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?
You Might also like
By Sean — 7 years ago
Let me start with a disclaimer. I don’t particularly like or remotely agree with most of what Luke Harding writes. When you sheer his stories of the details, and true sometimes the details do matter, his basic premises are rooted in the orientalism of Western encounters with Russia since the 16th century. For the most part all his reports could lead with the words of the Marquis de Custine, “The Russian government could never have been established elsewhere than in Russia; and the Russians would never have become what they are under a government differing from that which exists among them.”
All that being said, though I don’t agree with Harding, something is indeed rotten in Denmark when the he is told “the Russia Federation is closed to you.” There is simply no justification for this, no matter how much of a “hack” or “anti-Russian” he may be. But the fetidness doesn’t emanate from the specter of a further media clampdown. It comes from the Russian government’s own lack of confidence in its hegemonic power.
As Julia Ioffe notes, Harding’s expulsion is hardly surprising. He’s been the victim of repeated direct and indirect intimidation in his years as the Guardian‘s Moscow correspondent. So the Harding Affair has a much longer history, which inevitably poses the question: Why now? I, too, don’t buy that Harding’s Wikileaks reporting tipped the scale. The Wikileaks cables were reported extensively in Russia, including the infamous one about Russia being a “virtual mafia state,” a notion that, shock, many Russians already believe. It could have been his interview with father of Mariam Sharipova, the young woman who blew herself up in the Moscow metro in March 2010. Showing sympathy for the terrorist, let alone painting the terrorist has human is a definite no-no in every country fighting the good fight. But while the interview certainly didn’t ingratiate Harding to the Russian authorities, the story was written eight months ago. So then what is the real reason?
For a partial answer we have to turn to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While MID isn’t going to give the whole truth, or even a smidgen of it, it’s worth looking at what they’re saying and read between the lines. In an official statement, the Ministry explained that Harding committed a “whole host of violations” the most recent of which was: “In particular, after requesting and receiving an extension of his press accreditation last November, Harding left Moscow to London on his own accord, without receiving written certification as a foreign correspondent although he that he needed to do so.” Now, anyone who’s been to Russia knows that violating the intricate and often confusing minutia of Russian travel regulations is a surefire way to get the boot. The bureaucrat is king, and, if he so desires, he wields his rules and regulations with a might force. Granted, I don’t believe MID’s reasons for a second. We all know how these things work. Harding’s alleged slip only gave the government the legal means to deny him re-entry. I imagine that the process went like this. When Harding exited Russia, his passport was recorded. When he entered, it came up with a red flag that he wasn’t supposed to leave. Busted. Irritant removed. So while everyone is rightly hemming and hawing about his expulsion, the Russians can now point to their laws and say: “You criticize us when we don’t follow our laws, and you criticize us when we do. We are a sovereign country are are duty bound to enforce our laws.” But this is how things work in nation states. The law is a tool for enhancing state power, not for its restriction, and when necessary, it functions as a good cover for disposing of “problems” big or small.
The Russian government has never been known for its tact or subtly. History has shown that its edge is blunter and bloodier than most. In this case the incident might prove to be more trouble than it’s worth. The story is everywhere in the Russian press. International outcry will certainly mount. Harding is now cause celeb. His career is made not because he writes stellar stories, but because the Russian government is for some reason disturbed by them. Unless, short term memory kicks in, the Harding Affair will prove (and I think it already has) just another PR disaster. So Harding writes unflattering stories about Russia. So what? Perhaps it’s time the Russian government get it through its thick skull that the Hardings (not to mention the Nemtsovs) don’t present any real danger. I’m sure that some Russian officials think Harding is a spy, but the same officials think every foreigner and probably anyone who has ever been to the West is a spy. Some paranoias die hard. Some day, though I can’t imagine that it will be anytime soon, the Russian government will have enough self-confidence in themselves and their system to see that the best way to deal with irritants is to ignore them, or better yet defuse them through positive recognition.
This is after all what mature liberal democracies do, and as Gramsci taught, consent is always more effective than force. The best of liberal democracies realize that there are acceptable forms of opposition that don’t shake the system and when necessary can be quite easily subsumed into the maintenance and even the expansion of power.Post Views: 771
By Sean — 10 years ago
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 . . .Post Views: 563
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.Post Views: 1,654