After a five month trial, the Moscow courts finally made a ruling in the case of the 39 National Bolshevik activists who took over a government building on December 14, 2004. 31 activists received suspended sentences of 18 months to 3 ? years and were freed on Friday. Eight others are looking at 18 months to 3 ? prison sentences. Most of the eight are regional leaders. Nine of the 39 were under the age of 18 when arrested. One, aged 15 was released after spending two months in custody.
Prison forges revolutionaries as much as it does criminals. One need only look at the prison experience of many Russian revolutionaries in the 19th century. Many Bolsheviks looked back on their time in Tsarist prisons as a mark of distinction. Many went in ideologically committed many more came out willing to sacrifice their body. After all, short of death, the system showed them the worse it could do: imprison them under horrible conditions, interrogate them using various methods of torture, and subject them to torments of the prison’s purely criminal population.
All of this was not lost on many of the 39 Natsbols, or so demonstrates Nabi Abdullaev’s article in the Moscow Times. According to Natsbol member Alexei Kolunov, 22, his time in prison only made him more committed to the cause, “We are no longer afraid of anything — of prison, of beatings, of threats. If the authorities want to stop the National Bolsheviks, they will have to kill us.” For Kolunov prison showed him the important work he was doing for the Party. Such views were only reinforced by many of the activists’ parents’ support and maintenance that the authorities’ treatment of their children was overly harsh and unwarranted. When asked whether she would continue to allow her son to participate in the Natsbols, Irina Baganova replied, “Do you really think that it is possible to stop these young men? After all, he and his friends have not done anything bad. They haven’t laid a finger on anyone.” According to the Times, parents collected almost $5000 to pay for the property their sons and daughters destroyed during their raid.
So while Eduard Limonov refuses to call the verdict a victory because several of his minions remain in prison, the whole affair is far from a loss for his movement. First the incident catapulted the National Bolshevik Party onto not only the Russian political stage, but gained them international attention. His Natsbols were consistently portrayed as the victims to the state’s heavy-handedness. The Natsbols’ commitment to suffer in prison has transformed them from a band of political pranksters and hooligans to a force to be taken seriously. Second, the action made them even more appealing to working class youths who see the other available political options as having no punch. Through their non-violent direct action, the Natsbols have shown that they are serious about their fight against the Putin government. Third, their actions have undoubtedly influenced how other youth organizations operate in Russia. Coupled with the successes in Ukraine and elsewhere, the National Bolsheviks show that one can fight the Russian state and survive to see the light. More and more Russian youth groups, both pro and anti-Putin are starting to utilize direct action methods as a way to harness youth political energy. Lastly, Limonov now has, if Kolunov’s statements are any indication, a core of seasoned activists, tempered by prison and willing to sacrifice themselves for their cause. And such a victory makes their recent ban by the Russian Supreme Court potentially superfluous.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
The votes are counted. The winners declared. Now comes the fun part: the analysis. There isn’t much to say about the Kazakh Presidential election which isn’t already evident. There was no colored revolution. There wasn’t even an attempt at protest. The ballots were certainly stuffed. As “Presedatel’ Mike” pointed out in his post, President Nursultan Nazarbaev is truly loved but this didn’t prevent making sure he received 91 percent of the vote. Hence, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) statement that “Despite some improvements in the administration of this election in the pre-election period, the presidential election did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections.” We all know democracy in the CIS states is a sham, but the question, as posed by RFE/RL reporter Daniel Kimmage, is about the long term viability of “managed democracy.” On this, Kimmage writes,
“Political upheaval in
Georgia, Ukraine, and in 2003-05 highlighted the risk of catastrophic failure that comes with “managed democracy,” in which ruling elites accept elections as necessary for legitimacy but do everything in their power to predetermine the outcome. But what happens when the system avoids catastrophic failure? Does it tend toward gradual reform? Or does it degenerate, ensuring ever more splendid victories for the status quo even as it undermines competitiveness and thus retains the risk of an eventual catastrophic failure?” Kyrgyzstan
All important questions and their outcome remains to be seen. Now as before reforms to the Kazakh system lie in Nazarbaev’s will to push them forward. And despite his assurances that reforms will proceed, there is no telling when they, even if remotely genuine, will eventually contradict the personality cult of Nazarbaev himself has created.
Analysis of the short and long term meaning of the Moscow City Duma elections are also coming in. I first want to comment on today’s LA Times editorial. As I’ve noted before, my home paper does some really good reporting on Russia. However, this quality doesn’t extend to the editorial pages. Today’s edition features yet another broken record plea for the Bush Administration to tackle the problem of Russian “democracy.” The problem with the Times’ editorial is not that it argues that Russian democracy is faltering. The problem is how this analysis implies that there was once a democracy to falter. The title “CPR for Russian Democracy” suggests just that. Considering past LA Times’ editorials on this subject, the implied meaning is that before Putin there was democracy, but since his arrival it needs resuscitation. Can they surely be so na?ve to think that the Yeltsin regime was more democratic to even suggest that Russian democracy is “nascent”? By that definition, democracy should be seen as flourishing in say Venezuela, but you won’t find such statements in the Times. So where does this nascent before and authoritarian after come from? From what I can gather from this and past editorials, it comes from the fact that during Yeltsin’s presidency Russia was acting in the interests of the United States and now it has the gall to act in its own interest! After all why would Bush need to put pressure on Putin to change “authoritarian” ways when Bush surely has no problem when his allies in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are doing far worse? Yes they are right. The US government should stop referring to Russia as a democracy. Then we can finally stop beating that dead horse and see Russia for what it is and not what we want it to be.
If you want some good analysis of the Moscow elections, I suggest turning to today’s Moscow Times. Two articles stand out. The first is an analysis of what parties received Rodina’s votes. The conclusion is that Rodina’s ban from participating only benefited the Communists, whose nationalistic platform is almost indistinguishable. But this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Rodina was created by the Kremlin to siphon nationalist votes from the KPRF so it is only logical that with Rodina dropped from the ticket sympathetic voters would swing back. The question is then, if Rodina’s ban came from “above” as many suspect, what did United Russia have to gain from it? If anything it would have been better if Rodina stayed on the ticket. Instead, the KPRF, which is United Russia’s most serious political rival, surged to capture 17 percent of the vote and gain four seats.
The second article, an editorial by Nikolai Petrov, looks at the factors that gave the elections their importance, of which he names four: 1) the first election after the passage of electoral reform, 2) a test where the political parties stand, 3) a preview for the 2008 mayoral elections, and 4) establishing new campaigning models for the 2007 parliamentary elections.
The first was mired by what Petrov and others call “dirty tricks”—voter fraud on various levels, multiple voting, stuffing ballot boxes. This according to Petrov made the post-reform electoral system “far worse.” For the second, Yuri Lukhkov’s and United Russia’s political dominance was confirmed, especially for the former, who will undoubtedly be able to hand pick his successor and well be consulted in choosing a suitable presidential heir.
Perhaps what benefits United Russia in the polls is not the corruption, but the fact that it stands for nothing. Its power is based on the popularity of both Lukhkov and Putin, Russia’s perceived prosperity, and stabilization. As Petrov notes, United Russia, unlike its foes, has no ideology. And for an electorate that grew up in a society where ideology was everything, this might be its most appealing factor.
The ruling party’s anti-ideological or perhaps better, apolitical strategy won’t bode well for Russia’s future. There are serious issues that need addressing in Moscow in particular and Russia in general, and like Kazakhstan much of their mending lies on the backs of a few political personalities. And given the path that Russian politics is taking—between the fanaticism of the far right and left, to the ideology-light of the center—there is little hope that these will be addressed in the near future.Post Views: 126
By Sean — 11 years agoThe Soviet Union, the U.S. and Russia: Opportunities Lost
An interview with Stephen F. Cohen, Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University and author of several books, including Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia.
Washington Profile: There have been several prominent theories proposed as to why the Soviet Union collapsed. In your extensive research on the subject, what is the conclusion that you have reached?
Stephen Cohen: It is fresh in my mind because I just published a little book in Moscow in Russian on this question. I call this book:
“Why did the Soviet Union end?” The publisher called it: “Vopros voprosov, pochemu ne stalo Sovetskogo Soyuza.” I don’t use the word collapse because I think that prejudges an explanation. If you say collapse, it implies an analogy with the end of tsarism in 1917, because we always say tsarism collapsed. And it suggests that the system collapsed because of some internal and irreparable, inevitable factors or defects. So I simply ask, ‘Why did it end?’ And as I went through the literature, I was astonished to discover that there are somewhere, depending on how you define them, six to10 rather different explanations of why the Soviet Union ended. You find this many in both the Western scholarly literature and the Russian serious literature, scholarly or journalistic. I go through, in this little book of mine, each of the six which I believe to be the most prominent. In order to explain the end of the Soviet Union, as historians will be trying to do not only on this fifteenth anniversary, but probably for the next 100 or 200 years, you need to take into account three factors.
The participating factor was Gorbachev’s political and economic reforms that began in 1985 and reached their peak at about 1990 in a form of a rather extensive democratization of the former Communist system. Essentially by 1990 Gorbachev had dismantled the communist political system, what used to be called the totalitarian system (I didn’t use that word, but we know what we mean by it). He had loosened state control of the economy. That made possible other factors to come into play. Some people, for example, say the Soviet Union ended because of nationalism or the Soviet Union ended because of popular unrest. But none of these factors would have come into play, probably not even today, had it not been for Gorbachev’s reforms. Then came the second factor, and that was the emergence of Boris Yeltsin by about 1989, 1990. Now you had something rather unusual in history, but not unusual in Russian history where leaders have played special roles: you had a conflict between two Russian leaders, Gorbachev and Yeltsin, between two men of extraordinary political will. I define it as Gorbachev’s extraordinary will to reform and Yeltsin’s extraordinary will for power. This conflict created the possibility that Yeltsin could go to Belovezh Forest on December 8 and abolish the Soviet Union in order to be rid completely of Gorbachev, and to beat him completely by abolishing his presidency and his country. But then that leaves a third question and a third factor. Yeltsin didn’t control an army, he didn’t even have a political party. How would he be able to abolish what was still a nuclear super power of what was still nearly 350 million people, in the face of the Soviet elite, particularly the state nomenklatura, not necessarily the party, that had based its position on this state. Why did they permit Yeltsin to do this? And here I think would be the third factor, that, the high nomenklatura that might have stopped Yeltsin had been too busy privatizing the wealth of the state to care about defending it. The struggle over property actually did not begin until after the end of the Soviet Union, but early on in the late 1980s. But by 1990 and 1991, main members of the high elite, ministerial elite, even the army elite, certainly the party elite, were seizing state property for themselves, so while they were stripping the state’s assets, they had no interest in defending it, so they simply stepped aside and allowed the political struggle between Yeltsin and Gorbachev to unfold, and it unfolded in the end of the Soviet Union.
WP: If those circumstances hadn’t come together the way they did, and the Soviet Union had remained in tact, what, in your view, would “the post-Soviet space” have looked like today?
Cohen: Well, it would have depended on a central question. Gorbachev set into process a Soviet reformation. He called it perestroika, but putting it into the context of history, and not just Russian history, we would call it an attempted reformation. Had that reformation continued, with or without Gorbachev, because by 1989-1990 it no longer required Gorbachev’s leadership; his historic role was to put it into motion? After all, there was a moment in the struggle between Gorbachev and Yeltsin in 1990 and 1991 when Yeltsin’s intent had not been to abolish the Soviet Union, but to become president of the Soviet Union and displace Gorbachev. The question is, would there have continued to be a reforming Soviet Union, or would something like the failed putsch of August 1991 happened again and stopped the reformation? If the Soviet Union had continued to reform, it would have meant the reform of the Union Treaty, and therefore the Soviet Union certainly would have been smaller. Three Baltic countries would have certainly gone, it’s possible that Georgia would have gone. It’s not clear about Ukraine because that was a very unusual situation, driven more by elite politics then public opinion. But if a reforming Soviet Union had continued to exist, I think the outcome would have been a smaller Soviet Union, maybe eight, nine, 10 republics, but still the bulk of Soviet territory, people, and resources. In so far as, say, the Central Asian republics had remained under the political influence of Moscow, they would have had to continue to democratize. The democratization of Central Asia ended with the end of the Soviet Union. The only reason they began democratization in the Central Asian republics was because they were compelled to do so by Moscow’s leadership. Once free of that, they reverted to authoritarianism.
In the economy you would have gotten some unstable but functioning mix of a state economy and a private economy, something like what Putin is probably trying to recreate today. You would have had a Soviet Union, I see no reason why you wouldn’t have, but it would have been a different Soviet Union. On the other hand, had the reformation been ended, and it only could have been ended by force, and you can’t rule that out, then you would have had a very nasty looking dictatorship. Remember, when the coup makers sought to overthrow Gorbachev in August of 1991 and imposed martial law in Moscow by bringing troops into the center of Moscow, almost all of the republic leaders, who until then had been acting as though they were sovereign or independent, immediately either fell silent or collaborated with the coup makers. In other words, they were afraid of Moscow. It is only when Moscow under Yeltsin said, “We no longer want you, clear your own way, we are no longer going to subsidize you,” they went away, ran away. But had that not happened, had Moscow not driven them away, or really, disowned them, because remember, the Soviet Union was abolished by the three Slavic republics. The others would have still been there, certainly Kazakhstan would have been there; Nazarbaev wanted to preserve the Union. The others were afraid of Moscow, they would have stayed. So it all depends on whether this reformation would have continued, and had it done so, I think the Soviet Union would not have looked bad today. Had it not done so, it would have been pretty terrible.
WP: With the war in Iraq and the focus on anti-terrorism, Russia is by far not the main foreign policy concern for the United States. How would you characterize the U.S. “Russia policy”? What are its goals and what have been its results?
Cohen: I think American policy toward Russia today actually began in the 1990s, particularly during the Clinton administration. My view is that not all, but a large part of the negative content of American-Russian relations today — and that relationship is very, very negative, as bad as it has been in many years — is the result, primarily but not only, of the Clinton administration’s decision to treat Russia as a defeated nation in the Cold War. When the Cold War ended — it was officially said to have ended in Malta in December 1989– the first President Bush and Gorbachev announced that the Cold War was over. In announcing that the Cold War was over, both said there are no winners, there are no losers. We have agreed in the Cold War, and in that sense, we are both winners. That tone changed after December 1991, when the Soviet Union ended and the first President Bush began to say, not as a matter of policy but more as a matter of getting himself reelected, that the United States had won the Cold War, but it didn’t have much consequence then. The Clinton administration embraced this view and drew an analogy between the defeat of Russia in the Cold War and the defeat of Germany and Japan in WWII, that we were the victor nation, they were the defeated nation, and therefore they should be supplicant and subordinate to the United States. That was a terrible mistake, and some of us warned against it at the time. What we said was, that’s not what happened, without Gorbachev the Cold War would not have ended, so Russia deserves as much credit as the United States, and secondly, Russia is weak now, and you can get away with using and abusing Russia, as we did when it was ruled by Yeltsin, but, we warned, that’s not going to last. And if you treat Russia like this now, you are going to regret it. Because when Russia rises to its knees, it’s going to be resentful about how it was treated. And that’s what’s happened. Because the Clinton administration did two things: first, it tried to control Russia’s post-communist transition by telling Russia what to do and not to do. To a degree, we were sending legions of advisors there to write their legislation. Americans were sitting in Russian ministries, writing legislation about privatization, textbooks, all sorts of intimate matters involving a nation that no foreign nation has any right to meddle with. There was bound to be a backlash against this, particularly when economic and social catastrophe came upon Russia in the 1990s.
The second thing we did which was equally bad, and this is often forgotten, that in 1990-1991, when Bush asked Gorbachev to permit both a united Germany and a united Germany in NATO, and Gorbachev agreed and that was a historic agreement, Gorbachev was promised, Russia was promised by Bush, and I’ll quote his secretary of state at the time, James Baker, that “NATO will not move one inch to the east.” That was a solemn promise. Now in Russia, it is said that Gorbachev should have gotten it in writing as a treaty. But when it came to the United States, Gorbachev was a little naive. He was smitten with his own ideas of the new thinking, a common European home of human values. He thought that we ascribe to those values, that the United States saw eye to eye to him about that and about how great powers should treat each other. But Clinton during the 1990s violated that solemn promise and began to expand NATO eastward toward Russia, and that continues today. That expansion of NATO and the violation of that promise that has driven the conflicts with Russia over both Ukraine and Georgia, and so long as NATO continues to take those former Soviet republics in, that conflict will continue to exist?After all [NATO is] a military alliance, right to Russia’s borders. NATO is now in Ukraine, bases are in central Asia, Russia sees itself as being encircled, and so long as that is happening, so long as Russia has that view, there will be no good or stable relations between Russia and the West. Now let me say that Yeltsin went along with all this for reasons that don’t have to concern us today; I think they were partly economic and partly psychological; it was partly Yeltsin’s sense that he had done something illegitimate, that he abolished the Soviet Union and he gave the wealth of the state to the oligarchs and he needed somebody who passionately supported him, as Clinton did, because certainly nobody at home of any repute much supported him by the mid 1990s. But once Yeltsin was gone, Putin was clearly a different cat altogether, although he may have been put there by Yeltsin to protect Yeltsin and the oligarchs, but the United States began to realize this in about 2001, 2002, 2003.
There were different episodes, there was the so-called NTV episode, there was the Khodorkovsky affair, there was Ukraine, there were various episodes. But a good deal of the animosity toward Putin grew out of the growing awareness of the American political class that he wasn’t Yeltsin, that he wasn’t going to play the supplicant role that Yeltsin had played. Now once that became a factor, the Russian political elite under Putin didn’t handle it very well. They did a lot of stupid things to make the matter worse. But I think as we were proactive, they were reactive. They were responding to us, to the way we treated them in the 1990s, to the expansion of NATO, and had they been clever people about international affairs, they could have responded in a way that might have changed American foreign policy in some way, but they didn’t. But as Reagan liked to say, now we have two tangoing. And we really are back in a cold war. You can call it whatever you want, but it is a cold war whose frontiers, whose epicenter has moved from Germany to Ukraine and Georgia, and it’s very dangerous. A new arms race is under way. Both sides are building nuclear weapons. If you look at the Litvinenko affair, that’s worse than anything that has happened in the Cold War. I don’t recall anybody ever accusing Brezhnev of killing anybody abroad.Post Views: 122
By Sean — 12 years ago
The absence of Hama and Hezbollah from Russia’s “List of 17” terrorist organizations was been met with charges of hypocrisy, suspicion, and scorn. The omission certainly didn’t sit well with the Israelis or the Americans. The absence of the Kurdish Workers Party even angered Turkey. Such is the problem with the term “terrorism.” Its application is completely relative in relation to national interests, foreign and domestic policy, and cultural and historical factors. Russia has been curt in its explanation. Hamas and Hezbollah weren’t listed because they don’t pose a direct threat to Russia’s national security.
Andrei Smirnov doesn’t buy it. Writing for the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasian Daily Monitor, Smirnov accuses Russia of listing mostly “virtual groups”, groups whose existence can no longer be confirmed. Two of Russia’s top ranked groups, the Supreme Military Council of the Caucasian Mujahideen and the Congress of the Nations of Ichkeria and Dagestan, have not been heard from since 1999. There is question whether the Islamic Party of Turkestan or the Egyptian Al-Ghamia-al-Islamia still exists. Further, Smirnov charges that the list makes one wonder if Russia really knows who they are fighting in the North Caucuses since they don’t list the three most active organizations in the region: the Chechen State Defense Council-Majlis-ul-Shura, Dagestani Sharia Jamaat and the North Ossetian Kataib-al-Khoul.
In addition, if Russia’s list only includes groups that pose a direct threat to Russia, then how do they explain including the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jamaa al-Islamiya but not the Shura of Iraqi Mujahideen, which claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and execution of Russian diplomats in June. Smirnov goes on to point out more inconsistencies in the Russia terror list.
But the real issue is their leaving Hamas and Hezbollah of the list. This is where politics enters the fray. Even though FSB terror chief Yuri Sapunov admitted that Hamas and Hezbollah both “use terrorist methods in their national liberation struggle,” according to the Ekho Moskvy, this statement was omitted from the published interview in Rossiiskaya gazeta though it was in the original Interfax interview. Here is Smirnov’s explanation why Hamas and Hezbollah are absent:
It is not surprising that Hamas and Hezbollah are excluded from the Russian terror list, as the Kremlin is known to be sympathetic towards these organizations. Earlier this year Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Hamas representatives to Moscow to meet Russian officials, while Hezbollah is supported by Syria and Iran, two countries that have close ties with Russia. Nevertheless, Sapunov hinted that the Russian government could add the two groups to the list in the future. He said, “We recognize international terror lists, for example, the lists of the United Nations and the lists of such superpowers as the USA and the European Union. We consider them when we communicate with the special services of various countries.”
The Russian authorities do not recognize Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations not only because they believe they pose no threat to Russia, but also because the Kremlin is very angry at Western countries that do not recognize the Chechen rebels as terrorists. During a press conference after the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg in July, Putin crossly said that if Syria and Iran are branded state sponsors of terrorism, then Great Britain should also earn that designation because London refuses to extradite Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakaev to Russia (Newsru.com, July 16).
The Kremlin’s decision to omit Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iraqi insurgency from the list of terrorist organizations sends a clear message that terrorist threats to the West will be recognized only if Western officials recognize the Chechen insurgents as terrorists.
As it stands now, the US State Department List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) does not list a single Chechen or Caucasian terrorist group.
Perhaps a better explanation for certain groups’ absences on Russia list has to do with its policy in the Middle East. According to Pavel Baev, Putin’s Middle East policy has to do with a pragmatic approach to the region that is balanced with ensuring high oil prices and arms sales. Instead of the active role Putin hoped for in nuclear talks with North Korea in 2000, the Kremlin is now much more cautious with the Middle East. Even media coverage of the Hezbollah-Israeli war has been “remarkably balanced.” Writes Baev,
Moscow’s self-confidence is also supported by the assessment of the conflict dynamics in the Middle East that suggest a very probable strengthening of its quietly advanced position in a matter of a few weeks. This position is by no means moral but entirely pragmatic: No international framework for Lebanon could be negotiated without involving Syria; no agreement with the government of Lebanon could be implemented if Hezbollah is not a part of it; no stable arrangement for Gaza could be hammered out against the resistance of Hamas. The Kremlin calculates that it would take a few weeks for Israel to recognize that the spectacular devastation of Southern Lebanon could not significantly weaken the military capabilities and political influence of Hezbollah, much the same way as the full-blown invasion in 1982 did not bring about the destruction of the PLO. Meanwhile, the outrage in the Arab states and the indignation in Europe about the scale of the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe would predictably reach such levels that a ceasefire becomes imperative whatever reservations Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might state. That is why Moscow was not in the least upset by the failure of the Rome conference last week, where Syria was not represented, expecting that the forum would be reconvened when Washington is forced to swallow its objections against sitting at one table with a representative from Damascus.Post Views: 221