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.”
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By Sean — 13 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: 1,385
By Sean — 13 years ago
So they turned off the hot water in my apartment. “They” are the mysterious maintenance people who run the five buildings of my apartment complex. Though I never seen “them”, “they” seem to have their base of operations in a building across from me. Anyway, every summer the hot water in Russian apartments are shut off for repairs. It can last from a few days to two weeks. It’s really the only time they can do this because of the winter. Hot water is centralized throughout Russian apartments, so unless you’ve installed a hot water heater, you’re pretty much showering cold. Not pleasant. Not pleasant at all.
The unpleasantries don’t stop there. The people who live above me must be either, a) drunks, b) crazy, or c) both. Natasha told me that they are drunks. But your run of the mill drunk does not constantly move furniture and bang on the floor. Normal drunks just drink. They may scream. But mostly they just drink. I don’t know what is going on up there, but the apartment must be in perpetual remont. In the several months I’ve been here, they must have rearranged the whole apartment 100 times. Sometimes this continues well into the early morning, like until 2 or 3 am. To make matters worse, they like to throw shit out the window. They other day I heard water splashing on the ground outside my window. Now water isn’t anything to complain about. My fear is that it wasn’t water from a faucet, if ya know what I mean.
Yesterday, I went with a few friends to Novodeviche Cemetery to look at all the old Communist graves. There are some important notables buried there, the most famous being Nikita Khrushchev. It also has the graves of the novelist and essayist Nikolai Gogol, the playwright Anton Chekov, long time Politburo and Stalin confidant Viacheslav Molotov, the famous Socialist Realist writer, Nikolai Ostrovskii, avant-garde poet Vladimir Mayakovskii, Bolshevik-feminist Alexandra Kollontai, Stalin’s wife (who committed suicide) Nadezhda Allilueva-Stalina, among other revolutionary and war heroes, academics and scientists, artists, composers, writers, directors, opera singers, actresses and actors. Even circus performers. That’s right circus performers. Just take a look at the photo of Vladimir Durov, the famous clown. His statue makes him into an image of a revolutionary hero. You wouldn’t even know he was a clown without the monkey on his shoulder and ruffle shirt. The grave stones for these people are truly out of this world. Some are just massive with fully statutes or busts of the dead. Others, like Khrushchev’s are works of abstract art. There is sometime to be said for how the Russians remember the dead, and especially how they remember the heroic. I can’t think of a cemetery in the states that honors intellectuals and academics to the extent that the Soviet Union did. The place is truly amazing. It would take two days to look at all the graves. It is one of my favorite tourist places in Moscow. (See below for pictures).Post Views: 516
By Sean — 12 years ago
Friends at UCLA have been asking me about this interview with Perry Anderson what was published in Kommersant in October. The Russian version can be accessed here. I provided them a synopsis of it, but inquires continued to the point where I just decided to translate it. I provide it here for the rest of you non-Russian speakers to read. — Sean
The Future of One Illusion
31 October, 2006
Twenty years after the collapse of communism leftist ideology has neither lost its actuality nor its political perspective, argues Perry Anderson, a scholar of contemporary Western Marxism, professor at University of California, Los Angeles, and editor of the New Left Review, who was brought to Moscow as part of the “Russian Debates” project. Kommersant columnist Igor Fediukin spoke with Perry Anderson about Hugo Chavez’s regime, the “New Left” in China, and the political situation in Russia.
Do you think that there will be a future for Left ideology?
It is best to answer this question with a phrase from the well known French historian Fran?ois Furet, who died a few years ago. He was a communist in his youth but in his middle age became one the sharpest critics of both socialist ideology and the Soviet experience. Here, at the end of his last book, The Passing of an Illusion, he wrote that today it is difficult to imagine any other kind of social formation that is outside from which we all live, but it is simply impossible to imagine that democracy will remain congealed in its present form.
One often hears that the contemporary Left has been shattered and cannot propose a constructive program?
The slogan of the World Social Forum is “Another world is possible.” Twenty to thirty years ago this seemed obvious. But today this is sounds like heresy, the primary doctrine became the slogan “There is no alternative,” which Margaret Thatcher put forward at the time. So that to simply retain the possibility of a global system is a very radical form of opposition. That [the Left] seems crushed; there is nothing unusual here. In the 19th century, when the modern left movement was born many tendencies existed: they followed Marx, Proudhon, Saint Simon, Fourier, social democrats and anarchists. The Left movement has always been pluralistic, although in Russia this is less clear because of the long standing monopoly of one of them.
Do you consider the government in Venezuela leftist?
What is happening in Venezuela is certainly the development of left ideology, if only because there is the large scale redistribution of wealth in the country. To make a generalization from the example of Venezuela would be foolish because the situation there is a product of a very peculiar history and enormous oil wealth. The existence of such wealth does not necessarily signal its redistribution. The previous parliamentary system was utterly oligarchic; the wealth of the country was in the hands of the elite. Chavez’s government changed this situation and along with this there was no talk about dictatorship. Chavez regularly holds elections. This, of course, is democratic populism, but a political system that cannot be called closed: in Venezuela there are bitter debates on television, in the press, and the opposition if carrying out a difficult struggle. So it is certainly a fairly radical leftist government. One the other hand, we cannot make a conclusion on the basis of this model as to what the “Left of the 21st century” will be.
Does the European model truly present itself as some alternative to the American model?
Already beginning in 1947, the historical differences between the average European state and the United States were quite apparent: the European state was always more “social,” more disposed toward interference in the economy, more liberal in its outlook in that they abolished the death penalty, etc. However, today on the basis of these historical differences an extremely self-satisfied and self-confident ideology of European superiority over the United States has been created. We see this among the leading philosophers and intellectuals in the mass media. But behind it, there aren’t any serious differences between the two halves of the Atlantic world. The countries of Europe are all the more moving to the American model, reducing the programs of the “welfare state.” And even in the area of human rights, the Europeans have fewer reasons for pride than it seems to them. European governments have allowed the creation of secret CIA prisons in their territory.
What do you expect from the tremendous growth of Asia?
We already now see a change in the global balance of strength—this is certain and unavoidable. Another issue is whether the growth of Asia will lead toward the emergence of new rules to the game, new codes of conduct for states on the world stage and at home. I doubt this. The elites of “new Asia” separate Western norms and costs, and the differences here are small, it seems. Along with this, if China will grow further at such a tempo, the demonstration effect will be enormous and many countries in the Global South will begin to contemplate whether to choose such a model for their development. Strictly speaking, many prominent economists are already talking about this in Russia.
In your opinion, will this situation develop in Russia?
The most astounding fact in post-Soviet Russia in relative comparison is the political apathy of the population. Even in 1991, when the citizenry brought down blows of enormous power, strikes, protests, meetings were confined within the state, which felt a corresponding shock. By contrast, there is a completely different picture in China. There is an enormous number of people and groups in the country who poignantly feel injustice by the chosen model of development. What shape all of this will take is unclear at present, but the most significant intellectual tendencies in China of the last ten years are appearing as a “New Left” movement. In Russia there simply isn’t, but in China there is and the state apparatus and old intelligentsia are afraid of them.
There is another interesting difference between Russia and China. There is a high level of corruption in both countries, but the social discontent in Russia is far less. [Russian] society accepts it as an acceptable method of intercourse with the bureaucracy. In China the hostility toward corruption is very great; it provokes a general animosity in people. And in contradistinction from Russia, high level bureaucrats can pay for corruption with their head.
Is a Mexican model of dictatorship possible for Russia?
Many speak about the Mexican model in Russia, but you see, [in Mexico] the PRI (the Institutional Revolutionary Party, was a genuine party. For example, there were relatively very strict rules for sixty year period. The President could do what he wanted even to a larger degree that in Russia, but upon leaving the President could do nothing. The PRI was a very powerful party in this regard because it really was a party of revolution. It personified enormous changes in Mexican history. In China, appropriately, there is also a party in this sense, that there are internal debates, leaders consider each other.
How do you preserve your own beliefs despite the fact that history took a completely different direction?
My generation was formed in the 1960s, when a revolutionary tidal wave rolled all over the world—from the Cuban Revolution to the Cultural Revolution in the West. If you develop your personality at such a moment, you feel an attachment to a wider circle of people and ideas, and this brings you energy and confidence. But further, when this wave collapsed, it was still a question of personal temperament and intellectual progression. One person changes their opinion, another doesn’t. I will say this: Remember the French Enlightenment in the 18th Century—Diderot, Voltaire, and Rousseau. They after all lived in an epoch when absolutism was at an apogee. Not a single one of them lived to see a serious political change. But this did not hinder them, for example, from being persistent opponents to the Catholic Church. It is important to think historically. Life brings surprises to Rightists, Leftists and Centrists, and predictions and expectations often turn out to be mistaken.
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