Yulia Latynina Says Liberals Lie, Too

No, this is not Carrot Top. It's Yulia Latynina.

The Yulia Latynina hits keep coming this week. In the aftermath of Yanukovich’s win in Ukraine, she published an article declaring that poor people can’t be trusted to vote properly. (For an excellent read on this event, check Sean’s Russia Blog.) Now, perhaps in an effort to isolate herself even more and at last claim the title for ‘most hated person in Russia,’ she has lashed out at some of the most common liberal conspiracy theories, asking, “Why does liberal public opinion need lies?”

Latynina authored two pieces in the last two days: a February 16th Ежедневный журнал article, titled “Слова-феромоны” (Word-pharamones) and a shorter, adapted version a day later in the Moscow Times, titled “Liberals Lie, Too.”

I won’t bother getting into her “word-pharamones” metaphor (which isn’t half as eloquent or poignant as I think Ms. Latynina hoped), but I do think it’s noteworthy to highlight the liberal positions she attacks:

  1. that Gaidar saved Russia from famine and civil war;
  2. that Putin was behind the 1999 apartment bombings that led to the second Chechen War;
  3. that violence against police in the Caucasus is the result of harsh police tactics against otherwise peaceful Muslims; and
  4. that terrorism is a response to the Russian military’s atrocities.

Regarding point one: effective reforms have alluded all the post-Soviet states but the Baltics, she argues, so nothing Gaidar did saved Russia. That the country avoided a famine was a stroke of luck.

Points two, three, and four all have more or less to do with Russia’s war against Muslim terrorists. I find it interesting that the Moscow Times changed the piece to make it focus more on Gaidar, whereas the original ЕЖ article was mostly about the Caucasus. As a result, it’s harder to understand why the English-language version concludes: “And why join the Islamic terrorists by saying that ‘Putin blew up Moscow apartment buildings’?”

You have to read the Russian text to fully appreciate Latynina’s ‘you’re with us or with the terrorists’ attitude.

Now some might read this snippet and think she is finally showing a little reason. Those critical of Putin have long accused him of failing in the Caucasus, when the truth is that he inherited a catastrophe and worked within his limits, often brutally but with few alternatives, for the last decade. This, I think, is a matter of internal policy. Certainly, mistakes have been made.

Personally, I feel very divided about Latynina’s argument. While I think it’s true that Russian liberals cling to unnecessary conspiracy theories, I’m also deeply uneasy about denying a connection between extremist terrorism and state terrorism. The only explanation left after we do away with this link is the assumption that all terrorists are bandits or religious fanatics. And while I’d even grant that this probably describes most terrorists (especially in the Caucasus today), recruitment and radicalization aren’t sustained by nothing. The ‘us or them’ mentality has crippled American foreign policy in more ways than I care to mention.

So, in the last week, Yulia Latynina has demonstrated an uncanny moral absolutism mixed with a readiness to endorse unexpectedly illiberal methods. (Republican much, anyone?) First the poor’s franchise was called into question, and now she asks her oppositionist friends why they “stand with the Islamic terrorists” and adopt their unflattering perspective on the police.

Is this realism? God, I hope not.

4 Comments

  1. But there is one major difference between the code phrases spoken by the authorities and the liberals. Of course, the ruling regime needs lies because it has nothing to offer without them. But what I don’t understand is why liberals need to lie.

    “ruling regime needs lies because it has nothing to offer without them” sounds, er, curiously like one of these pheromonal phrases she complains of… Nothing? Really?

    I like the idea of the pheromonal phrase, though. It certainly explains why I get all hot and bothered when people say, “Putin saved the country from falling into the abyss.” :)

    • It’s been a symbiotic relationship for a long time now. Akhmad and now Ramzan have been loyal, if somewhat inhumane partners. American observers are always keeping their eyes out for fissures with Moscow, anxious to point out how unsustainable and, therefore, unwise the arrangement in Chechnya is.

      Ultimately though, as you mention, there aren’t a whole lot of options. That lack of choices, incidentally, is one of the guiding stars in Russian politics that is usually left unacknowledged in the media and in the world of Washington. If the shit hits the fan in Grozny, I doubt Putin will be shocked, though I expect his critics will waste no time rushing to scream ‘I told you so’ on cable TV.

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