Reading on Russia Roundup #14

The politics of exhibition. According to Viktor Katona, the cultural response to Russia’s current political scene is littered with exhibitionists rather than thoughtful critics.


Actionists like Pavlensky are often labelled holy fools, or “yurodivy,” righteous men who feigned madness to, as is stated in the 1843 article, “deliver the higher truth.”

This interpretation, however, disregards almost every reason the philosophical category of “yurodivy” is still held in high esteem in Russia. The “yurodivy” is a highly pious figure, rebuking the hypocrisy, falsehood and crookery in people’s lives and pointing, by the means of their deeds, to the futility of worldly pleasures and the all-encompassing redemption to be found in Christ.

Compare this to the actionist zeal, which never really leaves the sphere of nihilistic relativism.

All-time low for Russia-bashing. Irish journalist Danielle Ryan has written a thought-provoking response to the recent Boston Globe article by Scott Gilmore that I raged against in an earlier post.

I know it’s hard to imagine, but it gets worse than the headline. Russia, the author wrote a few paragraphs in, is like an “oiled, aged, but still buff, body builder” who hides his “geriatric walker” off-stage — and “Boozy Yeltsin” was a “fitting representative” for the country. Funny, huh?

Let’s be perfectly clear: It would be a mistake to believe this piece was an attempt to inform the reader of the realities of modern Russia. Because the purpose of this piece was not to inform. Its single, glaringly obvious intent was to paint the worst possible picture of a country — for no other reason, it would appear, than sheer malice.

To do this, facts were cherry-picked, statistics were delivered out of context without regard for overall long-term trends — and yes, some parts were just entirely untrue. Like the dubious claim that Russia’s life expectancy rate has been “declining”, when in fact, it has been rising. But why let pesky facts get in the way of a good narrative? As one Twitter user wrote to me: “punditry is the most fact-checking-free segment of media today and also the most popular means of disseminating info (sic)”.

Electoral legitimacy. One of the Levada Center’s latest press releases is on perceptions of the legitimacy of the upcoming Duma elections.

Убежденность значительной части населения в том, что предстоящие выборы будут скорее “нечестными”, фиксируемая в период избирательного цикла 2011-2012 гг., в настоящее время ослабла. Практически каждый второй респондент поддерживает мнение о том, что предстоящие выборы в Госдуму будут скорее легитимными. Однако треть населения настроена более пессимистично. 54% опрошенных считают, что злоупотреблений на предстоящих выборах не избежать. 56% россиян уверены, что необходимое присутствие наблюдателей на выборах со стороны политический партий и журналистов «значительно уменьшит возможные нарушения при их подготовке и проведении».

On the sacking of Nikita Belykh. It was only a matter of time before an article such as this appeared.

The timing of the very public arrest of Kirov region governor Nikita Belykh for corruption is opportune: the Duma election campaign is about to start, and the fight against corruption will be useful. Belykh—a liberal in government—is a convenient target: he held a prominent position and yet he was extraneous to the overall political system.

A quick opinion piece on the Brexit. From Maxim Trudolyubov of the Kennan Institute at Princeton.

Brexit will have some good consequences and some bad consequences, Russian president Vladimir Putin said in the immediate aftermath of the British vote. The president sounded restrained and impartial, leaving to lesser players the chance to cheer in public.
Brexit, being a welcome surprise for Russia’s political leadership, also reminds the Kremlin of a hidden challenge. If national politics trump supranational agendas everywhere, Russia is in trouble. For the past decade, the Kremlin has been making sure the Russian population subsists on news about Russia’s engagement with its international enemies, the likes of Britain and the U.S. Just like Britain, Russia has a national healthcare system and numerous depressed small towns. In fact, there are more of them in Russia than in Great Britain. If the Russian public wakes up and decides to prioritize the national agenda over the international one, the consequences for the Kremlin would be much tougher than the consequences of Brexit are for Whitehall.

And now, I’ll wrap up this edition of the RoRR with an important note.

Four months ago, I created this blog with the goal of providing original reviews of Russia-related books in a fair and impartial if not balanced way. Gradually, I introduced some non-book material such as reposts of others’ articles, occasional commentary, and these Reading on Russia Roundups, which together now outnumber the reviews. But over time I’ve gotten the sense that this blog is straying from its original course and a bias is beginning to show in my work. The realization came after my outburst at the Gilmore Boston Globe article which, in retrospect, I’m a little ashamed of. Even a few of the reviews have changed in attitude. I’m not sure whether the gradual emergence of my bias in the posts is caused by the nature of the articles, my growing frustration with the state of Russian studies and reporting today, or a general weariness with the topic of Russia, but what’s clear is that the slant is there and it needs to be removed. No, it’s not an existential threat to Russia Reviewed, but I think the blog would be better off without it.
To deal with the problem, I could take one of several courses of action:
  • cancel all plans for “opinion” posts and stick to writing reviews only,
  • keep opinion posts written by me, but refrain from sharing outside articles except in Reading on Russia Roundups,
  • keep sharing outside articles, but filter them for objectivity; with fewer comments and less commentary from me,
  • decrease the frequency of outside articles and commentary, once again making reviews the focus of the blog,
  • Or keep everything the same, and just take a hiatus.

And I’d like to hear from you, readers, which course of action is the best to take.

See you next week.




  1. “If the Russian public wakes up and decides to prioritize the national agenda over the international one, the consequences for the Kremlin would be much tougher than the consequences of Brexit are for Whitehall.”

    *We* have an “international agenda”? We?! Officially ideology-free Russia, which has no desire to stage coups or color revolutions and spread the Good Word?! Or Dear Author is having trouble of differentiating “humanitarian intervention”, “need 2 protect” and “neo-liberal economy uber alles” slant of the West and the EU with what Russian state does? I see a clear bias and wishful thinking here. Tell you what? Russia had its own “Brexit” from the general pro-Western agenda and standards, of “shared future” (which will never come) in March 18, 2014. Still doesn’t regret it.

    As for your conclusion – dear J.T., I see no problem here. Pfft, “Western media/academia hates Russia’s guts – news at 11!”. Of course there is anti-Russian, even Russophobic bias here. You are not a machine – you are living breathing and thinking human being. And you see now that this bias exists. You, naturally, have your own opinion. We all do – after all, “we are all individuals” (c). Why not voice it?

    You shouldn’t be ashamed of anything you’ve wrote so far. Hell, I did, said and wrote much more outrageous things in my life and still not ashamed of any of that. I’m in no position to tell you how to run your personal blog and what to post here. But the statistics are stubborn beasts. The vast majority of the mainstream media, academia and blogosphere is clearly biased against Russia. The crowds of Russophobes they attract in their comment sections are even worse. 2 guess what kind of content they might produce for you to review. The word “depressing” won’t cover even 1/10th of that.

    But there are something good out there. Our now regular commenter Natylie Baldwin somwhow manages to find something if not 100% super-plus-good but at least not really bad to comment on and review. Again, you mention Danielle Ryan (honestly, had no idea who she was before this post) who writes shockingly balanced articles about Russia (although I still have some complaints here and there…). Professor Paul Robinson, despite all of his flaws is trying (and so far – succeeding) in presenting a balanced view on Russia. Then there is our usual den of shameless pro-Russianess on the “Kremlin Stooge”.

    I appreciate what you do, J.T. I really do. You go into the proverbial mouth of the beast. You do it regularly. Frighteningly – all to often. You, probably, should also read “something completely different” about Russia, probably even in Russia, to get the alternative POW. That, no, Russia is not yet again ready to collapse and the Bloody Regime is counting down its final days. I don’t know! Just some random thoughts. After all, it’s you and only you who decides what’s your blog is really all about and what “policy” to enact here.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My vote is for: keep opinion posts written by me, but refrain from sharing outside articles except in Reading on Russia Roundups,

    It is not possible for anyone to be completely objective. We are all humans and have a prism through which we see things based on our culture, nationality, class, family, experiences, etc. the trick is to be aware of and up-front about your prism or slant, but also try to be as fair-minded as possible. There was once a time when it was understood that the best way to get a better picture of an issue was to accept that there were outlets with different slants on an issue – local periodicals that focused on an Irish-American perspective or a Jewish perspective or a labor perspective – and to read as widely as possible.

    You shouldn’t necessarily fret that you are human and therefore have a slant that is sometimes coming through. It is also just as clear, in my opinion, that you are attempting to be fair-minded and temperate at the same time. You are not going to be able to please everyone and will only drive yourself crazy and undermine the value you have to offer in your analysis if you attempt to.

    Just food for thought.

    Liked by 1 person

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