As a long-serving Moscow correspondent, Peter d’Hamecourt has covered the major upheavals in recent Russian history since 1989 – from the collapse of the Soviet Union, through the chaotic casino capitalism of the 1990s, to the rise of President Putin this century. It did not make him more optimistic, but he continued to love his second homeland. On Monday, d’Hamecourt died at the age of 77 from cardiac arrest at his home in Lot-et-Garonne in southern France.
Due to his work for television, d’Hamecourt was the face of Russia for many Dutch people. He made for NOS News more than three thousand TV reports. “He was the first to make professional television in this part of the world,” writes editor-in-chief Giselle van Cann on the NOS site: “He ensured that NOS was always at the forefront in its reporting. He was an example for many of his younger colleagues.”
D’Hamecourt, born in Vlaardingen as the son of a window dresser, started in 1966 as a reporter at the New Vlaardingsche Courantthen became a pop journalist at the Haagsche Courant and then at it Algemeen Dagblad, for which he would work for more than thirty years. He traded at the A.D pop music for foreign countries, was a correspondent in the Middle East in the 1980s, where he covered, among other things, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and in Latin America, where he experienced the Falklands War.
In 1989 he became a correspondent in Moscow. He continued to work here until his retirement in 2008. “What I found was an anarchist gang,” he said in an interview with The Green Amsterdammer. “I’m going to feel at home here, I immediately thought.” D’Hamecourt gradually acquired more customers, including the NOS News and the Flemish VRT. In Moscow he had his independent Holland Bureau with several employees. News media in the Netherlands now work with rotating correspondentship: keep changing, otherwise you become involved. D’Hamecourt did not believe in that: those who lived somewhere longer got to know the country better. According to him, it was important that a correspondent was constantly reporting: “Just let me play outside in the chaos,” he said in The Green Amsterdammer.
D’Hamecourt and his Russian wife Zoya Ryutina had a country house in the village of Ignatievskoe, about 130 kilometers south of Moscow, where they continued to live after his retirement. According to him, you could find the real Russia there: rural, primitive, hardly changed since Tsarist times. He had nothing but praise for Russians: warm, helpful people who, in the absence of a functioning government, were focused on helpfulness and finding ways to survive.
Corruption and oppression
He was very pessimistic about the Russian regime. Derk Sauer, publisher of The Moscow Times, once said mockingly that d’Hamecourt predicted the collapse of Russia every month. D’Hamecourt responded that Sauer was too much in his Moscow elite bubble to see the rot. During his twenty years of service, he saw corruption and oppression increase significantly: “The only ideology at the moment in this country: that of cynical, power-hungry indifference,” he said in 2011. Free Netherlands. He warned against the assumption that Putin is a cold, calculating dictator. Putin was better characterized by his “typically Russian” recklessness, according to d’Hamecourt in 2014 in A.D.
After his retirement he continued to work as a tour guide, speaker and writer. He wrote several books about Russia, as Moscow is a madhouse (2006), Russians see them flying (2007) and Vladimir Putin – the royal drama (2012). He also wrote books about Dostoyevsky and Napoleon. In 2018 he suffered a cerebral infarction that left him in a wheelchair, from which he struggled to get out. He also wrote a book about this, A life turned upside down.