Vermont Public Radio comment for Thursday, August 21st. 2014
VPR244 INTRO: The crisis in Ferguson, Missouri is getting world-wide-negative reaction. And as commentator and veteran ABC News foreign correspondent Barrie Dunsmore tells us today, the Russian response, is a throwback to the old days of the Cold War.
TEXT: The Russian-American writer Julia Ioffi wrote last week in the New Republic, “Whenever the U.S. pointed to Soviet human rights violations, the Soviet’s had an easy riposte- ‘well, you lynch Negros.’”
That’s consistent with what I recall while working in the Soviet Union in the decades of the Cold War. Any time Russians were accused of human rights abuses, they would immediately counter with their own accusations of the racist treatment of African-Americans in the United States. Russia had its own racist attitudes toward any group not ethnically Russian. But as a Cold War strategy matter, it strongly supported anti-colonialist revolutionaries, particularly in Africa, and made a virtue of this.
Fast forward to 2014. The message and the means of distributing it, have become much more sophisticated. Robert Mackey of the New York Times, has put together a report on how some of America’s harshest critics are reporting the events of Ferguson.
“While the unrest has also shocked American observers and foreign correspondents from other Western Democracies – including British and German reporters who have been struck by the ‘sounds of battle” and (themselves) endured arrest – some of the most strident criticism of police violence in Ferguson has come from authoritarian nations where the police are often venerated and dissent is scarcely tolerated.” Iran, Egypt and China are included in Mackey’s report, but Russia is the main focus.
Citing New York Times reporters in Moscow and elsewhere, Mackey singles out the main, government controlled channel Rossiya 24 as covering Ferguson with, in his phrase - neo-Soviet zeal. One of its anchors told Russian viewers on Tuesday that “the situation in Ferguson was veering close to civil war."
This over-the top coverage is also to be seen on the network Russia Today, which is Kremlin funded and targets international viewers with broadcasts in English, Spanish and Arabic. One of the stars reporting from the quote “war zone” unquote on the English language version of Russia Today, is correspondent Anastasia Chirkina- who just happens to be the daughter of Vitali Churkin, the current Russian Ambassador to the United Nations.
But the Russian official who appears to be leading the anti -American charge is Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian foreign ministry’s commissioner for human rights, democracy and rule of law. He is being widely quoted everywhere including on his ministry’s Twitter feed. Among his observations - quote,
“While urging other countries to guarantee the freedom of speech and not to suppress anti-government protests, the United States authorities at home are not too soft with those actively expressing discontent over persistent inequalities, actual discrimination and the situation of ‘second class’ citizens.” unquote
There may be elements of truth in such critiques – but coming from a country which now, once again effectively bans street protests and puts prominent bloggers and dissidents in jail - this return to old Soviet propaganda tactics is troubling, not least because it shows just how significantly the once promising post- Cold War American- Russian relationship has disintegrated.
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