Issue #15/96, August 3 - 17, 2000   smlogo.gif

Moscow Babylon

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By Mark Ames


Sergei gets nailed at the Yugo-Zapadnaya metro station for holding a few tcheki of smack in his pocket, and he winds up spending three years in jail, his life and health permanently ruined. This crime goes unnoticed, unreported; the punishment seems harsh, though reasonable. The Western press keeps silent.

Only one case brings out the wrath of the West's opinion page writers on the cruel and arbitrary nature of Russia's "rule of law". That's when an oligarch gets in trouble.

The Western elite's frantic defense of the oligarchs over the past couple of months is disingenuous and evil on several levels, betraying its long-standing contempt for Russian public opinion, as well as the media's own barely-concealed intimacy with wealth and power.

First let's get one very basic fact straight: despite what all of the Western newspapers and commentators have falsely suggested, there IS a Russian criminal code. It's very detailed and as clear as any country's fucked-up criminal code. Everybody and their dog knows that Russia's oligarchs have violated nearly every serious law in that code, from murder, extortion and theft to fraud, illegal wiretapping, tax evasion, etc. Of course, the biggest crime of all is that they raped and looted the state of Russia, economically, socially, culturally, demographically...

In the case of Gusinsky, a clear law was broken, a charge was made. Instead of hailing this as "at last, Russia is applying the law", everyone from the Moscow Times to the Washington Post, from the World Jewish Congress to the U.S. State Department denounced Russia's alleged lawlessness and arbitrariness.

Gusinsky suffered four days in Butyrka's swankiest suite. You'd think he was Mandela by the outpouring of international sympathy for his plight. Hundreds of thousands of wealth-challenged and connections-challenged young Russians have decayed in Russia's jails over the past several years accused of non-violent crimes in a system that favors the wealthy and the connected, without a peep from the West. Why, if the rule of law is allegedly so savage, arbitrary and ill-functioning, should these people's sufferings be ignored, while the super-rich and super-evil should be treated like Mumia?

The Western, or rather American elite loved to piously wag their moralistic index finger at the underdeveloped Russian populace, for whom the jailing of Gusinsky and the threats of the others may have felt good. "While it may appeal to Russians suffering hardships/While it may be good politicking," they say, "it is bad for the rule of law in Russia."

This American-led contempt of Russian public opinion has been in force ever since Russians parted with the State Department's view of how things should be. Thus, the Russians were too stupid or underdeveloped to understand how good Gaidar's reforms were, how good privatization was, how beneficial in the long-term Anatoly "the lightening rod" Chubais was for them, how necessary it was to continue slashing budgets and tightening belts, and how positive NATO's war in Kosovo was for the world.

Now, they're saying that although jailing the very people who stole the state's assets and destroyed their country might "feel good", ultimately, it would be bad because it would scare away foreign investment and further the arbitrary nature of Russian justice.

This is as absurd as arguing that Al Capone should not have been put away in the 1930s for tax evasion because the government only went after unpopular criminals for tax evasion. Or as absurd as telling someone who's house had just been cleaned out and daughter raped that while it may "feel good" to put the criminal behind bars, until they start putting every single person in American behind bars, they shouldn't put away this particular person.

Arbitrary justice? America is chock full of statistics showing how horribly unfair its justice system is to the poor and the non-white. Crack cocaine penalties are far more severe than the middle-class-favored powder cocaine, even when the measured amounts are the same. This is actually written into law. Non-violent drug offenders on-average serve longer sentences than rapists, robbers, and even most forms of murder. The former head of the United States' drug war efforts in Colombia, Col. James Hiett, used to send Colombian drug lords to the US where they faced life-term imprisonment. When his wife was found guilty of running a heroin ring out of the embassy he served in, she was given five years; Hiett, who admitted using her drug money for personal use, but claimed he had no idea where it came from, was given five months for being an accessory. Five months! Even though the judge openly said he didn't Hiett's claim to ignorance. Our next president is either going to be an ex-cokehead who's been zealously juicing any Negro near the scene of a violent crime (Dubya), or a bong-sucking Deadhead whose administration has jailed more non-violent marijuana offenders than all previous administrations combined (Gore).

The real issue is that America's elite, including the media elite, have a strong interest in keeping the oligarchs out of jail. The New York Times, Washington Post, Businessweek and others all wrote lovingly of the oligarchs in the past, comparing them to Rockefeller and Carnegie, calling them brave new capitalists. Fred Hiatt, opinion page editor of the Post, once labeled Vladimir Potanin "a baby billionaire" who "just wants to do business", while the September 7, 1998 issue of the The New York Times called Berezovsky "a capitalist in the bloodless image of Commodore Vanderbilt." Now, they want to protect their men.

As for the Moscow Times, who can explain their recent hysterical defense of Vladimirs Potanin and Gusinsky in a Bivens editorial on July 12th, "Prosecutors Can't Fix System", in which he cries: "[R]ather than the messy business of cat-and-mouse with NTV and Vladimir Potanin, [... take] on the corruption and murkiness in state-owned structures. There is no point in struggling to 'take back' Norilsk, if the state taking it back is itself a cesspool."

First of all, of COURSE a prosecutor's job is to prosecute crimes. Just because other crimes are going unpunished, it doesn't mean that the most obvious ones shouldn't.

All of this bleating about "until corruption is cleaned up" or "until there is a rule of law" is just a red herring. The world's elite don't give a fuck about justice; they only care about their own kind.

No non-violent drug offender should spend a day in jail anywhere. All oligarchs who steal and murder should be lined up before a wall. That's justice. Anyone who says differently merely announces whose side he really stands for.

Well, duh. If you're poor and your crime is too small, the price you pay will be your life; if you're mega-rich and you've been to Davos, you've got carte blanche to do whatever the fuck you want. And the media elite will be there to ensure that this age-old injustice is carried out. To a "t".

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