Monday, October 16, 2006

The Paradigm Change

Germany’s SignAndSight Magazine has two notable items in its latest issue. One is an interview with the Russian philosopher Mikhail Ryklin, who talks to Caroline Fletscher about the new level of fear and apprehension in Russia after Anna Politkovskaya’s murder. The interview probes the new degree of hatred being whipped up by the Russian government against those who are perceived to be standing in its way. Antisemitism and xenophobia are compounded with a new drive to cast off restraints that may once have been observed out of a concern for Russia’s image in the world. The Kremlin practitioners of the new policy simply don’t care about that. Politkovskaya seemed to be protected, the interviewer says. And, in this excerpt, Ryklin replies:

Yes. We assumed that Vladimir Putin and his system valued Politkovskaya as a democratic symbol and that her newspaper, the independent Novaya Gazeta, like the broadcaster Echo of Moscow represented a democratic showcase for the Kremlin elite that they wouldn’t want to do away with - or couldn’t. Even papers of less significance like the government-critical magazine of the chess champion Garry Kasparov seemed a guarantor that this niche would survive in some form. What is happening now is something like a paradigm change.

And what is it exactly?

Until now, we, the critical voices, believed in a civilisational minimum at the least, that society stood on a more or less solid base. Now the message is: none of you are safe any more. Notability, Western friends, respect and awards can no longer protect us against violent attacks on the freedom of expression. If someone like Politkovskaya can be murdered in broad daylight in such an beastly way, any of us could be next. That is a shock. All the more so because in today’s Russia, most political murders are never solved.

What made Anna Politkovskaya so dangerous in the regime’s eyes? On Tuesday in Dresden, Putin called her a journalist with “extreme views.” Was it that she named corrupt functionaries or torturers in the Chechen war? Are journalists safe as long as they don’t name names?

That alone is not enough. “Putin” is just a synonym for an entire system. The vertical power structure on top of which Putin sits includes the army, the justice system, the Duma, the state-run media, the secret service, the police – and the orthodox church. Although the principle of secularism – the separation of church and state - is anchored in the Russian constitution, the Kremlin does not abide by it. At Christmas, for example, Putin and his functionaries receive the blessing of the patriarchs in what amounts to a VIP lounge of the church. He says they should “save Russia” and anyone who counters the “state religion” has to reckon with reprisals.

The same issue of the magazine has the translated text of Anna Politkovskaya’s last published article, which appeared in Novaya Gazeta in September. It’s about a Chechen “warlord” who worked for the pro-Moscow authorities, an OMON commander, Buvadi Dakhiev - The man who gave second chances.

Buvadi was an extraordinary personality, he was full of contradictions, consisted of two halves. If there is any association to be made, it would be with Nikita Khrushchev’s tombstone in the Novodevichiy graveyard in Moscow: one half entirely black, the other entirely white.

On the one hand, Buvadi was a military type through and through, one of many in Chechnya, an officer in the Chechen forces allied with Moscow; but he was one of the new breed that came into being when criminals and terrorists from Kadyrov’s contingent took over power. He was a representative of the Dudaev opposition, which since 1995 had been serving in faithful obedience to the Chechen OMON; an absolutely pro-Russian and unswerving position – Chechnya was simply part of Russia. For this he received medals and badges of courage and was made colonel. When Aslan Maskhadov and Shamil Basayev came to power, Buvadi was living in Chechnya, without principles. Then came the second war and he began to fight in the front row against Maskhadov and Basayev.

Hat tip: CH

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