Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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"Russian Revolutions:"  An Open Letter
to ABC Nightline's Ted Koppel

Ernest Partridge

April, 2000

The collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989 and the Soviet Union in 1991 offered a historic opportunity to transform that part of the world into open societies; but the Western democracies failed to rise to the occasion and the entire world has to to suffer the consequences. . . 

The quest for an open society is a flame that could not be extinguished even by Stalin's terror.  I am sure it will stay alive in Russia, whatever its future.

George Soros, "Who Lost Russia?" 
New York Review, 4/13/00

April 1, 2000

Dear Mr. Koppel,

Your Nightline series, "Russian Revolutions," was riveting. I watched and recorded every minute of it. The portrayals, in their particulars, were accurate and disturbing.

Even so, when it was all over, I felt profoundly dissatisfied, for the Nightline portrayal of "the New Russia" was incomplete, and for that reason greatly distorted. Because I am told that "more people get their news from ABC than anywhere else," I am also fearful of the consequences.

Yours was a portrayal of a Russia with an abundance of scoundrels and villains "at the top," and of a population below that is depressed, sullen, apathetic and in despair. There were few heroes in evidence in that series, with the predictable exception of a couple of journalists.

As a frequent visitor to Russia with many cherished Russian friends, and as the American editor and distributor of a Russian Environmental Newsletter, I have a very different view of Russia. There are, in fact, an abundance of heroes in Russia today who are little known to the American public. Nightline could have remedied that unfortunate condition of public opinion, but sadly chose not to do so. Instead, as is typical of our media, ABC assumed that a tone of disparagement might be more appealing to the US public. And so my compatriots continue to look upon the Russian people with pity and condescension, and upon their leaders with contempt. All the while, there is much to admire. As a result, the Russians, a proud people, are justifiably resentful about these American attitudes.

We are all familiar with the scoundrels, clowns and robber-barons – Zhuganov, Zhirinovsky, Berezovsky. But who in the West has heard of the heroes: Vorontsov, Kovalev, Soyfer, Pasko, Nikitin, Savushkin, Golets, Yablokov, Zabelin, Kalugin? (The latter three, my personal friends and associates).

Perhaps, in the near future, Nightline may choose to complete its portrait, with a celebration of the courage of the Russian reformers, and with profiles of its authentic heroes. Dare we hope?

No liberal democracy can be secure and can endure without an independent judiciary, and without a flourishing "civil society" of citizen-based, independent associations. Both were totally absent in the Soviet Union, as the courts were under the complete control of the Party, and all group activities required Party recognition and sponsorship.

All that has changed profoundly during the past decade.

Last year, the Russian Security service was thwarted by the courts as Grigorii Pasko, and Alexandr Nikitin were acquitted of espionage charges. These were events of historical significance. The judges in these cases, respectively Dmitri Savushkin and Sergei Golets, made their decisions with full knowledge of the fates of jurists in the Soviet era who ruled against the Party and the KGB. Notwithstanding this history, both Judges, in their rulings, cited Federal and International Law, and listed the violations of these laws by the FSB. These were acts of extraordinary courage that are unnecessary, and therefore unknown, in American jurisprudence.

When Alexandr Nikitin was arrested by the FSB in August, 1998, the New York Times wrote a commendable editorial in his behalf. News of Nikitin’s acquittal last December was lost in the back pages of the Times. I saw and heard no mention of it on any of the Network or Cable TV news programs.

As for civil society, there is a vigorous and productive effort underway by ordinary Russian citizens to form civic interest and protest groups. One organization in particular of which I am a member, the Socio-Ecological Union in Moscow, is a federation of three-hundred citizen-based environmental organizations throughout the former Soviet Union. The monthly Newsletter, The SEU TIMES, which I distribute through my website, reports widespread and frequently successful citizen action by ordinary Russian citizens, against environmental abuses by international corporations, and by government and military officials in the CIS.

Such reforms, by the judiciary and from the grass roots, desperately need the "sunlight" of national and international publicity, and that is the responsibility of the international media. Instead, we are treated with ABC’s smug and partial reporting of "Russian Revolutions." My friends of the Russian reform movement deserve much better. If the Western media persists in its failure to report "the good news" from the former Soviet Union, we will all pay a heavy price for it.

The "conservatives" never tire of telling us that Ronald Reagan "defeated communism." What insufferable, arrogant nonsense! It is as if the French were to tell us that Lafayette won the American Revolution, without a word of acknowledgment to Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and all the rest.

No, we were instead spectators of the fall of communism, which was defeated by the people of the Soviet Union – Russians and others. Soviet communism was overturned by the likes of Yevtushenko, Solzhenitzen, Sakharov and Bonner, and the authentically "ex-KGB" General, Oleg Kalugin. And the success and even the lives of all of these depended upon the young people who poured into Manesh Square and placed their bodies in front of the tanks at Kalininsky Prospect. Similarly in St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Tiblisi, Kiev and Vilnius. Credit also belongs to Mikhail Gorbachev, who began as a reformer and was overtaken as his reform turned to revolution. And finally to Boris Yeltsin, whose courage briefly shone before it eventually sputtered out.

The "Russian Revolutions" continue into an uncertain future under the enigmatic President Putin, about whom my Russian friends and I are very apprehensive. During these dangerous times, the agents of reform in Russia and the former Soviet republics deserve the support and encouragement of free men and women throughout the world.

They also deserve to be known throughout the world, to have their courage celebrated, and to have their work publicized.

And that is your job.

Ernest Partridge, Research Associate
University of California, Riverside


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .