Streetwise Professor

November 25, 2009

True Patriots

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 5:14 pm

My friend Sergei Guriev is an excellent economist and scholar.  He is also a very affable fellow–a true gentleman.  He is also a very brave man, as evidenced by his scathing “J’accuse” editorial (co-authored with  Aleh Tsyvinsky of Yale) condemning the Russian government for torture in the death of Sergei Magnitsky:

After President Dmitry Medvedev’s state-of-the-nation address, we were planning to write about whether it is possible to carry out modernization in Russia without political liberalization. But last week’s tragic death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a pretrial detention facility pushed all other issues aside.

We know that readers have been given exhaustive information about this incident in recent days, but we cannot refrain from writing about it because it would be absolutely pointless to discuss any other aspect of modernization without first addressing Magnitsky’s death. What difference does it make if the stock market is up or down or what is happening with interest rates and exchange rates if no value is placed on human life? Does it make sense to speak about honoring contractual agreements if one side can take the other side’s lawyer hostage? Why discuss ownership rights when owners are denied the right to life?

. . . .

You can talk all you want about trying to halt Russia’s brain drain or how to convince Russian specialists working abroad to return home. But the fate suffered by Magnitsky and former Yukos vice president Vasily Aleksanyan, a Harvard Law School graduate, sends a clear signal to all professionals: Russia can be a very hostile, if not dangerous, place to work. Will current or future Russian students enrolled in top foreign university and graduate programs want to return to this country after graduating? And yet this is the talent base that Medvedev wants to tap to carry out his modernization program. The parallels with the 1930s are uncanny: The Soviet Union also invited foreign specialists to help modernize its industrial base, and many of them later became victims of Stalinist repression.

Magnitsky was a citizen of Russia. We don’t know whether he voted for Medvedev in 2008, but only a few days before Magnitsky died, the president said during his state-of-the-nation address: “In the 21st century, our country once again needs to undergo comprehensive modernization. This will be our first ever experience of modernization based on democratic values and institutions.”

The president probably wanted to highlight the difference between current plans for modernization and Josef Stalin’s ruthless industrialization program. But after learning about Magnitsky’s death, it is difficult to avoid the fact that today’s Russia evokes disturbing memories of 1937.

Quite stinging, and quite true.  And a devastating call out of Dmitry Medvedev.  This article sheds a very harsh light on the yawning void between Medvedev’s crypto-liberal words and the Chekist actions of the government that he putatively leads.

I have a question for the self-styled Russophiles on this site, who constantly moan about Russophobia–including mine: do you consider Sergei and Aleh Russophobes?  Traitors to narod and nation?  On what basis?  And if they are not Russophobes, why do you consider me one?  Accidents of birth?

Or, do you, like me, consider them true patriots who are pained and outraged at what is done on a daily basis to ordinary Russians in their name, for the alleged glory of the state?

I consider it an honor to know Sergei, and wish him Godspeed.

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  1. If you wanted to sum Russia up in one sentence, you’d say it is the country where the citizens make heroes out of traitors and traitors out of heroes.

    From Pushkin to Solzhenitsyn to Politkovskaya, Russians terrorize and murder those who truly love the country.

    From Nikolai to Stalin to Putin, Russians make national heroes out of those who work most feverishly to destroy the country.

    Little wonder than that Russian “civilization” has collapsed so many times. No nation can withstand such a determined effort to eliminate the best and brightest and hand power to the worst and stupidest.

    Little wonder then that Russia doesn’t rank in the top 130 nations of the world for adult lifespan and is quite literally going extinct.

    Comment by La Russophobe — November 27, 2009 @ 2:38 pm

  2. Our take on these two noble Russian heroes:

    Comment by La Russophobe — November 27, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

  3. It’s an insult to put Pushkin in the same same sentence as those other two. Ditto for Stalin.

    Comment by So? — November 27, 2009 @ 9:33 pm

  4. Yet, So?, it is right. What can one do? Sometimes the truth is an insult.

    Comment by Asehpe — November 27, 2009 @ 10:10 pm

  5. As usual LaR is throwing crap against the wall to see what sticks. Pushkin was a great poet, but couldn’t care less about politics. Solzhenitsyn was a talentless graphomaniac with delusions of grandeur – a useful idiot. Politkovskaya – a useful martyr. Nikolai brought the country to ruin. Stalin restored it from ruin. Putin is weak.

    Comment by So? — November 27, 2009 @ 10:55 pm

  6. Torture? So? Was he put through the process of death by drowning over a hundred and eighty times? The author of the legal position of the previous administration is of the opinion that there is “No treaty.” and “Also no law by Congress” preventing the POTUS ordering the crushing of an innocent boy’s testicles in order to pressure the boy’s parents.

    Color me unimpressed.

    Comment by rkka — November 28, 2009 @ 9:21 am

  7. Ah, rkka–you have mastered all the tropes. In another thread, “not the worst!” Here: “whatabout?” Come on. Surprise me some time.

    And “whatabout” is an even lamer riposte when directed against two Russian guys.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 28, 2009 @ 4:53 pm

  8. I have to quibble with you here, So? Stalin was not so much “strong” as “hard”, at times to an extreme extent. This is not to belittle his achievements, but overall the repressions were not necessary like the scale they reached in the late 1930’s, neither was collectivization. Putin was weak, but is has been gradually getting stronger as he realizes that it is necessary. Let us hope it continues that way.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — November 28, 2009 @ 5:57 pm

  9. You call my points names. You offer no arguments or evidence against them.

    And then *you* talk about lame…

    Comment by rkka — November 29, 2009 @ 8:16 am

  10. Professor: My guess is that rkka is a paid troll who has been given a limited range of responses, which s/he uses in all the Russia-related English-language sites. Or s/he is an emigre who would never ever actually live in Russia, but somehow manages to idealize the country. Or one of those leftie types who somehow missed that Russia is the complete opposite of his or her supposed values. My money is on the first, since s/he appeared suddenly on all the sites and says essentially the same things all the time.

    Comment by mossy — November 30, 2009 @ 1:01 pm

  11. mossy–if you’re right, I feel so honored to have my own little paid minder.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 30, 2009 @ 4:19 pm

  12. Lol! Such dark, (and groundless) speculations! Deep down you can’t conceive of someone actually disagreeing with you, and so you must indulge in the paranoid fantasy that someone pays me for this stuff!

    As for my politics, I’d have happily voted for Eisenhower.

    Comment by Rkka — November 30, 2009 @ 8:42 pm

  13. I still wish to see more answers to SWP’s original question, i.e. are these guys Russian patriots or not? The silence is deafening. You don’t need to compare them to Pushkin, just give a straight answer. I know this post is starting to get dated, but I’m still sincerely interested.

    Comment by Howard Roark — December 1, 2009 @ 3:03 am

  14. Aleh is not by definition.

    Comment by So? — December 1, 2009 @ 3:11 am

  15. @mossy,

    Just a list of stock Russophobe arguments, to which I’ve given a list of here.

    “Kremlin Shill” Argument

    You are under FSB control, tasked with sugarcoating the thugs and kleptocrats who rule Russia to a Western audience. Looks like the Kremlin, having consolidated its control over the Russian media, is now going online. Why should I trust anything you say?

    First, who I work for is utterly immaterial, since appeal to motive is a formal logical fallacy. You can gauge how reliable and trustworthy I am simply by reading my posts, most of whose assertions are meticulously sourced.

    Obviously, I have no way of refuting this particular assertion (although I’d sure be glad if you could drop me a hint as to where I may collect my paycheck). This is not to say, however, that accusing me of working for the Kremlin is a wise move. It probably isn’t. If your sole basis for slandering me is that you don’t like what I write, then do you realize that you undermine your own claim about the Kremlin’s alleged control of the Russian media? (presumably, you don’t like what they have to say either).


    No need to feel honored. I’m sure the FSB has far more worthwhile things to be doing than keeping tabs on inconsequential blogs. 😉

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — December 1, 2009 @ 8:19 pm

  16. S/O–you hurl the Russophobe accusation again, but your failure to answer the questions in the original post about whether you consider Guriev and Tsyvinski to be Russophobes is quite conspicuous.

    Re the FSB, it is well known that they routinely engage in pointless surveillance and harassment just to show they can. And because it’s what they do.

    And why do you spend so much time commenting on an inconsequential blog?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 1, 2009 @ 11:03 pm

  17. I’ll answer your question.

    I think they are right to criticize the sometime excessive arbitrariness, callousness, and incompetence of Russia’s post-totalitarian security institutions. They also make a valid point that 2009 has some resemblances to 1929, in fact I have made the comparison myself (

    That said, they are wrong to compare 2009 to 1937 – that is pretty stupid of them, considering that what we are talking of power ministries that the Presidency / “powers that be” themselves want to reform, as evidenced by the growing pressure on the FSB clan, which has the support of both Medvedev and (implicitly) Putin. I also question why he would mention that one of the system’s victims was “a Harvard Law School graduate”. Is it because “Westernized” Russians are better or worth more in his eyes?

    Whether they are Russophobes or not cannot be answered by this oped. Furthermore, since you know Guriev far better than I do, and since I have defined “Western Russophobia” at Categorizing the Russia Debate, you can judge how much of one he is yourself:

    he Western Russophobes. These are people with a strong belief in the validity of the Idea of the West and its near flawless exercise in the “Western world”. Their perceptions of Russia’s “Otherness” from Western ideals lead to regret and sadness for the apparent plight of the Russian people (often with scant regard for the Russians’ subjective perceptions of their own situation). Examples of such moderate Western Russophobes include Robert Amsterdam, Vilhelm Konnander, Steven Rosefielde, Andrew Wilson and most of the folks at RFERL.

    The more extreme elements see the struggle in Manichean, quasi-religious terms. Russia’s ostensible denial of the Idea of the West is amoral, if not heretical – and so are the defenders of Putin’s “bloody regime”, who are either innocent dupes (”useful idiots”) or unrepentant heretics with whom there can be no compromise. Here’s a telling quote from Streetwise Professor’s (Craig Pirrong) seminal essay On Russophobia:

    …It is this fundamental philosophical and moral divide between the classical liberal views I espouse, and the anti-liberal views of the Putinists, that explains my intense antipathy for the current Russian government and state, and which is the wellspring of my trenchant criticism. It is not a divide that can be bridged [my emphasis], as these are antithetical conceptions of the roles of the individual and the state…

    Yet the cake here goes to Ed Lucas, who explicitly compares modern-day Russia to Mordor (the archetypal evil empire of epic fantasy) and its defenders to the evil henchmen of the Dark Lord himself.

    But as the skies darken once again over the European continent (or Middle Earth if you prefer)… Mordor is clearly the Russian Federation, ruled by the demonic overlord Sauron (Putin). His email address, to give a contemporary note, might be [email protected] (the suffix is for Middle Earth). The threat from Mordor—symbolised by the Ring—is the combination of dirty money and authoritarian political thinking.

    And Sauron’s henchmen the Orcs are clearly the murderous goons of the old KGB. The new twist—the Uruk-Hai, is the mutation of the old Soviet intelligence service with organised crime and big business. Sauron’s allies—the Nazgul—are the Siloviki, the sinister chieftains of the Kremlin’s authoritarian capitalist system. Like the Nazgul, we seldom see their faces.

    So despite their representation of themselves as paragons of upstanding morality and reason, the bankruptcy of their arguments soon shows them up for the reality-disconnected ideologues many of them actually are. Other folks in this category include Paul Goble and David McDuff.

    However, the ultimate in this category is the bombastic, manipulative La Russophobe, who abuses “her” anonymity to “expose” (read: smear) innocent individuals voicing disagreement with her extremist views in the vilest and most low-life manner. She represents the voice of Russia’s liberasts, a very small but loud segment of the Russian population which hates its own country and uses Bolshevik-reminiscent rhetoric against its enemies, real and imagined. Beyond them lie folks like Jeff Nyquist and the “Final Phase” conspiracy theorists, who believe that the Soviet Union never collapsed, continues to plot for the global triumph of Communism and recommend a pre-emptive American thermonuclear strike / holocaust on Russia. These extremist elements, lying on a spectrum from SWP to the Final Phase theorists, demonstrate that paradoxically the greater the strength of your belief in the West – the more your thoughts and actions forsake its rationalistic ideals.

    Re-“why do you spend so much time commenting on an inconsequential blog?”

    It’s not meant as an insult, but as a statement of fact. It IS inconsequential in the big scheme of things and the FSB have far better things to do, such as influencing major media outlets and raiding companies.

    As for me, because it’s pretty useful as an indication of culturalist / Russophobe thinking. I explain in more detail in my forthcoming interview at Siberian Light.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — December 2, 2009 @ 1:01 am

  18. As for mossy, what is his comment except Russophobic? It arrogantly assumes that people can have no valid reason for defending some aspects of Russia without either being deluded, or paid for it.

    It’s a variation of the meaningless “have you stopped beating your wife lately” style of argument, in which you’re damned either way you answer it.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — December 2, 2009 @ 1:03 am

  19. No, I’m not a Russophobe. I love Russia. I love the people, I love the culture, I love the physical country — give me a view of a meadow, forest and church and I’m happy — and I think that Russia has the potential to be a wonderful, rich, flourishing, democratic country. Furthermore, I think the world would be a safer and better place if Russia were a rich, flourishing, democratic country. I’m sure there would be conflicts of interest with other countries, but I don’t see them as unsurmountable.

    I object to what is keeping it from becoming that. I also know (nearly first-hand) that the FSB has hired a bunch of bloggers to argue against any criticism on Runet. They are easy to spot because they all write the same things — the whataboutism, the premises for a logical argument that turn out to be lies, the derailing of conversations, etc. Not long after they appeared in Russian, virtually all the Western sites that discuss Russia had new bloggers who copy what the Russian trolls write. Ergo…

    Nor do I think it’s impossible to defend some aspects of what’s happening in Russia, or to understand them in the context of history. Nor do I think that everything is bad. Or that everyone is on the take. Or that the US has never violated people’s rights, at home and abroad, in horrendous ways. That’s my point: if waterboarding is a crime, and if I, personally speak out against it, why can’t I speak out against systematic, systemic abuse of prisoners in Russia? Particularly when those prisoners are denied medical aid when in pre-trial detention for crimes they did not commit, either to intimidate them into giving false evidence, or to punish them, or as an example to others?

    Comment by mossy — December 2, 2009 @ 7:44 am

  20. I love Russia, but I hate russkies.

    Comment by So? — December 2, 2009 @ 6:55 pm

  21. BTW, on runet blogs the liberasts and tolerasts greatly outnumber the potztriots and commies. Ironically, the former are also very quick to censor the latter.

    Comment by So? — December 3, 2009 @ 3:33 am

  22. ^ I’ve noticed that as well. Both sides do it, – see the experiences of Korchevnaya – and the reason lies in a concept called “enclaves of extremism“.

    [O]n many issues, most of us are really not sure what we think. Our lack of certainty inclines us toward the middle. Outside of enclaves, moderation is the usual path. Now imagine that people find themselves in enclaves in which they exclusively hear from others who think as they do. As a result, their confidence typically grows, and they become more extreme in their beliefs. Corroboration, in short, reduces tentativeness, and an increase in confidence produces extremism. Enclave extremism is particularly likely to occur on the Internet because people can so easily find niches of like-minded types — and discover that their own tentative view is shared by others.

    It would be foolish to say, from the mere fact of extreme movements, that people have moved in the wrong direction. After all, the more extreme tendency might be better rather than worse. Increased extremism, fed by discussions among like-minded people, has helped fuel many movements of great value — including, for example, the civil-rights movement, the antislavery movement, the antigenocide movement, the attack on communism in Eastern Europe, and the movement for gender equality. A special advantage of Internet enclaves is that they promote the development of positions that would otherwise be invisible, silenced, or squelched in general debate. Even if enclave extremism is at work — perhaps because enclave extremism is at work — discussions among like-minded people can provide a wide range of social benefits, not least because they greatly enrich the social “argument pool.” The Internet can be extremely valuable here.

    But there is also a serious danger, which is that people will move to positions that lack merit but are predictable consequences of the particular circumstances of their self-sorting. And it is impossible to say whether those who sort themselves into enclaves of like-minded people will move in a direction that is desirable for society at large, or even for the members of each enclave. It is easy to think of examples to the contrary — the rise of Nazism, terrorism, and cults of various sorts. There is a general risk that those who flock together, on the Internet or elsewhere, will end up both confident and wrong, simply because they have not been sufficiently exposed to counterarguments. They may even think of their fellow citizens as opponents or adversaries in some kind of “war.”

    I used the term in my article Twitter Terror in Moldova, and called for building “enclaves of empathy” instead. That is not going to happen, of course.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — December 3, 2009 @ 5:24 am

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