Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Has Crossed the Rubicon from an Authoritarian to ‘an Openly Bandit’ Regime, Russian Commentator Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 30 – Like other despotic regimes in the past, the current Russian government appears to have crossed the Rubicon separating “an authoritarian regime from an openly bandit-style one” with its campaign of persecution against Moscow journalist Aleksandr Podrabinek, “Yezhednevny zhurnal” commentator Vladimir Kara-Murza argues.
In today’s issue of that paper, Kara-Murza notes that “force has accompanied the chekist regime from the first days of its birth – from the bombings of the apartment houses to the murders of rights activists and journalists. But until recently, the powers that be have sought to muddy the waters about who bore responsibility” (
The Podrabinek case “shows the true worth” of claims about “‘the liberal president,’” and has “become for Russia a sign of things to come: For the first time since the days of the USSR’s KGB, the Kremlin regime … has openly and without shame unleashed a persecution campaign against a journalist who was brave enough not to agree with the general line.”
“The siege of his house, offensive phone calls, direct threats and other methods from the arsenal of criminal groups, as the Nashi organization willingly acknowledges are directed at a completely define goal: to force Aleksandr Podrabinek to leave Russia,” just as similar efforts were employed against Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and others in Soviet times.
It is clear, Kara-Murza continues, that Podrabinek’s latest article which the authorities have falsely denounced as an attack on the reputation of Soviet veterans was “only a pretext” for this campaign given his involvement in the distribution of the book “The FSB Blows Up Russia” and his direct participation in the presidential campaign of Vladimir Bukovsky
Indeed, “in covering themselves with a hypocritical ‘concern about veterans,’ the servants of the regime show the world their true face: the face of the defenders of the ‘Sovsystem,’ the KGB and the GULAG. All the masks have finally been cast off,” Kara-Murza says, “and that, if you will is the single positive result of this disgusting episode.”
But as Podrabinek himself noted in an article published yesterday, “the situation possibly is worse than it may appear at first glance” because he has been given information from “reliable sources that those at “quite high levels” within the powers that be, and not the humble “Nashi” movement gave the orders for this campaign (
And two other Russian commentators pointed to even more disturbing aspects of the Russian government’s persecution of Podrabinek. In an essay on the site today, Irina Pavlova argued that the powers that be arranged this case in order “to demonstrate the growing force of the process of re-Stalinization in the country (
In support of that argument, she pointed to the similarities between what Russian officials and organizations are doing now and what Stalin and his henchmen did in the 1930s. First, Nashi and its associates attacked Podrabinek with the kind of language associated with Stalinist denunciations of “enemies of the people.”
Second, the way in which Nashi and its allies were deployed “does not allow anyone to doubt” that this was ordered from above just as Stalin directed Soviet institutions in the past and with the same theme of “the organization of the anger of the masses” against an individual that the regime dislikes.
And third, just as in Stalin’s time, none of the Russian public organizations has spoken out against this illegal campaign, citing their desire “not to interfere” just as their Soviet predecessors did. This too shows that the social organizations “legally existing in Russia” are part and parcel of the power system, “politically loyal” and acceptant of “the rules of the game.”
“If one uses the terminology of the current powers that be,” Pavlova says, “then the persecution of Aleksandr Podrabinek is an example in the pure form of the actions of Russian ‘standards of democracy.’ Stalin … also spoke about ‘the complete democratization of the political system of the country.”
The saddest thing about all this, she continues, is that such propaganda “is working.” Not long ago “a book on Russia entitled ‘Terror and Democracy in the Epoch of Stalin’ appeared in the West. The word democracy was used without quotation marks.” Given all that, she argues, one should not underestimate just how serious this case is for the future of Russia.
Meanwhile, in another comment, Moscow blogger Dmitry Shusharin suggested that the Podrabinek case shows that “the liberalization of [Moscow’s] foreign policy is leading to opposite results internally,” thus repeating a pattern that frequently occurred during the Soviet period (
Arguing that this constitutes “détente instead of a thaw,” Shusharin says that Moscow assumes that having declared its love and friendship to the US, it will receive carte blanche for any actions on the territory of the former USSR,” a trade-off that represents a new set of “Yalta accords.”
Specifically, he writes, by making concessions to US President Obama on Iran, Moscow will be able to arrange things as it likes at home because “now everything is possible.” If Shusharin is right, Podrabinek and the Russian people will be the first victims of such a trade: They will not be the last.

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