I stumbled across Shaun Walker’s “No Laughing Matter: Cartoons and the Kremlin” while perusing Kompromat.ru. I only realized after a few minutes that the article was originally published in the Independent and translated for InoPressa.ru (interestingly without the above caricature).
No laughing matter indeed. As noted Russian cartoonist Mikhail Zlatkovsky tells Walker, what was once permitted under Gorbachev and Yeltsin is taboo under Putin. Zlatkovsky’s satires of the vozhd’ abruptly came to an end after Putin’s inauguration in May 2000. It was then that his editor at Literaturnaya gazeta informed him, “Misha, we’re not going to draw Putin any more. The young lad is very sensitive.” Zlatkovsky’s drawings of Putin haven’t appeared in the press since. And soon after that neither did his and many other cartoonists’ satires of ministers, Kremlin aids, Chechnya, and military brass. Even a drawing of Patriarch Alexy II “prompted a phone call from the patriarchate and a strong request never to draw him again.”
Zlatkovsky tells Walker that while there is no official censorship, there is “the censorship of the fire safety inspectorate; or the censorship of the tax police.” Bureaucratic revenge may be softer, but it is just as effective, if not more so, than good old fashion repression. The result, according to Walker is that “Many cartoonists have given up, finding other work, and newspaper editors prefer to err on the side of caution and not publish cartoons at all.” I would guess that this is exactly what those in power hoped.
Therefore it is no surprise that yet again Freedom House has labeled Russia’s press “not free.” There does, however, seem to be a twinkle of light in the darkness. According to Izvestiia, young Robert Shlegel got a finger waging by senior United Russia officials for introducing the media law amendment. One of United Russia’s four factions, 4 November, released a statement saying, “Oversight and law enforcement organs already have sufficient opportunities to put an end to the activities of unscrupulous journalists without jeopardizing the freedom of the mass media.” (Yes, there are four official factions in United Russia. They officially constituted themselves at their party congress two weeks ago. Who knew?) Basically, 4 November thinks that the amendment is redundant. Whether their opposition and Shlegel’s shaming will have any impact on the voting of future readings is uncertain and probably unlikely. Given how widely the amendment hit the international press, I’m sure this is all posturing. After all, the law’s first reading passed unanimously minus one. Boris Reznik of United Russia cast the lone dissenting vote. Um, 4 November members, where were you?
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By Sean — 9 years ago
As hundreds of thousands protesters fill the streets of Tehran and other provincial centers, one can’t help think that we’ve seen this all before. So much about the Iranian protests look like the “colored revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, (the failed attempts in) Moldova and Belarus. In fact, “colored revolution” has become a preeminent phenomena in our young 21st century. It’s scripted like a bad TV drama with recycled plot lines, characters, and props. Colored revolutions unfold like ready-made, recyclable skits. Their ingredients include a “managed democracy,” a contestable election where the opposition claims “foul,” mass protests, a prominent place for “social networking” technologies (SMS, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, and the like), and the adoption of a color to symbolize all political demands. The dramatic conflict plays out between the “state” and “the opposition” (whether the latter is actually outside the former matters little) over the legitimacy of the election. All that is missing is the canned laughter. Nevertheless, no matter how much one may deride how revolutionary colored revolutions actually are, they do provide a glimpse into the political unconscious of our age. Whereas the 20th century provided us with the template for communist/anti-colonial struggles, the 21st has already given us an idea of what liberal revolution will look like.
The connection between the boiling discontent among Iranians and the possibility of a “colored revolution” in the Islamic Republic hasn’t been lost on the hardline leadership. According to Abbas Milani, prior to the election, Sobhe-Sadeq, the main organ of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard “warned in a lead editorial that the opposition’s use of the color green had become dangerously similar to the kind of “color revolution” that dethroned governments in Ukraine, Lebanon, and Georgia.” With his eyes clearly on events in those countries, Supreme Leader Khamenei ordered the creation of a committee to investigate the possibility of “colored revolution” three years ago.
Nor has the “colored revolution” paradigm been far from the minds of observers. When protests erupted in Tehran, Joshua Tucker asked in the New Republic whether Ukraine could teach us anything about events in Iran. After pondering the question for a few days, he rejected the idea. Not because of the anatomy of the protests, but because “the Iranian authorities may have learned a number of specific lessons from their less fortunate post-communist counterparts.” But after more than a week of escalating protests, every lesson Tucker says the Iranian government learned have proved to be ineffective against a determined and growing opposition. The question is: are we witnessing a “colored revolution” in Iran? Given that events in Iran do appear similar to colored revolutions in the former Soviet republics, how do some in the Russian press see in the Iranian protests? After all, Russian journalists should know a colored revolution when they see it given all their experience with observing them in their near abroad or watching their state hysterically dedicate its security apparatuses to preventing one at home.
A good place to start to identify what parallels Russian commentators see between Iran and post-Soviet states is a commentary by Andrei Kolesnikov published in Vedomosti. Kolesnikov sees the Iranian protests and the “revolutions” in CIS countries as symbolic of what Jurgen Habermas calls “catch-up revolution.” Kolesnikov writes:
This phenomena described in political philosophy is called “catch-up revolution.” The philosopher Jurgen Habermas labels a revolution in reverse rewind when a society painfully attempts to make up for years of induced stagnation. Moldova, lived through, like the majority of post-Soviet states, a national revolution but did not undergo a bourgeois revolution. The part of Iranian society disposed toward modernization were seriously disillusioned in the years of the predecessor of Ahmadinejad–the moderate reformer Khatami. And now 12 years after what began as Khatami’s rapidly unfurled “thaw”, and after came to be a genuine “frost”, results in a catch-up revolution, a revolution not so much of hope, but of persistent disappointment.
Whether a catch-up revolution is in the making is difficult to gage. Plus the whole idea of “catch up” suggests that a there is something to catch up top. Habermas’ idea, and Kolesnikov embrace of it, is based in the historical teleology that state’s political development follows a singular path toward liberalism. Still, one gets the feeling that Kolesnikov musing in political philosophy has little to do with Iran per se. Kolesnikov’s views speak more to his native country, Russia. Indeed, like so many around the world, the Iranian protests have been subsumed into the desires of the observers. Iran, therefore, only highlights the nadir of political change in Russia. “Perhaps,” Kolesnikov writes, “one of the few comparatively poor states, where a catch-up revolution is now impossible by force of the shapelessness of political protest is Russia. Our political revolutions occur in kitchens and social salons. And protest continues to be purely social, and Pikalevo-like.”
Perhaps this is why the Russian press lacks the adulation that one finds in the Anglo press. Whereas the American politicos see an Iran budding into a potential Persian America, the Russians are more pessimistic and emphasize the limits of political change; limits which undoubtedly stem from their own historical experience with “revolutions.” Take for example, Petr Goncharov’s opinion in RIA Novosti,
The situation in Iran indeed recalls something revolutionary. And the “green” opposition chose the green color of Islam as “a symbol of struggle against stranglehold of the regime.” The most recent circumstances gave the possibility to adherents of the “sacredness” of any order to see in it its “orange” essence. Today, every protest, slogan and other demands “for liberalization” have accepted the stamp of the danger of “orange” revolution. There won’t be a revolution. Neither “green,” nor “orange” for that matter. The revolution has been postponed. Postponed by Imam Khamenei the Supreme (and lifelong) spiritual leader of Iran.
Statements about the revolution being postponed are certainly premature. But the foreclosure that both Kolesnikov and Goncharov place on it speaks volumes. They both seem to be saying in their own disillusioned way that, “It’s happened in Iran, but it cannot and won’t happen in Russia.” Russia liberals, of course, are asking similar questions along similar lines. “Why isn’t Russia Iran?” asks Alexander Golts. The question must eat at liberals like Golts as they watch citizens of a theocracy excercize their rights while those in an arguably more open Russia remain idle. As for why this is the case, Golts gives this answer,
There are several objective factors which makes Iranian society more “passionate” than the Russians. First of all, the age of the [Iranian] urban population. Seventy percent are young people who absolutely don’t want to rot for several more years under the leadership of a narrow-minded fanatic. Moreover, in this theocratic state, as it’s been shown, political competition has a place with frank, you will laugh, debates on television. But the main conclusion is that Vladimir Putin does not mess with Russians to the degree and with such passion as Ahmadinejad does Iranians. The Russian government does not meddle, in contrast to the Iranians, in private life. However, I surmise that the effectiveness with which Vladimir Vladimirovich guides the national economy will very soon compel Russians to spit on his charisma and remember their right to choose . . .
Of course, Golts, in all his liberal hopes, forgets that while he thinks that the future of post-Soviet Russia is still up for debate, or rather than he and his ilk are part of that debate, the reformers in Iran are. As the last weeks have proven, the Iranian opposition is part of Iranian mainstream political culture however much the hardliners who back Ahmadinejad try to deny it and paint them as part of a CIA/Mossad plot.
For all intents and purposes, the Iranian opposition isn’t calling for an undoing of the Iranian Revolution. For the most part, their calls are for the regime to abide by its own rules. Their demands are still very much within its ideological and discursive confines, though as some note, the situation is so unpredictable that Islamic regime could be swept away as easily as its predecessor. This relationship to the past is what differentiates events in Iran with those in post-Soviet states. The “colored revolutions” in former Soviet states are in part an effort to break from the past, and in particular, move away from Russia’s orbit to face the West. In this case, they were a continuation of a process of national revolutions began in 1991. In Iran, the position of the opposition leadership appears to be for a retooling of the past, a return to the principles of the Revolution, rather than its utter disregard.Post Views: 283
By Sean — 11 years ago
On Tuesday the tabloid Tvoi den’ published [the names of] all the arrested for Politkovskaya’s murder. It’s interesting that according to this newspaper there seems to be 11 not 10 as [Prosecutor General] Chaika said.
1. Alexei Berkin
2. Dmitri Lebedev
3. Tamerlan Makhmudov
4. Dzhabrail Makhmudov
5. Ibrahim Makhmudov
6. Oleg Alimov
7. Mohamed Dimel’khanov
8. Akhmel Isaev
9. Sergei Khadzhikurbanov
10. Dmitiri Grachev
11. Pavel RiaguzovPost Views: 180
By Sean — 9 years ago
Scott Anderson’s article “Vladimir Putin’s Dark Rise to Power” is a throwback to the 1990s when ex-KGBmen turned mafioso, private security, or hired hands to execute nefarious plots. It is also a showcase of bygone figures. Once powerful, influential, or at least in the public eye who have since drifted into memory only to be periodically conjured up as partisan weaponry of high politics. You know the names: Boris Berezovsky, Alex Goldfarb, Aleksandr Litvinenko, and Mikhail Trepashkin. The latter serves as the hero of Anderson’s tale. The gatekeeper of a longstanding conspiracy that many Russians know well: The FSB carried out the apartment bombings on Guryanova St. in Moscow that brought down eight floors and killed ninety-four residents in their beds.
It’s been a while since Trepashkin’s name graced an English language publication. He’s spent the last several years serving two stints in the clank. In 2003, he was arrested for illegal arms possession and divulging state secrets (the former charge was eventually dropped, the latter stuck). And then just as he was freed in September 2005, he was scooped up again. He was released in 2007. Four years for likely trumped up charges. Such is what happens when you piss off the wrong people in Russia.
But now Trepashkin has come out of the woodwork to tell his story to Scott Anderson. But the details of the story aren’t really the issue. Anyone who’s familiar with the apartment bombings already knows the in-outs of the incident and the conspiracy theories behind them. Anderson didn’t even have to go to Russia. He could have just watched that horrible Rebellion: The Litvinenko Case documentary and got the story there.
The real story, however, is really the story itself. Indeed, as many Russia watchers discovered last week, Conde Nast, the company that owns GQ in Russia, made an executive decision to not run the story there. According to the NPR report on the matter:
“Conde Nast management has decided that the September issue of U.S. GQ magazine containing Scott Anderson’s article ‘Vladimir Putin’s Dark Rise to Power’ should not be distributed in Russia,” Birenz wrote.
He ordered that the article could not be posted to the magazine’s Web site. No copies of the American edition of the magazine could be sent to Russia or shown in any country to Russian government officials, journalists or advertisers. Additionally, the piece could not be published in other Conde Nast magazines abroad, nor publicized in any way.
The story doesn’t even exist on GQ’s English site. The only place you can read the story is on Gawker and a site called Ratafia Currant. So what made Conde Nast pull the plug? Self-censorship? Commercial interests? Or was it a plain PR stunt to bring attention to an article that would most likely be ignored? Who knows. I am more inclined to think the latter.
But the thing I find funny about all of this is Gawker‘s self-appointed mission to translate the article into Russian “as a public service” because “Condé Nast has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent Russians from reading a GQ article criticizing Vladimir Putin.” I mean, really what planet are they from? Um, the Iron Curtain, like, fell eighteen years ago. There isn’t a cloak of darkness over Russia that filers out anything anti-Putin. Take it from me, the Russians don’t need Americans to save them from themselves. The last time that happened, it didn’t work out to well for the Russians.
The truth is that this conspiracy isn’t new by any means. Nor does Anderson shed any new light on it. An internet search will turn up all sorts of versions of it. Hell, even the Russian wikipedia entry on the bombings chronicles the “unofficial versions” of the story. Yet Gawker is all ecstatic that a few Russian sites have picked up their Russian translation. One is a blog on LJ. The other is one of those creepy Russian nationalist forums. Now Russian news outlets have picked up on the story and adding their own conspiracies to explain the conspiracy. But the thing is there might not even be one. According to a statement from Nikolai Uskov, the editor-in-chief of GQ Russia, published in Nezavisimaya gazeta:
It is hard for me to comprehend how this company can prevent the distribution of its own magazine anywhere. What has reverberated on Ekho Moskvy and then repeatedly said on the Internet, is not completely correct: a Russian publisher, like any other media company, is an independent product. We’re not obligated to reprint American material, and moreover receive recommendations not to do so. I have personally not received any prohibitions or directions whatsoever from management about not translating or reprinting this article. But it would also not enter my head to do it. . . . Similar material in the Russian media would appear quite strange today. There is nothing in this article that is sensational.
Basically, the story is old news. And if there is an order to not translate and publish the story, Uskov hasn’t heard of it. That’s rather strange isn’t it?
So is Conde Nast’s act of “self-censorship” merely a back handed way to stir up criticism of Putin and the strangling of the press in Russia? Perhaps. But perhaps as Evgeny Morozov notes, it just might be pure incompetence on Conde Nast’s part and now they are suffering the whiplash of the Streisand Effect. After all, Conde Nast isn’t really getting anything from this but a bunch of negative press. But as they say even bad press is good press.
But the article and the whole stunt surrounding it might just be another opportunity to piss on Putin. Though the piss will come more in a trickle than a hot steady stream. His image among Americans is already so soiled that not even the toughest Tide Stain Release could wash it clean. One more story about a shadowy Putinist plot can’t make things any worse. Nevertheless, the timing is interesting. This week is tenth anniversary of the bombings and a month shy of ten years since Putin became Prime Minister. Digging up the conspiracy is just another reminder that the strongman of Russia might have gotten his power by exploiting a tragedy that was really carried out by his buds in the FSB.
Remember children, conspiracies happen over there in the dark shadowy world of Russia. It’s that whole “‘riddle wrapped up in an enigma” thang. Here in America, we rightfully dismiss our crackpot conspiracy theorists–from the 9/11 Truthers to the tin-foil wearing Trilateral Commission believers and Lyndon La Rouchites–for what they are: nutjobs. But their Slavic equivalents? Nah. Somehow they are bearers of the truth.Post Views: 379