The other night I received two emails simultaneously from friends alerting me that Michael Specter was to be a guest on the Colbert Report. Intrigued, I quickly set my DVR to record the show.
I’ve only watched the Colbert Report once before despite its immense popularity among friends. I have to say that I pretty much couldn’t get through the commercial laden half hour. Steven Colbert is part of the Daily Show revolution of fake news shows that lampoon the real news. Colbert’s shtick is to satirize right wing talk shows and radio as a means of media critique. I think blurring the line between “fake” and “real” news to expose the utter poverty of the latter is interesting. However, while this may seem novel to some, it has clearly reached a tipping point in effectiveness. I find Colbert’s execution a bit trite, predictable, too reliant on pop culture references, and often simply not funny. The Colbert Report is merely a shadow of Jon Stewart’s the Daily Show.
But since the episode was Russia related, I decided to tune in. Specter looked like a deer in the headlights. He seemed to kinda get Colbert’s act, but kinda not. Specter also came across far less nuanced on the show than in his New Yorker article. It appeared that he was ready to pull the noose around Putin for the deaths of every journalist and critic. It was only toward the end that he admitted that he didn’t actually outright accuse Putin of anything in his article except creating an atmosphere for these things to happen. Fair enough, but I can’t help to notice a certain slippage between these two views. It is clear that Specter wants to charge Putin with these crimes outright but he just doesn’t have any real evidence to do so.
For Colbert’s part, he tried in vain to make implicit connections between Putin’s alleged tactics and the Bush Administration. I guess he had to give his American-centric audience something familiar to chew on. But such comparisons are weak in my view and elide some very key differences between both Administrations’ authoritarian impulses. In the end, the show is just not for me.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
I have no idea what to make of this report. That is except that this whole affair is getting stranger and stranger . . . and if true, scarier and scarier.
By Cahal Milmo, Peter Popham and Jason Bennetto
Published: 29 November 2006
Alexander Litvinenko, the poisoned former Russian agent, told the Italian academic he met on the day he fell ill that he had organised the smuggling of nuclear material out of Russia for his security service employers.
Mario Scaramella, who flew into London yesterday to be interviewed by Scotland Yard officers investigating Mr Litvinenko’s death, said Mr Litvinenko told him about the operation for the FSB security service, the successor to the KGB.
Police said that Mr Scaramella, who met Mr Litvinenko at a sushi bar in London on 1 November to discuss a death threat aimed at both of them, was a potential witness. He was being interviewed at a “secure location” in London but was not in custody.
The Health Protection Agency said that eight people had been referred to a clinic in London for tests for exposure to polonium-210, the radioactive substance that killed Mr Litvinenko. It declined to say whether Mr Scaramella was among them.
A post-mortem examination will be carried out on Mr Litvinenko on Friday.
In an interview with The Independent shortly after the poisoning became public, Mr Scaramella said that Mr Litvinenko, a friend and professional contact since 2001, told him he had masterminded the smuggling of radioactive material to Zurich in 2000. There have long been concerns that turmoil in Russia and other former Soviet states after the fall of Communism created an international black market in radioactive substances.
By Sean — 13 years ago
Here is a summary of interesting news stories coming out of Russia this week.
—The U.S. military will abandon its airbases in Uzbekistan. Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s administration asked the U.S. to leave after it suggested an international probe into the massacre of over 800 people in town of Andijan. I’m surprised. Given the Bush Administration’s “commitment” to human rights, I figured that they would make the standard public condemnations, while assuring Karimov behind the scenes that their call for a probe was far from serious. Perhaps Karimov accidentally took them seriously. This news comes as the Andijan 15 are being tried in Uzbek courts for orchestrating an uprising. It seems that the EU is taking some “harsher” measures by placing an arms embargo on Uzbekistan.
—The drama around the Beslan Mothers and cult leader Grigorii Grabovoi heats up. Several of the mothers have filed a request to the Russian General Prosecutor Vladimir Ustinov to investigate Grabovoi’s dealings. The appeal stated: “This cultist’s cynical promise to resurrect those killed in the terrorist act is blasphemous to all those who suffered in this dreadful tragedy. We … ask you to investigate the legality of Grigory Grabovoi’s actions and to bring him to justice under Russian law.”
—Amnesty International released a report this week condemning abductions, secret detentions, and torture carried out by Russian authorities in Ingushetia and Chechnya. The report charges that “Russia’s “war on terror” is being used as an excuse for systematic human rights abuses.” Unfortunately, Russia is not alone it the use of Bush’s “war on terror” to commit such acts without concern for national or international law, not to mention, human rights. According to the press release, Amnesty International
“detected a new trend in the human rights abuses in the North Caucasus. People are reportedly being arbitrarily detained and held in incommunicado detention, where they are subjected to torture and ill-treatment, in order to force them to confess to crimes that they have not committed. Once they have signed a “confession” they are reportedly transferred to another detention facility where they have access to a lawyer of their choice and relatives; but the confession seems to be enough “evidence” to secure their conviction.”
Such measures are a disturbing reminder of Soviet practices. Then it was “enemies of the people.” Now its “terrorists.”
—In a sign of some progress and recognition of the problem of HIV/AIDS in the military, Russian soldiers will now be given condoms before they go on leave. Official statistics put detected HIV/AIDS cases in the Russian military since 1989 has number 2000. One can assume that this number is very, very low.
—Already in anticipation to the 2008 elections, the Federal Registration Service is going to begin a “proverka,” or check, of registered Russian political parties. According to legislation passed last December, registered electoral parties must have a national membership of 100,000, and at least 500 members in each of the county’s 89 regions.
—Kommersant is reporting that the bones of General Anton Denikin, the commander of the White Army during the Russian Civil War (1918-1920, are being flown from New York for burial in the Donskoi cemetery in Moscow. The transfer comes with a special Presidential envoy.
—In another sign of progress, a St. Petersburg Court ruled that Oktyabrskaya Railroad broke the law when it rejected a man’s application because he was a homosexual. In addition, a Yaroslav court upheld the rights of a lesbian woman who was fired from teaching because of “health problems,” i.e. she’s gay. Many Russians still believe in the Soviet view that homosexuality is a mental disease.
—I don’t think that I need to dwell to long on the biggest story coming out of Russia this week: Gazprom’s $13 billion purchase of SibNeft. The purchase further consolidates Gazprom’s dominance of Russian energy and oil markets as well as shows its intention to become a global player in oil and natural gas.
—And finally, Vitaly Matyukhin, a resident of Archangelsk has spent the last 15 years in a living his summer days in a refrigerator. Matyukhin apparently suffers from a rare heat exchange disorder where he can’t be in temperatures over 5 C. So during the warm weather of September he spends most of his time in a self built refrigerator, only to come out at night. Born in Krasnodar, he moved to Archangelsk to escape the southern heat. Only in Russia . . .
By Sean — 13 years ago
The Moscow City Duma elections are finished. Their lead up was filled with trepidation, controversy, and speculation. All proved to be sound and predictable concerns. But there was no need took look up one of the many soothsayers and warlocks that are advertised in Moscow tabloids to predict the outcome. No palms needed to be read. No chicken bones interpreted. If Moscow gypsies earned their keep solely on giving political advice, they would have been put out of business. Indeed, nobody doubted that United Russia was going to come out more politically secure in the nation’s capital. Rather the question was where the losers stand, if anywhere, after the electoral smoke cleared.
United Russia swept all but 7 seats, dominating 28 of the 35 seats up for grab on the ballot. Out of the 34.8% (2.4 million) of registered voters who bothered to vote, they received 47.3%, the Communist Party got 16.8% or 4 seats, whole Yabloko 11.1% or 3 seats.
Moscow is the heart of Russia and pumps vital juices to the rest of the nation. Given its importance as an economic and political center, there is no doubt that the City Duma results are a preview of the 2007 Parliamentary and 2008 Presidential elections. The fact that United Russia came out so handedly, also reveals that Russian politics remains a contest between them and the Communist Party. The liberal forces and extreme right and left parties are thoroughly marginalized. With this election, Yabloko and its new ally the Union of Right Forces barely escaped shrinking into obscurity. Many felt that if Yabloko couldn’t garner 10% of the vote, there was no political future for the party. They survived by 1.1%.
However, the Western media has yet to come to terms with the utter insignificance of Yabloko. One need only turn to today’s reporting on the elections to get a full frontal of lament for Yabloko’s political collapse. It seems that everything but the truth is being used to explain why United Russia won so handedly, while Yabloko barely made a showing. Take Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty for example. Yabloko’s poor showing was “because so many voters chose to stay at home” rather than because they have no constituency. If they had so much support wouldn’t they have come out to vote? Or are the Yabloko supporters voting with silence? Also predictably are charges of voter falsification and malfeasance. At least that is the analysis of Yabloko deputy chairman, Sergei Mitrokhin,
“We have come to the conclusion that the level of falsification in today’s Moscow election exceeds anything that has ever been observed in the city before. What’s more, this has been done openly, shamelessly and, I would say, insolently. A well-targeted campaign was run against Yabloko and the United Democrats of Russia throughout the election campaign, which was, in fact, run from within the Kremlin and this gives us grounds to suggest that this will now continue in the electoral constituencies by other means.”
Now granted there is no doubt in my mind that such falsification occurred. Nor do I doubt that the Kremlin has liberal parties in its sights. According to Kommersant, Mitrokhin went on to charge that the tactics for voter fraud resembled that used in Ukraine by Viktor Yanukovich’s camp:
[At one polling station] at 9:25 a.m. 107 people arrived at the same time in one of the voting places and all of them had absentee ballots. If these statements are true — the same technology, which was used by Viktor Yanukovich supporters during Ukrainian elections, was applied in Moscow. In Ukraine there were buses full of voters driving around the country and people were voting outside of their registered locations.”
Among other cited incidents, one member of local electoral commission No. 2409 was removed for “re-arranging the furniture, which was creating a fire hazard and groundless conversations with chairman and members of the commission.” In another incident, a Yabloko observer named Vitaly Reznikov tore off Vladimir Putin’s portrait from the wall at voting booth No. 2658. Reznikov considered the portrait “hidden propaganda of United Russia.” He was subsequently fined 1500 ($50) rubles for violating the Criminal Article “Petty Hooliganism.” But what is an election without a little hooliganism?
So yes strange things happened during this election but as Kommersant soberly adds, “It is highly doubtful that such technology would be effective in Moscow. Even if the Yabloko statements about the issue of 70,000 absentee ballots are true, they would not make much difference among over 2 million voters who participated in the elections.”
If the election’s end signaled the beginning of the end for Yabloko, the pre-election period showed that the nationalist party Rodina might have a firm finger on the pulse of many Muscovites. Rodina was banned from participating in the election on November26 for its advertisement (which you can watch here) that depicted some dark-skinned fellows throwing watermelon rinds on the ground as a blond Russian woman walks past them. Then two Rodina leaders, one which is chairman Dmitrii Rogozin, walk up and ask if the men “understand Russian” and to pick up the rinds. The ad ends with the Rodina banner with “Let’s clean up the garbage from our city.” The racism in the ad was lost on no one.
But Rodina didn’t stop there. According to an excellent piece by LA Times’ Moscow correspondent Kim Murphy, when the Paris race riots exploded, Rodina re-dubbed the ad in French and changed the slogan to read “France, One Year Ago.” The Moscow City Court ruled that the ad incited racial hatred and banned Rodina from participating in the elections. Most people saw right through the fact Rodina was banned for “inciting racial hatred” and correctly recognized that the move was entirely political. But the more interesting aspect of this story is the reactions from the public about the ad. Today’s LA Times story on the elections quotes a pensioner named Zoya Danilova, 63, would have voted for Rodina because “they had this ad that was very good. . . It had very good ideas in it, but someone upstairs didn’t like it so they were struck from the ballot. It’s a joy to me,” she added, “that I was born in Russia, and there’s no place I’d rather live. I love my homeland.”
Her “I was born in Russia” statement is what complicates the issue of citizenship. Most people were born not in Russia but the Soviet Union, and whether you were born in Russia, Uzbekistan, or Tajikistan it didn’t matter, you were a citizen then and many non-Russians think so should you be now. Mekhti, a 40 year old native of Baku, who Murphy interviewed agrees,
“What are you talking about? “I’m not a foreigner. I was born in this country, in the Soviet Union. I served in the Soviet army in East Germany for this country. And now Rogozin is saying that I am garbage? We are working hard, selling fruit and vegetables to people in this city, and if they could do without us, we would not be here, believe me.”
As Murphy’s article points out many Russians view blame many of society’s ills on immigrants. Tensions have risen sharply as more people from Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Tajikistan immigrate to Russia as cheap labor. In recent months, there have been several incidents of racial violence perpetrated by skinheads in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Voronezh, to name a few. The question now becomes if Rodina’s ad could curry favor among voters now, what will role will race play in the 2007 and 2008 elections?