Younger Polish AEGEE members know Arleta Bojke as TV anchor or correspondent in Russia; older ones from all over Europe remember her vividly from her time in AEGEE – for example as Chief Editor of the Key to Europe or trainer at several Academy events. Now the AEGEE-Poznan alumna has published a book about Putin.
GT: Arleta, congratulations on publishing your book on Putin! Are you happy that this work is finally done? You worked quite some time on it…
Arleta Bojke: Thank you very much. Yes, I’ve been working on it for more than a year. It should have been ready earlier but my personal life and the birth of my son pushed it away in time a bit. I’m really happy it’s finally printed. It was really lots of work, lots of sleepless nights and hundreds hours of writing. Theoretically it was ready in August but it appeared there was still much to do. Corrections, photos and more. It took me and my editors additional few months to have it printed. But it happened. I feel happy and proud.
GT: How long did it actually take you to write the text?
Arleta: Purely writing took me a bit more than a year, but I had a big break in between. If I count only the time when I was really working on it at least three evenings or nights a week, it was about seven months.
GT: Is it your first book?
Arleta: Yes, and I would have probably never written it if it hadn’t been for my colleagues, who were urging me, people on various meetings who were asking me about a book and finally a publishing house who called me and offered they will publish my book, which they suggested I should write. It was not really my own initiative.
GT: There are not so many authentic books about Putin since he shields his private life. What is the book about and what insight can you give us that is new?
Arleta: It’s not really a book about Putin as such. More about his politics. The title is “Vladimir Putin. An interview, which hasn’t happened”. Probably it sounds better in Polish because I play with words: “Władimir Putin. Wywiad, którego nie było”. There are ten chapters. Each of them starts with a hypothetic question to Putin. Later I write mainly about my own experiences from working in Crimea in the first day of its annexation to Russia, from Donbas when the war started and from a few years living in Russia. It is definitely non-fiction. When I for example write what people in Donetsk told me when they were taking over buildings of local authorities, I didn’t write what I remember. I was listening to everything we recorded there once again and translating it literally. Most of these records have never been published because I work in news. I make stories of two or three minutes and a lot of what I see stays behind the camera. I wrote down much of that.
GT: You worked as TV correspondent in Russia for Polish television. When did you start and finish working in Russia and what are the strongest impressions of that time?
Arleta: I worked in Russia from 12th of May 2010 till 31st of December 2013. I have tons of strong impressions. In my first year I was mainly reporting about the case of the Smolensk catastrophe, where the Polish president and 95 other politicians, generals and important officials died. I spent lots of time covering anti-Putin demonstrations, which started in December 2011. I loved traveling around Russia. Siberia for example is so beautiful and people are so open there that I was always waiting for an opportunity to see a “different Russia”. I will never forget when I wanted to go to Yakutia in January – a time when it was -60 degrees Celsius. Local authorities told me on the phone that the camera will be working for maximum three minutes and the battery will be off in such conditions. We went at the beginning of March. It was minus 25 degrees and everyone was telling us that was almost summer already!
GT: Russia turned into an autocracy under Putin log ago. Did you perceive any major change of the country or was it all done before?
Arleta: It changed after Crimea’s annexation and the Western sanctions. People are told on TV that the West is responsible for the fact that they have a more difficult life. Therefore the attitude to people from abroad got worse. We experience that a lot as Polish journalists. You can feel it even on such a basic level as bureaucracy, which has always been terrible but now for Westerners it is twice as painful and time-consuming as four years ago. Because of the economic problems Russians also travel less and it also influences their attitude. They see less how it really is in the EU and they believe official propaganda.
GT: How do you explain the fact that Putin is so popular despite being an autocratic ruler?
Arleta: Many Russians in fact expect him to be so. They believe that democracy as we see it in the EU is not a good solution for Russia. These who remember the 90s, describe it as a really terrible chaos and poverty. Putin brought them order, money on time and they remember that. Another thing is that for many Russians having a nice house with toilet inside – which is not often the case in villages – is not so important as the fact that the whole world is afraid of Russia again, respects it and consider it a key player. Putin gave them that – a sense of being the world’s superpower.
GT: Do you have any hope that Russia might become a real democracy one day?
Arleta: I have never been thinking about it as a hope. I hope that Russia will always be predictable and stoppable. Democracy? Maybe there will be more freedom, but I cannot imagine Russia being ruled as Switzerland for example.
GT: Populism has spread all over Europe in the past decade. Also in your country Poland. And now also in the USA. Are you actually afraid for the future of Europe and the world?
Arleta: Yes, I am. The world is becoming less predictable and that makes us feel less safe. I am afraid not only of populism. I am also afraid of the ongoing war with ISIS and repeated terrorist attacks in all Europe. To be honest I feel we are living in a time when Europe is going more towards firm-hand leadership and probably we need years to reverse it.
GT: Let’s talk about your time in AEGEE. What was your antenna, when and how did you join the association? Is there a funny story about it?
Arleta: I am from AEGEE-Poznań – and there is nothing funny about how I joined I’m afraid. When I was starting studying, I wanted to work for a students’ organization. I read about AEGEE in a booklet we received and went to the meeting. That’s it!
GT: You are best remembered for making great AEGEE publications. You made the Key to Europe twice and also the NewsBulletin. What are your best memories of this time?
Arleta: It was a beautiful time. Even sleepless nights were fun. Some people hated me when I asked them to correct an article for the third time but we were all proud in the end. My AEGEE time is something I often recall. I made great friends from all over the Europe, went hitch-hiking, worked a lot and partied a lot. Friends from my university were always surprised when they saw me in lectures because I was spending more time on AEGEE than on studying actually.
GT: In what way did making these publications help you in your career?
Arleta: It helped me because I had an experience in project management, in dealing with different people, with stress, with unexpected situations. It was a journalistic experience which always counts. When I show these publications to my colleagues, they are always surprised that I did such professional publications during my university time.
GT: What else did you do on European level?
Arleta: I was a trainer on Public Relations European Schools and manager of the PRES2 in Kraków in 2009. I also worked for AEGEE TV a bit. I was PR Responsible of Shooting Europe, a short film festival in Karlsruhe in 2005. In was also in the board of International Politics Working Group, organised observation mission to the Albanian elections and gave workshops during Agoras.
GT: How active were you on local level?
Arleta: I was quite active on local level as well. I was one of the main organizers of two conferences and PR Responsible of a RegMet in Poznan. I was also trainer on the local level.
GT: When did you quit AEGEE?
Arleta: Hmmm… It was a process rather than a decision. When I started working, there was unfortunately less and less time for AEGEE. It was around 2010.
GT: Are you still in contact with AEGEE sometimes?
Arleta: I am in contact with people who were active members at my time. Lots of them are still important people in my life.
GT: What are you doing now as next job, after finishing the book?
Arleta: I still work in Polish Television. Now a bit less as a reporter, more as an anchor. But I love traveling and I’m sure I will come back to this kind of work when my family life will allow me!
GT: How can interested people buy your book?
Arleta: Oh, it can be bought via Internet or in a bookstore. I’m sure, Polish speaking people won’t have problems.
GT: Will there also be a translation soon?
Arleta: Hmmm… Would be great if it was so good to deserve a translation but I don’t think so high of myself as a writer. It’s still my first book…
GT: Anything you would like to add?
Arleta: It’s so great to see even old friends are interested in what you do. The support I received after publishing an information about the book on Facebook was something really moving for me.