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Thursday, May 12

Look back in hatred

Note to The Reader: Fifteen minutes after I published the following, I found an email in my inbox that contains a link to a Washington Times opinion piece by Arnaud de Borchgrave. It's not often that I'm in agreement with that particular analyst but not only do I agree, I'm stunned that the Times printed his piece. There is a ray of hope, after all, with regard to US mainstream reporting on Russia. Thanks to Mark Safranski at Zenpundit for alerting me to the piece. I hope that Mark, whose opinion as a Russia historian carries weight, will expand on the points made by de Borchgrave.

"Pundita, dear, I must admit I was touched by your little tribute to the 'Soviet' contribution to winning the [second world] war. A little tribute to those who died because of Soviet rule might help round things out. Now that the festivities are over, any bets on the Khordokovsky verdict?
[Signed] Boris in Jackson Heights"

Dear Boris:
You're such a cynic to imply that the verdict was delayed by the festivities. But when the Kremlin does to Khordokovsky what Eliot Spitzer does to Wall Street pirates, it's not okay with the American press, is it? So how about if we answer your question this way:

How about if we let those Americans whose lives were ruined by pirate companies such as Enron place their bets on the Khordokovsky verdict? Oh but I that's right; such Americans can't place bets because the American media has not seen fit to describe in detail just what Mr Khordokovsky did to get himself arrested.

I was a child of the Cold War; it wasn't until my 20s that I learned that large numbers of Russians died fighting the Nazis. Even then, I had no idea how many Russians had given their lives. The Soviet Union didn't 'win' the second war, but I don't want to think about how many more innocent lives would have been lost in that war, if not for Russia pounding down Hitler's divisions.

So I am very proud that President Bush attended the Russian VE Day memorial, and prouder still that he officially acknowledged the American part in the betrayal at Yalta. As representative of the American government, Bush set a standard for conduct by a nation that China and Japan and many other countries should emulate.

We cannot build the future on evasions; we must build it on truth. Yet the truth has many faces. The Baltic peoples suffered terribly under Soviet rule; another truth is that governments in that part of the world corroborated with the Nazis to massacre Jews. Bush made an attempt to acknowledge all the truths of that terrible time. No national leader could do that neatly, cleanly, in a way that satisfied everyone. Yet Bush's attempt signals the determination to look forward with hope. The alternative is to keep looking back with hate.

I have seen with my own eyes where the alternative leads. In the middle of an ethnic "cleansing" I witnessed, I was served tea by an educated man--educated in America--who matter-of-factly explained why there must be a Final Solution to the "problem" of a minority people in his country. That was his way of agreeing with my plea that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Today that country is in ruins; to the extent there is peace it is the peace of exhaustion, the quietude of despair.

Vladimir Putin, with his trademark sarcasm, is a marked contrast to Bush's idealism, yet both leaders are saying the same thing in their own way. Whereas Bush lectures the Latvians to leave go of old hatreds, Putin snaps at them to stop ranting and start working on constructive solutions to the border dispute with Russia.

Of course it's easy for an American to support the move-on approach; I didn't suffer under Stalin's rule, except indirectly via the drain that the Cold War made on American society. And Putin would do well to take instruction from Bush's attempt to hear and acknowledge Pain and Suffering from the various sides. Sometimes, saying "We're sorry" once is not enough. And sometimes, apologies must be backed up by a gesture, no matter how token it might be.

From the other side, Americans could take instruction from the fact that the US press didn't see fit to report the Latvian call for apology within the context of a border dispute with Russia.

How are we to see our way clearly in East Europe, and indeed the rest of the world, if our news media act mainly as a conduit for agendists? Equal US media time for opposing views extends only to Republican and Democrat domestic positions. When it comes to international affairs, the media tend to act as a mouthpiece for special interests and factions in the government. This is on the excuse that reporters need to keep their access to important sources.

But then how is the American public supposed to arrive at intelligent observations about the world outside our door? Are we supposed to spend all our free hours trolling the Internet, just to scrape together enough data to make reasoned observations? And what about those Americans who don't have Internet access?

I keep hearing about the "Two Americas." I am seeing two Americas emerge--the America representing well-informed news consumers and the America representing news consumers who don't know what century this is.

I have no idea how the Khordokovsky verdict will go. A guilty verdict and serious jail time would send a message to the other oligarchs but I think they've already gotten the drift.

Much could hang on whether Khordokovsky decides to take his mother's advice to heart. Not long before his arrest she warned him that he needed to start thinking some about what was best for Russia. He ignored the warning.

Last night on John Batchelor's show, Victor Gubareff--a Russian who does analysis for Stratfor--called it like it is for Russia. He said that Russia is a society of bandits and oligarchs. It's also a society of very old clan ways. To get from there to a functioning democracy is going to take more than uninformed Americans and West Europeans urging more "freedom" in Russia.

For those who never heard a word about the border dispute, here are two short reports, which fill in several blanks and open a bigger window on the kind of problems Putin is wrestling with.

Russia calls on Latvia to stop ranting...

Russia-Latvia border treaty hangs in mid-air...

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