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Saturday, 20 December 2008

You might laugh... but you should probably cry

Photo: "Swimmer 3" by DOU, finalist of the 2008 Kandinski prize.
This article was published on December 18th in the paper and online edition of the weekly newspaper “Argumenty i Fakty” [Arguments and Facts]; further down is a selection of comments that were posted on the newspaper’s website in response to the article. In 1990 Argumenty i Fakty was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for its massive print-run of 33.5 million. It currently stands at (a still impressive!) 7 million. Despite its scholarly origins, the newspaper has always been rather inclined towards general muckraking and sensationalist reportage; the content and quality of writing seem now to be on an increasingly slippery slope, with ever more thinly-veiled nationalism seeping through and a rising frequency of resorts to immigrant-bashing. A bit like the Daily Mail then.


You’re going to laugh, but Saakashvili has been declared the 13th most “influential” leader in the world.
Tamara Miodushevskaia

US Time magazine has gone rather over the top with flattery towards the leader of Georgia. The publication paid respect to those who, in Time’s opinion, are the main political figures of the year. Barack Obama of course headed the list of 18 nominations. No-one could have thought that they would nominate anyone else but the “ambassador of the wind of change”. Even more so given that his “favourable breeze” has evidently not done the publication any harm during the global economic standstill.

Time dedicated the front cover of the magazine to a poster of Obama in celebration of his election win. In the past two years the newspaper has managed to publish 15 whole issues with Obama on the main page. The Person of the Year 2008 was indescribably happy with this, which he let everyone know in a lengthy interview to the magazine. He promised to do everything necessary to pull America out of its financial instability and yet again mourned the fact that, although it is of course good to be the president-elect, he still misses simple human pleasures.

Mournful comments on the fact that he is no longer an “average guy” have become ritual for Obama. In several subsequent interviews wistfully gazing into the distance he remembered how he could once simply run down the street, go to the shops, take his wife out to dinner or smoke when and where he felt like it. Now all that’s come to an end: it’s now all protocols, conferences and a healthy way of life.

Obama’s been left with only one outlet: basketball.

“On the court, you can tell who’s a selfish jerk”, said Obama, quoting the words of his father and trainer and implying that instead of “jerk”, he had a stronger word in mind. [This is in fact a misquote, which was taken from an interview in Time not with Obama but with his brother-in-law, Craig Robinson (and was clearly written by Robinson and not Obama) - Ed]

Soon a basketball court will be installed in the White House. It hasn’t yet been prĂ©cised whether the US president is planning on organising matches for his colleagues to vet them for “egoistic” tendencies.

Let’s suppose that Obama was to also move his mother-in-law into the White House with him, and not only that, but to culturally enrich his compatriots by organising charity concerts on the walls of his temporary hangout. In that way, after the 20th January 2009, an inexhaustible crowd would be making their way to Washington: some to play ball, some to listen to music, some to pour their hearts out to the president’s old mother-in-law.
Let’s remember that in 2007 Time magazine nominated the then president of Russia Vladimir Putin. This time round the magazine did not take the pains to include one single Russian on the list of influential people. But Putin did nevertheless get a mention; in the article dedicated to the Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili.

Mishiko [diminutive for Mikhail - Ed] was nominated to the honourable place 13 on the publication’s list. Although the country is indeed superstitious, they didn’t place him in position 12A like they often do. However, it’s worth reading what was said about this; as you will see there’s not a jot of irony [with regard to Saakashvili], just overt sympathy.

“He poked the Russian Bear,” starts the article, almost in the style of a Hollywood blockbuster, “and his tiny nation got flattened under its heavy paw [The original text reads: mauled” - Ed]. But Saakashvili, President of Georgia, stood out as a beacon of hope for former Soviet states now menaced by the imperial ambitions of 2007's Person of the Year, Vladimir Putin. Outgunned on the battlefield, Saakashvili, a U.S.-trained lawyer, used superior media savvy to cast himself as a modern-day democratic David, fending off the monster from Moscow.” Under this flowery turn of phrase was the modest signature of the author: Bobby Ghosh


Comments posted on Please note, all comments by myself from this point onwards are in italics.


The lonely sceptic;

Oh, AiF-AiF [Argumety i Fakty - Ed] … I just can’t read or even look at you without pity any more. I get the impression that you have turned into an evil lunatic-asylum attendant who carries out every directive from his boss without questioning and even tries to outdo him demands, by thinking up his own horrors for the readers (patients). Of course someone’s going to say “Why are you reading it then and what’s more even writing on the forum?” I’ll answer this – to laugh at your cowardice and stupidity. Although I’ll have to admit, that laugh is coming through tears.

Although this was one of the most extreme cases, there was a predominance of this general opinion;

Time has obviously overdone it, even though in the past the magazine has always promoted a good-neighbourhood policy. Saakashvili – the 13th most influential politician? Now you’re making me laugh. He’s just an unfortunate local mini-fuehrer, a pallid shadow of those much more successful Georgian vampires Beria and Stalin. He freeloaded scrap metal from the whole of Europe and then decided to make a name for himself by creating a micro-empire, forcibly annexing obstinate yet weak neighbours to Georgia. […] And this “influential” person calls his misadventures “democratic rule”! “Mr. Democratic” you’re our “genocide- Tskhinvali”, the great Georgian “David-democrat”, the Emperor who wears no clothes, covering your nakedness and cowardice with EU and US flags. It’s a pity that Putin made the mistake at the very last moment not to send the tanks into Tbilisi [… another paragraph of the same rant that I won’t publish here; generally anti-Georgian, anti-American, anti-Semitic - Ed]
And you know what? Russia picked the Georgian nation up, saved it from extinction when there was only around 75,000 of you left. You went forth and multiplied well, and in the USSR you lived better than the Russians, at our expense. Now there’s a saying that’s justified for you: no good deed goes unpunished. In the USSR Georgians paid off the Russians with flowers and mineral water, but what’re you going to pay Uncle Sam back with now? He doesn’t do owt for nowt! You’re probably going to continue putting your own people on the line.

A view from Georgia; outraged, but still hopeful.

Since the war I’ve been reading a lot in your press about us. Every time I get the impression that you all think the same about us. Like 99,9% of all comments posted on here. It reminds me of the socialist times when everyone had the same opinion. Our government is not important, but we have more freedom. We’ve begun to live a lot better, we curse Mischa [Saakashvili] but he’s done a lot for Georgia, I’ve got my own business and don’t even have to bribe anyone. You all curse America and Georgia in unison; we didn’t start the war, it was you that brought us into it. Abkhazia and Ossetia are just your Chechnya, Dagestan and Tatarstan. […] you’ve already started breaking up from within. What is it you say over your way? What you reap is what you….? One day soon when the politicians on both sides are gone we will be good neighbours again.

And finally, although to a slightly lesser extent, the idea of Russian-Georgian brotherhood (often united against the US) was still present, if just eclipsed by the more sensationalist racist rants.

A Russian
It’s simple – America plays the music and we all listen and marvel! Russians and Georgians are brother-nations! It’s only politicians, with their personal ambitions that have separated us. And like idiots we listen to them and then curse one another.

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