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 G-8 Summit begins next weekend in St. Petersburg. While the leaders from the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, Italy, France, Germany and Britain meet to discuss international security, energy, education, and infectious diseases, anti-globalization activists will stage protests and gather at social forums to discuss the adverse effects of the global economic order.
St. Petersburg won’t be Genoa. For the simple reason that the anti-globalist movement has seen better days. While many in the global South are still active in resisting the neo-liberal economics of supranational organizations like the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank, the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and the subsequent declaration of the Global War on Terror had altered the agenda of many activists in the United States and Europe. The mass protests and violent police repression during the 2001 G-8 Genoa, Italy now seem like distant memories associated with another time and another world. Anti-globalization protests seem pass?. So late 1990s.
There is little indication that the activities scheduled in St. Petersburg will result in a sudden revitalization or nostalgia. Activists’ attendance looks to be small, mostly because the difficulties and costs of obtaining a visa to enter the country. Russian activists will be present, but the costs of getting to the former Tsarist capital will dilute an already small movement.
Another issue that concerns protesters is the wrath of the Petersburg authorities. How convenient that the Duma recently passed and Putin signed a new anti-terrorism law. The Duma is also considering changes to the anti-extremism law that will expand the definition of “extremist,” according to Kommersant, include “impeding the legal activities of federal authorities” together with “violence or threat to use it”, and “public slander of individuals acting for a public office of Russia or its constituent subject, connected to accusing this individual of capital offense and felony.”
Still events will be held, however modest they will be. Some activists are not discouraged and enter the protests with optimism. Information on the scheduled activities can be found here and here. However, the Russian authorities will be ready for whatever happens. They even bought a water canon. Even the skinheads are being targeted as St. Petersburg tries to dispel its image as a city of racial hated.
If the stakes are low for the anti-globalists, they are certainly high for Putin. Russia is back on the geopolitical scene as it exerts its energy hegemony over Europe, is asked by Israel to put pressure on Hamas, and positions itself as an indispensable negotiator in the Iran crisis. The real test is whether Putin can use the G-8 negotiations to get American approval for Russia’s admittance into the World Trade Organization. The U.S. remains the only country opposing Russia’s membership. As of Tuesday, it seems that Putin is attempting some brinkmanship. In a press conference on the subject, he made this warning: “If we for some reason do not succeed in reaching a final agreement we will relieve ourselves of the commitments on some agreements which we have not only taken but that we are fulfilling while not even being a member of the organization.” Translation: Without membership, Russia will renege on the WTO agreements it has already signed. And why the hell not? Why should Russia commit to WTO agreements without membership? After all, it signed them as a precondition to join the organization, a move than has yet to bare fruit.
The stick was followed by a few carrots. In an interview on Thursday, Putin heaped glowing words on George Bush, calling him a “friend” and a “decent person”. He also gave Bush greetings on his 60th birthday. Overall, Putin wanted to warm the cooling relations between Moscow and Washington and state and the two countries are “principal partners” in many global issues and crises. He even defended kissing that damn kid’s belly.
All of this makes you wonder, who is on stage here: the G-8 or Vladimir Putin? It seems that the summit has turned into a golden opportunity for Putin to put Russia, (and himself), at the center and reap the most public relations benefit. With North Korea showing some teeth and Iran thumbing its nose at the international consensus, perhaps the master of ceremonies can spin its geopolitical resurgence into gold. For Russia’s sake, hopefully that gold won’t turn out to be that of fools.Post Views: 438
By Sean — 11 years ago
This week’s New Yorker has a lengthy article by Michael Specter entitled “Kremlin Inc.: Why are Vladimir Putin’s Opponents Dying?” The article is not available online. But lawyer Robert Amsterdam has provided a .pdf scan of it for those who don’t have access to the New Yorker. You can read it here.
The article is not so much about Putin’s opponents as it is about the nature of Russia under Putin. In fact, the question posed in the article’s subtitle—Why are Vladimir Putin’s opponents dying?—is not directly answered. Perhaps his editors added it to make the article sexier. The only true dissident featured in the article is Anna Politkovskaya, whose murder is treated as a metaphor for Putin’s Russia. As Specter himself notes, Russia has traded stability for liberal democracy. Putin has put Russia back on a solid economic and political footing, returning it to an indispensable player in global affairs. This success did not come without cost. They have come as a result of tighter media and political control.
It would be a mistake, according to Specter’s article, to attribute this process wholly to the Putin years. It began under Yeltsin and was only centralized into the hands of the state under Putin. Whereas media in the 1990s was a weapon of Moscow’s oligarchs to wage information war against their economic and political opponents, under Putin, the state employs the media for its own ends. “Propaganda,” Specter writes, “has become more sophisticated and possibly more effective than it was during the Soviet years, when television was the tool used to sustain an ideology. The goal today is simpler: to support the Kremlin and its corporate interests.” If this is the case, and I believe it is, Russia has come inline with a process that has been occurring in the West for the last few decades: the concentration of the media into fewer and fewer hands all for the benefit of corporate interests. As the Wall Street Journal recently stated, “To many investors, Mr. Putin is a hero. The reason: the Russian stock market’s spectacular rally during his seven years of rule.”Post Views: 458
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?”Post Views: 439