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    Thursday, September 27, 2007

    The new face of Russian "extremism"

    Forget about the 10,000 skinheads, Rodina and Vladimir Zhirinovsky. It turns out that the real extremists in Russia are people like the nice man in the photograph, Andrei Piontkovsky.

    Piontkovsky has been charged with extremism in connection with two of his books, "Unloved Country" and "For the Motherland! For Abramovich! Fire!" (He also has another book, translated into English called "Another Look Into Putin's Soul" that you can buy here. Some might take the fact that the Kremlin doesn't want you to read it as recommendation enough...)

    The idea that Piontkovsky, a member of the liberal Yabloko party, is an extremist is absurd. He is a right-winger, yes, deeply opposed to the Putin regime, for sure, and someone with thick ties to the American establishment (I met him last year at the Hudson Institute, a right-wing think tank here in Washington D.C.). But none of those things should be illegal in a country like Russia that still pretends at being a democracy.

    The fact that he's been charged with inciting hatred against Russians, Americans and Jews deepens the farce. Piontkovsky, it should be noted, is a Russian Jew who spends a good chunk of his time in America. There are few people in the world less likely to hate Russians, Americans and Jews. At his trial in Moscow, the prosecutor couldn't even cite which passages of Piontkovsky's writing were doing the inciting.

    Simply put, Andrei Piontkovsky is in trouble because he's one of the Kremlin's most vocal and effective critics. He also speaks and writes in English, which made him a favourite of the Western media.

    Russia's recently amended extremism laws (which were broadened this year after charges against opposition leader Garry Kasparov failed to stick) are nothing but tool for suppressing political opponents. According to a story in today's Washington Post, other people being investigated for "promoting extremism" right now are Vladimir Pribylovsky, another liberal (and quotable) favourite of the Western press, and human-rights advocate Lev Ponomarev, who notably was among those who led the demonstrations that stopped the hard-line coup and brought about the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

    Like Piontkovsky, Pribylovsky had written extensively on the corruption of Russian democracy. Ponomarev's most recent "crime" was to organize a day of mourning on Moscow's Lubyanka Square (right in front of the KGB/FSB headquarters) for the victims of 2004 Beslan school massacre.

    These are not extremists. These are people who dream of a different Russia than the one they currently live in.


    La Russophobe said...

    Thanks for standing up for Mr. Piontovsky, Mark. When you write: "These are not extremists. These are people who dream of a different Russia than the one they currently live in." I'd only add that, in Putin's Russia, dreaming such dreams MAKES you an extremist as Russia defines it, just the same as occurred in Stalin's time.

    Two requests:

    (1) Can you give us some suggestions as to how we can best act to protect people like Mr. Piotovovsky, and combat the rise of dictatorship in Russia?

    (2) Don't you think it might be appropriate to place some blame for this outrageous action on the people of Russia, who are standing idly by watching this happen (maybe even informing on their neighbors) just as in Soviet times, apparently having learned nothing from that experience? Shouldn't we challenge them to be more civilized and to recognize the threat they are creating to their own futures?

    markmac said...

    Russophobe - the only answer I have to the first part of your question is that you and I and other bloggers (as well as the mainstream media) should keep writing about Mr. Piontkovsky's fate, as well as others caught by this absurd law.

    The second part of your point is very philosophical. Are Russians passive by nature when it comes to their political rights? Yes, I think so. Would I act differently (or more like Mr. Piontkovsky) if this were my government? Yes, I hope so.

    But I didn't grow up in the Soviet Union, so I don't have the same ingrained fear of authority. I was lucky enough to grow up in Canada, where I never worried how the government would respond to me exercising my rights.

    Anonymous said...

    Originally posted at Siberian Light:

    "Critic of Georgian President Faces Charges

    How hot a topic is this in Eng. lang. mass media? Contrast to the coverage when/if a critic of Putin is arrested.

    When compared to Georgia and many other countries, Russia is a large country with a good deal of geo-political clout. This in part explains why real and potential human rights issues fall under greater scrutiny with the coverage of Russia. The other part has to do with the geo-political hypocrisy of some."


    Overall, I don't find anything particularly "nice" about Andrei Piontkovsky's commentary, inclusive of his performance at a Hudson panel discussion awhile back. Some excerpted notes of that event:

    "Inside Putin's Soul

    CSPAN aired a rebroadcast of last week's Hudson Institute panel discussion on Russia featuring Andrei Piontkovsky (Hudson Institute), David Satter (Jamestown Foundation), Anders Aslund (Institute for International Economics) and Carl Gershman (National Endowment for Democracy). The bias level at this event matched that of a recent Brookings Institute panel on the same subject ( ).

    At one point, Gershman referred to Piontkovsky as a "Russian patriot." My ideal Russian patriot would've questioned Gershman's dubious claim of Ukraine and Georgia being more democratic than Russia (Gershman apparently likes oligarchic influence in the Ukrainian government and the North Korean like 96% presidential tally in Georgia's last election). Anders Aslund supported Gershman by citing Freedom House's recent survey on democratic development. Besides Aslund, some other analysts (like Taras Kuzio and Michael McFaul) cite Freedom House as if they're referencing a non-politicized human rights organization. According to Aslund - Ukraine is now less corrupt than Russia. This is news to me (and I suspect a good many others as well). Piontovsky, Satter and Aslund might be surprised to know that many Ukrainians admire (in comparative terms) the overall socio-economic conditions in Belarus."


    Having said all this, I oppose the idea of arresting someone for reasons having to do solely with their political views.

    Anonymous said...

    I'll have to read more into this. Once again, I oppose the idea of arresting someone for reasons having to do solely with their political views. It's a more extreme way of how some media environments discriminate against journalists having a different take from those employed and frequently propped at high profile venues. That belief relates to English language mass media. Not discussing that while putting Russian media under the microscope reflects an ongoing censorship.

    I don't for a moment believe that Piontkovsky's arrest has ANYTHING to do with his Jewish background. The coach of the European champion Russian national men's basketball team is an American-Israeli.