Vladimir Pozner & Russia's Own Political Correctness

Late last month, Vladimir Pozner—one of Russia's best known journalists—spoke out on his television show against the “Dima Yakovlev” law (which banned American adoptions of Russian orphans). He criticized [ru] the need for such legislation, condemning it as an unnecessary and improper retaliation against the American “Magnitsky Act.” In what caught Russian headlines and sent the RuNet buzzing, Pozner also took an uncharacteristically harsh shot at the federal parliament (the Duma), quipping (supposedly “by accident”) that it is a house of fools. (The Russian word “Duma” is one letter different from the word “dura,” which means “fool.”)

Offended Duma members responded with a public letter of protest and announced new draft legislation that bans foreign nationals from working on government television channels. (Pozner, born in Paris, has an American passport [ru] and speaks English with native fluency and no Russian accent.)

Pozner speaking in English at a conference in Cleveland in April 2012.

Andrei Lugovoi, the main author of the letter (some may remember him as the man wanted by British Police for the murder of Alexander Litvenenko) said [ru]:

Нужно действительно подумать над тем, насколько вообще адекватны люди, имеющие нероссийское гражданство, вообще насколько они способны адекватно выступать за интересы российского государства, работая на российские деньги на федеральных каналах, при этом дискредитируя государственную власть.

One really needs to consider how appropriate and possible it is for individuals with non-Russian citizenship to speak in the interest of [Russia], while getting paid with Russian tax dollars on a federal channel, all to discredit the government.

Vladimir Pozner, 15 December 2010, photo by VOA News, public domain.

The response has been mixed. Perhaps because of Russia's troubled record with the freedom of speech, many TV personalities are taking Pozner’s side. Opposition-leaning journalist Nikolai Svanidze believes [ru] that the Duma understands its error and is now trying to protect its reputation:

Тем более сама постановка вопроса. Если бы сказали: “Владимир Владимирович, извинитесь” или “Владимир Владимирович, в дальнейшем избегайте столь некорректных формулировок”… А они сразу поставили вопрос так: ах, у тебя иностранные паспорта, значит, ты родину не любишь!

The biggest problem is the presentation. If [the Duma] asked him to apologize or simply “to avoid such incorrect formulations in the future,” it would be different—but they jumped to: ah, you have a foreign passport, so you don’t love the Motherland!

Anton Nossik, a RuNet guru and popular blogger, approached [ru] the issue differently:

Чтобы уволить с Первого канала одного-единственного Познера, группа депутатов от ЕР, СР, ЛДПР и КПРФ придумала целый законопроект, запрещающий появление иностранных граждан в федеральном телеэфире в качестве ведущих. Вообще-то Познер получил советский паспорт еще в 1950 году, так что с точки зрения действующего в РФ законодательства он рассматривается как российский гражданин, со всеми вытекающими отсюда правами и обязанностями.

In order to fire Pozner from Channel 1, a group of deputies from [all four represented political parties] thought up a bill that forbids foreign citizens from appearing on federal TV channels as hosts. Pozner actually received his Soviet passport in 1950, so—from a legal perspective—he is seen as a Russian citizen with all the  legally he is a full Russian citizen with all the attendant rights and responsibilities.

Still, this incident for many remains a disappointing reminder that speaking out against state officials rouses forces that eerily resemble censorship and sharply contrast with the democratic ideals to which Russia claims to aspire.

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