Getting Russia Wrong Again
Michael AVERKO | 21.09.2015 | WORLD

Getting Russia Wrong Again

Adrian Karatnycky's article of this past September 2 "Mr. Lavrov Builds His Dream World", has the standard preferences of the Atlantic Council, which features that piece. Omitted, are the valid counters on the issues covered (Crimea and the domestic situation in Russia are among the subjects).

Contrary to what Karatnycky suggests, "Official Russia", exists with some media and academic instances that oppose the Kremlin. On this particular, one can reasonably argue for greater diversity – something which applies elsewhere – Atlantic Council, considerable segments of Western mass media/body politic and Kiev regime controlled Ukraine included.

In his article, Karatnycky distorts what Russian President Vladimir Putin said about Joseph Goebbels. This distortion is perplexing, given that the contents in the hyperlinked July 10, 2014 Times of Israel article, clearly show that Putin wasn't suggesting any positive admiration for Goebbels.

Writes Karatnycky: "Alas, the Terra Scientia is not a place for study and reflection. It appears there are virtually no such places in official Russia. Knowledge and the discussion of serious problems have been replaced not simply by sophistry, but by the time-worn tradition of the big Lie, a technique much admired by Putin, who last year professed to shocked rabbis his admiration for the effectiveness of Nazi propagandist."

The Times Of Israel piece makes no mention whatsoever of "shocked rabbis", while acknowledging Putin's opposition to anti-Jewish manner. (On another matter, the Times of Israel article short changes the reasoned basis for Crimea reunifying with Russia, in addition to not acknowledging instances of anti-Jewish expression within the extreme wing of those who contributed to the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych).                                 

Jewry in Russia is something that periodically crops up in a negatively inaccurate way. This image plays on the idea of Russia being an ethnically restrictive country – a perception that's (put mildly) quite relative, in relation to what's actually evident in that nation and other countries.

The following is expressed in Ivan Nechepurenko's May 21, 2015 Moscow Times article "Shoigu At 60: The Man Who Would Be Russia's King": "'No one with the surname Shoigu could ever be elected Russia's president,' said Stanislav Belkovsky, a prominent political analyst, referring to the defense minister's origins from the remote Siberian republic Tuva, where animistic shamanism is practiced by the population along with Tibetan Buddhism. Unlike the Soviet Union, Russia is a nation state, where only people with a Russian surname can occupy the Kremlin,' Belkovsky said in a phone interview."

Upon reading this, I was reminded of Stephen Cohen's November 12, 2003 Moscow Times article "The Struggle For Russia", which includes: "Democracy in Russia has been failing ever since Yeltsin made oligarchic privatization possible by destroying an elected parliament in 1993, and neither side is interested in truly reviving it: the oligarchs are zealous monopolists, not free-market reformers, and Western investors interested in Russia's huge oil reserves have already indicated that they care about official guarantees of the contracts, not who signs them: Putin now controls elections sufficiently to get substantially the legislature he wants: and no one of Jewish origin, as are Khodorkovsky and most of the other oligarchs, could be elected president of Russia."

When considering his erudite commentary over the decades, I'd like to think that Cohen might be inclined to amend what he stated above. A whataboutism moment wryly observes the number of Jewish US presidents and vice presidents in the 200 plus year history of these positions, versus the number of post-Soviet Russian prime ministers of a known Jewish background.

On the subject of Jewry in Russia and the overall state of ethno-religious relations in that country, there remains some closed-minded thinking, as evidenced in Julia Ioffe's October 16, 2013 New Republic piece "Russians Still Love Pogroms". Her tabloid screed is indicative of an inaccurate collective stereotyping.

Ethno-religious intolerance is an unfortunate condition, which Russians haven't monopolized. The past actions against Jews in Russia aren't on par with the present circumstances in that nation. A second whataboutism considers African-Americans during slavery, contrasted with the current situation, which include some negative occurrences against that group. Another whataboutism observes that the unfortunate position of Jews in the Russian Empire wasn't at the horrid level of what existed in Nazi Germany and as tragic to what the Armenians faced under Turkish rule.

As a sharp contrast to Ioffe, the American PBS aired documentary "The Jewish Journey: America", provides commentary by some Jewish scholars which contradict conventional perceptions. These contradicting comments include the:

- overwhelming majority who left the Russian Empire, did so for economic reasons and not persecution (stated with the acknowledgement that there was discrimination and periodic violence against Jews in the Russian Empire);

- "Pale of Settlement", maintained a status quo of where Jews already lived, as opposed to seeing them expelled altogether (keeping in mind that there was a limited Jewish presence in Russia proper – the territory of today's Russian federation);

- the image of Cossacks beating up Jews is described in the documentary as a "literary construction" and "catch phrase literary mythology".

Regarding the last point, there was a 1648 uprising against Polish rule, that involved a large scale violence against Jews by rebelling Cossacks. This was on land which was not at the time a part of the Russian Empire. (Some of the territory in question had never become affiliated with the Russian Empire, covering the period after the Mongol subjugation of Rus). Within reason, these Cossacks saw the Jewish community as being generally supportive of Polish rule. This observation is made without meaning to excuse the anti-Jewish violence which occurred.

The 1964 Broadway musical "Fiddler On The Roof" and the 1971 movie version of that play, has had an influence among those with some knowledge of the historical setting. Both are based on the works of Sholem Aleichem, who is formally recognized in Russia as a Russian literary figure. (He wrote in Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian.)

Upon further review, it'd be interesting to see the differences between the play and movie, in relation to what Sholem Aleichem wrote. The Hollywood movie industry has been known to accentuate, or completely change some aspects related to history and novels. This is also true of some novels that have a historical setting.

In the "Fiddler On The Roof" movie, the Russian government is portrayed as actively encouraging a pogrom in a distant Ukrainian village. This depiction contradicts other instances, where the anti-Jewish violence was initiated in various areas, without Russian government instigation. In these situations, the Russian government opposed that behavior because of the domestic instability it nurtured and the negative impression it gave abroad (especially in the West).

Simultaneously in the Russian Empire, there were some (not all) local officials and higher ups, who exhibited anti-Jewish manner, which ranged from seemingly supporting the violence to opposing it. Despite these circumstances, around 650,000 Jews served in the Russian armed forces during World War I, according to "A Historical Atlas Of The Jewish People". Even with the large exodus of Jews from the Russian Empire, that entity and (later) the Soviet Union maintained a good sized Jewish population.

Ioffe's New Republic piece oversimplifies the ethnic tensions exhibited in Russia over the past several years. This subject has involved:

- criminal action on the part of some people from the Caucasus, who've migrated to the northwestern part of Russia;

- to a degree, the reasoned belief that some local authorities have been bribed to look the other way at that activity;

- extremists and some otherwise not so extreme individuals, taking vigilante action out of a frustrated disgust.

Not too long ago, a Moscow situated British acquaintance saw a Russian intervening against someone of Caucasus background, who was roughing up a Tajik. This occurrence is mentioned without intending to stereotype ethnic relations in Russia. Rather, it's to highlight the dubious spin in Ioffe's piece.

Most patriotic Russians don't appear so hung up on a person's ethno-religious background as Cohen and Belkovsky suggest in the referenced Moscow Times articles. For the most part, this category of Russians welcome non-Russians who sympathize with their views, unlike those Russians who slant to the preference of anti-Russian leaning elements – a matter related to Paul Robinson's May 11, 2015 piece "The Self Hating Russian". Many who identify themselves as being ethnic Russian, readily acknowledge (without shame) having either another ethnic identity, or more than two such backgrounds.

Nechepurenko's aforementioned May 21, 2015 Moscow Times article notes a poll among Russians, which is very favorable towards Shoigu. An excerpt from the May 9, 2015 commentary by The Saker "Something Truly Amazing Happened Today":

"But something else, no less amazing, also happened today: Defense Minister Shoigu made the sign of the Cross before the beginning of the celebrations. This is an absolutely momentous moment in Russia. Never in the past history had any Russian minister of defense done anything like it. True, the old tradition was to make the sign of the Cross when passing under the Kremlin's Savior Tower, if only because there is an icon of the Savior right over the gate. However, everybody in Russia immediately understood that there was much more to this gesture than an external compliance to an ancient tradition.

The Russian journalist Victor Baranets puts it very well when he wrote: 'At that moment I felt that with this simple gesture, Shoigu brought all of Russia to his feet. There was so much kindness, so much hope, so much of our Russian sense of the sacred (in this gesture)'. He is absolutely correct. To see the Tuvan Buddhist make the sign of the Cross in the Orthodox manner sent an electric shock through the Russian blogosphere: everybody felt that something amazing had happened.

For one thing, nobody in his right mind would suspect Shoigu of ever doing anything just 'for show'. The man has an immense capital of popularity and credibility in Russia and he has no need for political hypocrisy. Personally, I believe that Shoigu quite literally asked for God's help in one of the most dangerous moments in Russian history in which he, the Russian minister of defense, might be called to take momentous decisions from which the future of the planet might be decided.

For centuries Russian soldiers have knelt and asked God's blessing, before going into battle and this is, I believe, what Shoigu did today. He knows that 2015 will be the year of the big war between Russia and the Empire (even if, due to the presence of nuclear weapons on both sides, this war will remain 80% informational, 15% economic and 5% military).

Does this mean that Shoigu converted to orthodoxy? Not necessarily. Buddhism is very accepting of other religions and I don't see much of a contradiction here. But the fact that the first Russian government official to begin the historical Victory Day parade by making the sign of the Cross and appealing for God's help is a Buddhist, is, in itself, quite amazing (even if it shames his nominally 'Orthodox' predecessors who never did so).

I can only imagine the horror, outrage and despair Shoigu's gesture will trigger in the pro-Western Russian 'liberal intelligentsia' and in western capitals. In placing himself and all of Russia in God's hands Shoigu declared a spiritual, cultural and civilizational war on the Empire. And just for that, he will go down in history as one of Russia's greatest men."

Notwithstanding some arguably debatable points, the above excerpted highlights how Shoigu is viewed within Russian patriotic circles.

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Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst and media critic

Tags: Russia  US 

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