Georgia: Not all Czechs like Condoleezza Rice’s 1968 Comparison

(Related: South Ossetia, Tibet, and Xinjiang)

“This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can threaten its neighbours, occupy a capital, overthrow a government, and get away with it”, said US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, ahead of her trip to Georgia this week.

Czech president Václav Klaus rejected the picture painted by the American government. He said that in 1968 Czechoslovakia did not attack Subcarpathian Ruthenia and in his view the pro-reform Czechoslovak leader Alexander Dubček did not resemble Georgian President Saakashvili in word or deed.

Call me Jesus - Sellouts!

Call me Jesus - Sellouts!

Interestingly, not only Poland and the Baltic states, but Swedish media too (from a country that used to be neutral during the Cold War) seem to be pretty lopsided in their coverage about the crisis, according to a Radio Sweden report. The European divide between those who see both the Georgian and the Russian leadership responsible for the situation on the one hand, and those who blame Russia unilaterally on the other, seems to run from the European Union’s North-West (Britain) through Central Europe (Germany on the one hand and Poland on the other), and then to split the Czech Republic’s public opinion right in the middle.

I think that president Klaus has made an important case. This isn’t 1968 anyway, and the Bush administration’s comparisons into that direction are distortions. It is understandable that especially former Eastern Bloc countries are deeply uneasy about Russia. But to jump to conclusions simply because they seem to fit into own past experience is wrong. Besides, such comparisons belittle the struggles and achievements of these nations and people during the previous century. Saakashvili is no Dubček, no Walesa, no Václav Havel. Any such comparison with the Georgian president belittles Eastern Europe’s real democrats.

But why is Russia losing the propaganda war? The BBC’s Paul Reynolds makes an interesting case as to why some of the mud thrown exclusively into Moscow’s direction may stick so well:

“Most of the Western media is based in Georgia. The Russians were slow to give access from their side and this has helped them lose the propaganda war.” In short: Russia’s authoritarian government may never be open enough to emerge from such a conflict without disproportionate damage to their global image.

Russian journalists know that the truth can be dangerous – especially for those of them who investigate criminal cases in which the state is a big stakeholder. Anna Politkovskaya imagined her own death long before it arrived.

In China, authorities can simply lock “troublemakers” away by “administrative sentences”. Other victims of arbitrary justice go on trial for “disclosing state secrets”, and only the CCP knows in advance what, in a particular case, will spell “state secret”.

That makes it no easier for news people from outside to report accurately. But they should do their best – their job is neither to please authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, nor to please the public at home.

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