poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

November 10, 2010

On the beating of Oleg Kashin

Filed under: Culture: Russia,Politics: Russia — poemless @ 6:26 PM
Tags: ,

So I suppose I should weigh in? I’d undoubtedly be the best Russia watcher on the planet if I ever bothered to watch, and the most brilliant blogger too, if I actually wrote anything. Which is discouraging in a way. I mean, maybe I should just not write, because what if I do, and it turns out to be so so? Better to let everyone just assume I am a genius, don’t you think?

I recently has something published at this Russian site, InoForum, and everyone thought I was nuts and no one understood a thing. They were going on about my Polish doctor… Also discouraging.

Ok, so I read on facebook or twitter about the attack that night. My first reaction was, “That Kashin? Why would anyone wanna kill Kashin?! Vladimir Putin, you are a horrible person! Sick!” Then, “maybe he owed someone money…” Then, “god, I feel terrible about hating him for spamming -I mean, really spamming- my twitter feed. After all, he has great taste in music; he must be a decent fellow, with just a whole lot of time on his hands, but how is that even possible? He’s prolific, everywhere. Maybe he had a twitter bot. I’m going to check his feed… OMG! Silence! … omg. he’s really been attacked. a real live human being. fuck. fuckfuckfuckfuck…”

There was a time I’d have something absolutely cynical to say about journalists being killed. I would write, maybe, that there is no way Putin’s people did this, because all it does is make him look bad, so probably it was someone else Anna had pissed off, someone maybe looking for revenge and even to frame the administration, who knows? Who knows? We didn’t witness our fallen reporter taking her final breath! And what really pisses me off is that the very people who complain about the lack of rule of law and the total joke parading around under the guise of a Russian justice system are the first to point the finger, make an accusation and demand a head on a platter when a journalist is harmed. Pah-Thetic. Apparently vigilantism is only bad when the official good guys are on the receiving end. “Well, c’mon, everything points to this horrible atrocity being the work of (insert party, politician, youth group here). They probably did it!” Last time I checked, my own judicial system, which is fouled but ostensibly one goo-goos in Russia desire to emulate, places the burden of proof on the prosecution, and requires a jury to find a person guilty beyond any reasonable doubt before the head and platter show gets underway. There is no “unless a perfectly good journalist has been offed, in which case you’re free to bust out the pitchforks” clause.

But now people actually read what I write, so I should be more responsible with my words. Which I’ve absolutely never been good at. Diplomacy is not my strong suit. Er, so, well, here are things that other people said. If they’re reasonable, great; if not, you can’t blame me.

From Sean:

On a final note, there will be those out there who will offer apologetics for Kashin’s beating. They’ll decry the obsession with emphasizing journalists as victims. They’ll hem and haw about how western reporters churn out the same narrative about media freedom in Russia. They’ll scream, ‘What about . . . !” They will certainly offer banal explanations for why Kashin’s skull was fractured and his fingers broken. Such acts of violence happen all the time to normal people, they’ll say, and no one pays attention to their plight? Blah, blah, blah . . .

“Blah, blah, blah . . .” I yelled at him for this. I mean, he was like 60 miles away, so he couldn’t hear me. But I yelled. Concern for the plight of normal people is HARDLY apologetics for Kashin’s beating. There’s nothing to prevent empathy for both, and no reason why one tragedy should prevent us from reflecting on others. Hell, this paragraph sounds like apologetics for violence against normal people! Also, I think it was directed at me since I’d just posted a comment on fb about no one protesting when non-journalists or non-businessmen are beaten or killed. I don’t even know if that is true. So, at this point everyone, including Sean, seemed to be writing out of emotion. Well, someone had just had their brains bashed in – a normal response, I imagine.

From Natalia:

In trying to come up with a proper response to this outrageous event, I looked to the blog of another Russian journalist – Alyona Solntseva. Solntseva wrote about how such violence is pretty much a “normal” part of our lives:

“Everyone one of us has several acquaintances who were beaten on the street. Sometimes – with the intent of a robbery. Sometimes just because – because someone else didn’t like them… Beatings are routine, a norm that exists within our lives. How do you fight THAT?”

I have no doubt that Oleg’s attackers targeted him because of his work. Right now, all over LiveJournal, users are posting and reposting links to his latest articles. The idea is as follows: Oh, they wanted to silence Oleg? We won’t let them. We’ll make his writing even more popular. And they won’t be able to get all of us.

Whoever the bastards who are “they” turn out to be, what’s clear to me is that Alyona Solntseva is right; this type of behaviour is the norm. When journalists are attacked, it serves to underscore the fact that *nobody* is safe.

Intimidation and violence are seen as an acceptable way to solve problems ranging from “I don’t like your face, dude” to “I don’t like that article you wrote, dude.” In saying this, of course, it is not my intention to write off what happened to Oleg as a nebulous “societal” problem and throw up my hands. This type of barbarism is present almost everywhere you look – but journalists in particular remain the canary in the coal mine. You know it’s bad when a prominent member of the press is savagely attacked, and none of us are certain that those responsible will necessarily be brought to justice.

This is what I’d liked to have said to Sean had I been able to stop abusing the keyboard long enough to collect my thoughts. Perhaps it is even better, not simply equating all beatings and violence, not engaging in the dreaded “whataboutism,” but acknowledging Sean’s concept of the social order precisely to shed light on Oleg’s beating as a reflection of it. Switching the focus from discrimination: “attacks against prominent journalists” to total lack thereof: “attacks against even prominent journalists.”

I know it will upset some, but I remain reticent to agree that “journalists ARE special. At least those who practice their craft with all the seriousness the profession demands. Journalists aren’t normal people.” Or rather that this makes their beatings and deaths any more intolerable. Yes, they are a crucial, the crucial ingredient in any recipe for democracy, and without them, civil society suffers. Unfortunately, mass murder isn’t required to get journalists to stop doing their jobs. Rupert Murdoch could just hire them. But I will not argue that civil society does not suffer when journalists are oppressed. Or killed. But civil society also suffers when women are oppressed. Or killed. And it seems the offense of being a sensible woman sometimes trumps that of being a journalist. Where are the demands that anyone who beats up a woman to scare her shitless so she’ll think twice next time, before saying/doing/looking into that, be hunted down and punished to the full extent of the law? Civil society suffers anytime the brutes in charge decide to teach the weak but willful a lesson. It is not simply politicians or businessmen who pose a threat to innocent people. Journalists should not have to fear for their lives simply because they are doing their job, simply because of what they say or simply because of what they know.


Here are a few more…

From Julia:

When I first met him, in the winter of 2006, to interview him about the politics of young Russians — his specialty — he struck me as a Kremlin apologist. Kommersant is Russia’s most prominent daily, a mainstream paper owned by Medvedev buddy and mining mogul Alisher Usmanov.

I was, of course, wrong about Kashin. He is not an apologist but is, in the best traditions of his generation, simply hard to categorize.

Hopefully Ms. Ioffe has used this tragedy as a learning experience and will not be so swift to judge and label people in the future. And if not, well, now we all know how to get on her good side. Gulp.

Wait, there’s more Julia!

Journalist Oleg Kashin lay in an artificial coma after a savage beating left everything that could possible be broken, broken.

What was Supreme Leader Vladimir Vladimirovich doing? Drag racing.

Makes Luzhkov’s summer getaway seem downright appropriate.

I am not sure how racecar driving fits in to the PM’s job description. (Russia’s just signed a contract with Formula 1, so I guess it is some kind of marketing silliness.) The only thing I am less sure of is how solving an attempted murder case fits in to the PM’s job description. In normal countries, according to Law and Order, in the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. I don’t know how Vova is able to squeeze these joyrides into his tight schedule, but not even Action Man himself has enough hours in the day to personally address every attempted murder in fair Russia. (I think I just found a way to lower the murder rate there.)

Moreover, if Putin took the reigns of this, no one in the universe would trust the result. Nor should they. If it is true that Kashin was investigating the Khimki deal, implicating Putin’s judo buddy (whatever that is code for), I dare say there would be a conflict of interest if he began muddling about in the case. What is Julia asking of Supreme Leader Vladimir Vladimirovich? Maybe she wants him to declare that from now on, anyone who harms a journalist will be personally fed to his tigers. Except she seems not to be a huge fan of his unilateral authoritarian crazy ass dictator ways. And that would be a crazy ass dictator thing to do. I must say, I have never understood the logic of those who criticize both Putin’s unilateral authoritarian crazy ass dictator ways and his absence whenever Medvedev, otherwise known as the democratically elected President of the Russian Federation, steps up to take on various issues. What is that about? I want to sit in on their psychoanalysis sessions!

And it doesn’t even merit reply, but equating Putin’s afternoon of racing after the beating of one citizen with Luzhkov’s fleeing the country while the city he was supposed to be running was choking to death, surrounded by fire, for weeks on end and something like 700 people were dying a day… is inane. It doesn’t even work rhetorically, since it immediately brings to mind the image of VVP’s stunt of putting out the damn wildfires himself.

So it is all good and well to trawl the internets and compose snarky replies, but do I have anything … constructive to add about the attack on Oleg Kashin? I suppose that, regardless who is responsible for the attack, United Russia, and really any government entity should completely, officially and unequivocally sever any ties to groups advocating violence against any Russian citizen. That can’t prevent anyone from employing the little hoodlums on the down low, but if we’re talking about kids, it’ll at least humiliate them. I’ve no idea what to do about monied interests offing their enemies. Back in the day it was all done with expensive guns and car bombs. Everyone told me it had gotten better. Everyone told me Moscow was no longer a war zone or a scene from a 1930’s Warner bros. gangster film. So that’s good. Yet somehow businessmen shooting holes in each other seems more civilized than random citizens having their skulls bashed in. Moscow, Russia, has a very high brutality threshold. I can’t help them with that. Probably making sure crime is properly investigated and criminals properly punished would be a step in the right direction, though. Giving every journalist a body guard seems a bandaid solution, and if the body guard is provided by the State, and maybe the State doesn’t like your work, well, that could be potentially very ineffective.

There are places in Chicago where everyone’s getting shot. It used to be bad guys shooting bad guys, but now it is just any random person. No one knows what to do. Because not even the rule of law can prevent people who feel they have nothing to lose from committing crimes. I realize the situation in Russia is not exactly comparable, but my point is that for all the chest beating about the rule of law, it only goes so far when you have a fundamental social failure on this scale. That fundamental social failure being when significant numbers of people have more incentive to destroy each other than not.

What about journalists? How can we prevent them from being beaten or killed? Seriously, I am going with the rising tide lifts all boats theory here: address the social norms. Until there is a better solution, I suppose journalists will have to comfort themselves with the knowledge that they must be doing something right if people find them credible enough to kill. Keep up the good work?


  1. Journalists sometimes have an inflated sense of their own importance. See the need to have “another blogger ethics panel” which comes up fairly frequently, and their sense that the blogs are somehow tarnishing their profession — surely journalism isn’t something just anyone can do?

    On the other hand, having a free media is vitally important. Which is why what’s happening in the US these days is so damn depressing. Who can say our media is free? Even the internet may soon be controlled by corporate entities, and then where will we be?

    Comment by Melissa — November 10, 2010 @ 10:12 PM | Reply

  2. Hello, Poemless.

    The “civil society” is definitely good as an idea. But what if it’s just another Communism that doesn’t work?

    You are repeating the mantra about “civil society”. However, could you recall at least a single modern example of a journalist in any country unveiling some major crime of the government, what (unveiling) made people’s lives better?

    Comment by Evgeny — November 11, 2010 @ 2:23 AM | Reply

    • Oh, just — any major crime. By whoever. There’s not only the government, but oligarchs, businesses, … whichever.

      Comment by Evgeny — November 11, 2010 @ 2:25 AM | Reply

    • I think the crux of the matter lies between the information gathered and published by investigative reporters and the public and official response. In the early 20th century, “muckraking” American journalists like Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair exposed unfair labor laws, monopolies and food safety, and at some point this translated into actual legislation meant to address these injustices. So, that actually improved lives. While Woodward and Bernstein broke the Watergate scandal, I suppose it was some kind of win for good government, but how it impacted the welfare of average people, I don’t know. Now, people like Moore, Palast, Hersch, etc. are out there exposing attrocities and social ills, but no one seems terribly motivated by it. So it doesn’t translate into much progress. I think Taibbi is a rock star, but even he seems to have given up on actually trying to improve anything. However, I think at the local level, there are always journalists reporting on this or that injustice (people ripped off by a business, overcharged for services, high levels of pollution, that type of thing) and pursuing the story until there is some resolution and/or the government gets involved. Latest example off the top of my head: “Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is calling for an investigation into the pollution levels that could affect Metra passengers. That follows a Chicago Tribune story that shows diesel soot levels on some trains are abnormally high.” As cynical as we are about the profession, this kind of thing is somewhat routine. And while it may not always be successful, if this is not what journalism is for, then what is the point of it at all? In this day in age, we are all self-appointed reporters. We don’t need to rely on someone with a journalism degree to tell us there is a fire or what the president said in his speech. And we are all self-appointed op-ed columnists. But we are not all able to be investigative reporters.

      Comment by poemless — November 11, 2010 @ 11:57 AM | Reply

      • Thank you for a reply, Poemless… May be the problem is, that Moore, Palast and Hersch are not mainstream…

        Comment by Evgeny — November 13, 2010 @ 11:40 AM | Reply

  3. […] Is journalism witness? […]

    Pingback by Thursday Highlights | Pseudo-Polymath — November 11, 2010 @ 9:12 AM | Reply

  4. […] Is journalism witness? […]

    Pingback by Stones Cry Out - If they keep silent… » Things Heard: e146v4 — November 11, 2010 @ 9:13 AM | Reply

  5. Just to let you know – I completely agree with you on the odiousness of privileging “journalists” (and how to define who is and who isn’t one?) with their own Estate, enjoying special attention and protection from the powers that be.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — November 11, 2010 @ 7:59 PM | Reply

  6. […] The Moscow Diaries (here and here); Miriam Elder at GlobalPost; Natalia Antonova at GlobalComment; Poemless; Sean's Russia Blog; The Russia Monitor; […]

    Pingback by Global Voices in English » Russia: Commentary on Oleg Kashin Beating — November 11, 2010 @ 10:01 PM | Reply

  7. […] The Moscow Diaries (here and here); Miriam Elder at GlobalPost; Natalia Antonova at GlobalComment; Poemless; Sean's Russia Blog; The Russia Monitor; […]

    Pingback by Official Russia | Russia: Commentary on Oleg Kashin Beating — November 12, 2010 @ 1:02 PM | Reply

  8. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Timothy Post, Anatoly Karlin. Anatoly Karlin said: Kashin @KSHN beating blog roundup: @poemless http://goo.gl/gw3qr @seansrussiablog http://goo.gl/5a2ur @agoodtreaty http://goo.gl/tUheb #fb […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention On the beating of Oleg Kashin « poemless. a slap in the face of public taste. -- Topsy.com — November 13, 2010 @ 3:20 PM | Reply

  9. […] to Kashin. Everyone has an opinion on his brutal assault, but none are better expressed than this from Poemless. “Ok, so I read on facebook or twitter about the attack that night. My first reaction was, […]

    Pingback by Weekly Russia Blog Roundup, 13 November 2010 | Siberian LightSiberian Light — November 13, 2010 @ 4:11 PM | Reply

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