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Unfiled January 27, 2005
Playing With The Pensioners
By Mark Ames Browse author Email

Of all the about-faces in the West's official sympathies, none is more nauseating than their new-found bleeding-heart adoration of Russia's protesting pensioners. Anyone who lived in Russia during the 1990s remembers the West's callous attitude towards Russia's pensioners when they were protesting against that era's Western-backed "liberal" reforms, reforms which not only rendered their pensions worthless or even non-existent, thanks to payment delays that stretched for months or years. It was all done for Russia's own good, in the name of keeping down budget deficits, a key demand of every well-wisher from the IMF and World Bank to Larry Summers, Anders Aslund and the good folks at Goldman Sachs. The Western line then was that for Russia to "move forward" -- i.e., for it to become the kind of country Americans could make a buck off of while the locals smiled at them in gratitude -- the older generation would have to die off.

And die off they did. By the elektrichka-load. I've read one estimate where up to 7 million Russians, predominately pensioners, went to their graves early in the 1990s thanks to the Western-backed reforms. Not that anyone in the West gave a shit -- hell, they wrote the neo-liberal Final Solution themselves, and peddled it in every media outlet they could.

Back in 1996, I published a column about this called "The Good Genocide" for my previous newspaper, Living Here. At the time I was called a "Communist," even by some of my journalism friends, for suggesting that the West's callous attitude towards the pensioners' extermination was equivalent to the Western intelligentsia's dismissive attitude towards the millions of victims of Stalin's reforms in the 1930s, which were considered, at the time, the most progressive policies on planet earth, made inevitable by economics theory and the historical trend; its victims were just unfortunate eggs that had to be cracked in order to cook the glorious omelet of progress. The terminology changed in the 1990s, as did the means of extermination, but the callousness remained the same: pensioners were the kulaks of the 90s, and they had to go in order to achieve true free market paradise.

As Russia continues to age like most Northern nations, newer generations of pensioners are filling the ranks of those killed off by reforms, pensioners with the same pesky budget demands and the same scowling, not-made-for-US-television faces. A generation of elderly wiped out, nothing accomplished for their sacrifice; a new one taking its place: the same ugly mugs with the same Communist flags, victims of the same need for reform, resulting in the same devastation. The dramatic elements in Putin's pensioner protests are an exact repeat of the Yeltsin ones. Only the Western sympathy changed.

Pensioners once formed the backbone of the anti-Western Communist electorate -- so they made perfect villainous photo-copy for Western newspapers which wanted to equate Communism with everything old, ugly and recidivistic, a necessary image to help snuff any conscience-pangs over their increasing death rates. The pictures, and the nasty quotes and captions, helped Western liberals say, "...and good riddance!"

Then the pensioners backed United Russia and Putin, which made them essentially objects of mild mockery, so long as the Western financial community was making a handsome profit, which they did until right around the time that Khodorkovsky was arrested.

Now, after Putin took down Yukos and opposed the US in Iraq and Ukraine, the West wants him out. Suddenly the "stability" that the Western financial community praised when they were making a killing in investments like Yukos no longer means "stability for Western capital." So now the catch-phrase to describe Putin is no longer "brought stability," it's "crushing democracy." And everyone acts surprised at how authoritarian he is. Now we're outraged, and by gum, the only thing that will appease Americans is if they can make an honest buck again.

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