Lyndon linked me about Nashi’s “Connecting with the President” or the “President’s Liaison Officer” campaign, so I’ll return the favor by liking his lucid breakdown of Nashi’s marketing-activist tactics. As he concludes:
The idea of using Nashi partisans as electronic “go-betweens” to/from the President (the passers-by receive special SIM-cards which will also be able to receive “all essential information about the movement’s activities,” per this description of the event) is an intriguing modern take on the Soviet idea of a loyal vanguard, though it’s supposedly an exercise in “modern democracy” (“sovremennaia demokratiia”).
I agree. What strikes me is not only how media savvy this all is, but also how these methods can be found among activists on the left and the right all over the world. The question all this poses for me is how much of Nashi’s participation in Russia’s “modern democracy” is symbolic of democratic practice around the world?
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By Sean — 13 years ago
Here is a summary of interesting news stories coming out of Russia this week.
—The U.S. military will abandon its airbases in Uzbekistan. Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s administration asked the U.S. to leave after it suggested an international probe into the massacre of over 800 people in town of Andijan. I’m surprised. Given the Bush Administration’s “commitment” to human rights, I figured that they would make the standard public condemnations, while assuring Karimov behind the scenes that their call for a probe was far from serious. Perhaps Karimov accidentally took them seriously. This news comes as the Andijan 15 are being tried in Uzbek courts for orchestrating an uprising. It seems that the EU is taking some “harsher” measures by placing an arms embargo on Uzbekistan.
—The drama around the Beslan Mothers and cult leader Grigorii Grabovoi heats up. Several of the mothers have filed a request to the Russian General Prosecutor Vladimir Ustinov to investigate Grabovoi’s dealings. The appeal stated: “This cultist’s cynical promise to resurrect those killed in the terrorist act is blasphemous to all those who suffered in this dreadful tragedy. We … ask you to investigate the legality of Grigory Grabovoi’s actions and to bring him to justice under Russian law.”
—Amnesty International released a report this week condemning abductions, secret detentions, and torture carried out by Russian authorities in Ingushetia and Chechnya. The report charges that “Russia’s “war on terror” is being used as an excuse for systematic human rights abuses.” Unfortunately, Russia is not alone it the use of Bush’s “war on terror” to commit such acts without concern for national or international law, not to mention, human rights. According to the press release, Amnesty International
“detected a new trend in the human rights abuses in the North Caucasus. People are reportedly being arbitrarily detained and held in incommunicado detention, where they are subjected to torture and ill-treatment, in order to force them to confess to crimes that they have not committed. Once they have signed a “confession” they are reportedly transferred to another detention facility where they have access to a lawyer of their choice and relatives; but the confession seems to be enough “evidence” to secure their conviction.”
Such measures are a disturbing reminder of Soviet practices. Then it was “enemies of the people.” Now its “terrorists.”
—In a sign of some progress and recognition of the problem of HIV/AIDS in the military, Russian soldiers will now be given condoms before they go on leave. Official statistics put detected HIV/AIDS cases in the Russian military since 1989 has number 2000. One can assume that this number is very, very low.
—Already in anticipation to the 2008 elections, the Federal Registration Service is going to begin a “proverka,” or check, of registered Russian political parties. According to legislation passed last December, registered electoral parties must have a national membership of 100,000, and at least 500 members in each of the county’s 89 regions.
—Kommersant is reporting that the bones of General Anton Denikin, the commander of the White Army during the Russian Civil War (1918-1920, are being flown from New York for burial in the Donskoi cemetery in Moscow. The transfer comes with a special Presidential envoy.
—In another sign of progress, a St. Petersburg Court ruled that Oktyabrskaya Railroad broke the law when it rejected a man’s application because he was a homosexual. In addition, a Yaroslav court upheld the rights of a lesbian woman who was fired from teaching because of “health problems,” i.e. she’s gay. Many Russians still believe in the Soviet view that homosexuality is a mental disease.
—I don’t think that I need to dwell to long on the biggest story coming out of Russia this week: Gazprom’s $13 billion purchase of SibNeft. The purchase further consolidates Gazprom’s dominance of Russian energy and oil markets as well as shows its intention to become a global player in oil and natural gas.
—And finally, Vitaly Matyukhin, a resident of Archangelsk has spent the last 15 years in a living his summer days in a refrigerator. Matyukhin apparently suffers from a rare heat exchange disorder where he can’t be in temperatures over 5 C. So during the warm weather of September he spends most of his time in a self built refrigerator, only to come out at night. Born in Krasnodar, he moved to Archangelsk to escape the southern heat. Only in Russia . . .
By Sean — 13 years ago
—Things continue to heat up in Azerbaijan before tomorrow’s elections. Azeri police raided the headquarters of two opposition parties, Popular Front of Azerbaijan and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, arresting their campaign directors, Gabil Mammadrzayev and Faramaz Javadov. The arrests are yet another attempt by the Aliyev government to preempt any chance the parliamentary elections will become “colored revolution.” So says Azeri Interior Minister Ramil Usubov, “If someone puts up tents somewhere, no matter what their color, and violates the rights of other citizens, and if it’s on some road where there’s transport, that will be prevented.”
—Inmate riots continue at Prison No. 31 outside the Kyrgiz capital of Bishkek. Security forces stormed the prison and crushed prisoners’ control of the prison. Two weeks ago prisoners revolted to protest living conditions. They took control of the prison and killed imprisoned former deputy Tynychbek Akmatbayev. But there is more to this story than prisoners rioting to protest conditions. Consider how Gulnoza Saidazimova describes the situation at Prison No. 31:
“Machine guns and knives, mobile phones, and computers with Internet connection, large amounts of money in U.S. dollars and euros as well as narcotics — all are in the possession of a “vor v zakone”, or a criminal kingpin, in Kyrgyz jails.
Consider, for example, Aziz Batukaev, who served a term in Prison No. 31 in the settlement of Moldovanovka near the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek until he was transferred to another prison on November 1.
Speaking to journalists on 1 November in the wake of October unrest in Kyrgyz penal colonies, Deputy Prosecutor-General Abibulla Abdykaparov said Batukaev had occupied a whole floor of his prison. That included 16 rooms, where he kept three mares and 15 goats.
Abdykaparov explained that the convict used to drink the domestic animals’ milk to heal his ulcer. His wife and daughter-in-law as well as a bodyguard — not convicts themselves — were with him when the troops burst into the prison building.”
This of course is the conditions of the Kingpin. Other prisoners don’t fair so well. According to Topchubek Turgunaliev, the leader of the Erkindik opposition party,
“Conditions are extremely harsh, firstly, because of lack of food. What they get is [called] ’balanda,’ which is not only not nutritious, but also kills people. In some prisons, inmates have no food at all or get it once a week. The other problem is that prisons are overcrowded. So there is simply no air. I experienced that myself. In the cells of five-six people, we were 17-18 inmates.”
The “vor v zakone” rules at the behest of corrupt prison officials. The system seems to be a symbiotic one. The Kingpin controls the prison population from within, while the authorities get a piece of the prison drug trade. Though Kyrgyz officials have denied prison authorities involvement in narco-trafficking, (what are they going to do admit it and ruin their action!?), Turgunaliev adds,
“Prison facilities are a center of corruption. I know narcotics, including ‘gera’ [heroin] is brought there. I saw myself how they make 50-70 ‘lyap’ [portions] from a gram of gera. Each lyap cost [$1.5] in 2001. I don’t know the current prices. There are two kinds of narcotic trafficking [in prison],” he said. “The first is that of vory v zakone. The other one is controlled by the prison administration. Usually, one of the deputies of a prison head is in charge of the traffic. They get tens of millions [sums of profit] every month. I emphasize once again: tens of millions.”
—Like a modern day Peter the Great, Putin went to the Netherlands this week to discuss economic relations. He also gave an interview to Dutch TV. Some of Putin’s answers are worth highlighting.
QUESTION: In October, events took place in Nalchik that showed that terrorists are spreading their action beyond Chechnya and into the whole of the North Caucasus. Does this mean that Russia is losing the fight against the terrorists? How do you assess the effectiveness of your law enforcement agencies’ work in Nalchik?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is not the first time terrorists have made incursions into other parts of the Caucasus and other regions of the country. Russia was one of the first countries to be confronted with terrorism, and the reasons for this are clear. The Soviet Union fell apart, the state was in an extremely weakened position and the population had to face the collapse of the economy and the social protection system. Elements of this break up of the Soviet Union made their way onto Russian territory. This all made possible the terrible situation we have been facing for the last 15 years. But no terrorists can defeat the people that in their time vanquished Nazism, above all because the Russian people and the other peoples of Russia have an extremely strong feeling of self-preservation.
But several things are needed to be able to fight terrorism effectively. We need to strengthen the state and the legal system, achieve economic growth and create a middle class, strengthen the law enforcement agencies and develop more effective international cooperation.
Regarding how effectively the law enforcement agencies worked in Nalchik, preliminary reports say that the group of bandits that attacked Nalchik counted around 150 people, of which 93 were eliminated and 40 arrested. The terrorists managed to take three groups of people hostage at three different locations. Our law enforcement agencies’ special forces carried out three operations to free the hostages. All the hostages were freed, there were no lives lost among the special-forces officers and all the terrorists were eliminated.
As you can see, the terrorists have ever less opportunity to act effectively in Chechnya itself and so they are trying to expand their activities into other regions of the Caucasus, but they will not succeed in this objective for we will not let them.******
QUESTION: I wanted to ask a question about mass media freedom in Russia. The organisation Reporters without Frontiers put Russia in 138th place in its list of countries evaluated according to freedom of the press. The problems most commonly cited with regard to freedom of the press in Russia are the so-called ‘black hole’ when it comes to coverage of events in Chechnya, increased state control over the press and more. Could you comment on the conclusions of this organisation?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It seems there is no getting away from the problems of Chechnya, the fight against terrorism and everything connected to the Caucasus. I will make my final comment on this point and then let us move on to another subject, the one you just raised, for example.
The tradition of appeasing any aggressors and extremists following the principle of ‘make agreement with anyone at any price, if only they will leave us alone’ has become firmly rooted in European political thought. This is a dangerous way of thinking that in practice leads to great tragedies. It is enough to remember Chamberlain and Daladier who signed the Munich Agreement with Hitler in 1938 and announced on their return home that they had brought with them ‘peace in our time’. But the Second World War broke out only a year later. In this respect, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was no better, but it was a necessary measure after the western countries accepted a deal with Nazi Germany.
I think this is a very dangerous trend and we have to realize that this kind of practice leads to problems in all of our countries. No sops to terrorists, not even giving them political asylum, can buy them off, and the recent tragic and serious events in a number of European countries are the clearest confirmation of this.
Now, regarding the media, we are aware, of course, of these evaluations and I think that we need to listen to such criticism. We have many problems, especially at regional level, and I am aware of this. I think that freedom of the press is one of the basic conditions for developing democracy in the country. Without freedom of the press we will not be able to root out corruption or build a free society. The most important task for us is to ensure the media’s economic independence so that it will serve the interests of all of society rather those of the economic groups or oligarchs.
Today in Russia there are 47,000 registered periodical media publications and around 3,000 radio and television companies. It would be impossible to control them all even if we wanted to, and we have no such desire anyway. That is not to mention the Internet, which is developing absolutely freely, without any control from outside at all, and has an ever-growing number of users.******
QUESTION: You spoke about your past, and now, perhaps, you could answer a question about your future. You said that in 2008 you will step down from the post of President. Do you already have any plans for the future? Will you remain active in political life or will you go into some other area of activity?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Every normal person has plans for the future. It is hard to imagine someone who has no plans at all. But it is not such a good omen to talk about the future. The future depends on how we live and what we do in the present. We build our future ourselves, through our present action.
QUESTION: You are very popular in the ratings in Russia at the moment and you are one of the stabilising factors for the situation in the country. Can you imagine a situation in which you would decide to remain in office for a third term?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You are suggesting that destabilization could take place in the country?
RESPONSE: Perhaps. It is a situation that cannot totally be ruled out.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I realize that 2008 will be an important test for Russia, and not an easy one.
At the same time, the Constitution of the Russian Federation states that the President, the head of state, is elected for four years through direct secret ballot and cannot stay in office for more than two consecutive terms.
I am not indifferent of course to the question of who will take in their hands the destiny of the country I have devoted my life to serving. But if each successive head of state were to change the Constitution to suit them, we would soon find ourselves without a state at all. I think that Russia’s different political forces are sufficiently mature to realize their responsibility to the people of the Russian Federation. In any case, the person who receives the votes of the majority of Russian citizens will become the President of the country.
At the same time, I would like to note that, according to the Constitution, the presidential powers are conferred on the new President after the inauguration takes place, and until this time, the incumbent head of state carries full responsibility for the situation in the country. In the name of the interests of the people of the Russian Federation, I will not allow any destabilization in the country.
—Russia’s new holiday, Unity Day, which supposedly marks the 1612 liberation of Moscow from Polish rule, showed few signs of unity. A 1000 nationalist youths from the Eurasian Youth League held a demonstration calling for the liberation of Russia from illegal immigrants, mostly those from the Republics to its south. Youths from the liberal group Oborona threw condoms filled with water at the nationalists in retaliation.
Catholics are claiming that the holiday is merely a celebration of Orthodoxy’s triumph over Catholicism. In 1612 the liberation of Moscow by armies led by Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin drove out the Polish pawn and pretender, False Dmitri. Some believe that this victory prevented the Catholicization of Russia.
The contention over Unity Day doesn’t stop there. Historians argue that the Kremlin got the date all wrong charging that November 4 is more about replacing the holiday commemorating the Bolshevik Revolution on November 7 rather than celebrating the liberation from the Poles or the end of the Time of Troubles. As Communist Deputy Sergei Reshulsky said, “This is just a fake holiday. Even the dates are wrong. The Kremlin came up with this holiday just to make people forget their communist past.” Of course, as the Moscow Times reports, the reasons for the holiday matter to many Russians as long as there is a holiday. When asked what she thought of the holiday, Lyudmila Knyazeva, a 49-year-old accountant said, “I don’t know what we are celebrating and, to be honest, I don’t care. What is important is that I don’t have to go to work. The weather is not cold yet, and I might go to the dacha.” Let the holiday spirit ring.
By Sean — 12 years ago
A few weeks ago Forbes released its World’s Billionaire List. Most commentators have noted the increase in Chinese, Indian, and Russian presence on the list. This is not surprising. The three countries are some of the most economically robust countries in the world.
serves as the global center of cheap labor. China an increasing center of high tech and service. India the world’s oil and gas supplier. Taken together the three nations provide the pillars of a global economy—labor, communications, and fuel. Russia
It is no wonder then that the global ruling class is reflecting these nations.
Russiahas 53 billionaires (two shy of ), of which 19 are new to the list. Germany Chinahas 20 (41 if you include Hong Kong), 13 of which are new. has 36 with 14 newcomers. Billionaires are growing faster in India Russia, China, and than anywhere else in the world. India
What does this mean for the global ruling class? As James Petras notes in his article “Meet the Global Ruling Class,” this surge in billionaires has come with increasing polarization of the world’s wealth. “The total wealth of this global ruling class,” he writes, “grew 35 per cent year to year topping $3.5 trillion, while income levels for the lower 55 per cent of the world’s 6-billion-strong population declined or stagnated. Put another way, one hundred millionth of the world’s population (1/100,000,000) owns more than over 3 billion people.” I’ll repeat that in case you didn’t get it: One hundred millionth of the world’s population own more than 3 billion people. So much for the rising tide lifting all boats.
Petras also makes some important observations about
’s billionaires. They are young. Most “accumulated” their wealth in their mid-20s. Few are members of the old Communist leaders. Despite Western media assertions about Putin moving against Russia ’s oligarchs, “biographical evidence demonstrates that there is no rupture between the rise of the billionaires under Yeltsin and their consolidation and expansion under Putin.” And lastly, in response to Forbes‘ laughable assertions that these Russian billionaires were “self made,” Petras writes, “Of the top eight Russian billionaire oligarchs, all got their start from strong-arming their rivals, setting up ‘paper banks’ and taking over aluminum, oil, gas, nickel and steel production and the export of bauxite, iron and other minerals. Every sector of the former Communist economy was pillaged by the new billionaires: Construction, telecommunications, chemicals, real estate, agriculture, vodka, foods, land, media, automobiles, airlines etc..” Self-made indeed. Russia
But perhaps most interesting is how
Russiaand Latin Americacompare in this regard. Latin American and Russian elites got their wealth not like Bill Gates, but essentially by seizing state industries privatized in neo-liberal privatization schemes:
In both Latin America and Russia, the billionaires grabbed lucrative state assets under the aegis of orthodox neo-liberal regimes (Salinas-Zedillo regimes in Mexico, Collor-Cardoso in Brazil, Yeltsin in Russia) and consolidated and expanded under the rule of supposedly ‘reformist’ regimes (Putin in Russia, Lula in Brazil and Fox in Mexico). In the rest of Latin America (
Chile, Colombiaand ) the making of the billionaires resulted from the bloody military coups and regimes, which destroyed the socio-political movements and started the privatization process. This process was then even more energetically promoted by the subsequent electoral regimes of the right and ‘center-left’. Argentina
What is repeatedly demonstrated in both
Russiaand Latin Americais that the key factor leading to the quantum leap in wealth from millionaires to billionaires was the vast privatization and subsequent de-nationalization of lucrative public enterprises.
It is no wonder Pierre-Joseph Proudhon said that “property is theft.”