Day: March 23, 2009

The Silence of the Silenced

Interviewed in the Finnish political weekly Nykypäivä, the Russian dissident and former Novaya Gazeta correspondent Oksana Chelysheva sees a change taking place in Russian public opinion under the impact of the present economic crisis. In particular, she is at pains to challenge some of the perceptions about Russia that are widespread in the West (my translation):

To foreign observers Russia can easily seem like a political monolith. The power may lie with the Tsar, the Politburo or the Prime Minister, but the forms and methods by which that power is exercised are always the same: central control, concentration of power in the hands of the state, and an emphasis on external threats.

Chelysheva believes that trying to interpret Russia in terms of its “submissive” national character is an oversimplification. The article continues:

She does not accept the argument that however authoritarian Putin’s regime may be, it represents stability compared to its predecessor, the government of Boris Yeltsin, which combined freedom with social chaos.

“It’s true that in the Yeltsin era there was chaos, but one could talk about it. Now there is a chaos which cannot be mentioned.”

Another misconception widespread in the West live is that the vast majority of Russians are satisfied with things as they are.

“The Russians haven’t fallen silent about their lot, they’ve been silenced. There is a certain difference.

Many people in the West believe that while the dissidents are right in principle, in their support for democracy and freedom of speech they represent only in a small elite that is composed of the Russian intelligentsia.

Chelysheva does this accept this view either.

“The situation is exactly the opposite. It’s not the intelligentsia who are criticizing the Kremlin, but ordinary people.”

Chechen Ghosts

Ghosts of Alexander writes about the media campaign to implicate Chechens in the Taleban insurgency in Afghanistan. As he makes abundantly clear with numerous detailed demonstrations of proof, the Chechens for the most part quite simply aren’t there:

So who is telling these “misrepresentations of reality?” The originators would be the Russian FSB and the Kremlin, trying to tie in the fight against the Chechens into the American war on terror and legitimizing their operations in Chechnya. Many in the Russian media picked this up and ran with it. They were very soon joined by American journalists who were repeating the Russian journalists, and most importantly, the US Department of Defense. The DoD likely did so out of sheer ignorance (an ignorance shared by many stateside). However, it is possible that the desire to show Russia the need for an American base in Central Asia to support the war in Afghanistan was a motivating factor. Also, the US would like to portray the resistance to them in Afghanistan as coming from crazed Jihadis from far off lands when really it’s coming from locals and Pakistanis. This joined the Americans and the Russians in some mutually beneficial storytelling.

And they have now been joined by Pakistan, who is trying to convince the world that all problems back home are the result of foreigners, hence the stream of reports about the masses of Uzbeks and Chechens in the tribal areas. And when Afghan and Pakistani locals talk about Chechens they are doing so because they both know what the interviewer wants to hear, they are repeating what local leaders say, and they are trying to deflect attention away from the ethnic Pashtuns (usually locals) who are being identified as “Chechens.”