Does the NYTimes hate Russia?

I criticize Russia as much as the next person (or maybe more so, since I’ve lived with more crazy old Russian women than you can shake a stick at), but the NYTimes is really invective today.

First, Clifford J. Levy writes an article about Russian computer crime that contains the following statements:

Russia has become a leading source of Internet ills, home to legions of high-tech rogues who operate with seeming impunity from the anonymous living rooms of Novosibirsk or the shadowy cybercafes of St. Petersburg. . . .

Yes, I’ve been in those “shadowy cybercafes of St. Petersburg.” They’re filled with sweaty, pube-mustachioed, foul-mouthed teens playing multi-player games. Computer access is around $1/hour.

. . . the Russian government . . . seems to show little interest in a crackdown, as if officials privately take some pleasure in knowing that their compatriots are tormenting millions of people in the West. . . .

Perhaps they are “privately tak”ing some money from the largest cybercriminals? Maybe it’s not about spite, it’s about profit? Or perhaps it’s because the vast majority of Russian society doesn’t have a computer, credit cards, or use the internet, so cybercrime is relatively intangible. Could it be ignorance on the part of local law enforcement rather than ubiquitous hatred of the West?

Levy doesn’t stop in Russia. He implies that Russians living in the U.S. are criminals because of their shared “Russian” mentality.

In the United States, a center for health care fraud is Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, which has one of the nation’s largest concentrations of Russian immigrants. . . .

And then he pulls out a whammy of a quotation at the end, a response from a livejournaler called Lightwatch to questions posed in a Russian forum:

“I don’t see in this a big tragedy. Western countries played not the smallest role in the fall of the Soviet Union.” . . . As for the West? “You are getting what you deserve.”

This isn’t a very neutral review of Russian cybercrime. Levy paints a picture of Russians as uncooperative, criminal-harboring U.S.-haters. By doing so, he reveals his own biases, which I suspect he may have honed in Brighton Beach buying bootleg DVDs. What service does such an article perform except to reinforce misunderstanding between Russians and Americans? Honestly, is it even informative?

A further small anti-Russia jab which caught my eye was in a short travel article about Riga, Latvia.

The author didn’t gain much of my respect by confusing Art Deco and Art Nouveau in the first paragraph of the article. But then, with only 36 hours under his belt, maybe Jon Fasman didn’t have time to get all the details about Latvia straight.

This seems to be the case in his characterization of Riga’s Occupation Museum; while he is right that there are numerous interesting artifacts, the exhibition fails to take a critical look at Latvia’s complicity with the Nazis and the Soviets during the “occupations” and fights for independence. He writes that it “is among the most thoughtfully designed and well-curated historical museums in Europe” — leading me to believe that Fasman has little visited historical museums in Europe. Museums in Germany and other countries have gone a lot further in recognizing and representing their citizens’ heroic, cowardly and downright evil actions in war and peace time. Further, and perhaps the author is not aware, hundreds of thousands of Russians living in Latvia are still branded with the status of “occupier” and are denied citizenship and civil rights — “delicious strokes of post-independence revenge” indeed.

I don’t mean to be an apologist: Russia needs to step up in international campaigns against organized crime. Russians living in the near abroad must make concessions to their fellow countrymen. There is much which can rightly be criticized about the rule of law, the presidential power consolidation, corruption at all levels across the land. But such unnecessary, unlearned vitriole against Russia shows me that despite the importance of understanding our former enemy and current would-be ally, we have done and continue to do much ourselves to further Cold War mentalities and undercut positive relations between our two countries, to the detriment of international security.


4 Responses to Does the NYTimes hate Russia?

  1. Mary says:

    Wow! That’s kind of weird. I read this entry in my first full day in St. Petersburg, where I’m all kind of paranoid about being on the Internet anyway, checking on my AOL account, etc. What a strange coincidence.

  2. poetloverrebelspy says:

    So, was the internet cafe “shadowy”? Were you surrounded by rogue criminals?

    What are you doing in St. Petersburg?

  3. Mary says:

    I’m visiting my husband who is on an extended business trip (a little over four months). I’m actually using the computer in the apartment in which he’s staying; however, now I definitely have to visit an Internet cafe.

  4. poetloverrebelspy says:

    Mary, I have to say I’m honored that you have now commented twice at the Geek Buffet on your vacation. I hope you have a great trip!

    BTW, it will be hard to find the “shadowy” internet cafes — they are accessed by basement entrances in the courtyards of residential areas. If you can’t read Cyrillic, perhaps you can follow the smell of teen “spirit.” This is to say, don’t report back to me from the respectable (and expensive) Quo Vadis on Nevsky 🙂

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