Sunday, October 7, 2007
Day of shame
Perhaps one day, people in Russia will come to see Oct. 7 as a day of mourning.
First, it's the anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya's murder, a sad day for anyone who cares about free press in the country. Whatever you think about her writing, and whoever ordered her murder, the end result is that fewer Russian journalists, writers and intellectuals feel comfortable expressing dissent. For a country with Russia's dark past, that's very bad news.
(For plenty of great material on Politkovskaya - pictured - and her life and death, see today's edition of La Russophobe and the special English page done by the staff at her old newspaper, Novaya Gazeta.)
Just as disconcerting, some 10,000 people, many of them wearing shirts emblazoned with Vladimir Putin's name and image, marched along the Moscow River today to celebrate the president's 55th birthday. They shouted birthday greetings, as well as slogans like "Putin is our future." The rally was organized by the ever-creepier Nashi youth movement.
(As an aside, only a few hundred people commemorated Politkovskaya's life at a rally in Moscow today, and demonstrators attending a conference marking the anniversary in NIzhny Novgorod were briefly arrested by police there.)
There will be those who will say that Putin's "birthday party" was just another demonstration of how beloved the president is. That's nonsense.
Yes, Putin is popular. But these sycophantic rallies evoke the "popular" demonstrations organized by dictators the world over. I've been to rallies like the one I saw today in Syria, Pakistan and Belarus. That's not a list any country should aspire to join.
We're not witnessing the evolution of Russian democracy, but the creation of a one-man personality cult. Again, for a country with such a tortured history, that's frightening to watch.
I could go on, but I have a plane to catch. Suffice it to say that Oct. 7, 2007 was a dark day in Moscow.