Posted 42 days ago
I was looking forward to this article at first, as Gessen is a good writer and thinker. But I turned out pretty disappointed, as I thought Gessen's condemnations of Putin's government were weak at best and filled with the ideologiy of liberalism. She writes:
Under Putin, who rose to power in 1999, when Sobol was eleven years old, cynicism has become the ruling ideology of Russia. The core of Putinism is the belief that the world is rotten, everything is for sale, and anyone who says otherwise is lying, probably because they are being paid to do so.
I know she is is hinting that this is bad, and it certainly is a slope towards populist sentiments, but it's not necessarily wrong. Liberal ideology, and the belief that democracy removes this from society is questionable. Sure, the ideal forms we would wish for, where all citizens are represented equally and wealth is distributed well, do hope for this, but if you take any look at Wall Street or Silicon Valley or Los Angeles you will see that this belief quickly fails when put into the real world. Gessen writes of the efforts of Sorbol and her team:
In 2013, they bought a drone, taped a GoPro camera to it, sent it flying over the defense minister’s sprawling home outside Moscow, and put the footage on YouTube. Later, they briefly worked with the owner of a powered paraglider who flew over and photographed the palatial residences of the prosecutor general’s family and of Putin’s childhood friends the Rotenbergs.
Again, I'm not saying this is good or right, but neither are the Hamptons or the Kennedys, or the wealthy country clubs all over America. We are meant to believe that these riches are won meritocratically, but that's just not true. Wealth has been passed through families, is kept in the upper echelons of capitalism, and although there may be a significant amount of corruption in Russia, the American counterpart of it is not morally righteous. We are meant to believe so, but that is foolish.
And that is what kind of bothers me about this anti-russian sentiment in America. We are meant to believe that our ideal form of government is morally superior, which maybe it might be, but the pragmatic realization of it is not so. We are meant to be receptive to Navalny and Sorbol's movements because they adhere to our own ideologies, but quite frankly it seems they don't have anywhere near the same support within Russia.
The argument against this is that they don't have control of the media. Of this Gessen quotes:
“Like all people in the opposition, she has limited resources because she can reach people only through social networks,” Denis Volkov, the deputy director of the Levada Center, told me.“
On one hand, we are meant to believe in the United States that Donald Trump won the Presidency largely through social media tactics. On the other, Volkov is lamenting on how this tool is "limited resources." This is confusing to me.
All this aside, would I want to be an opposition leader in Russia today? Gessen writes:
the Moscow prosecutor’s office sought to have Navalny’s political movement declared extremist. “Under the guise of liberal slogans,” the prosecutors said in a statement, “these organizations are setting the stage for destabilizing the social and sociopolitical situation.” The designation would make any of the thousands of people who have worked with Navalny liable to prosecution and imprisonment for two to six years, or up to ten if the person is deemed a leader of the organization.
I just thought this article could have been much more concise and pragmatist in its reporting. I found the rebuttals of Putin's government and corruption weak and fitting into a long thread of anti-russian sentiment in America. That was a little disappointing since I enjoy Gessen's writing more generally.