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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Talk about a script writing itself! Sony and Warner Bros. who are both developing films about the Alexander Litvinenko murder might just get their third act after all. Johnny Depp won’t need to look too deep to get inspiration for his role as Sasha the Spy. The shooting, ahem . . . carjacking, or is it mugging, no wait, shooting of Paul Joyal has revived a case that by all appearances seemed all but closed. Last week, Paul JoyalLitvinenko acquaintance, security expert and “a longtime critic of the Putin regime,” was shot in his DC suburban neighborhood shortly after he uttered these words on Dateline NBC: “A message has been communicated to anyone who wants to speak out against the Kremlin: ‘If you do, no matter who you are, where you are, we will find you and we will silence you — in the most horrible way possible.’” Talk about prescience!
Of course speculation immediately turned to the Kremlin, whose fabled long reach is not just about ice picks and radioactive substances anymore. However, that assumption was quickly questioned when police told the Washington Post that “Joyal was driving a Chrysler 300, a vehicle sought by carjackers, suggesting that the assailants might have followed Joyal home rather than waited there to attack him. Police have described the suspects as two black males.” The police officers claimed that Joyal was robbed of his wallet and briefcase.
Hey, I’ve seen that episode of the Sopranos! You know the one from the first season where Uncle June learns that Tony is going to a shrink and moves to whack him. He also hires “two black males” to make Tony’s murder seem like a “carjacking.” And I thought this all sounded too Hollywood before! Can we expect Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin™ to get writing credit?
But now Joyal’s wife claims that her husband was neither robbed nor carjacked. Though, “She did not say what happened to the items or how she knew they were not taken.” Okay . . . Well, at least it appears that Joyal is in good condition from the bullet in his belly. We can expect his version of events any day now. I suspect that Berezovsky’s public relations people are on a plane right now to coach Joyal into giving us the necessary hyperbolic twists this unfolding script needs.Post Views: 149
There isn’t much to say about the results of Sunday’s local elections in Russia. That is except that Putin’s “managed democracy” seems to be going at full steam. The elections wielded few surprises, both in terms of results or scandals. In St. Petersburg, Yabloko found itself disqualified from the ballot. Other opposition parties claimed that they were being pushed out of the vote and that the election was turning into a “two horse race.” The horses? United Russia and Just Russia. The former is familiar to everyone. Just Russia which is the Kremlin backed opposition party falls just politically left of United Russia, “declaring its adherence to “socialism” and attacking Unified Russia for monopolizing power and representing corrupt entrenched interests.” Such declarations are just enough to siphon votes away from the dreaded Communists.
It seems to be working. Not to say that the Communists have no problem torpedoing themselves, but according to results, Just Russia is creeping up their electoral ass. Across the 14 regions 45% went for United Russia, 16% for the Communist Party, 15.5% for Just Russia, 9.5% for the Liberal Democratic Party, and exactly 7% for the Union of Right Forces. What to make of these results? First, they seem to spell the imminent electoral death of LPR and SPS. Both barely made the 7 percent threshold. Second, there is the longtime coming electoral collapse of Yabloko. Yabloko received 3.86% of the vote in the four regions it competed in. Lastly, and perhaps, more importantly it appears that one of Putin’s legacies is to make Russia into a two party system:
Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration, regards this as an entirely positive factor: “Any healthy democracy has a stable list of leading political parties.” At a news conference yesterday, Surkov said that this list can now be regarded as fairly stable: “Continual miracles in elections may lead to unfortunate consequences.” Surkov assured us that there were no “miracles” in these elections – that is, no unexpected results outside the framework of forecasts.
Surkov said that United Russia, averaging 44-46% of the vote, has “confirmed its status as the dominant political party.” He didn’t fail to add a compliment for United Russia’s chief rival: “Just Russia’s aspirations to become the leading opposition party are being substantiated.”
Translated, Russia is developing its own versions of the Republican/Tory and Democratic/Labor Parties. The Russians are learning liberal democracy very well.Post Views: 119
Friends at UCLA have been asking me about this interview with Perry Anderson what was published in Kommersant in October. The Russian version can be accessed here. I provided them a synopsis of it, but inquires continued to the point where I just decided to translate it. I provide it here for the rest of you non-Russian speakers to read. — Sean
The Future of One Illusion
31 October, 2006
Twenty years after the collapse of communism leftist ideology has neither lost its actuality nor its political perspective, argues Perry Anderson, a scholar of contemporary Western Marxism, professor at University of California, Los Angeles, and editor of the New Left Review, who was brought to Moscow as part of the “Russian Debates” project. Kommersant columnist Igor Fediukin spoke with Perry Anderson about Hugo Chavez’s regime, the “New Left” in China, and the political situation in Russia.
Do you think that there will be a future for Left ideology?
It is best to answer this question with a phrase from the well known French historian Fran?ois Furet, who died a few years ago. He was a communist in his youth but in his middle age became one the sharpest critics of both socialist ideology and the Soviet experience. Here, at the end of his last book, The Passing of an Illusion, he wrote that today it is difficult to imagine any other kind of social formation that is outside from which we all live, but it is simply impossible to imagine that democracy will remain congealed in its present form.
One often hears that the contemporary Left has been shattered and cannot propose a constructive program?
The slogan of the World Social Forum is “Another world is possible.” Twenty to thirty years ago this seemed obvious. But today this is sounds like heresy, the primary doctrine became the slogan “There is no alternative,” which Margaret Thatcher put forward at the time. So that to simply retain the possibility of a global system is a very radical form of opposition. That [the Left] seems crushed; there is nothing unusual here. In the 19th century, when the modern left movement was born many tendencies existed: they followed Marx, Proudhon, Saint Simon, Fourier, social democrats and anarchists. The Left movement has always been pluralistic, although in Russia this is less clear because of the long standing monopoly of one of them.
Do you consider the government in Venezuela leftist?
What is happening in Venezuela is certainly the development of left ideology, if only because there is the large scale redistribution of wealth in the country. To make a generalization from the example of Venezuela would be foolish because the situation there is a product of a very peculiar history and enormous oil wealth. The existence of such wealth does not necessarily signal its redistribution. The previous parliamentary system was utterly oligarchic; the wealth of the country was in the hands of the elite. Chavez’s government changed this situation and along with this there was no talk about dictatorship. Chavez regularly holds elections. This, of course, is democratic populism, but a political system that cannot be called closed: in Venezuela there are bitter debates on television, in the press, and the opposition if carrying out a difficult struggle. So it is certainly a fairly radical leftist government. One the other hand, we cannot make a conclusion on the basis of this model as to what the “Left of the 21st century” will be.
Does the European model truly present itself as some alternative to the American model?
Already beginning in 1947, the historical differences between the average European state and the United States were quite apparent: the European state was always more “social,” more disposed toward interference in the economy, more liberal in its outlook in that they abolished the death penalty, etc. However, today on the basis of these historical differences an extremely self-satisfied and self-confident ideology of European superiority over the United States has been created. We see this among the leading philosophers and intellectuals in the mass media. But behind it, there aren’t any serious differences between the two halves of the Atlantic world. The countries of Europe are all the more moving to the American model, reducing the programs of the “welfare state.” And even in the area of human rights, the Europeans have fewer reasons for pride than it seems to them. European governments have allowed the creation of secret CIA prisons in their territory.
What do you expect from the tremendous growth of Asia?
We already now see a change in the global balance of strength—this is certain and unavoidable. Another issue is whether the growth of Asia will lead toward the emergence of new rules to the game, new codes of conduct for states on the world stage and at home. I doubt this. The elites of “new Asia” separate Western norms and costs, and the differences here are small, it seems. Along with this, if China will grow further at such a tempo, the demonstration effect will be enormous and many countries in the Global South will begin to contemplate whether to choose such a model for their development. Strictly speaking, many prominent economists are already talking about this in Russia.
In your opinion, will this situation develop in Russia?
The most astounding fact in post-Soviet Russia in relative comparison is the political apathy of the population. Even in 1991, when the citizenry brought down blows of enormous power, strikes, protests, meetings were confined within the state, which felt a corresponding shock. By contrast, there is a completely different picture in China. There is an enormous number of people and groups in the country who poignantly feel injustice by the chosen model of development. What shape all of this will take is unclear at present, but the most significant intellectual tendencies in China of the last ten years are appearing as a “New Left” movement. In Russia there simply isn’t, but in China there is and the state apparatus and old intelligentsia are afraid of them.
There is another interesting difference between Russia and China. There is a high level of corruption in both countries, but the social discontent in Russia is far less. [Russian] society accepts it as an acceptable method of intercourse with the bureaucracy. In China the hostility toward corruption is very great; it provokes a general animosity in people. And in contradistinction from Russia, high level bureaucrats can pay for corruption with their head.
Is a Mexican model of dictatorship possible for Russia?
Many speak about the Mexican model in Russia, but you see, [in Mexico] the PRI (the Institutional Revolutionary Party, was a genuine party. For example, there were relatively very strict rules for sixty year period. The President could do what he wanted even to a larger degree that in Russia, but upon leaving the President could do nothing. The PRI was a very powerful party in this regard because it really was a party of revolution. It personified enormous changes in Mexican history. In China, appropriately, there is also a party in this sense, that there are internal debates, leaders consider each other.
How do you preserve your own beliefs despite the fact that history took a completely different direction?
My generation was formed in the 1960s, when a revolutionary tidal wave rolled all over the world—from the Cuban Revolution to the Cultural Revolution in the West. If you develop your personality at such a moment, you feel an attachment to a wider circle of people and ideas, and this brings you energy and confidence. But further, when this wave collapsed, it was still a question of personal temperament and intellectual progression. One person changes their opinion, another doesn’t. I will say this: Remember the French Enlightenment in the 18th Century—Diderot, Voltaire, and Rousseau. They after all lived in an epoch when absolutism was at an apogee. Not a single one of them lived to see a serious political change. But this did not hinder them, for example, from being persistent opponents to the Catholic Church. It is important to think historically. Life brings surprises to Rightists, Leftists and Centrists, and predictions and expectations often turn out to be mistaken.
Post Views: 141