The other night I received two emails simultaneously from friends alerting me that Michael Specter was to be a guest on the Colbert Report. Intrigued, I quickly set my DVR to record the show.
I’ve only watched the Colbert Report once before despite its immense popularity among friends. I have to say that I pretty much couldn’t get through the commercial laden half hour. Steven Colbert is part of the Daily Show revolution of fake news shows that lampoon the real news. Colbert’s shtick is to satirize right wing talk shows and radio as a means of media critique. I think blurring the line between “fake” and “real” news to expose the utter poverty of the latter is interesting. However, while this may seem novel to some, it has clearly reached a tipping point in effectiveness. I find Colbert’s execution a bit trite, predictable, too reliant on pop culture references, and often simply not funny. The Colbert Report is merely a shadow of Jon Stewart’s the Daily Show.
But since the episode was Russia related, I decided to tune in. Specter looked like a deer in the headlights. He seemed to kinda get Colbert’s act, but kinda not. Specter also came across far less nuanced on the show than in his New Yorker article. It appeared that he was ready to pull the noose around Putin for the deaths of every journalist and critic. It was only toward the end that he admitted that he didn’t actually outright accuse Putin of anything in his article except creating an atmosphere for these things to happen. Fair enough, but I can’t help to notice a certain slippage between these two views. It is clear that Specter wants to charge Putin with these crimes outright but he just doesn’t have any real evidence to do so.
For Colbert’s part, he tried in vain to make implicit connections between Putin’s alleged tactics and the Bush Administration. I guess he had to give his American-centric audience something familiar to chew on. But such comparisons are weak in my view and elide some very key differences between both Administrations’ authoritarian impulses. In the end, the show is just not for me.
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By Sean — 13 years ago
There isn’t too much to add by way of news on the militant attack in Nachlik, the provincial capital of Kabardino-Balkariya republic. Other obligations kept me from writing about it as things were unfolding. I can, however, point readers to a few places that give links to news stories as well as some analysis. Andy from Siberianlight.net has a good rundown of events as well as his take on the incident here and here. My friend and colleague Dave a.k.a. “Johnnie B. Baker” also has some thoughts on the subject. For up to date news on the incident I highly recommend periodic checks of the Interfax News Agency. Finally, as always David Johnson’s Russia list is an invaluable place for a collection of latest news and analysis.
In fact, there are a few articles worth commenting from today’s JRL #9267. The first is from The Economist on the expansion of the conflict into neighboring regions. The article points out the obvious—the conflict is and has been spreading for a while now, threatening to engulf the entire North Caucasus region. However, I think the article makes an excellent point in this passage:
“Mr. Putin runs the risk that more and more of the north Caucasus may slip into lawlessness and out of Moscow’s sphere of influence. This and signs of discontent in other of Russia’s far-flung regions will heighten fears that Russia may disintegrate just as the Soviet Union did. Soon after the tragedy in Beslan, Mr. Putin attempted to reassert a measure of control. He sent Dmitry Kozak, a trusted aide, to be his representative in the region and to foster economic development. And he announced that regional governors would be appointed by him, rather than through direct elections, in an attempt to wrest back powers ceded by his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. Given the corruption and unfitness of many of the elected governors, it seemed a reasonable move, though his dubious choices of replacements offer little by way of reassurance.”
As anyone who’s spent time in Russia knows, corruption is a systematic problem. But the corruption is facilitated by some deep structural problems in Russia’s economy. The problem stems from the fact that economic development is highly centralized in Russia. Moscow is the heart of the beast, but the blood flow of capital thins as it reaches Russia’s outer regions. Thus, for local governors and other politicians, aid from Moscow comes at a trickle. The result is similar to how things were in Soviet times, regional leaders either horde resources from the center or plunder them from their localities. The result has been the continued underdevelopment of its periphery. This chronic centralization is bound to lead to the very break down The Economist is predicting.
Another article worth noting is an interview with political analyst Alexei Makarkin, deputy general director of the Center of Political Technologies, in Gazeta. Makarkin basically reiterates The Economist when it comes to local governors. When asked if appointees from Moscow could have prevented the attack, he said this:
“[W]e can install a Russian general in every region of the Caucasus that depends on federal subsidies. Install and wait to see what will follow. There are only two scenarios really. Either the appointee finds himself in isolation soon, without any power levers to wield or he joins the local elite and stops taking orders from Moscow. We already saw it in Chechnya when prime ministers appointed by Moscow were forced to leave the region soon.”
When asked if the clan system of Russian politics is to blame, he responded further:
“The clan system and poverty, this latter is a fertile soil for Islamic radicalism. Federal subsidies make up 72% of the Kabardino-Balkarian regional budget’s revenue. The officially-admitted unemployment rate is 2.5 times the national average, but the actual rate is much higher. According to official statistics, one in 20 residents of Kabardino-Balkaria have TB, which claims 10 lives a week.” [Translated by A. Ignatkin]
In addition, Makarkin argues that this attack was more about regional political clans fighting rather than “Wahhabis”, though the latter are a real danger and will always be blamed.
Maxim Shevchenko, from the Center for the Strategic Studies of Modern Religion and Policy, echos Makarkin’s argument adding,
“I am 120% sure that it was not a revolt by extremists but an attempt by a group of local elites dissatisfied with the recent appointments in Kabarda (Kabardino-Balkaria( to destabilize the situation in a bid to regain some of their lost powers or get new ones.”
Whether Makarkin’s or Shevchenko view is correct is hard to say. All accounts point to the involvement of militants either based in Kabardino-Balkariya, or from Dagestan or Chechnya. Rumors abound of Shamil Basayev’s presence and even death. News reports have denied the latter. Whatever the circumstances or whoever the perpetrators and their demands or origins, the whole incident points to the further destabilization of Russia’s south. Which, of course, raises many questions about the political fallout of the attack. According to RIA Novosti, Russian politicals are suggesting the incident demands further measures to strengthen vertical flows of power. All of which adds only to an already flood of speculation about who, if anyone, will succeed Putin in 2008.Post Views: 472
By Sean — 12 years ago
According to current estimates there are 20 to 30 million Russians speaking peoples living outside of
. Before the collapse of the Russia Soviet Unionan estimated 30 million lived in CIS and Baltic nations. Currently the largest Russian community lives in , with 8.3 million identifying themselves as Russian, while another 14.3 call Russian their mother tongue. Ukraine Kazakhstan(4.1 million), Belarus(1.2 million) and (1 million) are also CIS nations with large Russian populations. Uzbekistan
The CIS is not the only place in the world Russians reside. There is an estimated 5 to 9 million living in countries outside the CIS. This number includes the some 12 million that left between 1917 and 1991 and their descendants. The largest communities exist in
Germany(about 3 million), the United States(2.9 million) and (1.2 million). Since 1991, 1.2 million Russians have migrated outside the CIS. Israel
Given the numerical and geographical scope of the Russian speaking diaspora, how do Russians fair outside of
? Russians’ assimilation into the places where they immigrate has been a tough going. In states like Russia , which has been one of the main destinations for Russian Jews in the last decade, they find themselves excluded, if not despised. Sometimes this exclusion is self imposed. This has produced a variety of responses that are indicative of the global problems migration/immigration engenders. Israel
Over the last 15 years, Russians have been on the move. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, estimates figure that 13 to 17 million have returned to
. This process is a good sign to the Kremlin, as it gives incentives to educated and skilled Russians to move back to their motherland, and more importantly settle in the skill starved regions. However, this task, as the Putin government is discovering, is not easy. Filling the regions in qualified and competent people has been a historical problem in Russia . In Soviet times transfer to the periphery was seen as informal exile. And given the dearth of qualified cadres in the center, party bosses were equally reluctant to send their best people. In fact, one can point to Khrushchev’s downfall as one example of bureaucratic resistance to living in the sticks. When Khrushchev proposed to send Gosplan bureaucrats to work closer to where production actually took place, it was Khrushchev who found himself out of a job. Russia
Still, one cannot blame the Kremlin for not trying. It hopes to recruit 100,000 people next year. Incentives, like those being offered in Tver oblast, include benefits and jobs that pay 25,000 rubles a month. The Kremlin has dumped around 17 billion rubles into the program. Getting it to bear fruit will require the long haul and impatience is already making some declare it a failure. For example,
oblast was willing to accept 10,000 migrants, but only 596 applied for migration. Kaliningrad
One problem is that CIS countries with large Russian communities, like
Kazakhstanand , recognize their value and are engaging in their own campaigns to discourage Russian technicians and engineers from leaving. One source reported to Kommersant, “Kazakhs got indignant and commissioned articles in the press with slogans like ‘We won’t let it happen!’ The same thing with Ukraine . Local officials made it clear to us that the outflow of Russians from Ukraine is undesirable. For instance, the Ukrainian East is not happy that we are encroaching on their tank specialists and employees of secret military machinery building plants.” Ukraine
The social, political, and cultural impact of the Russian diasporas in these nations is readily felt and have required those states to consider them in their post-Soviet identity. The political strength of Russians in eastern
is well known. But in Ukraine , for example, as the political scientist/history Ronald Suny noted in an article in the December 2001 issue of Journal of Modern History, the creation of a post-Soviet Kazakh national identity had to consider the large Russian population. Radical Kazakh nationalists’ calls for making Kazakh the official language as well as rejecting all forms of Russification were negotiated with the real difficulties in alienating half the population. Thus, Kazakh national identity was more civic than ethnic, and therefore more inclusive than exclusive. Kazakhstan
While many Russians are moving back to their homeland, many, especially Russian Jews, are opting to immigrate. The long history of anti-Semitism and the
Soviet Union’s restrictions against immigration has prevented many from resettling in the Jewish state. This all changed when the Soviet Union collapsed, and many Russian Jews cited ’s “law of return” to immigrate. Russian Jews, who had suppressed their Jewish identity for so long, were suddenly “born again.” Others simply claimed Jewish lineage no matter how diluted it was. Still others piggybacked on Jewish spouses and stepparents. About 1 million Russian Jews have immigrated to Israel since 1991. Israel has a total population of around 7 million, making Russians a sizable portion, not to mention raising innumerable questions about cultural assimilation, politics, and the demographic character of the Israeli state. Israel
The Russian diaspora is the subject of The Pilgrim Soul: Being a Russian in Israel a new book by Tel Aviv University English Literature professor Ilana Gomel. Unfortunately, the book is written in Hebrew, and I must rely on a recent review by Yulia Lerner in Haaretz for its content. Hopefully the book will be translated into English or Russian. The book argues that the Russian Jewish experience in
is pretty much one where, to quote Marx, “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” Meaning, that how Russian Israelis weave themselves into Israeli society is very much a reflection of their particularly “dark history” in the Soviet/post- Israel Soviet Union. Lerner writes,
This historic “past,” as we see from
‘s book, bears down on the Russian Jews with special intensity. History never leaves them alone. It sits on their shoulders like a lead weight. But more than that, it decides everything for them – what they buy in the supermarket, how they pray, make love and dress, and, of course, how they vote. According to Gomel Gomel, ‘s dark history explains everything that the Russian immigrants do. It guides their thinking, their dietary habits and their fashion choices here in the new Russia Middle East. Throughout the book, the author uses this history to explain all the “Russian peculiarities” in : the prostitution phenomenon; attitudes toward the body and sex; interpersonal relationships and social behavior; love of math and science; Islamophobia; right-wing politics; a penchant for conspiracy theories; and finally an obsession with witch-hunts, a symptom of the Russian traitor syndrome. You come away with the impression that the Russians have some mysterious device for transmitting history from one generation to the next. Israel
If Lerner’s evaluation of
’s book is correct, such historical determinism leaves a bitter taste. Not only is such an analysis steeped in stereotypes and essentialism, it also forever relegates Russians to position of eternally outside Israeli society. It is no surprise that many Israelis already believe that Russian Jews’ Russianness has tainted their Jewishness beyond repair. Gomel
But such a book, however distasteful is foundational analytic might be, points to a much larger problem of how immigrant communities, even those who are the same “ethnicity” or “race” integrate into communities of cultural difference. There is enough historical evidence based on the American experience of Jews, Italians, and Irish to suggest that this process of assimilation occurs by means of a simultaneous shedding and rejection. As the Irish discovered in 19th century
, they had to embrace race for the sake of their ethnicity. This meant shedding much of their Irishness, while fully embracing ideology of whiteness that was predicated on racism toward blacks. As Hegel suggested, we discovery our identity through the recognition of the Other. America
Israeli Russians are finding their Other in the form of the Arab, specifically the Palestinian. Russians are strong supporters of right wing parties. The head of Israel Beytenu, one of
’s far right political parties is Avigdor Liberman, who is himself a Russian immigrant. Currently, Liberman is second with 15% to Benjamin Netanyahu’s 27% to replace Ehud Olmert as Israeli Prime Minister. There is not doubt that as the right surges after the Lebanon War debacle, Russians will place a decisive electoral role. Israel
But Russians’ political role in
goes beyond electoral politics. They are vital to the reproduction of Israel itself. In the 1990s, Russian immigration was seen by Israeli officials as a demographic bulwark to the Palestinians. They also served as replacement labor when Israel decided to purge Palestinian cheap labor from its work force. In addition, as many Russians occupy settlements that encroach on the Israel West Bank, their survival becomes inevitably linked with the Palestinians further oppression. This “offshore Zionism” as Gadi Algazi describes the settlement of Modi‘in Illit, which is located three miles east of the Green Line, is a “colonization process [that] is
built not just on capitalist expansion but on social misery and poor people’s pressing needs, just as the separation wall is built on fears, real and imagined, amplified by daily propaganda. It draws in young couples from the slums of
Jerusalemand enrolls new immigrants from the Russian Federation, who may find themselves sent to settle Ariel, for example, in the heart of the West Bank; large ultra-orthodox families too, gain access to subsidized housing only by joining the settlement project. All these can find themselves defending the occupation in order to defend the fragile social existence they have built for themselves under the guidance of government authorities, the settler movement and private capital.
Things however can go the opposite way, producing some of the most unlikely phenomena. Take the appearance of racist skinheads in
. In June, the Guardian UK and Haaretz reported that the Israeli government was looking into the website of one group called the White Israeli Union. The WIU is presumed to be run by Russian immigrants. But how do you explain Israeli skinheads? Especially when their website pictures a youth in an IDF uniform, saluting Hitler and calling for the killing of Arabs and Jews? It would seem to defy all logic. Or does it? Israel
I think that the existence of Israeli skins is a testament for the fact that many Russian youths do feel outside Jewish society. After all, it is not uncommon for Russians to live in ghettos, and even though they may go into Israeli institutions like the school and the army and learn Hebrew, it doesn’t mean they are fully accepted as Israeli. Take for example, the conversation Lerner opens her review of The Pilgrim Soul with,
“Do you have Russian friends?” I asked [a colleague]. No, he replied. “Are there any Russians at the parties and gatherings you go to?” No, he replied. “Have you ever had a Russian girlfriend?” Again he said no. “But to tell you the truth,” he added, “when I meet a girl, it doesn’t matter how pretty she is. The minute I hear a Russian accent, her beauty diminishes by half.”
Part of the problem is, as Gumel’s book seems to suggest, Russians are viewed as Other in
, though a wholly different kind of Other than the Arab. Another problem is that Otherness is maintained by Russians themselves. So for youth who are outside Israeli society becoming a skinhead becomes the ultimate refusal of a society that also rejects you. Israel
As Dick Hebdige argued in his seminal study Subculture: the Meaning of Style, refusal of the hegemonic culture is the function subcultures. Skinheads are no different in this regard even though their refusal is frequently coupled with violence. This is not to soften the very real anti-Semitism existing in the Jewish nation. Skinheads have already attacked Orthodox Jews and defaced synagogues and cemeteries. My point is to suggest that the problem runs much deeper than one having racist views; it is in part central to immigration itself.
There is no indication that Russian immigration/migration is going to end anytime soon. After all, there is nothing particularly Russian about it. As Mike Davis notes in his book, Planet of Slums, populations are on the move more than ever before and often it’s for reasons that defy the traditional push-pull factors many historians, sociologists, geographers and demographers have given. Rather he argues the “clash of civilizations” is not between East and West, Christianity and Islam. It is between the disenfranchised masses of immigrants/migrants who must eek out a new life among inhabitants who feel they are encroaching on their way of life and diluting, if not infecting, their culture, national identity, and well being.Post Views: 454
By Sean — 11 years ago
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: 312