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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What Passes for Heroism in Russia

Grigory Pasko, via Robert Amsterdam:

Если Вы хотите прочитать оригинал данной статьи на русском языке, нажмите сюда.

A joke: The Russians have a saying – Какая держава - такие и победы. Which translates roughly as “What kind of country you have tells you what kind of victories you can expect from it.” In the past, we felt proud because Gagarin had flown into outer space. Nowadays – it’s because Dima Bilan has taken first place in Eurovision

If a government official in Russia has done something shameful, has committed a crime related to his position, has manifested blatant incompetence, but at the same time has remained loyal and true to the ruling establishment, then you can be sure that they will not remove him and will not punish him. Furthermore, most likely he will be promoted or transferred to another cushy cash-generating job.

It is precisely to such a conclusion that one can come after analyzing certain personnel reshuffles in the Russian establishment of recent days.

And yet another important conclusion: Putin continues to run the country. And the personnel reshuffles also bear witness to precisely this.

Let’s talk about but a few of the personages on whose example these conclusions are clear and understandable.

The author and satirist Viktor Shenderovich gave a brilliant recounting of some of the reshuffles on the air on the radio station «Echo Moskvy» (the text of his broadcast can be found here).

Shenderovich, in particular, talks about how by an ukase of the new president of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, the former representative of the president in the Volga Federal District, Alexander Konovalov was appointed to head the Ministry of Justice. The head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) became Patrushev’s former deputy, general Alexander Bortnikov. Shenderovich recalls that Konovalov first became famous already three years ago, when, as procurator of Bashkiria [also known as Bashkortostan—Trans.], he was in charge of the investigation into the mass beatings of citizens in tiny Blagoveshchensk.

“The local OMON shared its experience in Chechnya with the Bashkirs: a thousand people beaten, dozens raped – first-class ‘working with the population’…”, recounts the writer/satirist. “Human rights advocates demanded then the punishment of the guilty and the dismissal of the head of the Bashkirian MVD – they wanted, the bastards, to bleed the vertical [of power] dry! But procurator Konovalov, the Eye of Murtaz [that would be Murtaz Rakhimov, president of Bashkiria—G.P.], when faced with a choice between the law and his bosses, unerringly chose the latter, and rather than the top brass in the police being gotten rid of, participants in a protest rally were dispersed instead. And dozens of OMON Chikatilos [Chikatilo was a maniacal serial murderer—G.P.] remained “unestablished” by the procuracy’s investigation: the honest procurator Konovalov explained that the criminal-cops were wearing masks, and this, as I’m sure you understand, is an insurmountable obstacle for the investigation! For this legal exploit the Bashkirian procurator earned the post of Putin’s representative in the Volga District, from where he has now emerged into Medvedev’s minister of justice.”

In addition to the “Blagoveshchensk affair”, Konovalov, as Shenderovich is quick to recall, was also in charge of a case involving investigating the legality of the privatization of the Bashkirian fuel-and-energy complex, the greater part of the enterprises of which by ukase of president of Bashkiria Murtaz Rakhimov was transferred to structures controlled by his son, Ural Rakhimov. According to the assessment of the Accounting Chamber, this privatizational scheme became an unprecedented incident of the theft of assets under Federal ownership… Konovalov’s running of the investigation ended in a favorable cessation thereof. Favorable – for the Rakhimov family, and not at all for the Federal budget. (Well, you understand our priorities…). As is said in the official biography of the new minister of justice, Mr. Konovalov already in youth achieved serious successes in academic rowing… The ability to sweep things under oneself and in the proper direction, I am convinced, will turn out to be absolutely essential in the future as well.”

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Alexander Konovalov, yesterday a member of a rowing crew, today a member of Medvedev’s crew

About the new head of the FSB Russians found out already before his appointment as the new head of this odious organization. Alexander Bortnikov acquired broad fame after the publication of two investigative articles in the magazine «The New Times». In the first case, what was being spoken of was the murder of Litvinenko, the organization of which, according to certain well-founded data, Bortnikov was personally in charge of; in the second case, the journalist Natalia Morari described the role of the FSB general in the work of the Kremlin’s “laundry”, engaged in diverting some serious money from controlled oil companies, through quiet offshores, to «Raiffeisen» bank… Subsequent events unfolded in such a manner that the true face of Mr. Bortnikov became clear to everybody once and for all. The journalist Morari was denied entry into Russia. The ominous shadow of Mr. Bortnikov clearly loomed behind this unlawful prohibition. But inasmuch as the courts of Russia are very independent …of the laws, Morari to this day remains without entry, while Bortnikov has gotten a promotion.

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Alexander Bortnikov, yesterday a money-launderer, today Russia’s head spy

About the rather unique concept of honor and conscience among the chekists I can share my own experience. When it was established by a military court that a certain FSB investigator by the name of Yegorkin had falsified the materials of the criminal case unlawfully initiated in relation to me, what did they do with this miserable excuse for a chekist? Why, they promoted him of course. And not just him: various and sundry commendations and awards were also bestowed on other members of the investigative brigade.

We can recall other examples as well, when a personage who had brought scandal upon himself instead of getting a plank-bed in a jail was sent to a nice, warm, and high-ranking job promotion. And even in those extremely rare cases when an official was convicted by a court, a real term of serving punishment was replaced for him by a suspended sentence – that’s how it was with former minister of atomic energy Yevgeny Adamov, who had stolen from the state, in the opinion of the investigation, $40 million dollars.

In general, the courts in Russia continue to incessantly amaze the world and local public. Moreover, they do this in parallel with the solemnly-intellectual speeches of the new president about the need for an independent judiciary.

By a sentence of the Basmanny Court, the leader of the movement «Oborona», Oleg Kozlovsky, was arrested for thirteen days under the article «Failure to obey employees of the police». Kozlovsky was detained on the sixth of May, when he was heading to a «Dissenters’ March». Judging by the testimony in court, Kozlovsky had been detained by two different policemen in two different places at two different times. In so doing, Oleg supposedly offered resistance to both. In the mind of a normal person, this is called delirium. In the mind of the “independent” Russian court, which convicted Kozlovsky, and not those who had fabricated false testimony against him, this is – a normal state of affairs.

If things keep going this way (and they certainly will), then there’s no way Medvedev will ever be around long enough to see independent courts in Russia.

By the way, there was recently a scandalous incident in the court system as well.

On 8 May, the next day after Medvedev’s inauguration, a judge of the Central District Court of the city of Barnaul, Valentin Poluyanov, adopted a decision on the unlawfulness, invalidity of the elections of the mayor of this city. This is the first such case in the country. In Barnaul there are 510 thousand voters and a mere 249 voting stations. And so, at 83 of them, based on the complaint filed by participants in the elections, the judge organized a recount of the votes, and it became clear that there are more ballots there than voters who voted. The judge, using such terminology as “massive fraud”, adopted a decision on how the mayor had not been elected, elections had not taken place. And how did this all end? Exactly as such things are supposed to end in a totalitarian state. Poluyanov was forced into submitting his resignation. If a person, even a judge, doesn’t have administrative support, then he is helpless. His decision, by the way, was protested in the higher-standing court.

This judicial anti-hero Poluyanov, it goes without saying, is an exception in a judicial system that has long ago rotted to the core. And the premature end to his career is living proof of this.

Today’s Russian power has been surrounding itself for a long time already with controversial personalities. Moreover, not only at the level of the heads of the FSB and of justice, but of lower rank as well. For example, in the leadership of the subdivisions of the «United Russia» party. Recently, it became known that the pop star, lead singer of the group «Smash» Vlad Topalov in the last four years consumed hard drugs. The mass media remind that Topalov is a member of the public council of the «Young Guard» of «United Russia». That is, to speak in the language of the recent past and very near future, he was – a Komsomol ringleader.

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Vlad Topalov, yesterday a role model for Russia’s youth, today a role model for drug traffickers

The Putinite-Medvedevite time chooses for itself as heroes people not from the world of scholars, thinkers, writers, inventors, instructors, but from the world of sport and pop-business. The latest hurrah of patriotic hysteria broke out in connection with the victory in the Eurovision competition of a second-rate Russian singer, Dima Bilan. Medvedev immediately congratulated the singer. They immediately bestowed upon him the title of People’s Artist of Russia. One of the streets of the town of Ust-Dzhegut in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, where the singer is from by birth, was immediately renamed after him.

Indeed, if there are no real achievements in the economy, science, production, the resolution of the social problems of the people, then even such achievements as the victory of a mediocre singer in a mediocre contest will be tossed into the propaganda machine.

The times are like that now – mediocre. Like the leaders of the country.

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