poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

January 21, 2010

Lilia Shevtsova

Lilia, Lilia, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions… It’s also paved with selfishness, arrogance, ignorance and Washington Post columns. (Personally, I don’t believe in Hell, but on the off chance I am wrong, I won’t be writing any WaPo columns. And I am not going to try to save Lilia’s soul by telling her to shut up. I’m more interested in saving our collective sanity by illustrating why we should just quietly ignore her. )

Appeasement, in slacks.

I. Lilia’s Article.

On January 5th, Lilia Shevtsova wrote an article in Foreign Policy Magazine entitled, “The Kremlin Kowtow: Why have Western leaders and intellectuals gone soft on Russia’s autocracy?” I did not read this article when it came out, but it turns out I didn’t really need to, since I had read a Washington Post article she and several other Russian intellectuals had authored on the eve of Obama’s trip to Moscow last year. Which pretty much said the same thing. From the Washington Post article, “False Choices For Russia”:

We object, for example, to the basic proposition of calling for a return to realpolitik because some believe that the worsening of Russian-American relations was mainly caused by Washington’s insistence on “tying policies to values.” The result, some American “realists” argue, is that the United States needs to build a new relationship with Russia based on “common interests and common threats.”

The humanity! Mr. Obama, you can’t just go around the world building relationships based on “common interests and common threats,” relationships that call into account matters such cause and effect or human behavior. Think of the children! I mean the liberals! Anyway, you get the picture. She doesn’t want want the U.S. to play ball with Russia without a “values” clause that has some gleaming white American teeth.

Now she is upset with European leaders’ willingness to play ball with Russia, despite its allegedly brutal autocratic regime. Before we get to the finer points of this batty argument, I will remind you what it looks like when the whole civilized world refuses to play ball with a country based on its perceived lack of democracy: North Korea. How’s that working out for human rights in North Korea, Lilia? Now on to her article in FP:

II. My Response.

Or, excerpts from Lilia’s FP article, interspersed with my responses. She begins:

At a conference last month in Berlin, I witnessed another example of this divide. When I started to raise the question of democratic standards in Western-Russian relations, I was interrupted by another Western attendee. “You irritate us,” he said. “International relations are not about values; they are about power!” If he is right, Russian liberals will have to reconsider their expectations about the Western opinion-leaders they have long counted on for moral support and understanding.

She seems to suffer Applebaumian paranoia. When people say, “You irritate us,” they are not trying to dismiss your cause. They mean, “You irritate us.”

And moral support? Understanding? Western opinion-leaders? Either you own a bank I don’t know about or it’s time we had “the talk.” Western opinion-leaders didn’t get to be Western opinion-leaders by caring about democracy and human rights and you. During the Cold War people like you made the news. Perhaps you thought the leaders in the West really cared about democracy and human rights, that those like you were more than ideological pawns in a global game. But then in 1991 something crazy happened, and now you refuse to part with your dissident rockstar status. Profoundly ironic. You don’t want a return to the Soviet Union, just to the leverage it gave you. So forgive me if it seems interesting that you should go around fear-mongering about a return to the Soviet Union. Anyway, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee, Lilia. The whole rest of the world’s leaders are just as selfish as Russian ones.

I’m sorry – this still baffles me: “Russian liberals will have to reconsider their expectations about the Western opinion-leaders they have long counted on for moral support and understanding.” You really have no idea what team you are playing on, do you? Or you do and are lying to us.

This would be funny if it weren’t so tragic:

The results could be catastrophic — not merely for the activists who are working to make Russia a free country, but for the moral authority of those in the West who preach liberty but practice something quite different.

Sweetheart, that veiled threat would only work if we had not already squandered our moral authority. Maybe since you hear that in the Russian media, you assume it is propaganda, but I can assure you there is nothing you and Kasparov can do to our moral authority that hasn’t already been done better by Iraq, black CIA prisons, Guantanamo, etc.

True, when some Western leaders come to Moscow they make a point of meeting human rights activists or the moderate opposition. “They ask us how they can help us. We explain that they should raise the question of human rights and democracy when talking to Russian leaders,” says Arseny Roginski of the human rights group Memorial. “But after that, usually nothing happens.”

Y’all should consider yourself lucky. When America meddles in the domestic politics of other countries, horrible, horrible things tend to happen. And if it is any consolation, liberals in America experience the same thing when our leaders talk to us about civil liberties an democracy. “Promises, promises, you knew you’d never keep…” Obama can’t even deliver for his own people; what makes you think he can deliver for you?

Just when I am about to ask the perennial question, what exactly do Lilia and her comrades mean when they use words like “democracy” or “liberal,”

One influential European leader, Robert Cooper, the E.U. director-general for external and politico-military affairs, does not shy from discussing democracy with the Russian political elite. In an interview with the pro-Kremlin Russian Institute he concluded, “Sometimes I think that the word ‘democracy’ becomes problematic. I would prefer to talk about responsible, open government that defends the rights of nations … but has enough legitimacy to use tough administrative measures when there is a need for them.” Such an understanding of democracy is exactly what the current Russian government is looking for.

She fails to explain what precisely is wrong with this understanding of democracy, other than the E.U. and the Kremlin like it, and she’s clearly not happy with them. Which strikes me as sophomoric logic. “Responsible, open government,” sounds like a reasonable aim to me, and legitimacy and authority are surely necessities for any effective government. If this is really what the current Russian government is looking for (I think she’s being too generous), they should be commended.

The following paragraph makes no sense, either in the context of the article or in itself. It’s like when you get into an argument with your lover and have a valid point but then your emotions take over and you end up sounding like a crazy person. Which makes me secretly love it.

Russia’s reform-minded forces have long since stopped calling on the West to help advance democracy in Russia. They understand that transforming Russia is a job for Russian society itself. But reform-minded Russians expect the West at least to avoid holding back change by supporting the authoritarian forces that would suppress it. Prominent Russian human rights activists and liberals like Sergei Kovalev, Garry Kasparov, and Grigory Yavlinsky, long considered pro-Western voices, have recently become critics of the West’s increasingly accommodating policies toward Russia. One might say that these voices are just a small minority of Russian society. But if the West loses this pro-Western minority, it will lose Russia altogether.

We don’t expect you to help. Why aren’t you helping?! This is a job for Russia. The West needs to do its part! We are a minority. We are Russia altogether! Why isn’t anyone listening to me?! Why are you cuffing me to the bed?!

She concludes with the following:

This begs the question: How can Western civilization resolve its own internal problems with democracy if it abandons its mission of promoting liberty?

Let’s ignore that this is really the least of the questions her article begs.
Let’s ignore the fascinating arrogance this question implies, that the fate of Western civilization rests on Lilia’s political interests.
Let’s ignore the horrible horrible things that happen when Western leaders trot the globe promoting liberty.
Let’s not be hysterical. Let’s be rational.

Isn’t she putting the horse before the cart? Don’t America and Europe need to get their own houses in order before they are able to do her housecleaning for her? Didn’t Voltaire, high priest of civil liberties have something to say about that? Something about a garden?

Sloth. That’s the other thing they use to pave roads to Hell. I don’t know Lilia, but she strikes as a busy, hard-working woman. Yet I suppose my biggest grief with her and Russian liberals is their aversion to doing the grunt work that most functioning democracies require. I say this as someone who, in a non-functioning democracy, along with thousands of everyday citizens, actually goes out and organizes support, raises money, knocks on doors, holds public forums, annoys total strangers by surveying their needs, interests, issues and annoys them again by making damn well sure they vote, and vote for my candidate, who loses. Over and over and over, American Democrats and liberals and champions of human rights and social justice LOSE. And when I lose, I do not go running to the leaders and opinion-makers asking, “What have you done for me lately?” I ask, “What more could I have done? How have we failed to communicate our message? Why are our citizens so fucking stupid?” Because in a democracy, you can’t blame everyone else when you lose. Even when the votes are rigged and stolen. And what if your magical pony scenario wherein the West stops engaging Russia and poof! Russian liberals are suddenly a force to be reckoned with, even perhaps in power, were to materialize? How is that a democratic process? And what organization and popular support will you have in place to maintain your power? I ask because the people you are up against have a very fucking good organization and some genuine popular support. It seems to me that instead of making empty threats to so-called Western leaders and writing articles in English-language newspapers, you would have a far better chance of success if you focused on building an organization and support at home. So, Lilia, darling, you can hardly fault those who read your articles for wondering if Russia really is ready for democracy. Or rather, if you are.

III. Someone Else’s Response.

Much classier than mine.

Gordon M. Hahn has written an artcle, “Bashing Russia, Kowtowing to Beijing, and Avoiding Responsibility – One Russian Liberal’s Formula for Failure. Response to Lilia Shevtsova’s “The Kremlin Kowtow – Why have Western leaders and intellectuals gone soft on Russia’s autocracy?” www.foreignpolicy.com, January 5, 2010.” on the website, Russia: Other Points of View.

Timothy Post, living up to his name, posted this on facebook. He thinks it’s one of the best articles he’ll read all year. There are parts of it I am not completely on board with (investment in Russia – gives me the willies) but this is a far more mature response to Lilia’s article than mine, and focusses on why it is imperative that the United States and Russia maintain a working relationship. Which is a topic near and dear to my heart. I recommend you go read the whole thing (it’s not so long), but have chosen some of my favorite excerpts to repost here. They generally do not require commentary. A sign of a good writer, I think.

The U.S. simply cannot uphold Russian liberals today as it once did Soviet dissidents, and we should not conceptualize Russian state-society relations as a modified version of Soviet state-society relations. Russia has come along way from the Soviet totalitarian model. The Soviet system’s omnipresent repression and cruelty created state-society relations that Anna Akhmatova once described accurately in the early 1950s as two Russias confronting each other: one, the imprisoned – the other, their wardens. Thus, Western leaders had reason to suspect during the Cold war that hatred of the communist regime inside the USSR was such that, there was a thirst for democracy and freedom – and sooner or later, it would have to be quenched. If and when the Soviet system opened up, movement to democracy and the market could be expected

The situation today is much different. Although the Russian state remains today overbearing and on occasion repressive, there is a modicum of democracy and markets providing considerable room for the opposition to live, speak, and organize openly. The opposition is simply not given the opportunity to win elections. State administrative electoral manipulation of various sorts and state media domination are largely at fault, but so too are the liberals’ unpopularity with Russia’s electorate, their poor governing record in the 1990s, and their internal divisions and petty squabbling for which Russians rejected them as a viable option for leadership. The absence of an effective or responsible democratic opposition renders any aggressive Western backing of democracy forces against the Kremlin a losing proposition.

And a dangerous one too, IMO.

Also, because of NATO expansion and other U.S. policy mistakes (failure to provide timely economic assistance for Russia’s great depression in the early 1990s, preservation of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty and attempting to deploy ABM systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, etc.), we no longer have the Russians’ trust – either at the level of the elite or among the general public.

And we’re losing Lilia’s! (Sorry – I could not resist.)

Dr. Shevtsova charges that putting arms control negotiations at the top of the relationship’s agenda now is misplaced and that Moscow and Washington are using “a Cold-War era mechanism to try to imitate cooperation.” The fact is if we used her proposed “values-based” approach, arms control would be the only cooperation possible.

Valuable cooperation would be lost in a host of other areas – Afghanistan and the overall war against jihadism, space, and anti-piracy – just to name a few.

But please let’s not underestimate the necessity for arms control.

To support her call for Russia’s isolation, Shevtsova notes that Sergei Kovalev, Garry Kasparov, and Grigory Yavlinsky have long supported such an approach. However, last month’s congress of Yavlinskii’s Yabloko party decided to advance cooperation with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Kovalev was a State Duma deputy until 2003 and has attended meetings with President Medvedev, so he is not averse to cooperating in limited fashion with the regime that Shevtsova recommends the West should shun. The only true recalcitrant in her group of admirable dissidents, Gary Kasparov, has allied with the neo-fascist pornographer, National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov.

Hey, that would be “neo-fascist pornographer, National Bolshevik Party leader, brilliant writer, and probably the only sincere opposition in the lot who isn’t hiding some agenda designed to make him wealthy or a hit with the DC crowd, Eduard Limonov.” Pretty sure that is his official title.

There are projects that would be worthy for the U.S.-Russia Civil Society Working Group to cooperate on. One is former U.S. Army Colonel Charles Heberle’s democracy education program, which the Russian Ministry of Education is preparing to institute in all of Russia’s schools and has been functioning for years in schools in Petrozavodsk, Karelia. Dr Shevtsova is especially off base when she asserts there are few in the U.S. who believe Russians are ready for democracy.

Fascinating – I had no idea. Granted, I don’t trust a “democracy education program” in the hands of McFaul, or the Ministry of Education in the hands of Surkov. But together, that could be one crazy lovechild, if those two ever decide to get into bed with each other. Also, isn’t Gorby working on something similar?

Today’s Kremlin and today’s Russia are not yesterday’s Kremlin and the USSR, and Russia’s liberals should use the system to change the system. Their dependence on the West discredits them internally, could make them subservient to forces that are not as devoted to Russia’s development as they, and foist on them ideas that may not be suitable for, or politically marketable in Russia in the near future.

If anyone got the impression from my take-down of Lilia that it is the Russian liberals whom I oppose, a clarification is in order. It’s the “forces that are not as devoted to Russia’s development as they, and foist on them ideas that may not be suitable for, or politically marketable in Russia in the near future,” whom I oppose.

The best way for the West to assist them is to support Russia’s efforts when possible, engage the Kremlin in democratization projects, and improve the relationship so that the distrust built up through much of the post-Cold War period begins to evaporate. Remember that when U.S. President Ronald Reagan seriously engaged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987-88, the latter’s position was strengthened such that he could push his perestroika reforms in earnest.

While many understandably have a far different take on those salad days of Russian democracy (and the chaos that followed) than anyone inclined to idolize Reagan, this is a clear refutation of Lilia’s fuzzy logic.

Timothy recommends we read Hahn’s article and send it to our representatives. Why not? Hey, I sent a Stephen Cohen piece to mine, soon after Obama came out and pretended to scrap the missile shield fiasco! Sometimes this whole democracy thing actually pretends to work…

December 3, 2009

Who Are Russia’s “Top Thinkers” Today? [UPDATED]

… And why don’t we hear more from them?

These are not rhetorical questions!

Top 100 Global Thinkers

Foreign Policy magazine has recently released its list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers. It’s a fascinating list of public figures who “had the big ideas that shaped our world in 2009,” FP’s nomination of “the 100 minds that mattered most in the year that was.” Fascinating not for the big ideas so much as for the magazine’s curious selection process.

To give you a taste of what matters most to the editors of FP, Ben Bernanke comes in at #1, Barack Obama places 2nd, Bill & Hillary Clinton tie for #6, David Petraeus makes #8, Dick Cheney is #13 and Thomas Friedman barely misses the top 20 at #21. So many economists appear on the list that one is left to wonder if the editors don’t take their phrase “the marketplace of ideas” a bit too literally. There are also the usual suspects: political prisoners, pop philosophers, Fareed Zakaria. The magazine itself acknowledges that “the United States and Britain are clearly overrepresented.”

From my perspective, it is a curious and problematic exercise to conflate “throwing around one’s power” or “saying stuff people listen to no matter how bloody inane it is” with “thinking” and even more curious to award the honor of “Top Thinkers” those whose stunning absence of forethought sent the whole world reeling into a global crisis. And surely any actually thinking person would find curious the assumption that big ideas carry much weight in the application of policy, compared to things like necessity or greed, particularly within one year of their being thought. Also curious: the complete absence of any Russian on the list. I mean, it clearly wasn’t a terribly exclusive list. Cheney’s up there near the top. Why, in the opinion of Foreign Policy magazine, are there no Russian minds as a great as the former U.S. Vice President’s? It wasn’t lost on FP:

Where Are The Russians?

FP: The Missing: Where have all the Sakharovs gone?

Psst. Check Moscow’s cemeteries.

A generation ago, dissidents from inside the Soviet Union such as Andrei Sakharov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn drew an enormous global following for their ideas on how to resist the totalitarian state. Today, Russian thinkers are absent from our list. That the Russians are missing may reflect the world’s ambivalence about post-Soviet Russia. If the global marketplace of ideas truly does prioritize those thinkers who come from either very successful or very threatening countries, then the international disinterest in what Russian thinkers have to say is likely because Russia is neither perceived as a miracle economy nor a global threat. Sadly, it’s also true that while the demand for Russian thinkers may be weak, the supply is also far from booming. These days Russia is simply not a major producer of the kind of ideas the world wants to hear. There are no modern Sakharovs or Solzhenitsyns. If there were, we’d put them on the list.

So many questions… Why does Foreign Policy magazine get to decide what kind of ideas the world wants to hear? Who publishes the dictionary in which the entry for “World” says, “see: Wall Street?” When will NATO get the memo that FPeratti no longer consider Russia a global threat?

As for our dearly departed Sakharovs or Solzhenitsyns, based on the curious criteria FP used to choose who does make the list, we should not be shocked at their curious criteria for choosing who doesn’t. But that the criteria appear to be completely OPPOSITE for Russians and Americans is … well, let’s just say I am brimming with curiosity today! I hate to belabor the “double standards” complaint made by leading Russian, er, uhm, eh… thinkers. But by their own admission, FP only accepts politically persecuted dissidents for consideration as top Russian thinkers, while being a sycophant to the American ruling elite seems to get you top honors. Maybe they should change their name to American Policy magazine? These are astonishingly unfair hurdles placed on Russian contenders, and not simply because real suffering and persecution is demanded of them! (WTF?) The fact that there are no modern Sakharovs or Solzhenitsyns may have something to do with the fact that there is NO SOVIET UNION. Writers aren’t deported or kept from leaving the country to accept awards, drawing international attention to their plight. Relations between the West and Russia, while strained, are nothing like the Cold War conditions which turned artists and physicists into unwitting pawns in a global chess game. It’s perhaps not that Russia suffers a dearth of thinkers, but America suffers a dearth of reasons to care about them. What’s in it for us to listen to some mewing poet today? Ne-che-vo. There are still those who oppose the policies of the ruling elite in Russia. However, to qualify for FP’s list, you must “matter,” and because there is NO SOVIET UNION, Russian “dissidents” carry about as much influence at home as, oh, say, American “dissidents.” Someone want to tell me who really has one foot -hell, both feet- stuck in the past, trapped in a sadistic Cold War mindset? If you guessed Foreign Policy magazine, give yourself a pony.

All that said -it had to be said- I did not set out to write about how irrational the editors of Foreign Policy magazine appear, or to take too seriously a quickly forgettable year-end list. For all its faults, the FP list did get me thinking about the marketplace of ideas as it relates to Russia. Someone asked me what Russian thinker I would include on the list. …Uhm… Well, it’s a valid question.

Who Are Russia’s Top Thinkers?

Or two questions, to be precise. What Russians could be on a list using FP’s bizarro criteria? The other, far more interesting question, who are Russia’s leading intellectuals? The answers are not obvious to me; I rely on journalists like those at Foreign Policy to tell me these things! Also, being an American, living in America, I can’t pretend to have any special insight about the intellectual movers and shakers in a far away land. Although I suppose the fact gives me a clearer grasp of their global influence than their compatriots might have. I’ll give it is a go.

Sergei Lavrov/Dmitri Rogozin/Vitaly Churkin: When people say, “Russia demands a seat at the table,” these are the guys at that table. They are fierce and unapologetic, yet surprisingly reasonable. Respectively, they have a household name, an Internet phenom and serious Charlie Rose credentials.

Alexander Dugin: I don’t know if his terrifying and crazy nationalist philosophy is a reflection of or an influence on the current Russian Zeitgeist that has the rest of the world worried, but it appears indicative of it.

Mikhail Gorbachev: He’s the only person I know of who can effectively address US-Russian relations without being dismissed as being in the pockets of either the Kremlin or D.C. And sharp as tacs, I tell ya.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Well, c’mon FP, here’s your persecuted dissident. He’s arguably the one of the most influential individuals when it comes to Russian foreign relations, since a meeting can’t be held without an obligatory mention of his imprisonment. All he has to do is sit in a cell. Instead, he’s writing manifestos about social democracy.

Andrey Kurkov: Brilliant Ukrainian-Russian novelist with a cult following in the West. He’s a thinker, and one of the few who have successfully broken the barrier between contemporary Russian lit and the West.

Dmitry Medvedev: Not just because he’s a leader or cerebral. Because of things like this. If his big ideas don’t bring about real change, it’s only because the rest of the world is stuck in a rut. Influence is questionable.

Nikita Mikhalkov: He’s not just a film-maker. He’s an propagandist/psychoanalyst/nationalist historian filmmaker who has a working relationship with the Kremlin and an Oscar. After the Island and Tsar, Pavel Lungine may also qualify.

Oleg Orlov: Head of Memorial, the organization devoted to documenting the atrocities in the USSR and in Chechnya, championing human rights and democracy, despite the very real danger it places them in. Memorial was this year’s winner of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Other Russia/Solidarnost (Kapsarov, Limonov, Kasyanov, Nemtsov…take yer pick): Does your political rabblerouser fringy write-in candidate and organizer of political protests have a column in the WSJ? Does the outcome of your local mayoral election cause international outrage? Is a person’s interest in your political career inversely proportionate to their proximity to your country, and hence possibility of being represented by you? These guys are the Russian political David Hasselhoffs.

Lilia Shevtsova: A critic of Putin and senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center, people in the West seem to actually listen to her. If her ideas, like that a relationship between the US and Russia based on “common interests and common threats” would constitute objectionable realpolitik (here), are not big enough to be influential, she’s only herself to blame.

Vladimir Sorokin: Sorokin is the kind of bad boy the next fellow on this list wishes he were. Another Russian literary author who has broken through in translation, he is postmodern, dark, depraved, grotesque (for those who watched it at my urging, he wrote the script to “4”), he’s pretty talented too. He’s been targeted by the authorities in the way any dangerous intellectual should be. Every society needs a Sorokin.

Vladislav Surkov: Managed democracy. Sovereign democracy. Tandemocracy. This man has come up with at least 3 new political systems in less than a decade and no one is convinced he’s finished. And you say there are no big ideas in Russia! As the Kremlin’s “grey cardinal” and creator of Nashi, he also wields crazy influence. In his spare time, he writes. Thoughts, ideas, influence. I think he has his bases covered.

I am aware that FP’s list is for the Top Thinkers of 2009, and that some of the figures mentioned above may be more notable for, say, what they did in 2008. For 2009, FP lists Vaclav Havel at #23 for the reason that he “remains fiercely engaged in political debates.” (Impressive. By that standard I should be on the list.) So I’m not terribly worried about it.

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your nominations, for both the global heavyweight-type thinkers and the regional intelligentsiia. The latter of which I know positively nothing about. Enlighten me.

Who should we be listening to? Who is shaping the world? What is the state of the intelligentsiia today? Who are the Sakharovs or Solzhenitsyns? Or more interestingly, the Mayakovskys and Trotskys? Is is that they exist, but are kept from our eyes bye nefarious powers-that-be (you know, Putin), or are they just too boring to compete for attention in capitalist Russia? Or are the Russian people just rather sick of all the big ideas and the suffering each new one seems to invite?

What’s the real reason there are no Russians on FP’s list? And which Russian “thinkers” would you put in it?

[Update] Burreid in the comments, Scowspi has left a link to an article at OpenDemocracy: “Who is Russia’s top intellectual?” Excerpt:

Culture portal Openspace.ru has recently concluded an internet poll, grandly titled “Russia’s most influential intellectual”. For a project of its kind, the public interest was high. Some 42,000 votes were cast and the site recorded some 120,000 new page impressions.

The top ten according to the voting results was as follows:

Viktor Pelevin, writer — 2133 votes

Daniil Shepovalov, blogger — 1908 votes

Leonid Parfyonov, journalist and broadcaster — 1296 votes (83)

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, ex-businessman and publicist — 1274 votes

Konstantin Krylov, journalist and writer — 1267 votes

Patriarch Kirill — 1208 votes

Sergei Kapitsa, physicist and broadcaster — 1048 votes

Alexander Gordon, writer and broadcaster — 1042 votes

Boris Strugatsky, writer — 1023 votes

Eduard Limonov, writer and politician — 917 votes

Pelevin, Khodorkovsky & Limonov made our list, with you contributing the former.

I know nothing about Daniil Shepovalov, Konstantin Krylov, Sergei Kapitsa or Alexander Gordon and will now go educate myself.

Patriarch Kirill is an intellectual? YMMV.

Boris Strugatsky, I suppose, falls into our debate about relevance.

The poll conducted on Openspace.ru invites a couple of interesting observations. First, there are no women in the top 10. Did the cache of the female Russian intellectual die with Communism? Secondly, this is at the very least the 3rd such inquiry within as many months, including mine and FP’s. Is it some meme riding the waves of our interwebs, or is there something about this question that demands to be asked right now? Anyway, all very interesting… And now this post feels more legitimate, having the opinions of actual Russians taken into account! 🙂 [End of Update]

Nominations from the comments:
Boris Akunin, Alexei Arbatov, Dmitry Bykov, Igor Chubais, Viktor Erofeev, Boris Grebenshchikov, Boris Kagarlitsky, Sergei Kara-Murza, Sergei Karaganov,Oleg Khlevniuk,Andrei Korotayev, Olga Kryshtanovskaya, Yulia Latynina, Eddie Limonov, Roy Medvedev,Sergei Nefedov, (cliodynamics guy), Dmitry Orlov, Elena Osokina, Serguei Alex Oushakine, Gleb Pavlovsky, Viktor Pelevin, Aleksandr Prokhanov, Arseny Roginsky (Memorial), Valery Tishkov, Tatyana Tolstaya, Peter Turchin, Mikhail Veller, Alexei Yurchak, Igor Yurgens

October 28, 2009

Surkov says something boring, Western media forced to invent interesting story.

Or, “speaking of wrecks…”

Vladik. Don’t hate him because he’s beautiful…

(c/o itogi.ru)

Surkov showed up on my radar several years ago when he told a group of journalists at a press conference they should read Dostoyevsky if they wanted to learn about Russia. He was in a mood that day and also said people shouldn’t be lecturing Russia about democracy when what they’re really interested in is hydrocarbons. Apparently he studied at the Institute of Public Relations imeni Putina. Love their policies or hate them, these fellows tell you how they really feel. Medvedev plays it a bit safer, I think. It is clear to me he wants to be liked by the world. Putin doesn’t want to be liked so much as respected. Surkov’s job is to keep Dima well-liked and Putin well-respected, but one gets the impression he could give a flying f what any of us think of him. Which has the paradoxical effect of making me think quite highly of him indeed. Unfortunately, this means he doesn’t often engage in public self-promotion. I think the last time I saw him mentioned in the news was something about the U.S.- Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission and the meeting between him and McFaul (oh, what I would give to be in that room!) and was primarily about McFaul’s latest ideological u-turn. So it was a joyful surprise to find Surkov interviewed in Monday’s issue of Russia’s Itogi magazine. Far less enjoyable and, regretfully, less surprising, was how I found out about it…

I. The Scoop.

Reuters: Kremlin warns against wrecking Russia with democracy.

If the past 9 years in America have taught me anything, it is how to read a newspaper, a skill which has also been quite valuable to me when trying to understand what the hell is happening in Russia (and is applicable to any subject which may capture your interest.) Step 1: read the headline. I know, it sounds obvious, but apparently people have never been taught this. What is it saying? This one says the Kremlin views democracy as a wrecking ball. Step 2: read the article. Does anything in the article actually support the claim made in the headline? If you answered “No,” well, get used to it kids… If you answered “Yes,” proceed to Step 3: re-read the article. Is the claim supported by verifiable facts or logic, or by hearsay, opinion or interpretation? If you answered “Facts or logic,” send that journalist a dozen roses to show your appreciation and ease the pain. Because they’re about to be axed for writing informative unsexy articles. Let’s continue with our example. The bullet points below the headline are:

* Warns of collapse if political stability threatened.
* Says Russia does not need a new Mao.

Well, neither of these bullet points support the headline, or even really qualify as “news” to anyone who has not recently undergone a lobotomy. But they use the words “threatened” and “Mao,” and now you have images of red flags and horrible commies dancing about in your head, just in case you’d begun reading this article under the misguided impression that it had anything to do with reality circa 2009. Be afraid! Be very afraid!

I think the following must have been the inspiration for the headline:

…in answer to calls from opponents for democratic reforms to liberalise the political system built under former President Vladimir Putin, Surkov warned that the resulting instability could rip Russia apart.

“Even now when power is rather consolidated and ordered, many projects are very slow and difficult,” Surkov was quoted as saying by the Itogi weekly magazine.

“If we add any sort of political instability to that then our development would simply be paralysed. There would be a lot of demagoguery, a lot of empty talk, a lot of lobbying and ripping Russia to pieces, but no development.”

Political instability does in fact tend to make things worse. But, as Surkov EXPLICITLY states in the interview in question, “it is important not to confuse a liberal, democratic society with chaos and disorder.” [Link.] Perhaps the matter of “wrecking Russia with democracy” has been inferred from the remark about ordered, consolidated power. This would assume a belief that any move toward more order and consolidation of power is a move away from democracy. It’s an argument, and I’d like to hear it, but this article doesn’t make it. Finally, maybe it is because Surkov’s warnings of instability are “in answer to calls from opponents for democratic reforms to liberalise the political system.” I could accept that logic. If the interview had gone something like, “Q: What do you say to your opponents who are calling for democratic reforms?” “A: Democratic reforms create instability, and that instability would wreck Russia. Look what happened last time we tried democratic reforms. Yikes, right? If those democratic reformer types get their way, you’ll be standing in breadlines again! Poniatno?!

Except… That’s not at all what happened.

Of course, you’d have to be bothered to actually read the original interview to know this. After my futile search of the Reuters article for the part where Surkov warns of “wrecking Russia with democracy,” I decided it must have been in the original interview and was just accidentally left it out of the Reuters article. So I read the interview. Which appears to be more than we can surmise of Guy Faulconbridge, the author of the Reuters article about the damn interview. Man, I am sick of doing journalists’ work for them. Where’s my paycheck? There I was, nervous that perhaps my “how to read a newspaper” instructions were a bit condescending, as if my readers were monkeys instead of well-educated, intelligent, adult humans. But Faulconbridge didn’t even make it as far as Step 2. And he’s a professional. See – I knew publishing them would be public service. I’m going to write a book on the de-monkeyfication of information consumption. But before that, let’s find out what our mysterious nogoodnik in the Kremlin has to say about democracy. And Cezanne…

2. The Source.

Итоги: Обновляйтесь, господа!

The title of the interview might be translated as “Update, Gentlemen!” One assumes it is meant to underpin Medvedev’s big, “Forward, Russia!” speech. Or not. I don’t know. Too bad the Reuters article wasn’t, “Kremlin warns against wrecking Russia with democracy!” It would have at least captured the aesthetic. Anyway, it turns out interview is largely about modernization, technological innovations, diversifying the economy, raising the standard of living, blah blah blah and the responsibility of the individual as well as the State in this undertaking. All Obama-like. Or was it Kennedy? Anyway. The actual discussion of democracy was not “in answer to calls from opponents for democratic reforms to liberalise the political system” but in response to the following question:

Владимир Путин на форуме “Россия зовет!” заявил, что наша экономика и впредь будет строиться на либеральных принципах. Аналогичные сигналы подает и президент. Но история модернизаций говорит о том, что они могут проводиться в том числе и силовым путем. Как по-вашему, Россия способна к либеральной модернизации?

[Trans. c/o Google: Vladimir Putin at the forum “Russia is calling!” said that our economy will continue to be based on liberal principles. Similar signals are fed and the president. But history says upgrades that they may be including by force. How do you think Russia is capable of a liberal modernization?]

Note, this is a question about the economy, not political opposition, and about liberal modernization, not nec. democratic reforms as you and I might understand them. From Surkov’s response:

В вашем вопросе, возможно, речь идет о неавторитарной модернизации, которая опирается на демократический строй. Конечно, на мой взгляд, осуществление такой модернизации вполне возможно.

[Trans: In your question, perhaps, it is about nonauthoritarian modernization, which is based on the democratic system. Of course, in my view, the implementation of such an upgrade is possible.]

Modernization based on the democratic system is possible. Huh. Where’s the wrecking? I’m not scared yet. In fact, it turns out Surkov says it is not only possible, but Russia’s “task.” Get to work kids, nonauthoritarian modernization calls!

Наша задача доказать самим себе простую мысль, что мы можем модернизироваться, опираясь на демократические институты. Но здесь важно не перепутать либеральное, демократическое общество с хаосом и беспорядком.

[Trans: Our task is to prove to ourselves the simple idea that we can modernize, relying on democratic institutions. But it is important not to confuse a liberal, democratic society with chaos and disorder.]

Here Surkov differentiates between a liberal, democratic society and chaos and disorder, a distinction which, if you lived in Russia circa 1995, as did perhaps many Itogi readers, you’d appreciate. And while the wrecking powers of chaos are well documented, I’m still waiting for the part where liberal, democratic society wrecks Russia. So far this interview is pretty boring compared to all the hype…

Хотя Мао Цзэдун и говорил, что большой хаос создает большой порядок, он скорее имел ввиду, что из разрухи рождается жесткий, а то и тоталитарный режим. Нам это не нужно. Нам не нужен Пиночет. Но мы должны знать, что неконсолидированная и несбалансированная власть, слабые демократические институты не способны обеспечить экономический подъем. Даже сейчас, когда власть достаточно консолидирована и упорядочена, многие проекты идут очень медленно и трудно. Если добавится какая-то политическая неустойчивость, то наше развитие будет просто парализовано. Будет много демагогии, много болтовни, много лоббирования и растаскивания России по кусочкам, но не будет развития.

[Trans: Although Mao Zedong and said that a big chaos creates a large order, he probably meant that out of chaos comes hard, if not a totalitarian regime. We do not need. We do not need a Pinochet. But we must know that unconsolidated and unbalanced power, weak democratic institutions are not able to ensure economic recovery. Even now, when power is sufficiently consolidated and streamlined, many projects are going very slow and difficult. If you add some sort of political instability, our development will be just paralyzed. There will be a lot of demagoguery, a lot of chatter, a lot of lobbying and stripping Russia in pieces, but there is no development.]

Aha! It’s not democracy but “unconsolidated and unbalanced power, weak democratic institutions” which threaten to wreck Russia. Well… uhm… Obviously. That’s been a frequently observed fact illustrated throughout Russia’s history. I’ve wasted all my time on this? Excuse me while I call Guy Faulconbridge and ask for 45 minutes of my life back.

Ok, I am back. I didn’t call. I decided that just because a person can alter people’s perceptions of reality using nefarious journalistic powers, it doesn’t mean a person can actually alter reality, spacetime continuum-wise. Anyway, since we are here, and since Surkov is bound to have said something controversial and brilliant in the interview because that’s how he rolls, let’s have a look. Here’s our propagandist at work:

Надо осознать, что, если мы не преобразуемся, мы обречены если не на распад и гибель, то на поражение в мировой конкурентной борьбе и довольно унылое существование. Нам абсолютно необходима новейшая экономика, основанная на творчестве, на азарте изобретательства, на создании не имеющих аналогов продуктов, полезных людям.

[Trans: We must realize that if we do not transform, we are doomed if not for the decay and death, then to defeat in the global competition and a rather sad existence. We absolutely need the newest economy based on creativity, the excitement of invention, on the creation of unparalleled products useful to people.]

That’s all ya got? Seriously? No lashings? No manifestos? No literary name-dropping? Just talking points from “How to talk like a politician for dummies?” No, you are not a dummy. You are Surkov. You are fabulous. Say something fabulous.

В свое время известный французский импрессионист Поль Сезанн был очень недоволен электрическим освещением на улицах Парижа. Он считал, что этот свет неправильный, хотя для того времени внедрение этих технологий было большим шагом вперед…

[Trans:At one time the famous French impressionist Paul Cezanne was very displeased with electric lighting in the streets of Paris. He believed that this light is wrong, although at that time the introduction of these technologies was a big step forward….]

Well, he threw me a small bone. A bone is a bone, however. I don’t see Rahm Emanuel waxing philosophical about Cezanne.

Have we learned our lesson today, kids? I mean, in addition to the one about reading a newspaper? I think we have. And it is not that the Western media is lazy and biased and make up disparaging crap about Russia because they hate Russia and their way of life. No. It is that when people from the Kremlin say very sensible, obvious, innocuous, rational and boring things, the Western media, rather than being lazy, are forced to make up stuff. Because no one wants to read very sensible, obvious, innocuous, rational and boring things. If that’s all that were in the papers, the public would eventually come to the conclusion that they don’t need the press to tell them what is going on, only an Internet connection their critical thinking skills. And then they’d stop reading newspapers. And then, and then, why, the world would abruptly come screeching to a fiery end because you can’t have democracy without the press, and you can’t have peace and prosperity without democracy! Right? Right? So it is the duty of journalists to write anything they think will keep them in business, for democracy. Even when the things they write … er … undermine the principles of democracy. Like the truth. And our intelligence.


III. The Context.

I suspect the desire to interpret anything Surkov says or does at the moment as “in answer to calls from opponents for democratic reforms to liberalise the political system” is a reaction to the recent walk-out of so-called opposition party officials in protest after their poor showing in this month’s municipal elections. The walkout was purported to be a condemnation of Surkov, who not only reportedly invented some of these parties, but is considered by many to be the brains behind Russia’s system of electoral politics, a.k.a., “managed democracy.” It’s clear the Western media would like to see a genuine confrontation between the Kremlin and its opponents for a variety of reasons. What is less clear is how genuine an opposition parties like “Just Russia” actually represent, who is to blame for their losses, and how the Russian citizenry would benefit from a collapse of the current regime. The drama seems to have largely fizzled out before escalating into anything critical. RFE/RL has a pretty fascinating interpretation of the walk-out: The Revolution Will Be Stage-Managed. I don’t know if any of it is true, but the headline is witty. And that’s what counts, right?

Was Surkov’s warning about weak democracy and chaos an allusion to recent events, or just a reasonable comment anyone could make in the context of the past 20 years? Does the Kremlin really think democracy could wreck Russia -give and inch and they take a mile- and that recent events are a foreshadowing of this? Who exactly are we referring to when we say, “the Kremlin?” Are democracy and well-ordered and consolidated power incompatible? Is one more desirable than the other? Can democracy actually “wreck” a country? These are all interesting (well, to me) lines of questioning. It would have rocked if Guy Faulconbridge, who so far as I can gather was the only mainstream Western journalist to cover the Itogi interview, had written an article raising such questions, rather than copying and pasting a handful of quotes and slapping a contentious headline on it. Wouldn’t journalism be more of a service if it forced people to think for themselves rather than told them what to think? Right now there are people out there with less free time than I walking around under the impression that Russia sees democracy as a threat. Period. As if it were 1952 or something. How is that helpful?

Let’s end on a light note. Just in case you fear, as I did, that our Presidential advisor/goth band lyricist/youth cult leader has succumbed to mediocrity, it seems Surkov’s trademark wry humour and observations were on display during an address to the country’s Public Chamber last Tuesday. According to the website, Putinania, he opened with the following remarks:

“I did not come from Mars. I am a guy. I began work as usual. I worked at a business. At a big business. I was born in the state. I am not trying to pretend. I am one of you.”

Not a martian! Good to know. We could mate…

And according toRussia Today, he made the following observation in the same address:

“I am not against [the criticism], you are welcome. The Kremlin is alright to attack – that’s what it is for. But, we have many of those who are in the opposition to power and no one who opposes a problem,” Surkov concluded.

Ouch! Yes, he’s still on. Whew.


Maybe they are lying to me as well! Great. Now I have trust issues. Like I needed something else to blame mainstream media for. What, illegal and immoral war wasn’t enough? Now I have to go through life paranoid, singing “I am a rock, I am an island?” I should change this headline to “Poemless warns against wrecking your soul with terrible journalism.”

Be afraid! Be very afraid!

[Update: More Surkov in Stratfor’s Special Series: The Kremlin Wars in comments.]

October 2, 2009

Anne Applebaum. [updated]

Filed under: Journalistic Hacktasrophes — poemless @ 5:09 PM
Tags: ,

Journalist. Historian. Champion of human rights. But one with curiously little regard for professional ethics, facts or morals. Clearly the responsibility with which she has been charged is too much to ask of her. The humane thing would be to relieve her of this burden.

I did not exactly need another reason to dislike the journalistic hacktastrophe that is Ms. Applebaum’s Washington Post column. Oh, no. No, what I need – and I am being serious here – is for Anne to write something really insightful, responsible, constructive, for her to put me in my place, so that I could humbly bow to her wisdom and walk away. Inspired. Filled with grace and knowledge. Because appreciating people is much more rewarding than resenting them. And I sooo did not want to be the 10 millionth person to write about Roman Polanski. Or the millionth person to write about Ms. Applebaum’s latest stunt. Stunts. It was just one when I started this. Christ. Anyway, I am calling on the consumers of American media to institute an informal “3 strikes and you’re out” rule regarding the conduct of members of our Fourth Estate. Let’s start with Anne.

Strike 1.

From “The Outrageous Arrest of Roman Polanski.” By Anne Applebaum, September 27, 2009:

“Of all nations, why was it Switzerland — the country that traditionally guarded the secret bank accounts of international criminals and corrupt dictators — that finally decided to arrest Roman Polanski? There must be some deeper story here, because by any reckoning the decision was bizarre — though not nearly as bizarre as the fact that a U.S. judge wants to keep pursuing this case after so many decades.”

While I like to engage in gratuitous Swiss-bashing myself, it is a joy not to be underestimated, I must question how arresting a man who plead guilty to raping a young girl qualifies as “bizarre” while drugging and sodomizing a young girl and then spending decades on the lam does not.

“Here are some of the facts: Polanski’s crime — statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl — was committed in 1977. The girl, now 45, has said more than once that she forgives him, that she can live with the memory, that she does not want him to be put back in court or in jail, and that a new trial will hurt her husband and children.”

Most rape victims don’t even want to report the crime, let alone go through the trauma and stress of a trial.

Huh. I can’t imagine why…

“He did commit a crime, but he has paid for the crime in many, many ways: In notoriety, in lawyers’ fees, in professional stigma. He could not return to Los Angeles to receive his recent Oscar. He cannot visit Hollywood to direct or cast a film.”

Having to avoid the Oscars because you are on the run from the law for raping a 13 yr old is not an appropriate sentence! And criminals don’t get to choose their sentences.

“He can be blamed, it is true, for his original, panicky decision to flee.”

But not for the rape? Ooooookay.

“Polanski’s mother died in Auschwitz. His father survived Mauthausen. He himself survived the Krakow ghetto, and later emigrated from communist Poland. His pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered in 1969 by the followers of Charles Manson, though for a time Polanski himself was a suspect.”

I see why we should try to understand the motivation for his actions. I bet those people who did those terrible things to him and his family had fucked up childhoods and trauma in their lives too. That’s why people refer to the “cycle of violence.” But trauma never excuses harming a 3rd party. I have a heart. Perhaps a case for leniency can be made. But not a case for being above the law.

“To put him on trial or keep him in jail does not serve society in general or his victim in particular. Nor does it prove the doggedness and earnestness of the American legal system. If he weren’t famous, I bet no one would bother with him at all.”

Oh, Anne! Sit down and listen to what you are saying. He is a rapist by his own admission. Rape is a crime. He may be many other things, all of them admirable, but these are the facts. And allowing rapists to literally choose to opt out of the legal system does not serve society in general or his victim in particular. Nor does it prove the doggedness and earnestness of the American legal system. Moreover, it undermines the rule of law which, however faulty, is in place to protect the rights of citizens to not be raped and to ensure that those who do rape will understand that this is behavior unacceptable in any society which claims to recognize the inalienable rights of its citizens. What happened to Anne Applebaum the human rights defender? Is drugging and fucking a 13 year old and then skipping town a human right now?

Is the freedom from rape NOT a human right?

Many people have asked, in response the celebrity defense of Mr. Polanski, would they be defending him if he were a Catholic priest or Republican Senator? Since we’re talking about Anne, I wonder, would she think an arrest were “outrageous” if it were, oh, say, Vladimir Putin who had raped and drugged a 13 year old? I can already hear her response, “Well he probably has! He’s already stolen my wallet!” No, my question is, would you defend him? Right. That’s what I thought.

I wish this were all there were to the episode. Anne being crazy. Heck. On it’s own, it may even signal an evolution. She’s gone from pretending to care about innocent victims to just coming clean and admitting that, no, actually that’s bs, she doesn’t really care. Score one for authenticity. Plus, if you couldn’t use the newspapers to advocate for the subversion of the rule of law, hey, it wouldn’t be America. But don’t think I am blogging about it every time this woman gets something wrong. I have a life ya know.

It’s one thing to advocate for a rapist. Another to violate your professional ethics.

Strike 2.

Anne Applebaum is married to Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski who is lobbying for the charges against Polanski to be dropped.

Now, there is nothing unacceptable about this fact. It is understandable that she might share the same opinion as her spouse. What is unacceptable is her omission of his role in the story. It’s called full disclosure. And that someone of the professional stature Ms. Applebaum has acquired would forget to mention such an obvious potential conflict of interest is incredible.

When readers had the audacity to point out this oversight, she responded:

“For the record, I will note that I mentioned my husband’s job in a column as recently as last week, and that when he first entered the Polish government three years ago I wrote a column about that too. I have to assume that the bloggers who have leapt upon this as some kind of secret revelation are simply unfamiliar with my writing. However, I will also note that at the time I wrote the blog item, I had no idea that the Polish government would or could lobby for Polanski’s release, as I am in Budapest and my husband is in Africa.”

Having mentioned your marriage in previous columns is no substitute for disclosure. Blaming readers who are unfamiliar with your marriage is no substitute for disclosure. And frankly this is beside the point, which is not that Anne is married to Sikorski, but that her spouse is using his position as Foreign Minister to exonerate the someone whose legal case she is using her platform in the Washington Post to discredit. In her defense, she claims that she was not aware of this at the time.

The time stamp on the column in question is September 27, 2009; 3:13 PM ET.

The following is from a round up of Polanski news which appeared on Monsters and Critics at Sep 27, 2009, 16:55 GMT:

“In Polanski’s native Poland, President Lech Kaczynski and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said they would appeal to US authorities to drop proceedings against Polanski.

The PAP news agency said Sikorski was considering a direct appeal to US President Barack Obama to end ‘once and for all’ the proceedings against the filmmaker.

Poland’s film directors’ institute had earlier issued an appeal to Kaczynski and Sikorski to intercede with Swiss authorities.

‘This is a scandalous situation and incomprehensible over- zealousness,’ institute head Jacek Bromski was quoted as saying by Poland’s PAP news agency.”

This doesn’t prove that she was in fact aware of the conflict of interest. It does prove that she should have been.

[Update]: This is what I get for trying to think the best of people… Obviously she knew about her husband’s involvement.

Strike 3.

Ok, so she might have just come forward and said, “You know what, you’re right. I misjudged x,y & z and submit the following corrections…” Had she done so, the first Google hit for Anne Applebaum today might not have been, Anne Applebaum, Child Rape Apologist?‎, which can’t be fun for her friends and family. Make mistakes, admit them, move on. Unless you are Anne Applebaum, in which case you just. keep. digging.

From “Reaction to Roman Polanski.” By Anne Applebaum, September 29, 2009:

(Actually I think these readers were reacting to her, not Polanski, but whatever…)

In response to someone who writes, “Ann Applebaum do you have a young daughter? How about I rape her???”

“He seems to believe that if you look for any nuances at all in this extremely weird, thirty-plus-year legal saga (and in my four paragraphs there was only space to mention a few of them) you are not only defending rape, you deserve to be raped. Or your daughter does.”

Anne wrote a column defending a rapist. Not because there is a shadow of a doubt that he is guilty. But because … well, she didn’t really make that part clear. It is hardly a leap to believe that a claiming the arrest of a rapist is outrageous amounts to a defense of rape. Of course, no one deserves to be raped. The commenter was rude and disgusting. But Anne decides what she writes about. She may have taken this opportunity to address the obvious question of whether she would call the arrest “outrageous” if the victim were her own daughter, or to reflect upon why she has inspired such anger. But, she didn’t. She used it to paint her detractors as the ones advocating for rape. It should be lost on no one that Applebaum finds a comment suggesting rape of her daughter outrageous (and it is) but not the arrest of the man who actually did rape someone’s daughter!

In response to someone who writes, “Applebaum’s husband is a Polish politician who is currently actively lobbying for Polanski’s freedom. Seems that Applebaum did not mention that.”

“The implication, in any case, that I am a spokesman for my husband — while not quite as offensive as the implication that my daughter should be raped — is offensive nevertheless.”

Ignoring the strawman about her daughter, how it is offensive to suggest that the her unwillingness to disclose a potential conflict of interest casts suspicion on her motives? It would be lovely to assume that all journalists are independent, but in the current media structure, we know this is untrue. When we do discover a conflict of interest, it is our responsibility to address it, to hold those with the privilege of influence accountable. And frankly, with her track record, on what grounds are we obligated to accept her assertion that she is not a spokesperson for her husband? Why should Anne Applebaum’s word carry more weight than any evidence against it?

In response to those who disagree with her:

“to all who imagine that the original incident at the heart of this story was a straightforward and simple criminal case, I recommend reading the transcript of the victim’s testimony (here in two parts) — including her descriptions of the telephone conversation she had with her mother from Polanski’s house, asking permission to be photographed in Jack Nicholson’s jacuzzi — and not just the salacious bits.”

First, this claim is not a fact, but some kind of historical interpretation produced by Anne’s imagination. The transcript does not say that. But let’s be generous. Let’s assume that instead of deliberate deception, Ms. Applebaum is just a crummy journalist and didn’t read the transcript carefully. Even if the girl had asked her mother’s permission, 44 year olds are still not allowed to drug and fuck 13 years olds. Under ANY circumstance. I don’t care if her mother was there in the room watching. By Anne’s logic, sex traffickers would not be criminals so long as they got a written note from parents. By my logic, the scenario Anne has invented absolves Polanski of nothing.

Oh fuck – There is MORE.

Ok, I have a life & can’t put it on hold to live-blog the meltdown of a WaPo columnist. I’ll stop here.


A 13 year old girl was raped, and the only one innocent, according to Anne, is the perpetrator. Anne has blamed the Swiss authorities for arresting a rapist. Anne has blamed her readers for questioning her defense of a rapist. Anne has blamed the mother for allowing the the rape to happen even though there is no transcript evidence to support the claim. And of course, Anne has blamed the girl for literally asking for it. What fucking century is this?

I like film as much as the next person and have a fancy degree to prove it. Rosemary’s Baby was a source of childhood joy for me, since my mother’s name was Rosemary and I have extraordinary eyes. When she was mad at me, I would say, “What do you expect? I’m Rosemary’s Baby. Look at my eyes. They’re… not… normal…” Good times, good times… But I don’t see what the hell it has to do with anything. And frankly it is not Polanski I am concerned about. It seems he will finally have to face the music. It’s Anne.

As a citizen of this sometimes great nation, I believe we deserve better. I’m sick of journalists who underestimate our intelligence, who defend rape or any kind of violence against other human beings, who are entrusted with the power set the public agenda but who eschew any accountability said public may ask of them, who are quick to invoke the freedom of the press and just ask quick to hide from the responsibility that freedom comes with.

If you are too, Anne Applebaum’s editor is Fred Hiatt and his e-mail is hiattf@washpost.com.

Stories about Putin stealing her wallet and Russian girls being ugly before capitalism were delusional, sure, but provided some harmless entertainment. It’s not harmless anymore. No one is entertained. This has nothing to do with freedom of the press or freedom of speech. She has the right to say whatever she likes. As do we. So I am exercising my right to say that I think her column is dangerously irresponsible.

Not to mention, terribly written.


Sublime Oblivion left a link to this eXile article in the comments. It is THE article I send to everyone who e-mails me Anne Applebaum columns asking for my take on whatever nonsense she’s up to that week. So I thought, well, this is as good as any time to post it here, since god willing I’ll never have to write another post about Anne again…

From “Where Is America’s Politkovskaya?” By Mark Ames:

Anne Applebaum, one of the Post’s resident neocons, went the extra sleazy mile when she got ahold of Politkovskaya’s corpse. In her October 9th column, “A Moscow Murder Story,” Applebaum simply lied about the circumstances of her murder, and quite consciously so, when she essentially blamed Klebnikov’s inconvenient death, as well as other provincial journalists killed for investigating local corruption, on Putin. Interestingly, in her article she openly narrows her focus on “journalists killed after 2000” — gee, how convenient. Because that means she wouldn’t have to mention all the journalists killed during Yeltsin’s term, since that would muddy up the good/evil picture that her entire thesis rests on.

Applebaum is a special case, one of those moral crusaders, the American Anna Politkovskaya, who has made a living courageously exposing state crimes committed by…get this…not her own country, oh heck no! Because her own country only does good! Nope, Anne Applebaum makes her living by sitting in the safety of Washington DC, and exposing crimes committed by a country on the other side of the globe! That country being Russia of course. Hey, give that woman a Pulitzer, will ya?! Hence her book Gulag, packed with all the affected moral outrage that you’d expect. Indeed, one thing that has always filled Applebaum with rage is wondering why Russians don’t take her seriously (a question she poses as more abstract — ie, why don’t Russians care about the Gulags as much as Anne does?). Here’s why: Can you imagine how much moral authority a right-wing Russian journalist’s book about the American genocide of Indians would have in America? Answer: about as much as Anne’s book has in Russia. None.

Yes, it’s dangerous work to dedicate your life to exposing the horrors committed by a country that your husband hates. Applebaum’s husband is Poland’s right-wing Defense Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who also serves in the neocon American Enterprise Institute, the same institute that essentially invented the current Iraq war. The current government that Sikorski serves in, by the way, includes the extreme right-wing party The League of Polish Families, leading to protests from Israel because of the party’s open anti-Semitism and xenophobia, and its notorious skinhead youth group. But that’s okay by Anne, because Poland likes America and is a member of the Coalition of the Willing. Meaning no hissy articles from Anne Applebaum about her husband’s pals or Poland’s repulsive history of Jewish slaughter. Nor will you read too many articles by Applebaum about her own country’s atrocious crimes committed in Iraq, and the hundreds of thousands her government has killed.

No person could be as far from Politkovskaya as Anne Applebaum. Given all of Applebaum’s influence and access, she only uses that power to demonize Russia and whitewash America’s fascism. Politkovskaya, on the other hand, speaking from extreme weakness and danger, used what little influence she had to risk all for the victims of her own goverment’s cruelty, fighting from within.

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