The Kremlin has finally posted a full English translation of Putin’s February 1 press conference. It has also provided audio and video. The video also contains simultaneous English translation. I hope to have some commentary on it sometime this week. In the meantime, I would like to get people’s impressions in the comments section.
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- By Sean — 13 years ago
The first article listed in JRL #84 (4/9/06) has been eating at me for days. When I first read it, I said to myself, “I must comment on this.” But other things got in the way. A few days passed. Yet it continues to eat at me for its utter ridiculousness and ideological vomit. The article in question is “A New Land of Opportunity” by Peter Gumbel of Time Europe Magazine. In a nutshell, Gumbel joins in taking swipes against the French students who protested the Contrat Premier Embauche or first-job contract law. The French law would have allowed youths under 26 years of age to be summarily fired, for no reason by virtue of their age. The law was discriminatory because it essentially gave French youths no job security. French youths were correct to stand against it. That said, the issue in France is a complex one and I don’t profess to understand all its nuances. For a good analysis of it and why the students won see Doug Ireland’s comment.
What I couldn’t understand about all of this is the vehemence of many news reports and commentators on this issue. As Ireland points out, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting did a study outlining much of the poison spit onto the pages and screens by American journalists.
The only reason why I mention the French case here is because Gumbel uses Russia as a means to heap more scorn on French youths. His tactic is an old one. Charge the French youth with privilege, laziness, and shame because if you look at their Russian counterparts things are much worse and you don’t see them complaining. No, what you have is good old Puritan work ethic and the American Dream russified. Gumbel writes:
There is zero job security in Yekaterinburg. France has a plethora of long-term, short-term, temporary and limited work contracts that are at the heart of the current dispute. Russia in theory has a civil code that lays down workers’ rights, but in practice you get hired the same way you get fired, at the snap of a finger. Pr?carit?, the word that brings millions of young French people out into the streets, is the norm there. Forget about a pension big enough to retire on—you have 40 years to figure that out. Health care is more problematic, since getting sick puts you on the fast track to poverty. If you’re unlucky, your employer runs out of money to pay you. If you’re really unlucky, you get caught in the middle of an extortion racket. But if it all works out—as it increasingly does—you get to shape your own future in a way French kids would envy.
First of all, there’s plenty of work. Youth unemployment is about 23% in France, and almost 1 in 10 school leavers does not have a permanent job five years after taking the baccalaureate. In Yekaterinburg, being out of work is a luxury few can afford. The demand for energetic young people is so high that ads for the best jobs scroll along the bottom of prime-time programs on local TV. A free newspaper with job openings, the Urals Work Weekly, would be as thick as the yellow pages if such a phone book existed. Russia hasn’t yet discovered equal opportunity laws, so most jobs stipulate that only those under 30 or 35 need apply. Then there’s the range of opportunity. Want to become a sushi chef, a marketing consultant or a bank manager? No problem. No previous experience required. Nobody else in the country knows how to do those jobs either. Or why not set up your own business? There’s no shortage of people willing to lend you money. (But watch out for those extortionists.)
To quote South Park’s Mrs. Broflovski, “Wha-Wha-What?!” You mean French youths should work for shit just so they can have employment? Aren’t the work conditions that you find in Yekaterinburg what the French are trying to prevent? I personally don’t see any glory, let alone nobility, in exploitation. But let’s forget that and focus on the idyllic picture Gumbel is painting about labor in Russia. He seems to think that “opportunity”, an ideological construct for sure, somehow translates into material well being. He also forgets that the good jobs in Russia are also dependent upon having connections. So if you want to be an investment banker without any experience, you better have good connections to get that job. But according to Gumbel, a job’s a job and people shouldn’t complain because after all they could be unemployed. As he writes in relation to one Tatiana Bildyug, a former accountant at a uranium factory cum “development director” at a shopping mall. “The pay’s not much better, but the job is a lot more dynamic and fun, she says.”
In all, French youths need to remember: “You don’t go hungry if you’re unemployed” like the Russians. And do you know why Peter? It’s not by the good graces of the capitalists. It’s because the French flood the streets to protect their existing rights.
Of course you can have a good piece of right wing, pro-capitalist trash without conjuring the C-word. “It could all go wrong [for Russian youths], of course. Even if it does, Yekaterinburg’s youngsters are unlikely to copy the French and stage rallies demanding that the government provide long-term job security. Russians have already been there and done that. It was called communism, and after 74 years of failing to make it work, they dumped it.” Since many Gumbel’s subjects were five years old in 1991, I don’t see how they can “dump” what they didn’t know. I never met many five year old revolutionaries. Gumbel’s point however is more threatening. In his formulation any attempt by working people to fight for their financial well being, something that the business leaders he so admires does everyday through legal and extra-legal means, amounts to “communism.”
Thankfully, the Moscow News has given us an idea of what the labor situation in Russia is like.
There are about 3000 recruiting agency and job sites on the RuNet (Russian Internet). Even a cursory check shows that employers prefer to hire people under age 35, ethnic Russians, and ready to work for low wages. In other words, contrary to the Constitution, there is severe segregation or discrimination by age and ethnicity on the labor market. Also, there is more and more discrimination on the grounds of ideology – corporate ideology, that is: e.g., no employment for specialists who have worked for competing companies. Meanwhile, people over 35 (incidentally, no longer active reservists of the Armed Forces) have to live not according to the laws or the Labor Code, but survive according to criminal or semi-criminal laws that prevail on the labor market. Furthermore, since law enforcement agencies invariably turn a blind eye to the situation, this segregation can be seen as a form of state policy on the labor market. It is essential to note that such practices are nonexistent in developed countries. Should someone in New York or London or Montreal or Berlin post an ad saying, e.g., “Wanted: an engineer, age 22 to 30,” the prosecutor will, first of all, take a very close look at the site or the newspaper where the ad has been published (a big fine will be imposed) and will then go for the employer (who will face a long prison sentence).
Like Alabama or Georgia in the past, Russia today has “slave labor.” Not so long ago, two reports on human trafficking and modern-day slavery in Russia were published. One was commissioned by the UN and prepared by a team of Russian experts, while the other came from the State Duma Interagency Working Group. According to these reports, Russia and countries of the former USSR place second, after Southeast Asian nations, in the scale of the slave trade: Up to 1.5 million migrants are working in Russia in conditions “close to slavery.” These are, as a general rule, non-Slavs (also under 35). “Slave labor” is used not only by unlicensed shadow operators in the construction sector or impoverished housing maintenance services, but also by businessmen on the Forbes billionaires list. As a rule, these people work without pay, enough for a cup of soup a day.
There is simply no way that Russia can do without decisive measures on its labor market, e.g., the introduction of the minimum hourly wage, like in the G7 countries, mandatory for all employers, state or private companies, including joint ventures. Seven-and-a-half dollars an hour as in the United States or 4.5 pounds an hour as in the UK may be unrealistic right now, but $1 per hour would be quite realistic to begin with. Incidentally, this measure was recommended by the World Bank. At the same time, failure to pay wages that are due should carry tough penalties for company directors – up to 15 or 20 year terms of imprisonment. As for discrimination on the Russian labor market, there is no need to pass any new laws: The authorities only need to enforce the existing laws. As soon as the authors of “wanted: men only” or “wanted: under 35” or “wanted: company loyalists” ads begin to be prosecuted, everything will immediately fall into place.
Finally, in order to fight unemployment effectively, Russia must end its addiction to oil and use a part of the Stabilization Fund to achieve a breakthrough in the real sector of the economy, which will create new jobs. This is not going to be easy of course as many high ranking officials owe the oil pipeline their fortunes, but it would not hurt to think about the country’s future. As for the demographic situation, the only way out is to legalize migration and simplify procedure for acquisition of citizenship by ethnic Russians – all those who will want to acquire it. But most important, provide living conditions and living standards in which no one would want to leave Russia.
Is this the supposed “land of opportunity” that French youths should be envious of? Of course! Anti-labor commentators like Gumbel relish in such labor conditions, but not because they provide workers with better living and working conditions, pay, dignity, and security. Labor conditions in Russia are optimal because it grantees all these for employers! Low wages, the ability to dispose of labors at will, no enforcement of existing labor laws, weak unions, not to mention slave labor only increase the profit margin. Such is the story of capital and labor and despite the platitudes of Fukuyama’s “End of History” thesis and Thatcher’s TINA.
French youths shouldn’t be taking a page from their Yekaterinburg counterparts. On the contrary, Yekaterinburg youths should take a page from their French counterparts and fight for the rights that the Russian Constitution and laws give them.
- By Sean — 12 years ago
Anna Politkovskaya’s murder continues to reverberate in the Russian and Western press. It is no surprise that her memory has become one of either martyr or demon, and where one stands in this sordid binary depends more often on one’s political perspective than an appreciation or thoughtful criticism of her work. The dead are the play things of the living, and for a figure so controversial like Politkovskaya it is no surprise that the vultures of memory are hovering in greater numbers.
I recently called Politkovskaya a political football. I now think that this metaphor is incorrect. A football suggests something that is kicked around, back and forth between participants. Given the hyperbole of her memory, I think the appropriate metaphor is Politkovskaya as political pi?ata. So many politicos and pundits are incessantly beating her memory with the hope her body will shower the sweets of political capital in their outstretched hands.
I am alerted to the discourse on Politkovskaya memory by Alexei Pankin’s editorial in the Moscow Times. Pankin writes that he could no longer quietly morn the famed reporters’ death once “grief [turned] into a dance on Anna’s grave.” As a long time associate of Politkovskaya, Pankin feels that she would have viewed all the superlatives now being said about her with much disgust. “Anna, I think,” he writes, “would not have accepted all the consternation generated by Putin’s inability to find any appropriate, human words after her death. For her it would probably have been the greatest acknowledgment of all. I also think she would have disapproved of all the petty politicking in her name.”
The production of memory is a game of detractors and adherents alike. One should point out that Russian Union of Journalists has used her death to publish a sixteen page tabloid about her and the 211 journalists that have been killed in
since 1992. Using her image is an effective way to draw attention to the violence against those trying to do their job as the fourth estate. Russia
One may debate whether it is right or wrong to criticize Politkovskaya at this time. I personally feel that it really doesn’t matter. Her supporters are going to cry that it is too soon when faced with unfair or harsh criticism, her detractors are going to use the fact that she is in the news to launch criticism or attacks. Others will simply use her as a prod, like the Weekly Standard article, for other means.
Whatever people say, a memory of Politkovskaya is being produced and it matters little whether she would have agreed or disagreed with what is now being said about her. She is, after all, dead and can’t join the debate.
All of the rhetoric I think begs a different question. Is there a “real” Politkovskaya to know or even reclaim? I began thinking about this years ago when I wrote a paper on biographies of Huey P. Newton, the famed leader of the Black Panther Party. I discovered in my reading that everyone claimed to represent the “real” Huey P. Newton, even
claimed such in his autobiography. I soon realized that there wasn’t a real Newton Newtonto represent and that all representations were just that because no biographer or even autobiographer could either capture the complexity of an individual like or siphon through all the political sand to get at something genuine. The memory of Newton Newtoncould not be reduced to his person because his life symbolized more than the individual could ever represent. Thus his memory is a political battle that is still being waged to this day. Newton
The same could be said of Politkovskaya. There is no Anna Politkovskaya to remember that is free of all the political baggage, much to the contestation of her family and friends. They may have individual reminiscences and they may try to share them, as Pankin does, with the world. But since her death, Politkovskaya has become a figure that is in a sense public domain. There is a battle over its ownership because her memory is a potential weapon for the weak and the strong alike. And there is no doubt that the narrative that was Anna Politkovskaya life will be written and rewritten. But one should not shudder at the thought of such naratological chicanery. The public-ness of her memory is a result of her very controversial work and a testament to its importance. In that sense, no matter how opportunist or disgusting people’s use of her memory may be, I think it is all a vindication that even in death; she can’t be so easily ignored.
- By Sean — 13 years ago
Nalchik has rightly dominated the news this week. But a lot of other newsworthy events have occurred. Here is the brief weekly rundown of some of things that I found interesting.
, a Peruvian student was a killed and two other foreign students were injured in an attack by skinheads. In response, 200 Voronezh students rallied this week to denounce racism and xenophobia. This is just coming over Interfax: on Friday, a group of skinheads recently attacked a group of Muslim prayer house in Sergiyev Posad in Voronezh and brutally beat up leader of the local Muslim organization Arsan Sadriyev. Moscow
—It seems that the
U.S.government is trying to save face after being thrown out of . As I reported last week, Condi Rice dropped Uzbekistan from her Central Asian trip. Now she says that the Uzbekistan U.S.doesn’t need those bases anyway and bases in Afghanistanand can pick up the slack. She also vowed to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov that the Kyrgyzstan U.S.won’t seek to build more bases in Central Asia. This all may be true, but the fact of the matter is that may not need a military base, but it won’t refuse one either. Now it seems that the new Kyrgyz government is questioning the necessity of a U.S. base in its country. U.S.
—Corporate criminal Mikhail Khordokovsky and his partner Platon Lebedev were sent to prison this week to serve their eight year sentences for fraud and tax evasion. The past few weeks have further revealed the State’s heavy handedness when dealing with them. Khodokovsky’s appeal was thrown out. His lawyer’s offices were raided by the
police. There is speculation that more charges will be filed against him. There are charges that prison guards mistreated Lebedev. Interfax is reporting that a source from Khodokovsky family says that he will be sent to Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Region and Lebedev will be in Chita Oblast. Russian officials have denied this news, saying that both will serve their term in a prison around Moscow . Moscow
—Russian Profile has an interesting article about Russians and sex. Though
Russiahas been bombarded with images of sex since the collapse of the Soviet Union, they still remain in dark when it concerns sex education. A recent survey revealed these facts about Russians and sex:
“The 2003 Durex global sex survey, which interviewed over 150,000 people in 34 countries, reveals some startling facts about Russian sexuality. Out of all the countries surveyed, Russia had the highest percentage of respondents who said they would sleep with a new partner on the first night (39 percent) and Russians were more likely than any other nationality to have had sex with their best friend’s partner (18 percent).
was also the country with the lowest average age of first sexual contact.” Russia
So Russians are doing it and doing it a lot. However, sex education continues to be seen as too controversial to be taught in schools. This has led to many Russians to go on believing in a number of rather dangerous myths:
“A survey of over 4,000 young Russians from 10 Russian regions, undertaken by Focus-Media Foundation in February, found that only 33 percent of sexually active respondents had always used condoms for sex over the preceding six months. Twenty-two percent did not realize that unprotected oral sex carries a risk, and over a quarter agreed that “if a person is fated to contract HIV, a condom won’t help.” The survey also revealed that 95 percent of young Russians felt they would like to know more about safe sex. With as many as 1 million Russians estimated to be HIV positive, simply ignoring sex education does not really seem like an option.”
Further, the article notes that while
Russiaremains a very homophobia society, things are changing according to Dmitry Gubin, editor-in-chief of FHM . He points to the emergence of the Russian “metrosexual” and the opening of more gay clubs as a positive indication. As if we didn’t have enough metrosexuals here in Russia . . . Los Angeles
—Finally, Russia Profile has reprinted an interview from Novaya Gazeta with Alexei Levinson from the Levada Center Polling Agency on the issue of Russian civil society. The question of civil society is a long standing one. Many historians blame the rise of revolutionary politics and the Bolshevik revolution on the lack of a liberal civil society in late 19th century
. I personally don’t subscribe to this idea of the Russian sonderweg, but the issue persists to inform how people think about Russian political society now. Some of Levinson’s more interesting comments is the following. When asked if “civil society” is merely a phantom, he had this to say: Russia
“The civil society people dreamed of 10-15 years ago doesn’t exist in
today. We’re seeing an entirely different process: a passive society which may simply be termed “the population” is generating interest groups that bear some resemblance to civil society structures. But this process isn’t following the paths known from the history of other countries. In Russia , the first societal groups to emerge and take shape have been those known as criminal structures. They became aware of their goals and formulated them, and now they are pursuing those goals politically, sometimes even via parliamentary channels. Russia
The people believe that the big organized crime groups have their own laws and abide by them. “Look, there’s more order in organized crime than in the bureaucracy” – that’s an opinion I’ve heard hundreds of times from poll respondents.”
Not much, it seems, has changed in post-Soviet
from the mafia governance the Communist Party provided in Soviet Russia. Such a view doesn’t give much comfort to those hoping, no, praying for a liberal Russia . Russia