Russia’s Bandit Government Continues its Brutal Crackdown on Journalists

Paul Goble reports:

Like other despotic regimes in the past, the current Russian government appears to have crossed the Rubicon separating “an authoritarian regime from an openly bandit-style one” with its campaign of persecution against Moscow journalist Aleksandr Podrabinek, Yezhednevny Zhurnal commentator Vladimir Kara-Murza argues.

In his most recent column, Kara-Murza notes that “force has accompanied the chekist regime from the first days of its birth – from the bombings of the apartment houses to the murders of rights activists and journalists. But until recently, the powers that be have sought to muddy the waters about who bore responsibility.”

The Podrabinek case “shows the true worth” of claims about “‘the liberal president,’” and has “become for Russia a sign of things to come: For the first time since the days of the USSR’s KGB, the Kremlin regime … has openly and without shame unleashed a persecution campaign against a journalist who was brave enough not to agree with the general line.”

“The siege of his house, offensive phone calls, direct threats and other methods from the arsenal of criminal groups, as the Nashi organization willingly acknowledges are directed at a completely define goal: to force Aleksandr Podrabinek to leave Russia,” just as similar efforts were employed against Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and others in Soviet times.

It is clear, Kara-Murza continues, that Podrabinek’s latest article which the authorities have falsely denounced as an attack on the reputation of Soviet veterans was “only a pretext” for this campaign given his involvement in the distribution of the book “The FSB Blows Up Russia” and his direct participation in the presidential campaign of Vladimir Bukovsky

Indeed, “in covering themselves with a hypocritical ‘concern about veterans,’ the servants of the regime show the world their true face: the face of the defenders of the ‘Sovsystem,’ the KGB and the GULAG. All the masks have finally been cast off,” Kara-Murza says, “and that, if you will is the single positive result of this disgusting episode.”

But as Podrabinek himself noted “the situation possibly is worse than it may appear at first glance” because he has been given information from “reliable sources that those at “quite high levels” within the powers that be, and not the humble “Nashi” movement gave the orders for this campaign.

And two other Russian commentators pointed to even more disturbing aspects of the Russian government’s persecution of Podrabinek. In an essay on the site, Irina Pavlova argued that the powers that be arranged this case in order “to demonstrate the growing force of the process of re-Stalinization in the country.

In support of that argument, she pointed to the similarities between what Russian officials and organizations are doing now and what Stalin and his henchmen did in the 1930s. First, Nashi and its associates attacked Podrabinek with the kind of language associated with Stalinist denunciations of “enemies of the people.”

Second, the way in which Nashi and its allies were deployed “does not allow anyone to doubt” that this was ordered from above just as Stalin directed Soviet institutions in the past and with the same theme of “the organization of the anger of the masses” against an individual that the regime dislikes.

And third, just as in Stalin’s time, none of the Russian public organizations has spoken out against this illegal campaign, citing their desire “not to interfere” just as their Soviet predecessors did. This too shows that the social organizations “legally existing in Russia” are part and parcel of the power system, “politically loyal” and acceptant of “the rules of the game.”

“If one uses the terminology of the current powers that be,” Pavlova says, “then the persecution of Aleksandr Podrabinek is an example in the pure form of the actions of Russian ‘standards of democracy.’ Stalin … also spoke about ‘the complete democratization of the political system of the country.”

The saddest thing about all this, she continues, is that such propaganda “is working.” Not long ago “a book on Russia entitled ‘Terror and Democracy in the Epoch of Stalin’ appeared in the West. The word democracy was used without quotation marks.” Given all that, she argues, one should not underestimate just how serious this case is for the future of Russia.

Meanwhile, in another comment, Moscow blogger Dmitry Shusharin suggested that the Podrabinek case shows that “the liberalization of [Moscow’s] foreign policy is leading to opposite results internally,” thus repeating a pattern that frequently occurred during the Soviet period.

Arguing that this constitutes “détente instead of a thaw,” Shusharin says that Moscow assumes that having declared its love and friendship to the US, it will receive carte blanche for any actions on the territory of the former USSR,” a trade-off that represents a new set of “Yalta accords.”

Specifically, he writes, by making concessions to US President Obama on Iran, Moscow will be able to arrange things as it likes at home because “now everything is possible.” If Shusharin is right, Podrabinek and the Russian people will be the first victims of such a trade: They will not be the last.

3 responses to “Russia’s Bandit Government Continues its Brutal Crackdown on Journalists

  1. MOSCOW – A Russian journalist says he has been threatened with violence and forced into hiding after posting a Web article critical of Soviet army veterans.

    Alexander Podrabinek, 56, a former Soviet dissident and political prisoner, accuses the Russian government of being behind what he calls a campaign of harassment, a charge the government denies.

    About 20 activists with the Kremlin-friendly Nashi youth group picketed Podrabinek’s apartment building Thursday for the third day after setting up large protest signs on the sidewalk.

    The journalist’s wife, Alla, who remains in the family apartment with their teenage daughter, said her husband was the target of “completely disgusting harassment.”

    Nashi members filtered through the building asking neighbors to sign a petition demanding law enforcement officials charge Podrabinek with defamation for his comments in the online publication Yezhednevny Zhurnal.

    Podrabinek became the focus of nationalist anger after he published an article Sept. 21 criticizing Moscow authorities and military veterans for pressuring a local restaurant to drop the name “Anti-Soviet,” which they claimed insulted Russia’s past. He went into hiding a few days later, after receiving several threatening phone calls, he and his wife said.

    “They have made psychological threats against my family and threats of physical violence against me,” Podrabinek said in an online interview late Wednesday.

    He accused the government, including “probably the Kremlin administration and Vladimir Putin,” of being behind the campaign against him.

    “They want to limit freedom of speech in Russia,” Podrabinek said. “This is why they are doing this. They are gradually taking us back to the Soviet Union.”

    Russian reporters who deviate from the official line have been threatened — in some cases beaten and even killed — following a crackdown on the independent journalism of the post-Soviet 1990s. In Podrabinek’s case, attempts by Kremlin youth groups to track him down may support his suspicion of state involvement.

    Russian human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov said Nashi’s threats against Podrabinek were part of a larger effort to rehabilitate Soviet-era leader Josef Stalin, which he asserted was being orchestrated in part by Prime Minister Putin’s ruling United Russia party.

    “The Russian state has developed an alarming pattern of using careerist Russian youths in Nashi, which is controlled by United Russia, to attack its enemies,” Ponomaryov said. “The creeping rehabilitation of Stalin is designed to pave the way for the return of Putin as an autocratic leader.”

    Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Putin, said the allegation has “no foundation whatsoever.”

    A Nashi spokeswoman denied the group was harassing the journalist. “We are supporting the veterans that he offended,” said Kristina Potupchik.

    Podrabinek said he did not criticize all veterans, just those who defend the Communist system.

    Clashes over the interpretation of Russia’s troubled 20th century history have intensified in recent years, as Moscow has dusted off many of the symbols of the Soviet Union, including the music of the Soviet national anthem and the red star symbol of the Soviet military.

    The campaign against Podrabinek, who also works in the Russian-language service of Radio France International, has alarmed U.S. and European press freedom groups.

    French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, in Moscow to meet with his Russian counterpart, said he had “contacted the relevant authorities to make sure he is safe.”

    Roman Shleinov, investigative editor at the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which is often critical of Kremlin policy, said Nashi members had come to its Moscow offices looking for Podrabinek, who has written for the paper in the past.

    “The whole thing looks like a Soviet witch-hunt to persecute those that think differently,” he said.

    Several contributors to Novaya Gazeta have been killed in recent years, including investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down in her Moscow apartment building in October 2006. She had exposed official corruption and human rights abuses.

  2. I think there is some merit to the idea that if the kremlin plays nice with Obama on Iran, they will get a free hand internally. Also, don’t expect the US to lift a finger for Ukraine or Georgia. So far, the kremlin has not commited to stroking Obama’s ego, but if they do, any agreement they make will, gauranteed, be covertly broken. Pray for eastern Europe. Obama is an idiot.

  3. Hungary, East Germany, Prague Georgia know

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