A note on why I interviewed La Russophobe

Since posting an interview with La Russophobe on Thursday, I’ve come in for some criticism, both in web comments, and via email. One reader was “absolutely baffled as to why you would actually have anything to do with La Russophobe” and another told me that he had “no idea why you are wasting your time on La Russophobe.

So, I thought I’d post a quick explanation of why I chose to run the interview, and give you some more details of the series of interviews that is to follow.

Thursday’s interview with La Russophobe was the first in a series of weekly interviews of Russia bloggers.

I plan to ask the same basic set of questions to each blogger, plus add in a few extra questions that are directly aimed at individual bloggers, their experiences, and their expertise. The goal is to inform, entertain and to hopefully allow people to compare and contrast the beliefs and styles of different bloggers.

When sending out questions to bloggers, I have been careful to note that I will publish whatever answers they provide, regardless of what they say, and without editing. Essentially, I provide each blogger with a platform – it’s up to them to use their own words to either convince you of their wisdom, or lack thereof…

When I read the answers to the questions I’ve set, I know I make a judgement – about the value of the argument presented, and sometimes about the individual blogger. It might be positive, it might be negative, but it is inevitable that I will make that internal judgement. And I expect that others who read those interviews will make judgements of their own.

That’s why I’ve provided an un-moderated comments forum.

If you think what you are reading makes sense, then congratulate yourself on having found a like-minded soul and, if you want, you could post a comment expanding on some point in the interview.

If, on the other hand, you find someone whose words you read are utter rubbish, then you have the opportunity to tell them, and the world, exactly why you think they are wrong.

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23 Responses

  1. Who else are you going to interview?

  2. Andy says:

    You’ll have to check back on Thursday to find out… 😉

  3. I can suggest a couple of reasons why Andy might have wanted to start his project by “wasting his time” with LR:

    (1) The blog has more published daily traffic than any other English language Russia politics blog in the world.

    (2) The blog has received more links from other blogs than any other English language Russia politics blog in the world.

    The blog has also put forth the effort to translate Novaya Gazeta into English. Name antoher blog that’s done that recently!

    What we see from some of Andy’s commenters is the interesting view that “if I don’t agree with something, then it’s stupid and not worth considering.” Such an attitude is hardly the hallmark of liberal tolerance, yet these commenters seem to look down on LR because she lacks virtues they themselves cannot embody. The commenter states: “There are people capable of being both objective, decent and critical of the Kremlin (like, oh, Jerome…)” Interestingly, not a single hyperlink is given to such a source blog, much less any proof that they’ve had any success reforming Russia that way.

    By the way, one commenter wrote: “La Russophobe considers Gaidar and the Locusts some sort of ‘move towards democracy’.” That’s a lie. We’ve never said anything like that about Gaidar. We just said it wasn’t right for the Kremlin to try to kill him.

  4. Lyndon says:

    Andy, I think it was a great idea to do this – the Russia-watching blogosphere has changed / grown tremendously just in the past 8 months or so while I wasn’t really watching. The quantity and diversity of the viewpoints out there are amazing (almost makes me wonder how one can have time to both maintain one’s own blog and follow all the others) and LR has been a key shaper of the debate, if a polarizing one.

    What I want to know is, who’s going to interview you? You were at this before I started, and now you’ve been back at it again for some time. So as one of the O.G.’s of the Russia-watching blogosphere, I think Mr. Young should be interviewed/interrogated as well.

  5. Lyndon says:

    Hey, I put up a laboriously translated Novaya Gazeta article once

    Granted, it was about Uzbekistan, and it was a year and a half ago. Time flies.

  6. Andrew Waller says:

    That Johnson’s Russia List published your interview with that bigot is an insult to those censored by that overpaid site.

    Plenty of spinelss people who will not take the Quacker to task for his glaring foibles.

  7. Andy says:

    LR – the boost in traffic that the interviews would bring was certainly one motivation. I felt that, as they (by this I mean all the interviews, not just La Russophobe’s) would attract new readers because they would be genuinely interesting articles in their own right. The bottom line is that, if the interviews are dull, no-one will read them.

    I think this has been borne out by the big traffic increase here over the past few days, and I very much hope that anyone reading Siberian Light for the first time likes what they read, and comes back for more!

    Lyndon – I was interviewed a couple of years ago, by Andres Gentry. I haven’t been interviewed since – mainly because no-one’s asked me…

    Andrew – thanks for letting me know that JRL had picked up the interview. I hadn’t noticed, and it probably would have passed my by otherwise.

  8. Lyndon says:

    Andy, thanks for reminding me about that – just re-read it (had totally forgotten about it, but I think I had seen it before), that was a good set of questions.

    I saw the interview with LR on JRL also and I have to say I was surprised he ran the whole thing – when I saw it in the header I assumed he would post just a link to your blog. I think what that speaks to is not the bias that Andrew W. (and his alter ego, Mike Averko) like to pin on JRL, but just the fact that LR is a phenomenon. Positive, negative, whatever – the blog is a phenomenon.

    I think it’s played a part in making the Russia-watching ‘sphere more polarized and perhaps more mean-spirited (based on all the comment wars – Andy, you’ve seen just the tip of the iceberg in the comments here, and, I can only assume, in the emails you’ve received), but again, LR is someone that people are obviously interested in, and I guess DJ agreed.

  9. Tim Newman says:

    I have to say, I don’t agree with most of what La Russophobe has to say and I rarely visit her blog, but her responses to the questions did make for interesting reading.

  10. Blair Sheridan says:

    I agree with very little of what she has to say, but think that criticising Andy for airing her opinions is dead wrong.

  11. LYNDON: Heaven forbid that Russia-watching should stop being a nice polite little club for the exercise of a fun gentlemanly hobby. I mean, it’s not like people are dying in Russia or anything, or that a proud KGB spy is obliterating local elections, TV news and any human being who gets in his way. Would you at least concede, though, that it would be appropriate to be mean spirited towards Putin when the very last Russian is laid in his/her grave? I mean that will spoil our wonderful little hobby, won’t it?

    Did you know that people used to talk about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King exactly the way you talk about LR? It’s actually quite flattering, so thanks a bunch!

  12. LYNDON: btw, are you saying “Andrew Waller” and “Mike Averko” are the same person? I thought Mike was sternly against anonymity . . .

  13. Misha says:

    “I saw the interview with LR on JRL also and I have to say I was surprised he ran the whole thing – when I saw it in the header I assumed he would post just a link to your blog. I think what that speaks to is not the bias that Andrew W. (and his alter ego, Mike Averko) like to pin on JRL, but just the fact that LR is a phenomenon. Positive, negative, whatever – the blog is a phenomenon.”

    ***

    That JRL posted that inteview while politically censoring sound Russocentric perspectives explains the bias at that site.

    As a comparison, of recent note, Sean’s Russia Blog has had greater traffic on substantive issues.

    I don’t fault Andy for his interview. The issue is what JRL chooses to post. In addition to the interview, there was LR’s idiotic rant about Sharapova as Oliver Bronsen. DJ refused to post a fact based reply that received great positive feedback when it was solicited to other JRL subscribors.

    Post Edward Lucas, Oliver Bronsen/La Russopohbe and Edward Limonov, but not The Tiraspol Times and Matthew Johnson. The often mundane RIAN material making JRL is no doubt care of $$$ donations to JRL.

    Interesting how many are intimidated to critique JRL, but free to go after others. Such is the undeserved power of that outlet. No one sohuld have such power. This reality has been privately confirmed on numerous occasions.

    My last post here on this topic. No need for me to get too dirty. Again, the knock here isn’t on Andy.

  14. Lyndon says:

    Misha (Mike?), I think you overstate the “power” of JRL. It is useful, no doubt, but my guess is that most people who subscribe to it don’t read all of the articles – just scan the headlines and read what’s of interest to them. Since JRL is not the sole media outlet on Russia, the talk of “censorship” is overblown.

    Self-publication (in the form of a blog) is a simple option, and no one can stop anyone from engaging in it and from getting their views the attention and influence they deserve.

    LR, it’s true that desperate times call for desperate measures, I just don’t think times are quite so desperate yet. When the last Russian dies, sure, we can criticize Putin then, though I doubt that day will ever come. But why not try to constructively criticize him now in a way that doesn’t alienate people who see some good in the economic improvements that have happened on his watch?

    My take is that those who wish Russia and Russians well in the long run should approach the country and the current regime with “tough love,” criticizing the things that are wrong with an aim to improving them. You do have a right to your perspective, though, and I think everyone can agree that your commitment to that perspective is impressive.

  15. Andrew Waller says:

    JRL has way too much clout Lyndon. Why is it that media people covering Russia never criticize it unlike other media related operations?

    A good number of people covering Russia are scared of being put in the Quacker’s dog house.

    They believe JRL to reach a large audience. Should he choose to ban a source, then that entity might not have as much publicity or recognized publicity that many (rightly or not) attach to JRL.

    Oliver, are you jealous that there are people who agree with and support Mike? You do not seem to get as much support.

  16. LYNDON:

    Are you saying that things wouldn’t be “desperate” until the last Russian was dead? If not, please give a benchmark. What would have to happen in Russia for you to believe that things were “desperate”? How many people like Anna Politkovskaya would have to die?

    Do you concede that waiting until the last moment, until “desperation” is clear by your definition, places us at a strategic disadvantage, the same way waiting to take care of a medical problem makes it more difficult later on? Do you concede that, in this respect, you’re advocating gambling with people’s lives?

    Can you give any examples of your approach bearing fruit? Or do you simply embrace it on philosphical grounds regardless of whether it works or not?

  17. ANDREW: I didn’t say you were Mike Averko’s alter ego, Lyndon did (though I notice you don’t deny it). I’m simply curious. Your suggestion that Mike has more “support” than me is ridiculous on its face and hardly worth dignifying with an answer. Perhaps you’re not aware of it, but I operate the most trafficked English-language Russia politics blog in the world, and the post you are commenting on is about me. Having said that, as I’ve said before, I couldn’t care less how many people support me — just like Vincent Van Gogh didn’t care how many people bought his art, he just kept right on painting it. Your attempt to “count” support is a clear indication of how absurdly detached from reality you are and how untenable your position really is.

    I really find it quite amusing how Russophiles like you are ready to attack me in exactly the same terms you say I can’t properly use in attacking Putin’s Russia. The hypocrisy is truly breathtaking.

  18. Andy says:

    LR: “…the post you are commenting on is about me.”

    Hmmmm – without wishing to brag, I think you’ll find that this particular post is actually about me.

    Although I will concede that, without your interview, this post would never have been written… 😉

  19. Lyndon says:

    LR, excellent illustration of your commenting style.

    “Can you give any examples of your approach bearing fruit?” I think there were clear instances during the cold war when engaging the Soviets led to successes in the areas of arms control, for example. And in general, I am a proponent of more diplomatic outreach on the part of the US, because I don’t think the swaggering style scores too many points with the rest of the world. But that is almost beside the point. We are but spectators – at least, that’s my point of view – sort of like people who blog about sporting events but do not suit up and play (though admittedly the analogy is imperfect).

    You consider yourself an activist, and perhaps your approach will “bear fruit.” From where I sit, though, in my spectator’s seat, the result of your style so far has been to give an assist to those who wish to discredit more reserved criticism of Russia. It becomes easy for them to write off anyone criticizing Russia as a knee-jerk “russophobe.”

  20. ANDY: Nothing wrong with bragging when you’ve got something to brag about! But after all, I didn’t say ONLY about me. Can’t it be about both of us?

    LYNDON: Merci beaucoup! You haven’t named a single specific example though, so I’m not convinced. Sounds to me vaguely like you are blowing smoke. Try again? And while you are at it, name one person in a position to affect change in Russia who has “written me off”. Isn’t it just as much of a “write off” if nobody pays attention? Answer honestly Lyndon: Are you sinerely trying to increase my influence? Let’s just say my style maximizes my influence — in that case my enemies would want me to abandon it, wouldn’t they?

  21. Andy says:

    LR: Can’t it be about both of us?

    Nope. I have far too big an ego to share the limelight…

  22. Rebecca says:

    Andy Said:
    February 21st, 2007 at 9:55 am
    LR: Can’t it be about both of us?

    Nope. I have far too big an ego to share the limelight…

    True. He’s a megalomaniac you know.

  23. ANDY: Oh in that case maybe we should form a club. But at every meeting, only one of us would be allowed to show up, on a rotating basis. The rest could send really excellent snacks and there would be a conference call where the attendee would be showered with effusive praise. 😉