It seems so. The film’s distributors decided not to release the film in Russian theaters based on objections from Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography, or Goskino. The film was to released in 300 theaters beginning on November 30. Iurii Vasiuchkov , the head of state film registration said, “We consider that the film contains material that is derogatory to several nationalities and religions.” Most likely he means Jews and Kazakhs. The Kazakh government had been lobbying the Russian government to not release the film out of respect for the neighboring country. Twentieth Century Fox’s Gemini Marketing plans to take the case to Russian court to obtain a release license.
So much for a sense of humor.
No worry. The ban is sure to increase interest in the film. And I’m sure many Muscovites are already scooping up illegal DVD copies on sale at Gorbushka.
Update: Back in the US, it seems that Borat is running into some legal trouble. The three drunken frat boys featured in the film are now suing 20th Century Fox because the it ”made [the] plaintiffs the object of ridicule, humiliation, mental anguish and emotional and physical distress, loss of reputation, goodwill and standing in the community.” But, um, they are frat boys. This would’ve happened to them anyway.
And now, enter the real Borat, Mahir Cagri, a Turkish man who developed his own cult of personality on the internet in 1999. Cagri, 44, claims that he was the inspiration for “Borat.” If you (see) this, what you think about me?” he said. “Mahir is a very bad comedian, Mahir is a homosexual, Mahir may be say the bad things about Jewish people? This is very bad.” He now plans to make his own film to show the world the “real Mahir.”
Oh, boy. Who said there was a difference between comedy and drama?
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By Sean — 12 years ago
—Newsru.com is reporting that an anti-fascist rally in front of the Moscow city hall was broken up by OMON on Sunday. About two hundred protesters gathered in response to the rise in nationalism and racism. Shortly after they gathered, buses carrying OMON officers arrived. The officers charged the crowd arresting participants. One woman was taken to the hospital with injuries after an officer hit her over the head. Sunday’s protest was in response to the nationalist rallies held on the first celebration of “Unity Day” on November 4. The holiday, which celebrates the liberation of Moscow from Poland in the 16th century, was commemorated by the ultranationalist Eurasian Youth League with a rally 1000 strong to denounce the influx of immigrants into Russia.
—The Moscow Times reports that the office of the National Bolshevik Party was raided by police on Thursday. Last week the Russian Supreme Court liquidated the NBP, overturning its own earlier ruling upholding their right to operate. NBP spokesperson, Alexander Averin told Ekho Moskvy that ten NBP members chained themselves to a radiator to protest the eviction. This made them easy targets for police to beat them.
—One year later Ukraine’s Orange Revolution continues to ripple through Russian politics. The latest ripple is the State Duma’s passing a law that restricts the operation of some 450,000 NGOs and other civil society groups operating in Russia. The law, passed 370-18 vote, with 48 abstentions by mostly Communist deputies, requires NGOs to reregister with the Justice Ministry’s Federal Registration Service under rules that give the government more oversight over NGOs’ tax flow, sources of funding, and involvement in Russian politics. The bill comes as a response to two goals of the Putin Administration. First, the Administration seeks to place tighter controls on the ability of NGOs to operate and foster Russian civil society and democracy. NGOs like Human Rights Watch, which released a briefing paper on the issue, has been increasingly critical of Russian human rights violations in Chechnya, the treatment of soldiers in the military, government censorship and control over the media, and the general whittling away of democratic checks and balances. Second, it address a concern that foreign NGOs were instrumental in funding Ukraine’s Orange Revolution; a claim that is not entirely false, but not completely true either. Moscow believes to this day that the election of Yushchenko was the result of a CIA plot and they will be damned if something like that happens in Russia. When asked about this specter of Orange Revolution in an interview on Ekho Moskvy, Alexander Petrov, the head of Human Rights Watch in Moscow downplayed the possibility and added his own thoughts on the need for a strong and influential civil society in Russia:
“I would like not to talk about Orange Revolution as a real danger which the Russian Administration, state, and state institutions are looking out for. It’s simply because Russia is a completely different state. First, it is not divided into two parts like the Ukraine, nor in three like Georgia. Opposition parties do not have enough influence in Russia. Therefore, it seems to me, that the situation is different and all these ideas about the possibility of Orange Revolution are simply a cover for something else. That is, I ask myself the question, for what reason does the government need to not only strengthen the law of registration, but also the life, activities, accounting, everything that is necessary [for them]. I cannot find an answer for this because despite all the maniacal desires to describe this one vector, the vector of civil society alongside the vectors that are already built—the vector of executive power, the vector of representative power, I call them wax figures, which appear to be representative power, but they aren’t. Because there must be debate in representative organs to check all legislation, but apparently they simply conduct all other discussions without hesitation. A similar process exists in the mass media. We see television channels look more and more like each other, and the tone of commentators, even their rhythm and tempo looks remarkably alike; you often don’t know what you are watching the first channel or the fourth. The theory is to create a third vector. But the rational, logic, and reasons for this are not recognized.”
The passing of the bill comes as government officials make stronger claims that NGOs and other civil society groups are fronts for foreign spies. Alexei Ostrovsky, a member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and co-author of the bill accused NGOs of being the tool of the CIA to destabilize Russia and promote revolution. “We remember how those human rights organizations defended human rights in Yugoslavia, Ukraine and Georgia under the cover of the CIA, and we know how it ended,” he was quoted in the Moscow Times. In an interview in Rossiiskaya gazeta, FSB head Nikolai Patrushev had this to say in reference to terrorism and the control over organizations (read: NGOs) that might aid them:
“One of the priority tasks right now, as I already said, is to identify and eliminate the funding sources and to cut off the funding channels of terrorist organizations and bandit formations.
Both our own and foreign experience demonstrates that one of the key conditions for effective enforcement work in combating terrorism is that the special services and law enforcement agencies should be endowed with the relevant procedural powers with regard to monitoring of financial flows, freezing and seizing suspect accounts, and compelling financial and credit organizations to collaborate with them.
For example, in the United States the Patriot Act introduced amendments to the laws on banking and financial confidentiality that make it possible to obtain relevant information from banking and financial institutions when international terrorism is involved.
The FSB considers it necessary to increase the liability of credit organizations and their leaders for funding terrorist activity and organized crime closely associated with it, and the Bank of Russia should respond more promptly and firmly to alarm signals from the law enforcement agencies. It is not acceptable to make money from blood.”
Putin was more measured in his remarks on the bill. Though while agreeing that Russia needs such organizations he added, “The ongoing funding of political activity in Russia from abroad, I think, must be on the state’s radar screen, especially if this funding … comes through the state channels of other countries, and … organizations operating here and involved in political activity are, in essence, used as foreign policy instruments by other states.” Only time will tell on this. But the bill is sure to send a chilling effect through NGOs, especially ones like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International which heave heavy and much needed criticism of the Putin Administration’s policies.
—Chechens go to the polls today for parliamentary elections. The vote, which is expected to solidify Moscow’s political hold in the war torn region, is sure to raise questions about the legitimacy of the results. The new leader of the Chechen separatist movement Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev appeared on Al-Jazeera denouncing the election as a “farce”:
“This is not the first time Russia performs a farce of this kind on its soil. We know how this sort of democratic elections had previously been held when they appointed [Moscow appointee Ramzan] Kadyrov to be the first Chechen president as if there had been no elections or Chechen presidents before him. Although history mentions that Dzhokhar Dudayev and Maskhadov were presidents of Chechnya, yet Russians are trying to erase them from history and to rewrite Chechen history afresh. But they could not and will not be able to do that because no-one gave them the right do so.”
Sadulayev added further:
“They are trying to add some points to the Chechen constitution indicating that the Republic of Chechnya wants to voluntarily be part of the Russian Federation. Naturally, this was not enshrined in the previous constitution and is something made up by the Russians. We know that farce very well. The Russian side in the committee in charge of drafting the Chechen constitution wrote as a clause in the constitution that Chechnya does not want independence and wants to be part of the Russian Federation. But, the Chechen side in the committee rejected that and after God took away the soul of renegade Kadyrov, they held a new farcical election that resulted in appointing Alu Alkhanov, so as to be able to steer Chechens in any direction they wish, to order achieve their own personal end. They are now trying to call these elections parliamentary elections to achieve stability, but no matter what they do this will not do them any good. There attempts will always be useless.”
To follow developments I urge readers to point their mouse to Radio Free Europe’s special section “The Crisis in Chechnya.” I hope to address the elections more thoroughly in the coming days.
—It seems that this is the year of elections in the former Soviet Republics. Azerbaijan held theirs. Chechnya is voting now. On December 4 Kazakhs will go to the polls to elect a new president. There is little doubt, with all the state oppression, manipulation, and other shenanigans, that current President Nursultan Nazarbaev will win. There are signs that the Kazakh elections are trying to appear legitimate. Last week candidates participated without Nazarbaev in a televised debate. The participants included Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, from For a Just Kazakhstan; Alikhan Baimenov, from Ak Zhol (Bright Path); Erasyl Abylkasymov, from the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan; and lawyer and environmentalist Mels Eleusizov. Nursaltan did not participate and was on an official visit in Ukraine. Like in all the other former republics, the elections have sparked speculation of a “colored revolution.” The leader of the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, stated that his bloc “have ever planned or are planning any anti-constitutional actions or measures aimed at destabilizing the situation in the country.” This follows statements by Kazakh security forces warning that they have information that the Opposition is planning such actions and promise that if they do they will be “severely dealt with.” For more information as it develops, Radio Free Europe has set up a special section “Kazakhstan Votes 2005”.
—Finally one cannot forget that this week marked the first anniversary of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and the second anniversary for Georgia’s Rose Revolution. Paul Abelsky from Russia Profile gives a good analysis of how a year later the rifts in Ukraine continue to dog how the country relates to Russia. He argues that relations between Russia and Ukraine are still wrought with tensions. Ukraine’s dependency on Russian energy and its subsidized prices gives it little wiggle room when it comes to its relationship to its big brother. Abelsky writes:
“Ukraine will have to choose between the subsidized Russian energy exports and a more independent economic and foreign policy course. Developing a degree of self-sufficiency in the energy sector will bring obvious long-term dividends, but it is bound to result in widespread hardship for the population in the foreseeable future. Ukraine’s plunging economic growth, which fell from 12 percent in 2004 to 3 percent this year, only aggravates the political intricacies of the situation.”
To make matters worse for Yushchenko, his administration was full of promise but delivered little by way of domestic reform. His administration was cobbling together of “politicians who came to power were not able to offer a satisfactory socio-political model and, instead, became preoccupied with a banal redistribution of property and influence,” says Yury Boiko, the leader of Ukraine’s Republican Party. “The team that emerged was formed on the sole basis of a disdain for the previous government and the wish to overthrow it. Their business and political interests differed, which took a toll on all the subsequent efforts and reforms.” According to Abelsky such a situation has not squelched speculation of the legitimacy of last year’s elections, and perhaps worse squandered the “vast symbolic potential of an uprising built around declarations of justice and democracy.” Thus the parliamentary elections in March will be a more effective measure of the Orange Revolution successes and failures.
On the Georgian side, Shaun Walker gives his analysis of Georgian-Russian relations two years after Mikheil Saakashvili led protesters in overthrowing Eduard Shevardnadze. While there has been some progress on governmental transparency, Georgia is far from democratic and in fact according to Oksana Antonenko of London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, “Georgia has not become more democratic. What we’ve seen is the emergence of a very strong, centralized one-party structure, in which the president decides everything and there’s no real opposition.” While relations with the West have improved, those with Russia have gotten colder; so cold Georgia has hinted at pulling out of the CIS all together. Such a move would be an economic disaster for Georgia. Especially in the price of natural gas, who like its Ukrainian counterpart, receives price subsidies from Russia. In all, the reality of the colored revolutions is structured by economics. While Ukraine and Georgia can strive for political and foreign policy independence, their economic dependency on Russia for energy and markets hampers that desire. The champions of revolution who now sit in Kiev and Tbilisi have painfully learned a hard lesson: pro-Western and anti-Russian rhetoric might win you elections, but it won’t make it easy to rule.Post Views: 362
By Sean — 12 years ago
Does Putin’s Russia resemble the Shah’s Iran? This is the question Boris Kagarlitsky ponders in his recent column “The Shah’s Iran & Putin’s Russia” on Eurasian Home. His argument runs like this. Like the Shah’s Iran, Putin has successfully created an economy that shows stable growth based on oil and gas exports. However, also like Iran, this formula doesn’t look promising to bring Russia out of its peripheral position in the world economy. In fact, just the opposite. If you listen to world systems theory, Russia will remain peripheral as long as it continues to supply core states—China and the European Union—with the fuels that move their economy only to give it back to Russia in the form of consumer imports. Russia may be able to dictate the terms of trade with raw materials, but to keep its population fat with consumer items; it needs to be cautious in how far it pushes.
Kagarlitsky’s argument goes beyond petrol exports. Putin’s “modernization” also involves in the development of a capitalist class that is adept in the rules of the market and international trade. Modernization is more than an economic project; it is also an ethical project. This has led him to restricting the business elite in general, while allowing a section of it that is loyal to his government flourish. Basically, Putin has traded one set of oligarchs for another. For Kagarlitsky, this has the potential to blow up in Putin’s face. Despite what people may think, holding state power requires two of three things: the military, the elite, and/or the common people. Currently, Putin has the first and a sizable portion of the third, with the second is a bit tenuous. Part of the elite supports him, while another part is probably ready to bolt, that is, if they had someone to bolt to.
According to Kagarlitsky, the “illusion” to Putin’s power lies in the oil prosperity.
The oligarch economy structure also remains unchanged. The market reforms are still in progress. The substitution of one oligarch by another may just make this policy work better. Technology development, national projects and modernization are much spoken about. The middle class should be satisfied by comfortable consumption conditions and well-paid jobs. The system’s work, however, is more of a show rather than of the efficiency. The glamour conceives the undecided problems. The superficiality of the ruling elite will sooner or later become obvious to an impartial observer. The Iranian capitalism under the last Shah, just like the Russian capitalism under Putin, had too narrow social and economic basis, leaving two thirds of the population at nothing. The oil prosperity maintains the illusion of stability. Just illusion, that’s it. As we look closer, we see the clouds in the horizon gathering.
Where would the people go? Certainly not to religious organizations like in Iran. Kagarlitsky thinks that Russian nationalist forces have the best chance of capitalizing on a disgruntled population. There are already signs of this.
[The] increasing number of the nationalist and fascist groups is starting to seriously worry the Kremlin. If our authorities are actually capable of learning at least some lessons from the past, then that would be it. They are doing their best to keep the nationalist bloc from consolidation, limiting its emerging leaders’ ambitions, preventing formation of the solid structures. “Rodina” was shown its place. Orthodox church is not a Shiite mosque, it will not object to the state. Numerous fascist groupings, from the killer skinhead to the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (MAII) are a serious trouble for citizens with “non-Aryan” looks, still not being a political force and are unlikely to become one. Even if the Communist Party turns all of its meetings into propaganda hang-outs for the racist MAII, this is still not enough to make the fascist movement highly influential. However, the authorities got a problem: it is kind of complicated to fight the right extremism and at the same time stand out for the civil society. The war at the two fronts demands considerable efforts, resources and attention, which they just might be too short of. Besides, keeping up appearances is also on the agenda, i.e. avoiding extremes while pursuing policy of repressions or at least having devices at hand to cover it. At the beginning of the 2000s nationalist movements in Russia were in a crisis. Even the Communist Party (which, regardless of its name, is the major nationalist party) was wavering. In the party, especially in its youth sector, communist movements were emerging, modestly trying to appeal to the name and the history of their organization. By mid-decade however, the racist and nationalistic forces in Russia have gotten their second chance. Successful “mop-up” of the civil society created favorable conditions. Putin was doing such a good job pulling the flowers in his garden that had made plenty of room for the weeds.
Such political garden is not needed even to the administration. The state machine is slowly changing fronts. “The fight against fascism” is becoming a popular ideological tune, and the Kremlin is even willing to pay overtime to those ready to sing it. No wonder that the number of struggling with the fascist menace is multiplying. But all of them are not quite right people. If you have been systematically cracking down on the civil society don’t be surprised to see different sorts of crooks being the only ones coming to your call.
This supports my theory that Putin and United Russia has positioned themselves in the political center. They both stand as the defenders of stability by denouncing the left, in the form of liberal parties, and the right, represented by nationalist parties. Putinism, if giving it an “–ism” is even appropriate, is politics through negativity—you are what your opponents aren’t. You brand them as harbingers of instability, thereby making you a partisan of stability without ever having to actually state how you will maintain said stability. The only question that remains is if two thirds of the population remains economically disenfranchised will the center hold? And if so how long? Who will occupy the new political center?Post Views: 110
By Sean — 11 years ago
Boris Kagarlitsky, the Director of the Institute of Globalization Studies, is one of my favorite commentators on Russia. He is one of the few that examines Russia from a left social democratic perspective with the hopes that a popular Russian movement against global capital would emerge. It is because of this that I frequently feature his columns in the Moscow Times and Eurasian Home.
Kagarlitsky’s new opinion, “Putin’s Corporate Utopia,” is worth giving some thought. Among many things, he argues that corporate capitalism in Russia is an agreement amongst the political and economic elite. In exchange for politically deferring to the Kremlin bureaucracy, the economic elite gets a government that exercises power in their interests. Kagarlitsky argues that this is no different that in Germany or America in the sense that “Putin lobbies interests of the Russian business just as Angela Merkel lobbies interests of the German business, which strives to own a part of the Russian lucrative energy market.” Russian corporate interests are thus intertwined with Russian political interests. As Kagarlitsky explains:
Does the Russian state try to grip control over big business? The answer is: positively it does, but only in political sphere. As for the economic policy, few Cabinets in Russia’s history depended on capitalists more than the present Cabinet depends on the interests of big business. Corporations dictate today’s agenda in Russia – they got this right in exchange for their loyalty not only to the existing political system but to the President and any high-ranking official in the Administration.
And as the things stand today, they have all reasons to be loyal – authorities provide favorable conditions, profits and prices on shares grow constantly. Why would business beware of the Putin’s regime – because of the problems with the free press? But the business press covering mostly changes in securities quotations doesn’t suffer from the state’s pressure. Or is it because of the problems with human rights? Well, don’t you know that in our country people are different, and while some have no rights, the others have no problems at all? As for the problems with ethnic Chechens, any Chechen possessing several milliards of dollars can afford to buy amnesty and respect. As for bureaucratic pressure on small and medium businesses, doesn’t it serve the interests of big business? As a matter of fact, big business is even more practiced in making small enterprises bankrupt than the corrupt bureaucrats. Putin’s bureaucrats are ready and willing to do business themselves. Thanks to their business interests they better understand concerns of the Russian entrepreneurs. Thus, they have ousted foreign enterprises from lucrative oil business. But in doing so they opened way to domestic businesses.
For Kagarlitsky, this is a lesson Russia learned from the west. And it has been a good pupil.
There is more. To say that Russia’s general approach toward corporate capitalism is without particularities would be an analytical mistake. Capitalism’s particular qualities are a reflection of a nation’s history, culture, social structure, i.e. what Marxists call the superstructure. Many forget that the relationship between base and superstructure is dialectical. The former and latter are locked in a perpetual process of mutual influence. But it should be stressed that these Russian particularities never move from a position of quantity to quality because in the end the general character of global capital remains determinant in the last instance.
Still these superstructural additives to Russian capital are of great importance. This is what makes Putin’s capitalism more an outgrowth of the practices of Sergei Witte than that of England or America, let along the Soviet state. Kagarlitsky even cites the Count Witte to suggest that “as for the economic policy, I don’t think there has ever been more liberal government in Russia, except for the earl Sergey Witte’s ill-fated administration, which as you might know, let the country plunge into the 1905 Revolution. In a strange way, all the current free-market measures not only have failed to fight monopolies but strengthened them. After privatization the majority of corporations retained their status of natural monopolies, abolishment of state control being the only novelty.”
One many disagree with Kagarlitsky’s splitting of economics and politics into two distinct spheres as if one can be held without the other. I would purpose that instead of looking at them as in a static equilibrium (the political = the economic) or even a static hierarchy (the political over the economic or vice versa), it might be more fruitful to think of them as in a shifting relationship where in some instances, the economic trumps the political while in others the political subordinates the economic.
The tie that binds these two spheres is what Kagarlitsky defines as bureaucratic capital. It is this that gives Russian capital its particular character:
President Putin’s vision of the capitalism ? la Russe is quite plain: strong centralized power based on and supported by big private corporations. The two elements are linked by bureaucratic capital, which is permanently bread within the state and permanently privatized. Through this the state accumulates resources and sustains the order. New business projects are nourished by the state and when a chance occurs it is ceded to business or becomes a private corporation itself. Needless to say that bureaucrats are rewarded for their services – they take bribes, have their interest in flourishing businesses and enjoy loyalty from the part of big capitalists.
Bureaucrats want the oligarchs to respect certain rules, a kind of code of honor but the problem is that in this country it is ridiculous when a bureaucrat appeals to morality.
President Putin’s conception is based on a viable market approach similar to American or German corporatism, but with specific Russian character. It is that in systems of peripheral capitalism bureaucracy always tends to be outsized, corrupted and incompetent.
Being “the leading national force”, “the locomotive of development” bureaucracy can rule the state; at any rate it copes much better than private business would do. And it is accountable to the people unlike the foreign capital and its servants in Russia. For the Russian capitalism bureaucracy is the lesser evil.
The very thing that binds the two spheres is potentially its own undoing. Kagarlitsky positions the 2008 Presidential election as the test for how strong the “agreement” between politics and economics is. The election will open up a space for factions to renegotiate their positions within and in relation to each sphere. This is why the choice for the next President will be so tricky. He is going to have to be a good mediator to keep the system stable and beneficial to the major players in each sphere. It is out of these potentially irreparable cracks that Kagarlitsky hopes a popular opposition movement will arise.Post Views: 106