Canadian Paper Calls Russia a Piece of Dung
- By Jen Tracy
- Jan. 20 2000 00:00
A "lump of dung wrapped in a cabbage leaf hidden in an outhouse" was not exactly what Winston Churchill had in mind when he described Russia as a "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."
And the crude description in an editorial in a Canadian newspaper titled "Russia Under Putin Will Suck, as Always" was not exactly acceptable to the Russian ambassador.
So upset was the Russian ambassador - not to mention the Russian community in Ottawa, Canada - that the matter was called to international attention in the media, Moscow was informed and the Canadian Foreign Ministry had to smooth things over.
Things finally came to a satisfactory end Wednesday when the controversial Ottawa Citizen columnist, John Robson, printed a letter of apology to those he offended.
"The purpose of this column is to offer a sincere and detailed apology for my Jan. 7 column on Russia," Robson wrote. "It was offensive and hurtful and I am extremely sorry for what I wrote. Had I not been away for the past week, I would have apologized sooner.
"The vulgarity of the ... comparison of Russia to a lump of dung contributed to its offensiveness. They were cheap shots and I regret them. But what was really wrong was that I wrote it in such a way as to suggest that I feel contempt for all members of an ethnic group ... and I am ashamed of it," the letter continued.
Russian Ambassador to Canada Vitaly Churkin, who wrote to the daily newspaper to say the piece reminded him of Nazi propaganda, complained personally to the Canadian Foreign Ministry.
"They agreed it was insulting. We hope there will be more respect for Russia in future and that such incidents will not be repeated," a Russian diplomat told Reuters.
Officials at the Canadian Foreign Ministry said Moscow did not file a formal complaint over what was the latest in a series of negative columns on Russia written by Robson, but Russian diplomats were quick to show their outrage.
"Russian officials raised the article with their Canadian counterparts in Moscow and Ottawa to register their regret over the piece," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Valerie Noftle said in a telephone interview Wednesday from Ottawa.
In the Jan. 7 piece, Robson, the deputy editor of the editorial page, said Russia would never be a normal country and there is nothing acting President Vladimir Putin can do to change that.
"Normal for Russia is filthy, corrupt, menacing and hollow. Nothing good has happened there, nor will it. Russia is a lump of dung wrapped in a cabbage leaf hidden in an outhouse.
"Russia is doomed by history and culture. It stinks, literally and figuratively, and always has. People there have no manners. ... The bottom line is: Russia has sucked, sucks and will suck," he wrote, this time twisting Communist Party propaganda, which said "Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live."
Ambassador Churkin vented his outrage in a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen, a 150-year-old paper with a circulation of 180,000.
"In my two and a half decades of diplomatic service, including the nasty years of the Cold War, I've never come across an article ... so clearly below even the lowest standards of civility," he wrote.
"This malicious display of Russophobia is reminiscent of Nazi propaganda. Fanning ethnic or national hatred has since been universally recognized as a most degrading pursuit," Churkin continued.
"I am bringing this matter to the attention of the government of Canada," he added.
Canadian officials were worried that the articles misrepresented public opinion in Canada and would be harmful to Russian-Canadian relations.
"Canadian officials pointed out that the strong response among the Canadian public in the form of letters to the editor indicated the original article should not be considered as mainstream opinion in Canada," Noftle said.
And letters of protest from Canadian citizens of Russian origin indeed flooded Ottawa Citizen offices.
In a letter to the editor on Jan. 11, Ottawa citizen and native Russian Angelina Lewinson described Robson's column as an insult to people of Russian ancestry, saying his column presents Russian history in the form of a comic strip intended to mislead less educated readers in a simplistic, one-sided, vulgar and hateful manner.
"Mr. Robson is obviously confused by his own historical findings, because he cannot make the distinction between the rulers of Russia and the Russian people," Lewinson wrote.
"For your edification, Mr. Robson, the Russian rulers have exploited the Russian people, built labor camps and declared wars ... the Russian people, on the other hand, have died in wars and labor camps, built cities, contributed to science and created music, literature, art, architecture and films. Mr. Robson, you owe us a public apology."
Telephones for editors at the Ottawa Citizen went unanswered Wednesday.