As I’m sure many known, Belarus holds presidential elections on March 19. Unfortunately time doesn’t allow me to provide extensive comments on the Lukashenka government’s crackdown on the opposition. I hope to write something on the role of youth in the election in the coming days. In the meantime, let me point readers to some places that are providing news and analysis.
Radio Free Europe has sent up a special section called Belarus Votes 2006 which has daily coverage. I also recommend the hour long panel discussion (Real Audio Windows Media) on the elections sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
I have only one quick observation about the reporting. I find it interesting, and frankly quite predictable, that the elections about being placed in a narrative of the Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. In fact, some are already giving the would-be “revolution” a name—the “Denim Revolution.” The drama is certainly building with all the physical attacks on the opposition. Let’s see how this narrative plays out in reality. To me this poses all sorts of questions about how “democratic” elections in the Former Soviet states are being framed in the West.
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By Sean — 7 years ago
Over the past few years, I’ve argued that Nashi has been in a state of confusion in a post-Colored Revolution world. The Putin youth cult was created in 2005 precisely to defend Russia from enemies within and without hellbent on bringing “democracy” to Russia. But since 2008, when the “Orange Threat” was declared vanquished, Nashi has bobbed along on the Russian political scene without any resounding battle call to unite its forces. Sure their annual summer-fest at Seliger has grown in number and scope and their day-to-day campaigns, pickets, and pranks have continued in more and more colorful ways. The Russian liberal “opposition” continues to play its role as the target for legal, media, and sometimes physical harassment. But all of these activities still lack a certain oomph, let alone urgency, when Russia appears as more or less politically and economically stable.
What does a rudderless counterrevolutionary youth organization do when there is no threat to rally the troops to battle? Why, you invent one.
Russia is once again in peril. That’s right, in peril. Or so thinks Vasili Yakemenko, Nashi founder and head of the Russian Department of Youth Affairs. Two weeks ago, a document, presumably written by Yakemenko, titled, “For Background Information Only” appeared on a Nashi discussion board on Vkontakte calling for members to troll the Internet to prevent Russia’s destruction at the hands of Boris Nemtsov, Eduard Limonov, Mikhail Kasyanov, Alexei Navalny, and Lev Ponomarev. The text is nothing less than a conspiracy laden call to arms. Here’s a translation of its more juicy parts:
In the next two years an attempt will be undertaken to remove the legally elected President of Russia. The attempt will be to realize a Lybian-Iraqi scenario in our country which will bring total chaos, civil war, and the appointment of a President by the US State Department. In preparation for this event the Nemtsovs, Navalnys, Linomovs, Ponomarevs and others have bought themselves grantees, fascists, and rouges, and have begun a smear campaign against United Russia.
What follows is an plea to support United Russia even though it’s not “ideal” and has many “bribe-takers,” “ineffective officials” and “plain criminals” in its ranks. To break from it now, Yakemenko asserts, would lead to Russia tearing itself apart.
We must understand that if we don’t like United Russia, we must enter it and change it from the inside. If someone doesn’t like United Russia to the extent that he can’t join it, let him go to another party. If he doesn’t like an existing party, let him register one himself, but honestly, and not out of false and dead souls like Nemtsov and PARNAS.
But the POINT IS, that just because we don’t like what is happening in our country, it is NO REASON TO DESTROY IT! Just because we don’t like United Russia, it is no reason to destroy it!
No, Nemtsov, Kasyanov and Navalny need the destruction of the party and the country!
The destruction of the country always begins with the destruction of the Party. The collapse of the USSR in 1991, which carried millions of our parents into poverty in the 1990s, lost territory, and wars also began with the destruction of the KPSS.
Yakemenko then goes on to explain what he expects from his minions over the next two years:
1. Figure out what is going on. Special schools will work for you. You will study geopolitics, politics, conceptual design, rhetoric, psychology, and social networking. Learn to dispute and state your opinion. It is necessary to talk, read books, and watch movies to convince people.
2. That you become the most famous people on the Internet. Become pundits, journalists, bloggers and plain authorities to your contemporaries.
3. That you begin to work with information and the means to spread it, and that means to begin to influence the perception of Russia and what is going on around it.
4. That you will be the first who begin to direct people through social networking.
5. That we create a powerful All-Russian Internet network together that will be able to independently formulate federal white papers, and promote and spin its own news agenda.
6. That you will become the best creators of Internet content.
. . .
You will send me proposals to overcome these problems:
Trolling search engines for Vladimir Putin. The illusion of the dominance of the oppositional opinion on the Internet. The spread of child pornography. The absence of people with our outlook at the top of LiveJournal. The spread of extremist material. Internet provocation.
And also proposals for the creation of any social-political Internet content, able to attach attention of a large number of people. This, above all, TEXTS and video clips, pictures, demotivators, interviews on the street, comics, graffiti, sketches, calendars, songs, dances, street actions, flash mobs, and any other means.
The text then urges 16 to 25 year-old LiveJournal, Twitter and YouTube users to register for a special group, “Sponge Bob and his Friends, and attend a meeting to discuss how the youth will save United Russia, and by extension, Russia itself.
Who is this Sponge Bob? It’s none other than Yakemenko himself, as his Vkontakte page suggests.
The “half-secret” meeting foretold in the manifesto was held last Friday at the Mir movie theater in Moscow, reports Nezavisimaya gazeta.
The gathering of the meeting with the head of Rosmolodezh came to life in circumstances of a quasi-conspiracy. Or a role playing game. A week prior, young visitors to cafeterias in the capital were given white envelopes with their lunch checks with “If you’re happy with everything in life, pass this envelope to a neighbor” written on them.
One of the receivers of the letter, deciding to participate in Rosmolodezh’s game further, but didn’t want to give his name, told NG, “On that day, September 5, friends and I were sitting at a cafe on Staryi Arbat. We were given a white envelope with the check with an invitation to a parade of Mоscow students at an event Yakemenko [is organizing]. The letter was addressed to young people who are socially active and wish to create a better life for themselves and Russia. Those wanting to participate in the meeting had to send an SMS message with “Ready” (Gotov) to a short four digit number.
On Thursday night, unbeknown to the “Ready-ers,” young people got an SMS from a number addressed as “Organizer.” On Friday they were expected to meet at 6 pm at the Mir movie complex on Tsvetnoi Bulevar.
When NG‘s source arrived at the appointed place, he didn’t notice any posters or announcements informing about the forthcoming meeting. Metal detectors were put in front of one of the movie entrances where participants were to register. Young people dressed in red jackets (Nashi’s uniform–Sean) with “Come with us” written on them, asked to leave their information on the invitation of the Youth department. “There was a girl standing next to me, a freshman from a private university in Moscow, who came to the event with her mother,” a participant told NG. But they wouldn’t let her mother in. The guys in the red jackets explained that this meeting was only for young who sent an SMS request beforehand.
At the meeting Yakemenko spoke for an hour and a half to 150 attendees about preventing a Middle Eastern scenario and stressed the importance of young people to become the “conscience of the nation” on the Internet to prevent it. “The Internet and social networking played a big role in these revolutions,” he told the audience. “Through them, the opposition passed information about protests and spread calls to overthrow the regime.” Also of note, Yakemenko didn’t mention President Medvedev or even United Russia once. He only repeatedly referenced Putin “as the leader of our government.”
What to make of Yakemenko’s manifesto, his semi-conspiratorial gathering, and the call to arms on the Internet? Some of it is merely an attempt to broaden what Nashi is already doing. For example, Nashi has been waging a campaign against Alexei Navalny for a while now. The most recent was attempt at slander was to charge that he was reviving money from Anatoly Chubais. Navalny thoroughly dismissed that notion by pointing out that Chubais’ company Rosnano was a sponsor of Seliger, adding a photo of Putin meeting with the oligarch to boot. Nevertheless the anti-Navalny screed shot straight up LiveJournal’s top posts list. As Anton Nosik told Novaya gazeta, Nashi uses bots to hock the popularity of their posts.
But part of this Internet campaign to become the “conscience of the nation” is right out of this summer’s Seliger camp. Two of the seminars given at Seliger, “Information Flow” and “Politics,” promoted the above activities. “Information Flow” sought to teach campers how to “write corresponding texts, create stories, record podcasts and make films for a “new generation,” reported Lenta.ru in May. “Moreover, instructors will talk about methods of conducting PR-campaigns on the Internet and rules of conducting blogs.” “Politics” looked to train United Russia foot soldiers for December’s Duma elections, and presumably for the Presidential election in March. The goal of “Politics” was to facilitate “the formation of the country’s new political elite, capable of independently solving key social and political problems, advocate freedom and self-sufficiency, to realize their political and civil rights, and to train nationally orientated youth.”
When you add the fear of a Lybian-Iraqi scenario to the mix, you get Sponge Bob goes to war.
Speaking of Sponge Bob, it’s more than a bit ironic that just as he and his friends prepare to defend Russia from enemies within and without, that Professors Angeline Lillard and Jennifer Peterson, of the University of Virginia’s Department of Psychology, released a study showing that SpongeBob Squarepants “dampen preschoolers’ brain power.” Can you imagine what’s happening to youth in the clutches of Russia’s Sponge Bob?
By Sean — 10 years ago
Last night’s Obama-McCain Presidential debate was devoid of surprises. Even Russia had a place. Given “Russia’s resurgence” as they like to say in the news, it becoming a brief focus of the debate isn’t even novel. Before getting to that here of some of my general impressions about last night’s performance.
I’ve struggled to come up with one word to describe this performance and the only one I could come up with was: Boring. I watched the CNN telecast, and the network must have known that boredom would be a factor. They tried to spice things up by plopping on screen their analysts scorecards and a meter at the bottom to register Democrat, Republican, and Independent “real-time” reactions (I’m struck how Independent has attained a discursive function similar the Soviet class category “Прочий” or “Other”).
In fact, it seems that “real time” was marketing tactic since the CNN pregame repeatedly reminded viewers that they could participate by giving their reactions in “real time” on the network’s website. That’s democracy in action, internet style. I suggest that a giant gong be hung for the next debate, where selected audience members can gong it when a candidate becomes boring or stupid. The person with the least amount of gongs wins. Where is Chuck Barris when you need him?
I tuned out after an hour. Jim Lehrer did his best to spice things up by urging the candidates to go tête-à-tête. From the bit I saw, Obama just couldn’t look McCain straight in the face. Perhaps this was out of civility or fear. McCain didn’t look at Obama at all. He seemed unable to turn his head. Maybe this was out of pure disrespect or something to do with his injuries. The old guy is pretty stiff.
One thing I noticed, or really my wife did, was how each candidate was dressed. Both McCain and Obama were colored in the American flag. Obama was in a dark blue suit, white shirt and red tie. McCain donned a blue suit, light blue (almost white) shirt, and a red and white striped tie. Red, White, and Blue. Ol’Glory. I can’t help wonder what the psycho-ideological affect this has. Everything is so managed in American democracy that, to invert Freud, sometimes a suit just isn’t a suit.
The democratic realism of it all, the careful effort by each candidate to stay within the bounds of acceptable political speech, while trying to portray his opponent as outside of it, stifled the range of each candidates’ opinions. Most of what each candidate said was predictable, making the debate merely performative. I think this is why Lehrer’s attempts to get them to engage each other fell flat. Each candidate didn’t want to talk to the other because the other was not the object of their words. Their interlocutor was the camera that mediated them and the “American people” or as McCain repeatedly said, “my friends.”
At some point, I think I figured that if I wanted to read restricted political speech, I’ll read a stenograph of a Stalinist Central Committee plenum. Like Stalin and the boys, McCain and Obama’s words were all surface. Whatever deeper meaning they had existed on a mystified genealogy of codes, slogans, gestures, and references. This was best exemplified by the fact that every time Obama said the meme “Bush” the Democrats in the audience pressed their little buttons in approval. Every time McCain said “cut spending” the Republicans responded in unison. The content that followed each of these memes was irrelevant.
Perhaps the whole scriptedness and smooth narratives of each candidate’s words is best revealed in what I did after I switched the plastic people off. I put on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which has been sitting on my DVR for a few weeks. Now that I think of it, maybe my mind needed some kind of drug laden, non-narrative psychedelia to pull me out of the “real world.” Perhaps the stark “unreality” of the incoherent rambling of Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo (played excellently by Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro) was precisely what I needed to pull me out of the “reality” of the Presidential Debate. The irony of it all is quite striking . . .
Nevertheless, I seems that I tuned out to quickly. Russia did get special attention towards the debate’s end. Lehrer asked:
New lead question. Russia, goes to you, two minutes, Senator Obama. How do you see the relationship with Russia? Do you see them as a competitor? Do you see them as an enemy? Do you see them as a potential partner?
Obama was predictable as the sunrise. His words were peppered with the typical adjectives that tend to swirl around the word “Russia.” Words and phrases like “resurgent and very aggressive,” “unacceptable,” unwarranted,” “you cannot be a 21st-century superpower, or power, and act like a 20th-century dictatorship,” “fledgling democracies,” “[Georgia and Ukraine are] free to join NATO,” and “can’t return to a Cold War posture.”
My favorite was the constant reference to Russia and “the way they’ve been behaving.” Can there be a more explicit statement to how Americans see themselves as the Father and all other nations as children that need correction when they misbehave?
McCain didn’t say anything out of the ordinary either. He made references to how “Russia committed serious aggression against Georgia,” was “a nation fueled by petro-dollars that is basically a KGB apparatchik-run government,” “I looked into Mr. Putin’s eyes, and I saw three letters, a “K,” a “G,” and a “B,” “their aggression in Georgia is not acceptable behavior,” “I don’t believe we’re going to go back to the Cold War,” “Russian threats to regain their status of the old Russian to regain their status of the old Russian empire, and “the norms of international behavior.”
Is there any difference between these two in regard to Russia? Nope. Nothing. Zilch. Even Obama doesn’t think so. He said, “No, actually, I think Senator McCain and I agree for the most part on these issues.” Wonderful.
However trite their statements about Russia were, there were still some comments worth noting.
“[The Russians] have to remove themselves from South Ossetia and Abkhazia.”
Good luck on that one my good Senator. Someone might want to let him know that there is no possibility of that.
Then there was this one:
They have not only 15,000 nuclear warheads, but they’ve got enough to make another 40,000, and some of those loose nukes could fall into the hands of al Qaeda.
I was also struck by McCain’s move to political economy when talking about Russia. He said,
And that wasn’t just about a problem between Georgia and Russia. It had everything to do with energy.There’s a pipeline that runs from the Caspian through Georgia through Turkey. And, of course, we know that the Russians control other sources of energy into Europe, which they have used from time to time.
McCain the Marxist. If only a smidgen of this analysis would be applied to America’s own foreign policy, those in Washington would include, as noble prize winning economist Joseph Stigliz does, that Iraq is part of America’s economic insolvency.
In all, my impression of the debate, and the cadidates in general, is best expressed in the sacrosanct words of Dr. Gonzo, “I hate to say this, but this place is getting to me. I think I’m getting the fear”
By Sean — 5 years ago
There’s a new campaign in Moscow: “Two Thousand Russian Buildings.” The campaign seeks to paint two thousand buildings in the two capitals with patriotic graffiti. One such facade has already gone up in the Tagansk district of Moscow. Last week, the entire side of the Solzhenitsyn building was covered with large image of Crimea painted in the Russian tricolor. Next to it the artist emblazoned it with “Crimea and Russia together forever.” The graffiti was signed with the logo of the ruling party United Russia and the art collective LGZ-Art, or World’s Best City-Art. This graffiti is the latest example of the patriotic sentiment in Russia.
According to the Village, LGZ Art was registered in early March under the company Antikupon, a Russian version of Groupon. Dmitry Tsvetkov, a representative from Antikupon, the painting in Tagansk is part of a larger campaign to paint murals about the uniting of Crimea to Russia and other patriotic scenes “to nurture patriotic feelings in urbanities with the help of a wide spectrum of themes.”
How did this mural go up so fast for a project that was just legal registered a few weeks ago? Especially since getting permit for such a mural is a “long and difficult process”? It helps to be connected to Putin’s government. Aleksandr Dyagilev, the general director of Antikupon and the “Two Thousand Buildings” campaign’s face, has those connections. He’s a graduate of the Russian Academy of State Service under the President of the Russian Federation and a former participant in several pro-Kremlin youth groups: a coordinator with Walking Together, a Nashi commissar and a Molodaia gvardiia district leader in Moscow’s East Biriulevo district. Since 2009, Dyagilev also served as an election commissioner in several local and national elections. As for the permission to paint the mural, Dyagilev told the Village that everything was handled legally with the permission of the local administration and “local residents.” However, sources tell the Village that the “patriotic graffiti” didn’t get any administrative permission, but rather was initiated “from above,” presumably from United Russia’s leadership, since the painting carries its logo. According to Dyagilev, two million rubles has been allocated for the project.
As of today, another mural has gone up on the side of an apartment building in the district of Marino. Again there’s a Russian tri-colored Crimea decorated with the slogan “Enough lounging around at home, go vacation in Crimea.” Again the United Russia and LGZ-Art logo appears. About this mural, the Russian photojournalist Ilya Varlamov wrote, “This building is familiar to many reporters as the place where the apartment of Alexei Navalny, who is under house arrest, is located. It seems they decided to play an April Fool’s joke on Alexei.”
LGZ-Art murals aren’t the only Crimea inspired graffiti art to spring up. In the Crimean capital of Simferopol, the art group “Crimea’s Future” painted a mural influenced by the Michelangelo’s’ Sistine Ceiling, showing Putin with an outstretched arm saving the people of the peninsula. The painting includes the slogan, “You are with us, we are with you.” According to a “Crimea’s Future” press release, the mural “reflects the support which the Russian president extends to the residents of Crimea and also symbolizes that Putin is now personally creating the history of the peninsula.”
The art group has also created as series of posters in support for Putin. One features a leather jacket wearing Putin with “Order” across the top. Another shows Putin riding a bicycle with the Crimean coat of arms with “Ready or not here were come!” on it. A final poster shows Putin with third eye and the slogan “He knows better.”
Though some of these posters seem ironic, they’re not.
When asked about “Crimea’s Future’s” position on Crimea unification with Russia, Andrei Evseenko, a participant in the art group, told Ridus,
“We think that the new Ukrainian authorities completely discredited themselves before Crimea. When we declared our desire to conduct the referendum in which we ourselves wanted to determine the fate of the region, the nationalists who came to power took unprecedented measures to beak us. This [came in the form of] financial isolation and a transportation blockade. In this situation the vaunted western democracies did not come to our aid, but Vladimir Putin who has promised that Crimea would get all possible assistance. This is why we are so grateful to him and want to connect ourselves with Russia. This view is held by hundreds of thousands of people all over the Crimea, and they have already written us in support of our work and are grateful that we are not afraid to openly express our approval of Putin.”