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Friday, August 24, 2007

More Proof of How Erudite and Well-informed Russians Really Are

Writing in the Moscow Times, using the example of Darfur, columnist Georgy Bovt neatly summarizes the extent of Russia's barbaric ignorance and callous disregard for the rest of the world, totally incompatible with G-8 membership.

Russian newspapers almost never write about events in the Darfur province of Sudan, where bloody fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels has dragged on for years. The country was mentioned briefly in the country's print and television news in mid-August, but only in connection with an initiative by a number of U.S. congressmen to boycott the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing because of China's "incorrect" policies in Sudan. Their primary complaint is that Chinese firms, motivated exclusively by profit, have abandoned all moral principles in their attempts to gain a foothold in the Sudanese market.

The typical editor or producer of a Russian newspaper or television station would probably say that readers and viewers aren't interested in Darfur. I don't find such statements very convincing. I think virtually any subject taken from any part of the world can be interesting, depending on how it is presented and the quality of the reporting.

For example, I recently listened with great interest to an account of the situation in Darfur from a Russian politician who had traveled there as a tourist. In addition to showing me some extremely interesting photos, he confirmed that the whole system of humanitarian aid distribution in Darfur was nothing but a highly profitable business run by companies with tribal connections to the nobility. Isn't this a good theme for an investigative reporter? Sure it is, but you won't read about it in any reputable Russian publication or see any television coverage on the subject. You won't learn anything at all in the press about the enormous tragedy in Darfur that has already claimed over 200,000 lives and turned a huge region of Africa into a humanitarian catastrophe.

The Russian journalistic community is too lazy to come up with new stories, much less to present the outside world to their readers and encourage them to expand their outlook. A large part of the journalistic community has long relied on the authorities for instructions and recommendations on what to report. To be sure, there are a small number of journalists who love to busy themselves with criticizing the authorities from time to time. But in either case, the focus of media coverage is on domestic themes. When the outside world is presented in the Russian media, it appears very small and squalid.

In contrast, most reputable Western newspapers report on the situation in Darfur fairly frequently. Leading U.S. newspapers, for example, run stories on it almost every other day. And the Darfur conflict also has a place in U.S. foreign policy, with Washington effectively leading international efforts to end the fighting there.

In general, U.S. President George W. Bush's administration has given increasingly greater attention to Africa over the years. Washington has increased its financial aid to African nations by 67 percent and allocated an additional $15 billion for the fight against AIDS there. Most political analysts explain this increased emphasis on international humanitarian issues, which include human trafficking and sexual enslavement, as arising from a sharp increase in the Christian evangelical movement's political influence in Washington.

Darfur received some coverage in the Russian media not long ago, but only in connection with the latest Group of Eight meeting in Germany. No other initiatives regarding Darfur were made either before or after that meeting. In this respect, Russian diplomacy closely resembles the Russian press: They both have very little interest in the topic. Diplomats are extremely passive regarding almost all international humanitarian problems.

But if the country's politicians are increasingly vocal with their cries that "Russia is back" on the international stage, then they should show much more interest in international humanitarian issues. After all, a country's greatness and standing are measured not only be the number of times it says "no" to its partners.

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