I’m still in Ryazan so this is going to be short. I’m sure all of you have heard about Anna Politovskaya murder in her apartment building lift yesterday. I saw it on NTV news last night, where it is a major headline. Video camera’s caught images of the alleged assailant. NTV didn’t beat around the bush and called it a political murder. No doubt. A short while ago, I caught a news report on the radio that said the same thing. We can all guess why she was murdered given her coverage of Chechnya. The question now is who. More to follow in the coming days after I return to Moscow and a decent internet connection.
I also haven’t be able to follow the comments section. So apologies for my silence.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
Demonstrations versus demonstrations. Who can mobilize the most people to their side? Such is the current situation following Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan. Yesterday opposition parties called out their supporters to Qalaba (Victory) Square in Baku for a three hour protest. The organizers peacefully dispersed the crowd despite calls for the erection of tents in the square. Crowd estimates numbered around 15,000. The opposition, as well as international observers charge that the election results were rigged. So far the Azerbaijani Electoral Commission has annulled electoral results in the districts of Sumgait and Binaqadi. Further, President Aliyev sacked two governors of the districts of Suraxani and Sabirabad and detained four election officials for electoral fraud. This comes as the European Union charges that the Azeri elections didn’t meet European standards.
Things do seem to be heating up in Azerbaijan. And it seems the media is hoping and praying for the next chapter of “colored revolutions” in the former Soviet Republics. The fact that the opposition was able to even have a protest shows that they are not only riding a wave of discontent, but taking advantage of an atmosphere of protest against electoral fraud that has engulfed the region. I am cautious of whether the Azeri situation will become anything. But with the world watching, President Aliyev certainly has his hands tied as to the level of force he could use against the protests.
One option is to battle the opposition’s supporters with your own. So now the ruling Yeni Party has also called its supporters to Qalaba Square to show its numbers. The government claims that over 40,000 supporters came out, though estimates number more around 15,000. Thus the one-upmanship and numbers game starts. The Opposition brings out its people and the ruling party brings out there’s.
All this rhetoric of possible “revolution” in Azerbaijan should be tempered by EurasiaNet.org special reporting and evaluation of Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution. The series looks at how all nine regions have fared since 2003. It seems that while there were immediate hope, gratification and promises for a better life, those in many cases have not been fulfilled. Take, for example, this passage from the story on the region of Ajaria:
“It all comes down to autonomy. The Georgian government promised that Ajaria would retain its autonomous status, and they have been true to their word. But limitations placed on that autonomy have sparked tensions that refuse to die.
According to the July 5, 2004 law that established Ajaria’s status as an autonomous republic, the Georgian president retains the right to nominate Ajaria’s prime minister – officially known as “chairman of the Ajarian Autonomous Republic” — and disband the region’s legislature, the Supreme Council, as well as its cabinet. Fiscal policy falls to the Ajarian government, but Tbilisi holds responsibility for security and defense. The prime minister can also veto decisions made by the Supreme Council – a provision criticized as favoring Tbilisi rather than Batumi.”
Or, take this excerpt from the story on the region of Guria:
“In his 2005 State of the Nation address, President Saakashvili tapped education and healthcare as among the priority sectors for government allocation of funds from Georgia’s ongoing privatization process. As of April, however, the Ministry of Labor, Healthcare and Social Protection had received just five percent of the new revenues available (or some $13.2 million), one of the lowest amounts of any ministry. The Education Ministry’s budget for 2005 stands at 69.3 million lari or about $38 million.
So far, the changes that have been made on the social welfare front focus largely on education – one of the Saakashvili administration’s official policy priorities. Teachers in Guria report that they now receive their salaries regularly, and are hopeful that the government will deliver on promises to increase their monthly pay. Salaries in Ozurgeti reportedly have reportedly already been increased by 40 percent to 140 lari per month (about $77) . . .
Nonetheless, familiar problems continue. While monthly salary payments are usually made on time, they are also made in steadily decreasing amounts, educators said. In Guria, as elsewhere in Georgia, schoolchildren often sit in schools with no glass in the windows; in winter, to make up for the lack of heat, they bring in firewood for a stove. Or stay at home for months at a time.”
Not only do the situations in Ajaria and Guria speak to the ubiquitous problem of infrastructure, government funding, and ethnic tensions and autonomy throughout the Caucuses, it also points to the problem of “revolution” itself.
For sure, revolutions rarely yield immediate results. Sometimes they don’t yield any at all. That being said, I have a few questions about these “colored revolutions”. First, can they be classified as revolutions? Second, does our idea of “revolution” in that region have so many assumptions about “democracy” that we thoroughly misread the political situation?
It seems to me the application of the term “revolution” was more a manufacture of the opposition and Western media than anything else. The situation in the Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan, and now perhaps in Azerbaijan seemed more about two already entrenched political forces fighting for power. There wasn’t any real surge from below as found in most revolutions, nor was there the uncontrollable chaos that comes with that. Nor were there any fundamental changes in the political, economic or social structure of the countries. Rather these “revolutions” appear all too managed and formulaic. Let me break down the formula. 1) Elections. 2) Elections declared fraudulent. 3) Opposition gets Western support. 4) Opposition parties mobilize supporters. 5) Opposition puts pressure on ruling government. 6) Ruling government compromises. But does this constitute a revolution? Or is it the means in which political change now occurs in the region?
Granted there is something wonderful about seeing thousands of people flooding the streets to protest fraudulent elections; as it is to see that such protests have an effect in the politics of the country. I am not trying to minimize the significance of events there. I don’t think we can say that similar protests would ever have the same effect in the so-called archetype for democracy, the United States. What troubles me, however, is that our Western imagination about “democracy” in the former Soviet Union is so much about us, rather than it is about them. We assume that since their democracy isn’t like ours and their countries are so repressive, protests against election fraud constitutes a revolution in and of itself. We assume that with these “revolutions” all the problems of the region will be solved in one swoop. Essentially, I think many of us in the West get mesmerized by “oppositionism”, which is basically the notion that the “opposition” is automatically better, more legitimate, and more democratic than the ruling party. And if the “opposition” doesn’t win, it’s because the ruling party has “rigged” the entire election. We have the assumption that the “opposition” is outside of politics rather than being a player already in it. We should never forget that when it comes to the CIS, most politicians were former players in their indigenous Communist governments or Communist Parties. And all of them gained their current power through transforming their power and influence under those systems into what they have now. It is because of this that I think that in these electoral duels, what we are really seeing are two or more entrenched political forces trying to gain power over the other. This is why I personally think that neither side has a monopoly on the “rigging” of elections. Be sure when the newly implanted “opposition” is faced with elections, they too will rig them.
Moreover, I’m quite skeptical of the so-called “opposition” as I am the ruling parties in these regions because in all the Western news reports I’ve read and cited, rarely have I been told what the “opposition” stands for. All I read are calls for “freedom” and “fair elections.” Calls that are so neatly packaged to give the impression that a revolution is indeed brewing, and that it will be nothing but a “democratic” (read: pro-Western) one. As the situation in Georgia and Ukraine shows, the “revolution” has done little to lessen corruption or radically improve the average person’s life. What they have done is simply place another political faction in power.
Perhaps I’m too skeptical. But I can’t help questioning what is happening in the CIS. The wave of “colored revolutions” has sent political shockwaves throughout the region. All governments now have to worry about how they conduct their elections. Now they know that carrying out mass fraud will not go unnoticed. And this is a good thing. But I can’t seem to share the enthusiasm that charges of electoral fraud, no matter how legitimate, automatically translate into democracy. Democracy is such a complex thing; a concept infused with universal principles as well as with indigenous understandings. So when we in the West look at what is happening in the CIS, we should ask ourselves not whether it looks like democracy to us, but if it looks like it to them.Post Views: 38
By Sean — 11 years ago
Yesterday, I wrote about Putin and the task of controlling the regional power. An article in today’s Kommersant gives a picture of one of the methods the Kremlin is using to not only combat political opposition to its rule, but to combat corruption and oppositionists within United Russia itself. However, while this may be the end, the means hark back to both a Soviet past and the timelessness of generational conflict.
The method is a group of youths called Molodaia gvardiia (Young Guard). The name’s Soviet connotations can’t be missed. Molodaia gvardiia was the main journal and publishing house of the Komsomol, not to mention a synonym for its role in the Soviet Union. Its Komsomol roots, however, go much deeper than its namesake. Its task is to not only search for enemies of Putin; it also seeks to root out corruption and intransigent regional leaders, even if they are high profile politicians or members of United Russia. According to its leader Ivan Demidov, “No one in the Party is free from responsibility. We must influence power. And if conflicts arise in the regions, which Radov [a pioneering activist in Molodaia gvardiia] spoke about, we will be on the side of the law before anything.” When asked if this meant moving against corrupt officials in United Russia, Demidov cautiously answered, “all will depend on the situation.”
But others contend that there is no conflict between United Russia and Molodaia gvardiia. One representative from United Russia told Kommersant that “that United Russia was prepared to deal with internal corruption itself” and that the group was a good idea because “they could help us.” Others, like political analysis Stanislav Belskovskii see the youth group as a means to pit the young idealists against the entrenched old guard as a way to wage internal party struggles within United Russia. “In the upcoming elections in 2007, Molodaia gvardiia by its own initiative will search for enemies of Putin and possibly will be used to struggle against competitors of United Russia, with Party life first of all,” Belskovskii told Kommersant.
Conforming to the Party line might just be the task. In February, members of Molodaia gvardiia demanded the resignation the governor of Perm for aiding fascists by being lax support to antifascist efforts in the region. Observers then noticed that the apparent call from below coincided with the Kremlin’s desire to clamp down on the governor.
It is here that Putin’s Molodaia gvardiia harks back to a more particular Soviet incarnation: the Legkaia kavaleriia (Light Cavalry). The Light Cavalry was a movement within the Komsomol that Nikolai Bukharin initiated in a speech at the 8th Komsomol Congress in 1928. Bukharin, among others, called for the League to create “initiative groups” to conduct “raids” of Soviet shops and factories to root out corruption and bureaucratism. The move was justified with reference to a section of a speech Lenin gave at the 3rd Komsomol Congress in 1921, which outlined the tasks of the Youth League:
It is the task of the Young Communist League to organize assistance everywhere, in village or city block, in such matters as — and I shall take a small example — public hygiene or the distribution of food. How was this done in the old, capitalist society? Everybody worked only for himself and nobody cared a straw for the aged and the sick, or whether housework was the concern only of the women, who, in consequence, were in a condition of oppression and servitude. Whose business is it to combat this? It is the business of the Youth Leagues, which must say: we shall change all this; we shall organize detachments of young people who will help to assure public hygiene or distribute food, who will conduct systematic house-to-house inspections, and work in an organized way for the benefit of the whole of society, distributing their forces properly and demonstrating that labor must be organized. (“Tasks of the Youth Leagues,” Collected Works, vol. 31)
The Light Cavalry was more than simple “shock force” against poor accounting and bureaucrats. Their “raids” on Soviet institutions also incorporated class politics. Cavalristy routinely denounced corrupt Party members, traders, kulaks, and other “alien elements” they found in factories and shops. In addition, the military rhetoric of the Light Calvary should not be overlooked. Their penchant for military metaphors was part of a general cultural trends in the late 1920s, when Komsomols spoke of their activism in terms of armies, soldiers, campaigns, raids, scouts, fronts, fights, and battles. These expressions symbolized the attempt by a generation to memorialize a civil war that had preceded them by ten years.
If the Komsomols of the late 1920s were using the opportunity to fight their “civil war,” what are Putin’s young guardians fighting for? Social mobility is surely one. There is no better way to rise in the ranks by denouncing your elders. Battles against internal and external enemies is a good way to cut one’s political teeth. Access to regional power is another. Be sure that those who root out corruption will get the nod for those new vacant positions. Thus the young continues to eat its old. Or as Turgenev eloquently put it:
“So that,” began Pavel Petrovich, “that is our modern youth! Those young men are our heirs!”
“Our heirs!” repeated Nikolai Petrovich with a weary smile. He had been sitting as if on thorns throughout the argument, and only from time to time cast a sad furtive glance at Arkady. “Do you know what I was reminded of, brother? I once quarreled with our mother; she shouted and wouldn’t listen to me. At last I said to her, ‘Of course you can’t understand me; we belong to two different generations.’ She was terribly offended, but I thought, ‘It can’t be helped–a bitter pill, but she has to swallow it.’ So now our turn has come, and our successors can tell us: ‘You don’t belong to our generation; swallow your pill.'”
Update: There is another, perhaps more important Soviet connection to Putin’s Molodaia gvardiia. Molodaia gvardiia was also an Komsomol underground anti-fascist partisan group formed in 1942 after the Nazis occupied Krasnodon. Their existance and membership was revealed to the Nazis by turncoats in the groups. In Janurary 1943, the Nazis began arrests of its 80 or so members. Only eleven members escaped capture. All seventy arrested were tortured and thrown to their death in Coal Mine No. 5. Its leaders Oleg Koshevoy, Lyubov Shevtsova, Viktor Subbotin, Dmitry Ogurtsov, Sergei Ostapenkov were shot the next month in the town of Rovenki, only five days before the Red Army liberated it on Feburary 14, 1943. The Soviet novelist Alexsandr Fadeyev wrote a novel called Molodaia gvardiia commemorating its underground activities.
Of all the Soviet connections cited above, I now think that this is the memory the Putin group is hoping to tap–a patriotic youth organization committed to fighting fascism and enemies of the state.Post Views: 48
By Sean — 12 years ago
There are three rather disturbing articles in the April 20 edition of the Moscow Times that are worth mentioning.
The first, “Soldiers’ Mothers in the Crosshairs,” concerns how the Justice Ministry’s Federal Registration Service lawsuit against the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees. However, when the case was made public when the Soldier’s Mothers received a summons to appear at Moscow’s Basmanny District Court, it was dropped. Clearly, the government didn’t want to risk the bad press and potential public outcry that could potentially come by targeting this organization under the new NGO registration law. In addition, a court case would inevitably bring more attention to the horrible conditions in the Russian military. With increasing public disgust over dedovshchina, attempting to shut down the Soldier’s Mothers couldn’t produce anything positive. So writes the Times:
Lev Ponomaryov, the head of For Human Rights, an NGO, said the lawsuit signaled the beginning of the end for Soldiers’ Mothers, adding that authorities would probably shutter the group after the Group of Eight summit in July in St. Petersburg.
Ponomaryov said NGOs such as Soldiers’ Mothers “are not convenient for an authoritarian power.”
Alexei Zhafyarov, who runs the registration service’s NGO department, conceded that Soldiers’ Mothers had for the past five years provided reports indicating that they were in operation, along with information about current leadership, addresses and telephone numbers. These reports were filed in early April, after the suit was filed in court, Zhafyarov said. Oddly, Melnikova said she had learned of the suit only on Wednesday. She refused to discuss the accusations lodged against Soldiers’ Mothers.
Zhafyarov said the five years of reports still left two years unaccounted for, but added that officials were willing to overlook that omission.
But they were still concerned about Soldiers’ Mothers’ tardiness: The NGO, Zhafyarov said, should have been filing timely annual reports since its inception.
Zhafyarov said the registration service would simply issue the NGO a warning. After a certain number of warnings, the registration service may seek to have an NGO shut down, he said. But he said the law did not specify how many warnings an NGO was entitled to before the state can take action.
If this wasn’t bad enough, the Times also features “HIV NGOs Linked to Pedophilia.” The Moscow City’s Duma’s is urging Putin to “restrict the activities of foreign nongovernmental organizations that fight HIV/AIDS, saying they “encourage pedophilia, prostitution and the use of drugs among teenagers.” This only adds more difficulties confronting NGOs working on AIDS prevention in Russia. The appeal comes in response to a NGO named Kholis distributing a cartoon which featured “a man inviting a child to ride in his car. An older boy warns the child that the man wants to have sex and could infect him with HIV. The cartoon ends with the man throwing the naked child out of the car.” The NGO is funded by UNICEF. I haven’t a clue how this cartoon foster’s AIDS prevention. Apparently, the effectiveness was also lost of some backers of the appeal.
“In the United States, NGOs are calling for young people to refrain from sex or to put off sexual contact,” [Veronika] Kochetova [the spokeswoman for United Russia Deputy Lyudmila Stebenkova, who authored the appeal] said, referring to a campaign by U.S. President George W. Bush to put an emphasis on abstinence instead of safe sex.
“We also support giving condoms to at-risk groups like homosexuals and prostitutes, but to advertise the use of condoms to all of the population is wrong,” Kochetova said.
According to appeal, the cartoon fit into the opinion that foreign based HIV/AIDS NGOs are exacerbating AIDS rather than preventing it. The appeal reads: “The implementation of [foreign programs] is facilitating the growth of HIV infections rather than prevention.” Now Patriarch Alexei II has entered the fray with a condemnation of Western funded AIDS NGOs.
HIV/AIDS NGOs see the appeal as yet another attack on their activities in particular and NGOs in general. I have no idea what to make of this report. I hope more attention is given to it in the coming days and weeks.
Lastly, is the story, “Student With Anti-Fascist Leaflets Murdered.” On Tuesday, Alexander Ryukhin, a 19 year-old anti-fascist activist and student at the Moscow Electronics and Mathematics Institute, was stabbed to death as he and a friend were heading for a punk rock concert. Ryukhin died instantly from the attack. The attackers, who are assumed to be skinheads who’ve been targeting Ryukhin for his activities, left the knife in his chest. The knife had no fingerprints on it suggesting that the attack was planned.
Not a good day for Russian news by any stretch.Post Views: 34