Deeper Than Oil: How to annoy people and get paid for doing it

© RIA NovostiMarс Bennetts
Marс Bennetts - Sputnik International
One of the best things about being a journalist is that you get to meet some fascinating people, folk who wouldn’t normally have any interest in discussing life and stuff with you. Of course, the nature of the job also means you often have to annoy them, which kind of rules out a repeat invite for tea and biscuits.

One of the best things about being a journalist is that you get to meet some fascinating people, folk who wouldn’t normally have any interest in discussing life and stuff with you. Of course, the nature of the job also means you often have to annoy them, which kind of rules out a repeat invite for tea and biscuits.

In the last year or so, I’ve managed to irritate a Soviet-era psychic, a radical Russian politician and a whole bunch of skinheads. Not bad going. I must be doing something right, I guess.

Anatoly Kashpirovsky was a psychic healer whose TV shows transfixed the entire glasnost-era Soviet Union. At the height of his celebrity, the former weightlifter and qualified psychiatrist regularly topped polls to find the most popular public figure, easily beating the still sober Boris Yeltsin into second place. His live appearances at venues from Moscow to Vladivostok saw crowds sobbing and writhing to his command, a mass casting-out of demons, Soviet-style.

I interviewed him by email and attended one of his shows last year, and wrote the whole thing up for a feature for The Observer/The Guardian.

Kashpirovksy was most unimpressed and responded with an article on his website entitled “Fairytales by Marc Bennetts”

“The author of yet another piece of journalistic vomit is Marc Bennetts, an immigrant from England who found refuge in Russia and has settled in Moscow,” Kashpirovsky wrote.

He went on to accuse me of being in the pay of his enemies and caricaturizing his work. (I may have been a touch too sarcastic, I admit. But it was kind of hard not to react with irony to the sight of dozens of middle-aged women falling into trances and having their nasal problems cured by Kashpirovsky’s touch.)

He was also particularly irked by my passing reference to his Ukrainian accent.

“Bennetts underlined his disrespect for my nationality. Didn’t they teach him in England that it is a crime to reproach someone for their nationality?” he asked.

Kashpirovsky's rant was followed with a longish article by one Dr. N.V. Singh, who accused me of not knowing the difference between “a doctor and a healer.”

Dr. Singh – and no doubt Kashpirovsky – was also displeased with my comment that the Ukrainian healer’s shows had been suspected of causing a number of suicides in the Soviet Union.

“What does Marc Bennetts know of suicide?” Dr. Singh asked.

I was both shocked and pleased to find myself the focus of Kashpirovsky’s ire. Shocked because, what if he really was possessed of otherworldly powers? And pleased because, well, it’s not every day one of the most famous people in the Soviet Union dedicates an article to you.

Six months later or so, I got on the nerves of Eduard Limonov, a radical writer and equally as radical politician.

I met Limonov in an apartment in south Moscow. Without meaning to come on all Luke Harding-like, there were definitely signs of an FSB tail as I made my way to and from the interview. Still, given Limonov’s reputation that’s hardly surprising.

Although I don’t agree with a lot of what Limonov says and believes in, I admire him for his uncompromising stance and his courage. It takes a lot to stand up to the Russian state, and Limonov – who served four years in the early 2000s on weapons charges – has been doing so for almost two decades now.

But still, I couldn’t let him get away with telling what seemed to me to be two big untruths during our talk.

Limonov outraged the West when he was filmed shooting a machine gun into a besieged Sarajevo in the company of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. The incident, captured by Bafta award-winning director Pawel Pawlikowski in his Serbian Epics documentary, was shown at Karadzic's trial at the Hague.

But he reacted furiously when I brought up the issue.

"That schmuck," he says. "I was shooting at a firing range, and that guy put in an extra frame to make it look like I was firing at buildings. I've been saying this for 15 years."

I was unsure of how to react to this, as well as to his assertion that he was "always a freelance journalist" during the conflict in Bosnia. I later dug up an extract from his 2001 Book of the Dead where he appeared to admit – the sentence is ambiguously phrased – spraying the city with machine-gun fire. I then came across an article where he explicitly stated that he "fought" in Bosnia from "February to May 1993". I sent him the quotes and called later for a comment. He was beside himself with rage and barked down the phone that he regretted having had anything to do with me. "It wouldn't have been a Limonov interview without a bit of shouting," a fellow journalist commented.

Still, it added some color to the eventual piece.

My most recent article to annoy was for RIA Novosti. It was a column about the recent riots in the UK. In the article I noted the Russians media’s odd focus on the ethnic make-up of the rioters, and their assumption that all the looters and stone-throwers were “immigrants”.

This time I wound some white power guys up.

“We’re discussing your piece on Stormfront,” one of them wrote to me.

The insults were pretty inventive. You can check them out here.

I wonder who this column will annoy? You?


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

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From lurid tales of oligarch excess to scare stories about Moscow’s stranglehold on Europe’s energy supplies, the land that gave us Roman Abramovich and Vladimir Putin is very rarely out of the news. But there is much more to modern Russia than billionaire tycoons and political conspiracy. Marc Bennetts’ weekly column, Deeper Than Oil, goes beyond the headlines to explore the hidden sides of the world’s largest, and often strangest, country.

Marc Bennetts is a journalist who has written about Russian spies, Chechen football and Soviet psychics for a number of UK newspapers, including The Guardian and The Times. He is also the author of Football Dynamo: Modern Russia and the People’s Game (Virgin Books).

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