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Jul. 30 2010 - 7:25 am | 1,087 views | 0 recommendations | 22 comments

Hello, goodbye

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.

Right?

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?


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  1. collapse expand

    Very good post Julia, I do hope we can continue our flame wars at some other location on the intertubes once this whole Forbes takeover/merger/aquisition/armed invasion is wrapped up.

    Just to get snide for a minute, though you asked
    “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?”

    Leon Aron, for one. Also the editors of the WSJ editorial page and, more likely than not, the editors of the Economist. Probably, also, the people who funnell Kasparvov and his organization money. Is this lineup, such as it is, all-powerful? Certainly not, but they have a fair degree of sway despite the battyness/inaccuracy of their positions.

    Anyway, I’m glad we were able to solve the whole debate about where Russia is headed, that one’s been bugging people for awhile now!

    • collapse expand

      A better question would be: Who really thinks Vladimir Putin, a proud KGB spy, or his KGB cohorts are a realistic choice to lead Russia?

      Certainly, N-O-B-O-D-Y thought so in 1999, including the always brilliant and infallible Mark Adomanis.

      Yet there is he is, for all the world to see.

      Who thought America could win the war of 1776 against Britain? Who thought the USSR would collapse without a shot being fired.

      N-O-B-O-D-Y.

      You guys think WAY too small, and if you think Russia is better off being run by a proud KGB spy than by Garry Kasparov, you have a whole legion of loose screws clanking around in your noggins.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Kim,

        I don’t even begin to know how to make sense of this rambling. Also, I hope the head trauma wasn’t too serious.

        best,
        Mark

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          Mark,

          I don’t even know how to make sense of your gratutious, childish, ignorant personal insult. But I guess you are saying you’re too stupid to respond any other way, and I congratulate you on your honesty and perspicacity as to that! Presumably, it was also due to my head injury that I considered you worthy of being interviewed on my blog. Nasty things, those head injuries.

          Meanwhile, I’ll talk down to you and explain, since it seems nececessary. See, lots of things that seemed unrealistic at the time (Putin taking power, the U.S. beating Great Britain in war) have actually come to pass. To take another example, you got a university degree! More than one! So it’s perfectly possible that Kasparov could take power and could rule Russia, and your haughty attitude towards that possibility is small-time thinking.

          Moreover, your suggestion that you are obviously more clever than a world-renown scholar or one of the leading newpapers on the planet is just a little premature, isn’t it? Shouldn’t you actually have some accomplishments before you compare yourself to them?

          It’s really cool, though, that unlike them you’re able to see into the future and know for sure that Russia would be worse off under Kasparov than under Putin. Any chance you’d share the direction of the stock market next week? I’ve got a mortgage payment coming due and . . .

          Best,

          Kim

          In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        I think neither Putins nor the Kasparovs are fit to lead. That said, this has been Russia’s traditional choice: the autocrat or the hapless, idealistic dissident who will never get to rule.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Sign me up for the Loose-Screws Brigade. Without meaning to defame Garry Kasparov’s probably genuine altruistic instincts, he’s about as likely a choice for leader of Russia as the Pope would be for the Chippendales. He doesn’t know anything about how to run the country, he just knows he doesn’t like the way it’s being run now. Whoopty doo. You don’t much care for the way your own country is being run – does that make you an ideal candidate to lead it? Perish the thought.

        Just for fun, though, let’s imagine you managed to engineer the dreamed-of transfer of power, from Putin to Kasparov. Now Kasparov’s in charge. Do you imagine all Putin’s “KGB cohorts” you’re always slobbering about are just going to melt away, and make room for Kasparov’s Forces of Purity? Hardly. And they’d eat Kasparov for breakfast. The Russian government operates on a principle of Mutual Assured Destruction, and as soon as a delusions-of-adequacy dreamboat like Kasparov took over, the balance would be gone. You condemn Putin for being a hard man, forgetting it takes nothing less to run Russia right now.

        But what the hell – just for fun, give us Kasparov’s platform. What’s his plan? Oh, I know as well as you do that he has loads of complaints. But how would he fix things? Better infrastructure, rule of law? Great. How? I’m not so much interested in what the goal is as I am in how he plans to arrive at that point.

        I’ve called Julia a Russophobe, simply because I’ve never seen a single positive thing about Russia in her writing. If you haven’t got anything nice to say about something, I think it’s safe to say you dislike it. And you can’t tell me there’s nothing good about Russia, and then claim out the other side of your mouth to love it. Point me out the way to a sympathetic piece, or one that praises something about Russia, and perhaps I’ll change my mind.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Yeah, and Yeltsin was a PERFECT leader for Russia!!!

        Riiight.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delusion

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    Ah! I should have read this blog before I posted comment on Mark’s blog. I am 2 blogs behind, and I didn’t even know trueslant was going out of business. Too bad. It’s a great forum and I will miss the stimulating political and intellectual discussions. Now I have to go back to idiots at INOSMI.

    Julia, thanks for clarifying your political positions. As you grow and develop intellectually you will encounter these same questions over and over again, so good to sharpen your debating skills now. One word of advice: never deflect a valid question, always respond head-on. People will respect someone who is honest, even if they don’t agree with their point of view.

    What have we learned from this, boys and girls? Let us not stereotype each other.
    (I don’t fit stereotype either: I’m not a Putin supporter or Russian nationalist. I’m actually a cosmopolitan socialist.)

    Anyhow, goodbye and good luck!

  3. collapse expand

    How come that yalensis has got his personal dissection and I haven’t? :) I’m outraged and, certainly, jealous! :)

    Julia,

    of course you would like to present the whole issue in the way that you get criticized for your different views on Russia. Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion, that kind of thing. But that’s not about it. You could think that Russia will collapse tomorrow, or that it will conquer the whole world the day after tomorrow, I couldn’t care less. What matters in the end of the day is whether your writings is correct or not. You’re absolutely right about the derangement of some commenters and about the craziness of Nashi’s propaganda. They lie, they distort facts, they make ridiculous oversimplifications. But so do you, maybe just to a lesser extent. All of you are two sides of the same coin, equally dangerous sides. And the fact that you point out their evident failings doesn’t make you right about anything.

    Your argument about having friends and sources here is laughable, a man is known by the company he keeps, as they say. Novodvorskaya has been living in Russia for 60 years and that didn’t stop her from saying what she says.

    “have never had them turn down a paid assignment because they didn’t agree with “my line” or wanted something more anti-Putin”

    That line made me laugh so hard! Somehow, I’m not astonished. I’m sure if they wanted more “anti-Putin” they would hire Ed Lucas.

    So, farewell, Julia. I sincerely wish you to grow as journalist and to enjoy your work.

    As the Russians say: “our love was without joy, our parting will be without sorrow”.

  4. collapse expand

    Excellent post, Julia. And welcome to Wordpress. I think a lot of the backlash to your work basically functions on an emotional level. If you say Russia has African-level corruption, many people will read this and feel that you’re calling Russians a bunch of Africans. And, while I have nothing but love and respect for my fellow African humans, I think most white people do not like to be compared to anybody living on that continent (even to those funny-speaking White-looking folks from South Africa).

    In my personal experience, I also cited that Transparency International corruption report on Russia in an interview with Sublime Oblivion’s Anatoly Karlin, and I was heckled a bit as a result afterward (partly because I mistakenly claimed their global ranking had slipped, when really the the pool of nations surveyed had expanded). The objections to the study, though, don’t have anything to do with the methodology of the research — it has everything to do with the appearance of Russia being put on the same level as tiny, dysfunctional, black-people states on the Dark Continent. (No, not Europe, Mark Mazower.)

    This sort of thing delivers some kind of electrical current to the wounded-pride cortex of many people’s brains. I can’t say I blame them for getting emotional about this stuff. It is a sensitive thing to compare whole countries.

    Regarding the absence of a ’slant’ in reportage (in journalism or in blogs), I think perhaps you’re being a bit idealistic. Even the best social scientists bring their own baggage to any study, and it doesn’t take a Clifford Geertz scholar to admit that ‘prefiguration of the field’ happens whether the observer wants it to or not.

    I believe you when you say that your publishers don’t ask for an editorial line (and by the way the stuff you get published is far and away among the very best print journalism in existence on the subject of contemporary Russia), but don’t you think they like your work so much because its overall frame fits neatly into the hegemonic discourse on Russia? I’m not saying your every argument is a prepacked page out of the Black Book of Russian Suck, but you’ve said yourself that its the job of American journalists to “needle the Russians for their failures and their absurdities” (a great turn of phrase, incidentally). That sounds like an angle to me, or at least a certain expectation American readers have when they pick up an article about stuff going on in Russia. No?

  5. collapse expand

    Julia, I gotten used to your posts. Some amusing, others slightly terrifying, I’m a little sad you’re switching servers, sadder yet to read anyone identified a russophobe in you. new blog is of course a makeshift to that.
    -m

  6. collapse expand

    “..as vague “Can you write about Phenomenon X?..”
    Can this already be a [somebody's] “line”?

    http://unpublished-notes.blogspot.com/2009/04/artistic-truth.html
    on essentially the same topic (this is my blog of sorts – and there is an entry about stereotypes as well:)

  7. collapse expand

    Good luck Julia! Looking forward to your posts at wordpress. Your’e not a russophobe. Those of my family who live in Russia share many of your views and impressions, and it doesn’t mean that they don’t love the place.

  8. collapse expand

    Ms. Ioffe,

    A Russophobe is someone who opposes Russian interests and develops an ideology about Russians (negative of course) to help justify those policies.

  9. collapse expand

    Thanks for commenting me on this post. You are taking good initiative. you aslo
    rekindle love thanks
    again.

  10. collapse expand

    You say in your article that True/Slant will be “no more” by tomorrow, which was supposed to be July 31, 2010 at the time you posted this. It’s now 2012 and True/Slant is still here. I’m confused…

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    About Me

    Hi! I am a journalist who, for reasons of sentimentality and an abiding fascination with the absurd, decided to live and work in Russia for a year just as the country vies with Somalia for Most Un-Safest Spot for Journalists in the World. I will blog in a death-defying manner, dear reader. That is a promise.

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    Contributor Since: September 2009
    Location:Moscow, Russia