Since the rise of Vladimir Putin, Russia has become more and more like a Mafia state in which political power and violence merge as instruments of control by the oligarchs and their political allies. Russia appears more as a Potemkin village rather than a genuine nation state. It has the outer trappings of a political, legal and constitutional system. But underneath the body is rotting to the core. We cannot speak of the rule of law. There is the diktat of power wielded by corrupt petty bureaucrats doing the bidding of an unseen hand.
In the United States, there is an opposition to the war in Iraq though it is ineffectual and disorganized. In Russia, there seems no organized opposition to any Putin initiative including the war in Chechnya. The Russian people have always been cowed by their czars and Politburo apparachniks. This condition persists today. No one in the government had to pay for the Beslan massacre. No one questions the war in Chechnya. I should say, there are individual voices which do. But in nation so corrupt, these voices are suffered by the powerful much as a distracted man swats at an annoying gnat without killing it.
Anna Politkovskaya was such a person. A virtual one-person journalistic campaign against the state and its misbegotten Chechen war. She was the one who told Putin what no one else in the country dared to–that the war was pure evil. For some reason, the Russian intelligence apparatus endured her outrages. Until they stopped being willing to do so. It almost doesn’t matter whether her murder was ordered by a shadowy government connection or by the Russian-allied Chechen government. There are so many evil, corrupt loci of power in Chechnya and Russia that any number of people could have given the order. Suspicion falls first and foremost on Razman Kadyrov, Russia’s chief Chechen stooge. He can’t have relished her repeated reports on torture and other blatant acts of terror carried out under his watch and sometimes by him personally. I can see Kadyrov saying in the words of King Henry: “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome journalist?” And in a land built on violence and corruption, there were hundreds, even thousands eager to do his wishes.
There seems little we can do for the Russian people who suffer under the yoke of these thieves; or for the brave souls like Anna who stand up to the Mafiosi with defiance, truth and justice on their side. So perhaps we can read her books (pictured here with Amazon links) and learn more about her and the ideas for which she gave her life. I’ve featured A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya and Putin’s Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy as worthy representations of her powerful journalism.
NOTE: This is a post I wrote on October 8, 2006 and had intended to publish it it in order to memorialize this remarkable woman. For some reason, I wrote the post but never published it. On writing today about the assassination of another Kremlin opponent, Alexander Litvinenko, I searched for this post and could not find it. This led me to realize I hadn’t yet published it. So apologies to Anna for the unforgivable delay. Given Litvinenko’s fate, it is never too late to remember those who die untimely death at the hands of Putin and his gang.
A few point in this article I have to disagree upon. You make statements about Russian political discourse without apparently knowing a thing about it. The typical Western media bias is clear. And don’t get me wrong. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Something is rotten in the state of Russia” — by God, yes. But by God, not more than in US or any other Western place. There is concerns, there is legitimate concerns, but all not as grave and grim as you might get from Western press. People have opinions, opposition raise voise in papers, on central TV, during debates… Even conservative Communist opposition enjoy so much freedom their opponents back in the day couldn’t even imagine.
And discourse amongst regular sitizenry as diverse as anything. Hell, to like the government, no matter how good or bad it is, considered a bad tone. All in all, political life there is much more involved and agitated (albeit even more dirty as well) than you could ever experience in the States.
And your statement about Chechnya couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a painful topic and no one (well, very vast majority anyway) is happy about the whole situation or various aspects of it. But another thing that strikes me — is the attitude Western media takes on the issue. I know, big bad Russia opressing small freedom loving people (oil pipeline and drug trafficing doesn’t concer Western commentators, of course). But we’ve heard about Al Qayeda as far back as mid-90’s. In that they supported bandits and mujahedeen with money, weapons, training, and hired hands. No one in the West cared for such things. but as soon as WTC goes down, Americans do not hesitate to bomb and invade other countries, condemning over half a million civilians to death, and the rest to misery and destruction…
Richard Silverstein says
I make no pretence that life is perfect or close to it in the U.S. or other western democracies. But if you truly believe that your country is governed in a way that is as transparent, fair, democratic and tolerant as we are governed, then I have to wonder how much you know about life outside your country.
Certainly people are freer to express their opinions than they were under Communist rule. But how free are you? Can the Opposition raise its voice & represent a true opposition w/o being intimidated, prosecuted & thrown into prison? Does the opposition have access to the media equal to Putin & his cronies? Of course not. The media is tightly controlled and scripted by governing forces. As we speak, the only candidates who’ve declared their candidacy to replace Putin have been prosecuted because they are not Putin’s candidates.
How is an election in which the outcome is guaranteed & winner known in advance “more involved…than you could ever experience in the States?”
You’ve got the wrong guy, fella. I don’t support those American policies which you decry. I agree with you. And are you saying that because George Bush has become the world’s bully that Putin is justified in becoming Chechnya’s bully? I hope not.
Man, you see, the difference is that I’ve been there, and I’ve been here. I’ve seen American political kitchen from inside, I’ve seen enough of your “free press”, your “fair” policies, both political and economical. Not saying you’re guys are bad, but you’re so far from perfect and so afraid to admit it. Don’t tell me, that the system, where “in the name of patriotic duty” certain shady characters and organizations embezzle billions of dollars from a military budget is perfect and transparent. Don’t tell me that the country having that military budget twice as big as it was in the height of the Cold War, is a peaceful democracy.
I’ve lived in the States, I know the life here a little bit. I might have a passionate opinion, but nontheless it is moderate and weighted on many issues, because I take poins, I see points, I know points. I just hate to see when people spent their whole life in their little sandbox and never popped the head out over the wall to se what really is on the other side.
When I say “involved”, I mean that the political life there is not centered as much about election year. In States people start paying attention to things, when there are yellow Penske trucks with lost ballots in Florida, or, to quote Stewart, when evangelist preacher “seeding moral ground to drug-dealing male prostitute”.
There people are and were involved all the time. We don’t spend months breaking lances over “such an important issues” as same-sex marriage or whethere we should prohibit burning of a national flag. There’s tons of real everyday problems, that people focused upon. You have such problems here, but it is much easier to energize electorate with the image of two dudes kissing then to talk about boring stuff like trade deficite or crappy medical system.
And in the sphere of international relations people there are more involved. I remember watching news and “International Panorame” when I was a kid. I remember names like Arafat, Gaddafi or Khomeini since I was able to walk straight up under the table. People watched, followed, and discussed it, and still do. In States — what can you talk about when people can’t read and count without calculator, when 40% cannot point great American river Missippi on the map, half don’t know where New Orleans is after the tornado, and 60% don’t know where their fellow American servicemen dying every day? Who cares, right? But two dudes kissing — oh hells yeah, it’s disgusting, but we can’t avert our eyes and stop talking about it.
Richard Silverstein says
You’ve been here but that doesn’t mean you’ve truly understood what you’ve seen. Your view is a caricature of our system and not a fair minded view of it.
You’re setting up a straw man that is entirely unnecessary. I fully agree with your criticisms (though I’m not sure “billions” were embezzled). What do you take me for? A die hard patriot? You see, that’s part of yr caricature of our system. You want to argue with someone & you pick me. But I don’t disagree w. much of yr criticism.
Where we disagree is that you see George Bush as a normative American political leader when he is not. We may be exorcising the demons he’s introduced to our system over many years to come. But we will do so. In your country you can’t exorcise the evils Putin has introduced because most of yr fellow countrymen don’t even recognize them as evils. Your country has a far longer way to go than ours I’m afraid in realizing democracy, transparency and the rule of law.
Again you’re setting up that straw man. I’ve lived all over this country. I’ve lived in a number of foreign countries. I speak a number of foreign languages. I’ve also visited the Ukraine btw though never Russia. So please don’t make assumptions about my provincial attitudes or narrow view of the world.
Do you bother to read American newspapers? If you did you would know that your views are false. What you say is true for the majority of Americans just as it is true for the majority of inhabitants of every country on earth. But for the millions of us for whom politics are meaningful, your statements are patently false.
You must be talking to the wrong Americans if you don’t think there are millions of Americans who have known those names as well. I just don’t get this competition you’ve got going to prove who are the most political aware citizens of the world.
Besides, what’s really important here is our respective political, economic, and legal systems–and not so much the level of ignorance of our respective peoples. Russia simply doesn’t yet have those systems in place to create a stable democracy. Perhaps this will come over the years. I hope it will. But you do not have it yet.
Nah, 6 years should be enough to see through it. And what I’ve seen just doesn’t add up with what you’re saying. No, you don’t look like die-hard right-wing flag-waving patriot, but your beliefs about the state your country is in seem a bit naive, and a bit akin to those die-hard leninists, who talk about “the single most righrteous teachings”.
Your three staples (democracy, transparency, and the rule of law) i have problems with. When I was talking about ignorance of general American public, it has direct relation to the quality of democracy. The right to vote, the right to decide — is not a privelege, but a duty and huge resposibility. And democracy fails when ignorance, incompetence, and indifference rules. You see, you are politically active, you read and follow the news, but in your country there are 330 million people, and majority of them don’t care that much. Visit your lockal WalMart, and see what people are concerned with. When people don’t care what will be in the future, what is going on around them now, — that’s when democracy fails.
Transparency? Well, virtually every week you can read in newspaper about yet another corruption scandal. Pentagon launches investigation about over 1 billion overspent by Halliburton through defence contracts in Iraq. Labor department rents high class offices in prestigious DC district, board members meeting in the luxurious hotels, where they have $20 omelets and $14 desserts, while local Job Service branches barely scrape by, and have to refuse 40% applicans “due to lack of funds”. Defence contractors are way behind the due dates, and well over budget on major defence projects (like F22 — supposed to be done already, and supposed to cost some $180 bil., but not done yet, and already cost over 300 bil., and still request more money, and those requests are being granted).
Private economics sector is not much different. One thing if those were singular episodes, but it looks more like a tendency, a system that looks not much defferent from Russian olygarchy that everyone likes to talk about so much.
Rule of law? Cops that can flinch and kill 16 year old kids, and get aquitted? Hell, judjing by Idaho, they can kill anybody anyhow and get aquitted. In the same time, over the past two years there was a huge wave of bank robberies, and no one can do nothing about it. Government that can tp your phones and keep people inprisoned for years without trial? Precedent-based jurisprudence, where ambulance chaser makes billions off of idiotic cases while putting enormous strain on economy and legal system? That system, that routinely put innocent people behind the bars, or even execute them, and then some fifteen-twenty years after releases them, saying “oops”? Admionistrative punishment system designed to drain money from people?
On the last one — I’m a victim myself. I was supposedly fined over some “court mistake”, I wasn’t notified of the fine, I wasn’t notified of the bench warrant when it was overdue (guess what, they can issue a warrant on anyone without letting them know), luckily I’ve found out that before I got caught and went through jail, so I bailed out ($150), and went to court, where I didn’t have time nor resources to argue my complete innocence. That’s what this system is designed upon — constant “accidental oopses”, “court mistakes” etc. Very similar to the late Soviet system, when they gave maximum punishments even for the minor offences, when they needed extra working hands for another massive “building project of the century”.
I don’t make assumptions, I just reply to the statements that you have wrote, that show you know nothing more than another popular columnist in some LA Times or WP, whose articles you read. You don’t know what really is going on, and you’re unwilling to put it all in persepective. Journalists are being murdered? Think about Rove/Libby case, think about the reporters that got imprisoned for not disclosing their sources, think about if Bernstein and Woodward would have been done like that, think about if there was no Watergate? Think about that there will be no more Watergate, because people nowadays are so easy to be distracted, and reporters are so easy to be silenced.
And think about that information you are getting maybe spun out and biased, as cheesy as it may sound. As an example: there were a case about 2 weeks ago. There were reports about clashes with minorities over the murder of some regional political figure. “National question” is really touchy this days, so it is easy to stir up sosciety. So one semi-marginal “patriotic” organisation started to spin the news, playing up to the xenophobic nationalism of some people. And they did it in the best traditions of Pallywood (I take you’re familiar with that Middle-Eastern term). They started to talk about the government trying to build “informational blokade”, prohibiting central media to talk about it, that “big brother” is hacking into their websites and so on. All their information was strictly declarative: “we’ve heard this”, and “there’s that”. Nothing solid, no photo or video from the spot, no nothing. They were talking about the riots, hell, short of ethnic war, that government sending SWAT teams there in droves and even military attack helicopters. Short of air carriers, strategic bombers and armoured trains. And, of course, every bit of information to the contrary declared as propaganda, censorship and government lies. Every opinion to the contrary is supposedly sponsored, forced or coming from government and FSB.
So some concerned citizens in blogosphere, including myself, did some research. I though, hell, to what extent that big brother really goes? So, I wrote two articles with analysis of informational flow, as I named it. I purely analysed the quality, quantity and inner logic of information, without serious attachment to facts, because in all honesty I couldn’t be on the spot and see facts for myself. Turns out, those spinners didn’t concern themselves with the facts as well. Their logic was poor also.
First, they tried to make regional issue (really, in the rural county center of 27 000 inhabitants) look like it worthy national attention. And I say it’s not, cause stuff like that happens all the time, they just jumped on this case, cause there was ethnic element to it. Second, they talked about complete informational blokade, while in reality the news from the spot were coming in from the day one, getting as much attention as regional news would. Local branch of state television did a report from there, so did crews from 2 national TV companies. Newspapers, information agencies all had information about it. Thirdly, all the “ethnic clashes” turned out to be several stones thrown into the windows of couple of stores owned by Georgians, and one store was set on fire. Forthly, locals say that there is some activity, but no army, no helicopters, no artillery and what not. Fifthly, as an interesting sidenote, IT experts convincingly concluded that there were no hacking of the organisation’s internet resources, after they traced all routes, and pinged all hosts (which are located in Germany, so, really, it’s unlikely that German hoster would listen to FSB demanding to turn things off), and all in all it looked like PR trick.
So my opinion was that they know about what happened there not more than anybody who’s not on the spot, but just stirring up unhealthy sentiments, trying to get the points up in the election year. And it truly my opinion, which I think is rightfully founded by my own analisys, which I put together quite well, modesty aside. Of course, by them, such an opinion is the government propaganda, but I can honestly vouch, that I did so with no pressure nor incentive from any government structures. Just typing away here in my room. I really wouldn’t mind some bonus from FSB for my propagandistic efforts, cause I’m short on dough now, but alas, it is not to be…
So, now think about when this spun out crap reaches Western media, and those columnists who like to hear only what they like to hear.
My apology for typos and some erroneous grammar above, but in my Opera your comment form has real small font, literally like 6px, I can hardly see a thing. My suggestion is to check your stylesheets.
Richard Silverstein says
Yes, there are corruption scandals & there have always been. But you forget that one of the reasons you know about so many of these scandals is that we have intrepid reporters or government whistleblowers who report them to the public. And the only reason we have people like this is because our democratic system makes an honored place for them & provides them protection. You can’t say that about Russia unfortunately. And further, we have had more scandals during this Administrations than any in my memory–& my memory of presidential politics goes back to the 1960s. This is a wholly corrupt Administration & the entirety of the U.S. system of government should not be judged by the 6 yrs. these crooks have been in power.
Only during the Bush Administration have prisoners been imprisoned for years w/o trial. Never before in U.S. history has this happened & I guarantee you that after this Administration it won’t happen again. You don’t understand that Bush is an aberration. Returning to the above passage, you seem to forget poor Mikhail Khorodovsky who WAS provided a trial, but a sham one & will be in prison for years on trumped up charges. Which system is worse? The one that railroaded him or ours?
You really have very little understanding of our legal system. Yes, there are abuses of our tort system & lawyers have made millions unfairly. But you neglect the fact that trial lawyers are a very important check on the negligence of companies, doctors & others who abuse the pubic and customers. Would you have injured victims with no place to turn to seek redress for their injuries? That’s what things are like in Russia. Thank God not here.
And you mean to tell me that no innocent people are behind bars in Russia? Another thing you forget is that our legal system allows for the rectification of mistakes. It doesn’t always work perfectly. Sometimes innocent people get out of prison far after they should have. But our system provides for lawyers like the Innocence Project who devote themselves to freeing innocent prisoners. Do lawyers in Russia and does the legal system in general there provide for the correction of mistakes??
You’re not seriously comparing Anna Politkovskaya and her fate with Judith Miller’s and hers are you? Please tell me you’re not. Because that would be a laughable comparison. Judith Miller will earn millions of dollars on her next book deal for all of her disgusting behavior & shabby reporting. I have no sympathy for her. She didn’t have to go to prison. She was a pig-headed swine as far as I’m concerned.
SOME reporters are easily silenced. But the wonder of our system is that there will always be reporters who cannot be silenced. If reporters for TV & large newspapers don’t get reports right, ones for smaller publication will scoop them & steal the story from them. Eventually, things come out even if someone has shirked their job. Blogs too motivate reporters to do a better job. Bloggers break stories that reporters don’t touch. It happens every day. Is there such a blog culture in Russia?
And you talk about reporters who don’t do their jobs HERE. What about in Russia where Putin has silenced virtually all the major media (especially TV) except for a few lingering independent sources. Can you really claim that you have the diversity of media sources there that you find here?
Oh, can’t you? What is your statement based upon? God, we have scandal upon a scandal there. As of right now, there are 28 cases against allegedly corrupt mayors and governors in court. Some very high up officials, as high as a top police shots, and ministry department heads were convinced for bribery. Hell, even former minister is questioned right now about possible misappropriation. That’s a major case, and man claims he’s innocent, but he doesn’t flee to Britain or elsewhere, like, say, Berezovskijj did, but trusts our judicial system.
And concentration camps for Japanese during WWII? Hell, Hitler himself credited the camp idea to the American Indian reservations you perfected. Watergate is an aberration too? National Guard at Kent State? National Guard killing women and children with machine guns at the campsite of the striking miners in some 1913 or 1914, at the orders of Rockefeller (Ludlow massacre)? Columbine Mine massacre of 1927? Are those episodes and aberrations?
Ha-ha. First of all, he’s not poor. Wasn’t anyway. Secondly, in eyes of the people, he’s a thief that got quick-rich selling the national resources abroad, access to which he acquired in shady ways. While the country in no tangible way benefited from those revenues (couple gas stations do not make a weather), he moved that capital across the border. Oftentimes such attitude is divorced from facts, which is sad, but such is public opinion of such nouveau riches. And to be true, most of the new billionaires acquired ownership over strategic resources and industries in some illegitimate ways during the period of so called “bandit capitalism”.
Anyhow, the real reason why he was prosecuted, as often cited there, is indeed political. In that he almost literally tried to buy his way to power. He did it in inopportune time, as system started to move away from “oligarchic capitalism” of the late 90s’, when such figures had some serious influence in the couloirs of Russian politics. And the fact that he was not so solidly convicted for tax-evasion — well, so was Al Capone.
All in all, I shall reserve judgment on this issue, because I do not have enough information, but one thing I would advise to refrain from — is to present him as a holy martyr. Or is it just because he was rich Jew?
Once again, what are your statements based upon? Our judicial system based on classic Western jurisprudence. Yes, there are problems, there are system issues, there is oftentimes trouble with enforcing laws, that are actually not bad on the paper, but it all being worked out. You don’t really expect us to get in 15 years as far as Western Europe got in several hundred years?
No, I did not mean to say that. What I was pointing at is that listening to you (many Americans that is) one can get the impression that your system is next to perfect, while it is far from it. To throw in my two cents, I think certain Western European countries, Japan, and, maybe, to some extent, Australia and Canada are way ahead of U.S.
Well, personally I don’t think you can rectify anything, when you put innocent person behind the bars for 20 years. All in all judicial system as it is not perfect, and for this one I don’t have an answer. Jury can be bribed, pressured, agitated, or otherwise persuaded. Star Chamber oftentimes doesn’t work quite well. Prosecutors, instead of focusing on finding the truth, focus on putting the suspect behind the bars, etc…
As for second part, look above about classic Western jurisprudence.
Shabby reporting — is the sorry state of the journalism as a whole, across the world. However, the fact that she was prosecuted for not disclosing the sources is notable. Once again, Bernstein and Woodward nowadays wouldn’t be able to do what they did then.
As for comparison, you didn’t hesitate compare Politkovskaja and Litvinenko, who, for my money, wasn’t even a swine (are there swines with heads other than pig-like?). He was nobody, who got some publicity. He was getting that publicity also, because he was a political card in the Western hands. Why am I saying that? Well, couple years back, he made a headlines, when came out with information that there’s attempt on Putin’s life being plotted. Scotland Yard, and British intelligence, turned over every stone on the foggy Albion, till they realised that that was a hoax. If you did it, or I did it, we’d be put in gaol in no time (think of it as a call about the bomb in post office, then multiply it by N times). however, the pig in question got off without repercussions. Quite peculiar, innit?
You missed the first part of my point. That people are much easier to get distracted. Remember, two dudes kissing, ooh, that is so stirring. who cares about corruption? I really don’t think anything can reach the magnitude of Watergate anymore. Clinton was impeached for being a man and a stud (Way to go, Bill! lol), Bush caused the havoc in the Middle East, but it’s okay.
Short answer — yes. What are you trying to say?
Once again, where’d you get that from? We have a saying: “There are three letters written on the fence”. Those three letters make up certain curse word, “graffiti” with which often adorns various planes in the landschaft (much like similar phrase mentioned in “Catcher in the Rye”). The meaning is that you can’t take seriously anything that’s written on the fence, that you heard or read somewhere. Not all of this is true, or complete true. There are also different sides of the story.
Sure, there are some issues, some serious concerns. But before you talk about total media control, why don’t you take a closer look at that media? For instance, you can go to http://russiantvonline.com, and check out news from the three major Russian channels (the thumbnails for those are on the far right bar, underneath the FAQs). The news there are free to watch with Real player.
As an example, there were mixed opinions about so called “Munchen theses” by Putin during the recent conference in Bavaria. You could tune to the state run “All-Russian Television and Radio Company ‘Russia’” (ВГТРК «Россия»), and hear all kinds of opinions pro et contra from many renown over there experts, politologists etc., including some quite critical and harsh. All in prime time. You could hear those opinions from experts and leading politicians, including opposition, ranging from far left to far right in news programmes, in talk shows, interviews, newspapers, and magazines. And so is about any issue.
You mean “Faux Olds” and masse of pundits like that papa-bear Bill feller, which all répéter “you can’t criticize President in time of war” with froth by their mouths?