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Press Review April 5, 2004
 
The King is Dead! Long Live The King!
By Jake Rudnitsky Browse author Email
 
 
Two knights in armor

Imagine a bad metaphor, the formulaic kind used by a newspaper columnist to introduce a topic. Now imagine that this columnist has been asked to write a much, much longer piece for a major American magazine. Said columnist will stretch this lousy metaphor into three whole paragraphs before getting to the point. That's exactly what happened in Masha Gessen's "See No Evil" in The New Republic, when she asks us to "Imagine that the king has died." Three 'graphs later, after herds of delusional natives, parachuting foreign correspondents and dubious editors wander across the page, we learn that the dead king is democracy in Russia.

It's quite a feat that the piece which follows manages to be so objectionable, given that it is basically saying Putin is a fascist and American journalists his willing stooges. Really, it's what we've been saying all along. So how does Gessen manage to bungle such a fundamentally sound argument? It's not that we here at the eXile think we've got eXclusive rights to criticize the regime, or even because we felt snubbed when Gessen sold our very own John Dolan a malfunctioning exercise bike and then refused to either admit culpability or refund the money. No, what Gessen did in this article is much worse, worse even than her initial metaphor: she's guilty of totally deluding herself about Russia before Putin. She's on target as long as she sticks to listing the ways Putin has clamped down on freedom of speech and gotten the American press to go along with him, but it all goes straight to hell when she starts waxing poetic about the golden age of Yeltsin's presidency.

It starts slowly enough, provoking no more than the occasional raised eyebrow. Phrases like "newly subservient Russian people" in isolation seem more silly than anything else. Russians have been subservient since Novgorod Veliki's experiments with democracy were cut off by the Mongol invasion some 800 years ago, but I was willing to let it slide. Likewise with saying the fall of Russia's newborn democracy began four years ago. Not with the shelling of the White House in '93, not with the conspiracy to get a corpse elected in '96, but four years ago, when Putin appeared on the scene. It's nonsense, but as long as she didn't push it too hard, I'd've let it slide.

Getting a little choked up inside when looking back at those heady Yeltsin days is understandable. I only lived them vicariously through the eXile, and I still get nostalgic. Mmmm, the Duck...fools who didn't speak a word of Russian earning generous packages...white god factor in the very center of town... it sounded great! But Gessen wasn't about to stop at a little sloppy nostalgia for Yeltsin. Journalists like Gessen and Tregubova (see Mark Ames' lead article in eXile #182) take this lie way too far, like when Gessen calls Yeltsin's Russia "a more democratic and generally happier place."

Say what? What could possibly be democratic about Loans for Shares? Or, if Gessen is so concerned with the fascist tendencies of Rodina, doesn't she care to remember when Zhirinovsky's LDPR won 23 percent of the seats in the Duma? Or when Zhuganov, by far the most popular candidate in the '96 elections, simply disappeared from the airwaves? Playing Swan Lake continuously until Yeltsin was declared the undisputed winner would have been more subtle than what Yeltsin's champions of democracy did in that election. Putin totally controls the media, but all of the most outrageous offenses against freedom of speech in Post-Soviet Russia were perfected during the Yeltsin era. Russia under Yeltsin might have been more sloppily administered, but it certainly wasn't democratic.

And "happier"? For who, exactly? Certainly not the pensioners and school teachers who weren't getting paid for months on end. Or the folks who lost their life savings to hyperinflation and pyramid schemes. Or the people who watched oligarchs fleece the country. Or the people who had their money in banks which vanished overnight, taking the money with them, in 1998.


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FROM THE VAULT

From Lebanon To Iraq: We’re In Deep Shia Now :
Westernized Politician
Field Guide To Moscow: Vox Omninonpopuli :
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Holyfield And The Russian : Norman Mailer covers his last fight

EXILE magazine's Person of the Year : When Mini Means Maximum Success
 

 
 
 
LATEST ARTICLES

Save The eXile: The War Nerd Calls Mayday
Editorial
The future of The eXile is in your hands! We're holding a fundraiser to save the paper, and your soul. Tune in to Gary Brecher's urgent request for reinforcements and donate as much as you can. If you don't, we'll be overrun and wiped off the face of the earth, forever.

Scanning Moscow’s Traffic Cops
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We’re happy to introduce a new column in which we publish Moscow’s raw radio communications, courtesy of a Russian amateur radio enthusiast. This issue, eXile readers are given a peek into the secret conversations of Moscow’s traffic police, the notorious "GAIshniki."

Eleven Years of Threats: The eXile's Incredible Journey
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Russia's freedom-loving free market martyr Mikhail Khodorkovsky answers some of this week's letters, and he's got nothing but praise for President Medvedev.

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Everybody complains about celebrities, but nobody does anything about them. People, it’s time to stop fretting about whether we’re a celebrity-obsessed culture—we are, we have been, we’re going to be—and instead take practical steps to clean up the celebrity-obsessed culture we’ve got...

 
 
 

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