Russia Today is Really Tragic
By now most Russia watchers are aware that the Putin Kremlin is squandering millions of dollars badly needed by its sick population (Russians don’t rank in the top 120 countries of the world for adult lifespan) on a shameless English-language propaganda TV network known as “Russia Today.”
It goes without saying that there is no more reliable information to be found in RT’s broadcasts than there was on the pages of Pravda or Izvestia in Soviet Times. But the fully neo-Soviet character of the network’s material is nonetheless surprising and revolting.
Take, for instance, a recent report on religious freedom in Russia.
That the Russian Orthodox Church is dominating and excluding every other religious faith in the country would hardly seem to be a matter of debate among intelligent people. After all, Vladimir Putin was repeatedly blessed and supported by Alexei II, the Russian pope, throughout his years in office, and Russia is infamous around the world for cracking down on other faiths.
But according to Russia Today, all is bliss and those faiths have no complaints whatsoever.
RT’s piece was a direct response to a formal U.S. government finding that religious diversity is under seige in Russia. The report lumps Russia together with Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Venezuela as the worst worldwide oppressors of religous diversity (to read more about the oppression of religious diversity in Putin’s Russia, click the “religion” category in our sidebar). The piece was not signed by any journalist, and for all we readers know what written by someone in the Kremlin itself.
You can probably understand all you need to about the RT/Kremlin “analysis” of the issue by having a look at the crude, vulgar cartoon that accompanied it and which appears at left. Just as was the case when RT tried to advertise its “services” with a billboard pointing out that Josef Stalin was “also a romantic poet” as an example of the important facts RT would teach Russia neophytes to help them understand Russia better, it seems never to have occurred to RT that a cartoon like this is totally inappropriate within a discussion of relgious persecution (it’s notable that the article also contains a screen shot from the TV show South Park which routinely lampoons religions of all kinds; one wonders how RT would respond if South Park put the Russian Orthodox Church in its sights, something it has of course never done). The drawing underlines the total inability of Rusians to comprehend the values of freedom of expression, only the drawbacks. It’s a sad exclamation point on the notion that Russia remains a crudely backward, second-rate nation when compared to the civilized world.
If you then review the text, you can feel your stomach turning.
RT quotes some one called Farid Asaddullin from Russia’s “Council of Mufti.” Asaddullin says that the U.S. report doesn’t mention the number of mosques and religious schools built in Russia in “the past 10-15 years.” Interestingly, Asaddulin makes no attempt to mention the number either. It’s well known, of course, that the Kremlin has aggressively sought to co-opt some Islamic leaders, most notably in Chechnya, just as the KGB is rumored to have done with the Orthodox Church itself in Soviet times (many believe that Alexei II was a KGB agent). No discussion of the state’s illicit involvement in the Orthodox Church appears in the RT report, nor is there any attempt to quote ordinary Muslims unconnected to the Kremlin’s power about how they are persecuted on a daily basis. Many dark-skinned people, of course, have been murdered on sight in Russia just for being non-Slavic. Not a word about those killings appears in the RT “report.”
The only negative comments RT will acknowledge come from the leaders of obscure cults like the Vaishnavists and the Shamanists, consistent with the cartoon message shown above. No comments of any kind are printed from mainstream religions leaders representing Catholicism or Protestantism or Judaeism. Of course, there’s not the slighest attempt to quote any of the groups which have been most vehemently assaulted, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Over and over again, however, it quotes spokesmen for the Russian Orthodox Church proclaiming their innocence. None are asked any hard questions about their nexus to the Kremlin or the incidents of persecution documented in the U.S. report.
That report, indeed, recites a litany of horrific acts of persecution against Russian religious minority groups. Here’s RT’s response: “While many examples of religious intolerance cited by the US commission report do depict genuine problems in Russian society, some may raise questions.” That’s right: It doesn’t give the details of one single incident that is “genuine” but turns immediately instead to attack those it feels are vulnerable, the classic tactic of a propagandist. And it doesn’t make any attempt to confront the Kremlin officials responsible for religion with the incidents that are admittedly “genuine.” That’s jouranlism, Russia style.
Then the RT report gets quite touchy, ending with the following poisonous diatribe that sounds as if it came directly from the lips of Vladimir Putin:
Russia, for its part, is told to amend its legislation, which mentions four predominant religions – Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism – as “traditional,” claiming it violates the rights of members of other religions. The document doesn’t explain how the situation in Russia is worse than, say, mentioning Roman Catholicism as the traditional religion in Poland, or Judaism as the state religion in Israel.
As for the US government, some of the panel’s suggestions are quite unorthodox. The report suggests linking religious freedom in Russia with the country’s accession to the World Trade Organization, and the lifting of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, the trade regulation that was imposed against the Soviet Union in protest against the restriction of the immigration of Russian Jews. What Russia’s trade relations have to do with religious freedoms is not revealed.
Well, so much for journalism!
It’s really hard to imagine what sort of “logic” would lead RT to the conclusion that it can win more even-handed coverage of Russia by covering Russia so one-sidedly. As with its Stalin advertisement, it’s clear that RT’s publishers see their audience as a group of ignorant simpletons who can be easily duped, just the same way the Politburo used to see the world. It sees things that way because there is nobody in the organization to tell it any different, just as there isn’t any such person in the Kremlin itself.
So what we have is, just a few years after the collapse of the USSR, history repeating itself. A proud KGB spy rules Russia through lies and repression. Russia once again spirals to collapse and suffering.