Is Russia Like Nazi Germany? No, Russia Is Like America

Sochi-style political correctness happens in our own backyard.


Russian Federation

Is a 15-year-old figure skater like a Nazi war criminal? For posing such a question, one Russian journalist is under heavy fire from both politicians and the media in his country, who consider such an analogy incredibly offensive. While it's a trope in American media to compare contemporary Russia to Nazi Germany, in this case a more apt comparison would be between Russia and the U.S., since both use the banner of political correctness to curtail free speech.

In a meditation on the Sochi Olympics and the political dangers of nationalistic fervor, Viktor Shenderovich compared Russia's revelry in Yulia Lipnistkaya, the youngest gold medalist in the history of Olympic ladies' singles figure skating, to Nazi Germany's celebration of the "young, smiling, handsome" Hans Welke, an Olympic shot put champion who later became a war criminal.

NewsRu.com described Shenderovich's statement as "unethical." Parliamentary members from across party lines have demanded an apology from him and the publisher for the hurtful article. A high ranking official suggested Shenderovich stop sullying the nation's language and history. At least one member of Putin's United Russia party member accused the the journalist of being a "fascist." Even the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights called Shenderovich's comparison inaccurate and insulting.

The journalist and the publisher initially refused to apologize, lest they lend credence to the claims that they are unethical fascists. But, the pressure was too great and Shenderovich caved yesterday. He isn't going to the gulags, but he is effectively ostracized. 

How different is this from the way the U.S. handles taboo proclamations?

Take the controversy around Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson. After saying things that many Americans find offensive and inaccurate, people called him a bigot and demanded he be removed from TV. At the time, Reason contributor Cathy Young suggested that "while censuring unpopular speech through social ostracism and economic boycott may not be un-libertarian, it's deeply illiberal and contrary to the spirit of tolerance that makes society flourish."

Many censorship advocates in America and other western nations assure they only want to dissuade speech that is offensive, obscene, hurtful, insensitive, non-inclusive, demeaning, dangerous, harmful to children (doesn't that sound eerily like a Russian cop-out?) subversive, and blasphemous.

Another Reason contributor, Jonathan Rauch, previously noted that when "indirect, bureaucratic prohibitions" on speech are codified, they are usually "fuzzy" about what counts as a federal crime.

These days, the U.S. isn't exactly winning gold medals for upholding First Amendment rights. It just dropped another 13 places in the World Press Freedom Index.

Free speech has consequences, usually limited to the speaker. Bullying and marginalizing people over unpopular-yet-harmless statements has consequences, too. These consequences are not limited to the speaker nor are the tactics exclusive to foreign nations.