Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Western Concessions to Kremlin Weaken Position of Russian Democrats, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 11 – Like the decision of the European Union to renew talks with Moscow about a strategic partnership, the decision of the BBC to reduce Russian language broadcasting will please the Kremlin, not least because both of these Western steps will weaken the democracy movement in the Russian Federation.
In an essay on Grani.ru this week, Irina Pavlova says that those who signed a letter to “The Times” of London are “absolutely correct” to view the cutback at the BBC “as a concession to the Russian powers that be” and to see it as undercutting the West’s long-term interest in the democratic transformation of Russia (grani.ru/Politics/Russia/m.143884.html).
As the Moscow activist points out, these moves are taking place “at a time when the Russian leadership has ignored the request of Great Britain for handing over for trail Andrei Lugovoy; who is suspected not only in the murder of its citizen Aleksandr Litvinenko but in the commission of the first act of nuclear terrorism on its territory.”
Moreover, this Western concession to the Kremlin is occurring “when the Russian powers that be are making various charges and accusations against British organizations and companies and when [Russian studios] are making films in which Great Britain is presented as the historic enemy of Russia.”
Tragically, Pavlova says, “concessions by Western countries to militant authoritarianism has long been “a tradition” – one that included both Chamberlain’s sacrifice of Czechoslovakia to Hitler at Munich and the West’s willingness to believe Stalin’s lies about the Ukrainian famine of the early 1930s as presented to it by Walter Duranty.
During the depression of the 1930s, she continues, “Western intellectual were so delighted by Stalin’s modernization,” especially in contrast to what was taking place in their own countries. They advised US President Franklin Roosevelt that Stalin “was little different than Western leaders” and that “the Politburo, like the US Congress, restricted his freedom of action.”
Some of them even were able to convince Roosevelt that “only by means of the interference of the state in economic life could a country successfully overcome the depression of 1929, and they were so convinced of that 400 American intellectuals denounced suggestions at the time of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that Stalin’s Russia was “totalitarian.”
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago” and other exposes of Soviet crimes shook some in the West but only some and only for a limited time, and the views of the left in the West about “the necessity of increasing the role of the state in the economy for the good of society remained unchanged.”
But, she continues, “even the disintegration of the Soviet Union which for a majority was completely unexpected did not influence their ideas about the optimal state structure which in essence was socialism, which according to their unchanged conviction makes reality understandable and orderly.”
And that is why, she writes, that “when criticizing power in their own countries, liberal intellectuals of the West somehow always turn up on the side of authoritarian rulers of undemocratic countries.”
While the Kremlin tells Russians that the Western media has unleashed “a Russophobic campaign against Russia,” she points out, in fact, Russian should remember that “Western liberal respect Vladimir Putin, have declared him the man of the year and even put his portrait on the cover of Time magazine.”
And that explains why they are so “half-hearted and inconsistent in [their] assessment of the position of Russia relative to Georgia. They consider contemporary Russia a completely normal country, although they acknowledge that there are certain imperfections in it. And therefore they happily take part in sessions of the Valdai Club and the Russian World project.
“There is nothing sadder than to consider the deep crisis in the understanding of the meaning of what is taking place not only in Russia but in the West too.” And it is in that context that the decision of the BBC to reduce Russian programming – following on an American government decision to do the same at VOA – should be viewed.
“The chief thing” about the BBC’s decision, she continues, “is not that the number of listeners will become fewer but that the radio station which in Soviet times was a gulf of fresh air for those who thought different in essence has betrayed its supporters and undermined their idea of freedom.”
Instead of challenging the falsehoods put out by the Kremlin, the BBC and others “have preferred to move off to the side.” And while “an understanding of what is taking place is above all a problem of Russia itself,” this loss of an ally is telling, especially at a time when “three-quarters” of the Russian people say Putin is “bringing the country only positive results.”

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