Our Daily Lies, From Tbilisi to Tripoli

Srdja TrifkovicA prominent opposition figure was shot dead last Sunday in the capital of a former Soviet republic. Had it been a “pro-Western reformist” in Moscow, you’d be force-fed the victim’s name for days on end. A legion of editorialists and “analysts” would be telling you that Vladimir Putin is behind the crime and that we are witnessing yet another dark chapter in Russia’s return to autocracy.

The killing took place the capital of Georgia Tbilisi, however, which is ruled by a pro-Western reformist, Mikhail Saakashvili, who led a color-coded revolution in 2003. You are therefore unlikely to know the name of Guram Sharadze, or to learn that he was the head of the “right-wing” Faith, Fatherland and Language movement, a prominent critic of Western influences in general, and an outspoken opponent of George Soros in particular. You will not know that Georgian opposition leaders say he was killed by the government, and that his family agrees. (In the United States he is already a non-person: a Google News search for “Guram Sharadze” on May 23 did not yield a single U.S.-based media entry in the previous 24 hours.) And you will not know that his murder is just business as usual in Georgia.

In the meantime the stage is set for a new rise in tension between Russia and the West, following Great Britain’s demand on Moscow for the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi, who is suspected by British officials of murdering his fellow ex-KGB officer, Alexander Litvinenko, by poisoning him with polonium 210. “The thing for Americans to understand about the case is that it takes place in the context of rising Russian disregard for the rule of law,” pontificated the New York Sun. “Time for a row with Russia,” screamed the Guardian:

Russia has to learn that it cannot act with impunity. We need to make our condemnation of Russia’s appalling human rights record clear . . . We need to remind him that the journalist Anna Politkovskaya was killed seven months ago—and still the police investigation has only been rudimentary. We need to complain vigorously about . . . the mayor of Moscow’s banning of this weekend’s gay pride march . . . Respect for the rule of law and human rights must underpin Russia’s future and we should not be afraid of ruffling Putin’s feathers.

The same article, in slightly different guises, was published as an editorial or as an op-ed in most major dailies on both sides of the Atlantic.

None of them, to my knowledge, have deemed it newsworthy to mention that the issue of extradition between Britain and Russia is not new: it is over seven years old, in fact, and its origins are in London’s point-blank refusal to extradite Boris Berezovsky, a Russian citizen wanted for fraud and embezzlement on a colossal scale, and Akhmed Zakayev, a Russian citizen accused of a host of horrendous terrorist crimes in Chechnya. In fact a British court accepted a plea by lawyers for Mr Zakayev that he would not get a fair trial and could even could face torture in Russia; Judge Timothy Workman ruled accordingly that “it would be unjust and oppressive to return Mr Zakayev to Russia.”

It is, in other words, right and proper for Britain to refuse extradition of accused terrorists and mega-thieves to Russia—they wouldn’t get a fair trail and may even be tortured in that dark and satanic country—but if Russia dares hesitates to honor Britain’s extradition order for a Russian citizen, then it’s time for a showdown and for another paroxysm of ritualized Russophobia that transcends the left-right divide.

In the same league is the mainstream media reporting of the latest round of fighting in Lebanon. Armed clashes between the Lebanese army and the militants belonging to Fatah al-Islam, a Sunni Islamic militant group based in the Palestinian Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon’s port city of Tripoli, have killed dozens of civilians. Most of them died when the Lebanese army started indiscriminate shelling inside the camp.

Lebanese officials charged that the militants are using the camp’s residents to shield themselves, and the United States expressed full support to Prime Minister Fuad Siniora; Washington is expected to grant him additional military aid. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice unreservedly defended the Lebanese government’s actions: “Lebanon is doing the right thing to try to protect its population, to assert its sovereignty and so we are very supportive of the Siniora government and what it is trying to do,” she told reporters.

While there can be no doubt that Fatah al-Islam is a nasty piece of work and that the militants are using the civilian population to shield themselves—a favorite Muslim tactic in the Balkans and in the Middle East alike—it is nevertheless noteworthy that “doing the right thing” in Tripoli in May 2007 apparently was not at all the right thing to do in Sarajevo in 1994.

This week at The Hague Tribunal the defense is presenting its case in the trial of the Bosnian-Serb General Dragomir Milosevic, charged with ordering artillery attacks against the residents of Sarajevo between August 1994 and the end of the war in Bosnia. General Milosevic’s defense will argue that the soldiers under his command did not commit any crimes. He says that the civilian casualties in that period were either “collateral damage” in the urban fighting, or else the result of the Muslim forces deliberately inserting themselves into heavily built-up areas to invite retaliatory fire from the Serbian side.

Perhaps he should try inviting Condi Rice as a defense witness . . .

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