Monday, January 31, 2005

TV News in Bashkortostan

Last week I spent in Ufa – the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan. Although only about one third of its population is Bashkirs, the Bashkir language is official and Islam is very strong there. The president of Bashkortostan is Bashkir national so as most of the highest officials. If you don’t count several mosques and the fact that all street signs are written both in Bashkir and Russian, Ufa looks like any other Russian provincial town, even better. It’s definitely more clean and tidy than average although some streets are covered with ice sometimes a feet deep. Almost all national supermarket chains are present together with major electronics chains like ‘Eldorado’ or ‘Mir’. In the center of Ufa you cannot miss McDonalds – it’s one of the major local attractions albeit too expensive for an average family. I also noticed a lot of fashion stores like ‘Naf Naf’ or ‘Gucci’. Ufa changed a lot since I was there five years ago – it’s much nicer and better. You see positive changes everywhere.
When I return to my hotel later in the evening I turned on local TV news. That was a shock – like coming back to the Soviet Union in late 70s. I wouldn’t say that today in Russia we enjoy a lot of freedom on national TV but at the pro-Kremlin bias of ORT and RTR is somehow balanced by NTV ‘neutrality’ and anti-Putin bias on RenTV. In comparison with Vesti Bashkortostan even ORT could be taken for a beacon of the freedom of speech. The news started with a long speech by the ‘wise and beloved by the people’ President Rakhimov who condemned Moscow bureaucrats for trying to rob the people of social benefits they have. But beware Moscow bureaucrats! The great and wise President solved absolutely every problem and the people of Bashkirtostan believes in him. In comparison with other Russian region Bashkortostan is an oasis of happiness and social security. There were some tiny protests and demonstration but they were organized by ‘so called’ opposition – ‘those disgusting parasites and power mongers who want to grab Bashkir oil businesses and impoverish the people’. The reporter takes “random” interviews on the street – all respondents say they love their wise President and condemn those who want to ‘seed doubt in the wisdom of our great leader’!
What if Putin was right to abolish gubernatorial elections? Otherwise Bashkortostan will remain an Eastern feudal monarchy disguised as a democracy.