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.