“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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I’ve just met one friend of mine who works in FSB. He told me about your problems with FSB, when you were in
. I’m sorry that you could remember my country by this accident. Ryazan
The “problems” my friend refers to was when I was visited by three men in the reading room of the Ryazan Party Archive. It’s a long story, but here is a short retelling from an email I sent to some friends at the time:
So I’m sitting in the archive today and around noon three guys walk into the reading room. They ask for me by name. Two show me identification from, I think, OVIR, the third doesn’t identify himself. They ask to see my passport, visa, and registration for Riazan. I don’t have the latter. I told them that I was registered in
and they informed me that I had to be registered in every city I stay in. They then filled out a form and fine me 1500 rubles, which I have to pay at a Sperbank. The two leave and the third (unidentified guy) begins asking me all sorts of questions: When did I arrive in Russia, where did I live in Moscow, who gave me my invitation, what I was doing in Russia and in Riazan, how long was I going to be here, etc etc. He said that according to the law I had to register and if I didn’t they would deport me and prevent reentry for 5 years. Moscow
What they didn’t say was the nightmare it is to register. I knew it was a pain in the ass in
. Here seems similar. My host family, god bless them, have just spent the last two hours calling everyone they know who is in the know about how to register. Moscow
It seems one of the old bitches who work in the archive ratted on me.
Oh, what I forgot to tell you both was that four days before I left
, two MVD officers came to my apartment to check my registration. They didn’t have my name and simply asked if there was an American living there. Everything was okay. Moscow
At the time I figured that they do random checks on registration. Now I’m starting to believe that a neighbor ratted me out. This place can make you paranoid.
With the help of my host family, the Uskovs, I got registered the next day. After that there were no problems.
turned out to be a wonderful town. But, oh the memories! To think I’m going back there in three weeks. . . Ryazan
The character of the Russian elite is a topic of constant speculation. Is it one man rule? Is it an oligarchy? Is it a mafia structure? What is the real relationship between Putin’s administration and the security organs? Between the state and the emerging Russian middle class? What will happen in 2008?
Olga Kryshtanovskaya, head of the Elite Studies Center at the Sociology Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, and author of Anatomiia rossiiskoi elita (2004) says that the Russian elite has been split between Westernizers and Slavophiles for the last 200 years. “In fact, these have been the only two “parties” in
ever since,” she says in an interview with Kommersant Vlast’. “No others have emerged, no matter how many parties Russia has seen over the decades. The Westernizers argue for freedom of the individual, private enterprise, separation of powers, elections. For Slavophiles, all this means alien ideologies and chaos that casts doubt on the very existence of the Russian state.” Putin’s regime is simply the most recent personification of the Slavophile faction in power. Russia
Kryshtanovskaya makes several other interesting insights in the interview. I encourage everyone to read it. Here are few highlights:
Question: If the strength of the Russian state lies in rejecting democracy, then why do the people who are currently at the helm keep saying that
needs democracy? They could just change the Constitution, after all. Russia
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: But why act so crudely? It was the liberals who publicly betrayed the autocratic machine and openly attacked its load-bearing components: the pyramid of power, the command economy, secrecy. But today’s authorities have an entirely different background. In the secret services, they were trained in undercover operations – working behind a mask, concealing their true intentions. No need to wreck the system openly; instead, you need to infiltrate it and go on to preserve its facade while altering the contents to suit yourself, step by step. But these steps toward changing the system should always be done from different directions, and always unexpectedly for those within the system and outside observers alike. So that no one will be able to trace a logical connection between various steps or figure out the purpose of the whole operation.
Rumor has it that soon after Vladimir Putin came to power, he made a revealing remark: “Wherever you look, it’s all like
.” What he meant was disorder. But what is “disorder” to someone from a military or state security background? It’s the absence of control. If there’s no control, there are opportunities for independent influence. And the presence of alternative centers of power is perceived by the siloviki as a threat to Chechnya ‘s integrity. Does the Duma refuse to take orders from the presidential administration? That’s disorder. Is Gazprom run by Rem Vyakhirev rather than the Kremlin? Disorder. Are some parties making demands, are the media talking about something or other? It’s all disorder – it needs to be eliminated. And they have eliminated it. Over the past seven years, the chekists have changed Russia ‘s political system entirely – without changing a single letter of the Constitution. Russia
Question: But most citizens are content with present-day conditions – judging by President Putin’s popularity.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: For the people, democracy still remains something foreign, incomprehensible, and suspicious. But the present regime’s autocratic style is familiar – they understand where President Putin is leading
. We still retain our traditional faith in a Good Tsar. Besides, the position of the chekists is incredibly stable these days. That’s mostly because the present system relies on age-old traditions of autocratic statehood. The siloviki aren’t being resisted by any other force. Not even Yuri Andropov enjoyed such freedom of action: he always had to consult the Politburo, where he had only one vote. But now the chekists are their own “Politburo.” Essentially, all the major decisions in Russia are made by five people: Vladimir Putin, Viktor Ivanov, Sergei Ivanov, Igor Sechin, and Nikolai Patrushev. Russia
Question: But Vladimir Putin will drop out of that quintet in 2008.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: Even if he steps down as president, he won’t leave the “Politburo.” The corporation known as the Federal Security Service (FSB) and its ruling group will remain unchanged. It’s only Boris Berezovsky who claims that he “made” Putin. Putin was made president by the corporation that came to power in 2000. And it didn’t go to all that effort just to surrender power after a mere eight years.
Question: A great deal will depend on the successor, right?
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: The chekist “Politburo” will remain in power anyway. If they prefer a “strong” president, they will choose Sergei Ivanov. If they prefer a “weak” president, it will be Dmitri Medvedev. Or Vladimir Putin might remain the leading figure after all.
Quotations from the interview were translated by Elena Leonova.
The political culture of blogging is almost as interesting as the blogs themselves. All one has to do to get a glimpse of this is to glance at a blog’s comments section. There the reader will be exposed to a rhetorical world of augmentative maneuvers that range from the thoughtful to the mundane; from the engaging to the slanderous. There is something about internet discourse that is far less restricted than face to face discussions. The internet provides a measure of anonymity that seems to grease the tongue. Denunciations and insults are common. Charges of ignorance and idiocy abound. Most people wouldn’t say half the things they do online if a real person was standing in front of them. For some this makes the internet a bastion of free speech; for others a cesspool of incivility that undercuts any notion of democratic political discourse.
The world of English language Russoblogosphere is no different. With political lines so firmly etched in the sand, Russia bloggers and their adherents have no problem launching into verbal diatribes against each other. It’s a fractured community where a verbal slip could be returned with a rhetorical slice to the jugular. Positions are often so polarized that one can often simply change a few words and the opposite opinion will be illuminated. Retrieving kernels of truth, knowledge, and insight often takes the steady hand of a sculptor of marble.
But, and rather unfortunately, as Heribert Schindler, who blogs at Российская Федерация, argues in his post “Whack the Blogs,” blogs can be more than mere rhetorics. There is a whole panoply of strategies, phrases, and techniques that go into public relations, lobbying, and the manipulation of public opinion. He contends that blogs on Russia are also no strangers to these methods. In fact, this is exactly what inspired Schindler to explore this issue:
My entry “Whack the Blogs” is admittedly inspired by a most rabid and fascinating phenomenon of blogosphere, by a persuasively US based group of spin doctors who vehemently try to convince me of them being one single hateful female and not some public relation agency or NGO.
“Whack the Blogs” intends to address the fascinating world of public relations, of lobbying and the manipulation of public opinion by discussing techniques and methods, not real life individuals or groups of people.
Of course, all characters and blogs appearing in this work are purely fictitious and I am certainly not intending to make a pun in the general direction of a living individual or any successful blog. Therefore any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is (of course) purely coincidental.
I recommend reading the whole thing. As I told him in his comments’ section, I encourage him to keep whacking away.