Cyrill Vatomsky has become a regular commentator on this blog over the last two weeks. In appreciation for his interesting comments, I want to point readers to his radio show Embassy of the New World Order on KSCO AM 1080 Santa Cruz, California. The show airs every Sunday, [11:00] to [1:00] PST. Vatomsky also podcasts the show for those who can’t listen at the live broadcast.
I must admit that I’ve never listened to Embassy but I figured that since Vatomsky gives us his thoughts, we should give him a listen. I know I will, starting today.
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By Sean — 13 years ago
You haven’t seen Moscow until you’ve taken the metro. Despite its need for modernization, the system is flawless. You can be almost anywhere in the city in 45 minutes. The stations are palaces. The metro is such a part of Moscow culture and aesthetics it is hard to imagine going there and not take it. Not so, however, for many government officials and Novye russkye who have taken to car culture to avoid the swarthy hordes that dwell underground.
Moscow Times editor Mark Teeter tells us that the descent into Moscow’s underworld can cause surprise even shock to these officials and New Russians. Take the chairman of the Federation Council, Sergei Mironov for example, who one day decided to ditch his limo for a ride on the wild side of Moscow life. According to the Izvestia article Teeter cites, Mironov was
“shocked — shocked! — to discover that the metro was “overused.” The trip had not been at rush hour, yet a short ride on the dark blue line proved “more than enough” for the chairman to get the picture. “You get pressed up against the wall, and people tromp on your feet, not noticing that you’re the chairman of the Federation Council.”
Not noticing that you are the chairman of the Federation Council! Oh my word! How could such ingrates not know that!? I mean the Federation Council is such an important office in Russia . . .it provides council to the Federation . . . it . . . what the hell does it do again!?
I mean sweet mother of Jesus. As Teeter rightly notes, the real point of all this is elsewhere. “The first, clearly, is that Mironov could be shocked by what he saw — as good an illustration as you’ll find of the disconnect between government and governed. Being in power means never having to use the subway (among other things) ever again — and forgetting entirely what it is like.”
His follow up point is much more telling,
“Which is a shame, as the metro provides a sobering and invaluable sense of context. In a city chock full of pretend institutions — a pretend parliament, a pretend judiciary and now the Public Chamber, a great big pretend NGO — the Moscow metro is utterly real. It does a real job under really difficult circumstances and does it, for the most part, really well. And it has real problems, too, one of which is the second point here. Mironov correctly observed that the metro is overcrowded; what he didn’t observe (or admit to observing) is that in the view of many users it is overcrowded by the wrong crowd.” [Emphasis mine]
Yes the metro is overcrowded by the “wrong crowd” and this makes it a microcosm for how Moscow is divided by race/ethnicity and class. One of the things I noticed there is how there are virtually no old people in the center of the city. The humpbacked babushka, the symbol for the downtrodden of post-Soviet Russia, has been relegated the outskirts, only to pass the through the center by metro car or perekhod. After all, there is nothing for them in the center, and Luzhkov’s kiosk crackdown has made it harder for them to sell goods around the metro entrances. They rarely see the light until they are outside the kol’tso. The same could be said for Russia’s ethnic minorities. They have to pass through militsia document checks come above ground in the center. The only reason why Russia’s immigrant workers from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan find themselves in the center is as cheap labor for its hundreds of construction sites. Besides that they better not venture closer than Tyeplyi stan. It seems, the only unwashed beasts that get a free pass are the packs of stray dogs, who not only use the metro for transporation, but use it so well that they show the uncanny ability to perekhod!
But seriously, Moscow cannot be understood without taking the metro into large account. And Teeter’s conclusion is right on in this respect:
“The metro is not a metaphor for Moscow, the metro is Moscow, its present and its future. It is a permanent flash point, the no man’s land between two wary and untrusting cultures, a zone both must use every day and at close quarters. In it you see the great ethnic-nationality problem as it appears in real life: not the “swarth-enhanced” actors of the Rodina ad (throwing watermelon rinds in front of baby carriages) but many kinds of people trying to get around the city to make a living, all forced to do so in an ever-increasing proximity and at a rising level of discomfort.
Instead of closing down NGOs, State Duma deputies should each take a weekly subway ride and then strike a real blow for civil society by rendering the city’s underground society more civil: With more trains, more stations and more personnel in the system, its long-suffering, harried passengers would be more likely to tolerate each other better — first inside the metro and then above ground, in the Moscow the Duma members actually do see. And the Duma members would win, too. One reason Boris Yeltsin became a genuine popular hero here in the late 1980s was that people saw him coping as they did: “He takes the bus to work.” Has any Russian politician done the equivalent since — or even thought of it?”
By Sean — 12 years ago
Saturday’s Feb. 10, BBC telecast to the US portrayed an “aggressive” Russian President Vladimir Putin “lashing out” at the US during a weekend gathering in Munich. The White House was then quoted as being “disappointed” with Putin’s comments. This BBC segment had an excerpt of an interview it conducted with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Ivanov claimed a one sided American approach to handling global trouble spots.
No example was given to support Ivanov’s view. The BBC frequently utilizes this tact, leaving not so informed viewers with unanswered points of relevance. To fill in the blank on this particular: an American official recently visited Moscow with the brazen attitude that Kosovo could be independent and that the basis for such didn’t apply to pro-Russian former Soviet territories in dispute. There’s nothing “aggressive” about that stance? Forget about the BBC doing a comparative breakdown to review whether Kosovo has the best case for independence (which it doesn’t, as those familiar with my commentary know).
The mentioned BBC segment ended with Arizona Senator John McCain welcoming Putin’s candor, while believing that the Russian president was aggressive. Talk about role reversal! Those on the Russocentric side who are familiar with McCain, are well aware of his overtly Russia and Serbia unfriendly statements over the course of time.
A Sunday Feb. 11, New York Times article uncritically described CIA Director Robert Gates’ statement after Putin’s address as taking a high road for seeking an end to what Gates termed was Cold War language on Putin’s part. This makes no sense whatsoever. With two competing superpowers during the Cold War, there was less of a uni-polar world. Putin’s Munich commentary is against one power dictating to the rest of the world (not to be misread as Putin seeking a return to the intense bi-polar rivalry of the Cold War).
At the Munich meeting, Putin firmly stated that any solution on Kosovo must have the full support of Serbia. Too bad he didn’t add that Trans-Dniester should receive prompt international recognition as an independent state. In addition to some leading American foreign policy politicos outside of government, how many times has the neo-conservative/neo-liberal influenced Bush Administration said that Kosovo has a “unique” case for independence unlike Trans-Dniester and some of the other disputed former Soviet territories? (mind you, I’m not lumping the disputed former Soviet territories as having the same degree of legitimacy)
Ever since the breakup of Yugoslavia – German mass media at large has been decidedly anti-Serb in its slant. Arguably more so than what’s evident in Anglo-American mass media. The Serb population in Germany is small when compared to that country’s Croat and Muslim populations. Germany’s being on the losing side in two world wars against Serbia might further explain the bias as well.
This slant was shown in a recent Der Spiegel interview with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. When Lavrov noted how UN Resolution 1244 calls for a return of Serb military personnel to Kosovo – Der Spiegel shot back with a – that’s unreasonable quip. The interview left that point without follow-up. To fill in the blank: it’s not unreasonable for Serbia to have its troops and government staff on Serb territory. UN Resolution 1244 calls for both. Kowtowing to the law of the jungle is a bad model (in this instance, basing one’s decision on how Albanian nationalists will behave if they don’t see their agenda supported).
A related bias is shown in the Western non-sympathy for Trans-Dniester’s view. Romania is a recently inducted EU member which actively backs Moldova’s hypocritically applied Soviet era border claim on Trans-Dniester. Unlike Trans-Dniester – Romania was also an ally of Germany during World War II.
In the background of these biases is the Berlin-Moscow relationship. The present reveals how the two can be on relatively good terms with each other, while maintaining different historical sympathies towards some others on the European continent. The last decade saw Germany re-ignite its WW II relationship with Croatia as Russia showed its historical favoritism with Serbia. In some instances, the vestiges of two world wars appear to linger on.
Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst and media critic. In addition to Sean’s Russia Blog, his commentary has appeared in the Action Ukraine Report, Eurasian Home, Intelligent.ru, Johnson’s Russia List, Russia Blog, Serbianna, The New York Times, The Tiraspol Times.
By Sean — 13 years ago
News reports are confirming the obvious: last week’s attacks in Nachlik were carried out, or at least according to his own words provided “operational guidance”, by Shamil Basayev, Islamist, terrorist, and, since the killing of Aslan Maskhadov, defacto leader of the Chechen nationalist movement. One report from Radio Free Europe however is of special interest.
The title of Jeremy Bransten’s article poses a simple, yet vital question: Who carried out the Nalchik raids and why? Most of the time the answer we get is simple: Islamists who use terror to strike fear in Russia society because they are evil, inhuman etc, etc. Unfortunately, for the Russians the answer just isn’t so and as long as they take a Bushite analysis of Chechnya they will never extricate themselves from that quagmire.
Bransten quickly points out that whether Basayev masterminded the attacks or simply provided operational guidance means little. The truth of the matter is that the attack was carried out by local men. The spread of the conflict into neighboring Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, and now Kabaradino-Balkaria is often blamed on Chechens crossing the border to cause havoc. However, this time the violence seems homegrown. Worse, Nalchik signals a possible unification between Kabarins and Balkars against Moscow. Bransten writes,
“Nalchik remains under a Russian security lockdown, so obtaining reliable facts remains difficult. But initial indications are that most of the attackers were young locals, including many young Kabardins.
If true, this could be significant because until now, most militants were believed to be Balkars, who make up about 10 percent of the population. The Balkars have historical grievances against Moscow. Like the Chechens, they were deported to Siberia by Stalin during World War II. Ever since returning to their homeland, they have faced discrimination and remained on the economic margins of society. The Kabardins, by contrast, who make up 50 percent of the population, were favored by the authorities. Both groups — naturally — have remained wary of each other.
But if Balkar and Kabardin militants are now making common cause under the banner of the radical group Yarmuk Jamaat, this could portend trouble for Moscow.”
Call it the dialectic of disintegration. When the Soviet Union imploded, all of the external ethnic groups that had their own republics, and perhaps most important their own Communist Parties, broke away. The internal ethnic groups, like the Chechens, Balkars, and Kabardins who have long historical grievances with Moscow, were left to fend for themselves in the periphery. The Chechens sought political independence. Others like the Tatars reconciled themselves to the new Russia. And most like the Balkars and Kabardins were mostly left in economic squalor.
It seems from Bransten’s account that the youth of Kabaradino-Balkaria are less and less willing to put up with it anymore. It is possible that Basayev’s call to holy war is having some resonance among them.
As always, economics is playing a decisive role for the youth’s taking up of arms. But that is not all. The conflict is spreading throughout the region in as a result of another dialectical process: repression. As Bransten notes,
“So what drives young Kabardins and Balkars to answer Basaev’s call for holy war? Paradoxically, say experts, it is the government’s campaign against Islamic extremism that is driving some young men to radicalism.
Human-rights activists say that under the guise of rooting out extremism, police have become notorious for their brutal tactics against the local population — especially young men. This, combined with a hopeless economic situation, has bred a sense of anger and alienation that Basayev has tapped into.
Accuse an unemployed young man of being a Wahabbi, bring him in for a brutal interrogation session — and if he wasn’t a Wahabbi at the beginning, he will likely become one by the time he is released back out onto the street the activists say.”
Police brutality is “rampant” in Kabaradino-Balkaria, pushing otherwise innocent and non-political young men, who’ve been humiliated by the police and security forces, to take up arms to avenge themselves. We shouldn’t be a bit surprised by this. One need only read some of the classics on anti-colonial struggles, namely Franz Fanon, to understand this. He wrote in his classic, Wretched of the Earth:
“At the individual level, violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive despairing attitude. It emboldens them, and restores their self-confidence” (51).
It is this use of violence, even if it only contains a miniscule hope for liberty, can quickly unleash a cycle where the “theory of the ‘absolute evil of the colonist’ a response to the theory of the ‘absolute evil of the native.’” Once it begins to be fueled by its own logic, it can prove so impossible to break, expect through the complete replacement of one group by the other.