Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Before you accept received wisdom on Khodorkovsky.....

The international news media is a curious thing.  It descends, periodically, upon a country or a region, crow-bars a story into one of its easy narratives and before any nuance can be teased from the broader detail the circus moves on elsewhere.

It is left to longer form journalism and academia to stick with a story and make some sense of it.

With the verdict of the Khodorkovsky trial the world’s news crews descended once again on Moscow.  Their story was already written.  A dissident prosecuted by an oppressive regime for political reasons.  An outright defeat for the rule of law and conformation of Russia‘s legal nihilism.

Received wisdom is not entirely inaccurate where the Khodorkovsky case is concerned.  There is doubtless a political element to his prosecution.

It is also almost certain that the oligarch is guilty of substantial and serious crimes.  When Prime Minister Putin dismisses the furore surrounding the trial, stating, ‘a thief should be in prison’, he is guilty of being highly selective, but his words are not entirely without truth.

There is a serious problem with the consistency of Russian justice, but Khodorkovsky is an unlikely and unconvincing champion of transparency.

The problem, as most commentators see it, is that a clever and articulate critic of Putin was prosecuted.  The counter-argument, which is rarely explored, is that too few oligarchs were pursued for their lawlessness, rather than too many.

An attitude of ‘my enemy’s enemy’ skews critiques of the trial and renders many of them hypocritical.

For a counter-blast, I’d once again highlight Keith Gessen’s excellent article in the LRB and the book which it reviews, The Quality of Freedom by Richard Sakwa.  The Mark Ames piece highlighted above is also worth a read.  There are two sides to this story and the fact that Khodorkovsky is a ‘gentleman thief’ does not render him less of a thief.


Anonymous said...

The question arises, is it actually a crime when the state is complicate in the action? During the period in question I get the impression it was impossible to do major business in Russia without some form of corruption, and the government was aware of this too. Putins justice may be rather selective to say the least?

Gaw said...

Aren't you missing the main message of this case, which is that the Russian system of justice is a tool in the hands of the executive? They're all thieves and they should all be in prison (the politicians in power and the oligarchs, past and present, that is). But this is about power not justice.

Clinton is therefore correct in her point about this deterring inward investment - there is no real rule of law in Russia, and no reliable judicial protection for person or property.

Jennifer Eremeeva said...

You are right...and in Russia this is just No Big Deal, which in and of itself is a little worrying.