Every age and people has its own symbols of male strength, will and masculinity. There are, of course, fictional characters, such as, for example, James Bond, and there are real contemporaries who have already left their mark on world history. Alexander Karelin is a hero of our time! Born in the USSR, a Siberian, he has gained recognition all over the world! His passion for Greco-Roman wrestling made him a three times Olympic champion, ten times world champion, twelve times winner in European championships in multiple years, and brought him silver in the 2000 Olympic Games, and numerous other national awards. After finishing his wrestling career, Karelin did not cease to advance the interests of his country. Having replaced the sporting arena with the political one, he is now working for the benefit of the Russian people.
The staff of Youth Time Magazine expresses gratitude to the “Public Diplomacy Fund named after A.M. Gorchakov” for contributing to the publication of this interview.
Describe your path from being a student to becoming an outstanding athlete, father of a family and a deputy.
At first I did not have any plan of “evolution.” My parents taught me to work from early childhood and were against idleness in any form. My Father’s directive – “a man should be strong” – led me into the wrestling arena of the Novosibirsk Electrotechnical Institute (NETI). This happened in March 1981, and before that I went through a strength test in other kinds of sports: boxing – because my dad was involved in boxing, skiing – because in those years there were posters all around the city: “If you are a Siberian – you are a skier,“ or “You live in Siberia – go in for skiing!” In 1981 I graduated from the 8th grade, and planned to enter an Automotive College. At that time I hadn’t considered wrestling as a career. Viktor Kuznetsov was the one who opened the world of Greco-Roman wrestling for me. He fascinated me, saying that if you do not miss training and follow the instructions of the coach, you will achieve a lot, but as a pep talk he gave another argument: doing Greco-Roman wrestling, you can become a part of a large family – the legendary and invincible Soviet team. After starting training I realized that school and sports could be combined. After the 8th grade I enrolled in the Road Transport College, studied quite well there and was a group leader. However, the progress I made in wrestling influenced the choice of my future profession – so I entered the Omsk University of Physical Culture and Sports. Wrestling made me strong, tough, it had proven the personal values that my parents raised in me – respect for elders, honesty, diligence and responsibility – to be absolutely true. A thesis from academician N. Vavilov: “The only chance to do as much as possible is to take on as much as possible,” has become a motto for me.
How did sporting activity contribute to your “family,“ civil, and political life?
Greco-Roman wrestling taught me not to be afraid to work, to be persistent, honest in choosing the means of achieving your goal, to be responsible and to answer to those who expect you to win, to support and to assist. It is very important for me to meet the expectations of others, to justify the confidence of fans, voters, fellow public and parliamentary colleagues, my relatives.
Has the change of activity influenced you in any way? How did you go through this transition, what helped you?
I can not clearly separate my life into periods, because I don’t belong to the type of people who stay in the same business throughout their adult lives. The change in activity happened rather quickly, without lingering doubts and long term planning. Being an active athlete, I have been involved in public life: I organized and conducted tournaments in wrestling, met with students, adults, studied in post graduate school, defended my thesis, and then the PhD thesis. Afterwards, in 1999, I gradually joined the campaign for elections to the State Duma, participated in the inter-regional “Unity” (“Bear”) movement, and was one of the ” builders” of the “United Russia” political party. There is a saying: “Life flies by when it is filled with events.” So I did not really notice the moment when I became a deputy in addition to an athlete. Not much has really changed in my life, though: I continue to participate in the competitions for boys, and not only wrestling competitions and not only within the Siberian Federal District. I still meet with children, adolescents, and labor collectives, but the geography of these meetings has expanded a lot. I still believe that it is never too late to learn, so I try to use every opportunity to learn something new about our wonderful country, its people, and about other countries’ political experience.
What society would you prefer your children to live in?
In a civilized society, which gives an opportunity to get a high-quality education, a good and interesting job, and personal development prospects, all connected with Russia. We will gain respect all over the world, if we remain faithful to our rich cultural traditions and our native language – the language of Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Lermontov, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Yesenin, Bulgakov and many other Russian poets, writers and publicists.
Laws are similar to instructions or manuals, but they are based on our moral values, our perception of the world and sense of self. I am sure that Russia has great potential, and we just have to mobilize and find a way to exploit this wealth efficiently, the main part of which is the people. We must learn to cherish our country, Russia, and be proud to be citizens of the Russian Federation. Sometimes, the small details make all the difference. A common understanding of a responsible attitude to life is composed of little things that are hardly visible.
As an athlete you ought to be tolerant of the athletes of other nationalities. And what about tolerance of gay marriage? What will happen to Russia if it is legalized?
Russian nationhood is 1125 years old, new Russia is only 20 years old. I believe that before the arrival of the Varangians our ancestors developed social and state institutions, but time and again, in applying innovations, we have made experiments, without considering the consequences … When the Novosibirsk Legislative Assembly initiated a law banning the promotion of homosexuality among underage persons, I supported this law and am a supporter of more categorical wording to it, because children need to grow within the regular, traditional guidelines. Our country and its citizens don’t need same-sex marriage. This will make all of us weak and vulnerable. Moreover, it contradicts our traditions and ideas about family values.
What values should we then implant in our children?
I am convinced that all the values are concentrated within a family of three, and preferably four generations (grandchildren, children, parents and grandparents). I‘m not talking about living together, but about a correct understanding based on respect, care, attention and self-discipline. Then all the temptations and surrogates will run up against the person’s beliefs and confidence. Expanding horizons, becoming educated, we only strengthen a “base” that helps to “join” modern, complicated life harmoniously.
You, as a member of the State Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs, repeatedly come across stereotypes about Russia. Tell us about the most frequent.
The most common stereotype about Russia that it is a boundless country populated by lazy people who are very good at drinking too much. That only foreign experience can teach Russians. That we are hostile to the representatives of other countries. But these stereotypes do not correspond to reality. In fact, in Russia there are millions of stories about amazing people that are never covered by television broadcasts or popular publications, unfortunately, no one knows about them, except for relatives and friends. However, these “unknown heroes”– the salt of the earth, because they have dedicated their lives to serving their Motherland, because they remain loyal to their ancestors, their land, are not rushing around in search of happiness and believe in themselves, in fact represent the “nation of winners” and show that you can achieve a lot being persistent and hardworking.
As a politician, tell us how the government should dispose the sovereignty the people have entrusted to it?
Frugally, not trying to impress the other powers and flirting with its own population. Provide employment and competition.
In recent decades it has become clear that the competitiveness of Russian social capital in the world is rather weak. How can Russia increase it?
I’m convinced that much will fall into place when we stop colorizing old movies and deal with the difficult periods of our history in our art. It’s time to shoot new movies on the basis of new stories, using advances in technology, though they will not immediately turn into masterpieces, but the more attempts we make, the sooner we come to a modern standard of quality. And the most important thing is to keep the great and mighty Russian language. Then our social capital will meet the global competition. Our country is interesting to the world, but I must admit that so far this interest is mixed with an element of fear “before the dark and moody Russians.”
The modern national idea of Russia, what is it?
Russia’s national idea now and always – to work. For the benefit of yourself and your family, your native settlement, your country thus making ourselves and Russia richer.
How can a young Russian keep faith in the country‘s cultural identity when he is facing global challenges every day?
Protect the Russian language. Study the history of their country – a large multinational state, at all times bringing together representatives of different peoples of different faiths. Be aware of the special role of Russia in the global scale, not to revel in this, but to maximize the benefits. Be proud of our complicated but victorious history. The Russian soul is a phenomenon! It is composed out of everyday hardships and experiences, the ability of each one to be a hero, of the universal search for a life plan. All this is placed in the head of a romantic dreamer who is ready to believe in utopias and unwilling to learn from experience. But sooner or later romantic becomes realistic. Alexander Suvorov said: “Discipline is the Mother of all victories.” The main thing – to set worthy goals, to obtain the courage to make the most difficult first step. And then – by Suvorov: Faith in your own strength and victory!