Sunday, April 19, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Even Moscow’s Closest Allies in the CIS are Switching Off Russian TV

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 19 – Ever more former Soviet republics, including some Moscow views as its closest allies within the Commonwealth of Independent States, have decided to drop Russian TV channels, a development that threatens the survival of the broader Russian-language space Moscow has wanted to maintain and thus of Moscow’s influence in these countries.
That Georgia and Ukraine have made that choice, according to a lead article in “Gazeta” on Friday, will come as no surprise given the tensions between the Russian Federation and those two countries. But that Tajikistan and Belarus have done so raises some serious questions, the editors say (
Each of the governments has its own reason for taking this action, the paper notes, thus undermining any notion that this is “a conspiracy” against Russia as some might be inclined to think. Tajikistan, for example, says that RTR-Planeta was not willing to pay higher rates. And Belarus suggests that the Russian channels have not followed the required procedures.
On the one hand, the editors of “Gazeta” say, it would be a mistake to exaggerate what is going on: “Not all Russian television channels have been switched off, and those which have retain a chance after the submission of the required [documentation] to continue their broadcasts in friendly countries.”
But on the other hand, they say, “let us not minimize” what is happening in this sphere, especially in those countries Moscow lists as its “friends.” Indeed, in these cases, the governments involved appear to be using “just the same methods which are used in Moscow against any foreign business attempting to operate in the Russian market.”
Indeed, the “Gazeta” editor say, Moscow’s example has turned out to be “contagious” in ways few in the Russian capital expected. And to make its point, the paper offers the following quotation without initially identifying its author: “An information war is being directed against us to lower our role in international affairs … [Our] Independence doesn’t please certain circles.”
These words or at least the sentiment behind them could have been advanced by Vladimir Putin, Vladislav Surkov and Sergey Lavrov, “Gazeta” points out. But in fact, their source is Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmon, who the paper helpfully notes “until recently bore a family name with a Russian ending, Rakhmonov.”
In this way, the Russian government has influenced its neighbors, the editors of “Gazeta
say. And consequently, it is not just Russia that is “rising from its knees” but also some of her neighbors who are doing so – and against Moscow, an interesting example of an unintended consequence of Moscow’s recent approach.
And in Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s policy of maneuvering “between West and East requires a particular precise propagandistic accompaniment,” something that he clearly has concluded Russian television broadcasting does not provide the right notes for the song he now wishes to sing.
Moreover, the paper’s editors continue, all around Russia, there are now states with their own sense of “power, pride, and suspicions” which sometimes openly and sometimes now their governments are directing against Moscow. And “the logical result of this is growing pressure in the CIS countries against Russian official propaganda and its televised retranslation.”
As the governments restrict Russian television broadcasting, the first to suffer will be the native Russian speakers in these countries, the Moscow paper observes. But the decline in such broadcasts will reduce still further one of the Russian government’s most beloved forms of “soft power”—the maintenance of a Russian-language world beyond the border of the country itself.
Unfortunately, as the editors of “Gazeta” conclude, Moscow and Russian television need to recognize that no one is more to blame for this outcome than they are themselves: “never before has our television been so provincial, empty and unprofessional,” the paper says, “so disgusting for viewers with taste and so boring” for many others.
Meanwhile, at the end of last week, there were two other developments on the Russian language front which highlight the sensitivities to which the “Gazeta” editors alluded. On the one hand, in the Duma, a United Russia deputy called for excluding foreign words from all future legislation (
Gennady Kulik made that proposal during debates on a law governing “insaidersky” information. He said that English-language word, which has become an international one, should be translated into Russia since, in his opinion, “this word is not familiar to a majority of the residents of Russia,”
And on the other, the nationalist Russian Observer portal denounced efforts by the Kazan Tatars to have their language, the second most widely spoken indigenous tongue in the Russian Federation, declared the second state language of the country as a threat to the territorial integrity of Russia (

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