Boris Yeltsin: Lessons for America (Part Two)
Lesson 2 - Russia Too Had Yeltsin Derangement Syndrome
In October of 1993 Yeltsin led an artillery attack on the Russian Parliament, banned opposition parties, and closed down newspapers that were critical of his rule. Truth or fiction?
Technically, this is not untrue, but neither is it the whole truth. It's similar to the "progressive" clich√© that Bush stole the election of 2000, went to war based on lies, undermined America's freedoms at home and its image abroad. To know what really happened in Russia in 1993 we need to understand historical background. The result we discover will fully depend on what sources we choose to trust.
This is where the press comes in. News reporting is often subjective; activist reporting is even worse. Unfortunately the majority of reporters choose to describe reality in a way that in their minds would benefit their ideals of political and cultural "progress." This gives us a skewed picture of events that hampers our ability to understand them. It results in grotesque mistakes, which I can only hope the future historians will be able to undo.
Yeltsin hadn't always been a lionized version of himself - nether before nor after the 1991 events. Like Gorbachev, Yeltsin had achieved prominence as a Party functionary, using the only channel available to gain power and make a difference. In 1987 he raised his voice against the Soviet orthodoxy and resigned from the Party with a loud bang, gaining instant popularity among the huddled masses across the vast Soviet empire. In June of 1991 he became a popularly elected Russian President. Two months later he defeated a coup and became an unquestionable leader who dared give orders to Gorbachev. The imminent disbanding of the Communist Party, the KGB, and other Party-related organizations was soon followed by the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. - a move that cost Yeltsin the support of many Russians.
The Communist Party itself was hardly missed even by its own apparatchiks, most of whom retained commanding positions within the economy, laundering huge amounts of hidden Party cash through the new banks and newly privatized industries. In the largest free-for-all theft in world history, these former "servants of the people" drained Russia dry with corrupt privatization schemes and left the common people with nothing.
The apparatchiks usurped many national newspapers and magazines that used to be the Party's cash cows. Most importantly, they preserved their seats in the Supreme Council (Parliament), elected back in the Soviet days via the usual massive election fraud. Calling that shameless host of Party stooges an "elected body" would be as silly as calling an outhouse full of dung-flies a beehive (no honey on my pancakes, thank you very much). The situation in the other formerly Soviet republics wasn't any better, but that's another story.
The new Russian model that emerged under Yeltsin can best be described as follows: Yeltsin gave the people the freedom to take care of themselves while the middle management stole their means to do so.
The colossal welfare system was mostly dismantled without offering any economic opportunity in return, leaving millions without the bare means of survival. Every emerging business was being fleeced by both the bureaucrats and the booming network of racketeering gangs. The billions of dollars transferred by the new government-affiliated oligarchs to personal Swiss bank accounts roughly equaled the amount of the IMF loan to Russia that was squandered without a trace. To discuss how well-designed the reforms had been would be like arguing about quality of the paintjob on a car that flew off a bridge.
Different symptoms, same paranoia
As if that were not enough, a thriving host of new leftist parties converged with a growing block of ultra-nationalists, all of whom were former card-carrying communists and raving ant-Semitic brownshirts. The resulting National-Bolshevik movement was so similar in its methods and ideology to Hitler's National Socialism that it was easy to imagine living in Germany circa 1933.
This alliance retained control over a number of formerly Party newspapers and magazines that were now actively "uncovering the international Zionist conspiracy against Russia." Every article - be it about nature, food, education, arts, or alcoholism - contained an obligatory Jew-bashing theme, enlightening the nation about how the supernaturally crafty Zionists were plotting to destroy Russia with the help of hirelings like Yeltsin, Gorbachev, or any other potential political opponent.
In their view all Western leaders since the beginning of time were Jewish conspirators. Even the Bolshevik Revolution was a Jewish plot to conquer Russia because Lenin and all his comrades were Jews. Like the Swiftian boiled egg scientists, they actually argued among themselves whether Stalin had been a Jewish agent or a hero fighting against the Jewish menace, killed by Jewish doctors. How could they reconcile this with being part of the National-Bolshevik movement?
This won't be so shocking if you consider that Marxism is also, in essence, a vast conspiracy theory explaining how capitalist oppressors have conquered the world and are now controlling the people's minds through cultural hegemony. In the old U.S.S.R., Marxism was branded into people's brains with hot iron, often causing permanent damage. Now the hollow channels vacated by the daily anti-Capitalist propaganda were being filled with new anti-Semitic content. The irrational fear and hatred of the bourgeoisie was now complemented with the irrational fear and hatred of the Jews. The view of world history as the struggle of the oppressed against the oppressors was supplanted with the struggle of the oppressed against the worldwide Jewish conspiracy. Different symptoms, same paranoia.
If this sick bit of intellectual legerdemain surprises you, take a look at the recent merger of the Western Left with the anti-Semitic Islamofascism. Most leftist rallies now sport obligatory anti-Israeli slogans, Palestinian kuffiahs, and allegations that the world is ruled by a cabal with strong ties to Israel. That's besides the seething hatred, slurred irrational speech, and verbal attacks that sometimes turn into physical violence. It won't be surprising if the recent Holocaust-denying conference in Iran was attended by prominent National-Bolsheviks from Russia - they'd fit right in with the mad mullahs.
By 1993 the National-Bolshevik ideology found a comfortable home and a base of operations at the stooge-infested Russian parliament. Democracy, capitalism, free markets were all seen as Zionist tricks to enslave and destroy Mother Russia. Their most hated "Zionist agent" was Boris Yeltsin. Hysterical anti-Yeltsin rants and accusations published in the neo-fascist media would make the Bush derangement syndrome of the American media appear like responsible journalism.
These developments could drive an even less vodka-guzzling man towards alcoholism. Yeltsin was gradually getting more drunk and cynical. As the people's trust grew thinner, the resentment of Yeltsin's reforms grew stronger. The loudest critical voices were those of the backseat drivers who had stolen the wheels. Now they tried to use the people's rage to get back into the driver's seat.
Bombing the Parliament
In September of 1993, when Yeltsin pushed for a new set of neoliberal reforms, the Supreme Council revolted. Yeltsin had nothing to lose; he did the world a favor and dissolved the defunct Supreme Council. A large number of the so-called People's Deputies refused to leave. They initiated impeachment proceedings and elected a new acting president. The majority of them were of the National-Bolshevik persuasion, including many old-guard army generals.
They barricaded themselves in the same "White House" from which Yeltsin had opposed the coup in 1991. The building was turned into headquarters of what they hoped would become a massive uprising leading to the restoration of the Soviet Union in all its Stalinist glory, ruled by people who believed that the world was run by biorobots psychotronically controlled via a satellite from Israel. If this prospect doesn't scare you, you must be orbiting the Earth with Laika the Space Dog.
With unexpected energy and competency they worked the telephones, built alliances, organized groups of supporters, and communicated their directives via the National-Bolshevik newspapers. A flood of violent media propaganda swept the streets. The usual mix of class envy and Jew-bashing was now accompanied by open calls for the blood of traitors of the Motherland. All the ingredients of a fascist revolt were in place. Armed with clubs and crowbars, bands of self-styled storm troopers crushed windows, offices, and bones of those who they suspected were rich business people or their agents - especially if they were Jews. Sound familiar? It should.
The plan of attack included the takeover of the national "Jew-infested" Ostankino TV Center. When an armored personnel carrier crashed through the glass lobby of the TV Center, the entire country watched helplessly on their screens, in real time, as hundreds of armed thugs rushed inside and towards the TV cameras, followed by a blank screen and dead silence. A special military unit loyal to Yeltsin beat back the attack, but the screens remained dead for several more hours. 62 people were killed in that attack, including several TV Center journalists and technicians. As journalists they may have believed they'd be immune from violent retribution. They were wrong.
Hundreds of Yeltsin's supporters gathered that night at the City Hall, determined to fight but without a clear understanding who their allies or enemies were. The police chiefs were on the side of the rioters. The military leaders were still unsure who to support. By all indications Russia was slipping into a civil war. Only on the tenth day did the army elites finally make up their minds and back Yeltsin, sending in Special Forces to stop the rioting and weed out the snipers.
They started with the headquarters. When the army surrounded the Parliament and offered to surrender, the response was gunfire from the windows. The shooters inside the "White House" chaotically fired at anything that moved, including the medics who rushed to help the wounded. Eventually the snipers were taken out with tank artillery fire at the windows, after which the building was stormed and cleared of the rebels.
The anti-Yeltsin riots took 187 lives and left 437 wounded. Despite some media reports, none of the "People's Deputies" responsible for the violence were injured. Two of their leaders were charged and imprisoned, but released in less than a year, after Yeltsin's standing had become more secure. Another persistent myth was that Yeltsin fired at defenseless and unarmed elected legislature. But the count of weapons confiscated from the rebels included 1,132 rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, pistols, mines, and explosive devices, as well as 196,000 rounds of ammunition.
"A fascist must always have a swastika
prominently displayed on the sleeve at all times -
otherwise he's just a victim working out grievances."
The Americans with whom I discussed these events were surprised at hearing about the high death toll. They didn't realize it was this bad, nor had they been informed about the anti-Semitic nature of the riots. It seems the media had failed to do its job, which is strange considering that Moscow was swarming with foreign journalists. As far as I can remember, my personal impressions at the time were that in an attempt to stay objective, the Western journalists chose some questionable middle ground - which made their coverage anything but objective.
Some of the Western journalists were even trying to see the events through the eyes of the attacking mob. They did it even after the deadly assault on the TV Center and the killing of its journalists. They continued to do so even after a rebel sniper shot and killed a British cameraman, even when several other Western reporters were wounded, including a New York Times photographer. For some inexplicable reason they refused to see the irrational nature of the extremists they tried to empathize with. All they seemed to be interested in was, feeding on people's grievances.
Apparently, in their minds, a fascist must always have a swastika prominently displayed on the sleeve at all times - otherwise he's just a victim working out grievances. These journalists wouldn't recognize fascism if it smacked them over the head with a hammer and sickle, which is the Soviet version of swastika. They probably wouldn't have believed me if I were to tell them that in the twisted minds of these ultra-nationalist maniacs, all Westerners were under the suspicion of being Zionist running dogs working to enslave and destroy Mother Russia. To appreciate just how crazy they were, consider the fact that one of their worst imaginary Zionist enemies was Bill Clinton.
I can't help but think about this media tendency every time I see a Western journalist trying to explain the mindset of a foreign extremist. Quite predictably they end up with projecting Western biases, including the Bush derangement syndrome.
A memo to Western reporters: the extremists hate you and want to kill you just for that little uncomplicated image of you they keep in their hateful delusional minds - that's why they are extremists, and you have absolutely no control over that. Spare them your personal struggles and complexes. Anything you say will only reinforce their conviction that you are an agent of the international Zionist conspiracy. The more believable your story is, the more cunning and dangerous agent they'll think you are.
Granted, Yeltsin's image in the Western media coverage remained mostly positive. But still, after the attack on the Parliament many expressed concerns about his growing dictatorial tendencies. When Yeltsin banned leftist parties implicated in the recent violence, Western reporters voiced their alarm over his totalitarian ambitions, forgetting to mention the narrowly thwarted threat of a ghastly dictatorship by lunatics, a regime that could send nasty aftershocks throughout the world. When Yeltsin closed down half a dozen National-Bolshevik publications that advocated violence, the media chided him for suppressing freedom of speech.
Under pressure from concerned Western leaders, media, and liberal intellectuals, Yeltsin lifted the ban some weeks later. Whatever the reason for the Western concern was, the criticism was unfair because Yeltsin was known to be tolerant of opposing media opinions and never denied interviews to those journalists who he knew disapproved of his policies, as long as it was a rational and civil discourse.
The attitude of the Western media puzzled me. I could understand their noble, albeit misguided desire to stand on the principles of freedom. I could appreciate the challenge of working in a different culture without knowing the language. But that didn't explain why some of them chose to empathize with the extremists. Only after I moved to the States did the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place.
"Whatever the reasons, it has been my personal observation
that American media leans to the left in its reporting
of the news, both foreign and domestic."
No society agrees on everything; every nation has quarrels and dissenters. To put events in perspective, foreign reporters must choose local sources for reliable background information. And more often than not their choices favor leftist causes. Western reporters habitually rely on leftist activists as their sources, as well as subjects for their interviews. One might argue that birds of feather flock together, others will mention "liberal" education and selective employment process, yet someone else will remind us that it has long been a media tradition in the U.S., to lean left and vote Democrat. Whatever the reasons, it has been my personal observation that American media leans to the left in its reporting of the news, both foreign and domestic.
A typical news story about President Bush's foreign trip would describe a heckler in the crowd, an aged hippy grandmother climbing a fence of the Buckingham Palace, or a group of leftist protesters staging a rally, accompanied by a few interviews with the "people" who predictably espouse anti-American sentiments.
Pussy-cat, pussy-cat, where have you been?
"I've been to London to look at the queen."
Pussy-cat, pussy-cat, what did you there?
"I frightened a little mouse under the chair."
Just like this pussy-cat, some reporters fail to notice things above their eye-level, favoring stories about a little mouse under the chair.
The last time Bush went to Argentina we heard many reports about the protest organized by Hugo Chavez, describing what Chavez said and what was written on Maradona's T-shirt. But what was Bush doing in Argentina? The reports either didn't say, or they mentioned some sort of a summit. What did the President of your country say at the summit and what were the implications? Silence. One begins to wonder if those reporters can actually answer such a question or understand the issues involved, unless they are explained to them by a leftist activist.
So when a coup happened in Russia and the reporters struggled to understand what was happening, some of them habitually resorted to the leftist sources - who in this case were allied with the National-Bolsheviks. That was why Yeltsin became a "tyrant," the rebels became "unarmed victims," and blood-thirsty anti-Semitic rags became "free press." That was why not a word was said about the rebels' anti-Semitism and paranoid political philosophy. All that was said about their nature was that they cared about the Russian people. Apparently Hitler also cared about the German people; we all know how that ended.
"A reporter who "wants to change the world" is guided
not by reason but by feel-good 'progressive' morality."
When a reporter says that he "wants to change the world" he admits that he doesn't trust his readers' ability to form an opinion based on objective reality. Instead, we are being fed one-sided information leading us to a predetermined opinion without thinking. Someone we don't even know, who may as well be incapable of seeing things above his eye-level, becomes the ultimate arbiter of what and how we must think. But thinking is hardly ever a goal here. A reporter who "wants to change the world" is guided, not by reason but by feel-good "progressive" morality.
One might say "progressive" morality is based on rooting for the underdog. But leftists aren't always the underdogs; they clearly are overlords in Cuba, Venezuela, and other "people's" dictatorships - who's rooting for their underdogs? The clear underdog of Stalin's industrialization was Ukraine with six million starved peasants - but no one rooted for them in the glowing Pulitzer-winning reporting by the New York Times' Walter Duranty. Was it Duranty's "progressive" morality that prompted him to deceive a generation of Americans about the true nature of Soviet socialism?
Skewed reporting results in wrong opinions and bad decisions. That alone can "change the world," as proven by Walter Cronkite's calling a victorious Tet Offensive a "defeat." He was granted his wish - paid for by the five million people slaughtered in Vietnam and Cambodia after the American withdrawal. Perhaps Cronkite often got that ticklish feeling of moral satisfaction for supporting the underdog. That ticklish feeling is an addiction. There's no shortage of journalists who "want to change the world" in Iraq, by selective reporting and empathizing with extremists. You get the picture.
"Do you ever get the feeling that you don't know
whether to laugh or find a New York Times editor
and slap him silly?"
About three years later, when I already lived in the States, I came across an open letter to Boris Yeltsin, written and signed by the New York Times editors and other leading liberal intellectuals. Printed in large letters across an entire page in the Sunday edition of the New York Times. The letter derided Yeltsin for allowing rabid anti-Semitic publications to exist in Russia and to spread their paranoid conspiracy theories that cultivated ethnic hatred.
Do you ever get the feeling that you don't know whether you should laugh or find a New York Times editor and slap him silly? The letter named names, giving a list of National-Bolshevik magazines and newspapers - the same ones Yeltsin had banned after the fascist riots but was then forced to lift the ban under pressure from probably the same group of New York Times editors and leading liberal intellectuals who at the time were concerned with the rights of leftist organizations in Russia having no freedom of speech.
The irony surely went over the heads of the liberal intellectuals and New York Times fooled by their own school of skewed journalism that favors leftist causes. But there's little doubt that every time they put pressure on Boris Yeltsin they reveled in the importance of their highly moral mission to "change the world." If you ever wondered about the absurd picture some foreigners have of this country, guess which major American newspaper foreign journalists read and take their cues from.
"Today's media scribes follow Cronkite's steps
in large unquestioning herds,
eager to 'change the world' through activist reporting."
If Walter Cronkite is still praised as a model for the future generations of journalists, what else could you expect? Today's media scribes follow Cronkite's steps in large unquestioning herds, eager to "change the world" through activist reporting, blinding everybody including themselves in the process.
Latest example. The skewed, selective reports from Iraq paint a general picture in which a relatively small group of murderous foreign extremists speak for the entire nation of Iraq, while the majority of native Iraqis who want peace, freedom, and prosperity are snubbed and ignored as if they don't exist. The bloody destructive "progress" of the terrorists is trumpeted on the front pages, while the real progress in reconstruction and democratization hardly gets any notice. Considering the moral encouragement such reporting gives to the terrorists, and the discouragement it brings to the rest of us, one begins to wonder whose side these scribes are really on.
Of course, they'll tell you they're not taking sides at all - they're trying to stay in the middle in order to be "objective." But is there an objective definition of a "middle" in this conflict? One side is rooting for a prosperous modern democracy in which everybody will be treated as a human being and have a chance to succeed in life. The other side's goal is an oppressive archaic theocracy plagued by degrading poverty and brutality, where everyone lives as a slave at the mercy of a despot.
"A compromise between good and evil
is always a victory for evil."
Any objective onlooker will see this as a fight between good and evil. What's the middle ground here? It can only exist as a vague subjective notion inside an individual reporter's head. Trying to be objective by being subjective is patently absurd, yet this is what happens when reason is replaced by feel-good "progressive" morality. The result is an abandonment of any objective criteria and moral standards. A compromise between good and evil is always a victory for evil.
Objectivity can't be relative; neither can be morality. Thinking otherwise results in the sorry state the Western media is today.
In the fantasy world created by activist reporters indiscriminate murderers who want to terrorize the Iraqis into submission by blowing up markets become idealistic freedom fighters. The American troops protecting the Iraqis and their freedoms from terrorists become immoral and murderous occupiers. How hard is it really to discern the objective criteria in this picture? All one has to do is to look at the ultimate goals of the both parties and the means used to achieve them. Yet many people find this rather easy task of observation almost impossible.
The distortions of reality in media reports from Russia, Iraq, Israel, Africa, America, and other hot and not-so-hot spots, are not the result of some malicious conspiracy. They are rather a symptom of a disorder that plagues large segments of Western societies. This is a disorder where otherwise healthy people lose the ability to see where they are going and why. They no longer understand the true meaning of progress; they have blindly replaced it with an opposite notion that is more convenient because going downhill is easier. They insist on calling themselves "progressives" even though their easy feel-good morality is guiding them in reverse direction. A more common name for this symptom is moral blindness.
Anyone who had lived through the attempt by Soviet hardliners to take back the power and restore a Stalinist dictatorship would be astounded, just as I am, with allegations by today's American "progressives" that George W. Bush is a dictator whose "junta" has usurped our freedoms and reversed decades of progress, turning America into a "fascistic autocracy." Such people don't even begin to know what "junta" really means nor what it feels like to live in a dictatorship. These pundits may think of themselves as enlightened "defenders of freedom," but in reality they only expose their own moral blindness. By shooting in the wrong direction they are hurting the very cause they claim they fight for. Freedom cannot be attained by erasing the objective criteria of liberty and democracy. Dictatorship cannot be fought by misleading the nation about the true nature of tyranny and oppression.
Oleg Atbashian - writer and graphic artist from Ukraine, currently lives in New York. Creator of ThePeoplesCube.com, a satirical website where he writes under the name of Red Square. He has previously written for Pajamas Media, The Gospel of John & Yoko: The Origins of Mad Morality, and Bowling for Virginia Tech.