Thursday, November 6, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Obama Victory Deprives Moscow of Its Favorite Rejoinder to Western Criticism on Human Rights

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 6 – While President Dmitry Medvedev’s decision to test US President-elect Barak Obama by putting Russian missiles in Kaliningrad and calls by many Russians for a new era in Russian-American relations have attracted more attention, one consequence of Obama’s victory may ultimately prove even more important.
As anyone who has dealt with Soviet or Russian officials on questions of human rights will recall, many of them have tended to employ as their ultimate rejoinder to any criticism of Russian practices with the statement that “But you Americans lynch Negroes,” a practice that Russian officials have used in both domestic and foreign propaganda.
After Obama’s victory on Tuesday, however, Russian human rights activist Vadim Belotserkovsky says in an essay posted online today, it will be difficult if not impossible for Russian officials to continue to use that expression or to insist as they have done in the past that the US is “a synonym for racism” (
Indeed, the vote in the United States, he argues, represents “a crushing blow to Nazis and racists of all shapes and kinds everywhere.” There will now be a black president and first lady in what many Russians have insisted is “a racist country, and such suggestions by Moscow’s propagandists will collapse by virtue of their absurdity.
In an article entitled, “The Victory of Barak Obama is a Victory of America for the Good of Humanity,” the Moscow rights activist continues, the decision of the American people to elect a black man is the functional equivalent of what is now completely impossible – the election as president of Russia of a Jew or a Chechen.
All this, he says, will “drive not only racists but all anti-Americans mad” because “it will be difficult for them to continue their [anti-American] songs.”
But Obama’s behavior after being elected was equally striking: “In the very first minutes of his first speech … Obama said “This is the love of my life – my Michele! And my daughters whom I love so much that they cannot even imagine?’ Where beside America could one hear such words from someone who has just become president?”
Obama’s remarkable statement, Belotserkovsky continues, was echoed by the dignity with which his opponent, Senator John McCain, acknowledged his defeat: “I lost. But I am responsible for that, not you! … This night will end, and tomorrow I will help the new president work for the good of our beloved America.”
“Where else besides America could a politician speak in such a way on the day of his defeat?” Belotserkovsky asks.
On the very day that the American people elected a black man president, the Moscow activist continued, “Russian President Medvedev in the capital of our country made public that presidents in Russia ought ‘to be elected’ for six years and the Duma for five” – only a few months after saying that the Russian political system should remain unchanged for decades.
“In other words,” Belotserkovsky notes, “on the day of Obama’s victory was clearly on view the ‘bipolar’ world so hated by the Kremlin: the United States is the realm of democracy and Russia is the realm of dictatorship and arbitrary action by those who have power!” And he concludes his article with the following declaration:
“Anti-Americanism is the curse of Russia. Combined with chauvinism, arrogance, boastfulness, and the stupidity of kvas patriotism, it, along with other factors, is leading to the mental degradation of Russia. But one would like to believe that Barak Obama’s victory will affect the thinking of many Russians and sometime help them really ‘to rise from their knees’ in the struggle for change, as Americans have now stood up.”

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