Last week, the Moscow Times reported on eXile getting called for a meet and greet at Russia’s Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications and the Protection of Cultural Heritage.
Now Mark gives us the lowdown in “A Troublesome Visitor” on Radar Online. Sounds like the end . . .
Thursday morning, Moscow time, four Russian government officials came to the office of my English-language newspaper, the Exile, and conducted an “unplanned audit” of our editorial content. They are carrying out an inspection of my paper’s articles to see, in their words, if we have committed “violations.” And they specifically asked to question me, since I’m officially listed as the founding editor-in-chief.
I started up the Exile 11 years ago with a Russian publisher, and it grew into a kind of cult phenomenon, with an online readership of 200,000 visitors per month, launching the careers of Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi and the “War Nerd,” Gary Brecher, but ensuring that anyone who sticks with the paper is condemned to a life of poverty and paranoia.
In all my years I’d never heard of an “unplanned audit” of editorial content. The insiders whom I contacted all said, “It’s … strange.” That’s how my Russian lawyer reacted, it’s how an American official reacted, and it’s even how the head of the Glasnost Defense Fund reacted, even though his NGO focuses on problems between the Russian media and the Kremlin.
“As far as I know, there has never been a single Moscow-based media outlet which has been audited like this,” Glasnost’s lawyer told me. “We’ve seen a few of these in the far regions, but never Moscow. But really, don’t worry about it, Mark, I don’t think you’re in any personal danger at this point.”
Whenever a Russian tells me, “Don’t worry, Mark,” or, “It’s no problem,” I start to sweat.
I first learned of the government audit last week while I was out in California dealing with a family illness. I was already in a heightened state of paranoia at the time—one week in my native suburbia is all it takes to trigger panic attacks—so when the government sent notice of the “unplanned audit” to our office, my first thought was, “Can an American get political asylum in his own country?” Then I remembered some of the articles I’d written from Moscow—for example, my post–2004 U.S. presidential election editorial titled “Gas Middle America,” and how former U.S. congressman Henry Bonilla (R-TX) once used his office to pressure the Russian authorities into arresting me because of a prank I’d played—and the next thing I knew, I was rifling through my mother’s medicine cabinet looking for something strong to steal.
Eventually I calmed down and flew back to Moscow in time for the audit. At 11 a.m., four officials from the Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications, and the Protection of Cultural Heritage arrived—the men in shabby Bolsheviki suits, and a squat middle-age woman with pudgy arms and hands that pinched the seams of her wrists. On the advice of a Russian attorney, we greeted them with a box of dark chocolates. It was solid advice, and probably did more to protect us than a hundred attorneys’ briefs could have.
Read on . . .
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- By Sean — 11 years ago
Sometimes you have to feel sorry for the Russian liberal opposition. Not only do they seem to be out of touch with the sentiments of the population, or seem to offer any alternative to Putinism, they also appear prone to something I call historical transfiguration.
Take for example, what “parallels” Grigory Yavlinsky of Yabloko, Leonid Gozman of SPS, and Garry Kasparov of Other Russia see between the Russia of 1917 and Russia of 2007. Yavlinsky said that some of those parallels are “the dominance of corruption and bureaucracy, the absence of inner mechanisms for modernization, the absence of economic and political competition, the absence of a mechanism for the government’s renewal, and the absence of the chance to form a responsible and efficient opposition.” Gozman thinks that like in 1917, today’s rulers have an “absolute feeling of stability, and the tsar also had it. In addition, the opposition is being ousted toward revolution, and the tsar did not want to discuss anything as well. He had his own truth, and this was quite enough for him.” And never to be outdone, Kasparov claims that the “analogies with 1916-1917 are quite explicit.” “The Objective tensions are rising in society,” he explained, “and this is exactly what serves as the main engine of revolutionary processes. For instance, a gap between the rich and the poor has reached an unimaginable size.”
I don’t know what history books these three are reading. Because they leave out one crucial factor: World War I. The war was the number one issue in 1917. All of the instabilities that the above three speak of were exacerbated by it. Russia’s failure at the front is what made the difference between revolution and protest. The Revolution would have gone nowhere without soldiers willingly, and often happily, turning their guns on their officers. Take for example these Okhrana reports from 26 February 1917:
“In the vicinity of the Church of Christ the Saviour, the 4th company met a mounted patrol of 10 policemen; the soldiers abused the policemen, calling them “pharaohs,” and firing several volleys at them, killing one police man and one horse, and wounding one policeman and one horse. Then the soldiers returned to the barracks, where they staged a mutiny. Colonel Eksten came to put it down and was wounded by one of the soldiers; his hand was cut off.”
That same day, Okhrana agents also reported:
“As the military unites did not oppose the crowds, and in certain cases even took measures tending to paralyze the initiative of police officials, as for two days the mobs wandered unhindered about the streets, and as the revolutionary circles advanced slogans: “Down with the war” and “Down with the Government”–the people became convinced that the revolution had started, that success was on the side of the mobs, that the Government was powerless to suppress the movement because the military units were on the side of the latter, that a decisive victory was in sight because in the very near future the military units would opening join the revolutionary forces.”
It was actions like these, not just in Petrograd, but also at the front which made the Russia Revolution, as one scholar argued, essentially a mass soldiers’ revolt.
Moreover, it is no secret that the key to the Bolshevik’s taking power in November 1917 stemmed from the fact that they controlled almost the entire Petrograd garrison and had solid support among soldiers at the front. This why 66.9% of soldiers at the Western front cast their Constituent Assembly votes for the Bolsheviks.
Russian oppositionists might remember these historical facts before they try to draw “parallels” between Russian in 1917 and Russia now. After all, believing in their own analysis of 1917 might end them up on the wrong side of the gun.
- By Sean — 3 years ago
One of the outcomes of the Maidan Revolution, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the ensuing war in the Donbas has been a marked explosion in Russian propaganda. So much so that dissecting it has become a genre in and of itself. Indeed, over the last two years an entire discursive universe has emerged to analyze, adjudicate, and combat Russia’s “weaponization of information.”
Alexey Kovalev’s “Hello, is this Noodle Remover?” is a recent example of this effort sniff out the stink in the Russian media’s bullshit. And what large steaming piles of bullshit he’s found.
Below is a translation of one of his posts (I originally saw it on Maximonline.ru. My translation is of that text) that caught my eye. Links between the Kremlin and American and European rightwing groups has been well documented. So that fact that neo-Nazis, LaRouchies, and other fringe rightwing characters find their way on Russian television is that surprising. Perhaps what is novel about Kovalev’s post is that the circle he uncovers all seem to be one degree or so from the Kremlin.
This is not to say that Russian television has the monopoly on the tin foil hat brigade rolodex. Anyone with enough patience to look askew at Fox News will notice Birthers, 9/11-Truthers, and other conspiracy mongers gracing their screens. Nevertheless, what attracted me to this particular post are the wacky neighbors Russian state media has cozied up with (I have somewhat of a strange fascination with cultists of the Right and the Left) and how this confirms my belief that Russian propaganda is so propagandistic—turned all the way up to 11—that it’s essentially a (unwitting) parody of itself. It’s all very meta.
Hello, is this Noodle Remover?
These experts appear on domestic Russian channels like the Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK) and for the foreign market like RT and Sputnik. They are used for legitimizing propaganda talking points abroad: You see, we didn’t come up with all this about America being treacherous. Even American experts say so.
There’s quite a small set of people who migrate from story to story where they are introduced as “experts,” then “analysts,” and then as “journalists and writers.” Even though they aren’t considered experts in their own country. In Russia, this could be the speaker of parliament, the heads of large state-owned corporations, or someone who serves in some other high governmental post and as such spin the most elaborate conspiratorial nonsense for the public. And it will be printed in the state media, and no one will raise an eyebrow.
But in the West, unlike in Russia, the idea of a reputation still carries some weight. And even if people hold some very fringe views or flirt with conspiracy theories, they try to keep it to themselves if they want to serve in high office. Those who can’t manage to keep their love for tin foil hats quiet are left with only a small number of websites for their small circle of adherents or channels like RT where their fantasies are broadcast live to a considerably larger, though on a global scale still marginal, audience. So first they make it on RT, and then from there they land on Vesti as “experts” who on closer examination turn out to be village idiots, swindlers, and outright Nazis.
Where do they get all these people? Does some unknown VGTRK editor sit there and come up with some reputable foreign expert to put on air to talk about American plots?
Let’s try to sort this out with a Vesti story on “armchair experts” as an example.
Take, for example, William Engdahl [3:40 in the Vesti report] who says that “the US government has concocted a entire plot to demonize Russia.” Engdahl is the author of numerous books, articles and speeches about the dangers of GMOs, that global warming is a myth, and that the CIA is behind every incident in the world, from the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran to the Egyptian Revolution in 2011. He often appears on RT, and in particular on the program Truthseeker in July 2014, the same episode about “crucified children” that was eventually taken off the air after numerous viewer complaints.
In addition, Engdahl is a regular contributor to the Centre for Research on Globalization and frequently publishes on the website globalresearch.ca. Noodle Remover has already written about why this site is a valuable source for various “analysts” and “political scientists” for Russian television. And Michel Chossudovsky, the Centre for Research on Globalization’s founder, is on the scientific council of the Italian magazine Geopolitica, whose editor, Tiberio Graziani, in turn, sits in the high council of the International Eurasian Movement, whose leader is Aleksandr Dugin. If you don’t already know who this is, then read on, so I don’t have to tell you. In general, in just a few years this multifaceted personality has morphed from a “nutty professor” into one of the most influential Russian public intellectuals with a huge impact on domestic and foreign policy. There’s perhaps nothing that demonstrates Dugin’s attitude toward Russia’s leadership than this quote from 2007. His views haven’t changed much since:“There are no more opponents to Putin’s policy, and if there are, they’re mentally ill and need to get their head examined. Putin is everywhere, Putin is everything, Putin is absolute, Putin is indispensable.”Alexandr Dugin, the leader of the Eurasian Movement, at a reception for Izvestiia newspaper September 17, 2007.
There is an Italian magazine for far right intellectuals that supports Putin on the principle “the enemy of my enemy” (the main criteria is to be against America), and there on the scientific council is Engdahl on the next line after Dugin. We can assume that Engdahl is personally acquainted with Dugin and through him he enters the minds and offices of the highest managers, including the heads of VGTRK, and not put on air on the personal initiative of some junior editor.
It seems that generally European right-wingers, neo-Nazis, Eurosceptics and various conspiracy theorists in Dugin’s orbit are the main source of “experts” for Russian television. And not just for television. Take for example, Manuel Ochsenreiter, who appears regularly on RT and Russian television channels as a “journalist.”
Of course, the journalist Ochsenreiter is more specifically the editor of the far right journal Zuerst!, which has been involved in several scandals in Germany (for example, the publisher Bauer dropped the magazine due to its sympathy for Nazism). Moreover, Ochsenreiter isn’t just a frequent commentator on Russian television; he was an “observer” to the “elections” in the Luhansk People’s Republic, which is defending itself against the aggression of the fascist junta. All with the help of a real German neo-Nazi, who publishes a German magazine about the glorious victories of the Wehrmacht.
This is literally the cover of the magazine Deutsche Militärzeitschrift, which Ochsenreiter edited until 2011.
Continuing with the Vesti story. Jeffrey Steinberg comes on next after Engdahl [at 3:51]. Steinberg is an author for Executive Intelligence Review which is published by the so-called LaRouche Movement. This “movement,” to put it kindly, is actually just a bunch of LaRouchies—a quasi-fascist cult with fairly seedy rituals (read about “ego-stripping“, for example). Their views are also purely cultish and conspiratorial. LaRouchies, for example, are completely nuts about the British royal family, which, in their view, are to blame for all of mankind’s troubles, Queen Elizabeth II personally controls the drug cartels, and so on. Jeffrey Steinberg, for example, claimed in an interview that Princess Diana didn’t die in a car accident but was killed by British intelligence on the orders of Prince Philip (Conspiracy theories that Diana was murdered and didn’t die in an accident are popular). EIR magazine regularly publishes covers like this:
As you probably guessed, American magazines with such covers and viewpoints, while they aren’t illegal to publish (try to imagine something like this in Russia), don’t enjoy a massive following, to put it mildly.
Are they active in Russia? First, there’s a LaRouche office in Russia—the so-called Schiller Institute. And the Executive Intelligence Review has a Russian website with all the same stuff as the original only it looks even more insane in Russian:
British agents and advocates for genocide organized the American imperial coup in Ukraine. My God. However, they just didn’t show up yesterday. Lyndon LaRouche himself has been regularly interviewed on RT since 2008.
But he also didn’t appear out of thin air. The thing is, Lyndon LaRouche isn’t the personal and longtime friend of just anyone, but of Sergei Glazyev, the adviser to the President on regional economic integration. Here’s LaRouche and Glazyev together at a joint press conference in 2001:
And here’s a personal congratulation from Glazyev to Lyndon LaRouche on EIR‘s Russian site:
As you can see, these “experts” and “analysts” on the Russian television aren’t picked out of thin air or by the whim of broadcast news editor, but from the friends of those in the highest levels of the Russian government. Dugin, Glazyev, and the Rodina Party have close ties with the European and American far-right, neo-Nazis and other yahoos, who are dragged on television as influential Western political scientists and journalists when they really aren’t. And they are so very pleased when they’re let on television. Even if they’re introduced as important people in Russia and not back home. The Rodina Party, which Glazyev belongs, is also a major supplier of a variety of hand-fed “experts” for television. For example, Vesti has constantly quoted John Laughland at least since 2002:
Now Laughland is cited as the “Director of Studies at the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation.” The respectably named Institute of Democracy and Cooperation, or the Institut de la Démocratie et de la Coopération is headquartered in Paris. Only Laughland is not really he director of this institute nor is any Monsieur for that matter. It’s Natalia Narochnitskaya, a former Duma deputy from the Rodina party from 2003 to 2007. Putin personally appointed her as director.
Narochnitskaya has also been good friends with Laughland for ages.
The Institute for Democracy and Cooperation is an NGO officially established and financed from Russia. So, if you see such experts on television, don’t be fooled by the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation and Mr. Laughland criticizing NATO, America and democracy. It’s all for the homeland. In such cases don’t let your noodles hang on your ears and stay by the phone.
PS: Noodle Remover thanks Anton Shekhovtsov, whose profound research has provided a lot of useful leads on the links between the Russian political establishment and the European and American far-right.
- By Sean — 13 years ago
On Friday, I went to my local photo shop to get some passport sized photos for a library card. While I was waiting I noticed a letter sized portrait of Vladimir Putin on the wall. This was no regular portrait that you see in most government buildings with Vlad looking all presidential and, incidentally, ever so metrosexual. This one was of Putin the commando. It was him, shoulders up, so you could see he was wearing a winter commando jacket and fur hat. I couldn’t help thinking of not just the cheesiness of the portrait, nor just how easy the ubiquitous pictures of Lenin of the Soviet times too easily returned in different content, but I also wondered what will happen to Russia once their beloved Vanya is gone.
Such is also the question increasingly on every Russian politicos’ mind: What will happen in 2008? You see, in 2008, there will be a Presidential election, in which Putin cannot run because of term limits. The newspaper articles seem non-stop. They overflow with predictions of chaos. From the necessity of a handpicked successor to avert chaos to complete doomsday scenarios about colored revolutions and the Russian State imploding. There doesn’t seem to be any room for any middle ground. Authoritarian anti-chaos or democratic chaos. Take your pick.
These views, of course, break down by political affiliation. Many liberal democratic politicos envision, or rather hope, for some kind of Russian version of a “colored revolution” similar to their cousins in the Ukraine and southern neighbors in Georgia. Many liberals are already mobilizing their grassroots forces a la Ukraine to prepare for the 2008 challenge. Yabloko is trying to make a political comeback. Students and other youths are starting to form their own anti-Putin groups. Taking a page from the Ukrainian youth group Pora (It’s Time) and the Georgian group Kmara (Enough), Russian youth groups like Yabloko Youth led by Ilya Yashin, Mikhail Obozov’s Idushchiye bez Putina (Walking Without Putin), student associations Ia Dumaiu (I Think) and Da (Yes) are starting early in anticipation of a 2008 showdown in the streets. The groups first began networking on the internet. Since the pensioner protests at the beginning of the year, they had increased in membership and furthered their activities. Speaking to the LA Times in January, Mikhail Obozov summed up liberal youths desire in this way:
“We are not for bloody revolutions or cataclysms. We are looking for normal democratic development. But if they continue their suppression of all possibilities, I’m afraid some bloody variation of events is possible. In Ukraine, everything went down peacefully. It won’t be like that in Russia.”
Translated: we’re not for chaos, but we won’t shy away from it either.
Many “pro-democracy” (whatever that means in the Russian context) advocates are hoping former Prime Minister Mikhail Krasianov makes a run for President. In something that is pretty unprecedented in Russian politics, Krasianov openly criticized Putin for his move away from democracy. Many observers note that Krasianov might be one of the few Russian politicians who could muster not only a coalition of liberal or anti-Putin parties, the backing of Russians Oligarchs, and possibly exploit the factions that have developed in Putin’s clan of former KGB/FSB and other security elites, the Siloviki.
Such political hopes for many Russian liberals might never get beyond hope, though their early mobilizations might fare them well. All this, especially the youth activity, only fuels the already widespread beliefs that the CIA orchestrated the “revolution” in the Ukraine with a combination of marketing and Soros money. Putin supporters and nationalists thus vow that Russia will not tolerate any “colored revolutions,” and some concrete steps are being taken to make that so. Pro-Putin youth have since ditched the moderate youth group, Idushchie vmeste (Marching Together), for the much more openly nationalist Nashi (Ours). Though the group has not been officially endorsed by the Putin Administration, its leader, Vasily Yakemenko also headed Marching Together. Nashi, says Yakemenko, has a long list enemies: oligarchs, bureaucrats, and what he called “fascist” enemies, which, as he told the Christian Science Monitor, includes “counter-revolution of former officials trying to seize power” (3/16/2005).
Despite the difficultly in imaging life with Putin, legislaters squashed the anticipated official move to allow Putin to run again. Last week, Lower Duma member Alexander Moskalets from United Russia introduced legislation that would alter Chapter V, Article 32.4 of the Russian Constitution so Putin could run again. The bill only gained 32 of the 226 votes it needed to pass. Such a defeat shows that United Russia, which dominates the Duma and is Putin’s party doesn’t even favor such a move.
It seems that the Putin/United Russia camp is paving a different road to victory in 2008. Despite the emergence of a more militant youth group like Nashi, United Russia might attempt to transform itself into a centrist party that places “Just imagine if they came to power” at the center of their platform. The “they” in this slogan is the Communist Party and Rodina (Homeland) the respective far left and right parties. In an interview given to the German weekly Der Spiegel this week, Putin deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, described a strategy where, unlike their main opponents, United Russia is preparing for the future without looking to the past for solutions. This means that United Russia will focus on providing viable candidates not just for President, but for lower political positions as well. It is also looking to present an inclusiveness that could siphon off support of liberal democratic parties like Yabloko.
Yet the doomsday scenario continues to weigh heavily in the political discourse around 2008. After all, Untied Russia’s “Just imagine” slogan is a play against imagined right and left wing political chaos. Surkov’s response to Der Spiegel’s question about a potential revolt rising was “Sure, there will certainly be some attempts to stage a coup – but they will not succeed.” (Vedomosti, 6/30/2005). The assurance that there will be “certainly be some attempts” is an equivocal yes something will happen.
But will it? Such is hard to say. With the specter of revolution in Russia is only being fueled by the simultaneous hope and the fear of a repeat of the Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan informing the entire discourse surrounding of 2008, it will certainly be anti-climatic if there isn’t. It certainly seems that in the Russian and Western press, 2008 is being built up to Y2K proportions. There is no middle ground. Any suggestion of normalcy is cast off as naive.
However, one does have to wonder why normalcy for Russia is so out of the question. Sure, daily life lacks predictability. There is always some stumbling block. Take a small, but I think telling example. One day, I went to buy a bass pass and was refused purchase because I didn’t have exact change. The women in the ticket booth did not have 30 rubles to give me change. I walked away without a pass. Such is a standard occurrence. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve got eye fucked by grocery store checkers for not having kopecks for exact change. At the same time, there is a saying here in Russia: “Nel’zia, no vozmozhno” (It is forbidden, but possible.) There are barriers everywhere, but all barriers are movable. If you know how to play the game, especially if it involves bribes of money, chocolate, flowers, tea, etc, all things are possible. Daily life is a constant negotiation that involves a set of personal relations that stand in for the lack of legal ethic. (Here I mean not the rule of Law, whose existence here is also quesntionable, but an professional/service ethic that governs daily transactions.) If this game occurs on a micropoltical level can you imagine it in the macropolitical heavens of Russian politics?
The sheer lack of predictability creates a political culture that assumes chaos as the norm. Everyone predicted said chaos in the transition from Yeltsin to Putin, and when that chaos didn’t happen it was then argued that it was because Yeltsin handpicked a successor. Chaos inevitable and chaos averted in the same breath. Now, it is the same line. There will be some kind of chaos unless Putin runs again or hand picks a successor. His opponents are predicting a chaos of their own because they seem to believe that since Russian “democracy” is a sham, the only way to come to power is through chaos.
They are right about one thing: Russian democracy is a sham. But the only people who seem to care about this are Russian liberals who want power and the Western, mostly American, observers who see the Yukos affair as a sign of, that’s right, chaos. My sense is that most Russians don’t care about Putin’s assault on freedom of speech and political rights. They certainly don’t care about Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Yukos. As far as they’re concerned, he is a crook.
What many Russians are looking for is a predictability to the micropolitical chaos that rules their life. They don’t care, or need, anymore. They care about stability. A predictable chaos, if you would. For them, Putin’s rule has established at least a semblance of it. It has put the breaks on the truly chaotic times of the 1990s. This new stability is not necessarily happening economically, though it perceived as better than ten years ago. The stability is mostly happening culturally. Reconciliation with the Soviet past has finally begun that doesn’t damn it, but praises its achievements. Nothing said this more than the recent 60th Anniversary of Victory Day celebrations. The glory of defeating the Nazis was relived through red flags with images of Stalin and Lenin. Putin has slyly absorbed the Soviet Union into his narrative. It lives in content, but not in form. This doesn’t mean that Putin is a Communist. Not by a long shot. What it does mean is that he is exploiting a nostalgia for the stability that the Soviet Union provided without actually providing it.
This is why I think when 2008 arrives, United Russia will come out on top because people don’t want to “imagine if they came to power.” And in my local photo shop, the Putin as commander picture will come down, and the picture of some, probably, handpicked Putin successor will take his place. Commando suit and all.