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.

Misinformation in the Guardian about Navalny

Typically the Western media does propaganda in a way that doesn’t involve outright untruths. (It is a key part of the Western self-narrative that they don’t tell lies – the government and intelligence service usually try to avoid telling straight lies). The usual modus operandi is to select a few facts and string them into the preferred narrative. Recently, however, I’ve noticed some straight untruths beginning to appear.

For example; in an article on the “poisoning” of Navalny we see:

Navalny’s team says doctors have intentionally avoided diagnosing him with poisoning

Meanwhile Russian media is reporting that the official diagnosis is poisoning with an unspecified hallucinogenic compound. [1] (This was being reported the day before the above Guardian article). So this is just not true. (From a journalistic point of view the problem is over-reliance on one unreliable and partisan source).

Or, in the same article:

Hospital officials in Omsk have given contradictory information about his condition and have not allowed his family or supporters in to see him.

Which, amusingly, is directly contracted by a Guardian article from the day before (19/8): Continue reading “Misinformation in the Guardian about Navalny”

No meddling in Belarus! The West is at it again

The Guardian reports that the representative of the EU Council of Ministers has said:

The people of Belarus have the right to determine their own future. To allow for this, violence has to stop and a peaceful and inclusive dialogue has to be launched. The leadership of Belarus must reflect the will of the people. There should be no outside interference.

Meanwhile European Heads of State and Foreign Ministers are actively making statements in support of the opposition candidate (who is being harboured and given a platform in a neighbouring state – Lithuania), decrying the elections as “fraudulent” (“without any evidence”) and generally supporting the opposition.

They really are unaware it seems that all this constitutes “interference” of the first order. It turns out of course that “interference” means Russian interference whereas their interference is something else again. Continue reading “No meddling in Belarus! The West is at it again”

Computer says No

Heidegger wrote about the dangers of a technological view of the world taking over. [1] The idea that we are in danger of becoming controlled by robots may seem crazy – the stuff of Science Fiction. But, no, it is really already happening. Here are two recent examples:

In recent days there has been a political scandal about how A-level grades will be awarded in the UK. Given that students did not take the exams because of Coronavirus some system needs to be found to come up with grades. The system the government and the exams regulator came up with used grades predicted by teachers and an algorithm based on the past performance of schools. Some students lost out and there was an outcry. (As a tangential comment we can note that the A level system is designed to grade people. Part of the outcry is misplaced; the system is bound to create losers however the numbers are diced. That is the main purpose of the system). Nonetheless – there is a chilling element to this. The grades were to have been created by an algorithm and not connected to individuals at all. This is a totally depersonalising algorithm. The maw of the machine. In the end the system was rejected. The algorithm was designed in a very crude way and apparently produced untenable results. But it was tried. Continue reading “Computer says No”