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.
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The “March of Dissent” has certainly come and gone. The demonstration was modest and certainly ineffective on a political level. And while I don’t think the event should be overblown, I do think the March does raise some interesting questions about the Russian state, how it deals with opposition, and perhaps how it understands its power. In this sense, the “March of Dissent” continues to haunt.
From news reports, it appears that a smorgasbord of Russian security forces were on display for the “March of Dissent”—OMON, MVD, militsia, plain clothes police. Estimates put the citywide deployment at 8500, with 1000 of them at the march. The march itself was with little disturbance. Leaders from the Other Russia coalition simply made speeches denouncing Putin. Few demanded or attempted to break the ban on marching. “We decided to spare your heads,” Eduard Limonov explained the lack of challenging the ban to the crowd. This, however, didn’t satisfy the rank and file Natsbol minions. 200 of them followed by Red Youth Vanguard activists broke the police line and began marching up Brestskaya Ulitsa. Few at the rally followed, symbolizing how unwilling supporters of Other Russia were willing to risk their bodies. OMON officers quickly swarmed the marchers and arrested 40.
Why were so many police deployed for such a small demonstration? And what does it say about the Kremlin?
In an opinion in today’s Moscow Times, Lynn Berry addresses the same question: Why such a display of force?
The OMON officers, wearing camouflage fatigues and black helmets with clear face masks, were joined by units of younger Interior Ministry troops, police and their colleagues in plain clothes, including, apparently, the men sitting next to us. A total of 8,500 troops were deployed for a rally that drew 2,500 people at most, their numbers inflated by journalists, although hundreds more activists might have come if they had not been stopped along their way.
The show of force was impressive. Trucks with water cannon sat on Tverskaya, and a police helicopter thundered over the square, which was encircled by metal barriers and concentric rings of troops.
The question is why.
Perhaps the authorities feared a clash between the demonstrators — led by opposition heavyweights Garry Kasparov, Mikhail Kasyanov, Irina Khakamada, Eduard Limonov and Vladimir Ryzhkov — and activists loyal to the Kremlin. Although such a clash was not inconceivable, it could have been prevented with a far more subtle deployment of police. And on Saturday the only “activists” interested in provoking a clash appeared to be working for the police anyway.
An act of intimidation seems more likely. Many more ordinary people might have come to the rally if they had not had to walk through police lines and metal detectors, or if they had not feared getting caught between metal barriers and surging lines of police if a clash had broken out.
But the main intention appeared to be to create a sense of danger and to suggest the demonstrators were a threat to Russia by casting them as extremists and in the pay of Russia’s enemies in the West.
But in the end, Berry concludes, “this overt demonstration of strength comes off as a projection of weakness.”
One may suggest, as Berry does, that intimidation explains it all. Painting Other Russia as “fascists” and lapdogs fed with Western money is an effective way to discredit their cause, whatever their cause may actually be. The explanation then is easy. The Kremlin is simply authoritarian and the show of force was merely to scare the opposition or others who might join it. Perhaps. This view explains what we already imagine about Putin and his rule.
I think this explanation is too simple. The divide between force and consent is a slippery slope. Effective states seek to build their hegemony on a balance of force and consent. Force maintains the parameters of what is acceptable and unacceptable politics, while consent justifies and reproduces those parameters. A show of too much force, however, can undermine the stability of a state’s hegemony to the point where force can actually be a sign of weakness rather than strength. Moreover, too much force can give legitimacy to a movement that appears fringe and ineffective. It also produces an air of crisis, which the Kremlin certainly wants to exploit, but in the end might not be able to effectively manage. In the end, one must wonder: If the Kremlin was so sure of its power, that is its hegemony, why didn’t it deploy a much more modest force or simply ignored the rally altogether? If anything, this is one big question that results from a rather minor event.
Tags: Putin|Russia|Other Russia|March of Dissent|National Bolsheviks|youth|Russian politics|protest|democracy|hegemonyPost Views: 41
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.Post Views: 66
Despite the sharp differences and disagreements Kim Zigfield and I have had over Russia and its nature, I have to give credit where credit is due. I highly recommend reading La Russophobe’s translation of Igor Korolkov’s article “Spare Organs” published in Novaya Gazeta. The original Russian version can be found here.
It’s a chilling tale of the impact of quasi-autonomous police organs that carry out extra-judicial reprisals grew out of the chaos of the 1990s. Now it seems that these “organs” are beyond control and even containment. Originally created in the early in mid-1990s to protect “state security,” these “gangs,” as Korolkov calls them, could literally embody blowback against the very state, law, and security, and order they were supposedly to “secure.” One leaves this article wondering what role these extra-judicial organizations area already playing in Russia in regard to the 2008 Presidential election.
Heavy stuff indeed.Post Views: 47