I have just discovered why nearly 80% of Russians support censorship of the free press. The reason is Elena Tregubova, and everything that Elena Tregubova represents -- which is to say, the liberal free press of the 1990s.
Tregubova is the controversial author of the sensational new book Baiki Kremlyovskogo Diggera (Tales of a Kremlin Digger). She was a former star of the Kremlin press pool during the late Yeltsin years through the early Putin years. Her new book caused a scandal last month supposedly because of its revelations about the sleazy, backstabbing culture inside the Putin administration, and how it forced a bootlicking, cowed pool of journalists to heel. The controversy surrounding her book reached a peak mid-December when the Kremlin allegedly ordered the popular Sunday night Namedni show on NTV to cancel an interview with Tregubova.
Having just read Baiki Kremlyovskogo Diggera, I was shocked to find how small a part Kremlin politics and the destruction of the free press plays in her book. Rather, what emerges in Tregubova's memoir is a portrait of one of the most loathsome, shallow, vain personalities I have ever come across in any medium. I found myself screeching with every flip of the page. But as I read her accounts of the press pool, what I understood was that she was not merely inadvertently laying bare one elitny Muscovite dyevushka's vile inner world, but rather, the vile world of an entire elite stratum that few have considered until now: the Yeltsin-era intelligentsia, a class which was led by journalists like Tregubova just as the Soviet-era intelligentsia was led by writers and poets.
Let me just open the door to Tregubova's grotesque ego a crack and you'll see where I'm coming from:
...I have just turned to page 257, when the Putin press handlers first start to exclude the snide, untamed Tregubova, now working as a correspondent for Berezovsky's Kommersant, from the exclusive Kremlin press pool. For Tregubova the issue of being excluded is an issue of access and ego -- that is, of class -- first, and only secondarily an issue of freedom of press. Because this is a matter of ego and status, she wants us to know that she's not bothered by the Kremlin's attempt to exclude her: "The thing is that, to my misfortune, I am by nature a profoundly anti-social animal: I would prefer not to travel with Putin, but rather to lie in bed at home hugging a volume of Proust. If I'm not left alone for some time, I slowly start to fall into a state of a deep trance. Slow breathing. Undetectable pulse. No reaction to my surroundings."
Even though there is nothing to suggest in the first 256 pages that she's anti-social -- in fact quite the opposite, she never shuts up about the "narcotic rush" she gets from all the ekslusivny restaurants and European cities she frequents or wealthy, powerful people she meets with during her years as a Kremlin press pool reporter -- she continues babbling this crap right on through to the next page, piling post-Soviet elitny cliche upon elitny cliche: "I should add that I'm also a chronic, committed night owl, and if I wake up before twelve o'clock noon, I suffer from a harsh depression for no reason at all, completely convinced that my life is finished. For me any kind of food in the first half of the day makes me sick to my soul. With people, it's even worse."
If I had a nickel for every time a Night Flight whore or Shambala bimbo told me how much she hates mornings and never wakes before noon, I'd...heck, I'd be able to afford one! The cliche of the elitnaya dyevushka who hates getting up in the morning is one of the longest running jokes among my friends in Moscow -- but Tregubova apparently thinks it's profound enough to warrant telling her readers.
A few pages later, when Tregubova is invited back into the Putin press pool, she heads into the dreaded provinces, and boy oh boy is she horrified. By the poverty and destitution left by the tragic Yeltsin reforms? Well, not exactly, as this anecdote proudly shows. I have to quote it in full it is so repulsive and revealing about Tregubova and her entire class: