Die Zeit on Sochi: Finally a Newspaper Up With The Times

February 18, 2014 Updated: February 18, 2014

If ever there were a nationalistic leaning and politically motivated newspaper moment, most would consider Germany’s Zeit Online (The Times) at the top of any Russia bashing list. However negative and seemingly unfair any previous editorial there may have been, a recent sports report shows another side to your typical western press pension for cold, Cold War-like contempt for Russia. A candid interview with Russia Today’s Editor in Chief, Margarita Simonyan, puts in forum all the negative assertions about the Sochi Winter Games, and offers RT’s boss ample opportunity to address both issues and non-issues, as it were.

This post at Germany’s most respected, and some say most intelligent press, begs the question: “Are all those horror stories of Russian corruption, corporate greed, and bigotry true?” And while the common citizen of the world is in general noting how government these days has credibility problems, leadership and especially editors in the West more often want to answer this question with still more questionable dialogue and reporting. It’s as if only Russian dogs are captured and tortuously killed. 

A Semblance of Fairness

The predominant tone of hell-bent Western press is to try and bash the Sochi Winter Games at any cost. With Zeit’s interview of Simonyan in such a candid manner, it seems a successful Olympics has turned the tide somewhat where ridiculous haranguing is concerned. What has to have been for most an intentional misinformation campaign, has appeared for many constituents so one-sided and unfair as to appear as a prize fight where one competitor hits below the belt continually, without any penalty. Sadly for some reporters and editors, even the loud booing of the crowd has not stemmed the flow of propaganda. While the questioning line of Die Zeit Managing Editor Meike Dülffer, does seem bent on hammering out the negativity of Sochi, as my partner Mihaela Lica Butler pointed out this morning;

“These are some of the most negative stories the Western press is reporting on. Ms. Dülffer had to ask them to bring out the Russian side, or the truth in the end.” 

Once the reader gets past the beckoning headline “Was sich in Sotschi verändert hat, ist fantastisch” (“What has changed in Sochi is fantastic”), for once a leading Russian authority gets a fair and square shake in addressing the issues. I talked with Ms. Simonyan and asked specifically about her perception of Dülffer’s questioning line. She responded: 

“Given the questions I usually get from Western media, I was even surprised how sensitive this journalist was. She never asked how I can live in a country where they harass gay people or when was the last time I received instructions from the Kremlin.”

The lead to this story of Dülffer’s reads: “The foreign media reports are a joke, says Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the news agency Russia Today. Olympics have brought prosperity.” However comforting it may be for readers to hear Simonyan, a native of Sochi talking of her hometown, the idea of rigid German elitism giving ground to moderation is poignant. The Q & A (translated roughly) gets to the heart of today’s Sochi melodrama:

Zeit Online : Some say it had once been beautiful there (Sochi)?

Margarita Simonyan: No, it is very nice now. The Olympic Park, for example, looks great, if you arrive by plane, especially when the evenings are all the lights on. There was previously only yes swamp. Nothing was there. A bit of grass, a few potatoes were grown there.

The Wickedness of Unfair Press

In one fell swoop Dülffer and the quid pro quo with Simonyan take apart the travesty that was and is the three acts at Sochi.  “Nature has been destroyed?” “Is your family happy about the Sochi changes?” “Our people say Sochi has lost its charm?” “Are the games a curse of a blessing?” The tone and the repetitive questioning here, make for a no nonsense appeal in the courtroom of public (reader) opinion. If there’s a Russophobe in the Zeit readership, they’re not an ember to warm their Germanic hearts by in this repartee.

A more democratic interviewer might have asked for examples and an elaboration on the facts of Sochi. Even Josef Joffe (award-winning author and boss man of Zeit) himself might have elongated the interview, just to ferret out the last morsel of information. Nevertheless, not even the geniuses at Harvard, Stanford, or Joffe’s Hoover Institution could have been more effective. Even if Die Zeit is only putting on the brakes in its Putin bashing goes, then elites and intellectuals toeing the line cannot be anything but good for the people.

Even if Igor Shafarevich’s Three Thousand Year Old Mystery would deem Zeit.de editorial something emitted from what he termed the “Small People” (ultra nationalist elitist group)—that tiny segment of society the great thinker blamed for all revolutions seems to have said, whoa! Without venturing off on a philosophical/ideological political tangent here, what Mikhail Epstein of Emory University partially outlines, the so called destructive energy true socialist states thrive on, may just the sort of “death instinct” the German state now waddles beneath.

“Socialism, therefore, thrives on destructive energy, and suggests many parallels with what Shafarevich (after Freud) identifies as the death instinct,” wrote Epstein.

In a broader sense, lest anyone considers events in Ukraine or even Syria as irrelevant to this interview or this discussion, the “West’s” attitude toward Russia has no real core justifiability save the imperfect rhetoric of the Cold War. Put in blunt “real person” terms, for most Westerners now, Vladimir Putin would not be acceptable if he reintroduced the lord our God with a big “G” to the world. Given his games successes so far, the people of Sochi benefiting, and the utter lack of substantiate proof of most allegations, maybe Die Zeit’s disruptive and innovative kindness here is just logic?

All this actually matters not one wit. What does still matter is how few and far between such intelligent compromises are. I had to search for more than five minutes this morning to find just one U.S. publication to report on the energy and environmental infrastructure positives of the Sochi Games buildup. How strange does it seem that only National Geographic took seriously a massive power grid creation? Why haven’t environmental magazines reported on this steam turbine generation technology? What of Sochi citizens with the roads, electricity, and all the modern conveniences to emerge from impoverishment?

I digress however. What’s significant about Zeit’s interview with Russia Today’s editor is a step, a step in the right direction for whatever reason. For too long world leaders have turned to playing card games, while refusing to make any actual headway with détentes. 

Russia Today and Zeit Tomorrow

Dülffer’s interview with Simonyan offers some hope that the old ways of doing business do not have to stifle new possibility. It also shows that even the most stringent and die hard traditionalists in Western media bend to intuition, intellect, and reason most times.

I was reading about another high friction conflict going on over economics. The blogger Stefan Niggemeier’s post here shows the divide in between for Josef Joffe and his Zeit constituency, and today’s citizen thinkers of the new age. This tiff being an objectionable interview with the oft brilliant Sahra Wagenknecht , who theorizes against corporations and banks for eurozone economic relief. If ever there were a more powerful thought leader versus the status quo, the petition to punish talk show host Markus Lanz tells of a forceful underlying constituency that agrees with Wagenknecht’s theories. And on the other hand, Joffe is the quintessential capitalist even to the point of Pope bashing.

So as you can see, the most granite solid capitalists in this world may cling to some semblance of the status quo, while intelligibly making the right decisions once the path is clear. I mentioned card games a moment ago. A friend and colleague, Holger Eekhof, mentioned such things as the Nazi card, the LGBT card, Capitalists cards, communist cards, and so on, in a phone call a moment ago. His long-standing take on politics being, “it’s too convoluted” to enter into. Leaders (including editors) continually take the easy approach—they just play the appropriate “card” to engender the right response. 

At the same moment old regimes would pull the Soviet or Nazi fear card, real people want no more of the same. It is a tidy fact that old hatred and fear mongering will not serve much longer to fuel one-sided debates in the West or East. Here in Germany, in the world at large, the Red Scares and the inhumanity of National Socialism—these are certain victims of the overall truth. As for me, I just patted my little boy on the head, his early morning loving affection at me desk a reminder: Let’s hope Russians love their children too, as the song goes.

Margarita Simonyan’s words resound of a ladylike love and admiration for her home in Sochi, the progress there, and yes her new job of carrying this to the world. As for Ms. Dülffer, she’s differentiated herself and her newspaper from a throng of now non-credible ones. That’s my opinion.

 Phillip A. Butler | Partner | Pamil Visions Public Relations

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.