Monthly Archives: December 2008

From Russia, with nuttiness

Anti-American nuttiness in Russia, a subject I have previously plumbed, is the gift that keeps on giving.

Now there’s this:

For a decade, Russian academic Igor Panarin has been predicting the U.S. will fall apart in 2010. For most of that time, he admits, few took his argument — that an economic and moral collapse will trigger a civil war and the eventual breakup of the U.S. — very seriously. Now he’s found an eager audience: Russian state media.

….

Prof. Panarin, 50 years old, is not a fringe figure. A former KGB analyst, he is dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s academy for future diplomats. He is invited to Kremlin receptions, lectures students, publishes books, and appears in the media as an expert on U.S.-Russia relations.
Mr. Panarin posits, in brief, that mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces — with Alaska reverting to Russian control.
In addition to increasing coverage in state media, which are tightly controlled by the Kremlin, Mr. Panarin’s ideas are now being widely discussed among local experts. He presented his theory at a recent roundtable discussion at the Foreign Ministry. The country’s top international relations school has hosted him as a keynote speaker. During an appearance on the state TV channel Rossiya, the station cut between his comments and TV footage of lines at soup kitchens and crowds of homeless people in the U.S. The professor has also been featured on the Kremlin’s English-language propaganda channel, Russia Today.

That’s from the December 29 Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, on the same day, the website of the pro-government Izvestia, which originally publicized Panarin’s … shall we say, fanciful claims on November 24, ran a short piece titled “Now, America also knows it’s due for a collapse.” While the title is somewhat sarcastic, the piece, apparently, is not. It claims that Panarin’s interview sparked “a stormy discussion and many articles both in Russia and around the world,” and notes that “even White House spokeswoman Dana Perino had to fend off questions about the disintegration of the USA.” (According to the WSJ: “The article prompted a question about the White House’s reaction to Prof. Panarin’s forecast at a December news conference. ‘I’ll have to decline to comment,’ spokeswoman Dana Perino said amid much laughter.”)

Izvestia goes on to say:

A heated discussion also raged on the WSJ website, in which, however, the most common arguments were along the lines of, “Those stupid Russians!” Incidentally, a similar “convenient” stance was adopted by our own “pro-Western” electronic media, which hastened to declare that “not one serious publication has given the professor’s amazing forecast any attention.” The WSJ, too, prefers to view everything through the lens of Russia. And doesn’t bother to explain why this interview elicited a huge response in the USA, rather than here.
Panarin’s view “reflects a very pronounced degree of anti-Americanism in Russia today,” the WSJ quotes TV host Vladimir Pozner as saying. “It’s much stronger than it was in the Soviet Union.” It would also be really good to understand where this anti-Americanism came from. Could it be due to the American position on missile defense or South Ossetia? But alas, the WSJ is not interested in digging that deep.

I’m sure it would be news to most Americans, even those who keep up with the Zeitgeist, that Panarin’s ravings “elicited a huge response” in the US. (The “response” consisted of a Drudge Report headline and a flurry of blogposts, mostly in the “news of the weird” department.) And is it just me, or is Izvestia admitting, in a roundabout way, that the Russian media are trumpeting this apocalyptic nonsense as “payback” for disagreements over Georgia and missile defense systems in Eastern Europe?

In reality, the promotion of Panarin may be a kind of Freudian projection of much more plausible concerns about the disintegration of Russia (which, unlike the US, does have problems with separatism, including an ever-growing body count in the regions of the Caucasus — Ingushetia, Dagestan, Northern Ossetia). In a recent survey by the Ekho Moskvy radio station, nearly 70% of those voting online and nearly 80% of call-in voters agreed that “Russia could suffer the same fate as the USSR.” While this was not a scientific poll, it does suggest that a significant portion of the Russian public thinks the disintegration of Russia is possible.

And more from the annals of nutty Russian anti-Americanism, circa 2007: a persistent claim that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has expressed the opinion that it’s unfair that Russia should have exclusive ownership of a region as rich with natural resources as Siberia. Based on a fake quote, and a 2006 interview with a retired major general of the FSB (former KGB) who claims that Russian intelligence was able to do a psychic reading of Albright’s mind in 1999 (seriously) and detected a “pathological hatred of Slavs” as well as intense resentment at the fact that “Russia held the world’s largest reserves of natural resources.” This interview was not published in the Russian equivalent of Weekly World News but in Rossiskaya Gazeta, the official publication of the Russian government.

(To quote the Russian comedian Mikhail Zhvanetsky: Слов нет — одни выражения. Which translates loosely into English as: “Words fail. Printable ones, at least.”)

The “Albright” line about the injustice of Russia’s sole ownership of Siberia has also been attributed to Condoleezza Rice. Take this December 14, 2005 report on the political analysis website Kremlin.org, about public hearings on “New federal initiatives for the modernization of Siberia”:

The absence of such a [modernization] strategy at present does not allow Siberian regions to develop in a stable way and leads to stagnation, and in the long term, to the possible loss of Siberia.

This was discussed by the vice president of the Novosibirsk Chamber of Commerce, Yuri Voronov. In his words, “there is powerful pressure to take Siberia away from Russia. Even Condoleezza Rice has declared that Siberia is too big to belong to a single state.”

Pretty soon, Hillary Clinton will have said it, too.

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Justice, mercy, and goodwill to all men in Putinland

Svetlana Bakhmina, the jailed former Yukos lawyer who has been denied early release for which she was legally eligible, and who recently gave birth to her third child (conceived during a conjugal visit), did not get the Christmas present her supporters were hoping for. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ignored pleas for a presidential pardon for Bakhmina (from dozens of prominent public figures including actors, writers, artists, TV personalities, and even ex-Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev — as well as, by now, over 91,000 ordinary men and women who have signed an online petition). The case was referred back to the Supreme Court of Mordovia, the region where Bakhmina is serving her sentence. On December 24, the court postponed its decision until January 21 because it has not had enough time to familiarize itself with her her case. (Seriously.) Fortunately, Bakhmina is at least awaiting the resolution of her case in a clinic in a Moscow suburb, rather than in the penal colony. The Yukos oil company is, of course, a longtime target of a political vendetta by the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, Yuri Budanov, the Russian officer who strangled a teenage Chechen girl to death, will be getting out on parole after about 8 years in prison. The victim’s family plans to appeal this decision to the Strasbourg-based European Court on Human Rights. (Over a quarter of the court’s backlog now consists of Russian cases; of the 192 complaints heard in 2007, 140 were judged valid.)

And another interesting parallel. Another YUKOS defendant, Vasily Alexanian, has been repeatedly and illegally denied bail despite suffering from AIDS and cancer, despite objections from the European Court on Human Rights. When bail was finally set, it was at the prohibitive sum of 50 million rubles, or nearly $2 million. For now, Alexanian, who is reportedly nearly blind, remains in prison — despite the fact that, legally, the embezzlement charges against him should have been dismissed by now because the statute of limitations has expired.

Meanwhile, Eduard Ulman, a Russian officer who commanded a unit in Chechnya which opened fire on a civilian vehicle and then slaughtered all the survivors including a pregnant woman back in 2002, was released on bail along with his three codefendants. (Of course, for such cases to even come to trial in Russia is rare.) While the four men were convicted and given fairly long prison sentences in June 2007, Ulman and two others skipped bail and remain at large.

… What’s that we hear about the unfairness of demonizing Putvedev’s Russia?

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Islam, Europe, women, sex and modernity

A fascinating article in The Washington Post about a controversy in France over the annulment of a young Muslim couple’s marriage, obtained by the husband on the grounds that the wife was not a virgin. After news got out that the French courts approved the annulment, political activists and commentators were incensed.

From the left and right came a barrage of criticism, suggesting that the decision had given French legal sanction to a Muslim’s demand that his bride be a virgin. Elizabeth Badinter, a longtime women’s rights campaigner, said she felt “shame” that such a court ruling could be handed down in France.
“This ends up simply pushing many young Muslim girls into hospitals to have their hymen reconstituted,” she said.
Laurence Rossignel of the Socialist Party’s secretariat for women’s rights qualified the decision as “amazing.”
“It violates the constitutional principles of equality between men and women and of nondiscrimination, because it cannot be rendered except against a woman,” she added. “It makes a mockery of the rights of women over their own bodies and to live their sexuality freely, the way men do.”

Under pressure, the Justice Ministry — headed by Rachida Dati, the daughter of Algerian immigrants (and an unmarried mother-to-be) — reversed the annulment, effectively remarrying the couple. They will now have to seek a divorce (complicated by the fact that the husband has remarried).

The groom’s lawyer thinks the “politically correct” journalists and protesters have invaded the couple’s private life to the detriment of both the man and the woman (the wife also wanted the annulment). There may be some truth to the charge that those who made the case public were more concerned with abstract women’s rights and liberal values than with the welfare of this particular woman; on the other hand, there is a solid argument to be made that European law should not be enshrining the idea that a man can repudiate his wife for not being a virgin at marriage.

What I find interesting, though, is something else. This is not a conflict between Islamic and Christian culture so much as it is a conflict between traditional and modern culture. Not that long ago, virginity was as much of a requirement in a bride in European societies. There are, indeed, many people in the West (and perhaps especially in the United States) today who are nostalgic for those old-fashioned values, at least in moderate forms. I can think of quite a few American conservatives who would vehemently disagree with the notion that women have a right to “live their sexuality freely, the way men do.”

Should everyone who lives in modern societies be required to assimilate to modern values? No, of course not. They should, however, be required to understand that the virtues they cherish cannot be imposed by law or by force. Though, in this case, the annulment may have been unobjectionable since the wife agreed to it.

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Christmas meditations

A New York Times essay offering a different take on the perennial classic It’s a Wonderful Life sparks a lively discussion in the comments.

The essay argues that the small-town life Capra’s hero embraces at the end is, in fact, terrifyingly and asphyxiatingly oppressive, and that the movie is all about resigning oneself to the loss of dreams, to being trapped in a life of compromise, small-mindedness and conformity. He even asserts that the “Pottersville” of the alternate reality in which Jimmy Stewart’s George was never born — filled with booze and vice — is a lot more fun than boring New Bedford, where The Bells of St. Mary’s is all that passes for entertainment.

Some commenters agree, and also point to the movie’s disturbing gender ideology: without George in her life, his wife Mary (Donna Reed) has become — the horror! — a single, childless librarian. One poster mentions (approvingly) that Ayn Rand hated this movie because of its emphasis on self-sacrifice and the compromises of adult life. Others defend close-knit communities as well as the idea that adulthood is about accepting compromises and limits, and that life’s true satisfaction comes not from chasing adolescent dreams but from family, friends, and community.

This is where I’m always reminded of a famous Niels Bohr quote:

“The opposite of a small truth is a falsehood; the opposite of a great truth is another truth.”

There is a great truth in the Randian/libertarian celebration of the free individual, of the stubborn pursuit of one’s dreams and visions, of the struggle against limits. There is also a great truth in the conservative/communitarian vision that emphasizes relationships and acceptance of reasonable compromises and limits. Both of these starkly different approaches to life have value — are, in fact, necessary to a healthy culture, which needs both roots and wings. (I believe the origin of this metaphor is this quote by American motivational speaker Dennis Waitley.) So do the vast majority of individuals, even if some can be perfectly happy pursuing their individualist dreams with no human ties and some can be perfectly happy living completely for others.

Of course, each vision also has a seamy side. A lot of “autonomous individuals” who pride themselves on never compromising and never “settling” are not Randian Howard Roarks but obnoxious, egotistical jerks with a very exaggerated notion of their own talent. A lot of lives that revolve around family, community and self-sacrifice are poisoned by undercurrents of bitterness, resentments, and suppressed conflicts. And so on.

But in the spirit of the holiday, let’s focus on the positives. Here’s to roots and wings. And to the fact that American culture is big enough to accommodate Frank Capra and Ayn Rand.

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Happy holidays to all

This is the 300th post on this blog. (About time, too.)

And it’s a fluffy, content-free, positive (even multiculturally positive) one.

A good sign? a bad sign? Not, one hopes, a sign of things to come.

Enjoy the season, everyone.

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More Russia news: the good and the bad

According to Moscow Times:

In a rare example of grassroots political power, angry protests by drivers prompted lawmakers in the far eastern Primorye region on Monday to ask the country’s two leaders to delay raising import duties on foreign cars. The Primorye regional legislature, led by United Russia deputies, voted unanimously Monday to ask President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to postpone the tariffs, which take effect on Jan. 11, according to a decree signed by Putin. Thousands of drivers took to the streets in several far eastern cities and towns Sunday to protest the tariffs, blocking traffic, clashing with police, openly insulting Putin and Medvedev and even calling on Putin to resign. Putin’s decree would increase the prices for imported cars by between 10 and 20 percent, a move the government has defended as a way of protecting domestic auto makers during the growing financial crisis.

According to the Russian daily Kommersant, similar though less massive protests took place in Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk. In Novosibirsk, an officially sanctioned picket of 100 people on the main city square was joined by 200 cars whose drivers argued with the police and tried to block traffic. In Krasnoyarsk, a column of 300 cars sporting black ribbons drove very slowly through city streets, then parked across from the regional government headquarters and honked their horns for fives minutes. Many people who drove by also honked in support.

Slogans at the rallies — carried by protesters on foot or displayed on the rear windows of cars — included: “Putin, trade your Mercedes for a Volga!”, “Mr. Putin, help the tycoons out of your own pocket!”, and “Raise the tariffs on the actions of the Russian government.”

In Vladivostok, when Mayor Alexei Pushkarev begged the protesters to disperse, saying that they had already made their point, some people in the crowd shouted, “We need Channel One so that the whole country would know about our demands: no higher tariffs and cheaper gasoline!” Indeed, none of the state-controlled TV channels have given the protests any coverage at all. The average Russian will know nothing about them, neutralizing the potentially empowering and mobilizing effect of these events.

All this happens at a time when Putin’s aura as the savior of the nation may be finally wearing off. According to a new poll by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, reported in Izvestia, not only did Putin’s televised Q & A with the people have a smaller audience than in previous years (17%), but only 48% of those who watched said they were satisfied with Putin’s answers.

Meanwhile, there are more signs that the Kremlin is preparing to tighten its grip on dissent, or at least to give itself a weapon to squash dissent when they want to. A new law submitted to the parliament by the government would broaden the definition of treason. Existing Russian law defines treason as “hostile actions intended to damage the security of the Russian Federation against foreign threats.” In the amended version, the definition of treason would include “rendering financial, material, consultative, or other assistance to a foreign state, a foreign or international organization, or representatives thereof in activities directed against the security of the Russian Federation, including its constitutional system, its sovereignty, its territorial integrity and statehood.” Many human rights activists are concerned that this signifies a de facto return to Stalinist law which made “anti-Soviet activity” a crime. Perhaps this is hyperbole, but is it too much of a stretch to think that this law could be directed against an opposition newspaper or website, or a human rights group critical of the government, which has received assistance from the USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy, or the Soros Foundation?

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Anti-American film bombs in Russia

What if they made a rabidly anti-American movie in Russia that was supposed to capitalize on anti-American sentiment stirred up by the war in Georgia … and nobody came? My article on the movie Chuzhiye (Strangers) in The New Republic online.

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Demonizing the Putin regime?

Sean’s Russia Blog has a post (based on an article by Mark Ames) lambasting Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt of disregarding facts in a rush to conclude that the mercury poisoning in France of Karina Moskalenko, lawyer for the family of murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, was probably an assassination attempt linked to Russia. It now appears clear that Moskalenko’s poisoning was an accident, due to the fact that the previous owner of the used car she had bought in August had broken a thermometer in it. Sean accuses WaPo of being “vociferous in painting Russian (sic) and Putin as a neo-Evil Empire” and, with Ames, laments this “incessant demonization.”

Was there a rush to the judgment by the WaPo editorial page? Sounds like it. Is there a tendency, after a string of unsolved murders of Russian politicians and journalists who were on the wrong side of Putin’s favor, to see the long hand of Putin behind every suspicious death or illness? I’m sure there is. To be honest, I would prefer to believe that Putin was not involved in any of those murders, if only because the thought that the de facto leader of a nuclear power with a population of nearly 150 million is capable of common, naked criminal acts of the worst kind — not just bending the law for what he sees as the common good, but plain and simple crimes — is a little too scary.

However, it seems to me that the Putin (now, Putin/Medvedev) regime needs no demonizing. Exhibit A: The horrific treatment of Vasily Alexanian, the terminally ill ex-Yukos lawyer who is currently in prison on charges of embezzlement (widely viewed as a tactic to pressure him into testifying against his former boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky). Alexanian has AIDS and cancer, and is reported to be virtually blind. Russian law requires him to be released due to the state of his health (and also because the statute of limitation on his alleged crimes has now expired). Yet he is still in a prison hospital, for no apparent reason than the Putin clique’s maniacal vendetta against Khodorkovsky and Yukos. The latest news in his case is that the government is now willing to release him — on 50 million rubles (about $1.6 million) bail. You can’t really demonize people who do that. They’ve done a fine job of demonizing themselves.

Sean Guillory, who writes Sean’s Russia blog, sincerely loves and cares about Russia, and that is, of course, a good thing. Unfortunately, I think this often leads him to see justify criticisms of Russia’s government and society as Western maligning of Russia. In discussing the Litvinenko poisoning case two years ago, Sean lamented the Western media’s readiness to paint Russia as “some sort of abnormal society.” Okay, let’s assume for the moment that it’s not so abnormal as to have a government that poisons its critics. But is today’s suppression of the opposition rallies in Moscow the mark of a “normal society”? How about the fact that none of these rallies were mentioned on the television news? How about the fact that there has been no news coverage of the massive protests in Vladivostok (not directly political, since they have to do with new tariffs on the import of used foreign cars, but still directed against the authorities)? Is that “normal”?

And something else I found jarring, reading Sean’s October 23 post on the Moskalenko case:

Westerners should be more cautious in making Russia’s “fierce critics’” every word sacrosanct. We might recognize that some of these people are victims of their own paranoia and self-deluded sense of importance. They are not martyrs, saints, or saviors. No matter how much they want us to think they are.

Are all fierce critics of Putin’s Russia saints or wise men and women? Of course not. (Eduard Limonov, for instance, is a nut and a narcissist.) But the dismissive tone toward people who are taking substantial personal risks in taking on a repressive machine grates. (Does Sean have any reason to believe Moskalenko has delusions of grandeur? I would say that in her case, paranoia is not an irrational reaction. Even the paranoid have enemies — but, by the same token, even those who have real enemies are sometimes paranoid.)

I find it deeply offensive when the likes of LaRussophobe shower the mass of the Russian people with dehumanizing contempt for their submission to Putin and their indifference to human rights violations in Russia. It’s easy for someone who has never lived under a dictatorship, and never endured the chaos, uncertainty, and privations that came with freedom after that dictatorship’s collapse, to pass high-handed judgment on people who are grateful to have a semblance of a normal life. Easy, and frankly revolting. (Besides, how many Americans — living in a democracy — protested slavery or segregation?) However, it’s also … shall we say, not very attractive to heap scorn on people who are willing to do the heroic work of challenging an authoritarian state, from the comfortable perch of someone who is very unlikely to ever be in their shoes.

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Russia: Freedom and thuggery

A day of “Marches of Dissent” in Moscow and St. Petersburg has been marked by massive police action, including about 90 arrests in Moscow and 10 in St. Petersburg and the cordoning off of two squares by Moscow police.

According to CNN.com:

A spokesman for Moscow City Hall told Interfax [the rally organizers] had been offered places to hold a rally, “but they again deliberately staged provocations and called on their supporters to attend unauthorized events.”

This is, of course, a load of B.S. The organizers of the rally, the Other Russia coalition, had legally applied for permission to hold the rally at central locations in downtown Moscow (Triumph Square and Pushkin Square). Instead, they were offered “alternate locations” in godforsaken places. For those familiar with New York geography, it would be a bit like an organization wanting to march down 5th Avenue and being offered an alternate location in Washington Heights. It should be noted that The Other Russia tried repeatedly to negotiate a compromise with City Hall, to no avail.

[More: A correction is in order. The alternate location offered to The Other Russia was Bolotnaya Square -- literally meaning "Swamp Square" -- which is, in fact, fairly close to the Kremlin. The organizers' objection to this location was that it's relatively unpopulated, away from the main flow of the crowds in downtown Moscow, and would impede their goal of "interaction with the people." Bolotnaya is more a park than a square, and serves mainly as a hangout for young people and a spot for fire shows.]

Those arrested included fifty retired generals (who had joined the protest in the vain hope that the police would not have the nerve to arrest armed force veterans) as well as Roman Dobrokhotov, the brave young man who interrupted Dmitry Medvedev’s Constitution Day speech in the Kremlin the other day.

A few dozens dissenters (50 according to the Associated Press, 80 or 90 according to reports in the independent Russian media) were able to hold a brief march in an alternate Moscow location that was not disclosed in advance, blocking off Sadovaya Street for a while.

In St. Petersburg, where the city authorities allowed a rally but not a march, things went more peacefully, though harassment of opposition activists (including, in one case, a beating that left the victim hospitalized) is still reported.

It is often said that the liberal opposition in Russia has no base, and to a large extent that’s probably true. Still, the government’s actions show that it’s afraid of the opposition broadening its influence. Those actions, moreover, are not only thuggish but dumb. Suppressing the rallies draws more attention than letting them happen unmolested.

Speaking of thuggery, a remarkable (and truly disgusting) act thereof took place on December 12 in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, where 100 to 200 opposition activists (including chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov and former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov) gathered for the founding congress of a movement called Solidarity.

According to a BBC report:

A pro-Kremlin youth movement, Young Russia, set off smoke bombs outside the conference hall. Some wore monkey masks and taunted delegates by tossing bananas at them.

But the BBC omits any mention of antoher stunt by members on one of the pro-government youth movements that specialize in harassing opposition activists: releasing live sheep, clad in shirts and caps with a Solidarity logo, outside the conference center (apparently to make the point that the conference attendees were “sheep”). Three of the sheep died for unknown reasons (perhaps due to being roughly tossed from the bus that brought them in). Eyewitnesses say several others had broken legs. A video made by opposition activist Oleg Kozlovsky captures a part of the outrageous event. (Warning: video contains brief images of dead animals.)

Will the thugs be prosecuted for animal abuse? Don’t hold your breath.

More: On its website, The Young Guard claims that it was not behind the stunt with the sheep, and that it approves of the “political content” of the action but deplores animal abuse. Its site also features a video that purports to rebut allegations that the sheep were abused. Of course, this video — apparently shot by people associated with the stunt — shows only that some of the sheep were unharmed and in no way disproves Kozlovsky’s video.

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Russia: Freedom springs eternal

Via Robert Amsterdam, an article from The Economist about acts of civic courage by ordinary Russians: a juror in the Anna Politkovskaya murder case going public to dispute the judge’s claim that the jury has asked for the trial to be held behind closed door (causing the trial to be opened to the public and the media again), drivers in Moscow taking over a special lane reserved for high-level government officials. And there’s more.

On December 5, the Basmanny district court in Moscow — a court whose past actions have made it a synonym, among Russian dissenters, for a kangaroo court doing the government’s bidding — acquitted writer and political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky of charges of “extremism.” The charges against Piontkovsky, a pro-Western, outspoken critic of the Putin regime, were based on the prosecutors’ conclusion that his book Unloved Country contains incitement of ethnic hatred and “statements demeaning to Russians, Jews, and Americans.” (No specific examples were given.)

Three experts from the Russian Federal Center for Expert Witnesses concluded that nothing in Piontkovsky’s book could be interpreted as incitement to hatred or violence.

Said Piontkovsky (alas, Russian link only):

The FSB and the prosecutors, armed with the new law on extremism, tried to conduct a show trial and create a precedent for criminal prosecution for criticism of the government.

The highly professional conclusion of Andrei Smirnov, Olga Kukushkina and Yulia Safonova, buttressed by scholarly arguments, has knocked — for a long time, I hope — this “punishing sword” out of the hands of the repressive machine.

The official conclusion of these three remarkable and courageous professionals should be disseminated by the media as much as possible. It is our small Magna Carta, a charter of freedoms — a first step toward the restoration of freedom of speech traitorously stolen from society by the KGB lieutenant colonel who fancies himself “the father of the nation.”

And there’s more. On December 6, the half-hour comedy show ProjectParisHilton on Russia’s Channel One, in which four comedians discuss current events, included a segment on Putin’s December 4 televised “question and answer session” with the people that was virtually an overt parody of the Vladimir Show, with the comedians offering to field audience questions that “Putin didn’t get a chance to answer” and giving Putin-style vacuous answers. (Video to come, once I have a chance to add subtitles.)

In the meantime, another video. As Russia officially celebrated the 15th anniversary of its post-Soviet Constitution — ironically, just as this constitution is about to be hastily amended to extend the presidential term from four years to six — Medvedev’s speech at the anniversary conference at the Kremlin was interrupted by a heckler. No less remarkably, a report on the incident was broadcast on television, though only on a local St. Petersburg channel.

Before we get all optimistic, the next day Dobrokhotov — an activist with the opposition group “We”– lost his job as the host of a weekly one-hour debate program on the “Moscow Speaks” radio station. The station chief claims that this was a planned layoff affecting all free-lance workers at the station. Interestingly, Dobrokhotov seems to give this explanation some credence, saying that the chief has always been candid with him in the past and that his participation in public protests has not previously affected his job. Still, the timing in suspicious at best.

On Sunday, “marches of dissent” are planned in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Stay tuned.

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