Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Russia: A mafia state?

A notable journalist for the Guardian, Luke Harding, was thrown out of Russia yesterday -- actually, he was not allowed to remain there after arriving there with a valid visa. Presumably this was because of some of the material in WikiLeaks he revealed in an article on December 1, 2010. It seems to be another verification of what we have come to think about Russia: this is a dictatorship masquerading as a democracy.

What seems to have irritated the Russians was Harding's quotation of an American diplomat's statement in a diplomatic note, which was of course supposed to be private: Russia is a "corrupt, autocratic kleptocracy centered on the leadership of Vladimir Putin in which officials, oligarchs and organized crime are bound together to create a 'virtual mafia state.'" [quote from NYTimes 2/7/11] Some of us wonder what the world would be like if the super-powerful, super-rich of the world had a grip on state affairs. Russia, if not China, may be the world's finest example.

The Guardian, in its report on the expulsion of Harding, reveals something of what it is like to do journalism in Russia -- that is, to try to get accurate information about issues of importance and then to report it to the world. [http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/feb/07/guardian-moscow-correspondent-expelled-from-russia]

"Although western reporters are not subject to anything like the dangers of some of their Russian counterparts, several of whom have been murdered for delving too deeply into the corruption and mafia nexus at the heart of the Putin state, English-speaking Moscow correspondents are careful about what and how they report.

"Sensitive areas include references to the alleged personal wealth built up by Putin, any discussion about corruption that is linked to senior government individuals, or any reporting that implies the Kremlin had any prior knowledge of the plot to kill the former spy Alexander Litvinenko."

For those of us who believe that democracy, the rule of law, open discourse, freedom to seek to know the truth and report it to others, and so on, are necessary for authentic social practice this is a chilling revelation. This is what society is like when "officials, oligarchs and organized crime are bound together" in a system that deflects information so that the truth on crucial issues is never really fully known. I wonder: if we lived in such a society would we know it?

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