EDITORIAL: Russian Ignorance, Unbound


Russian Ignorance, Unbound

“One of our professors talked about him in a lecture.  But I don’t really remember now exactly what he said.”

Those were the words of 17-year old Russian law student Maria Danilyants.  The “him” she was referring to was Andrei Sakharov, and she was being asked about him by Michael Schwirtz of the New York Times because his wife Yelena Bonner had just passed away.

If you think Ms. Danilyants is an ignorant buffoon, think again. She’s by far the brightest person in her law school class, because not a single one of her classmates could place the name “Sakharov” at all.  This is very much the same as if a class of American law students in New York City turned out to have no idea who Martin Luther King was.  That is, if America had collapsed and been replaced by another country because it didn’t listen to King.

Cynics on Russia though we may be, we continue to be utterly stunned by the extent of Russian barbarism and ignorance.  It is truly not inaccurate to refer to Russia as “Zaire with permafrost” and it is truly breathtaking that Russians can look at any other country and think themselves even remotely erudite.

The Times reports: “A survey conducted last year by the Levada Center, a respected polling agency in Moscow, found that 44 percent of Russians ages 18 to 24 knew nothing about Sakharov. Of those who did, only 9 percent knew that he was a champion of human rights and a dissident.”

Sakharov was of course, among many other things, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 (King had won the same prize ten years earlier).  You would think the recipient of a rare international honor like that would come in for more respect from his countrymen.  Yet you would think, for all that young Russians know about him, the Soviet government were still in power and repressing his biography. But then, of course, Russia is in fact ruled by a proud KGB spy named Vladimir Putin who is doing his best to rehabilitate the man, Josef Stalin, whose legacy Sakharov struggled so valiantly to overcome.

It’s not to say that all young Russians are barbarians, of course. That tiny segment, 10% of the population, that has a clue is struggling as best they can to educate the others. They’ve started a Facebook page and created a website to preserve Sakharov’s legacy.

Cathy Young explains why this is needed:

Ironically, in death, Bonner was finally honored in her own country, with state-run TV airing pious tributes that conveniently omitted her activism after Sakharov’s death. It’s the sort of hypocrisy Bonner would have viewed with wry amusement. Yet she never lost the hope that someday, freedom in Russia would thrive — though she knew she would not live to see it.

What progress can the Sakharov activists expect to make when the Putin regime does not want to focus on human rights or democratic values, the things that Sakharov risked his life to nurture?  When the regime will not even tell the people about the life of his wife as far  as it pertains to Putin? To the contrary, what the Putin regime wants, and what it is actively doing, is to repress and liquidate anyone who might be considered to be the “next Sakharov” — think Starovoitova, Politkovskaya, and so on.

5 responses to “EDITORIAL: Russian Ignorance, Unbound

  1. Some people remember things. Never forget, even:

    Russian officers fear revenge campaign years after Chechnya war.
    Russian Ren TV, Source: REN TV, Moscow, in Russian 1500 GMT 25 Jun 11

    Russian troops who fought in the Chechnya wars fear that they are being hunted down by the authorities in Groznyy, the privately-owned Russian television channel REN TV reported. Chechen prosecutors are bombarding army archives with requests about personnel who were serving in the republic at the time, especially in places where civilians came to harm. The recent murder of Col Yuriy Budanov and the attempted killing of another officer in Moscow have hardened suspicions about a long-term campaign of extrajudicial revenge. Special-forces veterans are asking what, if anything, Moscow will do to protect them. The following is the text of the report, on 25 June:

    (Presenter) There was an attempt to kill an officer of the Interior Ministry’s Vityaz special-purpose unit in central Moscow on Wednesday (22 June). He has been hospitalized with gunshot injuries, in a serious condition. He fought in Chechnya and after the killing of Yuriy Budanov journalists cannot but fail to notice this new and strange attempted murder. All the more so since this is happening against the backdrop of a growing scandal about requests made by Chechen investigators. These, it turns out, are being lodged with central military archives, and investigators in Groznyy are interested in details of unresolved war crimes and even photographs of specific Russian officers who fought in Chechnya. This information is classified, and how can it be used – in show trials for war crimes or for extrajudicial revenge? We carried out our own investigation and questioned serving special-forces officers. We found out some amazing details of this story. Leonid Kamfer has been studying the Chechen file.

    (Video report begins at 1526 gmt and shows documents, military archive building, Chechen war scenes)

    (Correspondent) This is the street and this is the house, in Podolsk, Kalinin street No 74. This building behind the high fence is at the centre of a scandal. Chechen investigators examining crimes by federal forces during the war wrote a secret request to the archives which ended up here by accident. They got the wrong street name – not Kalinin but Kirov. Thanks to this error, a shocking picture emerged. The number of requests from Chechnya is not just large, but very very large. There has been a real avalanche of them for years, and they all without exception ask for information that is classified – numbers of military units, names of commanders and officers suspected of war crimes, their personal files and even photographs.

    This is what these requests look like. Some are of a general nature, for example whose aircraft bombed a village cemetery and killed three Chechens – are there documents regarding the carrying out by two Russian Federation aircraft of bombing and missile attacks against the locality of (fades out). Some are more specific, for example the names and ranks of those who took part in special operations in the course of which civilians went missing – please supply information on where servicemen of this unit served subsequently.

    Only a select few knew about this requests until recently, but the forces learned of them this week. This serving officer in the special forces has been to Chechnya several times. He says he has nothing to fear and cannot be on any blacklist to do with war crimes, but still, he agreed to be interviewed only like this. He never thought he would have to wear a mask ten years after the war.

    (Masked man) Why should we, in our own town, fear being shot?

    (Correspondent) Today this is the hottest topic of conversation among the forces or special-forces veterans. Officers believe that this is the moment of truth – the decision to open the archives to Chechen investigators or not will show what the state intends to do, protect them or betray them.

    (Masked man) How can you jail a Russian soldier for carrying out an order? For what? He was acting on orders, he was 18 years old and thrown into that meat mincer.

    (Correspondent) Nobody knows at present whether the archives have been declassified and whether the Chechen investigators have obtained any of the information, but we have managed to shed light on how the main military archive has tried to keep its secrets. We have obtained from reliable sources a letter from the head of the military archives, Igor Permyakov, to the deputy chief military prosecutor. It turns out that back in April last year there was a special meeting of prosecutors, the Interior Ministry, Federal Security Service and Federal Protection Service to decide how to react to all these requests from Chechnya. Unfortunately, no decision was taken – (quoting from document) with account taken of the noncompliance, in my opinion, of the incoming requests in terms of format and content with the Criminal and Procedural Code, I have decided that to suspend their actioning until receipt of guidance from the Russian Federation Investigations Committee. Permyakov asked the prosecutors just one question in his letter – what to do and are there legal grounds to turn the (Chechen) investigators away?

    (Anatoliy Yermolin, journalist, special forces veteran) In theory, none at all. So the substance of this letter that you have is that the head of archives is panicking.

    (Correspondent) Which is what the head of the military archives cannot say, according to (TV journalist) Sergey Dorenko, who was phoned on-air by the owner of No 74 Kalinin Street to report a growing tide of requests from Chechnya. Dorenko thinks that the addresses, service numbers and service records are needed by the Chechens solely for the purpose of justice – as they understand the term.

    (Sergey Dorenko, editor-in-chief, Russian News Service) Punishment that in our understanding is extrajudicial. This is alarming. We’re thinking, and we’re alarmed by the fact, that this could be extrajudicial punishment. What we’re talking about here of course is revenge, punishment in any form.

    (Correspondent) The security bodies and their press office in Moscow have been silent all week. And against this background a statement by the Chechen leader’s press secretary, Alvi Karimov, stood out. He can’t understand why the media are making such a fuss about this, because there is no statute of limitations on war crimes.

    (Alvi Karimov, still photograph, quotation on-screen voiced-over) There’s nothing new in these requests. Investigations continue into crimes committed in particular populated localities when Russian forces were present. These requests are intended to identify the servicemen who were there at the time, and not everyone who took part in the fighting.

    (Correspondent) The scandal about Budanov had barely died down before a new and high-profile attack on an officer was carried out. In the centre of Moscow again. On Komsomolskaya Square Aleksandr Klimentov, a member of the Interior Ministry’s Vityaz special-forces unit, was hit by five bullets. His assailants opened fire from a passing vehicle. He was hit in the collarbone, stomach, head, thigh and arm. He is now in a serious condition. Against this background, the mood in the officers’ community is increasingly apprehensive. They’ve got some questions to ask the authorities.

    (Unnamed man) The Chechen prosecutor’s office has for a long time been trying to find out what, who, where and how and why things happened. But why aren’t they trying to find out who was working against our servicemen? Who was killing our men?

    (Correspondent) This former commander of an Interior Ministry special-forces unit agreed to talk to us only if his face was not shown. He is also worried – not for himself, he says, but for his family and his former subordinates. His unit was disbanded almost as soon as they returned from six months in Chechnya. He was expecting them to be decorated for killing 27 rebels but instead they were disbanded. The sense of betrayal is even stronger now.

    (Unnamed man) It’s scary. That our state is giving away its protectors like this. That’s doubly scary. Who’s going to protect our people and defend the state?

    (Correspondent) Not only special-forces veterans but serving officers are saying this. Against the backdrop of today’s talk about opening the archives to the Chechens all the other problems like lack of money and housing seem less important. They no longer believe in equality before the law when it comes to federal troops and former rebels.

    (Masked man) Russian soldiers are being hunted down. But the other side also carried out atrocities, anyone who served there will tell you that.

    (Correspondent) Sergey Arakcheyev, a former explosives trooper in the Interior Ministry, also thinks that he has been identified as a criminal, although he maintains his innocence. His high-profile case has been continuing for years. He was accused of killing Chechen civilians and sentenced to 15 years although he was also twice acquitted by jury. Arakcheyev testified under a lie detector this week to prove his innocence. But he himself realizes that that isn’t enough.

    (Sergey Arakcheyev, convicted man) Journalists and experts often say a solution strictly in accordance with the law requires a political solution. Since my conviction was demanded by the Chechen people.

    (Correspondent) But every man has his own truth. Shakhrudi Dzhambekov, brother of one of the Chechens who died in the Arakcheyev case, even now, eight years after the event, can barely stop himself from saying the word revenge aloud.

    (Shakhrudi Dzhambekov) Arakcheyev, well, he’ll go out somewhere for a beer and he’ll say something to someone and have his head smashed in.

    (Correspondent) When in the early 2000s they were finding single and mass graves across Chechnya, we saw how corpses were being dug up in Groznyy with single shots to the head. There was one thing being said, in one voice.

    (Unnamed Chechen man) We lost. Ten, 20, 30 years will pass. Our children will grow up and they’ll have the same hatred.

    (Correspondent) What to do now? Investigate war crimes or put it down to war? Who is the criminal and who was carrying out orders? Who actually won the war? All the week the Internet and media have been buzzing but the authorities remain silent. That frightens special-forces veterans more than any requests for information.

    Security personnel and also Duma member Igor Barinov, himself a former
    special-forces trooper, believe that the authorities should immediately say where they stand and reassure the army.

    (Igor Barinov) I think that the security committee and Duma members who have been associated with the Caucasus in the past should intervene and try to stop this from becoming a farce.

    (Correspondent) The Chechen war with its unmarked graves and thousands of people missing might seem to be in the past. Not so. Ten years on, Chechnya is presenting the bills in accordance with the laws of the Russian Federation. The authorities are in a classic dilemma – how to weigh stability in the North Caucasus against loyalty to the troops. The question is which side to favour.

  2. Thank you for that very interesting piece.

    I guess the Russian oppressors in Chechnya have a rule for themselves and another for the native Chechen citizens.

    I believe that it’s an excellent idea not to have an expiry time limit for war crimes, after all they are heinous crimes for which the perpetrators must pay, sooner or later. Let the murderers know that justice is just around the corner, waiting to be dealt in retribution for the illegal crimes they committed.

    • More like “legal crimes”, because of official impunity for the great most of them. (Or so they thought, until recently.)

      Apparently, Kadyrov and his posse expanded their license to kill in Moscow also to the former ethnic-Russian officers (and not just former Chechen officers), playing some Armenian Secret Army style game. I guess Shamanov should feel lucky that his military career has rebounced somehow, because obviously he tops any such hit list: http://articles.latimes.com/2001/jan/19/news/mn-14326

      In the meantime, Budanov becomes a Horst Wessel of the Russian Nazis.

      • The Nazis were “Evil personified,” as too were the communists of the defunct USSR, (which dare I say surpassed them in every thing they did), and which now is the current neo soviet regime of that ‘KaGeBist’ Lt Colonel Putin.

        Strange how only losers of any conflict are taken to war crime trials, never the victors? Because the Soviet criminal leadership should have been sitting next to the Nazi war criminals in the dock at Nuremberg.

        • Bohdan,
          Russians are OK with being slaughtered by their own government. We have to accept their choices. Comes 2012, putin will reopen the gulags and the russians will march there with NO resistance, as always during their history. So it is difficult to consider russians humans; hence no place for them even in teh dock at Nurember.

          The only thing the world should do is to be sure that those who will march to the gulags are all ethnic russians.

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