A reader sent me this comment about foreign registration in Russia:
I realize that private registrations are the cheapest way to be in R BUT a traveler’s time is also money, especially when you are on a tight schedule. For between 125$ and 200$, you can get legal, convenient registration in less than 24 hrs through almost any travel agency. Who cares if it says that you are at the hotel Ukraine? I can testify that it will work against any Moscow cop seeking a bribe at 2pm or hunting drunks at 2am, trust me. This is a simple tourist registration and for a few more $, you can get a ‘business’ visa by the same means. It is more flexible.
On my first trip to R, I had an absolute nightmare experience with a private registration. My friend spent a lot of time and energy to get me the visa and then I had to spend 10 days trying to register it, 10 days without papers on a 65 day trip. 6 days in half a dozen Moscow police stations, all day long. Finally, my buddy got the chief of OVIR for all Moscow (a fucking colonel) to write a letter ordering the local station to register my visa. He was actually pretty understanding of the idiocy of the regs. I quote him: “These people working for me do not understand OUR rules and they never will” Imagine that! They would not even take a bribe to do it. What an education in Soviet-Russian bureaucratic ways!!
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I stumbled across Artyom Borovik’s The Hidden War in a Santa Monica used bookstore on Thursday. Not knowing much about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, I quickly placed in my stack of must haves. Though I’ve only gotten through the introduction, Hidden War looks to be an excellent read.
Borovik was one of the Soviet Union’s best investigative journalists. Thanks to perestroika he was able to practice his craft to the fullest. In post-Soviet Russia he was an outspoken critic of the Chechen War and ultimately of Putin. He was killed in a plane crash in 2000 while accompanying oil executive Ziya Bazayev. The Guardian wrote of the crash:
‘I don’t think oil magnates use unreliable aircraft,” said Vsevolod Bogdanov, head of the Russian journalists’ union.
Such remarks encouraged speculation that the crash was caused by a criminal plot, though there was no fire or explosion. Commentators surmised that enemies of the oil executive in Russia’s notoriously ruthless business mafias were responsible for the deaths, or enemies of Borovik whose newspapers and television shows crusaded against corruption in Russia’s political and economic elites.
‘Power in Russia is not in the hands of the democrats or the communists, it’s in the hands of organised crime and the mafia,” Borovik once famously declared. He was well connected politically and a respected, outspoken opponent of Mr Putin.
I don’t bring up Borovik to rehash theories of his death. Rather, I wanted to share something he wrote in the introduction of Hidden War. It reads:
Anyone who stayed in Afghanistan for a long period of time, or who was sent there on a regular basis, typically went through four phases.
The first stage (which would usually last up to three months) went something like this: “The war is proceeding on a normal course. If only we can add another twenty or thirty thousand men, everything would be fine.”
Several months later, the second stage: “Since we’ve already gotten ourselves in this jam, we should get the fighting over with as quickly as possible. Adding another thirty thousand men isn’t going to do it. We need at least one other army to shut off all the borders.”
Five or six months later, the third stage: “There is something desperately wrong here. What a mess!”
Then, half a year or so later, the fourth and final stage: “We’d be wise to get the hell out of here—and the sooner the better.”
I went through all these stages too.
I can’t help point out the prescience of Borovik’s four stages. If Iraq replaced Afghanistan and added some lag time (the American polity is still in stage one for Afghanistan) I believe one could say that the Republican leadership is stuck at stage two, the Democrats at three, and the American public, stage four.Post Views: 55
Just as readers at Siberian Light are discussing communist names, the NY Times is reporting about the President of Tajikistan’s effort to ban names with Slavic endings. President Emomali Rakhmon’s (the President formerly known as Rakhmonov) decree to drop “-ov” from family names is yet another nationalist attempt to remove the vestiges of Russia/Soviet influence over Tajik society. As Ilan Greenberg of the NY Times writes,
Amid a series of idiosyncratic decrees aimed at removing traces of Soviet influence, the president of Tajikistan announced Tuesday that he had dropped the Slavic “ov” from the end of his surname and that, henceforth, the same must be done for all babies born to Tajik parents.
Most Tajiks added a Slavic ending to their surnames when the country came under Soviet rule early in the last century.
The president, Emomali Rakhmon — formerly Rakhmonov — also banned certain school holidays and traditions associated with the Soviet period, including a holiday known as ABC Book Day, when toddlers gather in a circle to read aloud. He also ordered all university students to leave cellphones and cars at home, saying they distracted from academic study.
Mr. Rakhmon won a third seven-year term in November in a presidential election widely dismissed as a farce. But Tajikistan’s political culture has not produced the sort of ethnocentric governing style that developed in nearby Turkmenistan, where Saparmurat Niyazov, the dictatorial leader also known as Turkmenbashi (Leader of All Turkmens), died three months ago.
Central Asian governments have chosen vastly different approaches toward their ethnically mixed populations, from the extreme ethnic chauvinism prevailing in Turkmenistan to an officially enforced celebration of multiculturalism in Kazakhstan, the region’s economic giant to the north. But Tajik nationalism has “not become a dominant political force” in the country, a report prepared for the Library of Congress says.
Tajiks reached by telephone in Dushanbe, the capital, said the president’s decrees had little popular support but had engendered confusion and mild annoyance at the imposition.
“It doesn’t matter to me to say the truth; I’m not thinking about it,” said Shamsiyna Ofaridyeza, 30, an accountant in Dushanbe who is five months pregnant. “But if the president says we have to use Tajik names, then I’ll change my baby’s name. What else can I do?” Ms. Ofaridyeza and her husband have Tajik surnames made to sound more Russian.
Ms. Ofaridyeza was more supportive of the ban on students driving cars and brandishing cellphones. “Students are not studying,” she said. “They are too busy sitting on their cars showing off. But you know, we are a democratic people, and everyone should be able to name his baby what he wants.”Post Views: 34
The character of the Russian elite is a topic of constant speculation. Is it one man rule? Is it an oligarchy? Is it a mafia structure? What is the real relationship between Putin’s administration and the security organs? Between the state and the emerging Russian middle class? What will happen in 2008?
Olga Kryshtanovskaya, head of the Elite Studies Center at the Sociology Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, and author of Anatomiia rossiiskoi elita (2004) says that the Russian elite has been split between Westernizers and Slavophiles for the last 200 years. “In fact, these have been the only two “parties” in
ever since,” she says in an interview with Kommersant Vlast’. “No others have emerged, no matter how many parties Russia has seen over the decades. The Westernizers argue for freedom of the individual, private enterprise, separation of powers, elections. For Slavophiles, all this means alien ideologies and chaos that casts doubt on the very existence of the Russian state.” Putin’s regime is simply the most recent personification of the Slavophile faction in power. Russia
Kryshtanovskaya makes several other interesting insights in the interview. I encourage everyone to read it. Here are few highlights:
Question: If the strength of the Russian state lies in rejecting democracy, then why do the people who are currently at the helm keep saying that
needs democracy? They could just change the Constitution, after all. Russia
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: But why act so crudely? It was the liberals who publicly betrayed the autocratic machine and openly attacked its load-bearing components: the pyramid of power, the command economy, secrecy. But today’s authorities have an entirely different background. In the secret services, they were trained in undercover operations – working behind a mask, concealing their true intentions. No need to wreck the system openly; instead, you need to infiltrate it and go on to preserve its facade while altering the contents to suit yourself, step by step. But these steps toward changing the system should always be done from different directions, and always unexpectedly for those within the system and outside observers alike. So that no one will be able to trace a logical connection between various steps or figure out the purpose of the whole operation.
Rumor has it that soon after Vladimir Putin came to power, he made a revealing remark: “Wherever you look, it’s all like
.” What he meant was disorder. But what is “disorder” to someone from a military or state security background? It’s the absence of control. If there’s no control, there are opportunities for independent influence. And the presence of alternative centers of power is perceived by the siloviki as a threat to Chechnya ‘s integrity. Does the Duma refuse to take orders from the presidential administration? That’s disorder. Is Gazprom run by Rem Vyakhirev rather than the Kremlin? Disorder. Are some parties making demands, are the media talking about something or other? It’s all disorder – it needs to be eliminated. And they have eliminated it. Over the past seven years, the chekists have changed Russia ‘s political system entirely – without changing a single letter of the Constitution. Russia
Question: But most citizens are content with present-day conditions – judging by President Putin’s popularity.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: For the people, democracy still remains something foreign, incomprehensible, and suspicious. But the present regime’s autocratic style is familiar – they understand where President Putin is leading
. We still retain our traditional faith in a Good Tsar. Besides, the position of the chekists is incredibly stable these days. That’s mostly because the present system relies on age-old traditions of autocratic statehood. The siloviki aren’t being resisted by any other force. Not even Yuri Andropov enjoyed such freedom of action: he always had to consult the Politburo, where he had only one vote. But now the chekists are their own “Politburo.” Essentially, all the major decisions in Russia are made by five people: Vladimir Putin, Viktor Ivanov, Sergei Ivanov, Igor Sechin, and Nikolai Patrushev. Russia
Question: But Vladimir Putin will drop out of that quintet in 2008.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: Even if he steps down as president, he won’t leave the “Politburo.” The corporation known as the Federal Security Service (FSB) and its ruling group will remain unchanged. It’s only Boris Berezovsky who claims that he “made” Putin. Putin was made president by the corporation that came to power in 2000. And it didn’t go to all that effort just to surrender power after a mere eight years.
Question: A great deal will depend on the successor, right?
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: The chekist “Politburo” will remain in power anyway. If they prefer a “strong” president, they will choose Sergei Ivanov. If they prefer a “weak” president, it will be Dmitri Medvedev. Or Vladimir Putin might remain the leading figure after all.
Quotations from the interview were translated by Elena Leonova.Post Views: 53