Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson
#7 - JRL 9309 - JRL Home
Date: Wed, 30 Nov 2005
From: GORDON HAHN <gordon-hahn@sbcglobal.net>
Subject: Re: 9308-Johnson's Russia List [re: Western Journalists & Russia]

While I have been criticial of Putin's stealth-like re-authoritarianizing, if you will, counter-revolution, I have always stressed that what has been established, at least thus far, is a rather soft authoritarian regime. I believe most objective scholars would agree with this assessment. From here, proceed to a comparative content analysis of Western press coverage of Russia with China, for example, or with almost any other authoritarian/totalitarian regime. How often do we see criticism of China, Cuba, or most other non-democracies in comparison to Russia? Mush less often. This is obviously a result of large leftover of personnel from the Cold War era, when scholars were right to criticize the USSR at almost every turn. Unfortunately, that is all many of these scholars were equipped for or were interested in doing, and they have been unable or unwilling to re-tool.

Many of these were trained under a school of thought that Russia by its very nature can never be democratic, and they spent the entire post-Soviet period trying to prove it, reinforcing the very Russian 'zapadnophobia' that has contributed to the failure of democracy in Russia. To be sure, the mode ofthe Soviet/Russian regime's transformation by way of a revolution from above (leaving Soviet elites and institutions in place in great part), the resulting failed economic reforms of the early 1990s, Russia's complex communal (ethnic and confessional) structure, and NATO expansion contributed to democracy's failure. However, the harsh discourse between the West's Russophobes and Russia's Americanophobes/zapadnopobes played a significant, if lesser role.

There are, in fact, think tanks that have a whole team dedicated to criticizing Russia, but which simultaneously openly cavort with China encouraging companies to do business there, doing business there themselves, and constantly producing analysis that has promised for well over decade now that the beginning of democratization is just around the corner. (Squint real hard and you can even see it). They realtively rarely discuss its gulag, daily violations of human rights (this without a war being conducted on its territory), complete absence of political rights, no independent media whatsoever, no thought of an independent judiciary, etc. These think tanks influence the way journalists cover Russia. Similarly, the leftist media's enchantment with Castro, gives Cuba a free ride.

All this is not to say that Putin's Russia does not deserve criticism, I reiterate. It is to say that there is a lack of balance in the relative frequency of the criticism, and in sum circles, in the tone or very nature of the criticism itself.