The view from inside Mediastan

mediastan-the-documentary-about-wikileaks-that-assange-does-want-you-to-see-trailer-700x500The Kyrgyz have a proverb which goes, “Balaluu üi bazar; balasyz üi mazar”: “When there are children, the house is a bazaar; When there are no children, the house is a cemetery.” Although intended as an admonition for people doubting whether they want to become parents, it’s equally fitting as a warning to governments about the dangers of limiting the freedom of the press.

However, what Julian Assange and Johannes Wahlström seem to have discovered in their new film Mediastan is that there are, and shall always, be limits to the press – the expected political, legal, and financial limits, but also cultural, cognitive, and ethical limits. And as they endeavor to argue in the American context, it’s also dreadfully easy to mistake a mazar for a bazaar.

I’ve been asked by WikiLeaks-Press.org whether I have any reactions to the film. They came to me because a little over two years ago, I published an academic essay about WikiLeaks’ complicated impact upon the region. I’ve decided to take this as an opportunity to update some of the things I said therein, as well as to articulate what I imagine will be the view on Mediastan from within Mediastan itself.

Today is Kurman Ait (Eid al-Adha), the Feast of the Sacrifice in the Muslim faith. It’s a universal holiday commemorating the necessity of sacrifice in the name of one’s beliefs and for the sake of the greater good. So, I suppose it’s an appropriate day on which to pen this review, since journalism should be, first and foremost, about such self-sacrifice.

In the spirit of sacrifice, then, I ask viewers to spend their hard-earned dollars, euros, rubles, tenge, etc. on Mediastan, rather than waste them on the Hollywood spectacle The Fifth Estate. In the least, reviews of the latter indicate that you will have a much more meaningful experience from the former. And even if you strongly disagree with Assange and his belief system, you should nonetheless trust the Kyrgyz proverb: ultimately, it’s definitely better to have those noisy children from WikiLeaks in the house than not.

But no matter which film you choose to see, keep the critical faculties of your cerebral cortex activated. For instance, Mediastan has been criticized as anti-American “agitprop” and biased by some, but this is an empty and facile criticism. The entire purpose of Mediastan is to raise questions – certain questions that arise from a certain perspective, yes, even a certain bias.

Continue reading “The view from inside Mediastan”

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What if the USA collapsed instead of the USSR? (что было бы, если бы вместо Советского Союза распались Соединенные Штаты Америки?)

[Нажмите “Read More” для русского языка.] While I was on my tour through Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, I thought of what could be a really fun premise for a story: what if the United States broke up instead of the Soviet Union? The story would follow an alternative reality version of myself, namely, a young Soviet Kazakh journalist in charge of newamerica.net (instead of neweurasia.net), who has just written a book about post-US North America using the blog posts from the region and goes on a tour of independent New York and Pennsylvania to promote his work. I might want to add some political intrigue or a murder mystery to the plot, but essentially it would be a road trip tale.

Obviously, the story would be very much a satire. Instead of ex-KGB oligarchs, Chechen and Uighur rebels, Uzbek-Kyrgyz strife, and authoritarian presidents, there would be ex-CIA robber-barons, Native American rebels, Mexican-American strife, and New Media-based autocrats (Obama as the Turkmenbashi of Hawaii, his home state? Bush as the president of an Uzbekistan-like Texas?) I imagine that what is today the Midwest would break down into a kind of Afghanistan: without the strong federated American state to maintain irrigation and borders, it would devolve into a war-torn wasteland as the Soviet Union, Canada and Mexico vied for dominance in a new Great Game. The coasts would probably be the most stable areas.

Beyond North America, I imagine that the European Union would be a stronger and more socialist confederacy (but it would probably be struggling to absorb Italian and Irish returnees from America, the inverse of what happened to the Volga Germans and other Western ethnic groups from Central Asia). Africa would still be a mess, while Australia and New Zealand would be some of the world’s last capitalist countries, and Afghanistan and Pakistan would be a hybrid Marxist-Islamist republic; I have no idea about India, China, South America or the Middle East. Radical Christianity, instead of radical Islam, would be the new ideological scourge confronting the world. Technologically, global warming would probably be incredibly worse, but we would probably also be mining the moon.

But these are only tentative ideas. I’d love to hear from you, my readers: what would this alternative world be like? Also, try to imagine little details. For example, what would movies be like (would we be watching Standartenfuhrer von Stirlitz movies instead of James Bond?) and instead of China, where would cheap, shitty plastics and textiles come from? Leave a comment on this blog post in whichever language you feel most comfortable.

Continue reading “What if the USA collapsed instead of the USSR? (что было бы, если бы вместо Советского Союза распались Соединенные Штаты Америки?)”