The Committee to Protect Journalists have released their annual report Attacks on the Press, which documents the killing and imprisonment around the world. The study, of course, includes a section on Europe and Central Asia. The report reads:
Ukraineto , 46 journalists have been murdered in the former Soviet states over the past 15 years, with 90 percent of the cases unsolved, according to CPJ research. The message from the authorities has been clear: When it comes to journalists, you can get away with murder. This has had the intended chilling effect on media coverage of sensitive issues of corruption, organized crime, human rights violations, and abuse of power in countries such as Turkmenistan Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and , CPJ research shows. Turkmenistan
Shielded by institutional secrecy, authorities make little effort to track down the killers. CPJ has documented case after case in Europe and
Central Asiawhere investigators ignore journalism as a motive. Instead, they classify the killings as common crimes and label professional assassins “hooligans.” Prosecutors open and suspend investigations, rarely informing victims’ relatives and colleagues, who have to scramble for information or do their own forensic investigation. Detectives sometimes fail to study the dead journalist’s notebooks, computers, and tape recorders. They fail to interview all witnesses, then ignore the testimony of those they do interview. Investigations are closed “for lack of suspects” despite glaring evidence to the contrary.
Among those nations listed above,
The condemnation of
The rise of “democratators”—popularly elected autocrats—is alarming because it represents a new model for government control of the press. These leaders stand for election and express rhetorical support for democratic institutions while using measures such as punitive tax audits, manipulation of government advertising, and sweeping content restrictions to control the news media. The democratators tolerate the fa?ade of democracy—a free press, opposition political parties, an independent judiciary—while gutting it from within.
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No matter how many times he denies it, people keep asking Vladimir Putin if he will seek a third term. He was asked again during Wednesday’s “Hot Line with President of Russia Vladimir Putin”. A driver named Arkady Kokayev asked, “What will happen to us, to the country after 2008?” In addition to assurances that things will be fine after his term is over Putin said,
As for me personally, as I have said before, even though I like my work, the Constitution does not allow me to run for office three times in a row. But even once I no longer have my presidential powers, I think that without trying to shape the Constitution to fit my personal interests, I will be able to hold on to what is most important and most valuable for any politician, namely, your trust. And building on this trust we will work together with you in order to influence our country’s life, ensure that it follows a consistent path of development and have an impact on what happens in
So there you have it. Another denial that he will seek a third term. Though he maintains that his influence will still be felt.
The “Hot Line” is a fascinating event in and of itself; an event whose importance is too often quickly passed over. The switchboard received over a million calls from citizens asking Putin questions that ranged from the economy,
Russia’s future, , the murder of Anna Politkovskaya and issues regarding everyday life. It is one of the few instances where the mediation between leaders and led is reduced to a point that allows for a measure of unpredictability. Far more unpredictability than journalists’ questions seem to provide. It is one of the few instances when a leader is directly confronted with people’s personal grievances. Georgia
The process is also a long tradition in
. As Dmitry Babich noted on Russia Profile, the event upholds the idea of na?ve monarchism, where the leader appears to be on the side of the people against evil bureaucrats that try to ruin their lives. It maintains the leader as part of the “eternal good,” as Babich calls it. Russia
There are many instances of the “eternal good” in Russian history. When Alexander II emancipated the serfs, thousands of peasants sent petitions were to the Tsar claiming that landlords were defying the Tsar’s will to give them real and complete volia (freedom).
As one N. A. Krylov wrote about cause for the massacre of 55 peasants at Benza, Samara gubernia in 1861,
“Anton [Petrov, an Old Believer who claimed to discover true volia in the emancipation decree] sits in his hut at Bezdna looking at these naughts and smoothly reading out, “Land for the pomeshchik: the hills and the hollows, the ravines and the roads, the sandbanks and the reedbeds, and nor one twig of the forest. If he takes a step over the boundary of his land, drive him back with a kind word, and if he doesn’t obey—cut off his head and you will get a reward from the tsar.” The narod liked this kind of volia, and crowds came in from all sides to hear real volia. . . .Anton preached like this for five days in a row. Then he put abroad rumors that he had received a charter from the Tsar, read the Bible until he attained the power of prophecy, and, mixing the one and the other together preached, “. . . They [the landlords] are going to frighten you with troops, but don’t be afraid, no one dares to kill the orthodox people without the tsar’s order. And if the nobles distribute bribes [to the soldiers] and you are shot at, then get your axes and chop up those who disobey the tsar.” (D. Field, Rebels in the Name of the Tsar, 72)
For the peasantry, the tsar was on their side.
Things were no different in the Soviet period. Party leaders were inundated with letters asking for material and psychological help. Many of the complaints were about injustices perpetrated by Communist bureaucrats. Then, as now, the people turned to the “eternal good” for help even if the Kremlin was occupied by someone as heinous as Stalin. Believe it or not, if Stalin’s handwriting in the corners of letters, passing them to his officials for redress is any indication, sometimes the petitioners even got results to their favor.
One can easily pass this off as PR to keep up the image that the leader cares for the people. And though it is certainly true, I think that explanation is too simple. It also says something about what the “people” expect from their leaders, and how they feel they have a right to have those expectations met.
I wouldn’t call this mentality a sign of “formal” democracy. The fact that citizens feel the only avenue to redress is to appeal directly to the top suggests that the institutions that mediate them are untrustworthy, ineffective or wholly corrupt. But it is a form of “informal” democracy because Russians feel that their leaders have a responsibility to the people and the people have a right to demand redress from their leaders. This mentality may be na?ve monarchism personified, but the last two times Russians lost faith in the “eternal good,” they brought the whole system crashing down.
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.
As of late, there has been a good deal of action on matter pertaining to post Communist bloc land disputes. Within the confines of the former Soviet Union, representatives of Nagorno Karabakh, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Trans-Dniester regularly meet, with some of their discussions occurring in Russia. On another front, former Yugoslavia is embroiled in an international dialogue on whether Kosovo should be allowed to separate from Serbia. This has no doubt encouraged Republika Srpska to consider breaking away from Bosnia.
Certain elements in the West accuse Moscow of showing a bias for pro-Russian independence movements and recalcitrance towards not so pro-Russian ones. The New York Times’ C.J. Chivers (“Sun and Surf, but Also Lines in the ‘Russian’ Sand,” Aug. 20) and Publius Pundit’s Robert Mayer (“Russia’s Kosovo Double Standard,” Nov. 14) are among those suggesting such. The title of Mayer’s article is enough of a hint to his view. Chivers cites Russia’s refusal to let Chechnya become formally independent, while sympathizing with some independence movements elsewhere. Chivers’ point is non-parallel, since most Chechens aren’t supportive of independence because of what “independence” had twice done to their republic over the last decade. On two different occasions during that period, Chechnya operated as an independent entity. In each instance, there was an enhanced chaos that made life more miserable for Chechnya’s population. Like it or not, a greater Russian control of Chechnya has led to an increased stability in that republic.
Those arguing in support of the Russian position (myself included) stress that each of the disputed former Soviet and former Yugoslav regions have different degrees of legitimacy for independence. Under this very same belief, there are those going against Russia. A critical review of these areas is therefore required.
The Kremlin hasn’t formally recognized the four disputed former Soviet territories as independent states. With the exception of Nagorno Karabakh, the other three have shown an interest in reunifying with Russia. Nagorno Karabakh is interested in unifying with Armenia. In this sense, these regions aren’t necessarily seeking to become independent.
Nagorno Karabakh’s separatist drive has the least enthusiasm among Russian political elites. It’s a landlocked area within Azerbaijan’s Communist drawn boundaries, thereby making its separation from Azerbaijan all the more difficult. The Russian city/region of Kaliningrad is an example of how a territory can exist outside of its affiliated country. However, unlike Nagorno Karabakh – Kaliningrad hasn’t been involved in a violent dispute for decades (towards the end of World War II, under its former name Konigsberg and as a part of Germany, it was the scene of a violent ethnic cleansing campaign against the ethnic German population).
As the Soviet Union broke up, old hatreds between Orthodox Christian Armenians and Turkic Muslim Azeris re-ignited. Up to 30,000 were killed over who would govern Nagorno Karabakh. In the end, the Armenian government supported Nagorno Karabakh Armenians defeated the Azeri government forces. For well over a decade, there has been a cold peace between Yerevan and Baku.
Russia’s position on that dispute is tempered by conflicting realities. Armenia has historically been more pro-Russian than Azerbaijan. Materialistically, fossil fuel rich Azerbaijan is of greater value. Current Azeri foreign policy appears motivated to play the West and Russia off with each other. It’s not out of the realm to hypothesize that a “deal” (official or otherwise) could be made where Russia could tacitly support an Azeri takeover of Nagorno Karabakh in exchange for Azerbaijan becoming geo-politically closer to Russia. Azerbaijan is using its energy revenue to enhance its military.
South Ossetia and Abkhazia share a border with Russia. These two regions were part of a pre-19th century independent Georgia. Between 1801 and the Soviet breakup, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia proper were affiliated with Russia as parts of the Russian Empire and the USSR. South Ossetia’s majority ethnic Ossetian population is related to the majority Ossetian population in the neighboring Russian republic of North Ossetia. The two Ossetias share the same flag and coat of arms.
When in office, the three post-Soviet Georgian presidents have advocated closer ties to the West and a lessened dependency on Russia. South Ossetia and Abkhazia prefer the opposite. As is true with the Armenians and Azeris, there’s animosity between Georgians and the Abkhaz and South Ossetian communities. These differences could be attenuated with an improvement of Russo-Georgian relations. This isn’t impossible because many Georgians welcome close ties with Russia.
As part of a March 1, 2006 Russia Blog feature on Moldova, my article “Moldova: The Most Overlooked of the European Former Soviet Republics” detailed Trans-Dniester’s excellent case for independence. This region was never part of an independent Moldova. Trans-Dniester’s captial Tiraspol, was founded in 1792 by Russian Field Marshall Alexander Suvorov. (arguably
‘s greatest military commander) At the time, Tiraspol served as a fortress marking the border on the Dniester River between Imperial Russia and Ottoman Empire ruled Moldova. In a recent referendum, Trans-Dniester’s peaceful, multi-ethnic and democratic society expressed the desire to reunify with Russia. Russia
For a variety of reasons, Kosovo doesn’t have a great case for independence. It has been a continuous part of Serbia since 1912. Prior to that, it had been under Ottoman occupation for a lengthy period. Centuries earlier, Kosovo was an integral part of Serbia. It was never an independent entity unto itself or a part of an independent Albania. For decades, Kosovo’s non-Albanian population has lived under constant threat from extreme Albanian nationalists
Since the end of the Bosnian Civil War, Republika Srpska has been at peace as a good number of Muslims and Croats have resettled in that republic. The 1995 Dayton Peace Accord governing Bosnia gave Republika Srpska the right to establish its own relations with other states.
In comparison, UN Resolution 1244 governing Kosovo states that the province is a continued part of Serbia. This resolution also calls for a return of Serb military and civilian administration to that province. Serbia is internationally recognized as the de facto successor state of the now defunct Federal Republic of Yugoslavia which had signed UN Resolution 1244. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia consisted of Serbia and Montenegro. At the time and to the present, Kosovo is recognized as a part of Serbia.
On the matter of hypocrisy, there’s a recent New York Times editorial (“No More Delays for Kosovo,” Nov. 17) which nonchalantly supports Kosovo independence. “The paper of record” has yet to endorse Trans-Dniester’s independence even though it has a much better case than Kosovo.
Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst and media critic. His commentary has appeared in the Action Ukraine Report, Eurasian Home, Intelligent.ru, Johnson’s Russia List, Russia Blog, The New York Times and The Tiraspol Times.