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.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
The law restricting NGOs operations in Russia passed a second reading yesterday. According to the Moscow Times, the Duma threw out over 80 provisions based on recommendations from the Duma’s Public and Religious Organizations Committee. The debate took less than an hour. The revisions however don’t amount to much. Duma deputy and Yabloko Party member, Sergei Popov called the revisions “technical.” NGOs would still have to register with the government’s Federal Registration Service, but they will no long be required to set up separate Russian entities. I guess the wise deputies of the Duma realized that setting up Russian front groups didn’t really matter. Still, the law threatens to hamper the activities of many NGOs by making their accounting books open to State scrutiny. Mostly, the bill threatens to throw NGOs into a bureaucratic quagmire thus paralyzing them, as Yelena Rykovtseva of Russia Profile argues. One provision, which is directly related to Mikhail Khodokovsky, not only prevents a person convicted of extremism and money laundering from starting or funding an NGO, but even if they are suspected of such activities.
Unsurprisingly, for many the NGO bill has become representative of Russia’s general political path. In an editorial by New Eurasia Foundation President Andrei Kortunov in Izvestiia, the bill has split Russian political observers into “pessimists” and “optimists.” Kortunov agrees that pessimists outnumber and for good reason. However, he interestingly states, “optimists deserve at least being heard without attributing to the Kremlin sycophants and ardent supporters of manageable democracy beforehand.” The positives lie in the fact the NGO bill has generated a lot of much needed debate, despite the dire outcome, around the following questions:
“What kind of place should civil society institutions have in contemporary Russia? What should be the balance between protection of civil rights and social interests? What should be the balance between critique of the state and partnership with it, between social alarmism and solving of certain social problems? Probably, all these questions do not have unambiguous answers. But it is worth while asking them from time to time even for the most successful and well-to-do leaders of civil society.”
Good questions. And perhaps some discussion around these will attenuate some of the alarmist rhetoric from both sides. For, as Peter Levelle points out,
“Unfortunately, it would appear that those in the media who have criticized the NGO law have not read the legislation in detail. If they had, they might have come to the conclusion that Russia’s efforts to regulate NGOs, foreign ones in particular, is not much different from existing U.S. laws dealing with foreign NGOs.
What many foreign NGOs do in Russia today would be illegal in the United States. The Kremlin is set to emulate the United States by establishing its own version of the “Foreign Agents Registration Act.” The purpose of FARA, according to its Web site, is to ensure the American public and its lawmakers know the source of information (propaganda) intended to sway public opinion, policy and laws.”
Again, this begs the question of what the relationship between the state and civil society should be. Is it one of independence where civil society acts as the watchdog of the state? Or is it that the state regulates civil society’s ability to check its political influence thus reducing it to a mere charitable role? I think a lot of this depends on what one means by “civil society” itself—a term that has increased in usage over the last decade; usage which has only muddled its meaning. Traditionally, civil society meant social groups and organizations that stand relatively autonomous from the state, but exist within the borders of said state. An independent media is often cited as vital to a thriving civil society. But with globalization and the growth of non-governmental organizations, civil society has expanded to include international organizations that have no geographical fixity in their operations. Civil society has increasing become a global civil society which is increasingly positioning itself not below the sovereignty of states, but equal if not above them. But how then do states, which continue to be based on geographical sovereignty, reconcile with the “global” sovereignty of NGOs? Such a question makes the Russian bill not simply a measure of its democracy, but part of an increasing global issue as states confront more and more non-state agents that try to wield political power over and within them.
Unfortunately, the Russian state, like the American one, has increasingly resorted to the rhetoric of fighting terrorism as a way to not only shore up its internal sovereignty, but also expand its external jurisdiction. Whereas the Cold War fostered the establishment of geopolitical spheres of influence, fighting terrorism is providing a similar rational though with concerning additions. For the most part, the geopolitical spheres of influence of the Cold War were military-political. The United States and Soviet Union, for example, used military and political coercion and consent to manage their satellite states. The current reshuffling of geopolitical spheres are political-juridical, where states, led by the United States, are expanding its laws beyond its borders. This expansion of juridical sovereignty along with more traditional military and political variants makes the need for a strong global civil society to act as an international check on state activity increasingly necessary.
It is within this context that I read the Russian bill on NGOs. Its ramifications are specific to Russia, but its implications go beyond that. Given that the most prominent NGOs, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International etc, focus on human rights violations committed by states inside and outside their borders, the attempt to regulate NGOs is not reducible to the States’ traditional right to exercise political power within its borders, but to extend that prerogative outside them. In this light, Russia or even the United States’ claim that the controls over NGOs is about fighting terrorism is not mere rhetoric. It is precisely about this because they know and desire that the fight against terrorism extend their political, military and juridical sovereignty beyond its borders; a desire that puts them increasingly up against the roadblocks NGOs erect and barricade.Post Views: 151
By Sean — 11 years ago
Most assume that utopianism had all but vanished from the Soviet landscape by the time Brezhnev’s walking corpse stumbled down the Kremlin halls. After all, socialism was all but ossified in content and form. Brezhnev’s speeches sounded like cobbled together phrases lifted from his past speeches. Still among some among the USSR’s aspiring engineers, utopian innovation still stirred the imagination. Take, for example, Viktor K. Gordeyev’s gas powered boots. One day they would, in his words, “become a device for moving humanity.”
Well they didn’t. And though Gordeyev and his colleagues at Ufa State Aviation Technical University showcased the boots to the Soviet Army, which caused them to be classified as a military secret until 1994, in the epoch of Russian capitalism, they found that there is just no market for gas powered boots. Thus, for the NY Times, Gordeyev’s boots are yet one example of Russia’s “inability to convert that talent into useful — and commercial — merchandise outside of the weapons business.”
But back to the boots. I mean who really cares about social-economic symbolism when you have gas powered boots. How do they work you ask?
A step down compresses air in the shoe as in a typical sneaker, said Mr. Enikeev, who was a designer on the project. But then, a tiny carburetor injects gasoline into the compressed air and a spark plug fires it off. Instead of fastening a seat belt, the institute’s test runner, Marat D. Garipov, an assistant professor of engineering, strapped on shin belts at a recent demonstration. Then he flicked an ignition switch.
Before running down a university corridor, he jumped in place a few times to warm up the engine. Mr. Garipov then ran laps for about 10 minutes, going about 12 miles per hour, with the two-stroke boots emitting small puffs of exhaust.
A test runner once topped out at 21.7 miles per hour, despite the risk of being sent off-balance.
The tanks in the shoes hold a third of a cup of gasoline each and will take the runner three miles; that means the boots get about 70 miles per gallon.
Don’t believe the Times? Just watch the running fool in the video above.
But alas the problem with the boots is not just that they “throw a wearer off balance or cause knees to buckle.” It’s that their two pound weight makes it “more tiring to run with the motorized footwear than without it.” So much for moving humanity.
As Anfis G. Saibakov, a former student who demonstrated the boots at Disney World in 1998 told the Times, “They should work like a Kalashnikov. Reliable in anybody’s hands.”Post Views: 193
By Sean — 12 years ago
I don’t have time to comment on this, but I wanted to alert readers to Amnesty International’s report, “Russian Federation: Violent Racism Out of Control.” The report was released today and is surely to confirm fears of a marked rise in racial violence in Russia. Sadly, there are enough news reports on racial beatings and killings to corroborate the report. Here is an excerpt from the report’s introduction:
Racist attacks and killings of foreigners and ethnic minorities are reported with shocking regularity in Russia and disturbingly, their frequency seems to be increasing. Victims whose cases have come to the attention of Amnesty International include students, asylum-seekers and refugees from Africa and Asia, as well as people from the south Caucasus, from South, Southeast and Central Asia, from the Middle East and from Latin America. However, citizens of the Russian Federation are no less at risk of physical attack. Anyone who does not look typically ethnic Russian, for example, individuals from ethnic groups of the North Caucasus, in particular Chechens, as well as members of the Jewish community, Roma and children of mixed parentage are at risk. Even ethnic Russians who are seen as sympathizing with foreigners or ethnic minority groups, for example, fans of rap or reggae music, members of other youth sub-cultures, and campaigners against racism, have also been targeted as they are perceived as “unpatriotic” or “traitors”. Attacks have been reported in towns and cities across the Russian Federation.
Russian and international media are now reporting racist attacks on an almost daily basis. However, the attacks have been taking place for years. Voronezh, a university town 600 km south of Moscow with a large number of foreign students, attracted media attention when Amaru Antoniu Lima from Guinea-Bissau was stabbed to death by a gang in Voronezh in February 2004 and again in October 2005 following the murder of Peruvian student Enrique Arturo Angelis Urtado. However, foreign students had already documented seven killings and about 70 attacks against current or former foreign students over the five years prior to these murders which they viewed as racially motivated, but which had gone more or less unnoticed.
If I find some time to read the report, I will write my thoughts on it. In the meantime, some press on it can be found here:Post Views: 126