“What’s that? Are we getting a bus militia as well?” asks Lyudmila, a 68-year-old Moscow pensioner. Not quite yet, according to a Moscow Times article on the new trial deployment of okhraniki on Moscow buses. Mosgortrans has signed a deal with two private security companies, Fort and Vites-Vak, to “to protect passengers from fake ticket inspectors, troublemakers and shoddily dressed riffraff.” Dressed in imposing black uniforms, the two man teams carry handcuffs and teargas to handle any hooligans that attempt to disrupt the natural order of public transportation. The teargas, however, will only be used in the most dangerous of situations like when a terrorist is on the bus. Well now I feel safe! Though, I never felt afraid riding a Moscow bus. They tend to be so crowded that no one can move to disrupt the ride. But come to think of it, the only people who tended to disrupt anything were the babushki who gave you the laser beam eye, chastised you for bezkulturnost, or just bowled you over as they got on or off the bus.
In addition to nabbing fake ticket inspectors, the okhraniki will also prevent smelly and dirty people from riding the bus. “We tell off people who wear dirty clothes,” says bus okhranik Sergei Tupchenko. “Sometimes workers don’t change their clothes before taking the bus. It is unpleasant for passengers to sit next to someone like that, so we don’t allow them to take the bus.” If they do their job diligently, I expect the Moscow buses to be much emptier over the next ten days.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
Yesterday I suggested that Sunday’s regional elections in
suggests that there is a move to create a two party system comprising of United Russia and Just Russia. This issue was first presented in an experts’ panel on Russia Profile shortly after Rodina and the Party of Life united in August. To characterize what is possibly going on in Russian electoral politics, Jim Jatras made this comparison between Russian and Russia under the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI): Mexico
The key to the success of this operation [of creating a two party system] is the extent to which the Kremlin sees the second party either as a clever bit of window dressing (hopefully not) or as a serious contender for power (almost certainly not – at least not for a while). In between those two extremes the new party can still play an important role in generating new ideas and legislative initiatives and, perhaps more valuably, serving as a mechanism for monitoring and discouraging the kind of corruption that otherwise would discredit a ruling monopoly.
A good comparison can be drawn here with
, in which the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) played a transparent political game with the Catholic-oriented National Action Party (PAN). The fundamental understanding was that PAN conceded every national race with the compensation of occasional victories on the state and local level, plus minority representation in national institutions. Six years ago, however, after PRI had been in power for 70 years and had become thoroughly corrupt and ineffective, the party’s leaders saw that allowing PAN win presented less danger to themselves, both politically and physically, than continuing to hang on to power. Such a protracted timetable in Mexico would not be realistic, but in 2007, the second party should be under no illusions that it can, or should, expect more than a respectable second-place showing, a la PAN in its classic role as a designated loser. Russia
On Tuesday, the Financial Times pointed out the possibility of PAN Russian style. Despite its tokenness, Just Russia may at some point become a real opposition party “at least in the regions, where personality clashes dictate political divisions, as much as any ideology.” Further,
’s lingering remaining parties can certainly continue to participate, with probably increasing electoral restrictions (here they might take a cue from American ballot access laws), as long as they reach the 7 percent electoral threshold. But how long will that last as more people see their lot better spent on a party that might actually affect power? Will Russian voters soon hear rhetoric about “wasting votes” on smaller parties? Currently it is too soon to tell. However, as it stands now a two party system would certainly sit well with the citizenry. According to a recent poll, their political desires appear to fall somewhere in-between Putin’s “managed democracy” and the old Soviet system. Russia
A recent opinion poll commissioned by the EU-Russia Centre suggested that only 16 per cent believe in “democracy based on a western model”. Some 26 per cent are happy with the current “managed” system, and a further 35 per cent actually believe that “the Soviet system we had before the 1990s” remains the most appropriate for
Such a poll seems to deflate FT’s point that “managed democracy” “provides no safety valve for social discontent.” It doesn’t. But is social discontent really at a level where one can talk about safety valves? To some it does.
Take for example, Boris Kagarlitsky. I tend to agree with much of Kagarlitsky’s analysis. He is one of the few that do solid analysis of
from a leftwing perspective. He makes some interesting observations in his most recent column, “March 2007 vs. March 1917. Historical parallels.” Kagarlitsky believes that the lacks a safety valve for popular movements in the system is its potential contradiction. “As long as the authorities don’t change the social policy,” he writes, “the union of the liberals and different social movements will only grow stronger. The growing social discontent will lead to further politicization of the society.” His historical basis for this is February 1917, when the Russia population seethed with discontent. Similarly lacking a mechanism for relieving social discontent, the Tsarist system imploded in matter of days under the pressure of popular protest. Russia
In fact a reenactment of the February Revolution (minus October, of course) appears to be the desire of the Other Russia movement. But alas as Kagarlitsky correctly notes, “The 1917 February’s political activists were much more serious and dependable than the leaders of the United Civil Front, left alone “The Other Russia”. The civil society, at least in the cities, was incomparably better structured. The labor movement was better organized. All in all, the negative aspects are similar, while positive are not so far.” Thus contradiction of this movement, and thus the saving grace for Putin’s managed democracy might be their unwillingness to consider “radical measures.” Or to put it algebraically, a negative plus a negative equals a positive. At least it’s a positive for the emerging two party system of United Russia and Just Russia. As for
left-liberal forces? Well, the ball is not in their court. Nor are they even in the game. As Kagarlitsky concludes, “The authorities will continue ignoring protest actions as long they are united. As we know, revolutions start with the crisis of the elites.” It appears that one goal of a two party system is to prevent just that. RussiaTags: Putin|Russia|democracy|two party system|liberal democracy|capitalism|Russian elections|United Russia|Just Russia|Other Russia|KagarlitskyPost Views: 326
By Sean — 12 years ago
The law restricting NGOs operations in Russia passed a second reading yesterday. According to the Moscow Times, the Duma threw out over 80 provisions based on recommendations from the Duma’s Public and Religious Organizations Committee. The debate took less than an hour. The revisions however don’t amount to much. Duma deputy and Yabloko Party member, Sergei Popov called the revisions “technical.” NGOs would still have to register with the government’s Federal Registration Service, but they will no long be required to set up separate Russian entities. I guess the wise deputies of the Duma realized that setting up Russian front groups didn’t really matter. Still, the law threatens to hamper the activities of many NGOs by making their accounting books open to State scrutiny. Mostly, the bill threatens to throw NGOs into a bureaucratic quagmire thus paralyzing them, as Yelena Rykovtseva of Russia Profile argues. One provision, which is directly related to Mikhail Khodokovsky, not only prevents a person convicted of extremism and money laundering from starting or funding an NGO, but even if they are suspected of such activities.
Unsurprisingly, for many the NGO bill has become representative of Russia’s general political path. In an editorial by New Eurasia Foundation President Andrei Kortunov in Izvestiia, the bill has split Russian political observers into “pessimists” and “optimists.” Kortunov agrees that pessimists outnumber and for good reason. However, he interestingly states, “optimists deserve at least being heard without attributing to the Kremlin sycophants and ardent supporters of manageable democracy beforehand.” The positives lie in the fact the NGO bill has generated a lot of much needed debate, despite the dire outcome, around the following questions:
“What kind of place should civil society institutions have in contemporary Russia? What should be the balance between protection of civil rights and social interests? What should be the balance between critique of the state and partnership with it, between social alarmism and solving of certain social problems? Probably, all these questions do not have unambiguous answers. But it is worth while asking them from time to time even for the most successful and well-to-do leaders of civil society.”
Good questions. And perhaps some discussion around these will attenuate some of the alarmist rhetoric from both sides. For, as Peter Levelle points out,
“Unfortunately, it would appear that those in the media who have criticized the NGO law have not read the legislation in detail. If they had, they might have come to the conclusion that Russia’s efforts to regulate NGOs, foreign ones in particular, is not much different from existing U.S. laws dealing with foreign NGOs.
What many foreign NGOs do in Russia today would be illegal in the United States. The Kremlin is set to emulate the United States by establishing its own version of the “Foreign Agents Registration Act.” The purpose of FARA, according to its Web site, is to ensure the American public and its lawmakers know the source of information (propaganda) intended to sway public opinion, policy and laws.”
Again, this begs the question of what the relationship between the state and civil society should be. Is it one of independence where civil society acts as the watchdog of the state? Or is it that the state regulates civil society’s ability to check its political influence thus reducing it to a mere charitable role? I think a lot of this depends on what one means by “civil society” itself—a term that has increased in usage over the last decade; usage which has only muddled its meaning. Traditionally, civil society meant social groups and organizations that stand relatively autonomous from the state, but exist within the borders of said state. An independent media is often cited as vital to a thriving civil society. But with globalization and the growth of non-governmental organizations, civil society has expanded to include international organizations that have no geographical fixity in their operations. Civil society has increasing become a global civil society which is increasingly positioning itself not below the sovereignty of states, but equal if not above them. But how then do states, which continue to be based on geographical sovereignty, reconcile with the “global” sovereignty of NGOs? Such a question makes the Russian bill not simply a measure of its democracy, but part of an increasing global issue as states confront more and more non-state agents that try to wield political power over and within them.
Unfortunately, the Russian state, like the American one, has increasingly resorted to the rhetoric of fighting terrorism as a way to not only shore up its internal sovereignty, but also expand its external jurisdiction. Whereas the Cold War fostered the establishment of geopolitical spheres of influence, fighting terrorism is providing a similar rational though with concerning additions. For the most part, the geopolitical spheres of influence of the Cold War were military-political. The United States and Soviet Union, for example, used military and political coercion and consent to manage their satellite states. The current reshuffling of geopolitical spheres are political-juridical, where states, led by the United States, are expanding its laws beyond its borders. This expansion of juridical sovereignty along with more traditional military and political variants makes the need for a strong global civil society to act as an international check on state activity increasingly necessary.
It is within this context that I read the Russian bill on NGOs. Its ramifications are specific to Russia, but its implications go beyond that. Given that the most prominent NGOs, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International etc, focus on human rights violations committed by states inside and outside their borders, the attempt to regulate NGOs is not reducible to the States’ traditional right to exercise political power within its borders, but to extend that prerogative outside them. In this light, Russia or even the United States’ claim that the controls over NGOs is about fighting terrorism is not mere rhetoric. It is precisely about this because they know and desire that the fight against terrorism extend their political, military and juridical sovereignty beyond its borders; a desire that puts them increasingly up against the roadblocks NGOs erect and barricade.Post Views: 467
By Sean — 11 years ago
By now most Russia watchers know about how the cops bust up the protest in St. Petersburg. If not, a Google search reveals a whopping 232 articles on it in the English media. Most of them are culled from AP and Reuters reports, but it appears that most of America’s dailies will care the story in some form and fashion in their Sunday editions.
Numbers at the protest vary from a low of 2000 to a high of 6000. The latter figure is given by the protest’s organizers. Most news reports are placing it around 3000-5000. The protest was only given a permit to hold a rally. Part of the crowd defied the permit and proceeded to march down Nevsky Prospekt, apparently led by Gary Kasparov. They got two kilometers until OMON moved in and began cracking heads. About 100 were arrested, including National Bolshevik leader Eduard Limonov.
Associated Press described the protest:
More than 3,000 activists, according to AP estimates, chanted “Shame!” as they marched down the city’s main avenue to protest over what they said was Russia’s rolling back from democracy. Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion who helped organize the event, said on Ekho Moskvy radio that the participants numbered up to 6,000.
City authorities had banned the march, granting permission only to hold a rally in a location far from the city center. But the activists defied the ban and marched toward and then down the Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main street, blocking traffic there.
Riot police detained and clubbed dozens of protesters in an attempt to stop the march and disperse the activists, but the demonstrators broke through the cordons, marched toward the center and rallied for about 40 minutes until police moved in again, detaining scores of others. Eduard Limonov, head of the radical National Bolshevik Party, and independent city legislator Sergei Gulyayev were among the organizers detained.
Police beat protesters with truncheons and dragged them into detention buses. Several activists also attacked a law enforcement officer. The ITAR-Tass news agency reported, citing police officials, that between 20 and 30 activists were detained. Some of the detainees were later taken to a local court and were expected to face trial.
The activists held banners “Russia Without Putin,” in a reference to President Vladimir Putin, “We Are for Justice,” “Get Elections Back.” They called for the ouster of mayor Valentina Matviyenko, a close ally of the president, accusing her of corruption and incompetence.Tags: democracy|Putin|Russia|protest|Other Russia|Kasparov|Limonov|National Bolsheviks|human rights|democracyPost Views: 512