Stalin and Hitler were possessed by the devil. So says Pope Benedict XVI’s so-called “caster out of demons” and founder of the International Association of Exorcists, Father Gabriele Amorth. In an interview with Vatican Radio, Amorth said,
“Of course the Devil exists and he can not only possess a single person but also groups and entire populations.
“I am convinced that the Nazis were all possessed. All you have to do is think about what Hitler – and Stalin did. Almost certainly they were possessed by the Devil.
“You can tell by their behavior and their actions, from the horrors they committed and the atrocities that were committed on their orders. That’s why we need to defend society from demons.”
Who would have guessed? But Amorth would know. He has conducted over 30,000 exorcisms. And in an interview in 2001, he revealed that he talks to the Satan everyday, “I speak with the Devil every day. I talk to him in Latin. He answers in Italian. I have been wrestling with him, day in day out, for 14 years.” So there you have it.
More fascinating is the fact that according to Vatican archival documents, wartime pontiff Pius XII attempted a “long distance” exorcism of Hitler. Sadly, it seems to have failed.
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Lots of important Russia news has come and gone since I was forced to turn my attention to preparing for my trip. Immediate concerns prevented me from commenting on the fall out from the race riot in Kondopoga, the assassination of Central Bank deputy chairman Andrei Kozlov, the continuing debate about the meaning and implications of “sovereign democracy,” the Russian government throwing roadblocks on the Sakhalin-Shell Oil deal, the proposal for an “all-Caucasian” amnesty, among many other things. Who knows if I will be able to provide some thoughts on these events since the news waits for no one.
Instead, I want to turn readers’ attention to some broader issues.
As I was shopping for some reading for my London-Moscow flight, I happened upon the most recent issue of the Economist. The cover immediately struck me. It read: “Surprise! The Power of the Emerging World.” The issue was devoted to the growing economic might of mostly China and India, and predictions of China eclipsing the United States by the middle of the century. As the editors write in “The New Titans”:
Emerging countries are looming larger in the world economy by a wide range of measures. Their share of world exports has jumped to 43%, from 20% in 1970. They consume over half of the world’s energy and have accounted for four-fifths of the growth in oil demand in the past five years. They also hold 70% of the world’s foreign-exchange reserves.
Of course there is more than one respectable way of doing the sums. So although measured at purchasing-power parity (which takes account of lower prices in poorer countries) the emerging economies now make up over half of world GDP, at market exchange rates their share is still less than 30%. But even at market exchange rates, they accounted for well over half of the increase in global output last year. And this is not just about China and India: those two together made up less than one-quarter of the total increase in emerging economies’ GDP last year.
And who is part of this cadre of “emerging” or as the Economist rightly puts it by adding a historical spin, re-emerging economies? They of course include China and India, but also Russia, Brazil, and Mexico. According to their projections for 2040, the top ten economies will respectively be: China, the US, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, Germany, Britain, and France. Presently, only China and Brazil are in the top ten.
The various reasons for this predicted dominance go far beyond my expertise in economics. Suffice to say that such a “re-emergence” (and the term is reserved for the fact that China and India dominated the world economy before Europe took off during the industrial revolution and what the Economist fails to remember in its historical analysis, imperialism) is not without geopolitical consequences. While there is no sign of a parallel Asian military block emerging because the US is cuddling up to India with hopes that it will become a bulwark to China, and China choosing not to transform its economic successes into military buildup, such a economic reorientation will undoubtedly produce geopolitical tensions. Some in the American sphere see this and reason that this is the real logic behind the Bush Administration’s military forays in Iraq and Afghanistan and political interventions in the Caucuses and Central Asia. Powerful states need fuel and access to oil is quickly becoming the “Great Game” of the 21st century.
Where does Russia stand in all this? While much of the Economist’s analysis focuses on the macro level, and when it does descend to the grown it focuses on China and India, Russia is included among the top ten by the middle of the century. One can guess that Russia’s growth will not be the same path as China and India. It looks unlikely that Russia will become the globe’s factory like China or the center of the informal economy like India. Russia, however, will undoubtedly be one of the fuel cells of both these economies. The question is whether this fact will push up the standard of living for Russia’s population.
If we follow Immanuel Wallerstein’s world system analysis, Russia has positioned itself as a classical periphery nation. It produces very little for an international market except for gas and oil, and imports virtually all consumer goods. One need only look at the streets of Moscow to see this. The Zhiguli is rapidly disappearing from the urban landscape only to be replaced by better built Japanese imports. Oil export has its limits and many point out, Russia consumes half of the oil it produces. Such a tend is likely to continue. The Putin administrations reliance on oil exports, places Russia at the mercy of falling oil prices and in the end might become, as Vladimir Milov, the President of the Institute of Energy Policy recently noted, an engine of stagnation.
Like the Economist, Wallerstein also sees the East’s eclipse of the United States. He argues that we are witnessing the birth of new interdependent geopolitical blocs without one center. Writing in the New Left Review he had this to say in regard to Russia’s position:
Three regions warrant special scrutiny because they are all currently in considerable turmoil, the outcome of which is likely to change the geopolitical picture: Europe, East Asia and Latin America. The European story is the best known. In the five years between 2001 and 2005, two major developments occurred in this region. The first was the direct outcome of Bush’s unilateralist revision of us foreign policy. Both France and Germany publicly opposed the US invasion of Iraq in the run-up to March 2003 and obtained support in a number of other European countries. At the same time, they made initial overtures to Russia, starting to create a Paris–Berlin–Moscow axis. In response, the us aided by Britain created a counter-movement, drawing most of the East and Central European states—what Rumsfeld called ‘new’ as opposed to ‘old’ Europe—into their camp. The motivations of the East and Central European states derived primarily from their continuing fear of Russia and hence their felt need for strong ties to the United States.
The second development was the defeat of a proposed European constitution in the referenda in France and the Netherlands. Here the lines were quite different from those over the invasion of Iraq. Some ‘no’ votes came from popular opposition to neoliberalism and fears that the new European constitution would entrench it; others from apprehension at a further expansion of Europe eastward, and the possible entry of Turkey into the EU. In both cases, those who voted No wanted a more autonomous Europe, capable of taking a greater distance from the US. But the combination of the two developments—the split over the invasion of Iraq and the defeat of the new constitution—has so far stymied any thrust towards a stronger, more independent Europe. The question is whether over the next decade this project can be relaunched on a firmer institutional and popular footing. It is still also an open issue whether such a revived European project, if it took off, would arrive at a political arrangement with Russia, such that we could speak of a Euro-Russian geopolitical pole.
While both the Economist and Wallerstein agree with the thesis of American economic decline, unlike the former, the latter does not sever the connection between the US military and economic dominance. In Wallerstein’s view, the Iraq war has exposed a fundamental contradiction of the American military: it has imaginable power, but a power ill suited for asymmetrical warfare. Still how one measures American decline is to get to this conclusion is key. The Economist focuses on hard numbers of economic and military might, while Wallerstein’s evaluation is in terms of the more ephemeral, but no less important, condition of American hegemony. In this respect the sole superpower is in dire straits.
The Euro-Russian geopolitical pole seems poised to benefit from American hegemonic decline. The EU is looking east for oil and gas and Moscow is happy to oblige though without complete subservience. Moscow maintains its power over the spigot like a mighty weapon. Thus the internal balance of the Euro-Russian axis has yet to be determined.
Suffice to say that a Kantian globe of “perpetual peace” is far from likely. Instead, we live in a time of massive geopolitical shift. Contrary to proclamations that the 21st century would be the continuation of the American Century, the world looks more and more as it did in 1914: a multipolar world with many centers bound by military or economic alliances which are competing over less and less spoils.
So, while many seemingly disparate events have evaded my vision in the last few weeks, I think that instead of playing catch up, it would be better to reemerge by positing some aspects of the larger global context. We so often forget, or worse, imagine that Russia is some isolated island that is outside of a world system that it is often necessary to take a moment and evaluate its present and perhaps future position in the global theater.
Robert Amsterdam has alerted readers to a rather amusing section where Myers speaks of Aleksandr Donskoi, the young mayor Arkhangelsk who declared his candidacy for president. Since his declaration, Donskoi has been a victim of harassment, some of which are rumors in the local press that he is gay. The rumors have apparently gotten so bad that he has had to hold press conferences to deflect them as well as charges that he falsified his university diploma and has an interest in “gypsy hypnosis”. According to Myers, at one such conference, Donskoi’s wife Marina, visibly flustered by the tabloid style accusations against her husband, interrupted him and shouted “He’s not gay! He impregnated me.” It appears that however fixed the 2008 Presidential Election might be, it won’t be void of bread and circuses.
Lyndon at Scraps of Moscow has also commented on the Myers’ piece. The text conjured memories of the phrase “Who lost Russia?” First, I should say that it’s funny to think that anyone besides the Russians themselves have any claim of loss over Russia. Alas suffice to say that hubris has never quelled a pundit’s gumption. Lyndon provides an excellent genealogy of the question “Who Lost Russia?”, locating its origins in an 1998 article by premier American nationalist Pat Buchanan. Who would have ever guessed Buchanan to be such a sage! Lyndon’s post is a must read not only because of its trip down memory lane but also because in reflecting on that past, he reminds us that “in the end, Yeltsin, because of his move naming Putin acting president just months before the 2000 election, may be remembered as both the midwife of Russian democracy and its executioner.”
The Myers’ article intrigued me for other reasons. I want to put aside the proverbial tales of “there is opposition to Putin” and the very real harassment that Kasyanov, Donskoi, Illarionov, and Kasparov have all faced. I also want to keep silent about the obvious attempts to turn Ivanov and Medvedev into something representing human empathy. These are often told tales and I think Myers does a fine job in retelling them. Instead, I want to focus, or really piece together a notion I think Myers hints at but still requires some culling together. Namely, that Putin’s Russia represents a hybrid of capitalism and authoritarianism facilitated by the practice of patron client politics. The latter characteristic has long historical roots, making it a historical vestige that has been remodeled and reformulated to present elite interests.
Some might argue that there is little difference between what Myers calls the “new imperial Russia” and the “Soviet Union Lite.” Since the collapse of the Soviet Union there has been a revision underway in Russian historiography that sees Soviet Russia as a continuum of Imperial Russia. 1917 was less a break, historians argue, than it was a ratcheting up, an acceleration if you will, of Russia’s journey into the modern era. If this argument is taken to its logical conclusion, Russia is on a different path but to an altogether similar end to the West (and the rest of the world); the singular world historical end of capitalism. Thus, Putin is part of long lineage of Russian modernizers: Peter I, Catherine II, Nicholas I, Alexander II, Mikhail Loris-Melikov, Sergei Witte, Piotr Stolypin, Lenin, and Stalin. A similar assumption is hidden in Myers text. After all, what else could provide the impulse to declare that Putin might be judged as “Russia’s George Washington?” However much each of the listed figures combined personal power with state power, violence and repression with state building, each, when stripped of moral trappings and sentimental analysis, was a Russian modernizer. The odds of Putin eschewing “the possibility of retaining personal power [ to overrule] a young country’s laws and democratic principles” however moribund and hollow those laws and principles may be, places him squarely in that lineage.
Yet the path to modernity is not a smooth one nor is it so teleological. Modernity is filled with contradictions, and despite Marx’s claim that capital makes “all that is solid melt into air,” one can find in his more dialectical moments the articulation of a divergent and rockier path. Namely, where capital only ideally overcomes its barriers (i.e. culture, tradition, religion, identity, and history), “it does not by any means follow that it has really overcome it, and, since every such barrier contradicts its character, its production moves in contradictions which are constantly overcome but just as constantly posited.” Thus, the vestiges of the past are never really past, but only soldered to the crevices of modernity. The end product is not a smooth capitalist system with all its idealized democratic trappings, but one that is a hybrid where the vestiges of the past are fused or braided with the present.
Present day Russia is one such example of this braiding. On the hand, Russia exemplifies the antithesis of what we are told is a modern capitalist democracy. It has democracy in form but not in content. Its vertical power structures outweigh the horizontal. Civil society, which is often touted (or should I say fetishized) as part and parcel to capitalist democracy, is either subordinated to the state or where there it has autonomy is politically irrelevant. The rule of law is better stated as the law of rule. On the other hand, when you look at Russia in regard to economics it has a free market, private property, and is bound to the globalized economy. And despite all of the charges of Putin’s authoritarianism and economic corporatism, privatization of small industry, land, and property has flourished under his tenure. As Myers states, “Kremlin Inc. has become the name for the hybrid system Putin created: capitalism with an authoritarian face.”
Many have wondered why capitalist Russia did not produce a democratic system similar to the European or the Anglo-American model. Forget the fact that the only states that have these models are the Europeans (which is more properly a conglomerate of particular models all under the conceptual umbrella of parliamentarian democracy) and the British, the Americans and their vassals (despite the fact that while they are always mentioned in tandem, really have very different systems). One can throw in Israel and Japan as shining examples of capitalist democracies outside of the Euro-Anglo-American sphere, but still their presence does not make historical law.
Conceptual misnomers, however, have not stopped experts from trying to explain Russia “failure”. They have pointed to Russia’s authoritarianism, unshakable patriarchy, its Asiatic culture and mentality, and its traditional culture as explanations. Others have suggested that its tragic history and perpetual instability are the midwives of authoritarianism. Experts have dug deep into the bedrock of history and have highlighted Ivan IV as an origin; others only scraped the surface of the recent past and put the blame squarely on Bolshevism. Whether primordial or constructed, part of the long dur?e or the quick shifts of modernization, it is argued there is something in Russian society that prevents them from becoming like us. Perhaps the problem is that we, that is, those who hold the “West” (yes, the scare quotes are necessary) up as some sort of archetype of human society, should first strip ourselves of conceptual narcissism before understanding them.
Myers’ article might provide some answers to Russia’s present character. It is often said that Russia’s leaders can aptly claim that “L’Etat c’est moi.” But if you look carefully at Russian history and present Russian politics, the “I” in the state might better represent a tightly bound elite rather than one all-powerful individual. The fact that all societies produce elites is a sociological fact; as is the idea that every society produces elites in their own particular way. For Russia, elites are made and reproduced through patron client networks, where a “manager” is placed at the center to adjudicate conflict and divisions between elite clans. There have been times when the “manager” has had to smash networks that threatened his power (whether real or perceived). Ivan IV’s move against the boyars was one example, as was Stalin’s move against the Old Bolsheviks. Putin’s campaign against oligarchs like Berezovsky and Khodorokovsky can been seen in a similar light.
I have argued before that Putin is also such a manager. But you can see this in Myers’ article with statements like,
The search for his replacement has started to look less like a political campaign and more like a boardroom struggle to select a new C.E.O. As at most corporations, the process is out of the public eye, the result presented to shareholders as a fait accompli. And like most executives, Putin is susceptible to choosing someone most like himself. (Emphasis added.)
All [of the possible candidates for president] have been mentioned as possible successors to Putin, not because they have said anything or even distinguished themselves in any particular way but because they are close to Putin. All, with the exception of Sobyanin, are old friends and allies from his hometown, then Leningrad, now St. Petersburg. No one knows for sure who might emerge as a candidate, because Putin himself will decide, and he has given no indication yet of his final choice. What is certain is that whomever he selects will become the next president of Russia. (Emphasis added).
Ivanov is portrayed as a hard-liner, part of the clan of Putin aides known as the siloviki, or people of power. Medvedev is the (comparatively) liberal, democratic reformer, from the clan representing the modernizing businessmen. Both are oversimplifications, since their singular positions are entirely dependent on their close, personal relations with and loyalty to Putin, who is unquestionably in charge. (Emphasis added.)
Myers is clear that he thinks elites are “dependent” on Putin for their positions, and that is true up to a point. One might also ask: How much is Putin, not to mention his successor, dependent on them for his?
These patron client networks, where the patron is in indisputable charge but that indisputability is given by the client, is a reciprocal relationship that forms the binds of an elite. Much has been made of the fact that Putin has surrounded himself with ex-KGB/FSB types and how this is a reflection of Putin’s inability to shake his spy past. Part of this is certainly true, but such a move is quite logical. First the KGB/FSB produced some of USSR/Russia’s most talented people. Second, the clannish nature of Russian politics is going to make Putin surround himself with people he knows and can trust. Putin hasn’t smashed the oligarchy as much as he created a managed oligarchy. This practice wasn’t called khvostizm or tailism in the 1920s and 1930s for nothing. It is the reality of clan politics that makes Andrei Illarionov’s description of the “succession process as something out of the Middle Ages” quite apt.
In regard to capitalism, Russia is simply a more transparent capitalism, and despite what partisans of capital might say, it fits well in capital’s tendency to concentrate wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands. What makes Russia different than say other capitalist states is that the overt practice of clan politics closes many of the avenues that distributes wealth and power among a wider elite class. Thus, the first question a young Russian up and comer might be asked is “who do you know?” rather than “What do you know?” In addition, the fact that Russian capitalism is predicated on patron-client networks makes its flesh and innards no less capitalist. In fact, I would say that in many ways it wears capital’s true face.
The more information that comes out about the Sychyov Case, the more disgusting it becomes. As I wrote the other day, almost all of the prosecution witnesses have recanted their testimony and Sychyov’s mother and sister are claiming that officials from the Defense Ministry has tried to bribe them into submission.
In an opinion piece in the Moscow Times, Alexandr Gol’ts, who is also the editor of ????????? ?????? and writes for several Russian language and English media, provides more information about how unknown officials from the Defense Ministry have intimidated witnesses. During the investigation phase of the trial, the presiding judge moved one of the witnesses to a unit under the command of Alexander Anupriev. Shortly before the trial began, one of the witnesses began recanting his story after meeting with an unknown general. Gol’ts provides a snippet of the exchange between the judge and Anupriev as the former tried to ascertain the general’s identity:
“Did a car come?”
“What kind of car?”
“What kind of license plate?”
Someone wake up Kafka. He’s missing an example of bureaucratic evasion par excellence. Nothing obscures more than one word answers. According to Gol’ts, “Anupriev couldn’t remember the visitor’s rank or name even though the visitor’s confidential talks with the soldiers had taken place in his own office. There was no paper trail. The visitor’s documents were not checked at the gate, supposedly because he arrived in a car with military plates.” It is clear from Anupriev’s testimony, of I should say lack thereof, that the general also gave him a talking to too. And one seriously doubts that he will sacrifice himself for justice for Sychyov and other victims of dedovshchina.
But government intimidation and cover-up wouldn’t be complete without some stage performance. After Anupriev left the stand, the military trotted out its own hazing “victims,” who obsequiously explained their beatings as “for good reasons and not very hard.” So I guess we are also supposed to conclude that the amputation of Sychyov’s legs and genitals was for “good reasons” too. Gol’ts goes on to provide more examples of military interference and malfeasance. These include the aforementioned bribing of Sychyov’s mother, claims by military doctors that there was no evidence that he was beaten or that his injuries were a result of a “congenital blood disorder.” To add insult to injury and clearly revealing where the military brass’ interests lie, Sergeant Alexander Sivyakov, who is on trial for the incident, was immediately provided a team of defense lawyers. His lawyers are basing their defense on claims that Sychyov’s injuries were from improper treatment in a civilian hospital. Next thing we’ll probably hear is that Sychyov really ran into a wall or fell down some stairs.
Some claim that dedovshchina can be solved by eliminating the conscript army, improving the conditions and pay for military personnel, and strictly enforcing rules and harsh punishments to offenders. There is a lot of support that these measures would work. While hazing in the Russian military has Soviet roots (though I wouldn’t doubt that it extends to the Tsarist period, but I don’t have any concrete evidence), it is clear that incidents have substantially increased since 1991. The economic and psychological shock stemming from the collapse of the USSR, the weakness of Russia in the 1990s, and the brutality of the Chechen War has had profound effects on the conditions and morale within the military. Conditions are undoubtedly ripe for such a violent military culture.
But with all this intransigence, it seems that policies that improving life in the military, though absolutely necessary, wouldn’t change the culture in which dedovshchina exists. The problem is that like in many male centered cultural spaces and institutions, hazing is seen as integral for building unity between men. Boys are transformed into men. Those who can take the abuse are not only accepted into the fold of the worthy, they are also given the right to dole it out to their subordinates. The prospects of payback regenerates the process. In addition, the fact that there exists a whole set of terms that indicate a conscripts place within the rank and file hierarchy—dedy (grandfathers), dukhi (ghosts)—and the rituals they are expected to make to senior conscripts, suggests that dedovshchina is more than a material problem. It is also a cultural one.
And with all of that and the politics behind it, Gol’ts concludes that the message to the public is clear:
Don’t you dare fight for soldiers’ rights. No matter what you do, you’ll never be able to prove anything. That’s why Sychyov’s mother was offered money, why the witnesses are being intimidated, and why officers are made to behave like idiots.
And people wonder why many Russians fight tooth and nail to get their sons out of military service. In many ways it’s like a prison or worse a death sentence.