Propaganda becomes absurdist art in the Independent

Western ‘liberals’ are having a day out based on the illegal demonstration in Moscow last weekend – attended by a few thousand people and concerning candidates for the September Moscow Council elections.

On Saturday 20/7 a rally took place in Moscow which was agreed with the authorities. One of the speakers at that rally called for a second rally the following week (27/7). This second rally was illegal because under Russian law rallies have to be agreed with the authorities in advance. Before you howl ‘repressive police state’ consider that this law was passed by the Russian parliament – a parliament of elected deputies. Anyone who knows anything about Russia will also know that that this law is entirely consistent with the outlook of vast swathes of the population. They just see these people as troublemakers and are quite happy for them to be arrested. Also – note that while it is an offence the matter is swiftly dealt with and the penalty is a small fine. It is true that in the UK people can hold rallies without explicit police permission; there is no exact equivalent law. But people doing so can and are arrested for obstruction, breach of the peace etc. Russia is different.

Hence articles in the London press trying to present the rally and the arrest of the law-breakers as some kind of Tiananmen Square moment just show how they completely fail to grasp anything about Russia and/or are quite happy to substitute tales for reportage. It is even more amazing when ‘reporters’ who do this appear to be based in Moscow. The likely explanation for this is that while they are based in Moscow the only people they socialise with are other Western ‘liberal’ journalists (all allowed to live peacefully in Moscow despite writing negative stories about Russia all the time, incidentally) and that small minority of Moscovites who do feel that the political structure is oppressive.

Here is The Independent’s Oliver Carroll. Oliver is, apparently, based in Moscow but he might as well be based on Mars for all the difference it would make to his reporting.

He is trying to present some kind of heart-wrenching tale of  romantic  resistance to police state thuggery but what he succeeds in is creating a theatre of the absurd. Examples and comments follow:

The piano in front of a wall of riot officers at Kiev’s Maidan. The woman in a red dress being teargassed in Istanbul. Tank man on Tiananmen Square.

Notice no comparisons to the dozens of French civilians who have suffered life-changing injuries at the hands of police in the recent Yellow Vest protests. Nor no mention of policemen being set on fire by the Euromaidan protestors. 3 different protests (4 including this one in Moscow) all with different backgrounds and outcomes collideascoped into one simplistic tale of resistance to … something (a police state of some kind?)

The fierce police response, and 1,300-plus violent arrests have already left an impression.

Oliver is simply lying here. Some of the arrests may have been ‘violent’. many were entirely peaceful, normal. There are plenty of images of protestors being led away peacefully on the Internet – in arm-holds yes. Just as they would be in England if they were blocking main roads in London. An arrest always looks ‘violent’ because the police everywhere use the same tactics – such as armlocks and head-control. In London just as much as in Moscow. In Paris maybe more.

With every swing of the baton, the couple seem to hold each other tighter. In the foreground, alsatian police dogs howl with intent. Kudracheva screams for onlookers to intervene. The police seem confused and pursue a chaotic strategy of intermittent clobbering and pulling the couple apart.

Oliver. You’re a reporter – save this for your novel.

Eventually, they drag the pair across the granite pavement, an expensive symbol of Moscow’s urban beautification, ripping Kudracheva’s red dress in the process.

Check out any video of police arresting demonstrators in London and you will see people being dragged across pavements. Granite or otherwise.

The meaning of Inga and Boris’s moment required no translation. It was the triumph of love over violence. It was non-violent resistance. It was a switch that turned police cyborgs into absurd caricatures of autocracy.

More nonsense for your novel Oliver. Genre, phantasy. It is also racist to call Russian police ‘cyborgs’. If you were Russian and living in London and wrote that about the English police you could be arrested. But you’re in Moscow so you won’t be.

“You could see the officer was consumed by hatred and fear,” he said. “But you could also see he was startled by Inga’s response – as I was.”

Quite possibly. Check out the videos of Orgreave (for example). Policemen, all over the world, are only human and they too react with fear and hate when faced with crowds of people bearing down on them – trying to force them off the pavement and so on.

Oliver Carroll then goes on to present this rally as the start of some kind of anti-State uprising. It is 100% true that some of the people who align with this movement are getting a little excited. But; for context, many Russians just see them as a nuisance, or, simply aren’t interested. The problem, again, is that when ‘liberal’ journalists write about Russia they only see the views of that small part of the population they can relate t0 – that is young, middle-class Russians (the 2 in this story are advertising executives) who have imbibed a certain amount of Western liberalism – and they simply discount the view and feelings of the vast majority.

If you want a sign that Russia is not the police state that Carroll claims it to be recall that he can write this kind of agitprop and live completely unmolested in Moscow.



Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer