EDITORIAL: Long Live Luke Harding!

EDITORIAL

Long Live Luke Harding

Luke Harding

On December 1, 2010, Luke Harding, Russia correspondent for the Guardian newspaper, published a story based on leaked confidential government documents which concluded that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin approved the murder of dissident KGB defector Alexander Litvinenko.

Six weeks later, the very next time Harding tried to enter Russia, his visa was revoked and he was sent back home.  More than three dozen foreign journalists have been refused entry to Russia since Vladimir Putin came to power and many others, like Paul Klebnikov of Forbes, have been murdered outright.

But it’s pretty hard to think of a single pro-Kremlin journalist who has been arrested or exiled or murdered by the Putin Kremlin, isn’t it?

As a Moscow Times editorial about Harding puts it:  “Apparently, the Kremlin’s notion of the ideal foreign journalist is former New York Times Moscow bureau chief, Walter Duranty — the quintessential “useful idiot” who self-censored himself so much that he denied the Soviet famine of 1932-33 in his articles published in 1933 in an apparent attempt to please Stalin.”

In other words, the Kremlin’s attitude towards journalists in 2011 is the same as it was in the time of “Soviet power.”  Russia’s leaders, and its citizens, hold journalists in contempt. They see any citizen-journalist who dares to question the Kremlin as a traitor, and any foreign journalist who dares to do so as a spy. They have no problem, in that case, exiling, jailing or murdering such persons, since they are “threats to Mother Russia.”

Just as in Soviet times, the ignorant cretins of Russia, who are the majority, are unable to fathom the notion that such journalists are society’s only hope of learning about its flaws and weaknesses in order to improve and adapt. Without such journalists, the USSR was absolutely blind to its own faults, never reformed them and therefore collapsed in failure resulting from decay and obsolescence.

How is it possible that the people of Russia, having so recently seen the consequences of this blindness, can allow it to continue? Are they suicidal, do they actually want to watch their nation collapse all over again?

There is a “happy” ending to this story in the sense that a tsunami of international outraged forced the Kremlin to back down, admit its rejection of the journalist was totally improper, and re-admit him to the country. Once again, the Kremlin showed its palpable weakness in the face of genuine pressure, proving that its opponents still have very substantial leverage.  A massive outpouring of public opposition could drive Vladimir Putin from office just as it did Hosni Mubarek.

Yet the fact is, it was international pressure.  The people of Russia said and did nothing to protect Harding, just as they have said and done nothing to protect any of Russia’s other dissidents, like Mikhail Khodorkovsky or Anna Politkkovskaya.  Other countries will not be able to save the Russians from themselves.

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5 responses to “EDITORIAL: Long Live Luke Harding!

  1. @Paul Klebnikov of Forbes

    Murdered U.S. reporter’s family may sue Russia

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/07/02/us-russia-klebnikov-idUSTRE6612S520100702

    (Reuters) – The family of murdered American journalist Paul Klebnikov said Friday it may sue Russia in Europe’s human rights court because prosecutors have failed to bring anyone to justice for his killing in Moscow six years ago.

    The 2004 slaying of Klebnikov highlighted the dangers to journalists, foreign and Russian, who delve into an underworld where crime, politics and business overlap.

    But his killers — and those who ordered the contract-style murder — are still on the loose, despite repeated requests from the United States to solve the case.

    “We said in July of 2004 after Paul’s murder that this case was a litmus test for Russia, yet so far the Russian government has failed that test miserably,” said Michael Klebnikov, Paul’s brother, who speaks for the family.

    Klebnikov, the editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, was shot four times as he left his office in central Moscow on July 9, 2004. He died of his injuries in a lift which stalled at a hospital.

    “We have tried everything we can in terms of using the Russian legal system and we are now seriously discussing taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights because we are simply not confident that we will see justice in Russia,” Klebnikov told Reuters by telephone from New York.

  2. One would think that before posing for a picture, Luke would sober up a bit, or at least had somebody powder his crimson red nose and comb his hair.

  3. Comrade Maimonides? “crimson red nose”? my, my you are color blind as well! never mind it complements your ‘upstairs faculty’ perfectly.

    When it comes to you, wonders will never cease. What next??

  4. i just noticed something funny: all the twitter share buttons on this site have a count of <5, it seems. Quick, LR – have your funding agency increase the HR budget so you can create fake twitter accounts for sharing & improving the illusion of popularity.
    You haven't talked much about your 'popularity' recently, little LR… What's going on??

  5. FSB Fighting Enemies From Oxford
    21 February 2011
    Editorial

    http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/fsb-fighting-enemies-from-oxford/431363.html

    The Luke Harding drama turned out to be largely much ado about nothing. He returned to Moscow on Feb. 13, a week after his visa was summarily annulled at Domodedovo Airport, and he was put on the next flight back to London. Nonetheless, the incident tells us a lot about the Soviet mentality and incompetence of the Federal Security Service, which was ostensibly responsible for putting Harding on their “black list” and giving the orders to deport him because of his critical articles about Russia.

    The agency’s siege mentality has changed little since the Soviet times when any criticism by foreign journalists of the Soviet system was, by definition, “libel.”

    The whole episode resembled a Gogol comedy. FSB agents played the role of bumbling bureaucrats who clearly barked up the wrong tree. At least when they deported Natalya Morar, the investigative journalist for New Times who uncovered new facts about the Kremlin’s slush fund for political parties, there was some logic, albeit from a KGB perspective. But Harding’s deportation left everyone scratching their heads since his articles were not any more critical than what most other Russia-based foreign journalists have been writing about for the past decade.

    The other Gogolian moment is that they picked the worst possible moment to annul his visa — a week before Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s meeting with British Foreign Minister William Hague. The Foreign Ministry was given the responsibility to manage the crisis and limit the damage caused by the FSB’s major flub, and it deserves kudos for doing it quickly and effectively.

    What can explain the FSB’s zealousness in this case? There is a rich tradition in Russian bureaucracy called ugadat-ugodit — trying to please your boss by guessing what he wants. We saw it in the fall when overly eager bureaucrats started bulldozing kiosks in Moscow hoping that it would please the just-appointed mayor, Sergei Sobyanin. (It didn’t.)

    One of the most famous cases in Russian history of this phenomenon was when bureaucrats wanted to show Nikita Khrushchev how eager they were to fulfill his order to grow corn “everywhere” that they even tried to do it in the country’s polar regions.

    Likewise, perhaps “Operation Harding” was an attempt by overzealous FSB agents who wanted to prove to their bosses how vigilant they were in defending the motherland against “saboteurs and libelers.”

    It may also have been an FSB attempt to deflect attention away from the agency’s numerous failures in preventing terrorist attacks, including the Jan. 24 attack at Domodedovo Airport. If the FSB can’t catch Doku Umarov, the reputed leader of the radical Islamist movement who has claimed responsibility for many terrorist attacks, at least they can go after a prim, Oxford-educated British journalist — a fierce, barbaric enemy of the Russian people if there ever was one.

    Perhaps the most ludicrous aspect of the whole affair was when Kremlin-friendly commentators floated the idea that Harding may have been a spy, a throwback to the spy mania of the Soviet period when all foreign journalists were suspected of being likely covers for CIA operatives. But what country allows a spy to come back a week after he has been kicked out?

    In the end, the Harding Affair had little to do with Harding — they could have easily targeted any other foreign journalist who wrote critically of Russia — and everything to do with the primitive, Cold War-era mentality of the FSB. It is highly disturbing that, 20 years after the Soviet collapse, when the FSB doesn’t like what a foreign journalist writes about Russia — and can’t refute it in any way — the agency’s only response is a patently Stalinist one: No person, no problem.

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