Julia Ioffe

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Oh good, I can fit both hands.

Julia Ioffe of GQ wrote a very reasonable and well-researched profile of Melania Trump, somehow making the former middling model interesting, no mean feat if you’ve ever heard the QVC peddler speak. The candidate’s spouse is a sun-addled Stepford Wife, her frozen face always staring off into the distance as if she were a statue of a feral cat, seemingly convinced that at any given moment a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue photographer might emerge from the sea in need of an expression that could pass for vaguely erotic.

Melania voiced her displeasure over the piece, and some Trump supporters reacted to the journalist with anti-Semitic threats. That’s no surprise because the hideous hotelier’s campaign, for the all the theorizing of Thomas Frank and his ilk, has always been about identity politics, not concerns over trade deals or technological unemployment. The identity happens to be a bigoted, white male. When it comes to Trump’s appeal, which is not mainly socioeconomic, the writing has always been on the wall, the wall he insists Mexico will pay for.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the piece reveals the Slovenian immigrant might have something of a father complex, her dad a portlier, lower-case version of her god-awful groom. An excerpt:

Jelančič remembers Melania’s father, Viktor, spending every Saturday lovingly washing his antique Mercedes, another rarity. “It was like a ritual,” Jelančič tells me. After leaving his job working for the mayor of Hrastnik, Viktor, then a member of the Slovenian Communist Party, became a salesman at a state-owned car company. Police files from the time indicate Viktor aroused suspicion for illicit trade and tax evasion in 1976. (He was charged with a tax offense, though his record was later cleared on account of Slovenia’s statute of limitations, a process the courts described to me as “legal rehabilitations.”) Melania blocked my efforts to speak to Viktor, and she denies that any such investigation took place. “He was never under any investigation, he was never in trouble,” she snaps. “We have a clean past. I don’t have nothing to hide.”

While working for the car company in Ljubljana, Viktor had an apartment there, in one of the city’s first residential high-rises. It was a prestigious address and provided the girls a place to stay in the capital so that they could attend design school—another luxury. Meanwhile, in Sevnica, a place where most people still lived in drab apartments doled out to them by their factories, Viktor managed to build a house situated in what was considered the toniest part of town.

“Trump reminds me of Viktor,” Viktor’s friend and neighbor Tomaž Jeraj tells me. “He’s a salesman. He has business in his veins.” It’s a sentiment unanimous in Sevnica, where Viktor and Amalija still own their house and visit two or three times a year.

Indeed, if you look at photos of Viktor Knavs and Donald Trump side by side, you wouldn’t be surprised at the comparison. Donald is just five years younger than his father-in-law. Both are tall, portly men with blond hair and sharp suits; they’re brash men who like the finer things in life. “He likes quality,” says Melania. “Viki”—as Viktor is known to his friends here—“likes good food,” Jeraj tells me. “He loves cars.” He was one of the many people who would tell me about Viktor’s extensive collection of Mercedes. “You’ll never see him in another car.”

Those who know the Knavses say that Viktor is boisterous and strong-willed. “Jokes come naturally to him,” Ana Jelančič, a neighbor and friend of the Knavses’, tells me. “If he goes into a bar, people pay attention.” Viktor sucks the air out of a room, she says. “He is the strong one in the relationship. Amalija supports him. She is a wonderful mother and wife.”•

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putin8

Outside of North Korea, perhaps only Donald Trump is unconvinced of the treachery of Vladimir Putin, a capo with nuclear capabilities. When the Russian tyrant is someday gone from the kleptocracy, the evil he administered, both in plain sight and beneath the surface, will be tallied and described, and it will likely be even worse than feared. The body count won’t be Stalinesque, but the horrible intent will be similar.

His royal heinous is so awful that no one even looks twice at this point when the Kremlin is implicated in political assassination. We’ve crossed that threshold. 

The opening of Julia Ioffe’s New York Times Magazine pieceAlexander Litvinenko and the Banality of Evil in Putin’s Russia“:

Today, a retired British High Court judge named Robert Owen published 328-page report on the 2006 death in London of Alexander Litvinenko, a former agent of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the F.S.B. Nine years after Litvinenko went bald and wasted away in a London hospital bed, from poisoning with a rare radioactive isotope, Owen’s report found that there was “strong circumstantial evidence of Russian state responsibility” and that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the head of the F.S.B. likely sanctioned the murder.

It’s a salacious tale of revenge and espionage, straight out of a John le Carre novel: an F.S.B. man turned whistleblower meets in a posh London hotel with his former colleagues, who slip polonium 210 into his green tea. Investigators find a clump of debris laced with the radioactive stuff in a sink drainpipe a few floors above, near where one of the F.S.B. men was staying. The other suspected assassin gave Litvinenko’s wealthy benefactor, the banished oligarch Boris Berezovsky, a T-shirt that said, “nuclear death is knocking your door [sic].”

And yet, in Russia the report merited little more than a yawn.•

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Julia Ioffe, who covers Russia for the New Republic, just did an Ask Me Anything at Reddit. A few exchanges follow.

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Question:

We who are not particularly knowledgeable about Russia still think of it as having a pretty sexist culture. Are women treated more inferior there than in other more ‘Westernized’ countries?

Julia Ioffe:

Yes! Omg, yes, yes, yes. Russia is still extremely sexist. I can write volumes on this, but, good lord. Basically, it’s a matriarchy parading around as a macho patriarchy. That said, the wage gap between men and women is smaller in Russia than in the U.S. And once a year, on International Women’s Day (March 8) Russian women get tons and tons of flowers — I guess to make up for being treated as cooks/strippers with uteruses the rest of the year.

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Question:

Is there something about Russian Culture/Society that makes the country so prone to authoritarian dictatorship-esque regimes (Stalin, USSR, to Putin)?

Julia Ioffe:

I think Stalin set the stage for Putin, and the czars set the stage for Stalin. If the czars taught Russians that they were eternal subjects to the holy emperor and his Church, Stalin drove home the notion by jailing and killing millions and millions of Soviets, of making people afraid not just to speak up and resist, but to trust each other. The scars of what he did are there, but they’re fading in the generation born after the fall of the Soviet Union. I don’t know that it’s a cultural thing as much as it is hard, cruel historical training.

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Question:

Do you think Putin is really this homophobic or is he just making a statement?

Julia Ioffe:

I don’t think Putin is any more homophobic than most Russians, which is pretty homophobic — Russians, like I said, are pretty ignorant about homosexuality and think it’s abnormal). I also don’t think it was his initiative. This law, unlike many, came up to the federal level after being introduced in cities around Russia, and Putin signed into law what the Duma gave him, which obviously signifies his approval: if he hadn’t approved, it would’ve never made it out of the lower chamber of the Russian parliament. That said, the law reflects a tone set by Putin by bringing the Orthodox Church, a very conservative institution, increasingly not just into public life but into the government. It’s all part of a pattern of looking for a more conservative, “Russian” national idea — whatever that means.

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Question:

What are your thoughts on 2014 Olympics? Should gay athletes not attend, attend but protest?

Julia Ioffe:

I think gay athletes should absolutely attend, kick ass, and show Russia and the rest of the largely homophobic world that they are an athletic force to be reckoned with.

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Question:

How serious of a threat is Islamic radicalization in Russia via both the Caucasus and the quickly growing Muslim population in other regions?

Will Putin’s often times heavy hand lead to instability via this particular demographic?

Julia Ioffe:

It’s a pretty serious threat, and I can’t say that the Russians are doing a good job fighting it. For one thing, they’ve installed a guy named Ramzan Kadyrov to run Chechnya (once torn up by war) and he’s running a pretty Islamist ship. (If you want proof, look at his Instagram account.) And Putin, who is in many ways hostage to him, can’t do much about it.

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Question:

What is the biggest misconception Americans have about Russian politics?

Julia Ioffe:

That Putin thinks ahead.•

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