Daily Archives: May 25, 2008

May 25, 2008 — Contents


(1) The Sunday Photos

(2) The Sunday Film Review

(3) The Sunday Slam

(4) The Sunday Sacrilege

(5) The Sunday Funnies

NOTE: In observance of Memorial Day, this blog will not publish again until Wednesday, May 28th. We express our heartfelt thanks to all the men and women who have sacrificed their comfort and their lives striving for liberty in the world, and we hope we honor their memory by continuing their struggle in our own small way.

NOTE: Outrageous things are happening in Russia at such a breakneck pace that we have developed a publishing backlog of editorials commenting on them and, for the first time, we publish an editorial on Sunday in an effort to clear the decks. Even by our standards, the state of Russian current events in the wake of the “election” of Dmitri Medevev is an apocalypse.

The Sunday Photos

Russian opposition leader Oleg Kozlovsky, hours after being released from prison last week after serving a 13-day sentence on bogus charges designed to intimidate him and prevent him from taking part in the first meeting of Russia’s new shadow parliament organization. His haggard appearance is due to a hunger strike undertaken to protest the illegal nature of his arrest.

Soon after his release, Oleg was surrounded by his comrades in arms at a local watering hole for his first decent meal in two weeks.

The Sunday Film Review: Banned in Russia

The Moscow Times reports:

Swiss director Eric Bergkraut doesn’t expect his latest film, “Letter to Anna,” to go down well in Russia, or even to make it into theaters. But in an interview after the premiere of the feature-length version at the Hot Docs International Film Festival in Toronto, he said he didn’t want his film to be perceived as “anti-Russian.”

“One can be very critical of Mr. Putin’s politics without being anti-Russian at all,” Bergkraut emphasized. “I am not sure if that is understood in Moscow today.”

“Letter to Anna” is a documentary describing the life and death of the independent-minded Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was often treated with suspicion by the Russian authorities, and indeed by no small number of ordinary Russians.

Politkovskaya was best known for her critical writing on the wars in Chechnya, which appeared in the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and in her books, “A Dirty War,” and “A Small Corner of Hell.”
She was shot to death in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building on October 7, 2006.

Bergkraut first met Politkovskaya in 2003, while he was working on his documentary, “Coca: The Dove From Chechnya,” a film about a Chechen woman who had filmed human rights abuses in the republic.

Bergkraut asked Politkovskaya to appear in the film, and she agreed.

“My first impression of Anna was that she was very busy, very focused on her work, and that she was afraid of wasting her time. But once we started talking, we had very long talks, much longer than we had intended,” Bergkraut said.

“What I liked was that she was always on the side of the weak person. I never had the feeling that it was about good Chechens and bad Russians. She was not naive at all. She just found the way the Russian government was dealing with the conflict not very intelligent.”

Bergkraut assembled “Letter to Anna” from footage of Politkovskaya left over from “Coca,” as well as footage which he shot in Russia after her death.

The film includes interviews with Politkovskaya’s son Ilya, her daughter Vera, her ex-husband, Alexander Politkovsky, and makes clear that Politkovskaya’s family feared for her life.

“Her family wanted to stop her. The only person who did not want to stop her was her daughter, Vera, who had a deep understanding for what her mother did. All the others — and it’s very understandable — tried to stop her, but it was not possible.”

The idea of living in exile was impossible for her, he said. “She did not want to leave the country. That would have been in total contradiction to who she was and how she lived.”

Expatriate Russian billionaire and Kremlin critic Boris Berezovsky is among the Kremlin opponents Bergkraut interviews in the film, which is one reason he expects to have difficulties getting it screened in Russia.

“The film could do without Berezovsky, but why should it? Why is it impossible for Russians to see Berezovsky?” Bergkraut asked.

“He is a kind of Mephisto in the film. He is not the good guy. He has to be in the film because, [Russian Prosecutor General] Yury Chaika said at a press conference that [Politkovskaya’s] murder could only have come from abroad, from oligarchs. It is quite clear that he was pointing at Berezovsky,” he said.

Another possible obstacle to the film’s presentation in Russia might be Politkovskaya’s characterization of the war in Chechnya as “genocidal.”

“She gives a very good argument,” says Bergkraut. “Do you know how many people have been killed in Chechnya? We do not know the figures. Maybe only 80,000. Maybe 150,000. Maybe 300,000. It’s really a tragedy. Chechens are a very small community,” he said.

“But every single Russian soldier and his family is a tragedy too, for me. It’s not necessarily that I share [her] judgment, but I wanted to show it,” he added.

“Letter to Anna” also includes appearances by Garry Kasparov, Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov, and other colleagues and acquaintances of Politkovskaya.

Bergkraut regrets that he was not able to represent “official Russia” more thoroughly in his film.

“I tried very hard to get an interview with Yury Chaika, but it was not possible. I am trying hard to understand [his position]. I would have loved to have more official Russian voices,” he said.

Bergkraut also laments that no one from “official Russia” has attended any of his international screenings.

“At all the screenings of my film, I was expecting that some day someone from the Russian embassy would come, and we would have a discussion. Nobody ever came. It’s a pity. My last film has been shown in about 30 countries, but not in Russia. Isn’t that strange?”

After winning the International Human Rights Film Award for “Coca” in Berlin last year, Bergkraut was approached by several film stars who expressed interest in collaborating with him. As a result, Susan Sarandon, Catherine Deneuve, and Iris Berben provided the narrations for “Letter to Anna” in its English, French, and German versions, respectively.

Bergkraut’s film was also honored by Vaclav Havel when it screened at the One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival in Prague earlier this year.

“Festivals and television stations are now approaching me because they want to show “Letter to Anna,” but no one has come to me from Russia,” Bergkraut said.

“A discussion [about Politkovskaya] — which may be controversial — would be interesting and somehow natural. The best thing would be if a Russian television channel bought “Letter to Anna. Maybe one day. Things can change.”

EDITORIAL: The Sunday Slam


Saakashvili, Triumphant

In a devastating embarrassment for Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy, Georgia held elections this week and delivered stunning knockout blow to Russia’s efforts to retain influence and control in the former Soviet republic.

In parliamentary elections that were judged as “good or very good at 92 percent of the 1,500 polling stations visited” by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Georgian voters supported the party of the pro-West president Mikheil Saakashvili (shown above) by a landslide margin. The OSCE found that the quality of Georgia’s elections had improved markedly from the last outing: “These elections were not perfect, but since I was here in January for the presidential election, concrete and substantial progress has been made,” said Joao Soares, head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly mission.

Saakashvili’s party dominated its pro-Russia opponent by a stunning margin of nearly three to one. The people of Georgia spoke loud and clear, saying that they wanted no part of their country’s Soviet past and domination by the Russian Kremlin. Instead, they overwhelmingly favor alliance with the West, NATO membership and an independent course. Faced with repeated neo-imperialist efforts to unseat him, President Saakashvili has responded courageously and even heroically by simply calling election after election to let the people decide and winning each and every one.

Let’s be clear: The United Opposition Movement headed by former presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze is a real opposition party, harshly critical of Saakashvili and seeking to oust him from power. It was allowed to campaign aggressively and it won a large number of seats in Parliament. No such thing occurred last December in Russia. By contrast, not one single seat in Russia’s new parliament is held by a party opposed to the dictatorial rule of Vladimir Putin.

It’s more than a little telling that Russian “president” Dimitri Medvedev’s first state visit after becoming “president” was a trip to China. Russia’s relations with its former Soviet neighbors in Europe are imploding like a house of cards (just ten days ago, Russia received a similar poke in the eye from it’s “little brother” in Serbia), and rather that seek to repair them it appears the Kremlin has simply given up hope and is trying to shore up its Far Eastern front.

Good luck with that, Mr. Medvedev. Do you really imagine the Chinese don’t realize the racist contempt in which they are held by Russians? Do you really think you can appease the Chinese the way Stalin tried to appease Hitler, and thereby prevent China from annexing huge swaths of Russian territory to house its massive population (now ten times larger than Russia, but with less than one-third the national territory)?

Russia’s foreign policy under Vladimir Putin has amounted to total, abject failure. Putin has provoked a new Cold War with the world’s only superpower, alienated and polarized Western Europe with energy terrorism, poisoned its relations with former Soviet bloc friends and left Russia standing utterly alone in the world, without alliances or even constructive working relationships of any kind. Russia’s only fellows are rogue regimes like those in Syria, Iran and Venezuela.

And there is nothing at all surprising in this. Though the complain about “encirclement” by the outside world, the people of Russia bring their troubles on themselves by choosing to be governed by a proud KGB spy raised on the mother’s milk of propaganda and paranoia that brought down the USSR.

The Sunday Sacrilege: Banning Islam in Russia

Paul Goble reports on the amazing irony that, while cozying up to radical Islam in Iran and Syria, Russia is seeking to wipe it out within Russia itself:

Russian judges are now prepared to ban as extremist Muslim broadsides and Internet pages about the actions of the Federal Security Service FSB), the militia, and the courts in dealing with Islamic groups, so broadening the definition of “extremist” as to create a precedent for any effort to comment on the actions of the legal system or force structures. According to Islamnews.ru, the latest list of “banned” literature includes not just additional Muslim religious texts Abd Al-Aziz bin Muhammed’s “What One Needs to Know about the One God,” but also pamphlets and web pages about the actions of Russian officials like “How to Act when Dealing with the Special Services.”

Many Muslims as well as civil and human rights activists have been concerned by the increasing proclivity of Russian courts to ban books, an approach that most of these groups believe is not only immoral and dangerous but unconstitutional, ineffective, and counterproductive as well. And Muslim leaders across the Russian Federation have pointed out not only that the courts seem to come down on Islamic literature far more often than that of any other faith, even though there are radical texts in the others, but also that most judges and prosecutors lack the expertise to distinguish between extremism and anything else.

Over the last several months, an increasing number of Russian officials have come to agree, with a few suggesting that the government should get out of the business of banning books and a large number of others arguing that prosecutors and the courts should rely on Muslim theologians who will be able to analyze the texts more fully and accurately. Recently and despite the convictions of many Muslim leaders that banning books is a bad business – the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Tatarstan, for example, disciplined a senior leader who appeared to back the idea by suggesting Muslims should burn the books Russian courts have banned – some Muslims were stepping forward with offers to help.

That makes the latest list especially disturbing. On the one hand, several of the works on it are more or less standard texts widely used not only in the Arab world but in Russian Islamic schools, an indication that Russia’s prosecutors and judges are not inclined to approach their content with greater care. And on the other, banning articles about how Muslims should deal with the authorities – and the one listed this time urges the faithful to ask that their rights be respected and to keep records of what officials say and do – and banning materials on the Internet in this way indicates that the authorities now feel increasingly free to violate other Constitutional rights of believers.

Given that the Islamic community in the Russian Federation relies more heavily on the Internet than on the print media – distributing materials via the web is both easier and cheaper – this expansion of judicial power opens the way to the closure of more sites – several have been blocked in recent days – or to the basing of Russian Muslim sites abroad. Moscow has demonstrated that it has the capacity to shut down sites whose content it doesn’t like – the perversely named http://www.islam.boom.ru site, for example, was closed last month – but the Russian government has not found a way to close far more radical ones, like those of individual jamaats in Daghestan and elsewhere.

Whenever the authorities have sought to shut these sites down, their owners simply move them to IP providers in Muslim countries, an action that often makes them even more radical than they were before. And there is no reason to think, given the nature of the Internet or the number of such sites that the Russian government will be any more successful in the future. Consequently, what the Russian authorities are likely to achieve by their latest actions will not to restrain extremism but rather to increase alienation among Muslims living in that country and to raise questions among both them and all those concerned about civil and human rights as to Moscow’s commitment to observe its own laws and Constitution.

The Sunday Funnies

On the fat, rich oligarch’s leg is written the word: “CORRUPTION.” A tiny pugilistic Medvedev sits on his knee as he smiles with amusement.

Source: Ellustrator.
Garry Kasparov is attacked by a flying phallus.