Due West: As U.S. commemorates 9/11, Kremlin looks the other way

© Photo : KommersantKonstantin von Eggert
Konstantin von Eggert - Sputnik International
On September 11 all major networks the world over produced blanket coverage of the commemoration ceremonies.

I did not expect to come back to the 9/11 topic, but on the sad anniversary day I had a bit of a shock. It was delivered by Russian TV. On September 11 all major networks the world over produced blanket coverage of the commemoration ceremonies. While President Obama delivered a reading from the Psalms as blessing at the Ground Zero ceremony in New York, and a visibly emotional President George W Bush read the famous Lincoln letter to Mrs. Bixby, on the other side of the Atlantic an heir to the British throne spoke movingly of the “continuing, awful agony” that the families of the victims still endure.

 All this was barely shown on Russian TV. Throughout that day state television in Russia rolled out the standard routine of trashy pop music and silly stand up comedians who haven't got a single above-the-waist joke in their arsenal. Even Russia's only 24-hour (and also state-controlled) news channel Rossiya 24, treated the massive global event as if it was a run-of-the-mill European commission meeting.

 By late evening the “heavy artillery” opened up. Channel One, Russia's most-watched, showed Oliver Stone's “W”, a hostile and unsparing dissection of the life of America's 43rd president. Mr. Stone and Channel One management are entitled to their view of George Bush. The film could have been shown on any of the 365 days that constitute 2011. But not on the day of mourning itself, a grossly tactless and deliberately insulting step. Actually, Stone shot another film – the critically acclaimed “WTC” - dedicated to the bravery of the firemen and policemen. But Channel One's bosses thought that slapping Bush would be a better way to commemorate the day. Then came the pseudo-documentary on Russia's main state channel “Russia One”. It recycled all the known 9/11 conspiracy theories, hinting in all seriousness that it was the U.S. government rather than al-Qaeda that executed the attacks in New York and Washington.

 Russia's president and prime minister kept silent. Or nearly so. An extensive trawling of the news sites produced one small piece of evidence that either Mr. Medvedev or Mr. Putin acknowledged the sad anniversary in any way. Mr. Putin called George W Bush to express condolences. Mr. Putin (who was the Russian president at the time) was the first world leader to call George W Bush on that fateful day ten years ago.

 President Medvedev's last communication before 9/11 was a congratulatory telegram to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il on the occasion of the murderous Communist dictatorship's 63rd anniversary.

 There was also a memorial concert, organized as part of the Russian National Orchestra festival. There the only Russian official present was the presidential representative for international cultural cooperation Mikhail Shvydkoi. He also initiated and organized the concert, i.e. if it wasn't for Shvydkoi personally the event might not have taken place at all. Generally speaking, it all looked as if the Russian government was trying to limit its attention to America's day of commemoration to the barest minimum of politeness.

 Managers of Russia's tightly controlled state media were obviously told how to cover this anniversary. As parliamentary and presidential elections draw nearer the political class is preparing to rely on one of the few themes that are usually surefire winners with the audience – anti-Western and anti-American conspiracy-theorizing and hate-mongering.

 “9/11 is not our tragedy. America itself is to blame for its own misfortunes,” was the clear message delivered by Russia's rulers to the populace via a massive propaganda machine. “We are distinctly separate from the rest of the world, especially its Western part, and do not want or need to empathize with it,” was another. This despite the fact that 96 people from the former Soviet republics – including at least one Russian citizen - died in the Twin Towers inferno. But this is besides the point in a country that has seemingly lost an ability to feel the pain of others, probably because it has since long got used to forgetting its own tragedies. Take Beslan or the Moscow theatre siege, or the metro bombings: who would show up for a candlelight vigil to honor the victims, apart from close relatives? As a nation we have become cynical and mistrustful of anything that is not driven by money or power. Russia is in the midst of a huge moral crisis. And its ruling class is the prime example of this attitude.

 Can you imagine the Russian president, prime minister or even MP solemnly praying, as Barack Obama did: “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge”, and then humbly stepping down from the podium, to give way to the dreadfully ordinary relatives of those who perished ten years ago, touching in their dignified grief and inspiring in their determination to live on? No, you cannot? Well, if you ever asked yourself what was wrong with post-Communist Russia, you probably have the answer now.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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What is Russia's place in this world? Unashamed and unreconstructed Atlanticist, Konstantin von Eggert believes his country to be part and parcel of the "global West." And while this is a minority view in Russia, the author is prepared to fight from his corner.

Konstantin Eggert is a commentator and host for radio Kommersant FM, Russia's first 24-hour news station. In the 1990s he was Diplomatic Correspondent for “Izvestia” and later the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau Editor. Konstantin has also spent some time working as ExxonMobil Vice-President in Russia. He was made Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

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