Documentary Director Cyril Tuschi 'Khodorkovsky Has an Other-Worldly Aura'

A copy of his documentary about Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the imprisioned Russian oil tycoon, was stolen from his office shortly before its premiere at the Berlinale. Director Cyril Tuschi talks about the break-in, the making of the film and the macho battle between Khodorkovsky and Putin.


SPIEGEL ONLINE: There was a break-in at your studio in Berlin before the premiere of your documentary about the incarcerated Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The computer containing the final edit of the film was stolen. Who was behind this?

Cyril Tuschi: We cannot rule out the Russian secret service, but also the many circles of witnesses I interviewed at the time. The criminal police and Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Germany's domestic intelligence agency) are looking into it.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are there any leads?

Tuschi: There still seems to be no evidence pointing to the identity of the perpetrators. I for one would be glad if it were just a couple of Apple fans who wanted the computer. I actually wanted to build a bridge between Russia and the West with my film. Now the media coverage is all about confrontation and accusations.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You spent five years working on the film. Can you say whether or not Khodorkovsky was indeed guilty of racketeering and tax evasion when a court in Moscow sentenced him to 14 years in prison?

Tuschi: I am an artist, not a judge. At times however the question of his guilt has troubled me deeply and given me sleepless nights.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: At the same time, over the course of speaking to over 70 witnesses and collecting over 180 hours of interview material, some picture must have emerged.

Tuschi: I did not want to pronounce judgement. I wanted to make an interesting film about a unique person.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What makes Khodorkovsky so fascinating to you and other artists? Symphonies have been composed in his honor and Moscow authors Boris Akunin and Lyudmila Ulitskaya published their long exchange of letters with him.

Tuschi: He has an almost transcendental, other-worldy aura. It is the aura of a martyr, which is otherwise not found amongst the living. Khodorkovsky is a logic-driven human being, his entire behavior was based around logic, up until the point where he did something completely illogical and went to prison, although he had the option of going into exile.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You imply in your film that Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 because he developed close and deliberate contact with the US in order to sell off parts of his business to them. Was this the key reason for his arrest?

Tuschi: Unfortunately Dick Cheney and other Americans connected with the oil industry were not willing to meet with me. Neither were Vladimir Putin or Igor Sechin, Russia's energy czar, who, it is said, engineered Khodorkovsky's arrest. So there is no one key reason -- more like a dozen.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What else came into the equation in the showdown between Putin and the then-richest man in Russia?

Tuschi: Apparently it was also about breaking an oligarch in a way that would instill so much fear in the others, that they would toe the line. Apart from that, it seems to me to be an archaic macho battle between Putin and Khodorkovsky.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: On what do you base you machismo theory?

Tuschi: The former economics minister, Yevgeny Saburov, expressed this opinion in the film. He recounts how he once asked former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder why, in his opinion, Khodorkovsky was serving time. Schröder answered that it was a thing between men.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Putin's successor as president, Dmitry Medvedev, reduced the length of the prison term for financial crime from 21 years to 14 years, thus sparing Khodorkovsky an additional seven years in prison. The president ensured that the trial took place in Moscow with hundreds of foreign journalists in attendance, rather than in deepest Siberia. On the other hand, the court case was a farce and made a mockery of Medvedev's demands for a rule of law. What role does the head of state actually play?

Tuschi: It's exactly as you describe. Medvedev swings between new beginnings and being Putin's puppet. A few days ago, an independent commission reported that the court proceedings need to be examined, but that it should not lead to a reversal of the verdict.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How expensive was your film and who paid for it?

Tuschi: It cost €400,000 ($538,500). The money came from three different state film development funds as well as from Bayerischer Rundfunk, the Bavarian state broadcaster. So any accusations that I am being paid either by the Kremlin or by Khodorkovsky are nonsense.

Interview conducted by Matthias Schepp

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