Staunton, February 16 – Ignat Artemenko’s suit against Aleksey Navalny for libel recalls both Larry Falwell’s libel suit against Larry Flint out of which arose “the gold standard” for such cases and Vladimir Lenin’s warning about Stalin’s “crudeness” and the dangers it presented, a warning the Bolsheviks ignored, Vladimir Pastukhov says.
And as such, the London-based Russian analyst says, the current cases raises questions not only about what the Russian government is doing by deploying the World War II veteran against the current opposition figure but what qualities Navalny is showing by opening himself to such charges (mbk-news.appspot.com/sences/narod-protiv-alekseya-navalnogo/).
These questions are more important than the case and its near certain outcome, Pastukhov continues, because the court hearings now “are like a match which has no impact on a group’s status, a game for the sake of a game” because there is nothing that the judgment of this court can do to affect Navalny’s position or that of the Kremlin very much.
Two events in the past are thus instructive. In 1988, American fundamentalist Jerry Falwell sued pornographer Larry Flint for libel over the latter’s parody of the Christian leader.
The US Supreme Court ultimately found against Falwell as he was a public figure and thus had to accept such attacks as a risk he had assumed by entering public life.
That decision, Pastukhov says, set the standard for libel not only in the United States but in many countries around the world. Russian courts generally have adopted a similar stance holding that others can attack public figures in ways that they cannot in the case of private individuals – except of course when as now the Kremlin is behind the one bringing suit.
“No one with a healthy mind could or should conceive” what Navalny said about the World War II veteran’s supposed treason because of Artemenko’s support for Putin’s constitutional amendments as libel. An insult to be sure, but not libel given that the veteran had entered public life by his statements.
And because that is the case, the Russian analyst says, Artemenko’s suit is both primitive and should be dismissed in Navalny’s favor. It won’t be. But it is certainly the case that “there is no libel becaue no one considers Artemenko a traitor to the motherland in the legal sense” and thus “there is no occasion to speak about moral suffering.”
However, Pastukhov continues, reading the transcript of the trial raises questions about both sides in the case and not just a feeling that Navalny is in the right in the narrow legal sense. “There was in fact no slander, but there was an insult and a sufficiently senseless one at that.” And that raises the question: Why did Navalny who has enough “haters” add to their number?
“My subjective opinion is that the ability to produce unneeded enemies does not strengthen the position of the Navalny command” but displays a habit of mind which is inherently worrisome. And that leads Pastukhov to recall what Lenin said about Stalin and his “crudeness.”
In a letter from his deathbed, the Bolshevik leader said that “Stalin is too crude and this shortcoming which is tolerable among us communists becomes insupportable in the position of general secretary.” As a result, Lenin said, Stalin should be removed from that office before this personal trait could lead to disaster.
This charge represented perhaps the greatest threat ever to the future Soviet dictator, but Stalin succeeded in turning it aside and thus later showed just how justified the fears of the founder of the Soviet state about him were.
“One must be more careful about crudeness,” Pastukhov says, something Navalny and all Russians need to reflect upon now as almost a century ago, especially when now as then this quality by one party to a conflict exacerbates and even appears to justify the same quality in his opponent.