Yesterday I wrote a post on the subject of an article by John Kampfner in the Independent about a libel action brought in Russia against a Russian rock music critic Artemy Troitsky. I notice that the story has now been taken up by the Guardian, where it appears on the front page of its website. Like John Kampfner the Guardian invests this legal spat between two pop music celebrities with a portentous importance that it scarcely merits. It reports it, absurdly, as happening within the context of some great existential struggle in Russia between “power” and “freedom”.
In yesterday’s post I pointed out that this over the top and even ridiculous reporting contrasts strangely with the almost complete silence in the British press about the altogether more threatening and sinister case that has been brought in Poland against a pop singer Doda who has supposedly breached Poland’s draconian blasphemy law. Putting this point aside it is important to say that this sort of reporting is not without consequences. Not only does it serve, in this case quite groundlessly, to reinforce a negative western stereotype of Russia but it also has an entirely malign effect on political and cultural life in Russia itself not least in the way the Russian judicial system goes about its business.
The Judge who will have to try to the case against Troitsky now knows that he or she will not have to decide a simple libel action but rather an international cause celebre that has been invested with a political importance it simply does not have. The implicit threat is that if this Judge fails to deliver the “right” verdict he or she will be branded internationally by the western press a Kremlin stooge. This is exactly what has happened to the unfortunate Judge who had the bad luck to preside over the Khodorkovsky case. Even though the International Bar Association has said that his conduct of that case was fair he has been subjected to an extraordinary international campaign of vilification and abuse. The Guardian reporter even went so far as to ridicule his way of speaking during his delivery of the verdict. He is now being accused without any proof of having had his verdict written for him and Khodorkovsky’s lawyers, capitalising on this, are now demanding that he should even be prosecuted.
The effect of this sort of pressure on any Judge is not difficult to imagine. I know of no other country whose Judges are bullied in this way. It does seem to me bizarre to say the least that those people in the west who are loudest in criticising Russia for not observing the rule of law should go out of their way to make its operation there more difficult.