Looking for the plain truth in Russia and America

Opinion: Columns

September 12th, 2017 2:01 PM

By Lisa Biehle Files

One View

A book published in 2014 becomes more relevant day by day. Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, the Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev is a window into the post-Communist regime.

The son of Russian emigres to Great Britain, Pomerantsev is well-suited to fluidly cross both cultures with compassion and objectivity.

Early in the book he writes, "Moscow can feel like an oligarchy in the morning and a democracy in the afternoon, a monarchy for dinner and a totalitarian state by bedtime."

Pomerantsev lived and worked in Russia for almost 10 years as a reality television producer for channel TNT. In Nothing is True, he writes about the stories he pursued there: suicidal elite models, gangster actors, and the bourgeoisie. His program ideas are scrutinized under the watchful eyes of those who control reality's narrative.

Officially, those eyes belong to Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin's media master. Formerly deputy prime minister of Russia, Surkov is now a personal advisor to President Vladimir Putin.

Explains Pomerantsev: "Surkov's genius has been to marry authoritarianism and modern art, to use the language of rights and representation to validate tyranny, to recut and paste democratic capitalism until it means the reverse of its original purpose."

In the end, Pomerantsev declines an offer for a post at the top of the media food chain, working for Ostankino TV. Instead, he opts to move back to London.

But not before detailing the bitter story of Sergey Magnitsky, the lawyer and auditor who dared to unveil a tax rebate scheme known as the "black till of the Kremlin." Stealing from the state was so sacrosanct that Magnitsky was arrested, tortured and physically assaulted before dying at age 37.

Near the end of the book, Pomerantsev comes across street protestors carrying signs that say, "Don't lie, don't steal." He credits them with "capturing in four words the connection between financial and intellectual corruption, where words never mean what they say they mean, and figures on budgets are never what they are."

We, as Americans, would do well to learn from Russia's corrupt example, lest we sink to a similar mafia state. Free press and speech enable truth-tellers to protect our fragile democracy. At the local level, Wednesday Journal's pages are a fine example of this. By allowing all voices to be heard, we steer more closely to the truth. Thank you for your noble work, Wednesday Journal.

Lisa Biehle Files helps with media for Green Community Connections, Grimard Wilson Consulting, and WebTraxStudio.