As Shamil Basayev’s death moves off the news radar, Kommersant continues to give updates to the story. According to ? correspondent Nikolai Sergeev,
The process of identifying the remains of Basaev has come to a standstill. Visual identification is impossible. Pathologists were able to take the fingerprints of the five fingers that survived the blast and to take biological samples. But they have nothing to compare them with. Basaev’s fingerprints are not on file anywhere and no usable prints were found at the site of the blast. Investigators are looking for a parent, sibling or child of the terrorist, but they have been unsuccessful in their search so far.
The reigning theory now is that the FSB has taken Basayev’s 24 year old brother-in-law, Ibragim Tsakaev, into custody as a way to pressure the remaining members of the slain terrorist’s family to help identify his remains. There is no other reason, argues Sergeev, because Tsakaev is no longer in active combat and his activities consist of difficult to prove allegations of raising money for the movement. “Representatives of the Ichkerian regime living abroad say that Tsakaev is practically a hostage and only Basaev’s close relatives can free him only by meeting their demands. They want biomaterial: blood samples, hair samples or nail clippings,” explains Sergeev.
Nothing could be more downright embarrassing for the FSB and Putin. Not only does their difficulties in identifying the body further prove that they did not have a hand in his demise, it shows their utter desperation. Putin’s prize is quickly revealing the FSB’s incompetence. What is more disturbing is that the arrest of relatives is a standard FSB strategy.
A similar strategy was used last year when the relatives of former Ichkerian president Aslan Maskhadov. Several of his relatives were rounded up in an effort to discover his location. Authorities did not succeed in that goal, but held them until close relatives agreed to give biological samples. The genetic material received from them was used in the eventual identification of Maskhadov’s body.
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As the leaders of the G8 meet in St. Petersburg to discuss energy policy, terrorism, Iran, and infectious diseases, hundreds of activists have gathered in the former Tsarist capital to protest the proceedings. St. Petersburg is no different than past gatherings of international organizations like the G8, IMF, World Bank, WTO or the World Economic Forum. For the past 10 years these meetings have been steadily met with people who see themselves as global citizens bent on challenging a political and economic order they see leaves little room for small “d” democracy.
St. Petersburg is also no different in how these protesters are treated by security and law enforcement. Gatherings are relegated to Kirov stadium on the outskirts of the city where the Russian Social Forum is to be held. Police have locked them in the stadium gates and have prevented activists from carrying their message beyond it. Protests are forbidden in the city center unless they have been approved by the state like the small Communist Party rally. The Russian police have carried out preemptive arrests and have jailed others on a whim. Estimates are that over 200 activists have been arrested.
Organizers expected all of this. They made no illusions as to a low turnout, hoping that at least 2000 activists would show. Visa restrictions, registration woes, costs, and just plain fear kept many away. By all accounts the numbers range in the hundreds. Russian authorities vowed to prevent the G8 from descending into the violence that erupted in Genoa in 2001. With all of this, some activists are surprised that they made it. Alex Kinzer, a 19-year-old activist who traveled from Perm by train, told Mosnews, “I’m surprised I even got here.”
There is a bit of comic irony in the fact that reports about the Russian police’s crackdown on protesters are followed by comments about the country’s antidemocratic practices in general. The methods that are being used in St. Petersburg—preemptive arrests and detention, restricting protests and protesters, caging them in, preventing foreign activists from entering the country—are not new in any way to anti-globalization activists. These weapons of state power have been employed against them for years now. Making Russian actions seem any different, or worse, than protests in the past, whether they were held in Western Europe, the United States, Asia, or Latin America, is laughable. The news coverage of the repression, though welcomed, is rather startling. One suspects that the portrayal of Russia as exception is perhaps a way to mask the rule. The methods to squash protest are as global as the protests themselves. To make Russia an exception in this case is to absolve the widespread and violent repression used against anti-globalization activists in general.
Many activists will argue that this oppression is the reason why the attendance in St. Petersburg is so low. They are right, but only partly. The use of force by the state does work. If it didn’t states wouldn’t use it. However, another reason why the attendance is so low is because the movement itself has waned since 2001. September 11 all but ended the movement in the United States, and to some extent in Europe. The War in Iraq further shifted activism away from global economics. And while attendance to the World Social Forum continues to grow, one wonders what kind of relevance it has at all except for a place were activists meet to debate, preach to the choir, train, and network amongst themselves. Much of the focus on issues of global economics rightly remains in the Global South. After all, they are disproportionately affected, and perhaps because of this, they have had the most success in pushing a populist agenda which has translated into state power. Without the Global South there would be no movement to speak of.
Until now the anti-globalization movement in Russia has been an uncertain force. The radical forces that normally attach themselves to the anti-globalization cause are small. A good sign is that they do seem to be growing. However, some are politically questionable as they embrace nationalism and authoritarianism as core beliefs. It also doesn’t help that Russia’s political opposition is fractured in a political climate where it faces state repression, electoral challenges and little public support.
Nothing showed this more than the Other Russia Conference which was held this week. The three political parties that actually have electoral support, Yabloko, the Communist Party, and the Union of Right, refused to attend. Those who did attend included a potpourri of the Russian political fringe: the National Bolsheviks, the Red Youth Vanguard, ex-Premier Mikhail Kasyanov (who incidentally got punched in the face by a member of the Eurasian Youth League), chess champion and presidential hopeful Gary Kasparov, and Viktor Anpilov of the Working Russia movement. This motley crew dubbed themselves “Russia’s real civil society,” a phrase commentator Sergei Roy took great umbrage to, opting to instead call the forum the “Lunatic Fringe Zoo.”
However much one may have sympathy for the conference, Roy does have a point. How seriously should such a forum be taken when even the real electoral opposition shuns it? It also doesn’t help that much of its funding came from Soros’s Open Society and the National Endowment for Democracy, thus heightening suspicion that the opposition is a CIA front. However paranoid this may sound, the Russians do have some reasons. Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” received support from the same foundations. The latter outfit in particular is funded by the Untied States government. It also doesn’t help that the “Other Russia” was attended by such high profile neo-con figures as Daniel Fried, the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Barry Lowenkron, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. On Wednesday, Antiwar.com’s Justin Raimondo, didn’t hesitate to point out how utterly typical that an American outfit like the National Endowment for Democracy, whose slogan is “Spreading Freedom Around the World,” would fund a conference where a group like the National Bolshevik Party would attend. The NBP’s symbol of a black Soviet hammer and sickle on a Nazi flag melds the two of the 20th centuries most powerful, and violent authoritarian systems.
It is hard to take away anything positive from all this political theater. Every side seems to have been perfectly stage managed. Putin struts across the world stage showing Russia’s new found strength and assertions that Russian democracy will proceed on its own path. Yet when it comes to handling anti-globalization protests Russia’s path seems so similar to the path already practiced by many of the world’s model democracies. Then we have Bush’s challenge to Russian democracy easily swatted away with Putin remarking, “”Well, of course, we wouldn’t want the same kind of democracy as in Iraq, I’ll say that quite honestly.” Bush’s response, “Just wait.” What the hell is that supposed to mean!? Still, Bush stood firm and didn’t give his blessing to Russia’s entry into the WTO. However, they did agree on a deal that would allow American nuclear waste to be stored in Russia! Somehow that doesn’t help me sleep at night.
The big losers are probably the so-called Russian opposition and the anti-globalization movement. The movement not only revealed its weakness, it showed its irrelevance. There are no signs of any real opposition to the Putin’s handpicked successor and United Russia candidate in 2008. Not to mention any possibility of an “orange” anything. As for the anti-globalists, and I should say that I cast my ideological support with them, I’m still waiting for them to stand for something besides being against the nightmare we already have. Perhaps it is time to take a cue from the Global South and build a real movement in the North that doesn’t simply organize for the next big protest. Mass protest seems so late 1990s, amyway.
On second thought, the biggest losers of all are the residents of St. Petersburg. The place sounds like a prison. I’m sure anyone with half a brain fled to their dachas.Post Views: 455
The Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci wrote that hegemony is exercised through the combination of force and consent. Ideally, rule by consent is preferred, though force is always waiting in the wings. Gramsci, however, mentioned a third form of rule, one that is often skipped over because it is buried in a footnote of his classic essay “Notes on Italian History.” That third is rule by corruption and fraud. “Between consent and force,” he wrote, “stands corruption/fraud. This consists in procuring the demoralization and paralysis of the antagonist (or antagonists) by buying its leaders—either covertly, or, in cases of imminent danger, openly—in order to sow disarray and confusion in his ranks.”
It would be beneficial to keep rule through corruption and fraud in mind when thinking about the nature of the Russian state. In many ways, it is not a traditional liberal state with independent branches of government, though it professes itself to be as such. It is also not a state solely based on vertical flows of power. While one may view Putin’s centralization of power as a sign of the state rotating on a singular axis, this view is more a mystification than anything else. To be sure, Putin specifically and Russia in general would like to be perceived as a unipolar state. The ubiquity of photos of Putin personally meeting with officials strives to reproduce a common theme in Russian history: a strong, competent Tsar at the center who subordinates his functionaries for the safety and benefit of the people.
But Putin’s photo ops also engender another interpretation. Putin must personally meet with his functionaries because he can’t trust the state apparatus to run itself. It is and can only be held together through a widespread network of personal connections. Therefore, I would argue that the Russian state is a network state where power is located in concentric circles that are held together by an axis personified by Putin himself. The words “held together” need to be emphasized here. The figure of Putin is not so much for benefit of himself, but more for the benefit of the rulers of the fiefdoms that make up the circles. Putin keeps the peace. He prevents the competing power centers from killing themselves.
This geography of the Russian state has its social manifestation in corruption. Much of this corruption is illegal in that it violates Russian law; some of it is not. However, it is ubiquitous because it is socially legitimized. Corruption gets its legitimacy because the ruling classes rule through personal connections, clans, and networks. As Owen Mathews writes in an article in Newsweek called “The New Feudalism,”
These days, any transaction of value—from getting your kid into university, to arranging visits to doctors, to starting a business—depends upon the whims of the king, his knights in the Kremlin or the legions of vassals who live off their patronage and in turn pay them tribute. From the mightiest oligarch to the lowliest common citizen, every aspect of every Russian’s life—their right to a home, their car or work—increasingly presupposes some form of crooked relationship with the state and its servants.
While I think Owen overstates the issue by implying a straight line from the Kremlin down to its lowliest municipal servant, in a sense he is right. The problem is that corruption in Russia mostly appears benign. There is a saying there, “?????? ?? ????????,” or “forbidden but possible.” Combining two seemingly contradictory worlds captures the essence of corruption. And that corruption is not necessarily located in monetary bribes. There is a recognition in Russia that “?????? ?????,” or “personal connections” open doors, get things done, thereby making the forbidden possible. This doesn’t mean that personal connections are rooted in illegality. It merely functions according to long standing traditions of customary law which in the flow of everyday life trump juridical law.
Being a friend of a friend matters. As a Russian researcher explained to me the other day, “You can’t survive in Russia with just your immediate family. Therefore you have to make your family larger. When a person climbs the economic or social ladder, the rest, the “?????,” has an interest in that person too. Your benefit is also theirs.” Though ???? (pull or influence) is becoming increasingly monetarized, as you go up the class ladder, the connections widen. It is trickle down economics ?? ??????????? (that is person to person)
My own experience in this has been minor though rewarding. I’m too small of a fish to be privy to any real corruption. Since I tend to have good relations with archivists (or know people who do), my orders get filled quicker than others, I am warmly greeted when I arrive, and sometimes I get privileges that others don’t, namely working in the archive when it is closed for others, discounts on photocopying, and other advantages when they stretch the rule.
It also would be wrong to charge that blat is immoral or corrupt. As one observer Alena Ledeneva quotes in her book, Russia’s Economy of Favours:
“You of course will think that . . . the behavior of [the] Homososes [that is Homo Sovieticus—Sean] in such a situation is amoral. But we look at it differently. It is easy to be moral if you live in conditions which do not force you into morally reprehensible actions. You are well fed and clothed; you have a nice house with books and other ways of enjoying yourselves. And it seems to you that to be moral is natural and not in the least bit difficult . . . Everything is simple and clear cut. But if a man finds himself below the bread line, beneath the minimum that is indispensable if morals are to be considered applicable in real life, then it is senseless to apply moral criteria to his behavior. A man in such a position is not only freed ipse facto from normal norms; he is freed from them by these moral concepts themselves. It is immoral to expect a man to be moral if he lacks the minimum living conditions that permit society to demand morality from him . . . Homososes are born, are educated and live in such conditions that it is just ridiculous to accuse them of immorality.”
While this quote was from the Soviet period, I think it still can be applied today in terms of how blat is understood by its practitioners. It does however raise the question that if Russia is structured around a multiplicity of personal networks, does that necessarily make the Russian state feudal as Owen suggests?
Forgetting the fact that Owen doesn’t provide a definition of feudal in his article, to suggest that Russia is also implies that it is a) not modern, and b) states based on the rule of law are devoid of such corruption. The latter is rather easy to dismiss. Most liberal states have a measure of corruption and personal connections that make them work. Liberal blat exists up and down the social food chain in various degrees. More doors open when you know someone than when you don’t. The difference between Russia and liberal states is one of quantity than quality.
Still, at some point quantity becomes quality. The social and cultural importance of connections in Russia suggest that there is a qualitative difference between how things are done there than in liberal societies. This is where the issue of modern comes in. Liberal states became “modern,” the argument goes, by eliminating the importance of personal connections, and by extension corruption by establishing the rule of law. On a cultural level most citizens in liberal states believe, rightly or wrongly, that the law stands above society. In Russia, however, the law is understood by most as merely a tool of the powerful. In this way, many observers place Russia next to “third world” countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia rather than in the modern pantheon of the West.
It seems that the Economist shares this latter point. Citing the Transparency International’s “corruption perceptions index”, it reports that “Russia has fallen to rank alongside Niger, Sierra Leone and Albania. A recent survey by Indem, a Russian think-tank, found an enormous hike, since 2001, in the number and size of bribes given by young men and their families to avoid conscription and, relatedly, in those paid to get into universities. (Fixing a court case, Indem found, has got a bit cheaper.)”
All of this reflects on the nature of the Russia state. From the upper circles of the Russian state to the lowest rungs of society, Russians can only rely on others in their circle for mutual aid. That means that the institutions that the Russian state provide: security, legal recourse, social welfare, education, and more importantly stable rule, gives way to a system that is inherently centralized but at the same time dispersed. The result produces what the historian Alfred Rieber said of Alexander II, a managerial tsar that keeps the warring clans from eating themselves. The “autocrat,” therefore, finds himself not in hegemonic control, but constantly playing a careful game of placating the powerful whose patronage allows him to rule in the first place.Post Views: 582
Anna Politkovskaya’s murder continues to reverberate in the Russian and Western press. It is no surprise that her memory has become one of either martyr or demon, and where one stands in this sordid binary depends more often on one’s political perspective than an appreciation or thoughtful criticism of her work. The dead are the play things of the living, and for a figure so controversial like Politkovskaya it is no surprise that the vultures of memory are hovering in greater numbers.
I recently called Politkovskaya a political football. I now think that this metaphor is incorrect. A football suggests something that is kicked around, back and forth between participants. Given the hyperbole of her memory, I think the appropriate metaphor is Politkovskaya as political pi?ata. So many politicos and pundits are incessantly beating her memory with the hope her body will shower the sweets of political capital in their outstretched hands.
I am alerted to the discourse on Politkovskaya memory by Alexei Pankin’s editorial in the Moscow Times. Pankin writes that he could no longer quietly morn the famed reporters’ death once “grief [turned] into a dance on Anna’s grave.” As a long time associate of Politkovskaya, Pankin feels that she would have viewed all the superlatives now being said about her with much disgust. “Anna, I think,” he writes, “would not have accepted all the consternation generated by Putin’s inability to find any appropriate, human words after her death. For her it would probably have been the greatest acknowledgment of all. I also think she would have disapproved of all the petty politicking in her name.”
The production of memory is a game of detractors and adherents alike. One should point out that Russian Union of Journalists has used her death to publish a sixteen page tabloid about her and the 211 journalists that have been killed in
since 1992. Using her image is an effective way to draw attention to the violence against those trying to do their job as the fourth estate. Russia
One may debate whether it is right or wrong to criticize Politkovskaya at this time. I personally feel that it really doesn’t matter. Her supporters are going to cry that it is too soon when faced with unfair or harsh criticism, her detractors are going to use the fact that she is in the news to launch criticism or attacks. Others will simply use her as a prod, like the Weekly Standard article, for other means.
Whatever people say, a memory of Politkovskaya is being produced and it matters little whether she would have agreed or disagreed with what is now being said about her. She is, after all, dead and can’t join the debate.
All of the rhetoric I think begs a different question. Is there a “real” Politkovskaya to know or even reclaim? I began thinking about this years ago when I wrote a paper on biographies of Huey P. Newton, the famed leader of the Black Panther Party. I discovered in my reading that everyone claimed to represent the “real” Huey P. Newton, even
claimed such in his autobiography. I soon realized that there wasn’t a real Newton Newtonto represent and that all representations were just that because no biographer or even autobiographer could either capture the complexity of an individual like or siphon through all the political sand to get at something genuine. The memory of Newton Newtoncould not be reduced to his person because his life symbolized more than the individual could ever represent. Thus his memory is a political battle that is still being waged to this day. Newton
The same could be said of Politkovskaya. There is no Anna Politkovskaya to remember that is free of all the political baggage, much to the contestation of her family and friends. They may have individual reminiscences and they may try to share them, as Pankin does, with the world. But since her death, Politkovskaya has become a figure that is in a sense public domain. There is a battle over its ownership because her memory is a potential weapon for the weak and the strong alike. And there is no doubt that the narrative that was Anna Politkovskaya life will be written and rewritten. But one should not shudder at the thought of such naratological chicanery. The public-ness of her memory is a result of her very controversial work and a testament to its importance. In that sense, no matter how opportunist or disgusting people’s use of her memory may be, I think it is all a vindication that even in death; she can’t be so easily ignored.Post Views: 431