English language blogs on Russia and the CIS suffered a major setback last week. After almost two years of providing news and commentary on all things Russia, Andy from siberianlight.net has called it quits. This is a loss for us all. There was some indication that this might happen when Andy took a short leave of absence to recharge. It was nice to see him return albeit briefly.
I only recently discovered siberianlight.net a few months ago while searching for blogs to link to this site. To my delight I found Andy’s site. It became an instant source of information and inspiration. For those who don’t know (and I doubt many reading this blog are unfamiliar with siberialight.net), Andy’s site provides probably the most comprehensive collection of links to Russian and English language blogs. Andy says that he will keep the site up for a while. This is good news because even if he won’t be making posts, it will serve as a vital resource.
Though I don’t know Andy personally, I want to thank him for his work. His kind mentions have pointed many readers to my blog. His posts were always opinionated, informative and balanced. To his credit he often commented on the quirky aspects of Russian life and news that seems to escape many blogs on Russia, including this one. Most amazing is that many of his posts were done with brevity, something that I myself can’t seem to master. I only hope that he reconsiders and finds the time and energy to start anew. Siberianlight.net will be sorely missed.
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By Sean — 13 years ago
You haven’t seen Moscow until you’ve taken the metro. Despite its need for modernization, the system is flawless. You can be almost anywhere in the city in 45 minutes. The stations are palaces. The metro is such a part of Moscow culture and aesthetics it is hard to imagine going there and not take it. Not so, however, for many government officials and Novye russkye who have taken to car culture to avoid the swarthy hordes that dwell underground.
Moscow Times editor Mark Teeter tells us that the descent into Moscow’s underworld can cause surprise even shock to these officials and New Russians. Take the chairman of the Federation Council, Sergei Mironov for example, who one day decided to ditch his limo for a ride on the wild side of Moscow life. According to the Izvestia article Teeter cites, Mironov was
“shocked — shocked! — to discover that the metro was “overused.” The trip had not been at rush hour, yet a short ride on the dark blue line proved “more than enough” for the chairman to get the picture. “You get pressed up against the wall, and people tromp on your feet, not noticing that you’re the chairman of the Federation Council.”
Not noticing that you are the chairman of the Federation Council! Oh my word! How could such ingrates not know that!? I mean the Federation Council is such an important office in Russia . . .it provides council to the Federation . . . it . . . what the hell does it do again!?
I mean sweet mother of Jesus. As Teeter rightly notes, the real point of all this is elsewhere. “The first, clearly, is that Mironov could be shocked by what he saw — as good an illustration as you’ll find of the disconnect between government and governed. Being in power means never having to use the subway (among other things) ever again — and forgetting entirely what it is like.”
His follow up point is much more telling,
“Which is a shame, as the metro provides a sobering and invaluable sense of context. In a city chock full of pretend institutions — a pretend parliament, a pretend judiciary and now the Public Chamber, a great big pretend NGO — the Moscow metro is utterly real. It does a real job under really difficult circumstances and does it, for the most part, really well. And it has real problems, too, one of which is the second point here. Mironov correctly observed that the metro is overcrowded; what he didn’t observe (or admit to observing) is that in the view of many users it is overcrowded by the wrong crowd.” [Emphasis mine]
Yes the metro is overcrowded by the “wrong crowd” and this makes it a microcosm for how Moscow is divided by race/ethnicity and class. One of the things I noticed there is how there are virtually no old people in the center of the city. The humpbacked babushka, the symbol for the downtrodden of post-Soviet Russia, has been relegated the outskirts, only to pass the through the center by metro car or perekhod. After all, there is nothing for them in the center, and Luzhkov’s kiosk crackdown has made it harder for them to sell goods around the metro entrances. They rarely see the light until they are outside the kol’tso. The same could be said for Russia’s ethnic minorities. They have to pass through militsia document checks come above ground in the center. The only reason why Russia’s immigrant workers from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan find themselves in the center is as cheap labor for its hundreds of construction sites. Besides that they better not venture closer than Tyeplyi stan. It seems, the only unwashed beasts that get a free pass are the packs of stray dogs, who not only use the metro for transporation, but use it so well that they show the uncanny ability to perekhod!
But seriously, Moscow cannot be understood without taking the metro into large account. And Teeter’s conclusion is right on in this respect:
“The metro is not a metaphor for Moscow, the metro is Moscow, its present and its future. It is a permanent flash point, the no man’s land between two wary and untrusting cultures, a zone both must use every day and at close quarters. In it you see the great ethnic-nationality problem as it appears in real life: not the “swarth-enhanced” actors of the Rodina ad (throwing watermelon rinds in front of baby carriages) but many kinds of people trying to get around the city to make a living, all forced to do so in an ever-increasing proximity and at a rising level of discomfort.
Instead of closing down NGOs, State Duma deputies should each take a weekly subway ride and then strike a real blow for civil society by rendering the city’s underground society more civil: With more trains, more stations and more personnel in the system, its long-suffering, harried passengers would be more likely to tolerate each other better — first inside the metro and then above ground, in the Moscow the Duma members actually do see. And the Duma members would win, too. One reason Boris Yeltsin became a genuine popular hero here in the late 1980s was that people saw him coping as they did: “He takes the bus to work.” Has any Russian politician done the equivalent since — or even thought of it?”Post Views: 446
By Sean — 12 years ago
Cyrill Vatomsky has become a regular commentator on this blog over the last two weeks. In appreciation for his interesting comments, I want to point readers to his radio show Embassy of the New World Order on KSCO AM 1080 Santa Cruz, California. The show airs every Sunday, [11:00] to [1:00] PST. Vatomsky also podcasts the show for those who can’t listen at the live broadcast.
I must admit that I’ve never listened to Embassy but I figured that since Vatomsky gives us his thoughts, we should give him a listen. I know I will, starting today.Post Views: 473
By Sean — 12 years ago
Putin economic advisor Andrei Illarionov resigned yesterday, citing reasons that will surely confirm the fears of Russia watchers in the West. Illarionov said all the right things to reaffirm his liberal economic credentials, saying that Russia isn’t the liberal economic darling that the West hopes for, but instead, in his words, is “corporatist.” No surprise there. Corporatism harkens to the state controlled economics of the early 20th century, especially that of Mussolini’s Italy, where the state placed a variety of political controls on industry, regulating competition, investment, and in some cases, production.
Nothing shows this more than the current dispute between Gazprom (which is controlled by the Russian state) and the Ukraine. The former is engaging in nothing less than a muscling of the latter to accept higher gas prices under threat that the pipes will be shut off. This type of leverage has increased the already political riff between Russia and Ukraine. But some will argue that the political independence Yushchenko’s government seeks from its eastern “big bother” means that it must also accept an end to economic dependence and pay natural gas prices closer to “market value.” Ukraine has continued to enjoy the Russian gas subsidies at a rate of $50 per 1,000 cubic meters, but a few weeks ago Gazprom upped the price to $160 to begin at the new year. When Ukraine resoundly rejected this as blackmail, Gazprom raised the price again to $230 in retaliation. If one thinks that this is simply Russia adjusting to the laws of supply and demand and is not punishment for Yushchenko’s independence, keep in mind that Belarus, which is soundly in Moscow’s political pocket, will continue to get gas for $46 per 1,000 cubic meters.
The Russia-Ukraine gas dispute is just one example of the corporatism that Illarionov is speaking about. He already publicly blasted his boss for the Yukos sell off to Rosneft , which he referred to as “swindle of the year.” Public criticism is a big no-no in Russian politics and Putin punished Illarionov with removing him from Russia’s G8 envoy. But Illarionov’s statements concerning his resignation follow a typical narrative of how Putin’s has conducted his second term. He stated to Gazeta.ru that Putin has moved away from “liberal or even mainstream policies” adding, “It’s one thing to work in the partially free country that Russia was six years ago and another thing to do so when the country has ceased to be politically free.” Translation: I don’t really care about political freedom, only that I’m listened to. But when asked whether his criticisms will cause him to go into politics, Illarionov answered, “I haven’t done any politics, I’m not doing any politics, and I’m not going to do any politics.” Illarionov may be a fool, but he isn’t stupid. He knows that going into politics could mean ending up like other former Putin men who made public criticisms—suddenly faced with criminal “investigations.”
But all of this goes beyond Illarionov and to the nature of capital itself. The issue is more about what type of capitalist state Russia really is and how it differs from capitalist states elsewhere. Is it merely capitalist in form, but not in content? Or is it simply a capitalism that is more overtly corrupt and more openly based on gaft without the empty platitudes to free market ideology? I think capitalism in Russia is no different in that there are really two capitalisms at work. One for the rich and one for everyone else. The latter is where the average citizen is subjected to the “free market” in all its ruthless forms: free market in prices, labor, housing, etc., with a few caveats. Capitalism for the rich is the selective application of free market principles under the guise of “free market” rhetoric. The rich subject everyone else but themselves to it. And when the market doesn’t suit their purposes or profits, they resort to corruption and hypocrisy. After all, just take a look at the James Griffen corruption case where several American oil companies, with possible collusion with the CIA, funneled $80 million in bribes to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and other Kazakh officials for exclusive rights to Kazakh oil. Given this, can someone explain to me the difference between what Russia is doing to the Ukraine and this? I guess that in many ways Illarionov’s charges of “corporatism” can be applied elsewhere as well, leaving Russia more in line with the rule, rather than the exception.Post Views: 420