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Feature Story April 22, 2004
Lord of the Swine
Censorship in Russia: Revenge of the Disenfranchised By Mark Ames Browse author Email
Page 2 of 7
"'Excuse me, do you have any Earl Grey tea?' I politely inquired at the hotel snack bar. And having received a negative answer, I moved on to the next indispensable point of the program: 'And might you have some fresh [ie: fresh-squeezed] orange juice?'

"'We do. Twenty rubles,' the snackbar lady answered.

"I was pleasantly surprised by the low price and so just in case I asked again:

"'Excuse me, are you sure that it's fresh?'"

"The snack bar lady angrily hissed between her lips:

"'We don't carry non-fresh, dyevushka.'

"And a minute later they brought me -- of course not fresh juice in the true sense -- not fresh-squeezed,

but juice from a packet. Perhaps it was in some sense fresh also. As in -- made this year.

"My hopes collapsed and I fell into a state of absolute desperation: 'I beg you: you have oranges -- please, squeeze a glass of juice for me! I haven't slept for two nights, and I have to write an article now!'

"But to my regret it turned out that in most cities of my vast Russia it's not possible, no matter how much you're willing to pay, to buy those little things without which, as funny as it sounds, I cannot imagine living.

"In the end, so as not to fall into depression, I started taking with me from Moscow such soul-savers as tea with bergamot [an elitny chai -- Ed.]. And I would buy two kilograms of oranges from the hotel snack bar in the evenings so that in the morning, in order not to frighten the aborigines by my gluttony, I'd lock myself in my hotel room and eat them with my breakfast, thus simulating my daily need for fresh-squeezed orange juice, which is necessary for my emergency resuscitation."

Did you get that? "Aborigines." It's one thing for her to whine like a cliched Tseppelin dyevushka over fresh juice, elitny chai, and dreadful mornings...but calling provincial Russians "aborigines" because they don't know what her beloved fresh-squeezed orange juice is?! ABORIGINES?! Because they're too poor and destitute thanks to the policies of oligarchs who funded Tregubova's entire career?! And people wonder why most Russians loathe the Yeltsin-era "free" press!

As this passage illustrates, the overwhelming majority of Russians are for censorship not so much because they are "aborigines" too primitive to appreciate the value of a Tregubova-led free press, but rather, because the journalist class which made up the so-called "free press" of the 1990s treated that same 80% of Russians like, to use Tregubova's word, "aborigines." That call for censorship is merely a peasant revolt against a monstrous elite!

Indeed, like "aborigine," "primitive" is for Tregubova the worst epithet of all, and she uses it throughout the book to describe her enemies in the Primakov and Putin administrations. For an SPS-sympathizing elitist, nothing could be more crushing than to be labeled "primitivny."

Tregubova is oblivious to how loathsome she comes across. On the contrary, she clearly thinks that her elitny attitude is both impressive and charming. And she is not the only one. In the very next paragraph after her "aborigines" epithet, she approvingly relates how fellow elitny press pool journalist Elena Dikun of Obschaya Gazeta, once a famed haven for the post-glasnost

intelligentsia, treats the aborigines:

"Lenka Dikun entertained the provincial public in her own way. During our Putin visits to the provinces we'd barely have enough time to eat, so therefore, just as we'd stop in to catch a bite in a local eatery, right away she'd sternly warn the waitresses, 'So, devushki: you must serve us in fifteen minutes. The president is waiting for us.'"

As Dennis Hopper said in Apocalypse Now, "And she meant it..."

The first half of Tregubova's book relates the peak years of the "Young-Reformers"-led Yelstin regime in 1996-8, and its subsequent collapse following the financial crisis. For Tregubova and her class, this was the Golden Age. Idle factories, mass poverty, the premature deaths of millions of Russians and the theft of hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of assets play no role in her magical world. What mattered for her was that she mattered; she had access to the most eksklusivnie circles, cities and goods. She's kind of like a gory Russian version of Marlo Thomas' That Girl, bright-eyed, young and beautiful and the apple of every elite Russian male's eye (or so she believes), all the while crunching over the bones of Yeltsin's victims as she zips from one elitny tusovka to the next.

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