eXile Under Extreme Measures

The people want to know is the eXile‘s demise the result of a government inspection or money? Well, you see, the two can’t be untangled. Already in dire financial straights, the impromptu inspection scared the paper’s investors away, leaving it in debt and flat broke. Searching for whether it was the chicken or the egg doesn’t say much here. I think for the eXile, government attention simply nudged it off the financial cliff. As Yasha Levine explained on the eXile blog, “News of the [polite chinovniks’] visit had our investors fleeing instantly.” Now broke, the eXile is now begging for money to keep its website’s server up.

Why the eXile has finally attracted the government eye is easy to explain. Limonov, it’s offensive articles, and its love of pissing in the face of anything and everyone. The big question everyone is asking is why now? After all, wasn’t Medvedev supposed to bring a thaw to Putin’s free speech freeze out? There is no easy answer to why the eXile got inspected at this moment. Was it the recent articles on the clan war? Was it Ames writing of the new President, “Don’t you just want to pick Medvedev up and hug him and squeeze him? Or zip him up in a squirrel costume and put him in a habittrail, then just watch him run around, gnawing on a salt lick or rolling around in wood chips? We do. And we’re not afraid to say it either.” I doubt it. They’ve said a lot worse in the last 11 years.

I don’t think asking why now is as important as asking from where. The answer from the latter is sure to shed light on the former. I doubt the order to inspect the eXile came directly from the Kremlin mount. Russia’s chinovniki are so obsequious to those above that I wouldn’t doubt one of them is make a little campaign to with hopes please the new boss. That or Russia’s middle management haven’t got the message to back off the media. Are they not getting Medvedev’s hints that he plans to “protect the media” and even going so far as to shoot down the proposed amendment to the media law?

Or did the order come one of Russia’s board of directors embroiled in a clan war. Ames has published a few articles on the matter. Did they finally prick the ears of the wrong silovik? Then of course there are the alleged complaints by some Russian citizens that they were offended by the eXile. At least this is what the chinovniki told Ames in their meeting. Could it be that the Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications and the Protection of Cultural Heritage works like America’s FCC, which goes after “indecency” on radio and TV based on consumer complaints? Is the eXile Recession Penis merely the Russian equivalent to Janet Jackson’s nipple? Perhaps but unlikely.

Unlikely first and foremost because nothing in Russia seems to ever happen by chance or according to the rules. Conspiracy is always in the air and be sure there is always a Russian boyar plotting and pulling the strings. Given the long list of harassment and threats the eXile have gotten over the years, it’s hard to think that they recent salvo against has anything to do with chance.

Plus it’s not like the eXile is alone here. Over the last month, a number of media outlets have come under fire in what appears to be a larger campaign. In late May, the Novosibirsk nationalist newspaper Otchezna was closed by local authorities for extremism. Also in Novoskibirsk a TV show set in WWII called “Jeeps against Tanks” has been suspected of extremism. The fear is that the show’s popularity might inspire youth to wear swastikas. A little over a week ago, the largest Russian radio company, Russian Media Group, was raided by tax police. A week before that, the Moscow liberal paper Nezavisimaya gazeta got an eviction notice from the Moscow city government. Konstantin Remchukov, NG’s editor/owner, said the notice was retaliation for running articles critical of Moscow boss Yuri Luzhkov. Ingushetia authorities also moved to close down the opposition site Ingushetiya.ru for extremism. The site is still alive but only because its server is outside Russia. The Bashkir government adopted the “On the Working Against Extremist Activities” law. Finally, the Kursk Provincial Duma is seeking to “sharply strengthen” the extremist law.

It appears that alongside Medvedev’s anti-corruption campaign there is an anti-extremism campaign in the making. Just yesterday, Medvedev gave a speech calling for the media to help curtail extremism. “We will fight with these problems with all available means,” he said. These means include the security organs, the justice system, and the Russian press. I would assume that the 53 hate crime arrests the Russian authorities have made so far this year is part of this campaign. True enough Russia has a big problem with skinheads, nationalism, and racial violence. There are real extremists out there. But the extremism law is so elastic that anyone can be labeled as such if some lowly chinovnik desired it.

The crackdown on Russia media is a well worn story. The NY Times revisited the issue of media (self-)censorship again this weekend. Surprisingly the English language press which is always ready to point out the next tiptoe to Russian autocracy, authoritarianism, fascism, Stalinism or whatever is the political flavor the week, have been virtually silent about the eXile‘s travails. No outcry from the NY Times. No snarky editorials from WaPo. The London Independent, which two years called the eXile “a breath of fresh air” amid “tightly controlled and increasingly cowed Moscow media,” hasn’t made a peep.

Besides the Moscow Times, the Daily Georgian Times, and something called the Foreign Policy Passport, the English Language media either doesn’t know about the story (unlikely), doesn’t care (likely), and is in fact happy (most likely). In fact, the whole incident seems to have thrown people’s political conscious into contradiction with their emotions. As the Moscow Times reported, one American victim of eXile pranks would only speak to them “on condition of anonymity because he did not want to be quoted saying negative things about the newspaper as it was being shut down.” The anon-moron said, “[The eXile] never really called anyone to ask questions, and they made 90 percent of it up.” Translated: “I’m glad those fucks finally got what they deserve, but it’s not politically correct to say so.” I guess eleven years of farting in everyone’s face doesn’t exactly ingratiate you to the establishment. So there are no crocodile tears for the poor eXile. Oh well, I doubt Ames and the gang are expecting any.

The Russian media, however, is all over it. Limonov, who is reason for the inspection, has given his take on the matter. The buzzword in every article is: extremism.

Given the context, perhaps there is an answer, or should a say a theory, of why the eXile now. It is part of the overarching campaignism of Medvedev so he could establish his footing as boss. This is not to say that the eXile is more significant than any other Russian press organ. Their appearance on the radar is far more modest. The eXile as the sole English language forum for Limonov coupled with its own brand of uncompromising bile made it an easy target for the chinovnik looking to fulfill signals from above. Since the usual outcry from the English speaking Mandarins is unlikely to come (perhaps if they were some thieving oligarch they would get more sympathy), an irascible English language bi-weekly already teetering on financial collapse is an easy gnat to crush.