Archive | October, 2010

These Things Matter: Russian Lessons

22 Oct

The work of historians is painstakingly precise. Combining passion with careful review of data, tracing the originality of the sources, verifying and even letting go of hard-won info due to inability to affirm, and tracking down people who can confirm your story, or tell you their story, despite the understanding of the fallibility of human memory and intentions, can be excruciating.

2008 summer. Beijing was basking in its Olympic opening ceremony. An auspicious time for any other affair to try to capture media attention. And one did. Georgia’s attempt retake of Southern Ossetia. Or was it?

On Wikipedia it is stated that Georgia declared war on Southern Ossetia. The documentary Russian Lessons shows what the Russian media was overwhelmingly reporting at the time: That the Georgians had attacked the sleeping town of Ossetian Tskhivali, without warning, and caused up to 2000 casualties (no distinction between civilians and military personnel). That the Russians were there to save the Ossetians.

Interviews with the Southern Ossetians (there is a Northern Ossetia, that is part of Russia) showed that most Southern Ossetians bore no hostilities and felt no segregation from the Georgians. There was a portion of the population that was for Ossetia to return to Russian rule, but they represented a minority in the region. The idea that Southern Ossetians had attempted to remove themselves from Georgian rule could hardly be representative. Southern Ossetians also stated little identification with their Northern Ossetian counterparts. As part of Georgia, Southern Ossetia had embarked on the journey of westernization prior to the attacks. What was revealed through the interviews, was that the Russian troops had been moving tanks into the region days before supposed attack. The Southern Ossetian residents were surprised about this but didn’t think it was going to escalate into something drastic. This premeditated gesture does make Putin’s ‘surprise’ removal from the Olympic opening due to a Georgian invasion of South Ossetia rather suspect. The Russians had also told Southern Ossetians at the time that it would have been a good idea to go for a vacation elsewhere, and used buses to transport entire villages away temporarily. These villagers came back to see their homes destroyed. They were told the Georgians had attacked their town. In fact, witnesses stated sighting airplanes that looked suspiciously Russian flying over the Ossetian towns. They hoped that they were Russian planes at the time, for why would the Russians bomb them, right?

A great deal of the casualties had actually occurred in Gori, an un-evacuated Georgian town. That was bombed by Russian airplanes. These civilians were not given warning and carted away. A heartrending vid of a supposed Ossetian boy lying in a hospital talking about how he was injured during the attack was overlaid by loud concert music from a Russian composer, disguising the fact that he was actually a Georgian victim who was lying in a Georgian hospital.

Russian Lessons clip – Media Manipulation

Putin stated at the time that the Georgian peace keepers had declared war on Southern Ossetia. This was never disputed, because they did not allow translators to translate what the Georgian commander had really said : That they were forced to take action after an escalation of provocations by the Russian army, and after a number of civilian deaths within Georgian borders.

What was the response from Europe? German PM Angela Merckel backed down and declared that no blame could be appropriated for the incident. At the time, the gas pipeline from Russia to Europe had supposedly ‘broken down’. After appeasement measures, Europe once more had its heating. Beyond a feeling of responsibility towards our planet, I can now understand why Europe has such an aggressive renewable energies agenda.

This film was directed by Olga Konskaya and Andrei Nekrasov. Olga died of a debilitating illness as the film’s production was concluded. She had started her own production company, Dreamscanner productions, after the brutal Russian invasion of Chechnya. Many of her works concern human rights, especially in criticism of her own nation.

Olga and Andrei from the Russian Lessons facebook page

Robert Amsterdam’s eulogy for Olga :

Olga Konskaya was a selfless and uncompromising fighter against injustices committed in the name of her own people. She knew what it meant to be ashamed by the behaviour of one’s own country – a very rare feature in contemporary Russia. She was ashamed of Russia’s unquenchable thirst for blood in the Caucasus, of unending waves of war crimes and state sponsored terror in Chechnya. Her directness, idealism and the utter lack of cynicism made her stand out even in the human rights and democrats’ community, whose members often tend to reserve criticism of the government for narrow political squabbling, while shying away from confronting the regime’s nationalistic brutality. We are profoundly shaken by Olga’s untimely death. She may have not seen most of her effort bear fruit, but the inevitable triumph of justice will bear her unmistakable mark. She will not be forgotten.

I am upset that something this unjust has occurred. At first I found it utterly ridiculous as it doesn’t make logical sense (to me) to conduct such subterfuge and go to such extents to orchestrate a lie… which, I believe, most people would feel as well. We’re inclined to believe others, and with something so preposterous it couldn’t possibly be a lie, right? But Putin, an ex-KGB agent, has experience in constructing elaborate situations. The idea that Russia has enemies, and fights for the rights of others, can be helpful in securing the regime. The same goes for the Holocaust. People didn’t believe at the time that Jews were being put into concentration camps and systematically murdered. It wouldn’t initially make sense to people who experience the daily benefits of a healthy society.

I read a blog about this film that says: despite it being a horrible thing, most people who see the film wouldn’t know what to do about it, or have the power to do anything about it. Sad but true. I believe, however, that knowing the truth matters. The people who die, whose rights are impinged upon, and the regimes that conduct atrocities or allow atrocities to be conducted in their name… these things matter. For humanity to ever get anywhere. We need to first understand, and then hopefully be able to do something about it. This is why I’m writing this.