Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Russia, like North Korea, Looks Great if Its Officials Organize Visits, Gennady Gudkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 2 – Many visitors to Russia for the World Cup have been impressed by what they have seen, exactly the response the Kremlin hopes for and one that government-controlled media have played up to suggest that any criticism of the Putin regime is thus entirely misplaced.

            But opposition politician Gennady Gudkov points out what should be obvious but is often forgotten: “Any country is beautiful when you are shown a parade façade and the most beautiful scenes: North Korea, Iran, Turkmenistan, and other dictatorships. It is just that it is better not to live in these countries but visit for a short time” (echo.msk.ru/blog/gudkov/2232220-echo/).

            “Specialists in building ‘Potemkin villages’ exist in every authoritarian or totalitarian state. The first three days, you will think you have landed in paradise, as long as you don’t have to go to a district hospital somewhere near Saransk” or suffer some other indignity. Then the clouds obscuring your view will dissipate more rapidly,” he says. 

            At least some Russians have been swept up in the enthusiasm, with Putin’s press secretary saying domestic reaction to the Russian team’s recent victory resembling the 1945 victory day celebration, a hyperbolic comparison that does no one any credit (newsru.com/russia/02jul2018/peskov1945.html).

            But there are dark sides to this World Cup that few are attending to, including police attacks on fans captured on video (themoscowtimes.com/news/brutality-62082), FIFA fines against Russia for discrimination (themoscowtimes.com/news/fifa-fines-russia-62085), and attacks on Russians who are insufficiently enthusiastic (mbk.media/suzhet/teper-nachnetsy/).

            Moreover, some commentators are suggesting that the Russian reaction to their national team’s victories is disturbing. According to Sergey Medvedev of the Higher School of Economics, wild celebrations are entirely normal but one aspect of Russian actions among them is not (blog.newsru.com/article/02jul2018/kareta).

            For Russians to post on social media that as a result of the victory “’on this evening I was with my people,’” he suggests, “only shows that we do not inn fact have any people in fact. What we have is only a crowd that suddenly appears and equally quickly disappears.” For people to say otherwise “is testimony of a still greater divide.”

            After the victories and celebrations are over, he says, Russia will be what it was before; and people will have to deal with that, however much they have tried to forget with this bacchanalia.

            Indeed, the situation may deteriorate just as it did after the Sochi Olympiad especially if Kremlin malfeasance is once again uncovered. Igor Eidman, a Russian commentator for Deutsche welle, raises that possibility. Indeed, he argues it is all too likely (facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1920251911371112&id=100001589654713).

                Long before the World Cup, he says, “Russian officials and chekists were given the task [by their bosses in the Kremlin] to secure for Russia the best possible result … and “they will seek this by any criminal methods. Judging from everything, that is what is happening.” Indeed, logic itself compels such a conclusion.

            That has long been the case with sport in Russia, as the Sochi Olympiad showed, Eidman continues. “And I will never believe that those who use such tactics have changed their stripes and begun to win honestly. Such a transformation in principle will not happen.” They may change their tricks but not their goals.

            “We do not know what sharp methods are being used now,” he acknowledges, whether they will involve “doping, chemicals, the corruption of judges, pressure on competitors or something else.” But there can be no doubt that Moscow has done something. It “simply can’t do otherwise.”

            “Sooner or later,” Eidman concludes, all this will come out. “Then there will be a grandiose scandal which could lead to a change in the results of this shameful championship” in a country whose rulers have long shown that they do not respect any rules and care only about winning regardless of how they achieve that end.

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