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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Is David Johnson Worse than a Russian Skinhead?

Everyone considered him the coward of the county.
He'd never stood one single time to prove the county wrong.
His mama named him Tommy, the folks just called him yellow,
But something always told me they were reading Tommy wrong.

-- Kenny Rogers
"The Coward of the County"

Who's more dangerous to Russia's future, its skinheads or David Johnson and other "moderates" like him?

La Russophobe's money is on David and the "moderates." Is she reading Tommy wrong? Time will tell.

La Russophobe can just hear you now, gentle reader: How can La Russophobe be so "cruel" and "extreme"? Isn't it clear that Johnson's heart is in the right place, even if it isn't big enough?

Allow La Russophobe to explain. She has already quoted Martin Luther King's famous Letter from Birmingham Jail once, but it cannot be quoted too often. King wrote:
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disapointed by the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that that Negro's great stumbling block in his stride towards freedom is not the White Citizens Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with the goals you seek but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom. Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
David Johnson is perhaps just such a "white moderate," someone "who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice." Granted that Johnson's influence over what Russia does is marginal at best, but whatever it is worth it does not seem he will not use it to create direct opposition to the Kremlin's neo-Soviet polices, and that makes him more dangerous to Russia's future, as King and La Russophobe see it, than Putin himself. Johnson's Russia List is distinguished by its marked lack of confrontation with the evil regime that occupies the Kremlin, its marked paternalistic belief that "he can set the timetable for another man's freedom." When the dust clears, and Russia emerges as "Zaire with Permafrost," so-called moderates like Johnson will be seen as larger culprits than aggressive criminals like Putin. Johnson's "lukewarm acceptance" of the struggle against racism in Russia provides a salient example.

OK, so you don't believe La Russophobe. You want proof. Fine, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

1. The Racism Question

As faithful readers of La Russophobe will already know, some time ago La Russophobe asked why David Johnson didn't have a category devoted to race violence on his website.

One of La Russophobe's intrepid readers took it upon himself to find out, and asked Mr. Johnson himself that very question. Here is the answer he got:
Steve Welsh ( maintains the web site. I'm forwarding this message to him. One very important matter is that the website for JRL is far from complete. This is for copyright reasons. Many of the pieces that appear in the email version are NOT archived.
Not exactly "My gosh, you're right! We're missing such a topic and we're going to get working on creating one right away!" now is it? La Russophobe dares to wonder what MLK would think of this response.

Undeterred, the intrepid reader asked the same question of Mr. Welsh, surprised to find out that Mr. Johnson would evade the question in this manner. Here is Mr. Welsh's response:
Thank you for your interest in the Johnson's Russia List web site. The starting point for content is the E-Newsletter, edited by David Johnson, and one priority I do make is to highlight original commentary prepared especially for that forum and therefore submitted to David Johnson for his review. If you are a subscriber you undoubtedly are familiar with that phenomenon, and the various types of contributions he features in the List. If past articles on racial violence related to particular ideologies or movements they might be under the Politics topic. The human rights topic is probably limited to conduct by a government or insurgents. There also is a Google search function that can be JRL-specific. Please do know that I share your obvious concern over violence, and compassion for its victims.
So, the upshot was that it turns out David Johnson's readership has not provided him with any original material on race violence and that Mr. Johnson is afraid to include any material published by third parties on his website because of copyright claims being made against him. And in fact, he's really not all that hot to have coverage of race violence on the website at all. Because, after all, Is David Johnson really incapable of negotiating with the providers of such material to be allowed to include them under a topic on his website? It seems unlikely. Assuming it were so, is he really so craven as to be put off from dealing with this important topic on his website because of threats of litigation? Say it ain't so.

But, of course, there is an obvious solution, and the reader raised it in a followup message to Mr. Johnson: Why not simply ask readers to provide original material, and in the meantime why not include material from government reports such as those La Russophobe has already dealt with, specifically reports from the U.S. State Department and Amnesty International. No copyright concerns there. When the reader asked Mr. Johnson to do so, here's the response he got:
Let me clarify something. Johnson's Russia List is basically a daily email (I repeat, email) newsletter that goes to about 7000 almost every day. That is the version of JRL that really matters. The incomplete archive is NOT central, although it is useful. Plenty of material of racial and bias issues appears in the email version of JRL. That is the JRL that people around the world use and value. I would politely suggest that you not get overly focused on the JRL archive.
Yet, as the reader pointed out, the world wide web is available to a much larger audience than the circulation of the e-mail, and each e-mail contains a large volume of material amid which stories about racial violence could easily get lost. In fact, a diehard Neo-Soviet propagandist, a clever one, wouldn't try to hide facts about racism in Russia (Pravda covers them often). But they'd bury them amid a mountain of other stuff so they message would get watered down and lost in translation. And more important, they'd manipulate them into an argument for the enlargement of the Kremlin's power so as to maintain "law and order."

Those people would be evil, of course.

What's more, if original material doesn't currently exist, doesn't that tend to imply that JRL readers are not sufficiently motivated by the current coverage to develop any meaningful progress initiatives or even a dialogue.

Finally, if a JRL reader wants to retrieve information about race violence from prior issues, without a topic on the website there is no effective way of doing so (since, as Mr. Johnson admits, the archives are incomplete; La Russophobe has also found the search mechanism rather haphazard, to say the least). In other words, the issue of race violence is being significantly dilluted and swept under the carpet by the JRL, and it has no plans to change that situation any time soon.

When the reader followed up again with Mr. Johnson (frankly, La Russophobe's hat is off to this reader, she would have given up long before), asking whether the reader himself could provide the information for inclusion on the website, he was informed:
We would likely give serious consideration to such a category in the JRL archive. However, we know nothing about your qualifications to participate in our enterprise. As you have no familiarity with Johnson's Russia List and no apparent expertise on Russia it is difficult for us to work with you.
Thus, apparently Mr. Johnson is only willing to consider information about racism in Russia for inclusion on the website from a "properly" credentialed expert. An ordinary lay person, such as the reader, will not be permitted to direct Mr. Johnson to the appropriate public domain material, nor will Mr. Johnson do anything on his own to recruit such persons. Isn't that convenient? La Russophobe dares to wonder what MLK would think of this response.

Therefore, La Russophobe encourages readers who have the "proper" credentials to collect and submit original material about race violence in Russia, perhaps just their own summaries of published accounts, many of which are provided on this blog, and ask Mr. Johnson to publish them on his website so that they are available for anyone who is interested to see. Until that happens, La Russophobe will see Mr. Johnson through MLK's eyes as more part of the problem than of the solution. La Russophobe will start the ball rolling by pointing out that this post has a recitation of the State Department and Amnesty International report information, as well as a summary to two important recent news stories from major publications, and is not subject to any copyright restrictions since La Russophobe hereby waives them and authorizes Mr. Johnson to make whatever use of it he likes. No credit to La Russophobe is necessary. She does not know whether she qualifies for submission or not.

The ball's in your court, Mr. J, and in the court of all the other "white moderates" who read your newsletter. Show your true colors, if you please.
2.  The Felgenhaur Issue

Not that Johnson is alone in this regard; consider too the case of the Moscow Times. The paper could be doing much more than it is to confront the rise of the Neo-Soviet Union, particularly by publishing weekly op-ed columns by people who really know how to attack the Kremlin where it lives. One writer, Pavel Felgenhaur, began to approach this sort of writing and, as soon as he did, the Times promptly fired him. This is how Felgenhaur explained the matter on the Johnson's Russia List, and the "white moderate" world simply let the matter drop. La Russophobe asked Johnson about the situation in February 2006 and he replied: "I believe the Moscow Times did not carry his article because the editor felt the column did not have adequate factual support. What exactly happened after I don't know. Whether Felgenhauer quit or something else...I don't know." La Russophobe wonders how many times Martin Luther King was attacked for lacking "adequate factual support." Remembering that Felgenhaur only wrote an op-ed column and that the Times was therefore not being asked to put the imprimateur of a news story on Felgenauer's report, and given that Johnson felt the story had enough gravitas to run it, and given that Felgenhaur has been risking his life for years as a journliast directly confronting the Kremlin and has never been accused of inaccuracy before, the Times action has the distinct smell of mere cowardice, especially since the paper didn't choose to publicly explain its actions and was willing to sacrifice Felgenhaur's column, which no longer appears in the paper.

Felgenhaur wrote the following to Johnson in October 2005:

Dear David,

I have a serious conflict of opinion with the chief editor of The Moscow Times Lynn Berry concerning the situation in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria and I believe the public must be informed about it. I have sent several letters to Berry, have got no response whatsoever and would be much obliged if you could put the story on your list. Berry decided not to publish my regular column this week that was filed Sunday and was about the tragedy in Nalchik, but the story is, I believe, more important than a simple clash of opinion between editor and columnist. Today there is mounting evidence from eyewitnesses in Nalchik that the rebel attack or uprising on Oct. 13 was followed by a rampage by security forces, by random revenge killings, ethnically and religiously motivated murder of suspects from the minority Balkar tribe by the local police force that is predominately Kabardin. Eyewitnesses (I met and had contact with some) that are in no way connected with the rebels ethnically or religiously, not only report horrific stories of indiscriminate killings, a massacre, but also say that the number of dead in Nalchik is several times higher than officially reported and that there are over 300 corpses in the local morgue. There is a cover-up of the alleged massacre in Nalchik that is run by the Russian state propaganda machine and it seems that The Moscow Times has succumb to becoming part of this cover-up. Not only have they rejected my column, which could have been a coincidence, but also their reporting of events in Nalchik is a copy-story of government propaganda. The Tuesday Oct. 18 report in MT on the situation in Nalchik by staff writer Nabi Abdullaev quotes Russian newspapers Izvestia and Gazeta that cite relatives of dead Nalchik residence that the police planted arms and ammunition on their bodies to claim they were terrorists. A disclaimer follows the quote: "The reports could not be independently verified." None of reports or quotes from government and security officials that fill up the rest of Abdullaev's text has the same disclaimer though "independent verification" was indeed lacking in most cases. The situation is especially urgent and of great public concern, because the killings in Nalchik have not stopped ­ bloody cleansing or zachistki, accompanied by heavy shooting are continuing in residential areas. It is possible that the Nalckik situation, if the repression is left unnoticed, will turn into something like the tragedy in Andigan, where Uzbek solders massacred hundreds of civilians last summer.


Pavel Felgenhauer
Independent defense analyst. Moscow.

The column.
[Nalchik Violence and Government Conduct]
By Pavel Felgenhauer

The attack by rebels last week on Nalchik - the capital Kabardino-Balkaria - was hardly a surprise. Local authorities have been accused by human rights organization of brutal suppression of Islam and of closing mosques in the predominantly Muslim Kabardino-Balkaria. Experts have warned the Kremlin that repressions will backfire. The security services and their local cadre in Kabardino-Balkaria still do not know for sure where did the rebels come from, how many fighters were involved in the attack, how many fled after the shootout and were to. The official line is that the attackers were Islamic militants or Wahhabis, but nowadays all armed resistance forces in the Northern Caucasus are universally branded by the Kremlin as "Wahhabis" and "international Islamist terrorists."

The authorities have accused well-knownChechen warlords Shamil Basayev and Doku Umarov of contributing forces to the attack on Nalchik. Again, the Russian security services do not seem to know how many if any Chechens were involved or how did they penetrate Kabardino-Balkaria that does not have a common border with Chechnya. It's possible that our security officials are deriving their information on the Nalchik attack from rebel Web sites, because they do not have any reliable agents of the ground. Small groups of rebels of 3 to 10 men simultaneously attacked police stations and other military targets (9 locations in all) in Nalchik last Thursday at 9 am. Most of the engagements lasted about an hour, and then the rebels melted away before Russian reinforcements could enter the city. Security forces and army units began putting up roadblocks around Nalchik long after most of the action was over and these pickets did not cover the entire perimeter of the city. Three small groups of rebels (less than 20 men, most of them wounded) were stranded in Nalchik and were killed by Special Forces the next day. The authorities have announced that 92 rebels have been killed, 37 - taken prisoner, 24 security force members and 12 civilians perished and that there are over a hundredwounded.

After the Beslan school hostage-taking last year that ended in the loss of over 300 innocent lives, there was much fear that something as bad may happen in Nalchik. Vladimir Putin has praised the security forces for preventing the capture of schools and mass hostage taking, though there is no evidence that the rebels had any intention to capture any school. There is also no evidence that if the rebels would have in fact attack the civilian population in Nalchik, the security forces, could have done anything to stop them. The Kremlin has declared the entire engagement a victory, arguing that the rate of casualties is strongly in favor of the security forces. But the official body count raises many questions.

The history of contemporary urban anti-guerrilla engagements by Russian forces in the Caucasus, Americans in Iraq and so on, indicates that dislodging, killing or capturing over a hundred determined fighters, holed up within a big modern city requires much effort, a week or so of action and lots of tanks, heavy guns and attack aircraft support. The casualty list, the duration of the fight and it's intensify in Nalchik do not match do not match each other. Information has been coming out of Nalchik that many families are reporting that young men are missing without explanation. It would seem that after the original rebel force mostly melted away, the security forces began revenge attacks against the population, kidnapping and killing suspects more or less at random. This may explain the abnormally large number of "terrorists" killed. Local security officials could have used the occasion to settle old scores with suspected "Wahhabis," while the large number of dead "terrorists" pleased the Kremlin and allowed it to declare victory. In the past human rights groups have accused security forces in the Caucasus of constantlykidnapping and massacring civilians, including women and children to terrorize local populations to into accepting rule from Moscow. Now Putin, during a televised meeting with his security chiefs last Friday, has indorsed the same policy in Kabardino-Balkaria: "We have acted ruthlessly and will do the same in the future." Heavy-handed Russian policies have in the pastonly fanned the flames in the Caucasus. Repression, kidnappings by security forces, mass murder - have increased hatred, recruited new rebels and caused the conflict to spread out of Chechnya over the region. Another victory, another "liberated city," some have been "liberated" so many times, they have been flattened.

La Russophobe herself asked David Johnson about the resolution of this issue, and he said there was none. He published Felgenhaur's statement and felt that was all he needed to do. Thus, apparently the issue is simply hanging there. If any of La Russophobe's readers have more details, please do let her know. Specifically, Mr. Johnson stated:
I believe the Moscow Times did not carry his article because the editor felt the column did not have adequate factual support. What exactly happened after I don't know. Whether Felgenhauer quit or something else...I don't know.
In other words, once again, he doesn't want to get involved, and if Felgenhaur, a brilliant writer, drops off the face of the Earth, so be it.


jeremy said...

Once again, a potentially good point -- that JRL should have a better web presence and the race issue should be easier to locate on its website -- is totally undermined by your impersonation of a mad old spinster aunt who hasn't seen the sun for a long time.

You don't half know how to shoot your own argument in the foot, do you!

BTW, if you get JRL, you'll probably know that it has covered the racial murders. No-one who seriously follows Russia is not on the mail-out. The website is irrelevant. The mail-out is free and usually comprehensive.

Incidentally, everyone in the small world of Russian affairs knows who David Johnson is. He doesn't hide behind a blog name.

Why don't you give some more information about who you are, and why we ought to listen to you.

Might help you win some more readers. Seems Reith and "anonymous" are your only two stalwarts.

Reith said...

Jeremy, I couldn't have put it better myself. It is probably of no importance who the "mad old spinster aunt" behind this operation is, but it is lamentable, to put it mildly, that genuine problems in Russia are written about in such a hysterical and unmeditated fashion. As it is, the few masochists that comment on this site are permitted only to kiss the nether regions of this blog's creator or be subjected to all manner of abuse. No doubt, this is the prerogative of the good lady, but there remains a niggling worry that some fool out there might take all this shrewish ranting without the requisite barrel of salt.

P.S. I bet you ten bucks that she replies to this comment by either accusing me of being insane, neo-Soviet, a propagandist, a Martin Luther King-hating white moderate; or some variation on and/or combination of the aforementioned.

La Russophobe said...

JEREMY: If you bothered to read the post you'd see that the post has nothing to do with the content of the e-mails, which are ready by a tiny group of people if they are indeed read seriously at all.

Has Johnson ever devoted an e-mail solely to race violence? Has he ever called for submissions on race violence?

La Russophobe is sorry to hear that you don't approve of her style. If you can point to someone who has raised this issue in a more effective way, please do so, she'd love to read it. Until you can, all you are doing is blowing smoke and contributing nothing positive or constructive to the resolution of the problem at all. In fact, you're part of the problem.

La Russophobe said...

REITH: Let's see, first you agree with Jeremy, who attacks me for being anonymous, then you say that you know I'm a "mad old spinster." I guess logic wasn't your wrong suit, huh? But jealous sure seems to be.

La Russophobe said...

JEREMY & REITH: I'm sure you're not interested, but all the things you have just written about me were written about Martin Luther King by white moderates. Calm down, boy, they said. He didn't listen and neither will La Russophobe. If you think you know best, dream on.'

And before you talk about how many readers I've got, why not show me how many YOU have? Can you?

Reith said...

Well, I wasn't agreeing with Jeremy's attack on your anonymity, about which I do not give a fig, but about your ability to ruin a perfectly good point with your abrasive, generalised, imprecise, and offensive manner. To your credit, you answer this point by airily dismissing the objection and arguing that your campaign is an effective means to combat racism in Russia. I'd love to know how you constantly going on about Russians being lazy savages on the verge of extinction is going to do much good to alleviate the plight of racial minorities in the country, but I'm guessing you've got it all worked out.

Ok, this is the bit where you come in saying "Well, what are you doing to stop racism, you neo-Stalinism madman? It's people like you that are causing the extinction of Russians. [Insert irrelevant Martin Luther King quote here]." And then you wonder how I arrived at the conclusion that you were a "mad old spinster".
And to answer your point about who is raising the issue of racism more effectively, you might want to consult with your sole defender Johann, who has acquainted himself so intimately with the contents of the Amnesty report. I don't remember seeing anything in there about how the best way to stop racism is by setting up an English-language blog smearing Russians on any given occasion. But I guess I haven't read the report as closely as Johann has.

La Russophobe said...

REITH: you're quite wrong, I wasn't going to ask what you're doing to stop racism, because I know perfectly well you're doing nothing and are, in fact, probably a racist yourself. Or, even worse, you are lazy, cowardly white moderate.

Reith said...

Touche! I'm a racist; so that was the problem all along...
Congratulations on the "sensible" riposte!

La Russophobe said...

Actually, if you care to read what I said, it was that it's quite possible that you are WORSE than a racist, a despicable white moderate. If you'd care to prove me wrong by citing a published comment you have made attacking racism, please do so. Otherwise, crawl back under your rock.

Reith said...

I have made several comments deploring racism as it happens. You can trawl your own ridiculous site for the evidence, instead of expecting me to provide it for you. After all, it is you that I was "probably a racist" myself. You cannot even understand your own writing, so it's no surprise that you can't understand those of others.

La Russophobe said...

No, no, I don't mean silly little comments buried under the posts on a blog, I mean an ACTUAL post on a blog, something that's out there for everyone to see. Maybe something on the Johnson's Russia List even. You know, something REAL.

And I'm quite sure you've never written a word on this blog which was devoted to attacking racism rather than this blog.

And I'm not going to do any trolling. If you yourself can't remember it, it either doesn't exist or is not worth finding.

Reith said...

On the contrary, since you made the calumnious suggestion that I am "probably a racist", the onus is on you to provide evidence for such a statement. You cannot do so because there is none. There is none because the allegation is slanderous bilge, like most of the content of this site.
For the sake of constructive argument, however, you are quite mistaken in believing that creating the false impression among uninformed Western observers that the Russians are collectively a nation of violent racists can do anything to benefit the minorities in the country. I say that on the assumption, which I do not believe to be true, that your aim is to contribute in a beneficial way to fate of Russian society. Your stated desire is to see Russia descend into financial ruin and demographic extinction, which is about as hateful and contemptible a position as any human being could hold; an opinion not dissimilar to one that might be held by, oh let's see, a racist bigot perhaps.

La Russophobe said...

REITH: So in other words, you've never done anything real in your whole life. How sad.