In Neo-Soviet Russia, Writers are Criminals
In December 2007 Russian scholar Igor Averkiev wrote an essay called “Putin is Our Good Hitler” (Russian language original) in which he explained his title thusly: “Because the type and style of President Putin’s rule is quite similar to the type and style of Reich Chancellor Hitler’s rule during the early stage of his career. Because the situation in post-Soviet Russia is quite similar to the situation in post-WWI Germany. Because the Russian populace at the turn of the millennia closely resembles the German people during the late 1920s and early 1930s.”
Russian security forces called him in (Russian language link) for questioning and warned him to stop challening the Kremlin’s authoirty, but Averkiev (link to the author’s Russian language website), who serves as public ombudsman in the Siberian city of Perm, would not be intimidated.
What happened next was entirely predictable neo-Soviet outrage.
In January of this year, he published again. The delay was not due to any hesitation on the author’s part, but simply because the essays he writes are very long, carefully researched and constructed.
This time it was an essay called “Leaving the Caucasus will make Russia Stronger” (Russian language original), and it argued that Chechnya should in no way be considered a “part” of Russia, but should become an independent state, that by continuing to try to control it Russia was creating a Frankenstein monster that could ultimately cause the whole country to break apart.
No more Mr. Nice Guy from the Russian security forces. They filed a criminal case against Averkiev and moved to ban the publication of the essay in Russia as “extremist” under a law designed to attack Chechen terrorism. Averkiev could be hit with devastating financial penalties and jail time.
Averkiev is hardly alone. The Washington Post recently reported on the equally chilling case of Alexander Astafyev, a policeman working on a academic report about corruption who also found himself thrown into jail instead of being praised for helping the motherland deal with those who poisone her blood. It’s barbarism, pure and simple.
If you hear in these events the terrifying echo of the USSR, then you will undoubtedly be greatly disturbed to learn that the Kremlin has just announced it has the right, regardless of directly contradictory provisions in the Russian Constitution, to open any letter placed into the Russian mails and read it for signs of subversion. Russian authorities are also investigating the need to impose similar restrictions on the Skype communication network (e-mails in Russia are already exposed to such surveillance under regulations known as “SORM”).
It’s all terrifying, to be sure, but hardly surprising. After all, Russia’s Kremlin is dominated by a huge clan of proud KGB spies led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spymaster. Putin’s chief democratic rival for power, oil company executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has been cooling his heels in a Siberian prison cell for years after Putin nipped his political ambitions in the bud in a manner eerily similar to the way the Politburo dealt with their rivals. Other Putin rivals, like journalists Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova, have simply been shot.
In fact, if there’s any significant difference between today’s Russia and the USSR, it’s that Putin has a markedly different attitude towards religion. Instead of fearing it and razing churches and executing priests, Putin has simply installed yet one more proud KGB spy as head of the Orthodox Church and then become the recipient of his unceasing blessings.
And it’s not only Russian history that seems to be repeating itself. Jimmy Carter kissed Leonid Brezhnev, and the result was the invasion of Afghanistan. George Bush looked longingly into the eyes of Putin, and the next thing we knew Soviet-made Russian tanks were rolling into Georgia.
Fortunately, Carter was followed by Ronald Reagan, who understood that the USSR was a fundamentally failed economic system that only needed a firm push to topple into collapse. Reagan called Russia an “evil empire,” demanded that Russia “tear down this wall” in Berlin,and soon th USSR was no more.
Yet the world does not appear to be so fortunate where George Bush is concerned. His successor, Barack Obama, has shown an eerily Carterian weakness where Russia is concerned, visting with Putin and then calling him a “pragmatist” who always acts in his country’s best interests. Obama has done nothing about the Estemirova killing, nor has he paid any serious attention to the shocking recreation of Soviet dictatorship in Russia. For that reason, the repetition of history may well stop where the Reagan results are concerned.
Putin may end up having his way with Obama, just as he did with Bush.