I'm only on page 149 of the hardback edition, but Luke Harding's 'Mafia State'
would be a more credible read if, inter alia, he hadn't spelled his son's forename two different ways on two consecutive pages (63 and 64), or named the manager of Manchester United as 'Sir Alec Ferguson' (p. 127). There was another one somewhere relating to a 'navel base', but I can't find it again. It's in there.
To my mind, he also rather skirts over the fact that his membership of the Duma renders Andrei Lugovoi's extradition to the UK to face charges relating to the death of Alexander Litvinenko an absolute impossibility under Russian law. Russia does not extradite Russian nationals. The constitution forbids it. While Mr. Harding acknowledges this, it is a matter of such profound importance to Anglo-Russian relations that it should not either be skated over or dismissed as inconvenient. British politicians know the Russian position; British diplomats know it; yet by continuing to call for Lugovoi's extradition the British are demanding that the Russians act contrary to the rule of their own law, and conform to ours instead. As a British person interested in the fostering of cordial Anglo-Russian relations, I find this behaviour embarrassing; and I do wish they'd stop.
However, one must be fair where fairness is due, and he quite rightly criticises the appalling treatment of journalists who criticise the Russian government. Mr. Harding's book is particularly strong on the murder of Natalia Estemirova
. Having just criticised one's own government for telling the Russians what to do, it seems a little hypocritical to immediately do the same thing oneself, but they really do need to get this sort of stuff sorted out. It gives the country a bad name. Putin's decision to stand for a third term was a very bad signal; while I'm sure it was absolutely within the letter of the law it indicated the kind of arrogant disregard for the spirit of the law that Tony Blair showed day in, day out. If Putin is uncomfortable with being compared to Blair, he has nobody to blame for that but himself.
As I've said, Mr. Harding does a sterling job of reminding his readers, the treatment of the media and its journalists in Russia is a national scandal. That being the case, and although all parties should certainly agree the stakes involved are vastly lower than any ever played for by Paul Klebnikov or Anna Politkovskaya, one can only wonder just what hay the Kremlin could make of News International's treatment of one Phil Mac Giolla Bhain (a hat tip to The Big Lad
Although I have heard his work being praised highly, admittedly in, shall we say, more partisan local circles, the synopses provided made me think that it might not be my cup of tea, so readers must take it on trust that I've never read actually a word that Mr. Mac Giolla Bhain has written; not that that should matter to anyone but me, but where we come from unfortunately it might matter a great deal to some people interested in his book, but not in its success. In Russia, the state pulls the plug on unwanted viewpoints. In the UK, that's the privilege of the press. It was only a mere 104 years ago that GK Chesterton wrote, in his book 'Orthodoxy', that it was quite right to say that Britain did not have censorship of the press, and had instead freedom of censorship by the press. If public authoritarianism is deplorable in Russia - as it certainly is - the private authoritarianism, perhaps motivated by cowardice, that News International is indulging itself in in this country with regard to Mr. Mac Giolla Bhain's book is equally deplorable.
I have heard it said several times that the beldams now on temporary leave from the line-up of the entity known as 'Pussy Riot'
were convicted of desecrating the cathedral, or blasphemy, or such like. That is not the case. They were instead convicted of 'hooliganism'. 'Hooliganism' is a crime with a very long tradition in Russia, actually one of Tsarist origin, as I discovered earlier this year from Valery Chalidze's
'Criminal Russia'. The Criminal Code Of The RSFSR in force at the time Chalidze's book was published (1977), described 'hooliganism' as "intentional acts which seriously disturb public order and show clear disrespect for society"
(p.79); a phrase which, when I read it, caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand up, if only because the failure of that code to define any specific type of act as 'hooliganism' is remarkably similar to the failure of the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004
to define precisely what 'antisocial behaviour' really is. It is almost as if the authors of the 2004 Act had been animated by the same spirit as the authors of those parts of the Soviet code relating to hooliganism. One can only be found guilty of engaging in antisocial behaviour here in the same extremely subjective way that the Russians can be found guilty of hooliganism - by doing something and then having your actions declared illegal by the court which convicts you, rather than by doing something illegal and then being convicted by a court.
Tell me, are we still lecturing these people on the importance of human rights?
Labels: Andrei Lugovoi, Anna Politkovskaya, Criminal Russia, Hooliganism, Human Rights, Luke Harding, Mafia State, Paul Klebnikov, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, Pussy Riot, Russia, Valery Chalidze, Vladimir Putin