Friday, February 17, 2006

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Putin's party becomes a caricature

Steven Lee Myers reports in the New York Times about how a Russian province deals with cartoons that offend the sensibilities of Valdimir Putin's United Russia party:

In a controversy with echoes of the Islamic anger over Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, the authorities in a central Russian city today ordered the closing of a newspaper that published a cartoon showing Muhammad along with Jesus, Moses and Buddha.

The cartoon, published on Feb. 9 in the official city newspaper in Volgograd, prompted some criticism and a federal criminal investigation but no public outrage. That may be, in large part, because it depicted the figures respectfully, renouncing violence, though Islamic teachings forbid any depiction of Muhammad.

"Well, we did not teach them that," Moses says in a caption as the four watch a television set showing two groups confronting each other with banners and clubs and hurling stones. The cartoon appeared on Page 5, accompanying an article on an agreement signed by regional political parties and organizations to combat nationalism, xenophobia and religious conflicts.

Volgograd's first deputy mayor, Andrei O. Doronin, announced the closing of the newspaper, Gorodskiye Vesti, or City News, "in order not to inflame ethnic hostilities," according to the official Russian Information Agency. He gave the newspaper a month to liquidate its assets, leaving the fate of its staff unclear....

Most of the criticism against the cartoon in Volgograd came not from Muslim or other religious leaders, but rather from the local branch of United Russia, the pro-Putin political party that dominates governments across the country. Those complaints prompted Russia's deputy prosecutor general, Nikolai I. Shepel, to announce an inquiry on Wednesday.

Officials in Volgograd initially defended the newspaper, but another deputy mayor, Konstantin E. Kalachyov, said the decision to close the newspaper was an effort to contain a scandal that was "fanned up artificially" in the wake of the fury over the Danish cartoons.

"You can say that the journalists were taught a lesson in political correctness," he said in a telephone interview.

Since a city enterprise owns the newspaper, the mayor's office was essentially shutting its own business, though Mr. Kalachyov said he hoped the newspaper's staff could continue to work at a new city-owned paper that would replace Gorodskiye Vesti.

posted by Dan on 02.17.06 at 07:09 PM


I doubt this will lead to any demonstrations for freedom of the press there, sadly.

posted by: Lord on 02.17.06 at 07:09 PM [permalink]

The independent Russian press is dead. The hard simple fact of the matter is that Putin, along with soaring Asian demand for oil and natural gas, have given Russians what they have desperately craved for more than a quarter century: a bit of prosperity, political stability, a glimpse of an economic future that is not entirely desolate. Russia is finally moving in the direction that so many businessmen and journalists advocated during the early 1990's: a Pinochet-style regime that respects private property and brutally suppresses any source of "instability", beginning with the political opposition and the press. Not quite fascism-- Russia's military and security forces are so colossally corrupt, incompetent, rudderless and feeble as to prevent any effective use of state violence toward any internal or external end-- but a kind of criminalized capitalism along with the sort of farcical "fearless leader" worship that leads the state to organize bands of bully boys roving the streets of Moscow and other cities to beat the gavno out of anyone guilty of lese-majeste toward Comr-, er President Putin.

A side note: look at the utter shamelessness of the western pimp-banks (Morgan Stanley et al) now rushing in, carpetbags at the ready, to Sheremetyevo to bless Putin's regime and rake in placement fees now that the Russian risk premium has declined to normal levels. Have any of the Bushies noted this glaring contradiction between global capitalism and democratic aspiration? Anyone bother to recall Havel's wise admonition: "better a sick Russia than a healthy Soviet Union"?

posted by: thibaud on 02.17.06 at 07:09 PM [permalink]

Did the Times really call Volgograd "a central Russian city", as if their readers would probably not have heard of it? (Sorry, I can't check myself: they won't let me register -- not that I've tried all that hard.) Did they really not mention that Volgograd was known as Stalingrad from 1925 to 1961? Surely most of their readers know _that_ name, and would recognize that it is more the equivalent of a Pittsburgh than a Peoria or a Podunk. (Wikipedia reports a population just over 1 million.) Also, I would have put it in southern, not "central" Russia.

posted by: Dr. Weevil on 02.17.06 at 07:09 PM [permalink]

Russia, South Africa, Japan-- these locales matter less to Pinch's Times than the locales of the West Village and West Hollywood. In that lifestyle guide that is the new NYT, there's more coverage of gay issues, the great American kulturkampf, and real estate prices in the blue towns than there is of those faraway nations, no matter how big, of which the core readers of the Times know nothing.

posted by: thibaud on 02.17.06 at 07:09 PM [permalink]

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