Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Russian Politics Takes Another Brutal Turn: Perhaps YouTube Will Now Improve the Chances that Global Outrage will be Heard

In what must surely be one of the most outrageous attempts to use Twitter to conceal  a guilty conscience, the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev according to a report in the Washington Post "tweeted Saturday, shortly after the beating happened, that the criminals must be found. " I am referring of course to the savage beating of Oleg Kashin who made the "mistake" of  writing things on his blog that allegedly "upset the governor of Pskov and controversial youth movements." The Post reporter somewhat unhelpfully does not provide many details but other news sources like NPR are willing to name the reason that Kashin opposed the construction of a road that was clearly going to be lucrative to some interests.  The Post in a sharply worded editorial points out that "the highway near Moscow, for example, is being financed by a crony of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Mr. Medvedev's de facto superior. Mr. Kashin's reporting about the road was attacked on the Web site of a Kremlin-sponsored youth movement, which declared that "Journalist-traitors need to be punished!"

 NPR reports "Road construction is considered one of the most corrupt sectors in Russia, offering huge profits to the businesses and officials involved who may see the journalists and activists as a direct threat to their bank accounts." NPR is also reports that Kashin is the second journalist to be beaten up in two days, police were also investigating an  attack on Anatoly Adamchuk "by two men outside his weekly newspaper office early Monday. Adamchuk was hospitalized with a concussion, a colleague wrote on the website of the paper, Zhukovskiye Vesti." Admachuks' newspaper also had the nerve to publish critical reports on the highway project.

What is clear is that  a staggering 32 Russian journalists have been murdered since 1993 and more than 30 attacked this year and until this beating was caught on YouTube the public has seeemed to accept the horror. Part of the reason for the seeming equanimity seems to be indifference perhaps bred of years of civil rights and humanitarian abuses that were part and parcel of life in the old Soviet Union. Another factor is the low esteem in which journalists even those as brave as the ones who gave their life are held in Russia; as Andrei Richter, a journalism professor and director of the Institute of Media and Law states  "The public doesn't view them as watchdogs of government but as people selling stories." Richter goes onto comment that  "attacks against journalists are not even classified as major crimes.. Rather than attempted murder, the charge is hooliganism, which carries a much lighter sentence." Now some real outrage seems about to erupt. Let us hope. It is too late now for the 32 and more journalists who were murdered but only continued public pressure will prevent more brutalities. That pressure must continue to demand that the high placed criminals be brought to justice  Let us hope that the US administration which hungers after Russia's approval (so they can continue to support sanctions against Iran )will not continue to ignore such incidents.  In the meantime   (as we pray for Kashin's speedy recovery) we might reflect on the words of Martin Niemöller the German protestant priest who spoke up against Nazism:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out

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