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eXiled Alert! / Russia / May 25, 2011

An American correspondent stationed in Moscow just forwarded me a WikiLeaked diplomatic cable about me, The eXile, and the Kremlin media-stomping in mid-2008 that killed my newspaper and sent me fleeing home. The June 16, 2008 US Embassy cable–marked “CONFIDENTIAL”–correctly put the crackdown on The eXile in the context of a wider (and scarier) crackdown on other Russian media outlets that coincided with the handover of power from Vladimir Putin to the newly-”elected” President Dmitry Medvedev. The cable was given the highly-ironic header “MEDVEDEV ON FREEDOM OF THE PRESS AND THE RULE OF LAW.”

In the three years since I left Russia, I’ve made it a point not to wallow in any nostalgia; getting this in my Inbox forced open some of that experience. Maybe I’ve been a little too militant about my anti-nostalgia policy–but the problem is, I still have a hard time reconciling the two universes, Russia and America. It doesn’t seem possible to have lived two different lives in two different paradigms. To go from that incidents-packed epic… to the craven, Beigeist little script that they offer you here. Those years in Russia barely seem real to me now. I can’t reconcile the two universes–the Russia of Yeltsin and Putin, epic and violent and unpredictable; and 21st century America, a loud-mouthed drama-queen whose idea of “rebellion” and “danger” is joining a billionaire-worshipping cult called “libertarianism” and mouthing whatever latest slogans the cult’s marketing department floats to refresh their “radical” brand. When it comes to petty vindictive komissars policing each other for bad words, Russia doesn’t even compare to America. Just being alive and here in early 21st Century America is a degrading experience. Klendathu may have been an ugly planet, a bug planet… but it’s an amusement park compared to this: “It’s a bland planet…a hall monitor planet!”

It’s not possible to reconcile the two narratives. That’s why I can only seem to remember those Moscow years in the third person, if at all.

 

 

Getting this email brought me back to that last moment, reminding me why I had to get the Hell out fast. I’d ruined Medvedev’s big Rebranding Party as the “liberal” champion of the free press and Western values. That same week, the Russian opposition media pissed on Medvedev’s party by headlining The eXile’s demise, and I did everything I could to inflame it. And that reminds me–I blogged about those last two weeks for the late great Radar magazine, from the day the Kremlin agents came to my newspaper’s office, to the day I fled like Snagglepus. Radar, the only brave print outlet, fell a few months after I returned to America, and was bought out by a celebrity gossip site. Naturally. (I’ve gone back and grabbed the old cached blog posts, and put them up on our site for your reading pleasure–click here to read the Last Days of The eXile.)

After I finally read this WikiLeaks cable,  the world I left behind started to come back. And remembering what we did and what we faced then, and remembering the corrupt little rats I’ve faced since coming back here–it really started to piss me off. All I can think to myself is, I have been banished to the Land Of Chickenshits. Chickenshits and Drama Queens–take your pick.

You see, that’s why it’s so hard to think about Russia–what happened there makes absolutely no sense anymore, not in the First Person. Because over there, to paraphrase Rutger Hauer, I saw things you people couldn’t possibly imagine–.

 

Here, the stakes are so much higher, all the power and wealth and imperial might–should be higher, anyway–and yet there’s no tragedy and no farce for the ages, just a bunch of mean dumb hicks who got control of someone else’s Death Star, and they’re still rolling it three decades later in the longest, dreariest crash scene in history.

In the Land of Chickenshits, fighting real power–you know, like America’s oligarchy– or exposing their sleazy PR schemes, that’s not the sort of thing that appeals to the Chickenshit-at-heart. What makes it all the more demoralizing here is that there’s no sympathetic character, as fiction editors would say. The oligarchs just snap their jaws and roll their eyes back like crocodiles; and their prey, the 99% of Americans who aren’t millionaires, do everything in their bigoted little powers to make you despise them. They despise each other, after all. They don’t want to win; all they want is a chance to lick their beloved billionaires’ heels, just once.

Nope, here in hall monitor paradise, what passes for “brave” and “fighting the system” is titty-twisting the word-police. Or word-policing the titty-twisters. The idiots can’t stop playing this game, no matter what happens around them–two lost wars (going on three), the collapse of the economy–never mind, too busy titty-twisting and braying about how “I’m not politically correct” or tattling on the titty-twisters. Two sides of a tin coin.

It sounds like black comedy from afar, considering this is how one of history’s greatest empires died– but it gets old, and then the getting-old gets old, and then there’s nothing left but the repetition of early-21st century American decadence.

 

Folks, in 20 years’ time, maybe sooner, when a more intelligent generation than ours–or a more intelligent conquerer like the Chinese–look back at this period of American decline, and sort through all the righteous whingeing and cultural stagnation, they’re gonna say, “Dang, you early-21st century Americans were STUPID.”

Thanks to some Kremlin bureaucrats, I can say with a straight face: “I’m with STUPID.” Every second of my life. The simpering little populist in me wants to make a self-deprecating joke here, something insincere about how I’m just as stupid as the rest of you. But I’m not. I’m just stuck here with you.

 

Date: 6/16/2008 8:06:00 AM
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Source: Embassy Moscow
Subject: MEDVEDEV ON FREEDOM OF THE PRESS AND THE RULE OF LAW

Body: C O N F I D E N T I A L MOSCOW 001699

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/16/2018
TAGS: ECPS, PHUM, PGOV, RS
SUBJECT: MEDVEDEV ON FREEDOM OF THE PRESS AND THE RULE OF
LAW

Classified By: Political M/C Alice G. Wells for reason 1.4(d).

1. (C) Summary: President Medvedev has publicly spoken out
twice in recent weeks about supporting press freedom in
Russia and the rule of law. While maintaining that the
government would be responsible for upholding the rule of law
with respect to the mass media, he also stressed that
publishers and editors must be respect moral and cultural
norms. Beyond the rhetoric, Russian national television
remains under strong government influence, a situation that
experts predict will continue. Meanwhile in Moscow, official
actions against smaller media outlets show that the rule of
law will continue to be used against them that offend Russian
political or cultural sensibilities. End Summary.

Medvedev on Freedom of the Press and the Rule of Law
——————————————— ——-

2. (U) In two major addresses this month, Medvedev combined
the themes of press freedom, rule of law, and social
responsibility. In a June 5 address to German political
leaders in Berlin, Medvedev said that “media freedom needs to
be protected, and this protection needs to be enshrined in
the law. ” He tempered these remarks by noting that there was
also a responsibility for publishers to “preserve moral and
cultural values ” in the mass media, including on the
internet. In a June 11 address to the World Russian Press
Congress in Moscow, he told the assembled journalists that
“our immutable guidelines, now and in the future, are the
construction of a just and responsible society, respect for
human rights, freedom of the press and freedom of speech and,
of course, ensuring the supremacy of the law. ”

Two Media Outlets Under Official Pressure
—————————————–

3. (SBU) In Moscow, the application of the rule of law edged
two small media outlets towards closure. On June 5, four
officials from the Federal Service for Mass Media conducted
an unscheduled audit of The eXile, a raunchy English-language
satirical newspaper. AMCIT Mark Ames, the editor-in-chief,
wrote in a blog that the officials asked questions about the
paper ‘s content (including about columns by Edward Limonov,
leader of the banned National Bolshevik Party) and found
several administrative violations for which they fined him
the equivalent of USD 25. According to Ames, news of the
audit had sent his investors and advertisers “running for the
hills, ” and that the paper ‘s debts would now force the paper
to close. The inspectors have not yet made any decisions
based upon the content of the paper, but could issue an
administrative warning and issue a fine if they determined
that the paper had violated the law against promoting
extremism, drug use, or pornography.

4. (SBU) In a separate case, a Moscow district court on June
6 banned the “Ingushetia.ru ” website after ruling that it
qualified as a mass media outlet and that it had disseminated
extremist material. The website, which is registered in the
United States, continues to function, and it is not clear if
the court decision will have any practical effect. According
to press reports, the apartment of Kaloi Akhilgov, one of the
lawyers representing Ingushetia.ru, was searched for two
hours by police on May 29, an action he claimed was motivated
by his defense of the controversial site.

Television Remains Under Political Pressure
——————————————-

5. (C) Against the backdrop of Medvedev ‘s rhetorial support
for press freedom, conservative television host and
commentator Aleksey Pushkov, distinguished by his sharp
critique of the U.S., expressed disappointment to us over the
“too tight control ” that continued to be exercised over the
national television channels by the political leadership.
Medvedev ‘s ascendance had not produced an easing in the media
atmosphere, he noted, with certain topics clearly off-limits,
including any discussion of the relative political balance in
the Medvedev-Putin power “tandem ” or speculation over either
leader ‘s personal life. None of these restrictions were
promulgated in writing, Pushkov commented, and there were
changing standards that made avoiding “red-lines ” more
difficult and increased the tendency toward self-censorship.
Pointing to earlier pieces that he had aired on the
then-newly elected President Putin and his success in
consolidating power, which by 2003 had become too provocative
to touch, Pushkov said any analogous effort to dissect the
early days of the Medvedev presidency was unthinkable.

6. (C) While adamant that the Kremlin (and now White House)
were too conservative in its approach, Pushkov juxtaposed his
interest in seeing more critical coverage to the apolitical

tastes of Russian television viewers. Noting that the most
provocative political show of privately owned Ren-TV captured
less than one percent of television viewers, Pushkov
concluded that Russians increasingly sought what their
Western counterparts demanded: good entertainment. With
respect to his own program, Pushkov maintained that issues of
social justice elicited by the far the greatest
audience-share, followed by gossipy celebrity features, and
attacks on NATO expansion.

7. (C) Prominent First Channel host, conservative magazine
editor, and Public Chamber member Maksim Shevchenko
separately echoed Pushkov,s assessment that Medvedev,s
first month in office had not produced any easing of
television restrictions. Shevchenko conceded that he was
unable to air his strongly held views over the injustice
meted out to Russian Muslims, particularly in the North
Caucasus and especially in the trial over the Nalchik
uprising. While Shevchenko said he was convinced that all
but a handful of the 85 accused in terrorist activities in
Nalchik were innocent, with confessions coerced under
torture, it was unrealistic to expect his government-owned
television channel to allow him to air this topic. It was
“too difficult to navigate, ” Shevchenko said, particularly in
a period of uncertainty over the true power balance. A
provocative political program, he noted, immediately would be
seen through the prism of which clan benefited the most.
While discounting Medvedev,s democratic credentials,
Shevchenko said he expected Medvedev to do more to address
what were “second-tier ” issues for Putin, such as the
strengthening and “modernization ” of Russian political
institutions. Whatever Medvedev,s future aspirations,
Shevchenko dismissed a near-term change in television policy.

Comment
——-

8. (C) While Medvedev ‘s public pronouncements are
encouraging, there has been no short term effect on media
freedom. While the official actions concerning Ingushetia.ru
and The eXile originated at the local level, they do
demonstrate the practical effect of official pressure on the
media.
RUSSELL

Would you like to know more? Read “Final Days of The eXile: Mark Ames Blogs the Kremlin Crackdown”

Would you like to know more? Buy The eXile: Sex, Drugs and Libel in the New Russia co-authored by Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi (Grove).

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34 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. matt  |  May 25th, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Um….maybe it’s the booze, but the link to read the full article doesn’t work right.

  • 2. gyges  |  May 26th, 2011 at 12:25 am

    You should be wary of wikileaks, as I’ve said before on your site, I think it’s chaff seeded with propaganda.

    As is much of the news disseminated by ‘citizens journalists’ on the internet.

  • 3. vorus  |  May 26th, 2011 at 2:48 am

    everything around us is riddled with misinformation, disinformation. knowing that, i’d still rather know wikileaks has taken place rather than remain hidden.

    i’m going to fuck my source up the pisshole.

  • 4. Mars  |  May 26th, 2011 at 3:33 am

    Just let the shit hit the fan. I would suggest you to get some gasoline help to burn faster the american house.
    The bigger the pain the faster the awakening.
    And no I don’t think they are stupid just in denial

  • 5. Jay  |  May 26th, 2011 at 5:08 am

    In Russia, the systems were crumbling and power was in play, so you could tweak the powerful and, for a time, win. In the States, power is securely held, so attacking the system is less likely to yield results and more likely to get you casually squashed.

    Americans aren’t stupider than Russians; they each respond to their circumstances. When the Soviet system was strong, how many Russians were brave? What did they get for it?

  • 6. dogbane  |  May 26th, 2011 at 6:59 am

    Mark, at least you didn’t end up like Magomed Yevloyev of Ingushetia.ru.

  • 7. banflaw  |  May 26th, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Ok, so, Russia isn’t the only incidents-packed country in the world! Move to Mogadishu!

  • 8. Ed  |  May 26th, 2011 at 8:45 am

    Here’s a partial list that proves America is stupid (in haphazard order):

    1. Fox News

    2. Sarah Palin given air time as pundit

    3. George W. Bush gets second term as president

    4. Invasion of Iraq

    5. Education funds continually slashed, high student to teacher ratios

    6. Creationism taught in some high schools

    7. Creationism Museum in Kentucky

    8. MBA degrees

    9. U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe

    10. Charlie Sheen makes millions of dollars

    11. Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999

    And so on and so on and so on ….

  • 9. Leig  |  May 26th, 2011 at 8:58 am

    only one thing to do Mark…Eat a bullet. It worked for Thompson…you both too good for this world.

  • 10. Ganryu  |  May 26th, 2011 at 10:48 am

    I feel for you Ames. But rest assured when the SHTF here, it’ll be very interesting. Maybe like 1933 Germany kind of interesting (but I hope we don’t go that far). Could you imagine living in Canada or Mexico? Every place has its good points and its shittiness.
    As for things here in America, you can bet that most people will not listen to or appreciate your truth (and will only snipe on the delivery not its contents). But we are listening and doing something about it. We’re not up to that critical 3% of the population yet, but keep it up.
    And to all the rest of you cheap cunts, wouldya send this man a dono?!

  • 11. max  |  May 26th, 2011 at 10:51 am

    @Leig: It would be a shame to squander Ames’ immense talent. I hear Darfur’s the place to be these days. Or some investigative journalism in Iran.

    But what do I know as a chickenshit…

  • 12. az  |  May 26th, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    There’s always drugs. Or just treating the media like it’s Vremya which it basically is and making your own news. I mean you already did it once.

  • 13. Old European  |  May 26th, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    “Maybe like 1933 Germany kind of interesting”

    You wish. Don’t be getting above yourselves. “Mr America, I knew
    1930′s Germany. Mr America, you’re no 1930s Germany.”

  • 14. anon  |  May 26th, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    @Ed:
    You missed out “George W. Bush gets first term as president.”

  • 15. Ostap Bender  |  May 26th, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    Come to Japan. The people here don’t live in fear and you can avoid Americans if you want. You can even write about the pathetic state of Japanese politics.

  • 16. Hannibal  |  May 26th, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Agree with Leig; you should eat some hot, delicious lead.

    It’s the only way to be sure.

  • 17. nunya  |  May 26th, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    Chickenshits, with toilet paper :P

  • 18. John H  |  May 26th, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Fuck STUPID, I’m fucking sick of him.

    There is no statistically probable future worth looking at. Almost every place you can go is being turned into a shit hole. Anything half decent is being taken away or made more expensive. People are getting killed by STUPID’s retarded activities, usually slowly. Worse than anything else we’re all stupider than we should be because of the conditions that are imposed by him.

    It’s probably never going to change because the system of the pricks is in place and we’re always going to be outnumbered and isolated in small pockets.

    The only hope for giving people that deserve a future a future is if somehow our group of people gained numerical superiority in a geographic location and then subjugated STUPID and rooted out any cause for the mother fuckers existence.

  • 19. captain america  |  May 26th, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    i’ll seriously never understand why you won’t move to eastern ukraine, aimes.

  • 20. T.B.  |  May 26th, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    America is not so bad. Get your hall pass revalidated and Embrace the Pain!

    http://www.exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=7347&IBLOCK_ID=35

  • 21. Jussi  |  May 27th, 2011 at 3:54 am

    I love it. Also I am waiting for your memoir about your years in Moscow, about “the things you people wouldn´t believe”.

  • 22. Homer Erotic  |  May 27th, 2011 at 6:03 am

    @Ed: 12) The fucking nasTea Party is what passes for an avant garde populist political movement. As we said back in the 80′s, “Ga-a-ag me with spyoon!”

    {/leers lewdly} I wanna twist Mark Ames tittehz! :-D

  • 23. Alpha Omega  |  May 27th, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Mr. Ames, long ago I suggested to you that a “reverse holocaust” as the best solution to my own crap;

    All of our problems on this planet can be boiled down to one thing: too many stupid humans like me!

    I know, I probably sound like a moron, but honestly, do you have any better ideas?

  • 24. empire in decline  |  May 27th, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    I see some people are advocating the suicide of Mark Ames in some delirious haze of despair since it’s hard not to get into a “burn it all and salt the earth” mentality, but sit back in awe and just think about the state of any real dissent.

    You have Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Amy Goodman. Howard Zinn, George Carlin, Hunter S Thompson and Kurt Vonnegut recently died last decade.

    The youngest popular dissenters are over forty. It’s like that 60′s saying “Don’t trust anyone over thirty” is now don’t trust anyone under forty.

    Watch the slow, boring and tedious movie “The White Ribbon” to see the youth which would eventually become the inheritors of a despotic fascistic society a generation later and wonder what the movie 100 years from now will show to depict the current generation which will be just as fucked up but with the exact opposite of the repressive society which would herald the arrival of the Nazi regime.

    What’s really mindblowing is that everyone has every opportunity to know and do what’s right but they just don’t give a shit. All that liberal idealism about giving the people enough power and information for a just world was a lie and now they don’t know what the fuck to do in response.

    I’m not trying to add to the despair really. If you do care this drives you insane. Empathy is insanely draining in this world.

    Anyway, just try to turn your rage and depression into awe. Honestly, it’s so stunningly bad just seeing how things are is the closest I’ll ever come to a religious experience; it’s like a miracle of awfulness.

  • 25. Sick of the crap too  |  May 27th, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    The fact is that you are heroic, Ames. Brecher, Yasha and Pancho and your other contributors too. To seek, see and tell the truth publicly in a time of corruption, illiteracy and regression is what heroes do. To do so in the face of economic chaos, neo-slavery and scarcity, it ain’t easy.

    I’m getting the cash up to put some money where my mouth is–because I feel extreme gratitude that the Exile lives here now and is focusing on the real problem–failed American integrity and leadership through ethical example. Everyone reading this should pony up as well. This forum is one of the few White Roses in a field of shit and high Summer is upon us.

    Solidarity in word and deed is the only way to keep the fires of humanism alive until the bonfires of lies, class war and cheap grace religious propaganda burn themselves out.

    May you keep your dignity and propitiate it however you can. Eventually the sharks of fear and greed will rot, despite how powerful they now are.

    There was a vacuum of power in the Russia you discovered and loved. That is not the problem here, and it will be a much harder, different slog. But growing roots can pierce the hardest concrete. Keep the pressure and visions of alternatives alive.

  • 26. John H  |  May 28th, 2011 at 9:37 am

    There’s hope, there are a lot of ‘youths without a future’ getting pissed off.

    The majority of human beings today are selfish wretches. It is only when they don’t have a stake in the corrupt system that they become opposed to it

  • 27. Penile  |  May 29th, 2011 at 7:55 am

    @24
    spot on. Sit back and watch the spectacle, or try to get rich off it in the process as well. People are petty in the smallest things, they won’t do anything for the greater good of humanity until some alien race comes to enslave us.
    Chances are we are just going to selfcombust repeatedly through out history. Some lessons just can’t be learned.

  • 28. esmerelds  |  May 29th, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    Well, fuck it, your buddy Mike McFaul is the new ambassador to Russia, so it’s 1998 in America again!

  • 29. Kamikaze  |  May 30th, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    Haven’t any of you read Going Postal? If Ames ever does off himself he’ll probably sneak a suicide bomb into Fox Headquarters or do it in front of some corrupt billionaire, preceded by sending a 5-hour video to Al Jazeera explaining why.

  • 30. alcibiades  |  May 30th, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Hey, I’m going to pretend that I don’t know how to read English, and to hide the fact that I’ve never done anything remotely daring in my life, I’m going to pretend that this WikiLeak says something it doesn’t say. Because ooooo those darn eXile guys ooooo they make me so angry! Why didn’t I do something interesting in my life?! Why am I just a simpering little sell-out? Oooooo, damn you eXile, I’ll get you yet! Ooooooooo!!

  • 31. MonkeyMouth  |  May 30th, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    “Folks, in 20 years’ time, maybe sooner, when a more intelligent generation than ours–or a more intelligent conquerer like the Chinese–look back at this period of American decline……..”

    Um, Mark…….Always been a big fan…but this here quote isn’t sitting pretty. I am an expat in China, been here for forever too, and let me tell you……there is very little ‘intelligence’ here. We cannot let the Chinese have a turn at the plate, man. We would all be fucked. seriously fucked. I think perhaps you beed a correspondent here, someone to monitor this ‘boom’– someone to peel back the propaganda (on both sides), and take a real hard look. China is accelerating economically, yes, but at what cost? University students are no more intelligent than other university students..trust me on that. They have no world view.
    China has a huge presence in Africa, making deals. China are the new imperialists, and the Africans will fuck them in no time. Intelligent? exchanging railroads for resources? While domestically, the tv and radio brag about Africa being the ally China needs to overturn America. Gimme a break. Netizens here rave about China’s growth, while at the same time, their own future is becoming compromised, as the middle class here are being wiped out by overly inflated real estate, mixed with the custom of a new couple ‘having to have’ a home. Read chinaSMACK.com if you want to see for yourself how ‘intelligent’ the average Chen is talking about before you assume China is doing everything right economically, and they will be intelligent conquerors. Truth is, it is scary, and I strongly suggest you get someone to be a correspondent here.
    China is fucked, man. fucked fucked fucked.
    I am not volunteering, by the way. but if you want to talk about it, or anyone else for that matter, let me know.

    Mark….been a fan for a looooong time. You are the clearest head in journalism. I know your point—– conquerors are only more aggressive, not necessarily intelligent. But this worship of these kinds of countries as being the ones to carry the economy needs further investigation. We don’t want them to take over. We’re all fucking dead if thats the case.

  • 32. alcibiades  |  May 30th, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    Yeah, something like that. Thank you for improving my comment, O Wise Censor, for I am a bot-fly larva on the sphincter of opinion, and You are Divine Thought.

  • 33. darthfader  |  June 2nd, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    AMCIT Mark Ames! Report!

  • 34. DeeboCools  |  June 9th, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Mr. Ames, why so snobbish? Playing the “Americans are so dumb, except me” card, reminds me of that asshat Bill Maher. Not that I would ever compare you to Maher.

    Not everyone has time to figure out all of this stuff because we are busy working minimum wage and shopping at the dollar store under a mountain of debt. This is why I donated money to the exiled. There was no need to call me stupid. I’m really only a coward who uses coward words like “asshat”.”


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