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Exclusive: Russian Journalist Oleg Kashin On Putin’s Politics, Anti-Gay Laws And Sochi Olympics

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  In this exclusive interview, well-known Russian journalist Oleg Kashin, who was nearly beaten to death in 2010, talks with The New Civil Rights Movement about Vladimir Putin, Russian politics and Russian attitudes toward gays

 

Oleg Kashin, formerly a special correspondent and blogger for the Russian daily newspaper and media company, Kommersant, is well known for his bold reporting on Russian politics and business. Kashin was nearly beaten to death in 2010 over his political reporting. Kashin now travels to Russia frequently and occasionally writes on Russian affairs, but resides in Switzerland with his wife. Kashin was a Paul Klebnikov Civil Society Fellow at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute in 2012.

This is part one of a two-part interview conducted August 13-15, 2013.

Domi: Oleg, in your role as a journalist in Russia, you reported on the politics of the new opposition, when you were nearly beaten to death in 2010. Your experiences of opposing Putin’s politics were told through the documentary film “Putin’s Kiss,” about the Nashi youth movement, which was pro-Putin (see trailer below). How did your life change after the release of the film?

Kashin: The film was not screened in Russia and only those who already knew about me and my work watched it on the Internet, so I can tell you with certainty that it didn’t affect my fate in any way. The Nashi Movement portrayed in the film, no longer exists—it was dissolved. The film’s heroine, Masha Drokova, now works for a hi-tech company owned by a Russian businessman in Singapore. The other members of the movement and the people associated with it have moved on to work for private companies or political institutions—including the opposition—and  try to forget their participation in it. The attack on me has not been investigated and, most likely, will not be investigated. I no longer have any doubt about this.

Domi: Oleg, what are you doing now and why are you living in Switzerland?

Kashin: I’m in Russia at least once a month. When Alexey Navalny (a leading opposition leader to Putin) received his verdict on the Kirovles charges in Kirov, I was sitting in the courtroom. A few days ago, I returned from Kaliningrad, and next week I’ll return to Moscow. Whenever my presence in Russia is necessary for either business or personal matters, I am in Russia. My wife works in Switzerland and there’s no political intrigue involved.

Domi: Since Putin entered public life more than a decade ago, hundreds of journalists have been murdered. To date, very few, if any of those who have were murdered, have had the circumstances of their deaths investigated, solved and prosecuted. Do you think the dangerous environment for journalists in Russia is a contributing factor in the government’s ability to control the public discourse in Russia?

Kashin: It goes without saying that it is a very advantageous situation for the government, when, upon going to bed, no one knows whether they will live through the next day. The coercive atmosphere that has existed since 2000, (when Putin entered public life,) has been cultivated by the Russian government—this is easy to determine from the public appearances of Vladimir Putin and his colleagues, and from the general tone of public discourse. It wasn’t like this before in Russia, but now it’s considered the norm to physically threaten your opponent for anything deemed inappropriate by a representative of “the powers that be.” That’s what the new anti-LGBT laws are geared toward.

Out of principle, I don’t place journalists in a separate category in terms of risk susceptibility. Today, the risk of being killed, beaten or imprisoned is evenly distributed among all Russian citizens, including regime loyalists. No one is immune to death by violence, brutality, or imprisonment in Russia today.

Oleg KashinDomi: Since the New Russia opposition seemed to come out onto the streets in demanding increased accountability and less corruption by the political class last year, there seems to have been an orchestrated crackdown, including arrests, prosecution and imprisonment of members of the Pussy Riot rock and roll band, for example and Alexey Navalny, who was prosecuted and found guilty of embezzlement.  Why is the government, and the authorities cracking down now? With the Olympics in Sochi only six months away, are these the actions of a government that feels that it must exert control of the population? To what end?

Kashin: I believe that no one in Russia today can answer this question. It is widely accepted that the government is using these laws as an attempt to distract the public from what’s truly important—problems with the economy and the social sphere. I don’t believe this. More likely, the government is trying to construct a new nation, guided by totalitarian instincts and a blind deference to power. In their time, the communists tried to create a “new man,” now Putin is creating his. It is much easier to manipulate and control this type of changed society. I really hope that Westerners won’t equate these politics with the interests of Russian citizens. Russian citizens don’t differ in any way from the citizens of any Eastern European state, they have the same interests, needs and values. I hope that Putin won’t succeed in breaking the Russian citizens, and democracy will manage to prevail in Russia.

 

http://putinskissmovie.com/player.swf

 

Domi: So in this politically charged environment, Russian LGBT groups are indeed being targeted by Putin’s government. The first anti-homosexual propaganda laws were adopted in regional cities, and then by the St. Petersburg City Council 2011 and later in the Duma led by United Russia(Putin’s party) politicians who passed a federal propaganda law in 2012. How do Russians feel about the propaganda law and homosexuals in general? Is there a generational distinction–are young people more accepting of the LGBT community? Can you comment on the role and influence of the Russian Orthodox Church with respect to attitudes toward homosexuals?

Kashin: The influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia is fantastically exaggerated. Go to any Russian church from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok—it is always empty except on two days of the year, Easter and Christmas. From a population of 140 million, the number of active Orthodox is estimated to be tens of thousands, at best. Church influence is a myth proliferated and profited from by the Russian government and the Patriarch Kirill, who have successfully turned the church into a political arm of the Kremlin. As for the Russians’ attitude to the problems of LGBT people—as far as I can judge (I travel a lot around Russia and talk to many people), homophobia is certainly a presence in everyday life.

 

Part two of our exclusive interview with Oleg Kashin will be published on Sunday, August 18. 

Translation of the original Russian into English was contributed by Masha Udensiva-Brenner, Columbia University, Harriman Institute

Images of Mr. Kashin via Facebook

TD_PIX11Tanya L. Domi is the Deputy Editor of the New Civil Rights Movement.  She is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and teaches human rights in East Central Europe and former Yugoslavia. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi was a nationally recognized LGBT civil rights activist who worked for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force during the campaign to lift the military ban in the early 1990s. Domi has also worked internationally in a dozen countries on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights and gender issues. She is chair of the board of directors for GetEQUAL. Domi is currently writing a book about the emerging LGBT human rights movement in the Western Balkans.

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News

AOC Slams Anti-Biden Efforts: ‘My Community Does Not Have the Option to Lose’

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U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most-powerful voices in the House Democratic caucus, re-asserted her support for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris as some congressional Democrats along with pundits, pollsters, and strategists have called on the President to quit his campaign.

The 34-year-old progressive New York Democrat in a nearly hour-long live video recorded after midnight declared her opposition to those proposing an “open convention,” where the Democratic nominee fro president would be decided, despite the 2024 primaries which Biden and Harris won. She blasted the numerous Democrats anonymously calling for Biden to end his campaign, and slammed those who have little to lose who appear to be behind the movement to oust the President, and those who have already concluded the Democrats cannot win.

“I will say, what upsets me is people saying, ‘we will lose.’ ”

“For me,” she continued, before taking a long, thoughtful pause, “I don’t care who – to a certain extent – I don’t care what name is on there. We are not losing.”

READ MORE: House Dem Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Hispanic Caucus Campaign Arm Rally Behind Biden

“I’m about you, but my community does not have the option to lose. My community does not have the luxury of accepting loss in July,” she said before stressing, “of an election year.”

“Like, my people are the first ones deported. They’re the first ones put in Rikers,” she continued, referring to the infamous New York City jail. “They’re the first ones whose families are killed by war. And this is horrific. I’m not here to like say everything is amazing. Okay, I’m not here to say that like, oh, you know, to lie to people. What I am here to say is that we need to live, we need to make decisions in the conditions that we have before us.”

“Most of the Ocasio-Cortez’s nearly hour-long Live session focused on the risks of forcing Biden to step aside, including potential legal challenges from Republicans and ballot access deadlines in various states. ‘I have not seen a scenario, an alternative scenario, that I feel does not set us up for enormous peril,’ she said,” Business Insider reported.

“If you’re falling out of a coconut tree, God bless you,” she said. “If you’re riding with the President, God bless. I’m not an open-convention person. I think that is crazy.”

READ MORE: ‘Unmitigated Disaster’: Conservatives Stunned by ‘Clinically-Insane Trump Speech’

Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez also made headlines by pointing out that she believes if President Biden were to step aside, Vice President Kamala Harris would also be targeted by some of the same Democrats trying to oust the President.

“I’m just going to say it: If you think that there is consensus among the people who want Joe Biden to leave… that they will support Kamala, Vice President Harris, you would be mistaken,” she added. “They are interested in removing the whole ticket.”

To those Democrats leaking opinions or being quoted anonymously, she had a few strong words.

“That’s b*llsh*t. If you have an opinion, say it with your chest and say it in public,” she said. “That’s a bunch of horsesh*t.”

Her Instagram Live remarks have over 80,000 likes and 6000 comments.

What her full video and the short clip above or at this link.

READ MORE: ‘Stop the Attacks’: 1400 Black Women Leaders Demand DNC Support Biden and Harris

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News

House Dem Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Hispanic Caucus Campaign Arm Rally Behind Biden

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Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, in line to become Speaker if Democrats retake the House in November, Friday morning told reporters the presidential ticket has not changed and he believes President Joe Biden is capable of doing the job and winning re-election.

Jeffries’ remarks come amid calls for President Biden to exit the re-election campaign, largely from the “Democratic machine,” including pundits, strategists, and pollsters, along with some Democratic members of the House and Senate.

“President Biden, as I’ve said repeatedly, is our nominee,” Leader Jeffries said in Brooklyn Friday morning, according to video (below) posted by WNBC-TV managing editor Steven Bognar. “He has a tremendous track record of success. He’s one of the most accomplished American presidents in our history. And, he has the vision, I believe the ability, the capacity and the track record to make a case to the American people that will result in us being successful in November.”

“I’ve answered that question repeatedly over the last three weeks,” Jeffries also told reporters, as NBC 4 reported. “I’ve answered that question repeatedly, my answer has not changed.”

Also Friday morning the congressional arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus announced its endorsement of the President’s re-election bid.

READ MORE: ‘Stop the Attacks’: 1400 Black Women Leaders Demand DNC Support Biden and Harris

“The fundraising arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Bold PAC, has endorsed President Joe Biden for re-election, the Biden campaign said in a statement on Friday,” Reuters reports.

Forbes reported last week, “Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., chair of the influential Congressional Black Caucus, expressed support for President Joe Biden, bolstering Biden’s argument that his base is still behind him amid calls for him to step aside in the race.”

Also last week, The Washington Post reported, “Black House Democrats embrace Biden at another critical juncture.”

“The importance of the roughly 60-member Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) — which includes [Rep. James] Clyburn and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) — was on display Monday night as Biden met with the bloc in a Zoom call, the first with a group of elected lawmakers. The message that many Black Democrats planned to convey to Biden, according to the people familiar with the CBC’s thinking: We will stick by you as we always have.”

READ MORE: ‘Unmitigated Disaster’: Conservatives Stunned by ‘Clinically-Insane Trump Speech’

Congressman Clyburn, who was instrumental in Biden winning the Democratic nomination in 2020, and the election, “has said publicly that he is firmly behind Biden but open to embracing Vice President Harris filling the role if Biden steps aside,” The Post reported.

But while last week the paper noted, “not a single Black House Democrat has defected,” Friday morning one member of the CBC did. U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX) became the first member of the Congressional Black Caucus to break ranks, as Punchbowl News’ Max Cohen reported.

MSNBC reports on Friday a total of six members of the U.S. House and one U.S. Senator called on President Biden to exit the race.

Watch video of Democratic Leader Jeffries from Friday below or at this link.

READ MORE: ‘Democratic Machine’ Strategists Behind Move to Oust Biden: Ex-Congressman

 

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OPINION

‘Unmitigated Disaster’: Conservatives Stunned by ‘Clinically-Insane Trump Speech’

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The fourth and final night of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee on Thursday is being panned by pundits, political strategists, grassroots voters, and even some in the press, as many express shock and condemnation over Donald Trump’s presidential nomination acceptance speech, or, as one critic put it, the “clinically-insane Trump speech.”

Chris Wallace, the former long-time Fox News anchor turned CNN commentator declared he was “disappointed,” and suggested Trump’s 90+ minute speech (transcript) helped President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign.

Trump’s speech got off to a good start, Wallace said, but after awhile the GOP nominee, “couldn’t keep up the act, and so we started hearing about ‘crazy Nancy Pelosi,’ and cheating on elections, and talking about Biden. Frankly, it was a long speech, it was a rambling speech, it was a speech by an older man and I couldn’t help but think that the people who are going to be happiest tonight are not the people at Trump headquarters, but the Democrats, maybe at Biden headquarters, maybe at the headquarters of the people who think they are going to replace Joe Biden, but Jake, we have ourselves a presidential campaign again.”

READ MORE: ‘Stop the Attacks’: 1400 Black Women Leaders Demand DNC Support Biden and Harris

CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale reported Trump delivered at least 22 “falsehoods” during his remarks, including that when he left office, “the world was at peace.”


Even The New York Times, which critics say has often ignored or whitewashed Trump’s worst remarks and weaknesses while focusing on President Biden’s – to the point of calling for Biden’s exit but not Trump’s – ran this headline overnight, invoking the ex-president’s 2017 inauguration speech: “Trump Struggles to Turn the Page on ‘American Carnage’.”

“On the last night of the G.O.P. convention on Thursday, Donald J. Trump promised to bridge political divides, and then returned to delighting in deepening them,” the paper of record reported.

Meanwhile, conservatives – former Republicans and current, Never-Trump Republicans – led the criticism on social media Thursday night and into Friday morning.

The Lincoln Project’s Stuart Stevens, a top political strategist and former Republican, panned Thursday night’s GOP convention: “A man who beat his wife introduced a Republican nominee found liable of sexual assault the judge called rape. And the Republican Party thinks it’s great.”

“I’ve watched thousands of political speeches in thirty years in the business. This was by far the worst,” observed Mike Madrid, the Latino GOP political consultant and Lincoln Project co-founder, calling it “an unmitigated disaster.”

“Is anyone else seeing this with their own eyes?” Madrid asked on social media, referring to Trump’s speech. “Maybe, just maybe, this is what independent voters saw at the debate.”

“The [media’s] gonna call for his withdrawal after witnessing this obvious cognitive decline right?” Madrid also asked.

READ MORE: ‘Democratic Machine’ Strategists Behind Move to Oust Biden: Ex-Congressman

He summed it up in one word: “Fiasco.”

Former Republican U.S. Congressman Denver Riggleman declared: “Media should demand Trump step down based on mental issues and incoherence.”

Fred Wellman, the former Lincoln Project executive director had a few words for top Democratic donors dissatisfied with President Joe Biden: “Hey Democratic big donors! Shut up and get back to work. Jesus. We are going to beat this loser like a drum.”

“The View” co-host Ana Navarro-Cárdenas, a Republican who opposes Donald Trump wrote: “If this clinically-insane Trump speech does not get Democrats out of their defeatist doldrums, and focused and energized around electing their nominee -instead of tearing him down- I don’t know what will.”

She added, “And you all are screaming that Biden has dementia….?”

Former Republican Rick Wilson, an award-winning political TV ad expert and Lincoln Project co-founder decimated Trump’s speech and invoked the nominee’s top campaign chiefs:

“Trump’s speech was, objectively, the single worst convention acceptance speech in modern history. It was a ramblefuck disaster from start to its long-delayed finish, and nothing is going to make it better. You know. I know it. LaCivita and Wiles know it. Utter disaster.”

Former Republican U.S. Congressman Joe Walsh added, “And one more thing: I don’t want to hear anyone in the media talk about Biden’s cognitive decline without also talking about Trump’s cognitive decline. Thanks.”

Republican Sarah Longwell, a political strategist and publisher of the conservative news and opinion site The Bulwark, commented throughout Trump’s speech.

“What would [you] say this speech is about?” she asked toward the end. Minutes earlier she remarked, “Rambling man.” And: “I dunno, this weirdo seems pretty beatable.”

Watch the videos above or at this link.

READ MORE: ‘Have to Stop This Psychopath’: Conway Launches PAC Focused on Trump ‘Mental Instability’

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