In one of my earlier posts I discussed my disappointment with a lecture about Russia given by Martin Sixsmith, which was intended to launch his latest book about Russia and to advertise an accompanying radio series. I expressed the view that the lecture with its theme that “autocracy” is in some way Russia’s default position amounted to no more than a recitation of cliches, which I happen to think are also profoundly and completely wrong. I also said in two previous posts that there is actually good reason to be optimistic about the situation in Russia.
What has made me revisit this subject is an article I read today in the Independent by John Kampfner who was previously the editor of the New Statesman and who is now the Director of Index on Censorship. In this article John Kampfner discusses at incredible length a court case a Russian pop singer has brought against a well known Russian rock music critic Artemy Troitsky. In a way that has become all too typical of western commentary about Russia Kampfner links this case to certain disparaging comments Troitsky made three years ago about Russia’s winning entry at the Eurovision Song Contest (though there is actually no discernible connection) and views the case against Troitsky not as an example of celebrity self indulgence but as some sort of sinister plot by Putin (who else?) to impose political conformity on Russia’s cultural life.
Kampfner’s comments about the court case correspond precisely with Sixsmith’s views about Russia and represent western orthodoxy about Russia. They remind me however of something I read a few weeks ago on the internet. This concerned a criminal case that has been brought in Poland against Doda, Poland’s reigning pop diva, in which she is being prosecuted on a charge of blasphemy for saying that she had more belief in dinosaurs than in the Bible because the Bible was obviously written by “potheads and drunks”. Though Doda faces a prison sentence of up to three years if convicted her case has provoked no interest or comment in the British press. It struck me at the time that if a pop singer were to be prosecuted in Russia in a similar way there would be no such silence but on the contrary an outcry. Kampfner’s comments make my point.
I do not say that Poland is a dictatorship. I do not understand however why Russia is held to so much higher a standard than Poland. Martin Sixsmith during his lecture contrasted the “vibrant democracy” in Poland with the authoritarianism in Russia. I see nothing to suggest that Poland or Russia are more democratic or authoritarian than each other. The only difference is how certain people in the west see them.