Phantasy journalism (Shaun Walker on Belarus)

Belarus demonstrations

The problem with Guardian and Independent journalists writing on Russia – or the post-Soviet space is that 90% of what you get is produced by their lens and 10% by what is actually happening. In the lens is encoded a simple script: liberal capitalist ‘democracies’ good / planned economies bad / moral conservatism bad / Putin bad / Kremlin lies / Navalny is the Messiah. Something like that.

Take this nasty piece from the Guardian’s Moscow correspondent Shaun Walker – who  seems to have managed to hop on a plane to Minsk so he can write real-time reports from the heart of the uprising. The problem is he took his lens with him. Continue reading “Phantasy journalism (Shaun Walker on Belarus)”

Navalny poisoning

This the Guardian announcing that Navalany was poisoned by the Kremlin.

While Berlin’s Charité hospital did not identify the specific poison responsible for Navalny’s sudden illness on an internal Russian flight last Thursday, the substance was part of a group that affects the central nervous system, and includes nerve agents and pesticides, as well as some drugs.

The statement was the first medical corroboration of a poisoning attack on Navalny and marked him as likely the latest Kremlin opponent to face an attempt on his life.

Assuming that the report of the hospital’s statement is correct then the conclusion does not follow. It would appear that Andrew Roth too is joining Luke Harding’s “join the dots” school of journalism. Continue reading “Navalny poisoning”

Fiction on Russia

Papapishu-poison-bottleAs expected the stories on the alleged (by his aides) poisoning of Navalny has really brought forth the usual lazy fictions which pass for reporting on Russia in the Western media. This one is in the Independent. 

Keeping up with these fiction writers and trying to even slightly correct the misleading picture of Russia they serve their readers would require an army of scribes. But I do it occasionally as a kind of exercise. Let’s look at this one:

Mr Navalny, a 44-year-old lawyer and anti-corruption activist, has become the leading figurehead for the opposition against Vladimir Putin in Russia,

This is the main fiction about Navalny – that he is the head of the opposition in Russia. If you take a sociological approach and try to mark out the distinct opposition groups in Russia – in the sense of people who are not happy with United Russia and Putin – you can find multiple groups. Some of these are to the “right” of Putin – much less favourable to the West than Putin is. For example those who wish to recreate the USSR or who would like to run a much more nationalised economy. And at the other end of the spectrum you can find anarchists and liberals who are opposed to what they see as the morally restrictive climate of the Orthodox Church. Navalny has a high profile; everyone knows him. But he isn’t hugely popular amongst the population. I live in Russia and speak to a lot of people and about politics. I’ve only found one actual supporter of Navalny in two years. Navalny has an audience. True; but quite limited. (And it is true as the authorities claim that a large part of his support comes from students even school-students).  There is no single opposition in Russia and Navalny is not the head of this single opposition which doesn’t exist.

He played a leading role in organising anti-Putin demonstrations attended by hundreds of thousands of people between 2011 and 2013.

Maybe you can get to hundreds of thousands if you add up all the demonstrations over a two year period.

His party is neither obviously left nor right-wing – campaigning on pro-democracy issues such as establishing independence for the Russian judiciary and prohibiting the government from owning media outlets.

Actually this is true. He doesn’t have a political-economic programme as such. His programme is essentially against what he sees as the corruption of a class of Kremlin linked businesses. His policies would tackle this (claimed) corruption but it isn’t clear what his overall political-economic position is.

He has a dedicated base of support within Russia’s middle classes, developing a grassroots base of pro-democracy activists through his years of anti-corruption activism

This is much more truthful than the previous claim about “leading figurehead for the opposition”. (Students of Guardian/Independent propaganda will be familiar with the trick of a big headline claim made at the top of the article and detail further down. They know many people will just read the headline but the presence of the detail means they can’t be accused of fabricating the story). But is Navalny “pro-democracy”? He is anti-corruption but that isn’t necessarily “pro-democracy” – whatever that means, exactly. He appears though to broadly accept business and capitalism – which is probably why liberal journalists pretend he is the opposition and not the electorally popular Communists or Socialists or the millions of ordinary Russians who complain that they do not see a fair share of their country’s natural wealth.

Mr Navalny has been attacked several times by supporters of the government,

“Supporters of the government”. How on earth does Mr Forrest know this and what does it mean? It’s propaganda.

Putin is scared,” an EU diplomat, who declined to be named, told Reuters. “He is sending a message to his own people not to try do at home what they see on TV from Belarus.”

I.e people – believe that Putin poisoned Navalny and do so purely on the word of an anonymous “EU official” quoted by Mr Forrest. This is simply  Western media disinformation.