Da Russophile, a Year On

As of today, it’s been exactly one year since I started the Da Russophile blog. Although I have been aware of hostile or condescending Western attitudes towards Russia for a long time, reflected in its mass media, I was finally provoked into joining battle by a particularly annoying and dishonest ‘editorial’ on the La Russophobe hate-blog.

This was and remains its motto:

Their Thesis: the Western media tells us Russia is in a death spiral,
its economy is one giant oil bubble, suffers from endemic corruption,
inequality and lawlessness and is presided over by a KGB kleptocrat
dead-set on resurrecting the USSR and launching Cold War II.

Our Antithesis: Russia is a normal country with a booming non-hydrocarbons
economy underpinned by a well-educated and secular workforce.
The Putin administration has affirmed democratic values, worked to improve
human rights and pursued Russia’s national interests abroad.

Your Synthesis: ?

I started off by writing serious ‘core articles’ on Reading Russia Right and Towards a New Russian Century, to demolish some common bearish stereotypes and illustrate how its inherent strengths (natural resources, a well educated population, etc) stood it in good stead for a twenty-first century characterized by economic convergence, technological growth, climate change and resource depletion.

My initial aim to provide a daily or at least weekly Russia news analysis proved too ambitious. I am a cyclical worker, capable of great feats of production over short periods but prone to long periods of idleness and procrastination (one nineteenth-century Russian historian attributed this quality to Russians in general, due to their long winters and short growing seasons). Thus in the end I couldn’t keep up a constant stream of news analysis, unlike the likes of Robert Amsterdam or La Russophobe – it simply required far too much time and organization, stuff I’m not well endowed with, and which doesn’t suit my character besides.

Where I shined, I think, was challenging the conventional wisdom about Russia. Contrarian pieces like Top 10 Russophobe Myths, Lying Liars and their Lies and Faces of the Future (my deconstruction of Russian demographic details, which show that the situation is far from the dire catastrophe usually portrayed by the Western commentariat) remain some of my favorites. I also specifically criticized coverage of Russia’s economy (The Trouble with the Economist) and the Ossetian War (The Western Media, Craven Shills for their Neocon Masters).

Speaking of which, I agree that sometimes my rhetoric is too shrill and detracts from my points (although it does draw attention). This is especially the stake when there is some considerable emotional stake in the issue – I made something like 30% of all original Da Russophile posts during and immediately after the Ossetian War. On the topic of which, Putin summarized Western attitudes better than I can: I’m amazed by their skills at seeing black as white, of portraying aggressors as victims and of blaming the real victims for the consequences of the conflict.

Although there is a real issue of discrimination against Russians in the Baltic countries covered extensively by human rights organizations like Amnesty International (and with which I find easy to sympathize – I haven’t met a single ethnic Balt who wasn’t hostile to my original nationality in real life, and their Internet intelligentsia like Peteris Cedrins or Giustino drip with venom whenever they mention it, barely concealed with a thin veneer of Western civility), on balance my reference to one particular graveyard-desecrating Baltic nation as eSStonia probably didn’t help my argument. Probably one of my bigger mistakes early on was taking my conception of myself as a ‘polar opposite’ to La Russophobe a bit too literally.

Of course, that’s pretty much impossible for me to accomplish. As I recently said to a commentator here, the only reason I ‘defend’ the Kremlin and Russia with such enthusiasm is because of the sheer degree to which it is misaligned or smeared in the Western press – be it out of ignorance or malice. (Although given my experience with Al-Jazeera, I lean towards the latter explanation). Believe it or not, when in the company of Russians too besotted of Putin or Russia’s greatness or whatever, I am often compelled to contradict them by pointing out some of their failures and cynicism or even just for the sake of argument instead of agreement. In fact, to let you on a little secret I think the most acute Russia commentator is not myself, but the likes of Sean Guillory, the people over at Peter Lavelle’s Google discussion group on Russia and perhaps even the eXile guys (jesters are the best at speaking truth to power).

The main reason I am “Da Russophile” in the English language is because far too many Westerners perceive Russia to be some special class of benighted murderous wasteland, whereas in fact I see it as essentially a ‘normal country’ with some admittedly pretty big problems. And since I don’t think a petty thief should be blamed for a murder with no evidence, nor do I think one can be neutral on a moving train (to borrow from Zinn), so I defend misaligned Russia and Putin (and at times Chavez’ Venezuela, and other people Western elites really don’t like but which in reality aren’t that bad, or good). Especially since the presiding judges, juries and executioners – the West – are themselves a bunch of petty crooks. Not that this approach wins any favors from either side…

Speaking of which, I’ve had the pleasure of corresponding with many of my readers as well as other incisive and decent Russia-watching writers such as Andy at Siberian Light, Eric Kraus, Sean, etc. Yet there’s been a fair amount of negative, impolite and I’m afraid to say, on a few occasions hateful, mail directed towards me, so I can only sympathize with Andy’s post on What is it with stupid people and Russia?, where he laments the prevalent Russophobe/Russophile dichotomy in discussions about that country. It will be a great day when this dialog can proceed in a mutually respectful and intelligent manner, but this day is far off, not when the (admittedly very popular) La Russophobe blog explicitly states as its mission to ‘expose’ and professionally damage those who seek to ‘justify’ Kremlin evil, and when a three-way discussion between Timothy Post, Craig Pirrong (Streetwise Professor) and myself identified religious zeal, polarly differing worldviews, and Russia’s supposedly historically exceptional path, respectively, as barring any fundamental agreement. Just like in the retarded Internet debates on abortion between atheists and Bible nuts… Let’s hope my pessimistic view is disproved.

Not that I’m a gray humorless sod (I think). I hope I’ve put smiles on a few faces by some tongue-in-cheek posts like <Russia of the Dead and Zen and the Art of Vodka Drinking.

Writing this blog has been a positive experience – it helps clarify and organize my thoughts, and I hope informs or entertains its readers. I also think that it has some real intellectual content and insights, in particularly my work on demography and Russia’s economic crisis. This was the main reason I decided to associate this blog with my name, Anatoly Karlin, when I moved from blogger to self-hosted WordPress at Sublime Oblivion, about two months ago.

This new structure also made it much easier for me to write about other things of interest (i.e. more than Russia). This is not to say that there was nothing of that in the old days – for instance, I had a bout of interest in healthy eating. The problem was that the blog name was, after all, Da Russophile, and so I was under some mental stress to try to associate everything with it. For instance, the main geopolitical and futurist ideas of Towards a New Russian Century, the vital role of education in economical growth explored in Education as Elixir of Growth were too much ‘forcibly associated’ with Russia-watching for them to be truly standalone articles on geopolitics or economics (I plan to rewrite and repost them). My partial solution was to make another blogger blog about six months ago called Sublime Speculations. Separate blogs, unwieldy infrastructure, lots of glitches, no self-hosting…although WordPress has a steep learning curve relative to blogger, in the end it is a vastly superior publishing system.

So now I can spend less time thinking about maintenance, and more time writing.


  1. AK

    I’ve generally found Lithuanians to be the least anti-Russian of the three Baltic peoples. I believe this might in part have to do with Lithuanians feeling more demographically secure in their country. In addition, Lithuanians have at times been historically pre-occupied with Poland. This probably takes some of the attention away from Russia and Russians. That one Baltic blogger you mention is being ridiculous when he compares LR to yourself, while claiming civility. His linking of Greater Surbiton at his blog contradicts the claim of seeking well mannered discourse.

    Ego aide, I regret that you didn’t mention me. Some of the folks you did mention have faults. None of us are perfect. However, I respectfully suggest to others besides yourself that some of the regularly propped folks aren’t inclusive of the best go to options in a number of instances. As someone brought up as an American of Russian origin, I experienced bigotry which people like someone who you laud had pooh poohed in a disrespectfully playful way (among other things, he really disappointed me for doing that). During the Cold War, someone of Russian origin could expect to be derisively called a “Commie” unlike people of Cuban, Polish and Chinese origin.

    Pardon what I recently posted elsewhere. IMHO, it very much relates to what’s wrong with the current status quo.

    It’s bogus how some suggestively dismiss certain views as “Russophile.” I’ve experienced this from folks who suggest a greater objectivity. Overall, these individuals aren’t more objective. Moreover, folks like myself are the one offering valid points, which are often under-represented at a number of the leading non-Russian English language venues. I do this by welcoming earnest (as opposed to not so earnest) dialogue with those in disagreement.

    I’ve been a constructive critic of Russia. This has included my expressed views on Russia’s decision to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. Along with some others, I’ve offered valid constructive suggestions on improving the current status quo of Russian government funded English language media/PR efforts.

    My M.O. is clear. Interact respectfully and this manner will be reciprocated. Get chippy and you can expect the same.

    It’s inaccurate to believe that by default Marxist, neocon and neolib leaning individuals are more accurate sources over some others (I don’t fit in either of these categories). The same can be said of some other views as well. Besides, within each grouping, there’s room for disagreement. I’ve had respectful differences of opinion with people who I often agree with.

    Relative to the last paragraph, there’s nothing wrong with having an interest in the Komsomol. At the same time, the subject of Russia can involve other interests like the Russian Civil War and a detailed studying of anti-Russian nationalist movements.

    Without naming names, some individuals frankly don’t know the subject matter they’re commenting on. A case in point is the individual who said that my written commentary is “anti-Semitic,” while simultaneously saying that he wasn’t familiar with such material. Is that intelligent commentary on his part? On his claim, the private and not so private feedback was 100% against him. This included people who have disagreed with me on other topics.

    As for my “objectivity,” I’ll give another example to what’s stated in paragraph five of this note. I’d a conversation with someone very familiar with Siberian Light. The discussion was about some views from Russia which suggested that Russia’s top ice hockey league can eventually challenge the National Hockey League in overall quality. With facts, I expressed the view that such a thought was far fetched in the foreseeable future and one which doesn’t benefit Russia’s top ice hockey league. In jest, the person I was discussing this topic with said that my “reputation” can get shattered with such a thought.

    As an example of the kind of BS I’ve faced, it’s not earnest advocacy to comparatively jump all over me, while being mum on comments which say that Stalin was instrumental in defeating Nazism (this matter deals with another venue). More accurately put, the peoples comprising the USSR were instrumental in defeating Nazism. This was achieved despite Stalin’s blunders, which included a purging of the Red Army officer corps in the 1930s and his refusal to believe his own intell. of an upcoming Nazi attack. The latter point resulted in the USSR not being well defended during the Nazi attack.

    The other day, I mentioned this point to a Belarusian Orthodox Jew from Minsk. He didn’t disagree with me. However, he expressed the view that Russians tend to give the leader credit when things are going well, while conversely blaming him/her when things aren’t going right. I’m not sure how different or how much more different this is from other peoples (in not too distant history, note the timing of the attempt to assassinate Hitler and when the Italian people decidedly turned against Mussolini. In any event, this view isn’t always accurate. A lousy coach can still win on account of having a very talented team. Likewise, a very good coach can still lose because his team isn’t so talented.

    AK Edit (post merge):

    I’m sorry for not being so clear in paragraph three.

    In that portion, I’m referring to the above note of mine.

  2. “Their Thesis: the Western media tells us Russia is in a death spiral,
    its economy is one giant oil bubble, suffers from endemic corruption,
    inequality and lawlessness and is presided over by a KGB kleptocrat
    dead-set on resurrecting the USSR and launching Cold War II.”

    Congratulations with the 1st Anniversary! Way to go!

    As for your statement above, what comes to mind is “People assign to others all of their own vices and qualities”. With a few minor changes the above statements describes the USA

    AK responds: Thanks for the congratulations, Dmitri. 🙂

  3. “I am a cyclical worker, capable of great feats of production over short periods but prone to long periods of idleness and procrastination” — what this really means is that you’re a lazy ass. 🙂 Too bad I got you beat in that department. 🙁

    Anyway, keep going and good luck. You know you make various LR’s furious, and if anything, it can provide hours of amusement.

    AK responds: Thanks Fedia! Not lazy, I‘d say…just not always motivated enough. 🙂 Feel free to rejoin the struggle with your excellent sleuthing skill whenever ready 🙂

  4. Why even acknowledge that freakish creep?

    AK responds: While I’d love not to, to ‘look truth in the eye’ LR is one of the most popular Russia blogs on the Internet and as such merits a degree of attention and concern. (Same if commentary on Jews or Israel were dominated by Holocaust-denying voices, for example).

  5. Enjoy the slopes and thanks for this thoughtful introspection.

    I am a cyclical worker, capable of great feats of production over short periods but prone to long periods of idleness and procrastination (one nineteenth-century Russian historian attributed this quality to Russians in general, due to their long winters and short growing seasons).

    I have this problem, too, I don’t think it’s just a Russian thing – unless it’s something that rubbed off on me during the time I lived there.

    I agree that sometimes my rhetoric is too shrill and detracts from my points (although it does draw attention). […]

    I think anyone who writes opinion pieces about matters they care about runs the risk of falling into this trap.

    Probably one of my bigger mistakes early on was taking my conception of myself as a ‘polar opposite’ to La Russophobe a bit too literally.

    You needn’t worry (as I’m sure you know) about rising (falling) to LR’s rhetorical level. Also, whether one agrees or disagrees with the way you present your data or with your conclusions, the amount of substantive original content you’ve generated has been impressive.

    Anyway, happy blog birthday, happy new year, good luck with all of your plans (those enumerated above and those which are still just a spark in your mind), and congratulations on migrating to WordPress – I still haven’t made the switch, although it’s something I’ve wanted to do for some time.

  6. @Mike,

    Dude, chill down, go smoke some weed, etc. I wrote this post quickly since I had to leave soon. Compiling a tally of everyone I corresponded with was not one of its goals. 🙂

    I agree with you on how Russophobic sentiment is less prevalent in Lithuania than in Estonia and Latvia, for the reasons stated. In the latter, it is practically universal; this is far from the case even in countries like Poland, where such sentiments affect probably no more than 50% of the population (although unfortunately, some of the loudest Russophobic voices come from Communist-era migrants to the West).

    What you write about ethnic Russians living in the West during the Cold War resonates, me having known and talked with quite a few of them. And not only during the Cold War. Arguably the 1990’s were worse. At least before then the country was a respectable if disparaged (in the West) global superpower; during the 1990’s, it was so chaotic, hopeless, incompetent, drunk, etc, that morale collapsed, amongst Russians both in Russia and abroad, to such an extent that most actually joined in the rhetorical assault against it. The reversal of the above, in Russians’ opinions of Russia, especially after about 2005, is IMO one of the most positive and necessary developments of its post-Soviet history. (This reversal was helped to quite an extent by the duplicity of Western reporting about the country – this incites many Russians who’ve come across it (i.e. especially the more connected and educates ones) to defend it, even if they’d otherwise have no particularly strong liking for the Putin gov’t.


    Thanks, I enjoyed the trip immensely and feel I’ve improved quite a lot, even if I do say so myself 🙂

    Also added your blog to the blogroll (it was on the old DR but I originally compiled the new one in a hurry and forgot about some).

    “I have this problem, too, I don’t think it’s just a Russian thing – unless it’s something that rubbed off on me during the time I lived there.”

    Everybody has this sympton, although I still suspect Russians have it more than average. Even looking at its history, brief periods of great reform or economic progress (Peter the Great, Emancipation, 1905-1914, Stalinist industrialization, 1998- ?), are interspersed amongst much longer periods of zastoi.

    “I think anyone who writes opinion pieces about matters they care about runs the risk of falling into this trap.”

    Agreed. While I don’t actually believe the Western media are always or even mostly “shills for their neocon masters” (I much favor Chomsky’s propaganda model), my disgust with their coverage of the Ossetia conflict coupled with the knowledge that shrill rhetoric attracts more attention than a more accurate but insipid title, led me to title that post this way.

    BTW, feel free to contact me if you need some tips with WP. 🙂

  7. Post 1


    I’m glad to receive word of your enjoyable trip.

    As per your advice, I’m not the one in as great a need for a chilling down. If anything, that advice is more appropriate for some of the folks you’ve mentioned over the course of time. From time to time, all of us can benefit from what you suggested.

    As for smoking weed, I prefer a good workout and/or a few brews.


    On the matter of updating your blog roll, please note that your current hyperlink to my AC column is outdated. The updated one is at my name on this post.

    I look forward to reading your future commentary.


    Post 2


    Just to follow-up on some related points to your post and the discussion about it, there has been some misrepresentative commentary about a couple of issues relating to the White Russian perspective and Jackson-Vanik Soviet era emigres of Jewish background. These misrepresentations can be due to any number of factors that could include the biases of the presenters and/or their perhaps smoking too little or too much weed 😉

    As is true with any political grouping, the White Russian view has its intelligent and not so intelligent aspects. Likewise and without naming names, I’ve come some simplistically idiotic commentary about the White Russian community at large.

    There’s also the false impression that people of Jewish origin from the former USSR are prone to not being sympathetic to Russia. Several years ago, Zhirik’s appearance in Brighton Beach drew a packed and enthusiastic audience, which was critically noted by one source I came across. This point isn’t said as an endorsement of Zhirik. The mentioned reception he received at Brighton Beach indicates that the former USSR emigres of Jewish origin don’t all think like Masha Gessen. Like any other patriotism, the Russian variant comes in varying degrees. I subscribe to the one acknowledging Russia’s benefit from embracing peoples of different backgrounds – with the latter sometimes becoming more Russian than the Russians themselves.

    Part of the mis-impressions relate to the imagery being hustled at the propped venues. For quality sake, this is why it’s important to properly note those who are doing the right thing – when it comes to presenting a more accurate accounting.

    On a related note, in English language mass media, it often seems that some Ukrainian views are more equal than others. I’m periodically shocked at how some seemingly well informed former USSR observers have been led to believe that Ukrainians at large hate Russians.

    AK responds: Hyperlink fixed.

  8. Thamks.

    In case you missed it, others besides yourself might be interested in this post which concerns (among other things) the use of statistics:


  9. Спасибо вам за сайт, очень полезный ресурс, мне очень нравится

  10. Kill the spamming bots!

  11. Интересно