The Apple doesn’t fall far from the baum

Anne Applebaum is a favorite target of Team Russia. She’s the type of person you’ll be compared to if you challenge them. Savvy Russia watchers trying to maintain objectivity might present a spectrum where you have Applebaum on one side and say, Stephen Cohen or Mark Ames on the other. The other day, however, I was just doing a little double-checking and I decided to look into the political ideology of Applebaum’s husband, Radoslaw Sikorski.

Sikorski came up in an article I read by concern troll Putin apologist Mark “I talk about the 90’s more than Buzzfeed” Ames. Long-time Ames readers will be relieved to know that it bears the standard mark of every Ames article, i.e. a long description about the horrors of 90’s Russia which, judging by his writing in The eXile,  were pretty enjoyable for him and his expat buddies. Ames refers to Sikorski as a “neocon,” quite possibly because to Putin apologists, anyone who opposes them is a “neo-liberal neocon.” But knowing what I know about Applebaum, and knowing a little about Polish politics, I had a hunch about Sikorski that I had to look into.

Every article is a winner!

Every article is a winner!

As it turns out, Sikorski is indeed a member of a right-wing party called The Civic Platform. Looking at the party’s ideology, a number of points jump out. It is clearly socially conservative, opposed to LGBT rights, women’s rights, stem cell research, separation of church and state, and a number of other typical conservative bugbear issues. So basically Ames was right. What’s the big deal?

Well it doesn’t take much familiarity with Russian politics to understand that virtually every point of the Civic Platform’s ideology, save for their free-market dogma, would be heartily embraced in Putin’s Russia. Even in spite of Russia’s higher tolerance for state involvement in the economy, Russia has a flat tax, which is one of Civic Platform’s planks. Outside of the realm of economics, Civic Platform would fit very well into Russian politics with its insistence on imposing religion and religious ideas via the state, disdain for equal rights, and unhealthy fixation on gays.

Now here’s another interesting similarity. Conservatives tend to talk tough about dealing with sexual predators while looking the other way in real life. In Russia, the most recent example of this was the polygamous marriage of a middle-aged man to a 17-year-old girl in Chechnya, which was followed by vigorous apologetics and endorsements by some of Russia’s top officials. In the case of Mr. Sikorski and his wife Applebaum, the same phenomenon can be seen at work. In spite of Civic Platform’s advocacy of chemical castration for pedophiles, both Sikorski and Applebaum were known for their rigid defense of child-rapist Roman Polanski. Again, conservatives the world over love to engage in wish fulfillment fantasies about what they’d supposedly to do to pedophiles and child abusers, but when it actually happens they either try to quietly sweep it under the rug or justify it somehow.

So in the end what we see is that much like in Ukraine, many of Russia’s opponents share the same backward, reactionary mentality of the Kremlin’s political system. As such, both sides are sitting in glass houses. One thing that many Ukraine supporters have consistently failed to understand when I point out my concern over the far right in that country is that for me, there is no significant difference between the backward thugs of Svoboda or Praviy Sektor and Russia’s “Anti-Maidan” or Eurasianist movements. They all have the same backward, anti-scientific, ruling-class serving ideology just with different symbols and myths. The results for society are the same. Put more colloquially- Same shit, different wrapper.

One could say that Applebaum and her ilk fit the same maxim. Her pro-Kremlin opponents will point out that she is in favor of neo-liberal economics, yet as I have pointed out plenty of times, Russia has achieved neo-liberal results if not worse in spite of non-neo-liberal policies. More over, the success of both economic policies relies on promoting anti-critical thinking, reactionary ideology that distracts from class interests and directs people toward scapegoats. The ultimate result is that society suffers and the rich elite wins.

I think we would do the world a service if we openly admitted that all these right-wing propagandists and political figures, regardless of their faction or flag, are in fact a plague on humanity and largely responsible for the conflict going on in Eastern Europe today. They are the one’s who decry sober analysis and demand that all spectators belong to a camp, giving up logic and critical thinking as a condition of membership.


14 thoughts on “The Apple doesn’t fall far from the baum

  1. Antoine Sans

    Interesting facts that you bring there. Russia really seems to blur political lines.

    I admit that I thought Mark Ame’s article to raise some interesting point. I had never heard about him before and sure, the guy seems to be a huge asshole, but I do agree with two of his points :

    – The “information war” is nothing new in its essence, even though its scale may be unprecetended. Moreover, I do believe it is blown out of proportions by anti-Putin people (which do often seem to fit the neocon agenda), mostly because I believe this “information war” is not really aimed at the Western people, but it is at the russian people themselves.
    They say the west is losing the information war, but what does that mean ? Do most people believe Ukraine shot down MH17 ? Do most people believe Kiev is a fascist junta ? Do most people believe there is no russian troops in Ukraine ? Do most people believe RT and Sputnik to be decent source of information?
    The answer to all this is no. In the West, only nutcases and far-right dude believe all this. Most normal people have never even heard about RT or Sputnik. In the West, Russia is not winning the information war, but that’s because Russia isn’t really fighting an information war with the west. It is fighting it with the russian and the ukrainian people.

    – Anti-Putin people really often seem to be shitty people who made a shitload of money in the 90’s in horrible ways before making great speeches about democracy and freedom and everything, when they spent years making shitload of money while the average russian was struggling to buy food. It’s really telling that a guy like Khodorovsky could be considered a hero and a political prisonner (I mean, he was a political prisonner. Not because he was a hero of democracy though : he fought for power, and lost). Russia really seems to have the shittiest defenders possible.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I think at some point in the future I will have to write out my massive complaint about Ames, which is actually quite recent. You see I read that article about Pomerantsev and one more by Ames about censorship in America and Russia (Yes, he goes into another 90’s tirade of course), and it was like the straw that broke the camel’s back.

      In the past I appreciated Ames’ work because he could be very objective and he often pointed out the problems with how Western media seemed willing to fawn over anyone critical of the Kremlin regardless of their baggage. Unfortunately, there comes a point where you realize that Ames just shits over anyone who opposes Putin, and ultimately performs the duties of a sort of concern troll.

      First of all about the 90’s. Ames loved the 90’s in Russia. I don’t care what he says, it’s obvious from his work in The eXile if not the publication as a whole that he and his expat buddies had lots of fun at the expense of the Russian people, and he built a career off of that suffering. So in a way he isn’t really so different from Khodorkovsky and others who profited while Russian people suffered. This is why it pisses me off to see him bring up the 90’s in literally every article I have seen from him, even when it’s not supposed to be about Russia.He says that Pomerantsev’s book is laden with 90’s stereotypes of Russia- Hmm…WHO popularized and glamorized those stereotypes? Oh…Right, Ames and his eXile. More over, Ames seems to be implying that those things disappeared under Putin, when in fact they haven’t. Prostitution, debauchery, massive wealth inequality and elitism still exist in Russia, though recently they are less pronounced, if only because of all the patriotism propaganda.

      This is my problem with Ames’ attacks on anyone who is anti-Putin. He always pigeonholes them or twists them into elitist caricatures, and the people who support Putin may be misguided but they are “real Russians,” salf-of-the-earth working class types. The fact is that Putin’s policies hurt the working class just as surely as neo-liberal policies would. In fact, they have even done worse. What Ames fails to realize is that Putin’s regime did not fully eliminate the problems and mentalities of the 90’s, and both are steadily returning. When the regime finally implodes for whatever reason, all the feature of the “Wild 90’s” will come back in force, if not worse, because they were never dealt with. Putin’s order put a field dressing on a bleeding wound, but it wasn’t changed and cared for, thus it festered and rotted.

      In my view, Ames doesn’t get the right to keep invoking the 90’s to badger any anti-Putin figure or movement over the head, because he clearly enjoyed the 90’s and glamorized it. Now he wants to use it as a weapon and claim that everything he did to popularize those negative stereotypes was satire. Bullshit. If I want to invoke the 90’s to talk about Western responsibility for Putin’s Russia, I at least have a leg to stand on. While Ames’ rag joked about banging prostitutes and women being trafficked into the business by violent Caucasian boyfriends, I was agonizing over the realization that survival in Russia and increasing involvement in anti-women trafficking activism were simply not economically feasible (to be sure, I did manage to do some modest volunteer work for an anti-trafficking NGO in spite of this). I don’t want to sound self-righteous here, but part of the reason I came to Russia was to fight and end the stereotypes that Ames popularized and glorified…oh wait…I mean satirized! Of course.

      As for the question of whether Russia is really winning the information war, you probably no doubt have seen my past articles which are in line with what you said about the audience RT tends to garner. If they are winning any information war, it’s only because Western governments and their media outlets have done such a poor job and alienated so many people as to cause them to leap onto anything that sounds like an alternative.

      I have already written about the fact that there is little reason for governments to panic over Russia’s propaganda machine. It’s incoherent, and specifically aims at confusion rather than persuasion. Its operators have deluded themselves into believing this is a viable strategy, but it clearly isn’t. Eventually it will implode and the fact that the Russian government spends so much money on it means there’s a strong argument that it actually hurts the Kremlin more than any other government.

      For me the main concerns about Russian propaganda are twofold:

      -The poisoning of the left with right-wing, populist propaganda, bringing left-wing organizations in line with the far-right.

      -Serving as ammunition for right-wing governments to use against the left, as in Ukraine. The propaganda war fuels the “war of symbols,” whereby the solution to Russian propaganda for some means embracing anything and everything that is perceived to be “anti-Russian,” be it OUN symbols and Bandera in Ukraine, or Ronald Reagan.

      1. Antoine Sans (@antoine_sans)

        Okkkaaay, that’s very interesting, thanks for the head’s up.

        “When the regime finally implodes for whatever reason, all the feature of the “Wild 90’s” will come back in force, if not worse, because they were never dealt with.”

        That’s a thing I’ve been thinking about a lot, actually. That russians often say that even if Putin isn’t great, there isn’t anybody besides him and moreover, if he leaves, it will be chaos. I believe both of this statements to be true, but because Putin himself made them true. He personnalized the Russian state to a point that all influential people work not for the State, but for Putin himself. And that personnalization means that, unless Putin organises his own a succession (a depressive prospect for Russia), the country will turn to chaos (other depressive prospect).

        So, yeah…

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Exactly- He is the only one because he made a system built around it. In other words, it’s his fault. These idiots like Rogozin and Zhirinovsky make their ridiculous statements as a kind of warning to the West- “Look who I’m keeping a lid on.”

        The problem is that Western leaders buy into this, not realizing that Dugin, Rogozin, Zhirinovsky, and all those guys would basically shit their pants if Putin slipped in the shower and went into a coma.

        The collapse can come sooner or it can come later but Putin is not immortal so it will come, and it is his fault. That’s the worst thing he did to Russia. Yeltsin was terrible, but he didn’t mortally wound the country so that it couldn’t recover, and Russia’s success in the early 2000’s is proof of that.

      3. Estragon

        Ames was straightforward about the fact that the 90s in Russia were great for him personally. He says this in the book he co-wrote with Taibbi, if not so much in the eXile itself.

        I don’t know why you seem to assume he is some kind of straightforward Putinist. He was best buds with Limonov of all people, and blames Putin for closing down the eXile (though he hasn’t presented hard evidence for this).

        Now in the US, he is becoming a boring, standard-issue liberal. But when he was in Russia, he shot in all directions.

        Please note, I don’t want to defend him 100%. My take on him is that there are probably hundreds if not thousands of writers more talented than Ames. His one stroke of genius was to do his thing in Russia, and some valuable things did come out of that.

      4. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Limonov himself has become a major supporter of the Kremlin line, possibly because he’s back on the payroll(I have inside information that says this wasn’t the first time).

        As for his blaming Putin for closing the eXile, in light of numerous articles I’ve seen from him since then he apparently spends all his time shoehorning 90’s Russia into every article he can, even when it’s not supposed to be about Russia. Every time, he attacks anyone opposed to Putin, invokes the 90’s to do so, attacks the opposition, and of course, never mentions what he apparently admits in his book- that he benefited from the 90’s and had a lot of fun with Russia’s suffering.

        It’s almost as if he’s hoping the Kremlin media will feel sorry for him and take him back or something.

    2. Senya

      re “They say the west is losing the information war, but what does that mean ? Do most people believe Ukraine shot down MH17 ? Do most people believe Kiev is a fascist junta ? Do most people believe there is no russian troops in Ukraine ? Do most people believe RT and Sputnik to be decent source of information?”
      Actually there is a problem of belief in the narrative, not just among the neo stalinist left but also in the concerned anti globalisation/anti tracking/anti austerity groups who are fostered by RT (who caught an audience over their coverage of ‘Occupy’). I know many people in these groups, who consider themselves on the left, would distance themselves from the now stalinist unionists but non the less have been swayed by the “nazi fascist junta backed by the CIA whilst Nato encircles Russia aiming for total uni polar hegemony” line.
      There are also the many other ‘well meaning’ by standers who’s belief that the truth is ‘somewhere in the middle’ (bolstered by the frequency of Pilger and Milne et al in The Gruaniad) leads them to give equal weight to RT and the BBC (really, I know these people).
      Neither of these groups really knew anything about Ukraine (and little about current Russian politics) until Maidan burst onto their screens but both have an instinctive distrust of the USA.
      I don’t have any answers but I understand what is meant by “loosing the information war”. It is not lost but it is seriously threatened by the pitch and sheer volume alternative narratives.

      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        To be honest I think it boils down to the fact that many leftists, of many different stripes, have an emotional problem with being seen ostensibly agreeing with the US position and admitting that there are other bad governments out there. The idea that it’s even possible for there to be a worse example of imperialism than NATO is beyond their capacity to imagine, even though there was a perfectly analogous situation in the past- WWII.

        Apart from that, there’s this wishful thinking, which makes them believe that somewhere there is is patron across the ocean that sympathizes with them.

      2. Paul Canning (@pauloCanning)

        The Guardian has completely changed its tune. I can actually pinpoint it to the moment Shaun Walker actually saw Russian armour crossing the border. Read someone like Alex Lunh, who also writes for The Nation.

        Yes, it does still publish ‘don’t poke the beast’ stuff but far less frequently and, as I said, the reporting is much clearer. You can see BTL that its pissed off the Putinbots.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Sounds like a show I should watch. Even when I see articles I like on there, they often seem pretty poor in terms of argumentation. For example, their(War Nerd was the author) “takedown” of Anne Applebaum is incredibly weak, mostly amounting to “Russians don’t care about the GULAG.” It doesn’t really challenge anything Applebaum had to say about it(for example how the real numbers of repressed people or the death rate in camps was seriously inflated for decades), it just repeats how Russians don’t care.

      There’s also no discussion of whether Russians should care, and how they should do so. For example, many of Russia’s liberals want Russians to see the repressions as something akin to the Holocaust, but nobody ever takes responsibility for this. This is something that Russians, and Ukrainians, and Kazakhs, etc., etc. did to themselves, to their neighbors, etc. It is not like the Holocaust or the Armenian genocide. Ergo memorialization also means taking responsibility, something that Russian liberals don’t seem to be too keen on. This is another discussion that the author ignored.

      Lastly he points out how Applebaum’s economic and political worldview is connected to her books. Good point, but maybe that should have been the main thrust of the article. Maybe he should have pointed out the vast difference in how the subject of the USSR and say, the British Empire are treated in discussions today. That isn’t whataboutism either- we’re talking about contemporary states.

      But no, “Russians don’t care” and Applebaum is like a Tory is all we get.

  2. Paul Canning (@pauloCanning)

    Didn’t Ames threaten to kill a woman? Not sure where I heard that.

    Ames’ website Pando has an obsession with eBay founder and libertarian ideologue Pierre Omidyar and his Greenwald led website. They keep on about how it was Omidyar who paid for the Maidan. At least it’s a break from ‘was the NED wot dunnit’.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      It would not surprise me, but I’m going to presume innocence on that one. He’s got enough dirt. Pretty pathetic how he kisses Putin’s ass after getting kicked out by the Russian government.


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