Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who in 1839 first attributed the greater power to the writing implement, got it the wrong way around.
But the writer can be forgiven for that mistake: after all, he didn’t have the shining example of Putin’s Russia to set him straight. If he lived today, he surely wouldn’t underestimate the power of the sword or its functional equivalents.
Bulwer-Lytton, with his artist’s eye, would certainly appreciate the significance of an ad appearing on the site of the gun firm Kalashnikov. The maker of Russia’s most successful product is kindly offering a 10 per cent discount to journalists buying their pistols.
Like all successful concerns, Kalashnikov is sensitive to the market. The company clearly realises that journalists are desperate for its products. Or rather not the profession as a whole, but rather a small segment within it: pundits who ever find anything wrong with Putin.
The gun maker was tipped off about the growing demand by the recent attempt on the life of Tatiana Felgenhauer, who works for the radio station Ekho Moskvy and the newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
Neither organ is really in opposition to Putin. They’re both there merely to fool observers, mostly foreign, into believing that such opposition exists. In that sense, they perform the same role as the sham candidates in Russia’s presidential elections, Prokhorov in the last one, Sobchak in the next.
The results are as predetermined as they were in Stalin’s time, when the butcher so respected by Winston Churchill routinely polled over 100 per cent of the vote. Though Putin, being a more modest sort, contents himself with a mere 75 per cent or so, today’s elections are no less bogus than they were back in the 1930s.
But appearances are important, what with today’s ‘useful idiots’ eager to argue that Russia is a real democracy, if not yet a completely developed one. Similarly Ekho Moskvy and Novaya Gazeta are allowed the odd anti-Putin word, typically drowned by thousands of fawning sentences.
Interestingly, Novaya Gazeta is owned by the career KGB officer Alexander Lebedev, whose son Evgeny nominally owns our Evening Standard and Independent (daddy is the real boss). This opens up the interesting topic of George Osborne, who has retrained as newspaper editor to be able to attack Brexit with the vindictiveness of the ghastly spiv he is.
But that topic will have to wait, for the one that interests me now is those mock-opposition organs. Journalists working there walk a fine line.
One wrong step, and they may cross that invisible, yet very tangible, line separating allowable criticism from the kind that might upset Putin and his kleptofascist clique. That’s why working for those two organs is fraught with dangers – not the immediate dangers facing journalists who talk out of turn without permission, but dangers nonetheless.
All in all, 143 journalists have been murdered during the reign of the KGB tsar, between 2000 and 2017. To that impressive number must be added those who have been maimed, beaten up, imprisoned or driven out of the country.
The last category includes three of Russia’s finest journalists, Andrei Piontkovsky, Arkady Babchenko and Yulia Latynina, who have run for their lives in the past few months.
Before Latynina, who is the closest any Russian journalist comes to a Western conservative, got the message, she had been attacked several times. Latynina had some noxious liquid splashed in her face and then her car was burned. Piontkovsky and Babchenko fled after numerous, and utterly credible, threats to their lives.
All three of them had worked for Novaya Gazeta at various times, and had ample opportunities to admire its office’s walls adorned with photographs of those six of their colleagues who were murdered for overstepping the aforementioned line.
Compared to those three refugees, Tatiana Felgenhauer is a positive conformist, but apparently she hasn’t conformed enough. That point was communicated to her by a chap who sauntered into the Ekho Moskvy office and stabbed the poor girl in the neck, missing the carotid artery by a mere four millimetres.
Now the journalists working for the station and Novaya Gazeta will be able to protect themselves with Kalashnikov’s discounted weapons. After all, the state has made it clear that it has no desire to protect them.
“Such tragic events,” declared Putin’s press secretary Peskov, “are deeply regrettable. But, let’s put it this way: a madman’s act is just that, a madman’s act. It’s absolutely illogical and wrong to link such acts to anything or to paint them all sorts of colours.”
I don’t know: personally, I can’t resist the temptation to link and paint. A whole company of Russian journalists have been KIA, and another regiment are hors de combat. Peskov’s dismissive remark is like refusing to accept a connection between Islam and Islamic terrorism.
And yet our so-called conservatives continue to exonerate, nay to extol, Putin’s kleptofascist regime. You see, he’s opposed to the EU and doesn’t permit homomarriage.
These may be necessary qualifications, but they are definitely not sufficient ones. After all, ISIS murderers aren’t exactly Europhile either and, rather than marrying homosexuals, they throw them off tall buildings. So why not adore ISIS as well?
Those British Putinistas who are particularly useful and idiotic insist that we could do with a strong leader like the murderous KGB colonel. Would they like to see our journalists and opposition politicians murdered? Do they even realise what they’re saying?
Passions have a way of shifting the thought-producing function from the brain to an area a couple of feet lower. That anatomical feat, added to a wonky moral compass, makes such people sound infantile and inane – even if they make sense on every other subject.
Col. Putin should be proud of having such allies: Iran, N. Korea and our useful idiots.