Cheating History: Katyn Roundup

A Scene from Wednesday's Memorial

I’ve taken some time to read through the various commentaries and introspections following the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, and it’s come time for the promised rundown.

The by-far most frustrating op-ed comes to us via the Washington Post from Anne Applebaum. Wife of Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski, Mrs. Applebaum approaches the debate over Katyn’s legacy on the grounds that “this is not […] an argument about history but, rather, an argument about contemporary politics, conducted in the form of a historical debate.” While I think she has a point (we’re always debating from “contemporary” perspectives, after all), Applebaum totally ignores that fact that today’s politics are the result of yesterday’s history. “An interpretation of history” isn’t the doppelganger enemy of “real history” – the most scholars and citizens can do to understand history is to familiarize themselves with the various competing perspectives and biases surrounding any particular event. Continue reading ‘Cheating History: Katyn Roundup’ »

From Gdańsk to Katyn

PMs Tusk & Putin

This morning, Vladimir Putin is meeting his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, in Smolensk at the site of the Katyn massacre, which is 70-years-old today.

In my next post, I’d like to survey the public reaction to and interpretation of today’s event, but – for now, until all the commentary is in – let’s look back at last year’s event in Gdańsk, where Putin met Tusk in Poland to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the German invasion. Though many in the media and thinkosphere will undoubtedly try to read into this year’s Katyn memorial some kind of Medvedevian thaw, I expect that Putin’s remarks will be largely consistent with those he delivered in 2009.

And what did he say a year ago? Continue reading ‘From Gdańsk to Katyn’ »

Response to Robert Pape's NYT Op-Ed

Robert Pape

In the days following the metro attacks in Moscow, media coverage has coalesced around two distinct narratives that ‘make sense’ of things. The options seem to be these: (a) militants operating out of the North Caucasus represent a link in the global chain of Islamic terrorism, or (b) these acts of violence are the consequence of the Kremlin’s military occupation of the region, which sustains an extremist separatist movement.

Before considering the details of these theories, let’s first identify the biases contained therein.

Hypothesis ‘A’ appeals especially to the Kremlin, but it has its supporters in the West, too. As blogger poemless pointed out in a comment on a previous post, tying Chechen terrorism to the larger War on Terror is a mutually beneficial interpretation for Russian siloviki and American hawks. To the degree that such attacks are international, the Kremlin is accordingly ‘let off the hook’ for governance failures internally. Terrorism wonks, on the other hand, gain the opportunity to highlight another proof of Islamism’s threat (and, therefore, another justification for their field’s existence and funding). Or perhaps Islamic terrorism analysts just see Islamic terrorism wherever they look, it being their job to study Islamic terrorism.

Hypothesis ‘B’ is, I think, the more traditional story Westerners like to tell about Russia’s Chechen terrorism problem. The payoff here is that militants’ attacks on Russian civilians, understood as motivated by nationalism, are the direct consequence of Moscow’s imperialist polices in the North Caucasus. Applying this line of thinking to American confrontations with terrorism (i.e., to implicate U.S. foreign policy in the causation of terrorist attacks on the U.S.) would be considered wildly leftist, if not treasonous. When directed at Russia, however, this interpretation is a favorite means of criticizing the Kremlin’s security policies and the efficiency of the Russian state on the whole.

This brings me to Robert Pape’s op-ed in the New York Times yesterday, titled “What Makes Chechen Women So Dangerous?” The article is a regurgitation of the same argument he’s been making for the past five years, since publishing his book “Dying to Win: the Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.” Pape completely and uncompromisingly endorses of Hypothesis ‘B.’ Continue reading ‘Response to Robert Pape's NYT Op-Ed’ »

Spinning the Attacks

Internet Cartoon Satirizing Public Sentiment

Today’s attacks in the Moscow metro appear to have killed about forty people. As many people died a little more than six years ago in the tunnel near Avtozavodskaya station in a similar suicide explosion.

Today and tomorrow are days of mourning, but the smoke had hardly cleared before the speculation and accusations started. The two perpetrators were apparently women, and the consensus seems to be that they are linked to the North Caucasus, despite any proof, so far. This would certainly fit the pattern, though many in America could possibly be confused if this is traced back to Ingushetia, Cherkessia, Kabardino, or somewhere else in the region that isn’t Chechnya.

Cartoon pictured right: “The MChS dealt quickly with everything, the police cordoned it off, and ambulances ferried all away. After the the funeral, we’ll get to burying — and everything will be okay!”
Continue reading ‘Spinning the Attacks’ »

The Amazing Story of 'Clean Water' (i.e., Boris Gryzlov Loses His Mind.)

Viktor Petrik standing beside his infamous filters

A scandal has been brewing in Russia for months now, and it’s recently jumped back into the headlines thanks to a interview with Sergei Mironov a few days ago.

This story has drama: stern words and harsh personal attacks volleyed between the ruling party, United Russia, and a sometimes-misbehaving, official-opposition party, Just Russia. This story has intrigue: Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the Duma, is accused of spearheading a 500-billion-dollar state project, “Clean Water” (Чистая вода), that would contract a company with which he has extensive financial ties. And, best of all, this story has farce: at the center of everything, an uncredentialed inventor, Viktor Petrik, who claims to have created, among other things, a perpetual motion machine, a fabric that generates electricity when you breathe on it, and — most controversially — a device that filters the radioactivity out of nuclear-contaminated water. You know, so you can drink it. Continue reading ‘The Amazing Story of 'Clean Water' (i.e., Boris Gryzlov Loses His Mind.)’ »

Ilya Yashin Loses His Mind?

Ilya Yashin

Ilya Yashin has set the new standard in weird blog posts. This is quite a feat, considering that he seemed to have managed this achievement just last week, when he responded twice to a circulating YouTube video that captures him offering traffic cops a bribe to get out of a ticket.

The first response was a simple denial (he claims the video is recut to take his words out of context). And – though it’s clear that the clip is edited – there doesn’t seem to be any ambiguity in Yashin’s words when he asks an officer “are there any alternatives?” The second response addressed the fact (revealed in the video) that he drives a Lexus. Titled “Yeah, a Lexus. So what?” Yashin’s follow-up post made it clear that he was set on doing exactly what his tormentors almost certainly hoped he would: embark on an endless, unattractive campaign of self-defense. “Yes, I bought a five-year-old import. The crisis lowered the prices, plus my father helped,” Yashin pleads with his readers.

In both these posts, Ilya Yashin argues loudly and repeatedly that he’s not the bad guy. “They took my words out of context!” “The Lexus was on sale!” “Yakemenko [Nashi founder] is the real thief!”

What could have been a silly, little candid-camera moment, where a semi-popular youth leader was caught in the most prosaic of crimes, has turned into an ugly display of the self-promotion and sanctimony that has for years plagued Russia’s liberal activism.

And that was all before Katya and Nastya. Continue reading ‘Ilya Yashin Loses His Mind?’ »

Opposition Figures Caught Offering Bribes

Make of it what you will, but three notable opposition figures (political commentator Dmitrii Oreshkin, activist Ilya Yashin, and journalist Mikhail Fishman) have been thoroughly embarrassed by a recently published YouTube video (see above) that depicts each of the men offering bribes to highway patrol officers, in order to get out of a formal ticket.

“Алтернативы есть?” (“Are there any alternatives [to getting a ticket] available”) is the question Oreshkin and Yashin ask the cops, fishing to bribe their way out of an official fine. Fishman never explicitly asks the police for the chance to offer them cash, though he does ultimately suggest a 500-ruble sum. Continue reading ‘Opposition Figures Caught Offering Bribes’ »