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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

It's Time to Get Rid of the Dream Weavers

At the height of the 1996 presidential campaign, a well-known journalist told me that she was working to defeat Communism because she had gotten used to having yoghurt for breakfast. "If the Communists win, yoghurt will disappear from the shelves," she said. "You're right," I replied. "If the Communists win, yoghurt will disappear from the shelves, but not on Gennady Zyuganov's orders. People like you with your irrational fears have frightened the yoghurt importers to death. As things stand, they'll clear out of Russia without waiting around for the new government to be formed."

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Mikhail Khodorkovsky's newspaper, Moskovskiye Novosti, should probably regard his manifesto -- published last week in someone else's newspaper, Vedomosti -- as a call to action. But judging by his insistence in last Friday's edition that Khodorkovsky had not betrayed his "democratic" convictions, Moskovskiye Novosti editor Yevgeny Kiselyov clearly didn't get the message. It makes you wonder if most "democrats" are capable of understanding anything at all.

Not long ago, Moskovskiye Novosti ran a lengthy interview with Alexei Kondaurov, Khodorkovsky's former assistant and head of the Yukos analytical department who is now a State Duma deputy from the Communist Party. The crux of Kondaurov's argument went like this: "We bought up once successful state-owned companies in the raw materials sector that had been looted and saddled with enormous debts. We came in, restored order, paid off the debts and created jobs. It was not our fault that the government set ridiculously low prices for these companies." It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that a government incapable of effectively managing the few dozen state companies that can't help but make a profit, and which sells those companies for a song, simply has no right to run the country. In effect, the Communist Kondaurov did not so much defend Khodorkovsky as supply yet another argument to back up his party's wisest slogan: "Put the Yeltsin gang on trial!"

Kondaurov's argument also supports the conclusion that there is no justification for having anything to do with such a government. Common sense suggests that the results of this criminal negligence will not stand forever and that the wise move is to avoid getting steamrolled when the results are overturned.

But common sense is unfortunately not in vogue among the ruling elite and the major players in the media industry, who prefer to trade in myths and lofty principles such as battling Communism, defending democracy, market reform and liberal values. Slogans like these have provided very effective ideological cover for years of stupidity, baseness and criminal activity. A culture of utter hypocrisy, lies and self-deception has taken root in the Russian mass media. Yet not all of this was the result of ill intentions. The customers and producers of propaganda seem to have believed their own PR.

Khodorkovsky's notes from prison make it unnecessary to go through the consequences of these delusions here. The former Yukos CEO's account of what he and those like him did to this country reveals an insider's knowledge of the situation.

Yet Khodorkovsky's insight places him in a rather ambiguous position vis-a-vis the jewel in his media crown, Moskovskiye Novosti. When he bought the paper, the old "unenlightened" Khodorkovsky installed Yevgeny Kiselyov as editor-in-chief. In so doing he turned a respected publication into a machine for drumming up foreign support in his defense. The new and improved Khodorkovsky must realize that Kiselyov ranks among the most odious peddlers of illusions. His name on the masthead is enough to devalue any and all investment in this once attractive media company.

And this leads to the question: What is Khodorkovsky going to do to correct his latest error of managerial judgment?

Alexei Pankin is the editor of Sreda, a magazine for media professionals. []