The most negative of pundits on Russia support their position by claiming that the country’s fault lines are the main determining factor. Among the opponents to this view are people who do not deny significant problems in Russia, while seeking a criticism which is not propagandistically inaccurate. Contrary to much of the spin in English language mass media, Russian mass media (television included) exhibits noticeable instances of political diversity. This aspect can be definitely improved upon, along with the overall Western mainstream coverage of the former Communist bloc.
The RIA Novosti (RIAN) affiliated site InoSMI shows a greater range of different opinions than what has been evident at a good number of Western mass media outlets. In Russia, there are other RIAN affiliated and non-RIAN affiliated venues which have featured clear criticism of the Russian government and Russia at large. “State giant” Gazprom owned radio station Ekho Moskvy has programming with inaccurate views against Russia. One such program suggested credence to a whataboutism point, linking the status of the Russian language in Ukraine with that of the Ukrainian language in Russia – in a way which downplays the matter of Russian language use in Ukraine being far more popular than Ukrainian language use in Russia. It is no small wonder why Ekho Moskvy has been criticized by mainstream Russian elements.
Instead of focusing on the last point, Western mass media is prone to highlighting some structural management changes at Ekho Moskvy, which serve to increase the potential for different programming at that station. Never mind the likely contributing factor to this move that relates to an existing slant that is (within reason) deemed as unfair towards mainstream Russian views.
As I have previously stated, at times, the portrayal of a given nation can have a misleading geopolitical bias. The muzzling of views in Serbia countering neoliberal and neoconservative positions is not a focal point. Likewise, with the Canadian government blocking Srdja Trifkovic’s entry into Canada for a politically motivated reason. Besides Trifkovic, some other law abiding people in Western countries have experienced the same treatment by Canada’s government.
In comparison, greater attention has been given to British journalist Luke Harding being denied reentry into Russia. Harding was later granted permission, with an explanation that the denial was related to his not following an administrative guideline for reentering Russia and for having previously not respected a standard media procedure when he was in that country. Frequent critics of Russia regularly leave and reenter it.
English is the modern day lingua franca, with reasonable pro-Russian advocacy regularly getting the shaft, in the world’s most influential language. On the subject of English language online newspapers, in the former Soviet Union: the Ukrainian based, non-Ukrainian owned Kyiv Post does a better job at presenting nationalist, anti-Russian leaning commentary than the Russian located, non-Russian owned Moscow Times does at presenting reasoned pro-Russian views.
The Russian government funded 24/7 English language television news station RT (which has formally dropped the name “Russia Today”) covered Harding’s denied entry without (to my knowledge) doing similarly with Trifkovic getting rebuffed. In reality, RT falls well short of this immature characterization that the Kyiv Post (KP) runs when posting selected RT material – “Editor’s Note: The following story was published online by Russia Today, a Kremlin funded information organization that has been criticized for its anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian propaganda.” The KP does not provide disclaimers when it frequently carries material from the likes of Alexander Motyl, who exhibit clear biases against Russia.
(Specifics on Motyl’s commentary placed in the KP and elsewhere, are addressed in “Russia as Provocateur?,” Eurasia Review, November 15, 2011 and “Addressing Some Views About Bandera, Russia and Ukraine,” Eurasian Home, April 1, 2010. Concerning how RT is depicted and what that station has covered, see “Uncovering the Slanted Coverage of Russia,” American Chronicle, November 10, 2010.)
RT is a blend of something different from Western mass media, while nevertheless being influenced by it. One anti-Russian source said that RT’s decision to formally drop Russia Today as its official name is due to (according to that source) Russia’s insignificance. Note the number of worldwide aired and (to a good extent) government funded television news networks maintaining a formal name revealing a national origin, along with a popularly used shorter version like the BBC-British Broadcasting Corporation, DW-Deutche Welle, CCTV-China Central Television, RAI-Radio Audizioni Italiane, Radiotelevisione Italiana and France 24. DW’s website has a passage stating: “DW represents Germany in the international media landscape. Germany’s international broadcaster conveys the country as a nation rooted in European culture and as a liberal, democratic state based on the rule of law.”
The decision by RT to formally drop Russia Today as its name is a wrong move. RT’s greatest appeal is offering something different, inclusive of a mainstream Russian perspective. Why diminish and/or not be proud of this attribute?
RT received increased publicity after the announcement that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will host a series of shows on that network. Assange’s background and RT’s seeking to offer something different is a definite match. The success of this endeavor remains to be seen. Heading an organization involved with releasing confidential diplomatic messages does not necessarily make for an insightfully interesting television news personality and successful show. Meantime, RT could be doing more to substantively address anti-Russian biases, in a way that does not compromise a firm and journalistically ethical manner.
Historical and geopolitical topics are instances where Russia frequently gets inaccurately depicted. Some influential Russian circles appear to pay greater attention to other issues.
Andrei Zolotov is an adviser to RIAN’s chief editor and founding editor of RIAN affiliated Russia Profile (RP). In a New York Times (NYT) article of his, there is mention of a Russian government official taking issue with an RP selection of commentary. Since its inception, RP does not appear to have shied away from running opinions which are critical of the Russian government. On a RIAN aired show, Zolotov uncritically refers to openDemocracy (oD) as a “very respected London based internet magazine.”
When compared to addressing inaccurately negative characterizations of Russia, English language mass media generally prefers commentary taking issue with the Russian government. Zolotov’s referenced comments in the aforementioned NYT article and RIAN show are in line with this status quo.
I do not disagree with his opinion (as stated in The NYT piece) that critical views of Soviet policies in Central and Eastern Europe are fair game for a Russia Profile editor to consider. I am also of the belief that such an advocacy should be (at the very least) matched with critical follow-up to inaccurately negative comments about Russia. At times, there seems to be a buddy system of sorts between some Russian and Western mass media and academic personnel, which has essentially worked against efforts to refute the biases against Russia.
At oD, there have not been articles featured which take issue with Andreas Umland’s inaccurately negative views against Russia and Russians. In another instance, oD felt obliged to feature Adrian Karatnycky’s rebuttal to Ethan Burger’s article, suggesting validity to a partition of Ukraine. The opinions typically favored as high profile commentary underscore the biases at outlets like oD. Among such venues, the biases range in veracity.
This selection process sends an unofficial message to people (journalists in particular) on which thoughts are more acceptable for high profile placement – the kind of “censorship” (if you may) not receiving much attention, thereby exhibiting the (put mildly) ironic Western mass media criticisms of Russian media. If Russia is not as advanced as the leading Western countries on issues like accepting criticism, then why should that country be held to a higher standard?
One of oD’s selected articles by Umland was initially carried at the Ukrainian nationalist, anti-Russian leaning Day Weekly Digest. In this piece, Umland states several common and often uncontested themes.
Umland gives a negatively incomplete characterization of the Russian Civil War Whites on account of their not recognizing parts of the Russian Empire’s territory as independent. During the period of the Russian Civil War, the world was much different from the present. At the time, Britain and France were not so willing to give up on their imperial possessions.
There were exceptions. At the end of World War I (WWI), the British were to accept most of Ireland becoming more distant from the United Kingdom. The Whites stated support for Polish, Finnish and Estonian independence. (This position is a matter of clear fact. Concerning Finland and Poland, there were nevertheless some valid White reservations on border issues and property rights.) At WWI’s end, the better developed of independence movements stood a greater chance at achieving nationhood.
When Peter Wrangel replaced Anton Denikin as leader of the Whites, the then White administered location in Crimea had Armenian and Georgian offices, which carried out the function of issuing diplomatic passports, under the respective governments of Armenia and Georgia. The Whites and some non-Russians of the former Russian Empire did not rule out a future federation among a portion of the territories which the Romanovs had governed.
The Whites had a multiethnic makeup that accepted Russian identity with varying characteristics. In Ukraine and elsewhere, they were able to achieve noticeable support. The Reds also found support in parts of the former Russian Empire outside “Great Russia” (the territory comprising today’s Russian Federation). Despite their differences, the Reds and Whites each favored some form of togetherness with most of the territory which made up the Russian Empire.
In Ukraine, the Poles’ (especially Josef Pilsudski’s) willingness to recognize an “independent” Ukraine (one that was on better terms with Poland than Russia), was limited to Ukrainian territory that had been part of the Russian Empire. Unlike the Poles in relation to eastern Galicia, the Whites treated the Ukrainians who were under Habsburg rule like a foreign entity – something acknowledged by among others, Orest Subtelny, a Polish born ethnic Ukrainian historian based in Canada, whose general views do not fit the Russophile category. (For a more detailed overview of the Russian-Polish dynamic in Ukraine and Russian-Ukrainian relations, see “Pavlo Skoropadsky and the Course of Russian-Ukrainian Relations,” Eurasia Review, May 22, 2011, “Improving Russia’s Image and Russo-Ukrainian Relations,” Russia Blog, February 9, 2010 and “The Russian-Polish History Coverage and Some Related Matters,” Russia Blog, October 28, 2009.)
For sure, the Whites had faults. The other major Russian Civil War elements (Reds and supporters of Symon Petliura in Ukraine) had shortcomings as well. The Whites exhibited the ability to improve upon themselves.
Umland’s comments about anti-Western tendencies in the Russian community is faulty. The Whites maintained a pro-Western allied WWI stance against the Central Powers. In exile, many Whites continued with a pro-Western position during World War II (WWII). Soviet and Anglo-American differences did not prevent them from forming an alliance during WWII.
Although aligned with the Nazis, Andrey Vlasov, the leader of the officially known “Russian Liberation Army,” had the primarily expressed aim of opposing the Soviet government and seeking a strong Russia. His sentiment was especially troubling to the more ideologically Nazi of Germans. Unlike the Croat Ustasha, Galician based Ukrainian nationalist forces and some other closely to nominally aligned Nazi groups, Vlasov’s army is not recorded as having engaged in the extensive killing of civilians.
(As was true with the Galician based Ukrainian nationalist forces, Vlasov’s army ended up fighting the Nazis. The feeling of getting jerked around by the Nazi hierarchy, sympathy with the Czechs and a realization of an eminent Allied victory served to motivate Vlasov’s army to fight the Nazis in the liberation of Prague – recorded as the last scene of European WWII combat. Catherine Andreyev’s book “Vlasov and the Russian Liberation Movement: Soviet Reality and Emigré Theories,” Cambridge University Press, 1987, provides detailed insight on Vlasov’s army from different perspectives. Some other interesting reads on Vlasov include Wilfried-Strik-Strikfeldt‘s “Against Stalin & Hitler: Memoir of the Russian Liberation Movement, 1941-1945,” The John Day, Company, New York, 1973.)
The anti-Western claim on Russians trumped up by Umland misinforms on what concerns many Russians – the not so off target view that they are not getting a fair appraisal from some influential elements in the West. Shortly after drafting this article, former American Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger said (on the Fareed Zakaria hosted CNN show GPS) that Russia’s President-elect Vladimir Putin is a Russian patriot, who is not anti-Western. Kissinger added that Putin is distraught over the hardship Russia faced in the 1990s and feels that there are influential advocates in the West which have not been fair to his country and himself.
Using history as a basis to question how Russians see the past, another oD posted article gives a suggestively negative appraisal of Alexander Nevsky’s truce-like understanding with the Mongol occupier of Rus – the roughly 9th to mid-13th century entity which modern day Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are descended from. In this particular oD piece, Nevsky’s name is hyperlinked to a source that can be reasonably viewed as historically challenged and crankish. The source in question uncritically presents a skewed commentary on Nevsky from the anti-Russian, Ukrainian nationalist leaning Day Weekly Digest.
Nevsky’s supporters see a man who pragmatically paved the way for a stronger opposition to Mongol rule, which eventually led to the Rus territories becoming free of that occupier. The area of Rus under Nevsky’s domain (in contemporary Russia) became the strongest of post-Mongol era Rus land.
Mykola Riabchuk’s most recent oD article rehashes much of the inaccurately negative views against Russia and Russians. The following is an excerpt from that piece:
“The Russians were disadvantaged by their oppressive empire, whether ruled over by tsars or commissars. Their development was undoubtedly held back, but they enjoyed many privileges that other nationalities did not. As a group, they were spared from many dreadful policies, such as the extermination of the native populations (Siberia and the Far North), mass enslavement (Central Asians), genocide (Ukrainian peasants and Kazakh nomads), summary deportation (Chechens, Balkars, and Crimean Tatars), persecution (Poles and Germans), segregation (Jews), and more.
The professed self-victimization of Russians tends to obscure all these ‘peripheral’ developments, by promoting instead the myth of the ‘mission civilisatrice.’ It also opens up the dangerous possibility that they will abdicate the responsibility for the colonialism and imperialism that Russians as the main imperial stakeholders do bear, and, even more dangerously, shift that responsibility on to ‘others’ -Georgians, Poles, Ukrainians and, of course the Jews who arguably ruled the Russian Empire.”
Some might take special notice of the claim made about the Jews. Perhaps Riabchuk is being awkwardly sarcastic, in a way that is different from what he might have actually intended to say. If a Russian like Alexander Dugin expressed that view, it would come as no surprise to see the likes of oD and Umland highlight that thought as an example of Russian extremism. The Jews in the Russian Empire experienced instances of discrimination, violence and the potential for upward social mobility. It is a sheer crock to believe that “the Jews arguably ruled the Russian Empire.”
Nationalist anti-Russian leaning sources appear to have difficulty acknowledging that Russia’s success includes the Russian acceptance of many non-ethnic Russians, who over the course of time have willingly blended in with Russian identity. This point does not deny ethnic problems in Russia, which are periodically distorted along the lines of Riabchuk’s oD commentary.
The adage of two wrongs not making a right can further emphasize that hypocritically applied highlighting is not proportionate with reality. During the Russian Empire’s existence, other countries/empires saw harsh manner accorded to some like the African-Americans and Indians in the United States, as well as a few of the non-Turkic peoples in the Ottoman Empire. Imperial thinking is by no means exclusive to Russia. The term “white man’s burden” was not coined with Russia in mind. Besides Russia, there are numerous countries that simultaneously have chauvinistic and reasonably patriotic advocates.
Over the course of time, the term “Russification” has been used in a comparatively hyped way. When compared to Gaelic use in Ireland and Scotland, consider the greater popularity of the Ukrainian and numerous other non-Russian languages in the former Soviet Union. Yet, “Angloization” is not as popularly used.
Every post-Soviet government recognizes the independence of ALL of the former Soviet republics. That position has not created an overbearingly influential nationalist uproar in Russia.
Riabchuk’s article has this questionable claim on Russia’s coat of arms: “In 1625 the double-headed eagle appeared with three crowns, interpreted as a symbol of unity between Great Russia, Little Russia (Ukraine) and White Russia (Belarus).” Upon some inquiring, multiple sources (including Andrey Fomin of Oriental Review) confirm that the three crowns on Russia’s two headed eagle symbolize the Russian acquisition of Kazan, Astrakhan and Siberia.
My follow-up on this topic drew a reply from an observer of Russian affairs, who said that the acquired territories in question had served as outposts for periodic raids against Russia. This source added that much of this land was previously either a part of Rus and/or had a prior presence related to the predominate Slav group (the ancestors of Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians) that comprised pre-Mongol subjugated Rus.
Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst and media critic.
Other Articles By Michael Averko
- Musings On The Former Yugoslavia And Former Soviet Union – Analysis
- Pridnestrovie’s Present And Future – Analysis
- Russia As Provocateur? – Analysis
- Russian Limits In Supporting Serbia And Some Peripheral Issues – Analysis
- Pavlo Skoropadsky And The Course Of Russian-Ukrainian Relations – Analysis
- Russia-Ukraine Whataboutism – Analysis
- Beyond The Edward Lucas-Peter Hitchens Exchange On Russia And Ukraine
- The Future Of Russia-NATO Relations – Analysis
- Differences Over Disputed Territories – Analysis
- Haggling Over The Former Moldavian SSR Dispute – Analysis