I wish all readers of Sean’s Russia Blog a very happy New Year! I hope all of you keep reading in 2007 and beyond! Let the vodka flow . . .
The postcard, dated sometime in the 1940s, is taken from RIA Novosti’s New Year postcard gallery.
You Might also like
By Sean — 11 years ago
By now most Russia watchers know about how the cops bust up the protest in St. Petersburg. If not, a Google search reveals a whopping 232 articles on it in the English media. Most of them are culled from AP and Reuters reports, but it appears that most of America’s dailies will care the story in some form and fashion in their Sunday editions.
Numbers at the protest vary from a low of 2000 to a high of 6000. The latter figure is given by the protest’s organizers. Most news reports are placing it around 3000-5000. The protest was only given a permit to hold a rally. Part of the crowd defied the permit and proceeded to march down Nevsky Prospekt, apparently led by Gary Kasparov. They got two kilometers until OMON moved in and began cracking heads. About 100 were arrested, including National Bolshevik leader Eduard Limonov.
Associated Press described the protest:
More than 3,000 activists, according to AP estimates, chanted “Shame!” as they marched down the city’s main avenue to protest over what they said was Russia’s rolling back from democracy. Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion who helped organize the event, said on Ekho Moskvy radio that the participants numbered up to 6,000.
City authorities had banned the march, granting permission only to hold a rally in a location far from the city center. But the activists defied the ban and marched toward and then down the Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main street, blocking traffic there.
Riot police detained and clubbed dozens of protesters in an attempt to stop the march and disperse the activists, but the demonstrators broke through the cordons, marched toward the center and rallied for about 40 minutes until police moved in again, detaining scores of others. Eduard Limonov, head of the radical National Bolshevik Party, and independent city legislator Sergei Gulyayev were among the organizers detained.
Police beat protesters with truncheons and dragged them into detention buses. Several activists also attacked a law enforcement officer. The ITAR-Tass news agency reported, citing police officials, that between 20 and 30 activists were detained. Some of the detainees were later taken to a local court and were expected to face trial.
The activists held banners “Russia Without Putin,” in a reference to President Vladimir Putin, “We Are for Justice,” “Get Elections Back.” They called for the ouster of mayor Valentina Matviyenko, a close ally of the president, accusing her of corruption and incompetence.Tags: democracy|Putin|Russia|protest|Other Russia|Kasparov|Limonov|National Bolsheviks|human rights|democracyPost Views: 169
By Sean — 12 years ago
Next week will mark 15 years since the August Putsch. On August 19, 1991 a group of Soviet politicians calling themselves the State Executive Committee (Gosudarstvennyi Komitet po Chezvychainomu polozheniiu, GKChP) attempted top seize power in Moscow. The “putsch” took a very Soviet form. The Committee announced that Gorbachev was ill and was relieved of his position while he was on vacation in Sochi. Soviet Vice-President Gennady Yanayev was named in his place. The precedent for removing GenSeks while on vacation was set with Khrushchev’s sacking in 1964. The real reason for the move was that Gorbachev and his counterparts in the Soviet Republics were to sign a new Union treaty the next day, thereby dissolving the Soviet Union. The Committee’s membership consisted of KGB chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, Internal Affairs Minister Boris Pugo, Defense Minister Dmitriy Yazov, and Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov.
The putsch was quickly met with resistance. Crowds of protesters gathered in Moscow. Then Russian RSFR President Boris Yeltsin denounced the coup and his subsequent speech on the top of a tank in front of the Russian Parliament became a defining symbol for the Soviet Union’s implosion and the end of the Cold War.
Now fifteen years later, how do we characterize the resistance to the August 1991 coup that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union? Was Yeltsin’s resistance merely composed of pro-democracy elites or did it have a popular base? Such are the questions Harley Balzer addresses in his article “Ordinary Russians: Rethinking August 1991” published in the Spring 2005 issue of Demokratizatsiya. Balzer argues that assumptions about Russians as political lemmings ready to accept any strong leader have led to a misunderstanding of August 1991 and the role ordinary Russians played in the Soviet Union’s collapse. Contrary to prevailing wisdom, Balzer provides evidence that there was popular resistance to the attempt by the State Emergency Committee to unseat Gorbachev and roll back perestroika.
The argument is quite timely. Non-violent democratic revolutions against authoritarian systems are few and far between. The Revolutions of 1989 stand as a most often cited template. Mass demonstrations revealed the inherent weakness in the Communist system. Once the citizenry turned its back it seemed as if the system simply withered away. The recent “colored revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan are placed in that same pantheon. Writing in the New York Review of Books in 2005, historian Timothy Garton Ash placed the “Orange Revolution” in the Ukraine as within that lineage.
However, many Russia experts and Russian liberal intellectuals have met the prospects of the same occurring in present day Russia with both skepticism and pessimism. As Yuri Afanasev stated in disappointment about the prospects of democratic resistance in Russia, “Many of our people seem reduced to a condition resembling that of cattle and, what is more frightening, they do not ask to live any other way” (194).
Balzer shows that the events surrounding August 1991 prove otherwise. Such “revisionism” offers the prospect for not only placing 1991 in a comparative perspective, it also allows for remembering that Russians did stand up to authoritarianism. This is shown by the fact that resistance and subversion to the coup was not simply regulated to Moscow and St. Petersburg, though like in 1917 the twin capitals were the most important centers of political activity. Popular resistance was spread all over the Union as citizens held protests, strikes, and in some cases acquired arms:
One personal story undoubtedly has colored my own perception of this period. My driver met me at Sheremetevo in September 1991, a few weeks after the coup, and on the ride into town he recounted how on August 19 he had taken the store of hard currency he had been saving to open his own business and bought a Kalashnikov automatic rifle for $1,500. He claimed that had the coup lasted longer, he would have used the weapon to defend his right to private economic activity. At the end of August he sold the gun for 25,000 rubles (about the same value as the purchase price, but not in hard currency).
In fact, Russians’ close attention did not begin with opposing the coup. The first session of the USSR Congress of People’s Deputies in May-June 1989 was met with so much interest, factory production declined 20 percent because workers chose to follow the session’s debates and discussions rather than work. Live coverage of the event was eventually suspended because of the disruptions it caused (195).
As Balzer argues, this politization among ordinary Russians has been written out of the narrative because of how the memories August 1991 “have become increasingly selective and political” (195). The memory of popular resistance has been overshadowed by the belief that Yeltsin’s opposition was mostly composed of a “small number of property-grabbing Yeltsin cronies” (198). The uncertainty, violence, corruption, collapse of the economy and standard of living of the 1990s has colored many Russians’ personal memories and has increased their sense that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a mistake.
This “impaired memory,” however, has an additional source. Since Putin’s rise to power, the winds have changed. No longer is the Soviet period viewed as a pariah nor is the quest to fill the “blank spots” of Soviet history part of the agenda. Historical reconciliation, a move best symbolized by Putin’s own ambivalence on the Soviet period, has clouded fact that the population induced and supported the Soviet Union’s collapse.
In addition to all this, one cannot diminish the reality that Putin’s rule has been more in line with the putsch organizers than with Gorbachev’s or Yeltsin’s reforms. As Balzer writes,
A decade and a half after the attempted coup, Russia in many respects looks as if the coup plotters has succeeded. Many of their aims have been achieved and most of the plotters have had successful careers. Their primary objective, preservation of the union, was not achieved, but this was not a realistic goal short of war. Much of the rest of the agenda outlined in the GKChP’s “Appeal to the Soviet People” sounds remarkably similar to Putin’s policies (210).
This fact engenders an important question in regard to popular resistance in 1991. If there was so much resistance to GKChP, how did they essentially win in the end? Why didn’t the protests transform into more permanent organizations that could make up Russia’s civil society? One could easily point to the instability of 1990s for an answer as one could also point to the ideological discrediting “democracy” underwent in those years. While democracy and freedom were aspirations in 1991, they were quickly attached to Western control and plunder by the middle of the decade. Still, when evaluating the type of resistance that ordinary Russian practiced in 1991, we must also ponder what it was all worth when it came to building a society from the rubble of the Soviet project. I think that this kind of questioning will not only prevent collapsing democracy and mass protest and resistance, it will also remind us that the latter means little if the former doesn’t follow in real concrete institutions and structures.Post Views: 105
By Sean — 11 years ago
Kommersant reports that police investigating Anna Politkovskaya’s murder have settled on a dominant theory about who killed her. Police have descended on the Siberian city of Nizhnevartovsk because they suspect that the killer is linked to former policemen there. Kommersant reporter Sergei Mashkin writes,
“Information received from Khant-Mansiiskii police was the reason why investigators from the General Prosecutor and operatives from Russian MVD Criminal Investigation Department departed [to Nizhnevartovsk]. One of the police there saw someone who looks like their former colleagues—Mayor Alexandr Prilepin and Colonel Valerii Minin. Presently there is an international search for them for crimes they committed in Chechnya.
However, the investigators have been unsuccessful in finding the mayor or the colonel. Possibly the police informant was mistaken or former colleagues warned the fugitives beforehand. As a result, the investigators had to be satisfied with interrogating Prilepin’s and Minin’s comrades and even their relatives.”
Prilepin and Minin are wanted in connection with the 2001 the kidnapping and death of a Chechen man named Zelimkhan Murdalov. Politkovskaya, working in tandem with Memorial, reported his disappearance and murder in Novaya gazeta in 2002. The articles were instrumental in Former Police Lieutenant Sergei Lapin’s conviction to eleven years in prison for the murder. People connected to Lapin are suspected because according to court documents, Lapin told Politkovskaya in a 2002 email, “You have ten days to publish a retraction. Otherwise the policemen you have hired to protect you will be powerless to help.”
There are three theories about who murdered Politkovskaya. The involvement of people close to Lapin was one theory. The others suggested that Razman Kadyrov had Politkovskaya murdered or that she was killed by opponents of the Kremlin to destabilize Russia.Post Views: 92