Progressive politics, ideas & culture


Back in the USSR

This Magazine Staff

The latest dead Russian journalist, Ivan Safronov, fell from the fifth floor of his apartment building on March second. Authorities claimed it was a suicide but nobody believes this. He was, at the time, working on an article about Russian arms sales to the Middle East, making him the twenty second working journalist to die since Putin gained power in 2000 according to Reporters Without Borders, an organization that monitors press freedom worldwide.
Maybe you caught Michael Specter’s article in the New Yorker on January 29th about the new Russian totalitarianism. Most articles don’t shock me anymore, I’ve become very desensitized, but this one did. Surprisingly, I’d fallen for the liberal line that, “post-Soviet Russians now enjoy the benefits of western capitalism and pluralism, finally being free to pursue a sort of Russian version of the American dream.”
The reality, as Specter points out, is far darker:
“Sick of the lines, the empty shops, and the false promises of Soviet life, Russians looked first to the West–and particularly to the United States–to provide an economic model. What followed was an epic disaster: the sell-off of the state’s most valuable assets made a few dozen people obscenely rich, but the lives of millions of others became far worse. The health-care system fell apart, and so did many of the social-service networks.
Russia became the first industrial country ever to experience a sustained fall in life expectancy. Russian males born today can, on average, expect to live to the age of fifty-nine, dying younger than if they were born in Pakistan or Bangladesh. It is not surprising, then, that by the time Putin became President most Russians were only too happy to exchange the metaphysical ideas of free speech and intellectual freedom for the concrete desires of owning a home and a car and possessing a bank account. They also wanted to feel that somebody was in control of their country.”

Consequently, press freedom in Russia has completely disappeared. Statistically it’s safer to be a journalist in Afghanistan, which, however you read it, is pretty terrifying.

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