Saturday, 13 December 2008

Putinophobia - it's racist, apparently

Few things irritate me more than when legitimate criticism of the Russia's undemocratic and threatening government is silenced as Russophobia, but I think the most infuriating example has to be found in this Guardian comment piece.

According to Anna Matveeva, any stereotype about Russia is racist, no matter how justified. Mentioning corruption is taboo apparently, as is writing a novel where the oligarch population of London (who, of course, are famously untainted by any impropriety) come out less than favourably.

Perhaps she also disapproves of references to cold weather - she certainly mentions one (feeble and unfunny) joke about Russians not having a sense of humour. Replace 'Russian' with 'German' and I wonder if Matveeva would object.

However, there is a more sinister side to this piece. Criticising the Russian government is racist, too. The "embittered idealism" of "Western liberals" disappointed by such trifles as state repression has led them to argue for Russia's castration, apparently.

According to Matveeva, a visiting fellow at the LSE, no less, even covering the war for South Ossetia is discriminatory, a chance to poke fun at the backward Russkies. By that logic, no one would care if Turkey invaded Armenia, just like no one did when it was just Britain and Northern Ireland. This argument is either deeply cynical or unimaginably blinkered.

I'm not a 'Russophobe'. I don't fear Russians. I have some close Russian friends, I have chosen to devote four years of my life to studying Russian culture, and I will be living there for several months next year. What I am frightened of is an unaccountable and repressive government that is deeply implicated in the torture and murder of its own citizens.

There is nothing racist in the fact that in Russia I often have to keep my voice down when near the police, to avoid marking myself out as foreign, and thus a prime target for a shakedown, or that I feel sorry for Russian friends studying hard for degrees made almost worthless by the festering sore of corruption.

Just type in 'buy a degree' on any Russian search engine, and you can find charts listing the going rates for bribes at Russia's most presitigious universities. There is every reason to chastise the Russian government for its unwillingness to tackle these embarassing and dangerous problems.Being angered by this, and by the unaccountable political system that tolerates it, isn't racist or Russophobic - it's human.

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