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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Listyev's Life Reflected His Country's Path

It seems almost impossible to write about anything other than the murder of Vladislav Listyev right now. To me, Listyev is a symbol for the long and tortuous path that Russia has followed over the past decade.


He was educated during the period of stagnation, graduating from college in 1982, when Leonid Brezhnev was still, theoretically, running the country. Journalism in those days was a discipline closely tied to the official ideology, and those who wanted to tell the truth had to couch it in the Aesopian language of hints and omissions.


Listyev hit his professional stride in the heady days of perestroika. In 1987, he joined a team of young journalists in starting the bravest, freshest, most irreverent program on television, "Vzglyad."


I well remember those late Friday nights, drinking tea or vodka with the few Russian friends courageous enough to host an American diplomat, waiting impatiently to see what revelations or antics the "Vzglyad" crew had in store for us this week. No subject was off-limits: They would take on corruption, sex, drugs -- topics that had never before been treated honestly in the press.


By the early '90s, the public had tired of politics and was in the mood for entertainment. Seizing the spirit of the times, and borrowing liberally from the West, Listyev produced and hosted a series of television shows, while heading up a studio called ViD.


First came "Polye Chudes," or Field of Dreams, a game show suspiciously reminiscent of America's "Wheel of Fortune" -- except the questions are harder and the prizes smaller.


The title itself is Listyev's little joke -- it comes from a popular fairy tale, a Pinocchio ripoff called "Buratino," in which the little wooden hero searches for the Field of Dreams in the Country of Fools. Here, he has been told, he can plant a gold coin and it will grow into a money tree.


"Field of dreams in the country of fools," is a common phrase in Russian, with the first half automatically suggesting its follow-on.


Listyev moved on from his Field of Dreams to "Tema," a studio talk show that borrows heavily from Phil Donahue. Listyev addressed social issues -- although, fortunately, he was not pushed to Donahue's excesses. "Tema" addressed common problems, such as women juggling family and career, and left such issues as the travails of transvestite truckers to its American counterpart.


"Chas Pik," or "Prime Time," was Listyev's latest effort. With his slicked-back hair and brightly-colored suspenders, he looked like a twin to CNN's Larry King.


Listyev, who at 38 was at the peak of his professional skills, was also a hard-headed businessman. He was about to assume control of Russian Public Television, a new company that was to be created on the ruins of the soon-to-be-discarded Ostankino.


Then his life was cut short by violence.


We may never know who was responsible for the murder. As soon as the news of Listyev's assassination was out, public figures and private individuals were expressing doubt that the killers would ever be caught.


With Listyev's death, Russia's cup of patience has overflowed. No one feels safe, and people may just take action. Journalists are talking about the need to defend themselves. A popular rock star has called for the population to stop paying taxes and use the extra money to buy themselves guns.


A frightening suggestion, but one that might just catch on.