Thursday, January 12, 2017

Just Shameful or an Indication of Something Much Worse?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 12 – When officials of the Putin regime or their hirelings in the Moscow media say things, one can view them as simply what they have to say to keep their jobs. But when an internationally distinguished scholar lends his voice to such outrageous remarks, the question arises: is this a case of the shameful words of an individual or something much worse?

            The former is perhaps more likely in these horrific times when there seems to be no low below which some people are prepared to go, confident that their words will either become part of the flow or will be defended as somehow appropriate by those who will point to comments, sometimes equally despicable on the other side.

But the latter is unfortunately not impossible and would be consistent with the trend in Putin’s Russia and mark a return to a Soviet-era practice in which even scholars and writers who were compelled to lend their names to whatever the regime wanted or even extend its notions and by their personal authority legitimate what its leaders believed.

                These bitter reflections are prompted by a post Academician Valery Tishkov posted on his Facebook account in reaction to US President Barack Obama’s farewell address in Chicago, a post that sparked sharply negative criticism from many of the more than 50 who commented on it  (

            Tishkov, the longtime director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology and a distinguished scholar who has long cooperated with his counterparts abroad, posted the following:

            “Who are these 20,000 Americans who today met with ovations Obama’s farewell banalities? These are almost prepared cannon fodder, for [this event] was very similar to the parades at Nuremberg on the eve of the world war.  It is very concerning to see all this.”

            There is certainly something “very concerning” here, but it is not what Tishkov pointed to but Tishkov’s drawing a parallel between the meeting in Chicago and Hitler’s Nuremberg Parteitage. If this is his personnel view, it is a shame. As one comment asked “have you attended a United Russia meeting lately?” or as another enquired, “have you lost your mind?”

            But if it reflects his participation in the kind of campaign the Kremlin has shown itself quite prepared to engage in – and Tishkov, who has also been Russia’s nationalities minister and remains a key advisor to the Russian government on ethnic issues, is skilled at reading the directions things are going – then it is a bellwether of something much worse.

            In either case, by posting such words, unless and until he retracts and apologizes, has put himself beyond the pale of decent people, Russians and non-Russians alike.

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