I recently had the dubious pleasure of engaging in an extended Twitter exchange with Peter Savodnik. Peter is a consummately credentialed journalist based in New York. He is also a classical representative of the well-paid prostitute class otherwise known as Independent Western Journalists in polite (i.e. doublethink) society, as well as of that emigre clique which delights in smearing their former homeland at every opportunity (as with Julia Ioffe, Miriam Elder, etc). So nicely does he encapsulate the dinner suit-wearing, respectability-laden double standards, Western chauvinism, ingrained authoritarianism, and deep vein of conspiratorial paranoia that characterizes Western Independent Journalism that I think it useful to lay out our conversation in full.
The plight of Pussy Riot should kind of shame Occupiers who are mad because the govt. won't pay their school loans.
A few weeks back Navalny brought my attention to this lovely song extolling Putin’s achievements by Tolibjon Kurbankhanov, a Tajik singer from Dushanbe.
Navalny exhorts his minions to spread this clip far and wide. The writing between the lines is obvious. His reasons aren’t nice and altruistic, but utterly insidious, playing on xenophobia towards Central Asians. The idea being that hearing a Tajik singing in support of Putin will hurt his standing among “true” Russians. ”Liberal fascism” may be met with bemused grins in the US, being the rhetoric of unhinged demagogues like Jonah Goldberg, but in Russia the term accurately describes the emerging alliance between liberal podpindosniki and ethnic nationalists, as best embodied by Navalny.
That said, I’m spreading this clip nonetheless. Not because I support Navalny, nor even because I support Putin, but because I support the idea of Russia as a multi-national federation. And because it really is a very nice song.
The above photo, part of a photo report by Ridus, shows the Anti-Orange protest at Poklonnaya Gora in Moscow on February 4th. Does that look like 35,000 people to you, let alone 20,000 or 15,000? Because those were the most commonly cited figures in the Western media, apart from those cases where they ignored them altogether (The Guardian) or even tried passing them off as a ANTI-Putin rallies (e.g. Le Parisien).
On December 28th, the WSJ published an article on “Russia’s Dubious Election” by Gregory White and Rob Barry (it’s behind a paywall, but you can read it here). In it they described the most famous argument for the 15% Club (i.e., the purported scale of fraud in the 2011 Duma elections) – namely, that of Sergey Shpilkin. A brief description of his approach: Observe that a higher turnout means more votes for United Russia; make a blanket assumption that all these extra votes are suspect, remove them as “irregularities”, and voila! United Russia’s plummets from 49% to about 34%! (Neither he nor the WSJ, to their credit, claim that it proves fraud; they use the more qualified phrase “cast doubt”). In the process, not only the elections are discredited but pretty much the entirety of Russian opinion polling and exit polling (a reminder: all the pre-elections polls gave United Russia 50% or more, and the most comprehensive exit poll, FOM, was 6% lower than its official tally).
What other Russian bloggers have pointed out is that a whole lot of other countries – Germany, the UK, Israel – have similar voting tendencies. There, more turnout means more votes for their conservative parties (Christian Democrats, Tories, Kadima, respectively). So since most readers would agree that those countries have clean elections, the “more turnout and more votes for one party MUST MEAN fraud fraud fraud!!!” thesis can’t exactly be universally valid.
Imagine a respected American financial newspaper such as the WSJ writes an article investigating elections fraud in favor of the Democrats. To illustrate the rightness of their point, they include a photo of a ballot for the Republicans that – they allege – wasn’t tallied by the dodgy Solyndra machines rolled out for use in California in 2012. The ballot has “Obama, Go Fuck Yourself!” written out in big red letters. The captions below read: “Correctly filled out ballot, ruled spoiled.” A few days later, the newspaper’s owner fires a high-ranking editor and a CEO at the paper, noting that the publication of that photo “bordered on petty hooliganism.” The paper then apologizes to its readers and advertising partners. The Russian business paper Vedomosti titles its account of this episode “Washington Editor Fired Over Election Coverage”, while Russia Today does a documentary on the retreat of press freedoms in America without even bothering to mention the source of the controversy. You’d think this was a case of severe journalistic bias and incompetence in Russia, no?
I’m glad you do, because this is basically the saga of Kommersant Vlast’s publication of its investigation on falsifications in the Russian legislative elections. It has not been removed from the Internet, to the contrary you can still read it on their site and comment on it. It is an extensive work, titled “United Stuffers” (a play on United Russia) featuring a collection of twelve articles. The only part of it that was subject to “censorship” – and the reason given by its tycoon owner Alisher Usmanov for the dismissal of the editor who approved it – is the photograph below:
Alas and alack, there’s only so many grants for foreign “intelligents” at Western think-tanks.
If I had a cent for every Russia story from the past week that featured the (conclusively debunked) “sixth wave of emigration” meme…
And if wishes were fishes. Still, the coverage of Russian reactions to Putin’s return does demonstrate the venality and general fecklessness of the Western MSM. As Adomanis correctly noted, it is “negative value added” – you come away from reading them understanding less than you did before.
But let’s for a moment ignore that all the demographic statistics indicate that emigration is currently at very low levels, having flattened out in the late 2000′s and stayed down since. Let us ignore the much bigger levels of immigration – and not only from Central Asia or the Caucasus, but the fact that the migration balance even with many “developed countries” is beginning to turn positive.
Instead, let’s ask ourselves two different questions: what kinds of Russians are actually willing to migrate, and where would they go?
Following on from my last post in which I revealed the neoliberal, anti-Russian inclinations of Dmitry Medvedev (pictured left, sporting his new Hitler mustache), let us know consider another question – what to make of his much vaunted liberalism, his humaneness, his consciousness? The Western media as with their liberal Russian running dogs have traditionally presented DAM as the polar opposite of the evil statist Putin, who we are told worships the authoritarian values of the KGB and seeks to turn Russia into a neo-Soviet Union. Now look at the following comments.
1. “Talking of mandatory treatment – one can talk about anything. But mandatory treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction is ultimately worse for ourselves. We have to convince that person, encourage an internal motivation, and understanding of the necessity to conquer these ills. It is important that that person doesn’t feel himself alone, so that he understands and feels that if he fell into this trap, he should feel that he hasn’t been abandoned, that he isn’t alone, that his family and friends, relatives, parents won’t abandon him to the winds, nor will his school, his work collective, wherever he may be studying or working, the state won’t abandon him.”
A recent study by Laura Bottazzi et al. at the University of Bologna, Italy confirmed a pretty obvious fact of international business. Far from being the rational agents of standard economics, objectively focusing on those countries offering the best return on their investments, international financiers are in fact heavily influenced by national stereotypes. A Dutch venture capital fund, for instance, is far likelier to invest in a German company than a Spanish one. This is due in large part to the greater trust and cultural affinity that exists between the Dutch and Germans, rather than any specifically economic reason.
As a country suffering from a severe reputational deficit, even relative to most other major emerging markets, these findings should be of great interest to Russia’s leaders – whose lack of PR finesse is simply astounding (any number of specific examples can be given, but suffice to say that there is still no effective Russia lobby in Washington DC). Medvedev seems to be operating under the delusion that publicly lambasting Russia’s institutions – e.g. his famous dismissal of the entire judicial system by portraying Russia’s environment as one of “legal nihilism” – will somehow help resolve those problems that do exist, enhance Russia’s image, and woo foreign investors. Nothing can be further from the truth.
In the US, a black homeless man “robs” a bank. He only takes a single $100 bill out of the wad of cash offered, because he was hungry and had to pay to stay at a detox center. Regardless, he had the good graces to return the money the day after. Net financial loss to the bank? $0. Years he was sent down to the slammer for: 15.
In another country, a billionaire fleeces the state by using offshore companies to sell his company’s oil production (and sees nothing wrong with it). Politicians and businessmen who oppose him get this nasty habit of turning up dead. Net financial loss to that country’s treasury, and ultimately taxpayers? Many billions of dollars. Years he was sent down to the slammer for: 14.
Now imagine that one of these cases becomes the focal point of universal condemnation of that country’s brutal, lawless, and authoritarian human rights regime – from Amnesty International and PACE, the US State Department and the German Bundestag, and regular scathing editorials from the biggest media titans. The country’s own liberals work overtime to campaign for the case to be overturned.
Which case would you guess I’m talking about? Surely it would be Roy Brown, the indigent beggar right? No way, sucker.
Everything’s going badly in Russia. Medvedev’s reforms are failing. The economy isn’t growing. It is moving from authoritarianism to totalitarianism (in stark contrast to civilized Western countries), and the motto “We cannot live like this any longer!” once again becomes an article of faith in the land – or well, at least among “the blogs on LiveJournal” and “the sites of the top independent and opposition groups” (who are of course totally representative of Russian public opinion). Citizens are fleeing the country like rats from a sinking ship.
Anyhow, unlike Eugene Ivanov who argues that media coverage of Russia has improved of late, I think the Western punditocracy remains every bit as wrong, idiotic and venal on Russia as it always was, and in this post I’ll use the recent WSJ article “Why Are They Leaving?” by Julian Evans as my foil (it’s illustrated with soc-realist posters of the worker and collective farm girl harkening back to the Soviet era; excusez-moi for crashing the party, but WTF do they have to do with anything in a story about Russian emigration of all things???).
“Russia’s small but educated middle-class is deserting the mother country in search of opportunities and freedoms elsewhere…” Thus from the get go the author makes the strong impression - and one that is decisively reinforced throughout the rest of the article – that Russia has a big emigration problem that is draining it of brains and talent. But let’s consult the statistics (as opposed to anecdotal evidence and online polls at Novaya Gazeta asking Russians whether they want to emigrate; yes, Mr. Evans cites the online readership of a paper written by liberal ideologues in support of his argument). Too bad for Mr. Evans, the statistics reveal his article for the sham it really is.