Monday, January 31, 2005

Putin's Shame - II

Voldymyr Campaign has a post about a fan of President Putin's: the film director Francis Ford Coppola:
In Russia your works are well known and highly valued," Putin told Coppola, adding that he was not just referring to "The Godfather" but also to films "that so accurately tell of the horrors of war." "Apocalypse Now" was shown at a Moscow film festival in 1979.

Going Back - VII


It was with something slightly less than optimism and confidence that we finally moved into Zone V, which was to be our permanent home. The Zone was a dimly lit world of scurrying feet and elevators: the air was fetid, with an all-pervasive odour of cooked cabbage and valerianka, or valerian extract, used as a panacea for most ills, but especially as a sedative. On each floor, long corridors of rooms were fronted by a large desk, opposite the elevator bank, where the dezhurnaya, or female concierge, sat, keeping a careful watch on those who came and went, and checking propuski now and then. The rooms varied in size. On this, my first visit, I got a single room on the ninth floor – I later discovered that it was really half of a regular room – at some point in the late 1950s a decision had been made to partition the rooms with hardboard, so as to make more of them. The resulting hardboard wall was extremely thin. There was a shared toilet, and a shower which lay behind an ancient, rubberised curtain. We had already been warned about the cockroaches in the shower basin – getting rid of them was a task that had to be undertaken each day. The room could be made partially secure by inserting the small brass block of the "cylinder blocking key", which first had to be wrapped in sellotape to make it fit, into the door's lock.

At the end of each corridor, there was a communal kitchen, with two large and ancient-looking electric stoves, a sink and a table. There was also the musornyi provod, or garbage chute, which seemed to lead directly to some indeterminate spot in the yard far below. A sign on the wall said: eto kukhnya, a ne khlev!, which translates as “This is a kitchen, not a pig-sty!”. Cleaning was done by roster, organized by the floor's Komsomol (Young Communist) brigade, and for the first four weeks we foreign students were exempt. The cleaning involved cleaning the kitchen and sweeping the floors of the corridor with a broom.

In the basement of Zones B and V were the stolovayas (dining rooms) and shops and stores. Here we could spend our money. We were fortunate by comparison with our Soviet colleagues, receiving a monthly stipend of 250 rubles, supplemented with a monthly British Council grant of £25 in hard currency traveller’s cheques. Most Soviet students had to subsist on a maximum monthly stipend of 150 rubles, many receiving less than this. At this time, one ruble was supposed to be equivalent to one US dollar. The main stolovaya was a self-service canteen which, for very little money, provided a basic diet of shchi (cabbage soup) or borshch (borsch), kotlety (meatballs, usually served with rice), cabbage and/or carrot salad, sour cream, kefir (a kind of yoghurt), kompot (stewed dried fruit in a tumbler, really a kind of fruit juice), black bread and/or white bread, and tea. This was served for all meals, including breakfast. It could be eaten for two or three days before becoming intolerably repetitive. There was also a coffee bar, which was supposed to serve coffee, though I never saw any during all the time I spent in MGU. There was also a store selling such delicacies as Soviet champagne, wine, cigarettes, Cuban cigars and candy. Outside the main building, on Prospekt Vernadskogo and Kutuzovsky Prospekt there were foodstores (gastronom) which sold staple groceries, and it was even possible to buy fresh meat if one was prepared to queue for a long time. If one was feeling especially extravagant, in certain areas of town there were also the so-called beryozka hard currency stores, earmarked for the use of Communist Party officials and high-ranking bureaucrats, but also open to foreign diplomats and their families. Some of these stores sold fresh fruit (often virtually unobtainable with rubles) and superior quality cuts of meat, and after a little argument one could usually be served by presenting one’s traveller’s cheques to the kassirsha behind the often brutally overcrowded sales counter, though this often involved prolonged arguments about whether one’s signature was genuine or not.

On one day a week we were permitted to visit the British Embassy store, down in the yard of the embassy premises on Naberezhnaya Morisa Toreza (now Sofiyskaya Naberezhnaya), where with hard currency we could buy some of the goods available to diplomatic staff: breakfast cereals, instant coffee, toilet requisites, toothpaste, Cadbury’s chocolate, and so on. One had to be careful when carrying these items back on the bus or Metro not to let them be glimpsed by members of the Moscow public: if they were seen, an attempt was often made by druzhinniki (vigilante police volunteers) - whether genuine or not - to confiscate them. Without the extra conveniences supplied by the embassy store, day-to-day life would have been more difficult than it was. None the less, we pressed on with our new lives!

(to be continued)

See also: Going Back
Going Back-II
Going Back-III
Going Back-IV
Going Back-V
Going Back-VI

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Going Back - VI


In the morning, we all left the train with our luggage and were herded into another bus. Our mood was generally cheerful, though also somewhat apprehensive. To begin with, the group was housed at a university hostel (studencheskoye obshchezhitie) on Lomonosovsky Prospekt, with the promise that in a couple of weeks’ time we would be transferred to the main university building. The university district, in Moscow’s south-western suburbs, is a rather characterless and sprawling area of geometrically planned avenues, which also takes in Lenin Hills (Lenskie Gory, now Sparrow Hills, Vorobyevye Gory), and the university skyscraper. Our hostel was a five-storey building, indistinguishable from the other five-storey apartment blocks that stretched for kilometre after kilometre on either side. We were fortunate enough to each receive a room to ourselves, though we soon realized what a luxury this was – most of the Soviet students in the building had to share two, three or even four to a room. For the first day or two we restricted our outside forays to such activities as finding the nearest foodstore – something of a necessity, as the university stolovayas (dining-rooms) were situated some distance away. We got used to queuing for such items as bread, kolbasa (sausage), cheese, and so on, and then joining the second queue at the cashier’s desk, in order to pay. The whole process could take as long as an hour. Back at the hostel, we experimented with cans of pork and salted fish, which we prised open and devoured in the floor’s communal kitchen.

A few days later we were taken to the main university building (MGU) to begin the lengthy process of being issued with our propuski (passes) and were given a guided tour. The propusk was an essential item – without this identity document one couldn’t get into the building at all. It had one’s name and photograph displayed on a small, two-page folding card – and one had to walk through a special hut at the entrance gate of the “zone” (this was the name given to each respective wing of the immense building) to show it to the babushka who sat inside in her headscarf and coat, waiting to shout “gde u vas propusk?” (where is your pass?) if one was the least bit slow in presenting it. This ritual had to be gone through each and every time one entered the building.

The university building itself was – and, of course, still is – vast and labyrinthine. It was originally built between 1949 and 1953 by several thousand forced labourers drafted in and supervised by Stalin’s henchman, Lavrenty Beria. Sixty trains were used to ferry the steel used in the construction all the way from Dniepropetrovsk in Ukraine. The skyscraper has 36 storeys, which at the time of our visit, we were told by those who said they knew, were composed of teaching blocks and twelve floors of administrative offices, including two floors of KGB. These were flanked by four gigantic wings of student accommodation – the “zones” referred to earlier, marked A, B, V, and G (the first four letters of the Russian alphabet). The building is said to contain a total of 33 kilometres of corridor. A guidebook notes that its proportions “are deceptively vast and its spire, despite appearing small from the ground, is in fact 240 metres tall and the star on its top weighs an incredible 12 tons. The building's facades are ornamented with giant clocks, statues, carved wheat sheaves and Soviet crests and stand before a terrace featuring heroic statues of male and female students gazing optimistically and confidently into the future.”

(to be continued)

See also Going Back
Going Back-II
Going Back-III
Going Back-IV
Going Back-V

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Going Back - V


It’s hard now, in retrospect, to recreate or even re-invoke the atmosphere of those years. At home, in Britain, there was a sense of social change, the dropping of old certainties and taboos and also a degree of willingness to experiment with new lifestyles and patterns of living. This was accompanied by the burgeoning pop culture, the new cults of fashion, drugs and sex, the advent of rock music, the Beatles and the Stones, and the Wilson government with its slightly tongue-in-cheek, but none the less real commitment to the “white-hot technological revolution”. It all had an air of adventure, but at the same an innocence whose essence is hard to recapture or understand nowadays. In some ways, as students (our official designation was that of “scholars”) travelling on British Council stipends and the recipients of a Foreign Office briefing, we were, I guess, meant to be representatives of the New Britain, carrying the Western way of life into the heart of the Soviet monolith, in the hope – entertained by some – that some of it would rub off and act as diplomatic grease for the rather rusty state of British-Soviet relations at the time (strangely, perhaps, the installation of a Labour government at Westminster and Whitehall had led to more, not less tension between London and Moscow).

As we sailed in our Soviet ship across the North Sea towards Denmark, we began to take stock of our fellow passengers, who represented a fair cross-section of British society: businessmen, middle-aged couples, young tourists bound for the bars and nightclubs of Copenhagen, a large group of Nigerian students returning from vacation, somewhat unwillingly, for the continuation of their studies at the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow. And then there was us – a fairly homogeneous bunch of “intellectuals”, male and female, charged with our academic and diplomatic status as bearers and harbingers of free inquiry. Mostly on that sea-voyage I think the intellectual component got quite forgotten – my principal memories are of evenings – especially the last evening before we docked in Leningrad – when with energetic concentration most of the group, myself included, danced the Twist to deafeningly amplified music with the Nigerian students, while the ship’s purser Yevgeny wandered around keeping an eye on us all, a sad, contented smile on his face. Apart from the Russian crew, we saw no Russians: we were told that they were “below deck”. This had also been true during the voyage on the Mariya Ulyanova I’d made the year before.

At Leningrad we disembarked slowly. Getting through customs and passport controls took a very long time – suitcases were opened, books and papers removed and read, then replaced, sometimes confiscated. The students were divided into groups, depending on destination, the whole operation supervised by the assistant British cultural attaché, who had come up from Moscow. The Moscow group, to which I belonged, rode to Moskovsky Vokzal (Moscow Station) in a chartered bus. By now it was dark, and I remember the glimpses of St Isaac’s, floodlit, from the bus window. At Moskovsky Vokzal we boarded the Krasnaya Strela (Red Arrow) night sleeper to Moscow. The walls of the sleeping compartments were made of deep brown wood, and all the fittings were of good old-fashioned brass. There was a great deal of red plush everywhere.

(to be continued)

See also Going Back
Going Back-II
Going Back-III
Going Back-IV

Friday, January 28, 2005

Putin's Shame

Putin's address at Auschwitz contained some decidedly tortuous arguments and apologies. It contained not much shame, but a great deal of old propaganda. And once again the Baltic States are being held hostage by s neighbour who is still in deep denial:

Judith Ingram at AP filed a report which contained among other things the following:

[passage omitted]

Putin used his speech at the [Auschwitz] ceremony to respond to calls by leaders in the Baltic states for Moscow to renounce the secret addendum to the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which Nazi and Soviet leaders concluded in 1939 to divide up much of Eastern Europe, including Poland, in case war broke out.

Shortly after German troops entered Poland in September 1939, Soviet troops occupied the country's east. Soviet forces then occupied the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in June 1940 but were driven out by the Germans a year later. The Red Army retook the Baltics in 1944, and reincorporated them into the Soviet Union. The Baltic states gained independence only after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

If Russia were to renounce the secret pact, it would tacitly be acknowledging some responsibility for World War II -- a stance seen as sacrilege in a country that lost some 27 million people during the conflict.

"Standing on this tormented soil, we should firmly and unequivocally say that any attempts to rewrite history and put victims and their killers, liberators and occupiers on an equal footing are immoral and unacceptable for those people who consider themselves Europeans," Putin said, referring to the Baltic states' recent entry into the European Union.

[passage omitted]

(via Marius)

Going Back - IV

The drive through northern Romania, Hungary and Austria, back through West Germany to Ostend and the United Kingdom, was fairly uneventful. We didn’t go down to Bucharest, but stayed in the foothills of the Carpathians, where we were treated almost like royalty by the staff of the local tourist office in Suceava, the first town over the border, which didn’t appear to have seen many British tourists in a long while. We tried on local national costumes, let the tourist office director’s twelve year-old cowherd son drive our right-hand drive Morris Minor round a field, much to the boy’s delight, experimented with speaking Romanian, had our photographs taken, drank fruit cordial, had our palms read by the local gypsies, ate in a really nice restaurant, and in general had a pleasant time. It all seemed light years away from the Soviet Union – more like being in France or Italy. Moving on westward the landscape soon become rather more industrial and sombre, and when we entered Hungary there was something of the Soviet ‘feel’ again, especially along the shore of Lake Balaton, with its organized groups of vacationers and their mostly Soviet-made cars. In Budapest I remember the blackness of the uncleaned buildings, and the bullet scars from 1956, which still lay everywhere on the street facades and masonry. Also the incredibly dense and tall barbed-wire fortifications on the Hungarian-Austrian border, just after Sopron. After a morning crossing of the border, which took almost until noon, we visited Eisenstadt, where I’d attended a Russian language course the year before. The Esterhazy Castle was closed, and so we just drove to Vienna, where we stayed in the University hostel. This also had a slightly odd feeling, as we were staying in the same place we’d stayed three years earlier, on a month’s German language course at the Summer University (Sommerhochschule). It became almost impossible to believe that we really had just driven all that way from Leningrad – the memory of the Soviet reality – or what little we’d just experienced of it – had already receded, and the feel of the “West” was all around us, familiar and comforting again, though also strangely bright and brash, in a way I’d never noticed before.

Back in Edinburgh, it was time to prepare for more changes. Having got my master’s degree, I was now to get started with my dissertation. My girlfriend had already started hers, in mathematics, and had also got the promise of a postgraduate fellowship to Cambridge, where she was going to move the following autumn. I’d applied for a British Council scholarship to visit Moscow in order to do some library and archive research. But this autumn we spent in Italy, at a cottage in Tuscany, and did some preliminary work on our dissertations. In the daytime we worked, sometimes taking walks along the shore near Portoferraio, in the evenings read, by the light of kerosene lamps (there was no electricity on the hillside), and made fires of pear and olive logs. Sometimes we’d go up the hill to visit our neighbour, who owned the land, a Polish artist who had emigrated to Scotland and now spent half of the year with his wife in his house and studio in Tuscany, on an olive farm he had bought. In addition to the poems of Annensky, I was also reading a lot of Russian symbolist poetry, prose and aesthetics, as well as philosophy (Solovyov, Rozanov, Shestov and Vyacheslav Ivanov) and fiction (Dostoyevsky). Our neighbour had also read some of these things, and occasionally we sat and discussed Russian modernism and the ways in which it differed from Polish modernism.

In January, I had an interview in London with the British Council, in connection with the Moscow visit I was planning to make. The British Council’s offices on Davies Street seemed quite unassuming, and very British, with cups of tea and copies of the Times. One was therefore slightly unprepared for the rather East European nature of the interviewing panel, which consisted of a row of dark-suited personnel, some academic but others very definitely from the Foreign Office, who fired questions at one about one’s plans, intentions and reasons for visiting the Soviet Union. Some weeks later, I received a letter telling me that I’d been accepted as a postgraduate exchange student. Later, there was a briefing session, where all the accepted candidates were gathered together in a room at Davies Street. We were given demonstrations of bugging devices that had been found in university, diplomatic and business premises in the Soviet Union, and then received an illustrated lecture on the workings of two-way mirrors, with a real “live” two-way mirror. We were sworn to secrecy, and told that we must not on any account divulge anything of what w'd seen and heard to the press, or in writing of any kind. Somewhat taken aback, and slightly amused, at the end of the session we emerged on to the street, wondering if this had been a rehearsal for some spy drama. Still later, we each received a cheque to cover the cost of a warm overcoat, and were given the address of a firm of specialist London locksmiths who provided the so-called “cylinder blocking key” (R. sobachka), to reinforce the security of our rooms in the Moscow, Leningrad, or other university hostels.

In early September, armed with what seemed like rather too much heavy luggage (it was mostly books and papers, plus the warm overcoat), I found myself at Tilbury Docks again, this time without my girlfriend – it was the first time we’d been separated for quite a while, and we both had mixed feelings about this. We were planning to be apart for six months, and would meet again in Cambridge, not Edinburgh. There were many unknowns ahead. That afternoon, with two other students from Edinburgh, I boarded the Soviet ship Baltika, and in the main saloon we found the whole British Council group, which consisted of some twenty students, and were soon making friends. That evening the ship sailed, and we were bound for Leningrad. It was September 5, 1967.

(to be continued)

see also:
Going Back
Going Back-II
Going Back-III

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Lithuanian American Statement


With regard to the President of the Republic of Lithuania Valdas Adamkus going to the commemoration of the end of the Second World War in Moscow

On May 9th in Moscow, Russia is planning a celebration to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Russia’s President Putin has invited the President of the Republic of Lithuania Valdas Adamkus to celebrate “USSR’s victory” over fascist Germany.

For Lithuania the Second World War did not end on May 9, 1945, but continued until the end of August, 1993, when Russia was finally forced to withdraw her occupation army from Lithuania.

The 50 year long resistance by the Lithuanian nation exacted huge
sacrifices. The Lithuanian nation lost one third of its inhabitants, tens of thousands of its young men died in the partisan resistance, occupiers slaughtered and tortured innocent Lithuanian people and deported them to distant Siberia.

For 50 years Lithuanian Americans led the fight for the non-recognition of the unlawful and forced incorporation of Lithuania into the Soviet Union. In 1953 the United States Congress created the “Select Committee to Investigate the ‘Incorporation’ of the Baltic States into the U.S.S.R”, which determined that the Baltic nations were illegally occupied by force.

Russia has not condemned the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, nor has it condemned the Soviet Union’s imperialistic goals. The “victory” over fascism helped to enable bolshevism and 50 more years of Lithuania’s suffering.

Russia refuses to acknowledge responsibility for Lithuania’s injuries and to compensate the Republic of Lithuania and its people for the damages caused by the USSR’s long occupation. During the 15 years of Lithuania’s re-established independence, Russia found no cause to begin negotiations or to apologize.

Instead, Russia is using the May 9, 2005 sixty year anniversary and “victory” against fascism for its own double meaning purposes.

The Lithuanian American Community, Inc. agrees that Lithuania should be a good neighbor to Russia and should develop a mutually beneficial relationship. However, under no circumstances can it agree that the President of the Republic of Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus, or any other high ranking official of the Lithuanian government should attend the events of May 9th in Moscow, as it would not only infer an assent to the Soviet occupation but an assent to the carried out soviet communist crimes.

Adopted by vote of the XVII National Board of Directors of the Lithuanian American Community, Inc. on January 15, 2005.

Regina F. Narusis, J.D.
President of the XVII National Board of
Directors of the Lithuanian American Community, Inc.

(via MAK)

Isolation Block

The Moscow Times has a bleak warning from Timur Aliev, editor of Chechen Society, about the new bill, currently on its way through the Russian State Duma, amending the law about exit from and entrance into the Russian Federation:
The amendments give grounds for canceling visas and rejecting visa applications. While some are fairly reasonable, the new version of the law gives the government the ability to refuse visas to foreigners who "act in a disrespectful way toward federal organs and state symbols" or toward "generally accepted Russian values." In addition, visas can be canceled if a foreigner does something that "harms the international prestige" of Russia.
As Aliev points out,
the bill could easily be transformed into a means of censorship. Any foreign journalist or activist who writes or says something about Russia that contradicts the government's line could be kicked out of the country, never to return. In order to avoid something along these lines, foreigners will begin to watch what they say and censor themselves.

The law on exit and entrance in effect supplements the law on declaring a state of terrorist emergency passed by the Duma in December. Declaring a terrorism-related state of emergency would mean that journalists would be able to have access to and publish information about terrorist attacks only with permission from those directing counterterrorist operations. This will allow authorities to control the Russian media to the same extent that the visa law will allow it to control foreign journalists.
Aliev suggests that the amendments to the law, based on "anti-terrorist" measures, will be used to impose an information blockade, especially on Chechnya:
The information blockade around Chechnya is apparently the test run for this method. Starting July 1, foreign journalists will have to have permission from the Foreign Ministry to work in Chechnya, while Russian correspondents will need permission from the Interior Ministry. Naturally, the road will be closed to the disloyal. The Chechen media will be forced to engage in a large amount of self-censorship. Newspapers that push the envelope will be repressed. The authorities have already begun their campaign against media outlets deemed unacceptable to Moscow.

Chechen Society, of which I am the editor, is no exception. It has already received an official warning from the local branch of the Press and Culture Ministry in Chechnya. After the third warning, officials can legally shut down the paper. I have also been called into three different security organizations to answer for our paper's viewpoints. The local state prosecutor, the Directorate to Combat Organized Crime, and the FSB have all investigated our paper.

During one visit, the colonel told me directly that he had been given orders to close the paper. Pointing to one of our articles, he said, "Young people are taking up arms and going to fight because you write this kind of stuff." The article was about a young man who had been taken from his home during a cleanup operation and later died in custody after being beaten.
And, he concludes:
Of course, implementing these so-called anti-terrorist laws will not throw up a new iron curtain around Russia right away. Russian citizens can still leave the country. Yet all the necessary preconditions for isolating Russia from the rest of the world are there, waiting to be implemented.

Going Back - III


I visited the Soviet Union for the first time in the summer of 1966, travelling with my girlfriend in a white Morris Minor convertible which we took aboard the Soviet ship Mariya Ulyanova (named after Lenin’s sister) from London’s Tilbury Docks, via Copenhagen and Helsinki, to Leningrad. I can still remember the contradictory feelings I had when the ship docked at Copenhagen, and we went off to visit some Danish friends whom in other summers we’d also visited, though in rather different circumstances. I was apprehensive about the forthcoming Russian visit – partly, I think, because I inwardly saw it some kind of test, or confirmation, of all the Russia-related material I’d absorbed in one way or the other over the past four years (I'd brought along a 2-volume Soviet edition of The Brothers Karamazov in Russian to read on the journey, though I only got through about a third of it). Yet I was also pleased to be going to Russia at last, and was impatient to get the “Western” part of the journey over with as soon as possible. At Helsinki we hardly left the ship, only making a brief tour of Kauppatori – I remember the prominent display of bananas on many of the stalls – and in the evening strolling up the deserted streets towards Senatintori.

As the ship sailed up the Eastern Baltic towards Leningrad, we gradually became aware that we were entering a different environment and a different thought-space. Watching the aggressive approach of the Soviet border patrol craft, which came right up to the ship at full speed, you realized that this wasn’t the rather sleepy world of Scandinavian navigation any more. After a while, most of the passengers retreated to the bar, or their cabins, and in the morning we awoke to see that we were almost inside Leningrad harbour.

That summer we didn’t stay in hotels, but slept in a tent we’d taken with us, striking camp at official State campsites whose locations were entered on our visas, together with the obligatory time of arrival at each site. We started with a week in Leningrad, then drove to Novgorod and Kalinin, followed by a week in Moscow, then to Kharkov and Kiev, and finally out of the USSR via Vinnitsa and Chernovitsy, into Romania – four weeks in the Soviet Union in all. In general, at first we were surprised at how “normal” everything seemed – the weather was warm and sunny, the streets and thoroughfares of Leningrad looked much like those of any European city, and it was only when we got out of the car and gazed at the actual texture of the place – the strangely rough, unmodernized surfaces of the roads and buildings, the dust that blew everywhere, the absence of commercial advertising, the old-fashioned look of people’s clothes – that we realized we were in another world from the one we were used to. Even so, during those first days I think we were so pleased to have reached our destination that we didn’t really notice much of this – my memories are mainly of visits to the Hermitage and other museums, to the Petergof Palace and park, of walks along the Neva embankment, and so on. For us, it was almost like being back in Vienna or Copenhagen – or even Edinburgh. We stayed at the campsite at Repino, about 40 km from the centre of Leningrad, on the Gulf of Finland – the pre-Soviet name of the place was Kuokkala, and the whole environment had a thoroughly Finnish atmosphere, with birch and fir trees. We travelled to Leningrad by electric train, and returned in the evenings to the campsite, with its two sections – an international one, for Western tourists, and a “Soviet” one, mainly for Russians and a few tourists from the Baltic states. We soon got used to this division, and the way in which towards evening it usually broke down, when the holidaymakers from the “Russian” side of the site – who slept not in tents of their own, but in large, communal marquees provided by the camp, would come and visit the “Western” side, bringing vodka and fruit which they exchanged for Western cigarettes and items of clothing, especially blue jeans. We also got acquainted with some of the other Western tourists – couples from Canada and Australia in large “dormobiles” and trucks, an intrepid American solo traveller in a VW Beetle, groups of French and Germans in cars, hardly any British at all.

The driving was the really arduous part of the trip, and as we had to stick to the timetable stamped on our visas, there was pressure at times. High-octane gas was in short supply, and we had to carry spare cans. Tanking usually took place at or near the campsite, with not much prospect of a refill until the next tourist point. At one point in the journey, somewhere in central Russia, we took the wrong fork and mistakenly left the official route that was prescribed for us, down a road that passed a militia checkpoint – the militiaman came running out with a pistol, waving it at us until we stopped and turned back. One afternoon, after leaving a site, we stopped to take a break from the driving, left the car near a bridge, and walked down to a riverside path. On our return we found a military truck with three soldiers in it, waiting for us. Parking of foreign cars near bridges was illegal, and the soldiers said we would all have to go back to the campsite, where they would contact the local militia. We made a pretence of knowing no Russian at all, with only partial success. Back at the campsite, however, the situation resolved itself in an unexpected fashion, when it was discovered that I did speak Russian after all – the soldiers seemed pleased about this, shook our hands and drove away in their truck. At another site, I was sternly reprimanded by a severe-looking man in plain clothes for having a “Beatles haircut” – chto vy, Bitls takoy? – only to receive an abject, though, I thought, rather sulky apology from him later in the day, in the camp canteen – Prostite, ya, konechno, ne znal (he hadn't known I was a Western tourist – I was wearing a red parka). Sometimes the campsites were located next to military camps, and in the evenings uniformed soldiers would visit, again with vodka and apples, asking for Marlboro cigarettes. On one occasion they brought musical instruments, and sang for us, under the stars.

Engaging as some of these encounters were, we were, I think, glad to leave Soviet territory. At Chernovitsy, after the car had been searched for nearly 2 hours by Soviet border guards, who extracted every single piece of paper from it, we crossed into Romania, where we underwent the ritual of having the car sprayed against foot-and-mouth disease, and washing our hands in disinfectant by the roadside. We were then told by the Romanian personnel that we could pitch our tent “wherever we liked”, as long as it wasn’t in a forestry zone. The year before, Nicolae Ceausescu had been chosen first secretary of the central committee of the Romanian Communist party…

(to be continued)

See also: Going Back and
Going Back - II

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


From the current issue of Jamestown Foundation's Chechnya Weekly:
On January 25, Russia's Foreign Ministry accused Novaya gazeta of spreading "disinformation" in an article published in the biweekly's January 24 issue and written by its award-winning Chechnya correspondent, Anna Politkovskaya. The article, headlined "The FSB Equipped Its Helsinki Group," claimed that Akhmad Zakaev, Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskahdov's London-based special representative, had planned to come to Helsinki at the invitation of Finnish parliamentarians for a seminar on the possibilities for a peaceful settlement of the Chechen conflict. The meeting, according to Politkovskaya, was to include both "representatives of Russian civil society and Chechen belligerents." Several hours before Zakaev was to leave for Helsinki, Finnish Justice Minister Johannes Koskinen informed Heidi Hautala, chairwoman of the Greens' parliamentary faction and human rights lawyer Matti Vuori, who were organizing Zakaev's visit, that, in Politkovskaya's words, "Zakaev's safety from Russia's special services on Finnish territory" could not be guaranteed. She added: "The minister could not give a guarantee that upon arriving in Helsinki, Zakaev would not be, there and then, right on the airfield, forcibly transferred by Russian special service officers to a Russian plane flown in specially for him, which would deliver him for interrogation at Lefortovo." Russia has accused Zakaev, who received political asylum in Britain, of involvement in terrorist activities – a charge he denies.

Politkovskaya wrote that Zakaev had planned to use the Helsinki meeting to prepare the groundwork for negotiations under the "observation" and "guarantee" of a group of deputies from the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), including Swiss parliamentarian Andreas Gross, who is PACE's rapporteur for the situation in Chechnya, and the Belgian European Parliamentary Deputy Bart Staes. However, according to Politkovskaya, there is a split between the European Parliament, which is for a negotiating process that includes Russian civic groups, and Council of Europe structures, which is "for dialogue, but under Kremlin control." Andreas Gross, she writes, announced in Helsinki that he has organized a round-table on the Chechen conflict, to be held in Moscow in March and to include people from both sides of the Chechen conflict.

However, according to Politkovskaya, the Chechen side at the planned round-table will be represented by pro-Moscow Chechen President Alu Alkhanov, Chechen State Council Chairman Taus Dzhabrailov, State Duma deputies Akhmar Zavgaev and Ruslan (Khalid) Yamadaev (both of whom are members of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party) and presidential adviser Aslanbek Aslakhanov, among others. "They not only in no way represent Chechen field commanders, but more generally [represent] no one other than Kadyrov Sr. in the past and Kadyrov Jr. now," Politkovskaya wrote. Meanwhile, the Russian side for the roundtable will include Rodina (Motherland) party leader Dmitri Rogozin and Aleksei Mitrofanov of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR).

In Politkovskaya's view, the planned roundtable is an example of the Kremlin's well-honed tactic of using "doubles" – "absolutely mirror-image but controlled movements, parties, ideas" – with the aim of confusing public opinion and discrediting opponents – in this case, the Union of Soldiers' Mothers Committees. Late last year, the union's head, Valentina Melnikova, offered to conduct peace talks with envoys of Aslan Maskhadov. The rebel leader accepted the offer, but a planned meeting between a delegation headed by Melnikova and Akhmed Zakaev planned for Belgium was thwarted when the Belgian authorities failed to grant the soldiers' mothers visas.

Russia's Foreign Ministry charged in a statement posted on its website on January 24 that Politkovskaya's article "crudely distorts the real state of affairs and in essence impugns the capability and sovereignty of that country, at the least is insulting to the Finnish side and is regrettable." The Foreign Ministry claimed that Zakaev had "refrained from accepting the invitation" to the Helsinki seminar, adding that Finnish Justice Minister Koskinen, "to whom the organizers of the seminar unofficially appealed, did not guarantee [Zakaev] unhindered departure from the country in the event that Russia were to make an official request for his extradition. The minister made a special statement on this point, emphasizing that Russia has placed A. Zakaev on the international wanted list via Interpol and the Finnish side cannot fail to take this into consideration."

Alarm Bells in the Single Space

Vladimir Socor, writing about Russian reaction to President Yushchenko's address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg yesterday:
Although Yushchenko reiterated in his reply (as he had on the preceding day in Moscow), "Russia is a permanent strategic partner of Ukraine," this was far from sufficient for Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, also present. In a Russian media interview, Kosachev faulted Yushchenko for "never mentioning Russia in his [prepared] speech, while mentioning Europe and the EU in every other sentence of that speech. This rings an alarm bell." Kosachev complained that Ukraine's new leadership "does not regard cooperation with Russia as a goal in itself, but only as a factor that may or may not harm Ukraine's integration with Europe."

Kosachev went on to characterize Yushchenko's nomination (subject to parliamentary confirmation) of Yulia Tymoshenko for prime minister of Ukraine as "effrontery, a move unfriendly to Russia . . . an openly provocative step." Such inflammatory wording appears designed to fuel opposition to Yushchenko in the Ukrainian parliament, a cross-party delegation of which sits in the Strasbourg forum. Kosachev approved of just one step taken by Yushchenko thus far: the stated intention to withdraw Ukrainian troops from the American-led coalition in Iraq. "This shows that the new Ukrainian leadership can conduct an independent foreign policy, not one based on some notions of Euro-Atlantic solidarity" (Interfax, January 25).

And Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, commenting approvingly on Yushchenko's decision to visit Moscow first as president "in the interest of close and tranquil relations with Moscow,"
recalled that he had tried the same approach immediately after being elected president last year, but it did not bring the desired improvement in relations. On the contrary, Russia's behavior toward Georgia "changed in the last year and the last few months in ways that arouse indignation. Hopefully, this will not happen with Ukraine".

Going Back - II


I’d grown up in Edinburgh, Scotland, far away from the complexities of East European politics, but had had at least some small experience of “physical compulsion” at the school I attended, which in itself in those distant days pf the 1950s was probably not unlike a totalitarian entity of some kind, with its cult of obedience, its prefects, its canings and beatings, and its assertion of a monolithic, corporate identity. None the less, at that school I’d learned some foreign languages, in particular German and Russian, and on entering Edinburgh University found after a couple of years that I would have to decide which course to follow – and opted for Russian. The reason for that was fairly simple, I think: the classes in the German department, like those in the French department, were over-attended and dogged by teaching that was old-fashioned and remote. The number of students in the Russian department, by contrast, was much smaller, and there was the opportunity of taking classes that were really more like tutorials or seminars, with young professors who were at home in their subjects – some of them were émigrés from the Soviet Union, and they had an inside knowledge of Russian literature, history and culture, which they made available to us. In my third of year of study I began to attend regular seminars and lectures on the history of Russian literature, all the way from the medieval byliny and the Slovo o polku Igoreve, through Baratynsky, Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, up to the Silver Age, Futurism and the early Soviet period. The seminars, like the lectures, were almost exclusively conducted in the Russian language. Running concurrently with them was a two-year course in Russian and Soviet history, and a one-year series of lectures in Russian social thought. There was also instruction in Russian syntax and grammar, and a course in linguistics.

The Soviet Union itself featured in the coursework only from time to time, and mainly in the history and social thought components of the study – though there was also a special course in Soviet literature. Unlike the other modern language courses, French and German, for example, the Russian course did not include an obligatory third year spent in the country being studied – for this, one had to wait until one’s postgraduate work began. This was mainly because the Soviet authorities didn’t have an exchange program for humanities undergraduates – their focus was exclusively on postgraduate work in the natural sciences. The “cultural and scientific exchanges” between the Soviet Union and the West were in fact quite unequal, as while a large number of the Western students who visited the USSR were involved in the study of history, language or literature, practically all the Soviet students who visited Western Europe, Canada and the United States were science postgraduates. The reasons for this are obvious: the Soviet authorities feared that arts graduates would become influenced by Western ideas and thinking. Most Soviet arts graduates could not travel to the West.

Occasionally the Russian department received visits from Soviet writers and public figures, but these were nearly all rather obscure – no one had ever heard of the “poet “ who arrived one day, accompanied by two “minders”, with a slim volume of verse in written in the most austere and conventional social realist style. He was an engaging man, who had taken part in the defence of Moscow in 1941, and had later fought in tank battles – he told us that all the skin had been burnt from his body, and had had to be re-grown. As a military man, he was interested in the technical problem of how best to scale the rock on which Edinburgh Castle stands, and I remember that we students spent a long time discussing the logistical details of this with him, as it was good practice for our knowledge of Russian.

Our knowledge of dissident - i.e. contemporary, non-social realist - Soviet writing was rather limited, though we did get rather well acquainted with the writing of the Soviet emigration of the 1920s and 30s through the efforts of one senior staff member who had left the USSR in the mid-1950s. The emphasis in the modern literature teaching to be on the social realist Soviet novel – Leonov, Sholokhov, Fadeyev, Simonov, and so on, though the classical literature course, which ended at 1917, also included the early modernist poetry of Symbolism, Futurism and Acmeism.

Studying Russian and Soviet history and literature in early 1960s Britain was an odd experience. Students from other departments who didn’t know much about the subject were often rather jealous, and imagined that we were somehow helping to further the cultural revolution that was starting to break out in Western society then. When we tried to explain to them just how conservative and even reactionary much of the ideology that underpinned most post-war 20th century Soviet writing really was, they couldn’t understand, and I think it was then that I began to have some inkling of the divide that separated East and West. There was also, at the beginning of my studies, the shadow of the Cuban missile crisis, and the theme of the “bomb”, and its possible consequences, persisted throughout the four years. And, as we never failed to remember, the actor who played James Bond on the cinema screen had been born just round the corner from our departmental lecture and seminar rooms.

At the end of my fourth year, I took the final examination, and got a 2:1 Honours degree in Russian with German. I could then proceed to the writing of a Ph.D. dissertation, which took another four years, and entailed several periods of research in the Soviet Union. It subject was the work of the Russian Symbolist poet Innokenty Annensky. I completed the dissertation in 1971, and received my doctorate in the same year.

(to be continued)

See also: Going Back

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Latvian connection?

This Ukrainskaya Pravda interview from last December has Yulia Tymoshenko claiming Latvian ancestry on her father's side. The interesting paragraphs are these:
Во время пресс-конференции азербайджанская журналистка с ужасом спросила Тимошенко, правда ли, что у нее армянские корни (по слухам, девичья фамилия Тимошенко - Григян).

"У меня по линии отца все латыши до десятого колена, а по линии мамы - все украинцы", - указала Тимошенко.

До десятого колена? To the tenth generation, or ten times removed? Perhaps it's not important, anyway.

(via scb)

Oligarch - ack!

Veronica Khokhlova has a post about something that struck her as odd in the Taras Kuzio piece in EDM the other day. But it seems clear that there was a typo in his text - the URL he was referring to was

It's amazing the difference that one misplaced letter can make!

Going Back

In writing the entries about “Dissidents”, I’ve begun to realize that for me the issues in this subject go back a long way – probably to the beginning of my involvement with Russian studies in the early 1960s. In those days, such an involvement also inevitably entailed a prolonged encounter with the Soviet Union. Since for someone from a Western democracy it's almost impossible to understand cognitively the reality of the fabric of life in a totalitarian state, a Westerner’s memories of contact with that fabric are almost always bound to be selective, personal and subjective to an extent that may make them irrelevant in terms of historical truth. Yet I believe that since part of the legacy of the Cold War has been a consciousness of the old divide between East and West, and the barriers it created between human beings on either side of it, it’s perhaps important for those in the West who did have first-hand experience – however partial and “cushioned” – of life in the Soviet reality, to talk about it and discuss it. For it was a world that was not merely physical and geographic, but also extended far into realms of thought, morality, political awareness, aesthetics, and other regions, while at the same time functioning as a kind of reversing mirror of Western social and intellectual norms.

“A man cannot bear the thought of being crushed by a physical compulsion; therefore he deifies the force that rules over him, investing it with superhuman traits, with omniscient reason, with a special mission; and in this way he saves a bit of his own dignity. The Russian writer Belinsky, for instance, made use of Hegel during a certain phase of his life, to deify czardom.” This is how, towards the end of his autobiographical work Native Realm, the great Polish-Lithuanian author Czeslaw Milosz illustrates the choice between “madness” (the refusal to recognize necessity) and “servility” (the acknowledgment of one’s complete powerlessness),which he saw as a defining characteristic of life in a totalitarian society. I think it was a dawning consciousness of this choice – or rather, of the fact that in certain conditions of social and political development such a choice might have to be made – that eventually made clear to me, somewhere around the end of the second year of my studies in Russian literature and history, the essential difference between Russian culture and the culture of the West, and made me want to understand it further.

In future postings under this heading, I’ll try to describe how that process of discovery and understanding developed for me.

After the Fall

The New York Times has published an interesting article by Tina Rosenberg about the very difficult process now underway in Poland to determine who was a collaborator under the Communist regime. The mechanisms for deciding this seem to be nothing short of faulty, with the result that injustices occur. As the article makes clear, similar problems have dogged the process in the Czech Republic:

Poland will have to continue struggling to balance between fairness for those the archives unjustly accuse and the openness that's necessary to encourage debate about what constitutes true collaboration and how Communism managed to induce it in so many people. Simply publishing the names of everyone who had ever been listed as a collaborator - the strategy espoused by some right-wing politicians who want to manipulate the files for political ends - would be a disaster.

Poland needs only to look to the Czech Republic for a lesson in doing this the wrong way. There, after Communism fell, people holding important government jobs were checked by the Interior Ministry against an index of secret police officers, collaborators and candidates for collaboration. The screeners did not read the files to look for actual evidence of guilt; those named lost their jobs. Versions of the lists leaked to the press, and despite being widely denounced as inaccurate, they were treated as gospel by many Czechs. This process slandered thousands of innocent people and perpetuated the Communist mentality of the enemies list. The policy has been softened, but its essence remains.

Among the accused was none other than Vaclav Havel. We know the details of his case only because he happened to be president of the Czech Republic when his file was opened. In it, he was named as a candidate for collaboration. According to the file, on June 23, 1965, one secret police captain Cinka went to the apartment of one dissident absurdist playwright Havel. Cinka wrote in the file: "The interview with Havel was concluded with our suggestion that in case of need we will contact him again. He agreed and said that he himself was glad he had talked to us, as it was an inspiration for further literary endeavors." On the basis of that, Cinka evaluated Havel as suitable for recruitment and recommended maintaining contact.

Evidently Cinka had no further success. Six months later, Mr. Havel was moved from the category of Candidate to that of Enemy, and there he stayed, piling up prison terms for the next 24 years. He included a house call from the secret police in his play "Notification."

The article goes on to illustrate the slightly different nature of the difficulties in Poland:

In Poland, by contrast with the Czech Republic, the files are controlled by a nonpolitical organization. Government officials cannot be fired for being collaborators. Instead, high officials must state whether they informed, and can be fired only if a special court determines they are now lying. These courts can also declare that an individual was a collaborator who did harm, but only after a long investigation. The court releases a detailed public explanation.

With individual consideration of each case, Poles can find out if an alleged informer signed an agreement and received a salary. They can know if someone agreed to collaborate because he was being blackmailed, or to end a long jail term, understandable if not admirable choices. The public can see what kind of information the agent provided.

Read it all. Via Marius, who tells me that this article was of particular interest to him, as he is travelling to his old country Poland this summer, "to see what kind of documents the secret services had collected and put in my file."

Red Flag Over Britain

Natan Sharansky, the Israeli cabinet minister responsible for the diaspora, has warned that violent attacks on Jews in Britain - which have increased by almost half during the past year - are being encouraged by a general climate of anti-Semitism in the British press. A Guardian report quotes Sharansky as saying that the violence has stemmed from "years of hostile reporting and commentary about Israel in the British press now spilling into the streets."
His officials singled out the Guardian and the BBC, accusing them of "likening Israel to a Nazi state". The Independent was also criticised.

David Weinberg, coordinator of the forum and an adviser to Mr Sharansky, said the report found that most acts of anti-semitism in Britain were carried out by Arabs or Muslims, but press coverage of Israel, and the actions of some politicians created a climate that encouraged such attacks.

"Among west European countries there is a red flag flying over Britain and it's particularly disturbing because Britain is a country friendly to Israel and the British government takes anti-semitism seriously."

He added: "Sharansky believes you have to look at the intellectual environment that has developed toward Israel in Britain and the effect that has on the broader public."

He singled out the coverage of the Israeli army assault on Jenin refugee camp in 2002, in which 58 Palestinians were killed, mostly armed men.

The attack was characterised as a "massacre" by some of the media. He said this was demonisation of Israel and anti-semitism.

Tehila Nahalon, an adviser to Mr Sharansky on anti-semitism, said: "You can't brainwash people for four years that Israel is an illegitimate country and that Israelis are like the Nazis and that Israelis are monsters and expect that nothing will happen to Jews."

Monday, January 24, 2005

Protests continue

From today's RFE/RL Newsline:
PROTESTS CONTINUE AROUND THE COUNTRY... Demonstrations against the social-benefits reform continued over the weekend throughout Russia, with the largest protests reported in Rostov-na-Donu, Krasnodar, Cherkessk, Kazan, and Murmansk, Russian media reported. More than 1,000 demonstrators took to the streets in Murmansk, while protesters in other cities numbered in the hundreds. About 2,000 people demonstrated in the Chavash Republic capital of Cheboksary on 22 January, ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, about 5,000 protestors demonstrated in the Bashkortostan capital of Ufa, demanding that the government resolve all conflicts associated with the reform by 26 February. In Krasnoyarsk, about 3,000 protesters took to the streets on 22 January to protest a proposed doubling of local electricity rates. Protestors, led by local Communist Party activists, attempted to block traffic on a bridge over the Yenisei River, but police prevented this, arresting five demonstration leaders. In Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, drivers of the so-called marshrutki -- minivan taxis that traverse set routes -- went on strike on 24 January, demanding that local officials allow them to raise rates from seven rubles ($0.23) to 10 rubles per passenger and refusing to provide free transportation to those eligible for such benefits, Interfax reported. RC

...AS LOCAL AUTHORITIES CONTINUE GRANTING CONCESSIONS. Authorities in many regions continued the process of giving in to protestors' demands, as officials in Tambov Oblast and Tatarstan announced that the benefit of free public transportation will be restored for the rest of this year, Ekho Moskvy reported on 24 January. Similar measures are being implemented in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast and Krasnodar Krai. RC

BENEFITS CRISIS TAKES ITS TOLL ON PUTIN'S POPULARITY... A poll by the Public Opinion Foundation conducted on 15-16 January found that support for President Putin has slipped by 5 percent since December, with 77 percent of respondents describing his work as "satisfactory," "good," or "excellent," Interfax reported on 22 January. Forty-three percent of respondents said they trust Putin, down from 47 percent in December. On 22 January, a demonstration in Moscow organized by the Communist Party called for Putin's resignation, Ekho Moskvy reported. Attendance at that protest was estimated at between 3,000 and 5,000 people. Interfax reported on 24 January that a poll conducted by the research arm of the Federation Council found that 80 percent of the officers in the Russian Army oppose the social-benefits reforms and sympathize with the demonstrators. Only 15 percent favor the reform. RC

...AS NEW POLICY AFFECTS RUSSIAN MILITARY. The Defense Ministry has reported that numerous military units have claimed that it is impossible for them to send military personnel to duty stations because they do not have the money to pay for transportation now that military personnel have lost the benefit of free public transport, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported 24 January. According to the daily, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov reported to President Putin in November that 34 percent of military personnel are living below the official poverty line. RC

Changing the Game - III

Writing in EDM, the Ukrainian historian Taras Kuzio has some criticisms of the recent New York Times article by C.J. Chivers:
On January 17, the New York Times published a sensational expose alleging that the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) had been key to preventing bloodshed during the Orange Revolution. The article was translated for Ukrayinska pravda the same day and has unleashed a debate as to whether the allegations are true or an attempt at whitewashing the SBU in time for Viktor Yushchenko's presidency.

The issue of whether bloodshed was contemplated is crucial to understanding the success of the Orange Revolution. In both the Serbian (November 2000) and Georgian (October-November 2003) democratic revolutions the security forces either stayed neutral or defected to the opposition. In October Russian political technologist Marat Gelman, who worked on Viktor Yanukovych's campaign, ruled out a Georgian scenario in Ukraine, predicting that the security forces would stay loyal to the authorities (Ukrayinska pravda, October 29, 2004). This prediction was wrong, and Eurasia Daily Monitor (December 1) was the first to identify the growing defection of security forces as likely to lead to a victory for the Orange Revolution.
Kuzio is, however, sceptical on four basic points relating to the New York Times article's attempt to "improve the image" of the actions and intentions of Ihor Smeshko, head of Ukraine's secret service (SBU). In particular, Kuzio notes,
the expose raises suspicions that Smeshko is seeking to distance himself from his former deputy chairman, Oleksandr Satsyuk. Yushchenko believes he was poisoned during a dinner at Satsyuk's home; Smeshko also attended that fateful dinner. Satsyuk resigned from the SBU and has returned to parliament, where he enjoys immunity.
under Smeshko the SBU began to return to KGB-style tactics against the opposition. Instructions were sent to SBU officers stationed in Ukrainian embassies to place opposition members and even parliamentary deputies under surveillance if they visited abroad.
And he concludes:
The New York Times expose brings together many different strands concerning the attitudes of the security forces to the Orange Revolution. But it fails to make a convincing case that Smeshko saved Ukraine from bloodshed. The credit for this should go to Yushchenko and Ukraine's Orange Revolution protestors who practiced non-violence.

See also this post.

Dissidents - III

Looking at the photos from central Kyiv, taken on the day of President Yushchenko's inauguration, I was struck, as in the context of the early 1990s, by the almost incredible nature of the events that led up to it and were manifested in it. Who in 1978, for example, could have predicted such upheavals and transformations of the East European political scene, and above all, of the Soviet political space? Probably not even most of the dissidents within the Soviet Union who, by their efforts and sacrifices, laid the groundwork for these enormous changes. would have been able to envisage the new order that is emerging now.

As I looked at those photographs, I found my mind going back once again to the periods I spent in Moscow in the 1960s and 70s - and I remembered Viktor (I've given him a pseudonym), the Canadian-Ukrainian historian who was my block neighbour in MGU, and wondered what his reaction would have been to yesterday's events in Kyiv, had he lived to witness them. I wrote something about him in an earlier post. After he was expelled from the Soviet Union, he moved to Helsinki, Finland, where he met and married a Finnish woman. He returned with her to Canada, then taught at Berkeley for a while, and finally ended up the late 1970s in England, teaching at an institute of higher education on the south coast. Such travels and changes of place were not unusual for him - he had been born of Ukrainian parents in Nationalist China, only arriving in Canada as a teenager. In Canada, and later in California, he had conceived the idea that it was his mission to try to help to change the social order in the eastern bloc, and especially in the Soviet Union, and as a post-graduate research student and assistant professor he managed to secure several fellowships which enabled him to visit Mocow. There he made numerous contacts with the dissident community - I can remember his joy on discovering the new book by Andrei Amalrik, published in 1969, and entitled Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?, which predicted the collapse of the USSR, some twenty years before this was thought to be a reasonable prospect - if it was ever considered likely at all. In England, Viktor did not fare very well. He succumbed to alcohol and depression, and died in 1981.

In many ways I felt that, though technically he was a "Westerner", Viktor's fate reflected that of many of the Soviet dissidents who either emigrated to the West or remained in the Soviet Union as inner exiles. His tremendous energy and commitment, coupled with a lively sense of humour, was offset by a tendency to melancholy and depression, and in southern England he felt almost totally isolated and cut off from this cultural and spiritual roots. His Finnish wife did her best to give him moral and material support, but Finland and Finnish culture also remained alien to him. I tried to talk to him and continue our friendship, which had evolved in Moscow, but at that time my own life was not yet very settled, I was travelling abroad a lot, and I found it hard to keep in contact with him. The news of his death struck me as abominably sad, but I could also see that the Cold War had claimed another victim.

I believe that this is something that's not always understood about the Cold War - that it was a real war, with deaths and casualties. Of course, America had its Korea and Vietnam - but there was another dimension to the war, one that was often hidden from people in the West. It existed in the horrible conditions of the Soviet Gulag, which was not only a vast and complex system of concentration camps, but also an inner system that infected people's minds with fear, suspicion and hatred. The purpose of the Cold War - conceived and instigated by the Soviet Union - was to divide humanity against itself, and by physical force, both conventional and nuclear, to silence dissent.

Now, 15 years after the fall of Communism and almost 60 years after the beginning of the Cold War, we are only just starting to witness the onset of a new process: the breaking of the silence and the ending of the division caused by the evil of the Soviet experiment. Because of the deep-seated nature of its origins, that process may be a long and arduous one.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Inauguration Day

I'm following the Ukrainian presidential inauguration day coverage at Neeka's Backlog - it's providing the most informative gathering of reports on this day that I've found so far.

Rüütel in Moscow - II

According to an AP report of 22 January
The notorious 1939 pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that divided up much of eastern Europe is open only to historical re-evaluation, a Kremlin spokesman said Saturday, suggesting that Moscow isn't prepared to support a legally binding renouncement of the agreement.

"At present, only the historical evaluation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact is possible," Dmitry Peskov, deputy press secretary to President Vladimir Putin, told reporters. "There is no possibility of its juridical evaluation due to current realities."
This seems like a familiar strategic ploy in the ongoing saga of Moscow's stalling and prevarication over border-related issues in the Baltics. The trick is to make a grand-sounding announcement ("Nazi-Soviet Pact to Be Revoked") and then follow it up with reservations about "historical re-evaluation". The Western public, which doesn't follow such issues very carefully, is left with an erroneous impression of Moscow's intentions. It seems unlikely that Moscow will ever recognize the truth about the pact - its denial will persist, and it will continue to tell the world that the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States never happened.

(Via scb)

See Rüütel in Moscow

Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Russian Michael Moore

Marco Masi at Chechnya-SL has provided a translation of a recent interview with Andrei Nekrasov about his film, Disbelief (Nedoverie):

Russia - 21.1.2005

The Russian Michael Moore

Interview with Andrei Nekrasov: "Democracy with us has no future"

How has your film, Disbelief, been received in Russia?

In two completely opposite ways: there were those who praised the courage to challenge the wall of silence that covers these arguments, and those who called me traitor, the friend of Chechen terrorists, the enemy of Russia, the servant of the oligarchs and of the United States. In summary, all the classical accusations that are raised against someone who dares to doubt the official truth of the Kremlin. There have been also threats.

Were you subjected to some form of censorship?

Well, formally not, but in fact yes. They allowed the projection of Disbelief only in a small theatre of Moscow, without any advertisement, and this already tells a lot. But above all, I have been prevented to transmit it on television: no Russian network wanted to transmit my documentary because in Russia there is no television that isn't under the control of the government.

Do you believe that your film will have some concrete effect on the Russian society?

I hope this very much. But I'm realistic: only the things that pass through television, and therefore reach all, succeed in influencing the public opinion. Having seen it only few, I doubt that my documentary will ever succeed in touching the certainties coming from the government propaganda.

What is the central thesis of your film?

Disbelief does not accuse the Russian government of being behind the attacks of '99. It accuses it however of not having done what every democratic government would have done in its place: to search for the truth about a tragedy that struck its people, to inquire to the last in a clear and transparent way. Instead, as the documentary tells, the authorities didn't make anything else than to put up obstacles against
the inquiry and hiding the proofs, shutting the mouth of everyone who dared to doubt the official truth.

And why should the government behave in such a manner?

In order to protect itself. Today in Russia the so-called 'siloviki' give orders, the men of the intelligence agencies and the army. They are the new ruling class which came to power with the arrival in the Kremlin of the former KGB official Putin. Today Russia is governed by the FSB, the former KGB. Therefore, if, like it is probable, the agents of the FSB have their responsibilities in the attacks of the '99, the government protects them to whatever cost. In Russia, since ever, the intelligence agencies resemble more a secret sect, with its rigid code of honor that does not contemplate the betrayal of a companion, for no reason in this world.

What do you think about Chechen terrorism and the Chechen issue?

I don't think, as some have accused me to say, that Chechen terrorism doesn't exist. It exists definitely, but perhaps it is comfortable to someone. Perhaps someone manipulates it in order to obtain political advantages, this yes. I think instead that the war in Chechnya is a horror, like every war. But this in particular has tremendous implications because the Russian army attacks civilians, considering
them all potential terrorist. In this way one can not fight terrorism: in this way one feeds it.

And what does the people in Russia typically think of it?

Unfortunately the propaganda of the government on the subject is very effective. Just in virtue of the attacks of '99, all think that the war is a just war of legitimate self-defense against people of dangerous criminals and terrorists. Those attacks have been ours 11 September: the Russians felt to be attacked in their own homeland, they had fear, and when Putin elevated himself to their defender declaring war on Chechens, all have supported him. And they continue to do so.

According to you, without those attacks, would he have been able to
reach the Kremlin?

No. Or at least not so quickly. It is undeniable: he was the one who could profit from these tragic events. I do not want to say with this that he orchestrated it, but for sure he knew well how to take an advantage from it. Let us say that for him it was a fortunate coincidence. To which many other followed in these years: every
election, every important poll at the Duma was preceded by attacks that led the frightened public opinion to gather around its head.

You have been defined the Russian Michael Moore: do you agree?

Well, in some sense its true: there are similarities between our works. But there is also an enormous difference: in the United States he is encircled and supported by a strong cultural and political environment, that of the democrats who oppose the war and the policy of Bush. I, in Russia, are practically alone, one of the few voices outside a chorus where all praise Putin. In todays Russia there is no opposition.

Which future do you see for a democratic turn in the Kremlin?

No future, unfortunately, at least in the short term. I'm very pessimistic. The only weak opposition forces against the government, let them be left or right, are all of an extremist and ultranationalist nature. The liberal-democratic forces were victims of the war that the Kremlin has triggered against the oligarchs of Yeltsin's era. Putin today remains the only one at the center of the Russian political scene, and he dominates it with such self-assurance of someone who knows to have no rivals. There is no political figure in todays Russia who can challenge him. We hope that this figure will come out before the elections of 2008.

Enrico Piovesana (PeaceReporter)

Dissidents - II

Cali Ruchala, the author of the article The Canvas Is A Crime - Yuri Galanskov and The Saints of the Lubyanka, part of which I quoted in an earlier post, tells me in an email that after completing the article, he had a copy sent to Aleksandr Ginzburg in Paris. Unfortunately, Ginzburg died less than a week later. Ruchala goes on:
Looking back on it, I think I was still in the haze of pessimism that came when Serbian and Croatian dissidents grew up and became scoundrels. I still have an old letter signed by Zoran Djindjic, Vojislav Kostunica and others demanding the release of Vojislav Seselj from prison.

As tragic as Galanskov's story is, I have to say that today, being a little older, I would make Ginzburg the focus of the article. It's no fault of Galanskov but I've come to understand that it's harder to live a long life and remain true to one's beliefs than it is to become a young martyr.

Ginzburg, like Galanskov, was one of the pioneers of the samizdat movement in the Soviet Union during the late 1950s and 1960s. Unlike Galanskov, however, Ginzburg lived on, eventually dying in political exile in Paris at the age of 65. Cali Ruchala has an account of Ginzburg's life and work at this URL. The dissident movement strove to provide a source of independent, non-state-controlled information in the extremely difficult conditions of totalitarian rule. Like other members of the movement, Ginzburg was repeatedly imprisoned for his activities and views. He edited a journal called Sintaksis, and it was here that the writing of some of the best-known figures of the dissident groupings appeared: the young Joseph Brodsky first saw his poems published in the journal.

As a British Council exchange student in Moscow during the late 1960s and early 1970s, I had some experience of the Soviet dissident movement - the stazhory, as we were called, housed in Zona V of the Stalin-era MGU skyscraper on Lenin Hills (now Sparrow Hills), functioned in some sense as guinea pigs for the very active KGB wing of the student Komsomol brigade in the Zone, and my block neighbour happened to be a Canadian-Ukrainian activist and history scholar visiting from Berkeley, California, who was subsequently expelled from the Soviet Union after a press campaign against him. Through him, I gained a partial but first-hand knowledge of Soviet dissident life, and became acquainted not only with dissidents in person, but also with their publications and manifestos.

In the 1960s and early 1970s there existed an almost complete disparity, a dislocation, even, between the dissident movement in Soviet Russia and the radical movements in the West (those which gravitated around the Paris "revolution" of 1968, for example). While Western radicals sometimes paid lip service to Soviet dissidents - and there was a mild flurry of sympathy for them during the events that immediately followed the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 - in general there was an almost total lack of comprehension on both sides. Western radicals could not understand the admiration felt by most Soviet dissidents for Western democracy and culture, while most Soviet dissidents were appalled by the the disdain and hatred felt by much of the Western radical left for Western society. Later, this dislocation crystallized out in the situation described by Sharansky in The Case for Democracy, where Western "ban-the-bomb" marchers walked side by side with KGB operatives who were bent on exploiting the radical left-wing and peace movements, while in the Soviet Union, anti-nuclear protesters and peace activists languished in jails and prison camps.

Looking back on it now, it's hard to see how anyone could seriously have compared the two movements - the radical Western left and the Soviet dissidents. While the Western students and activists were free to utter their opinions, hold public demonstrations and even burn down buildings, in the Soviet Union those who resisted the established order were imprisoned, tortured and killed. "Who could turn away from themselves even under enormous strain, after seeing Ginzburg's tenacious refusal to compromise?" Cali Ruchala writes. Although the dissident movement was by no means homogeneous, and comprised different levels and qualities of disagreement with the power of authority, the example of fortitude, moral sanity and defiance, even under impossible conditions of repression, shown by Ginzburg and others like him was simply over the heads of most Western observers, even those who for their own political and ideological reasons wanted to sympathize with the Soviet outcasts.

Now many of those "outcasts" are dead and forgotten. After the fall of Communism, in the glow of victory it was all too easy for their memory to be put aside and neglected. Yet in Russia today there are still those who may be considered heirs to the dissident heritage, and whose input to the moral constitution of Russian society is a vital one. In the campaigns that are still being fought for justice within Russia - in connection with such issues as the war in Chechnya, the corruption of the law enforcement agencies, the increasing threat to free speech, and the resurgence of the KGB, people such as Elena Bonner (Andrei Sakharov's widow), Sergei Kovalyov, Andrei Babitsky, Anna Politkovskaya, Yevgenia Albats, and others are asserting the old and honourable Russian tradition.

Although there are still some voices in the West - and many in Russia itself - that seek to discredit this opposition by using the term "dissident" in a disparaging or condescending way (the same thing can more often now be encountered in relation to China and its internal political opposition, it seems likely that the example it sets will hold and be valid for some time to come. In the West, after all, the conditions of freedom exist. And, as Natan Sharansky points out, it's the duty of free nations to help and sustain the spreading of freedom throughout the globe:

The community of free nations will not emerge on its own. It will require both the clarity of the democratic world to see the profound moral difference between the world of freedom and the world of fear, and the courage to confront fear societies everywhere. I am convinced that a successful effort to expand freedom around the world must be inspired and led by the United States. In the twentieth century, America proved time and again that it possessed both the clarity and courage that is necessary to defeat evil. Following that example, the democracies of the world can defeat the enemy that threatens our world today and the tyrannies that would threaten it tomorrow. To do so, we must believe not only that all people are created equal but also that all peoples are created equal.

In the new world order, the struggle and sacrifices of the dissidents in the non-democratic nations of the world won't have been in vain.

See also in this blog: Fear and Freedom

Friday, January 21, 2005

Rüütel in Moscow

Yesterday afternoon, both CNN and BBC Monitoring reported an Estonian radio broadcast from Moscow by Estonia's president, Arnold Rüütel, telling his country that Putin is ready to support an official Russian repudiation of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact.

Now EDM wonders: What did Putin actually tell Rüütel, and how did he phrase it?:
Even on January 20, the day of the Putin-Ruutel conversation, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs chief spokesman Alexander Yakovenko reaffirmed the standard position. Assailing Latvia 's President Vaira Vike-Freiberga for her recent proposal that Russia should condemn the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact and the annexation of the Baltic States, Yakovenko asserted, "There is no basis in history or international law for the view that the Soviet Union occupied the Baltic states ." Terming that view, "the usual attempt at distorting history," Yakovenko portrayed Vike-Freiberga as unwilling to accept Russia 's friendship, and opined: "We are convinced that her view does not correspond with that of a majority of Latvians" (Interfax, January 20).

Apparently, either Putin's new line has not yet percolated to Russia 's chief diplomatic spokesman, or Putin's actual phrasing in that private meeting requires full clarification. In either case the subsequent Russian statements must be checked against Putin's private statement.

Rüütel is in Moscow on a private visit, to receive a Russian Orthodox Church award from Alexei II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. Socor notes:
Alexei II presented Ruutel with an award for "Distinguished Activity for Reinforcing the Unity of Orthodox Peoples." Ruutel belongs to the small minority of Orthodox Estonians whose church is canonically subordinated to the Patriarchy of Constantinople. By contrast, Orthodox Russians in Estonia are generally affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchy. Ruutel helped obtain legal registration of the Moscow-affiliated church in Estonia , thus earning Alexei's gratitude. Alexei, a native of Estonia who spent half of his pastoral career there, for his part had been instrumental in suppressing the Constantinople-affiliated church during the Soviet occupation.

Estonian oil transit tycoon Aadu Luukas accompanied Ruutel to Moscow and collected the same award. The other recipient of the Orthodox Unity award for 2004 is Yevgeny Primakov. He had crossed paths with Alexei during many years in an institution of a decidedly secular character -- the same institution that nurtured Putin.


Peter Byrne at Abdymok presents an article on Ukraine's SBU which suggests that the NY Times report by C. J. Chivers may not have been too far off the mark after all. But the whole affair seems to be shrouded in the usual murk:

In what appears to be an oddly connected story, the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune on Jan. 17 ran a 3,800-word feature about the allegedly heroic roles played by Smeshko, Galaka and Sarnatsky in preventing Interior Ministry troops from storming Independence Square during protests on Nov. 28.

Serhiy Popkov, the commander of troops from Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, dismissed the charge. He responded curtly in an interview with the national daily tabloid Segodnya on Jan. 18 saying he was "surprised" by the NYT’s interpretation of the events, insisting that the so-called deployment was merely as a drill.

According to SBU spokeswoman Marina Ostapenko, the version told to the NYT by her bosses was accurate, if not exaggerated.

“No big mistakes in the article, just a tad too melodramatic,” she said.


Recently on JRL the Serbian World Bank economist Branko Milanovic asked the question: "why are the American media, both liberal and conservative, so unanimously anti-Russian?" He followed this up with a clarification:
"By that I mean, why are the implicit assumptions apparently held by every major analyst and reporters of the most influential US papers, (1) that whatever problem at hand where there is some Russian involvement, it is the Russians who are guilty until proven the reverse, and (2) that the only Russian policy that is to be applauded is a policy that is supposed to serve the interests of other countries but Russia. In terms of (2) Russia is supposed to behave like no other country in the world: it simply must not follow its national interests whatever they are, or better­, according to the analysts, ­these interests must not exist.

Milanovic went on to present 6 points where he sees evidence of such bias and prejudice:
1) For seventy years, commentators have been anti-Soviet and since obviously some of Russia's foreign policy stances will coincide with those of the USSR, their knee-jerk reaction to argue against these positions in the past carried over to the present day.

(2) Russia is viewed as a defeated power, say like Germany and Japan in the late 1940 and the 1950's. Hence Americans are annoyed by Russia's truculence. In other words, Russia should accept that it lost the Cold War, behave like a defeated power and keep a very, very low profile. In other words, do not box out of your league.

(3) Russia is viewed as an ultimately conservative force. This may go back to the socialist pre-World War I view (shared, of course, by Marx and later by the Bolsheviks) that Russia is an anti-progressive and anti-socialist force ready to send its Kozaks in the defense of the capitalist capitals of Europe. Since "progressive" no longer means socialist but pro-market and "pro-democracy" and since the latter is identified with being "pro-US", then Russia is by definition on the other side of the divide.

(4) Similar to (3), Russia is viewed as an anti-progressive and anti-Semitic force, ­again harking back to the 19th century imagery. Although among the Bolsheviks, Jewish and minority representation was very strong, later reversion to grand-Russian policies by Stalin and then ultimately the fall of Communism, turned, as it were, the clock back to the 19th century perception of Russia.

(5) East European propaganda has been very effective perhaps because there was some truth in it (Communism was in most cases imposed by Soviet arms), or perhaps because it is a simple story (big guys oppress small guys), or perhaps because there is a lot of ignorance among the pundits. On the latter, I wonder how many journalists know that Rumanians and Hungarians in their thousands were fighting the Soviets together with the Nazi all the way to Stalingrad (and after); or that "the nice and helpless" East European countries often fought among themselves (Hungary and Poland each taking a slice of Czechoslovakia in Munich in 1938) so that territorial aggrandizement was hardly a Russian specialty.

(6) Analysts and pundits know better but they try to play to the popular prejudices which are anti-Russian (which of course begs the question, why are they anti-Russian?) or to play to the preferences of the US administration (which may perceive Russia as being irremediably anti-American). So, in order to curry favor with the administration officials, they have to express anti-Russian views which they know the administration (whether Democrat or Republican) to hold even if the officials cannot, for political reasons, express them openly.

This interesting but undeniably partisan and question-begging list at once drew a sharp reply from Yevgenia Albats, political journalist and Professor of political science at the Higher School of Economics, Moscow University, who presented an alternative list to counter Milanovic's:
Dear Dr.Milanovic,

The only way for you to get an answer is to come to Russia.

Yet, please keep in mind couple of things.

1.If you have ever written something unfavorable to the current regime and/or Kremlin, Putin, Sechin, and etc. you may have trouble getting a visa to Russia.

The State Duma just last week passed a law that prohibits issuing visas to people who have expressed or made unfriendly stances about Russia ( specs are not provided). Couple of the US based academics, which I know personally, have already experienced problems with getting a visa even before the new law was passed. One can even guess, what experience they are to acquire from now on.

2. If you manage to get a visa, be aware that you have to register with the local authorities in a matter of three days: be prepared to hire someone capable of paying a bribe to a local militia, unless you are prepared to do it yourself;

3. You may want to arrange for a cable ($ 250 - installation, plus $ 25-30 monthly fee), so to get CNN or BBC. No news (unless you are for the Soviet style propaganda), domestic or international, is available on the state-owned TV channels. Non-state, which dares to cover news (except for the small one, the REN TV) is no longer in use.

4. Be aware of the expenses should you settle in Moscow: cost of decent groceries are 20-30 per cent higher than those in the US; car insurance is twice more than even in Massachusetts, forget about clothing - the prices are just unbearable; and yes, medical - well, you can get some coverage at about the same price as in the US, but be aware: in case you get shot on the street, as Paul Khlebnikov was, there would be no speedy ambulance available for you regardless how much you paid for the coverage.

5. If you are dark-haired make sure to die it blonde, otherwise you may incur couple of problems with skinheads in the subway (otherwise, Moscow metro is great), or with the police on a street. If you happen to be Jewish (that I hope, you are not), Asian, or G-d forbids, Chechen, Azeri, Armenian, Tadzhik - forget about coming at all. Likely than not, you get bitten by skins or searched by the local militia. True too, some survive.

6. If you do business, be prepared to hire someone who will get you a krysha, made out of the KGB guys; otherwise you are doomed.

7. If you an academic, interested in the Soviet affairs, forget about archives: those documents that were declassified back in early nineties, got re-classified, and no longer available. By the way, the guy, who is running the Federal Archive service is a KGB ( FSB) colonel.

True he is not the only one with the current or former experience with the KGB (FSB): the president, the prime minister, the ministers of defense and police, the first deputy of the Kremlin's chief of staff, the assistant to the President in charge of personal, the deputy minister of the foreign affairs , the deputy minister of justice, dozens or so deputies of the civilian agencies, dozen or so heads of the regional executive and legislative institutions, 13 federal inspectors, 6 senators, 19 members of the State Duma are of the same background with the USSR's notorious political police.

8. Be aware to bring a good supply of Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa along with you to Moscow. Trust me, you will need each and every of those drugs. I trust you, you are not going to go to Chechnya: no Prozac helps to see Groznyy turned into the ghost city, or to talk to mothers whose husbands disappeared in the concentration camps without a trace, or whose children got killed during zachostki by the Russian or local special forces.

9. Of course, having an American passport, a return ticket, and couple of credit cards with a bank account in the US helps a lot while surviving through the Russian realities. Yet, be aware of hearing a lot of unpleasantness about your fellow Americans, and the US in general. I know some expats , who get mad . Don't: it is all about Russia regaining its self-esteem.

On the final note - in case you don't dare to come. It always helps to write something lovely about the current Kremlin, and its politics while sitting in the nice and spacey New York apartment with the view overlooking the Central Park. It is a little bit harder if you happened to live and work in Moscow.

This exchange drew some further responses from JRL recipients, mostly of a rather defensive kind: for example, economist Dmitry Glinski argued that
1) cables are actually installed in most Moscow buildings where they may be looking to rent an apartment, and millions of Russians are able to watch CNN any time; 2) being dark-haired (and even dark-skinned, which is what she probably meant to say) is not an automatic invitation for violence in Moscow, at least not more so than being a pale-colored foreigner in certain parts of the Bronx; 3) explicit hostility toward Americans is, in fact, less likely to be experienced in Moscow than in Amsterdam or Seoul, let alone Arab countries; and even 4) that hoarding Prozac and its analogs in anticipation of the trip was unnecessary, as these essential products are widely available in almost all Moscow pharmacies, often at lower prices than in the US.

Russia was seen to be the victim of double standards:
the pull of economic interest that makes American media, and especially the liberal ones, as soft-spoken and circumspect vis-à-vis China as they are abusive towards Russia, is plain to see... just as the cautious treatment of China (and, by the way, of the Chinese immigrant community in the US) can be explained, at least in part, by the attraction of cheap and undemanding labor force, emotional assaults on Russia (as well as discrimination against individual Russians in visas' processing, academic funding, and employment, without regard to whether they are supportive or critical of the Kremlin, unless they agree not just to criticize their government but to vilify and hurt their country and people as well) seem at least partly related to the frustrations of the U.S. capital in Russia, starting with the default of 1998.

At length, as is customary on such occasions, the charge of "Russophobia" was brought against Professor Albats and what was perceived as her constituency in the West. presenter of the charge was ex-head of Moscow News and editor of Intelligent magazine, Sergei Roy:
Dr. Milanovic compiled a list of six possible sources of widespread, even "unanimous," anti-Russian sentiment in the American press, both liberal and conservative. His arguments are well-reasoned, often acute, but in my view they cover only a part of the general problem of Russophobia.

The problem is much wider in both its geographical and historical scope. US media are probably infected with a more virulent type of the Russia-hatred bacilli, but the phenomenon is ubiquitous, it crops up all over the world, Russia included (see below). One keeps stumbling across its manifestations all the time.

Russia is seen in the role of victim:
In terms of international relations and ethnic feelings, Russia fits the figure of external enemy quite nicely, sometimes through no fault of its own. For centuries, it was a vast terra incognita, for which ancient cartographers had a rule: Where you know nothing, place terrors say, two-headed monsters and the like where Scythia (later Southern Russia, still later the Ukraine) lay. Residually, this sort of attitude lives on even in the minds of quite advanced and civilized people.

Roy believes one major source of Russia's current problems to be what he calls "oligarchic capitalism", and "a new KGB", singling out three names in particular - Khodorkovsky, Gusinsky and Berezovsky. But the real trouble lies abroad:
Smearing Russia with filth has always been a hot commodity in a global economy, even before there was a global economy. Where there is demand, there is sure to be supply. The supply coming from Russia is real plentiful these days, and its very provenance lends it added weight, for the stories come from "Russian sources." If I read on JRL something like "Russian radio slams Putin" or whoever for whatever, don't give me two guesses as to what radio that is: it's Ekho Moskvy, a "Russian source." Since it is there on the spot, whatever comes from that source must be true, and who cares where its owner is based.

The letter's author is almost in despair:
Sadly, there is very little likelihood of this unfortunate state of affairs coming to an end in the foreseeable future. After an initial ebbing away of that nasty mood in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, over perestroika, glasnost, the fall of the Berlin Wall and other pleasant occasions, old, ingrained attitudes are returning, have returned, with a vengeance. I personally place my hopes on the generations to come, generations that will see Cold Wars, old and new, for what they are: a silly anachronism. But I am totally pessimistic about the present generation living to see that fine future; prejudices die hard, and sometimes not at all.

Coming away from this outpouring of resentment and bitterness, one doesn't quite know what to say. One thing seems clear, however: the "Russophobia" invoked by some of the participants, including Sergei Roy, is largely a projection of their own making. For the object of the "phobia", far from being an ethnic grouping or a culture, is rather what Natan Sharansky calls "the mechanics of tyranny": the workings, still so obviously in place within the Russian Federation, of government strategies and manipulations that are based on the instilling of fear and the denial of moral clarity - such processes can be seen today in the Russian government's handling of the long crisis in Chechnya, in its threatening statements to its neighbours in the Baltic states, in Georgia, and elsewhere, in its disregard for the rule of law and human rights. To be hostile, or "phobic" to such a government is not to be anti-Russian: rather, it's an assertion of what Sharansky means when he says in his latest book that "at a time when freedom and fear are at war, we must move beyond Left and Right and begin to think again about right and wrong."