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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Annals of Neo-Soviet Media: Russian TV ignores the Moscow Protests

Robert Amsterdam has spoken by phone with Garry Kasparov and learned that Kasparov may have been arrested in Moscow to stop him from traveling to St. Petersburg to attend the rally the next day; as we reported the rally in fact did fizzle out, perhaps as a result. Amsterdam also has a column from hero journalist Grigori Pasko who was on the scene in Moscow. Meanwhile, writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Alexei Pankin describes the once-again-surreal quality of Russian "news" reporting during the protests. Welcome back to the USSR!

Last weekend offered a surrealistic view of the country's news landscape.

All Saturday Ekho Moskvy radio reported on the mass arrests and beatings of participants in The Other Russia's rally held on Turgenev Square, as well as the Union of Right Forces' gathering on Slavyanskaya Ploshchad, the Young Guard rally on Pushkin Square and the protest against illegal immigration held on Bolotnaya Ploshchad.

The major television channels, in contrast, broadcast stories on bombings in Iraq, a Turkish bus accident involving children and unprecedented high temperatures in Germany. Only Ren-TV provided significant coverage of the rallies during its Saturday evening current events program. Later, Mayor Yury Luzhkov began appearing on screen trumpeting the success of the annual spring cleanup in the city and bragged about the maturity of Russian democracy in permitting a number of political opposition meetings in the capital on the same day. Yet all Saturday and Sunday, on state-owned Rossia television channel and Mayak radio, just about every commercial break contained a spot for a French documentary on the United States' true motives in organizing revolutions in former communist countries.

"Our authorities have such little faith in their own propaganda that they have to depend on a foreign film," I thought as I switched between the parallel worlds of radio and television.

Then, on Sunday, came the film itself. The first thing I noticed was the lack of a writer or director's name in the opening credits, which immediately got the alarm bells ringing. Then came footage of attractive young people from Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Belarus who said they refused to accept their arbitrary leaders, demanded fair elections and saw U.S. President George W. Bush as their supporter. It was impossible not to sympathize with them, or to disagree with U.S. Senator John McCain, who decried the switching off of electricity to a printer in Bishkek that published newspapers opposed to Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev.

I could not help wondering whether airing it was a form of subtle subterfuge by Rossia staff fed up with being treated like pawns by the authorities or some ruse by Kremlin propagandists who believed that airing it would serve as some sort of inoculation against such a revolution here.

Personally, I see the whole thing in light of my own political error of historic proportions. During the Congress of People's Deputies elections in 1989, the first Soviet election where there was some choice, I voted for Boris Yeltsin. I disliked him strongly, but the authorities had staged such a huge campaign to discredit him that I had to vote for him out of protest. I am, therefore, at least partially responsible for all that followed: the appearance of borders and customs officers where we once traveled freely, the tens of thousands killed in disputed territories between former Soviet republics, the fact that press freedoms promised during President Mikhail Gorbachev's tenure have yet to be delivered, the state-oligarchic excesses from 1993 to 1999, and the managed or sovereign democracy -- take your pick -- that inevitably followed.

This all led me to the conclusion that the shortcomings of the current leadership alone were not sufficient basis for supporting an even worse opposition. We now have a new, naive generation that seems ready to repeat the mistake I made in 1989.

On Saturday, operating on the principle of "the worse the current situation, the bigger the backlash," The Other Russia delivered a blow against the authorities in the same way martial arts specialists use their more powerful attackers' momentum against them to gain victory. I am confident that the number of young people who sincerely believe life will get better if this "bloody regime" is removed has risen.

Unfortunately, their faith is not borne out either by the "democratic" revolution in Russia or by recent events in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

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