Difficult questions

So I’m a bit late to the party due to the other stories I’ve been working on recently, but in case you haven’t heard, a new law was passed in Russia requiring those who want to use public Wi-Fi services to show their passport and their personal data is to be recorded. Apparently there are some questions as to how this is actually supposed to work, but we’re not talking about a government known for carefully thinking things through.

Of course many of Russia’s bloggers collectively shit a massive brick over the measure, but the Communications Minister calmed their fears with a well-timed lie when he tweeted, “Identification of users (via bank cards, cell phone numbers, etc.) with access to public Wifi is a worldwide practice.” I’ve been to a great deal of European countries, Turkey, and China and I don’t remember going through anything like that just to use public Wifi.  But this is Russia and he said that is the case so that makes it reality.

Now you might ask why this measure is necessary? Luckily the Reuters article gives us an answer. It quotes a Duma deputy who said, “It’s about security. An information war is under way. Anonymous access to the Internet in public areas allows illegal activities to be carried out with impunity.” Sadly he didn’t say what illegal activities he was talking about.

The “information war” he’s referring to is a paranoid fantasy which resides in the heads of Russian ideologues and their followers. Many of them believe that the US military has offices set up in which Russian-speaking personnel post negative comments about Russia all over the Russian web. Those in the know are fully aware that this is a massive case of projection.  Believers in the “information war” are very concerned about propaganda attacks on Russia. For example, a CIA agent could spread a story claiming that Russia doesn’t respect people’s rights to free expression, in spite of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, and that the government is trying to deliberately limit the flow of information into the country so as to better control people. Preposterous I know, but that’s the kind of vicious propaganda which people could be exposed to if they are not properly controlled by their natural betters.

Of course this brings up something I shall call a “difficult question” for lack of a more suitable term. Difficult questions can be used to describe those questions which arise from the ridiculously contradictory nature of claims or ideas put forth by the government. No government can exist without creating them, but more effective, responsive, democratic regimes create less, while more exploitative, repressive regimes have a laundry list. Using the current difficult question as a starting point, I’d like to present a few other salient examples.

-If Russia must censor its media and internet in various ways because it is in an information war, why is it that its opponents,  such as the US, Canada, UK, etc. don’t feel the need to do this? Both the US and UK have their own Russia Today bureaus. I’ve never heard of people needing to submit any kind of identification in order to use public Wifi in these countries. Perhaps Russia must take these measures because it is at an extreme disadvantage by comparison. But then that begs the question…

-If Russia has supposedly risen from her knees and the West is crumbling and falling apart, if Russia has truly achieved parity, why would it be at such a disadvantage that it can’t allow its citizens the same rights that its chosen opponents allow their own citizens? Clearly the US government is not afraid that Americans watching RT poses a threat to stability. Is Russia truly able to stand on the same level as the US or not? If not, why not?

-If Western propaganda is totally false and most Russians support the government, why would they be tricked by that propaganda? Again, Western states don’t seem to be too worried that RT or Voice of Russia might corrupt their citizens and encourage them toward illegal anti-government activity.

-If claims about censorship and lack of free speech in Russia are just Western propaganda, why do we see so many proposals to ban and censor everything from TV channels to websites and individual films? Team Russia fans, even those who haven’t spent any time in Russia, will viciously attack claims that the Russian government doesn’t respect the concept of free expression. Yet whenever they are faced with a government initiative to ban something, they are always quick to provide a flimsy excuse as to why this particular thing must be banned.

-If Russia truly is getting stronger, why is it necessary for increased security measures and a crackdown on innocuous activity such as using public WiFi?

-If Russia’s press isn’t totally controlled, why don’t we see mainstream discussion in opposition to these measures? What I mean is if we consider the revelations of Snowden, for example, it isn’t hard to find dozens of media outlets discussing the implications of what he revealed, and there is a national discourse about the danger posed not by Snowden’s actions but by the government spying on US citizens. Where is the mainstream debate about this? Who is Russia’s Glenn Greenwald or Seymour Hersh? I mean this is a free society right?Claims to the contrary are nothing but dastardly Western propaganda, right?

-If it’s just fine that Russia gets cut off from the West and it doesn’t need the European Union, why was it cuddling up to the EU for years? Why were they still trying to negotiate a visa-free regime with the EU even in early 2014? Why were they trying to attract EU investment and why were Russia’s elite buying real estate and doing so much business in Europe?  If Russia was supposed to be some great rival to “Western hegemony,” why were its leaders and businessmen handing so much of Russia’s natural wealth over to the West? They claim they can replace the West with China, but why weren’t they doing this for the last 8-10 years or so, while they were supposedly opposing the West?

-If Europe is a land of degeneracy, why does the son of traditional values advocate and Duma deputy Yelena Mizulina live in Belgium with his own business there? Why do they send their impressionable children to the degenerate West, as Lavrov did with his daughter. Is he not afraid that she will be corrupted by the cosmopolitan, tolerant, gay-friendly atmosphere of New York City?

-If the uprising in “Novorossiya” is so popular, why haven’t we seen any kind of guerrilla activity in areas recaptured by the Ukrainian government forces? We’re told these are bloodthirsty Banderites who oppress Russian speakers, and yet nobody seems to be taking pot-shots at their personnel in the rear, nor sabotaging their equipment.

-Why does the government or its lackeys claim to care about the protection and defense of Russian speakers in East Ukraine, while simultaneously insisting that it hasn’t given the rebels any material support of any kind? It is this state’s media that claims these people are in danger of being exterminated by fascists, and yet at the same time it proclaims to the world that it is doing nothing to help those who are fighting against them. That’s a bit odd, is it not?

Obviously this list could go on and on. As it turns out, when you lie to people and you don’t bother to carefully construct those lies so as to make them at least somewhat believable, you end up painting yourself into this corner because they all compound on one another with frightening rapidity. This is particularly the case when the audience you’re telling those lies to can still easily find the truth, assuming they don’t know it already. Right now Russia’s on a jingoism binge so millions of people are deliberately suppressing their own personal knowledge and experience regarding the things they have seen and those which they see every day. Of course people can only put up with a limited amount of cognitive dissonance. No doubt many insta-patriots are asking themselves similar questions to those posed here, and as the battle for Novorossiya is quickly becoming a total route in spite of Ukraine’s near-failed state status, those difficult questions are going to multiply quite quickly.


4 thoughts on “Difficult questions

  1. Bandersnatch

    Excellent article again. As usual. Plaudits. The Russian public is not concerned with facts. Americans aren’t the best fact checkers either, but the reality is our media, though imperfect, has much greater diversity and capacity for dissent and critical thought. One of my favorite moments recently was when Michelle Bachmann (sic?) was talking to Anderson Cooper about how Obama’s trip to India was costing like 2 million a day or something like that. Cooper just asked, where are you getting that? She says, the web. Really? It turned out the info came from some low level bureaucrat in India’s government. Like he’d know.

    1. Big Bill Haywood Post author

      Thanks for the kudos.

      I would say, however, that most Russians are aware of the facts, or at least key facts pertaining to their own country, but it is scary to think about them. It is comfortable and safe to be a patriot, and letting your anger out at America, NATO, or the EU is also safe.

  2. Estragon

    My recollection of such Russian gov’t initiatives is that they are usually all talk and no action. Trying to ban the flow of information in the Internet age is a waste of effort anyway. And in Russia, it’s quite easy to get hold of stuff that is theoretically banned (including far-right and neo-Nazi literature).

    1. Big Bill Haywood Post author

      As is typically the case, it isn’t clear exactly how this whole thing is supposed to work. But they say that wifi establishments will need to record the data. So they probably just won’t offer wifi.

      An analogous measure is the smoking ban. In some restaurants people are still smoking on verandas, but at one’s just next door people will stand outside the veranda. Winter will be very interesting.


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