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The Tragedy of Closed Media and Closed Minds

March 8, 2022

Thoughts from the first three days of a brutal Russian March

Silver Rain Radio’s home page, a day after the station’s war coverage was silenced: “We cannot speak, we don’t want to lie.”

Facebook, March 3, 2022

I was fortunate to work for a Moscow newspaper during the challenging but inspiringly open media atmosphere of the 1990s. It felt like the beginning of something beautiful, but in some ways it was perhaps already ending—a long twilight journey back to censorship and disinformation that culminated today with the liquidation of Echo of Moscow Radio.

Independent journalists are fleeing Russia, and the state Duma has passed legislation that would sentence any journalist providing war information that does not parrot the Putin line to 15 years in prison. And yes, the Putinist vision of “fake news” would include having the gall to call this war a “war.”

But a war is what it is—a hot war and an information war—and I trust the bravest among Russian journalists will find ways, creative and resourceful, to share truth with Russians of conscience who hunger for it, and for the transformation that only truth can bring.

Facebook, March 2, 2022

As Putin’s bombs set schools and apartment buildings ablaze across Ukraine, his censors are silencing Russian media outlets for daring to use the word “war” to describe his war.

Courage before the fall: Echo of Moscow’s banner: “We’re Still Working.”

Echo of Moscow radio continues to speak out on YouTube, running the banner “We’re Still Working.” Silver Rain radio, home to detailed news and analysis in recent days, has tried to speak around the censors as best it can, using the “Aesopian language” of Soviet times to say what cannot be said. But they realize their avenues to truth are narrowing quickly and have turned to music programming on their streaming site beneath a banner reading “We cannot speak. We don’t want to lie.”

The chorus of an old Soviet song said, “We were born to make the fairy tale [skazka] come true.” Today, a dark parody is going around: “We were born to make Kafka come true.” Indeed, the Penal Colony grows with each passing day, but the bravest among the media and everyday citizens are still seeking paths to truth across Putin’s river of lies.

“We can’t call certain things by their names,” one radio host said yesterday. “But you’ll know what we’re talking about.”

God willing, such people will be heard.

Facebook, March 1, 2022

If we are supporters of open and nuanced discourse abroad, we must also avoid jingoism and intellectual narrowing at home. That means maintaining a clear-eyed view of history and our place in it. To avoid discussing the complexities behind the long, sad decay of relations between Russia and the West makes no more sense than whitewashing the stupidities of Versailles from history. Neither discussion explains or excuses the brutal ideologies and evil deeds of dictators. But critical history does and should seek to understand whether there was a moment when the politics and policies of the democratic West could have tilted history toward a better outcome—one where the dictatorial seed never manages to take root.

So the fact that the following words, written in 1997 by the preeminent American diplomat and Russia specialist of the 20th century, will be unpopular today does not make them any less prophetic:

“Expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era. Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.”

– George F. Kennan, “A Fateful Error,” February 5, 1997.

One of the responsibilities of thinking people in a democracy is to be aware of our historical missteps and to learn from them. To repeat: That does not remove blame and enduring shame from the shoulders and fevered mind of Vladimir Putin, who is in the process of destroying not one but two countries, one of which happens to be his own. But life in a democracy dictates that as a people we Americans are capable of self-awareness, self-improvement, and the nuanced thinking that leads to better policy in the future.

I’ll finish with something like a prayer, in these hard days where hope seems so distant: May peace and liberty come to Ukraine, and may a free and democratic future come to Russia. #НетВойне

Greg Blake Miller

Calling things by their names: The home page, March 2, 2022. “War: The Russian invasion of Ukraine. Day 7 of the war.”
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