This is my last True/Slant post for, as of tomorrow, True/Slant will be no more. You will be able to read more of my bloggery, if you so choose, at themoscowdiaries.wordpress.com but for now here is my last T/S post.
A debate has been raging here, in the comments section, as well on the blog of Mark Adomanis about what is a Russophobe and what is Russia’s trajectory and do one’s thoughts about the other make one a Russophobe or a Russophile? Addressing the question before my hop to another platform seemed especially fitting.
To kick off the discussion, I wanted to offer commenter yalensis’s taxonomy of a “Russophobe”:
To my mind, the term “Russophobe” mostly involves a constellation of assumptions (stereotypes?) about that person’s political views, i.e., they believe that: (1) Russia was on the right course towards democracy under Yeltsin, but then Putin came along. (2) Khodorkovsky was shafted, he should be released from prison and given his oil company back (3) hopefully during the upcoming Kasparov administration, but (4) none of this matters anyway because Russia is doomed due to low birth rate, alcoholism, and Islamic insurgencies. (5) The thought of Russia’s demise makes the Russophobe feel happy, because Russia has been so mean to the Gruzians and Chechens; however (6) Russians will not go gently into that good night because they suffer from “neo-imperialist” ambitions and want to restore their lost empire, so (7) it is up to the noble West to confront them and keep them inside their shrunken borders…. etc etc I could rattle off a lot more cliches, but I think everybody gets the point.
I would say it’s a helpful one, except it isn’t. First, there is the fact that yalensis outlines what is basically an alternative political view. How having a different vision of Russia qualifies for hating Russia is unclear except it does reinforce the stereotype — since yalensis went that way — of the Kremlin brute who knows no truth but his truth and sees any alternative view through the sight of a rifle. It also is uncannily reminiscent of the thought process we saw in our mercifully unseated president, George W. Bush, as well as his spiritual heir, Ms. Mama Grizzly.
Furthermore, yalensis offers for our consideration a man made mostly of straw, a collection, by his own admission, of cliches. Because who really believes in the virgin peachiness of the Yeltsin era? Who really thinks Kasparov or his cohort are a realistic choice to lead Russia? And really — and this is a question for all the commenters who accuse me of subterfuge and of preparing the ground for an imminent American invasion of Russia — really who is rooting for Russia’s demise? Who? To be brutally honest: no one in the world give that much of a shit about Russia to actively want America to take over. Maybe you’ve heard about how insular and navel-gazing Americans are? And maybe apathy is a more apt definition of a “Russophobe,” but then it isn’t much of the toothy ogre you’re looking to beat your chest about and make you feel once again to be the fulcrum of world history, is it?
A gallery of agitprop from Seliger, the summer camp for pro-Kremlin youth, really snapped a lot of the comments I’ve seen into focus.
Especially this one:
This is a caricature of Viktor Suvorov, a KGB spy who defected to the West and wrote books about Soviet history as well as its security aparatus. Here’s what the poster says about him:
Way back when he left the USSR and nursed a grudge. Works on the orders of international intelligence agencies. In his books, turns Russian history on its head, calls into question the results of the Great Fatherland War.
It sounds so familiar, doesn’t it? Because I’ve seen it here, under so many blog posts I’ve written and in the comments section of Inosmi when they pick up one of my pieces — except without the virulent anti-Semitism.
Julia Ioffe emigrated and has made a career of hating and defaming Russia in order to justify her decision to leave and betray her homeland.
Or, better yet:
Julia Ioffe wants to see Russia fail, collapse, become the 52nd American state so that she really, really feels justified.
A Western colleague last night asked me about my “line” and accused me of hating Russia. (That’s right, the Western media in Russia is not monolithically Russophibic, whatever that means.) It was a stupid question. I don’t have a “line.” I have the news and my sources on the ground in Moscow and when something happens I talk to them and then call it as I see it. If it’s in the format of a blog, I get cheeky and pick only the funny things. The hard work I leave for my published pieces. I don’t hate Russia, given all the friends and family I have living here. And I’ve never had an editor enforce “a line,” have never had them turn down a paid assignment because they didn’t agree with “my line” or wanted something more anti-Putin. I don’t get orders for articles except as vague “Can you write about Phenomenon X?”
It’s just stupid, simplistic, and it brings me to Mark’s very apt question about what one believes is Russia’s trajectory. And despite the nuance of his question, it still boils down to this: if you are optimistic about Russia, you are not a Russophobe. But what are you if you — if you had to venture a guess — were to predict that Russia would continue, like any other country, along a sinusoidal path of ebbs and flows, ups and downs. Does anybody really still believe in linear, Hegelian trajectories? Russia’s path, given its history and its present, is likely to have more height in those highs and more depth in those lows. Steps forward, steps back while time passes and Russia changes in ways we cannot predict, not all of them good. You know, like any country, but more pronounced — and, like any other country, with its aggregate of tiny, hilarious, absurd details I’ve tried to chronicle here. That may not be optimistic, but it sure is realistic. Does that make me a Russophobe?