Republic of Tatarstan.

Our latest interview is with Eduard Khayrullin, author of Tatarstan 100: Before and Now, host of Tartary, and deputy head of Tatmedia.

In his interview with Kaitam.ru, Eduard tells us why he moved to Moscow and why he returned, how he danced at a corporate party with Berezovsky and drank vodka for the first time in the army, and how he went from janitor to press secretary for the president of the Republic of Tatarstan.

You'll most likely run into Eduard at the Knizhka Flea Market on Sundays while he's searching for photographs and other souvenirs from the old city. His interest in the history of Kazan and Tatarstan is reflected in everything he does: from his documentary-style photographs on Instagram (where his bio just says "curious") to the historical projects that he busies himself with today: his book Tatarstan 100: Before and Now (published in spring 2020) and the New Tartary YouTube channel. In the weekly episodes of New Tartary, Eduard talks about the history of the republic and provides facts that you'll want to share with your friends.

As a person who has a high degree of responsibility for his words (when your job has been conducting public relations for the leader of the republic, it's probably not easy to get out of that habit), Eduard answers questions with complete quotes, which come across more like words of wisdom to live by than someone thinking out loud ...

How he manages to remain light-hearted, ironic, and open is a mystery.

I was in Moscow the other day, where I lived four years of my life, from 2006 to 2010, and returned to Kazan: my son needed the attention. I had to return so as not to lose him. I liked everything about Moscow, though; life's in full swing there.

I was born in Kazan, in the Sovetsky neighborhood. They call it Cuba, where Novatorov Street is, a district with Khrushchev-era buildings. There are probably fourteen five-story buildings there. It's surrounded by ravines on all sides, which is why it was called Cuba: it's an island. I spent my childhood there.

I lived there until I was 22, and my parents still live there. In my opinion, the ideal relationship between buildings and people is when the buildings are proportionately sized, they don't weigh you down, and you can see the sun. Trees grow between them, like the extension of a forest somewhere in German-speaking Switzerland. It's a habitable space, almost like a forest. It's really like being in the woods: it's colder there, and it smells like bird cherry.
There were barns in those ravines, and there were mounds on the slopes. Then they built garages, and we jumped off them into the sand. If you cross the road, that's where Loshadnika Mountain is, where I skied on wooden skis before school (I had the time). That mountain seemed crazy high, and I broke a bunch of skis there.

Good thing you didn't break a bunch of legs.

I broke my arm, but that was in Gorky Park: I crashed so bad I fractured my arm. I went to school bandaged up and pretended that I couldn't write.

Did you fall in love with the girl next door?

No. I didn't fall in love at school either (I went to School no. 126, across from the Art College, where the cannons stood), or with any neighbors: I needed them to be further away. And older. Great things should be appreciated at a distance. "A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house."

In the 4th grade, I decided that I wanted to be an international journalist. That's what they called me at school, a journalist. Or jurnie for short.

I wanted to go abroad. It was still Soviet times, and nobody could go abroad except for diplomats and international journalists. This was probably my way of seeing the world. Also, I loved to write, and they praised my compositions. In the 8th grade, I enrolled at the school for young journalists. They published the Komsomolets Tatarii newspaper, and then Molodozh Tatarstana.
One of our teachers, Svetlana Beschetnova, said "Anyone can be a journalist."

That was news to us. We thought: you don't have to have a gift for it, talent, or something like that? No, she said, anyone. Anyone who can communicate and speak coherently. I agree with that, now.

What was your first article about, do you remember?

One of the first was about dry weddings. It was 1985, during the state's fight against alcoholism, and weddings were dry.

Then they told us that alcohol was served out of teapots there, but I never saw that.

What kind of child were you?

I never caused any trouble for my parents. I was kicked off a tram once, though. I was going home from fencing class and riding on the outside of a tram, standing on the "sausage" [the long cylindrical hitch sticking out the back]. My father decided to meet up with me that day, for the first time in his life, and he got on that tram. He was standing at the end of the car, and I was standing outside on the sausage, and I looked in at him. And he saw me. He came out to get me and took me down to the police station. They reported it to the school, and my grade was lowered for bad behavior.

After school, in 1986, I didn't enroll in college right away. I worked as a janitor for a year. One of the girls from my school had written to a famous international journalist, Vladimir Dunaev, and asked him how to become a good journalist. His answer was "don't go to journalism school." You only need fundamental specialties, like history and philology. That's why I didn't go to journalism school, which would've been easier to get into. Instead I majored in history.
I liked it. In the morning you get fresh air, then you go to the university library, and then two classes in the evening. At that time, there was kind of an underground scene, a generation of janitors and watchmen. I was in good company, alongside [Soviet-era rock stars] Tsoi and Grebenshchikov.
I studied, met with students in the libraries, told them about old Kazan. There weren't very many people you could talk about that with back then.

And now, to be honest. What did you do then?

Then I got drafted into the army (back then they even took full-time college students).

Six months of training in Sverdlovsk in the air defense forces, then a year and a half in Siberia, in the taiga near Bratsk, which always smelled like urine because of the aluminum and paper factories. They gave me a guy, a Turkmen I think, named Chary to take care of while I was on leave. They told me to look after him, and as we walked through the city, I told him the difference between a bus and a trolleybus, which have, like, horns sticking up, because he was from a place that was very far from civilization. He worked in the pigsty in our unit (not really worked, but that was his duty). And he was so thin, unhappy, and when we came out of the bakery with a bag of either gingerbread cookies or sushki [dried bisquits], some woman, from the same kind of Khrushchev-era building (as where my parents live) knocked on the window from the first floor, seeing how hungry Chara was. She says: "Come in, my son's in the army too, let me feed you." We say: "Sure, of course." And she quickly set the table, put out potatoes and salo [cured pork lard], and Chara and I tried vodka for the first time. Especially him.

From there, I wrote for all sorts of military newspapers, and for Vechernyaya Kazan, too. I took part in discussions about what can be built downtown and what cannot.

Once you serve in the army, you're allowed to go to school full-time. I passed a bunch of exams. I had wanted to study political science, but ended up in the sociology department, which used to be called scientific communism. With that major, they would add 15 more rubles to the usual living allowance of 40 rubles. I was still interested in journalism, which was why I muddied through all of this.

Efir TV came on the air when I was still at the university.
Efir WAS INTERESTING TO WATCH. THEY were UNCENSORED AND lively, WITH entertaining YOUth-oriented programming.
I found their office in the same building where I studied. I bought a jacket at a thrift store for 500 rubles, came to them and said "I want host the Gorod [City] show, talk about old Kazan." And they said "Let's give it a shot." But with a social aspect, with coverage of rallies. So I started in 1992 or 93. Those two years were crazy, every day was like a conveyor belt, shooting several shows.
Then in 1994 I was offered a job at Channel One. I worked there until 2006 as a correspondent for Tatarstan, for the region.

Our office was in Kazan.

I went to Afghanistan once, I visited the Taliban (the Taliban is banned in the Russian Federation). They didn't really tolerate any journalists, and all TV and radio stations were closed, but they made an exception for a small group from Russia. They took us all over the country, showed us how Afghanistan was under their rule.

Were you worried?

Yes, but I ended up going there again when the anti-Taliban operation began.

We couldn't get into the country for a long time, we waited for weeks for the borders to open. Then they let us in, and the bus that picked us up was full of bullet holes. They took us to a building, probably a former hotel.

We were getting out of this bullet-holed bus to go to our rooms, when suddenly the Americans, looking bedraggled, appeared and said: "Prisoners have escaped and they're headed this way. Run! Go back to where you came from."

But we went in anyways; they fed us amazing pilaf, which we ate with our hands, and it was the best pilaf I've ever had. And then … nothing happened. The escaped prisoners never appeared. We filed some interesting reports.
Did you ever think about extending your business trips?

I stretched them out every way I could. I wanted to get around as much as possible: go to museums and just get fresh air. I also liked the corridors of Ostankino [Moscow's television and radio tower]. There was such a life there!
Do you remember your first impressions of Moscow?

My first impressions were made when I entered Moscow State University, also at the history department. I didn't have enough points to get in, so I returned to Kazan and entered here. But I didn't have enough here, either, so I became a janitor.

When did you eventually move to Moscow?

In 2006, my work at Channel One had come to an end. I got divorced. I thought, since nothing is keeping me here, I'll go off and live. So, I went to Moscow. I worked in the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation for a year; that work was also related to the media. That year was enough for me to get used to the capital.

Then I was offered a job at Zvezda TV as a producer and production editor. That was more interesting, closer to what I wanted to do, so I went there. There was a weekly schedule, and I could do whatever I wanted in my week off. I started taking photography courses and studied dance.

How did you decide to return from Moscow to Kazan?

My ex-wife called me and said that she couldn't cope with our son, he was being kicked out of everywhere. He was ten. And at the same time, I got a job offer: the prime minister of Tatarstan needed a press secretary. Well, I felt like that happened for a reason; it was a sign that I should give it a try.
I'M BACK AND I don't REGRET it. KAZAN IS BECOMING A CENTer OF ATTRACTION, and LIVING here IS more COMFORTABLE now, like IN MOSCOW. the PEOPLE here are DRIVEn. there are more and MORE who WANT SOMETHING OR everything TO CHANGE.
That's what I used to think Kazan lacked. It seemed like such a swamp. Of course, I still love Moscow, its views and the services it offers. But I can see that Kazan is just as nice now.

I noticed that little changed while I was away. Much more has changed over the past 10 years that I have lived here: public spaces, parks, and embankments. And Natalia Fishman, of course. She brought all the best from Moscow. Everything worked out. And I hope no one will stop doing what they're doing. When you work with the president, you can see why one building or another isn't being demolished: he personally monitors and looks over everything, not allowing anyone to build something ugly in the center. Because one piece of garbage has already been built: that clothes-iron-shaped Clover Plaza. And I see how that pains him, that it will disfigure the city for many decades to come. So, we leave everything else in its authentic environment, so that the new buildings fit into their space.

When you walk around downtown, you can rest assured that nothing will just disappear overnight; the president has a built system in which everything passes through him. He doesn't let greedy developers run things.

What surprised you working as the president's press secretary?

My work in Moscow was kind of intangible, but here I was involved in matters that changed the world for the better. I think the regional authorities, which are already rooted in this land, are thinking about what will remain for their children, grandchildren, the people who live here. They don't want to be ashamed to look people here in the eye. So, I liked my job.

What was the most difficult part?

Getting up at five in the morning. You get up, prepare planning meetings, talk about what happened the previous day. It was awfully invigorating.

And who came up with the idea of posting the president's Instagram photo every morning?

He did. It's such an intuitive thing. It contradicts all the laws of social media (we were told in lectures that there's no need to post the same picture every day), but it works for him. And now people all over the world know what the weather is like on Ploshchad Svobody.

Things like that, removing the barrier between the power and the person, seemed important and interesting. And the president felt it too, which is why his Instagram is so lively and unofficial.
Is it hard to be in such close quarters with the president for so long?

There are people who do it for much longer. And my stay wasn't that long, 9.5 years, working closely and directly together with the president for 4 years. That's normal.

Why did you leave?

It turns out that I'm drawn to staying in one place. Like with Channel One. But there was no break after that; I immediately started working in the field of information for national projects, and, along the way, as part of the president's project, where I had to gather together people who are genetically related to us, by surnames, by sympathies. In May I published the book Tatarstan 100: Before and Now. That's what I mean by collecting our identity.
How do you feel about your book?

I'm just itching to add to the introduction that this is only the first step, the first "twenty years." Then it will be like Namedni [Russian television program]: another series about the next 20 years, followed by another, so that we will cover a whole century in a five-volume book.

The YouTube channel New Tartary came about because we wanted to tell about our story in different ways: pictures, videos, chronicles, with action, and fast cuts. Walk through the places featured in the book; what are they like now? are they alive? how they feel and how they look?! The same as in the book, but in different formats, from the palm of your hand, from a smartphone or TV screen. You can buy the book at Smena [bookstore]; Ratusha [historical building and architectural landmark in downtown Kazan]; the Dom Knigi chain of bookstores; and, as of recently, on Ozone [internet store].

I'd like to talk about the city. What are your favorite places in Kazan, what do you like?

Today we went to the Druzhinina House, which was very luxurious and modern for Kazan in 1911. There was a time when I was very worried about it; everything around it was being destroyed, it was set on fire. I thought it was a goner too. I even took part in a demonstration, like, "we won't let this house die." That was in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Now we can sleep easy knowing that nothing will happen to the house overnight, no homeless people or developers will set it on fire.

You know, with the Mergasovsky building, it wasn't obvious what was going to happen with it in the first week.

Right, but you can see it's standing, just like that building. That was its fate: it was saved only by the hand of the president. First, there was one investor, but he left. Then they bought in others. And they're restoring it so carefully! They'll definitely finish it, because they've already put so much of their heart and soul into it.

I always liked those kinds of things in Kazan. It's an example of how evil forces tried to destroy the building, but the authorities intervened in time. And then there were people with money who also saw the value of the building for the city, and spared no money or talents on it.
What other favorite places do you have?

Lake Chornoye, and I hope good things will come to it this year, at least better than what was before, anyways. I like Lyadsky Garden, the Hermitage Garden, where everything is smaller, cozy, proportional in size with people.

What three buildings in Kazan would you demolish?

The Kol'tso shopping mall and the Pension Fund, all on one square. I would also tear down the Tatarstan Hotel, because it was the first to ruin the octagon shape of the plaza.