Friday, August 13, 2010

Today's Cursed Days

Soviet Roulette doesn't often analyze contemporary Russian politics. Yet, if the reader can forgive me a bit of melodrama, Anna Politkovskaya voice cries out from the grave. She was gunned down, killed in the line of duty as so many other Russian journalists have been killed in recent years. Politkovskaya made no pretence to objectivity, but her crusade against Putin's Russia was grounded in integrity, courage, and unrelenting intelligence. Politkovskaya's A Russian Diary: A Journalist's Final Acount of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin's Russia, which sometimes resembles Bunin's Cursed Days in its apocalyptic but journalistic portrayal of Russia, is a series of staccato bulletins about Russia's amoral and degenerating political climate. Putin is Politkovskaya's bugbear. His brand of politics is authoritarian, cynical, illegal, jingoistic, and corrupt. As a former KGB officer, he represents a return to Russia's sinister past. According to the tough journalist, Putin grossly mismanaged Russia's response to terrorism, plunged Russia into a second brutal war in Chechnya for no good reason, and routinely manipulated the public by pretending to be all things to all people. Only during the election did he learn to properly cross himself, she maintains.

But Putin is no ordinary Russian politician: he and his United Russia party represent the beginning of the end of Russian liberalism and democracy. Under Putin, the press is subverted, the legislative and executive branches of government are merged, human rights are undermined, votes are stolen, truth is obscured, other parties are coerced or bribed to conform to Putin's political strategy, and oligarchs are protected--but only if they bow down to the Putin's administration.

Is this the real Putin? Even in Politkovskaya's book, Putin's political gifts are manifest. He knows how to craft an image of strength and efficiency while simultaneously appealing to Russia's poorer classes. Even so, Politkovskaya's critique is impossible to ignore. Whomever killed her did not silence her: A Russian Diary makes the convincing case that all is not well with Russia and the United Party.

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