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 — 12 years ago
The G-8 Summit begins next weekend in St. Petersburg. While the leaders from the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, Italy, France, Germany and Britain meet to discuss international security, energy, education, and infectious diseases, anti-globalization activists will stage protests and gather at social forums to discuss the adverse effects of the global economic order.
St. Petersburg won’t be Genoa. For the simple reason that the anti-globalist movement has seen better days. While many in the global South are still active in resisting the neo-liberal economics of supranational organizations like the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank, the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and the subsequent declaration of the Global War on Terror had altered the agenda of many activists in the United States and Europe. The mass protests and violent police repression during the 2001 G-8 Genoa, Italy now seem like distant memories associated with another time and another world. Anti-globalization protests seem pass?. So late 1990s.
There is little indication that the activities scheduled in St. Petersburg will result in a sudden revitalization or nostalgia. Activists’ attendance looks to be small, mostly because the difficulties and costs of obtaining a visa to enter the country. Russian activists will be present, but the costs of getting to the former Tsarist capital will dilute an already small movement.
Another issue that concerns protesters is the wrath of the Petersburg authorities. How convenient that the Duma recently passed and Putin signed a new anti-terrorism law. The Duma is also considering changes to the anti-extremism law that will expand the definition of “extremist,” according to Kommersant, include “impeding the legal activities of federal authorities” together with “violence or threat to use it”, and “public slander of individuals acting for a public office of Russia or its constituent subject, connected to accusing this individual of capital offense and felony.”
Still events will be held, however modest they will be. Some activists are not discouraged and enter the protests with optimism. Information on the scheduled activities can be found here and here. However, the Russian authorities will be ready for whatever happens. They even bought a water canon. Even the skinheads are being targeted as St. Petersburg tries to dispel its image as a city of racial hated.
If the stakes are low for the anti-globalists, they are certainly high for Putin. Russia is back on the geopolitical scene as it exerts its energy hegemony over Europe, is asked by Israel to put pressure on Hamas, and positions itself as an indispensable negotiator in the Iran crisis. The real test is whether Putin can use the G-8 negotiations to get American approval for Russia’s admittance into the World Trade Organization. The U.S. remains the only country opposing Russia’s membership. As of Tuesday, it seems that Putin is attempting some brinkmanship. In a press conference on the subject, he made this warning: “If we for some reason do not succeed in reaching a final agreement we will relieve ourselves of the commitments on some agreements which we have not only taken but that we are fulfilling while not even being a member of the organization.” Translation: Without membership, Russia will renege on the WTO agreements it has already signed. And why the hell not? Why should Russia commit to WTO agreements without membership? After all, it signed them as a precondition to join the organization, a move than has yet to bare fruit.
The stick was followed by a few carrots. In an interview on Thursday, Putin heaped glowing words on George Bush, calling him a “friend” and a “decent person”. He also gave Bush greetings on his 60th birthday. Overall, Putin wanted to warm the cooling relations between Moscow and Washington and state and the two countries are “principal partners” in many global issues and crises. He even defended kissing that damn kid’s belly.
All of this makes you wonder, who is on stage here: the G-8 or Vladimir Putin? It seems that the summit has turned into a golden opportunity for Putin to put Russia, (and himself), at the center and reap the most public relations benefit. With North Korea showing some teeth and Iran thumbing its nose at the international consensus, perhaps the master of ceremonies can spin its geopolitical resurgence into gold. For Russia’s sake, hopefully that gold won’t turn out to be that of fools.Post Views: 40
By Sean — 11 years ago
National Unity Day has come and gone. Events were predictable. The nationalists defied authorities and held a modest march of 1500-2000 in
Moscowchanting “ for Russians.” It was met by 1000 of the 6500 strong police force that was deployed around the city. Police arrested 200 people as they tried to join the illegal march. But not before a Ukrainian journalist named Maria Runova from the newspaper Mir Novostei was attacked. An officially sanctioned rally of 1000 people was held to denounce fascism. Russia
, police used tear gas to brake up a massive street fight between 200 nationalists and a group of anti-fascist youths. St. Petersburg
Predictably, there is a flood of reporting in the English language press. Nationalism in
Russiais a topic that supports a variety views that is descending into chaos and fascism. This is evident in how the rallies are explained in the press. The LA Times, for example, reported the nationalists as “staging marches” while the anti-fascist gathering as a “counter-rally.” Such descriptions create a hierarchy where the nationalists and their views are normalized. This impression is reinforced by the fact that articles tend to repeat the same information with little analysis of why nationalism appears to be on the rise. Russia
Nationalism is on the rise in
. SOVA documents a 30 percent rise in neo-Nazi activities this summer alone. Still, the overall impact of neo-Nazi activity is difficult to gage because of the asymmetry between neo-Nazi activities and the reporting on them. The amount of column inches devoted to bands of Russian nationalists and fascists outweigh their actually existence. It should be noted that a march of 1500-2000, while disgusting because it involves fascists, is hardly representative. In Russia , most marches of similar size are rightly dismissed as fringe. Yet, for America such marches are somehow representative of something more widespread. Russia
In my opinion, this is exactly what the nationalists and fascists hope for. Similar to terrorists, they hope that small acts of protest and violence will inflate the little power they have or give the impression that their acts represent the true will of the people.
The media, however, is not only culprit. The state shares some of the blame. Legal crackdowns and tough police action against nationalism, though necessary and welcomed, also give the impression that these groups have more power and influence than they possess. I for one have no problem with the police throwing racists to the ground but it should be recognized that like with other protests movements, activists wear battles with the cops as badges of honor. The police are thus caught in that inevitable catch-22. Inaction is unacceptable, even dangerous, but action potentially reproduces the obstinacy of the very thing they are fighting.
Everyone recognizes National Unity Day is a joke. The day has revealed more cracks in Russian society than unity. This is where I think the nationalists do represent something real. While their views do not represent Russian attitudes in general, the fact that they are given public voice does provoke questions about Russian national identity. The holiday raises the very question it seeks to answer: What is Russian national identity?
Interestingly, the National Unity Day was created to replace Revolution Day, which did provide a theoretical template for unity. The Bolshevik Revolution, while born of deep class animosity, eventually became a point of unity under the Soviet multiethnic banner. The Revolution was written not only as an event that liberated all peoples in the Russian empire from oppression, it was the starting point for the eventual liberation of all of mankind. Thus Revolution Day formally recognized no ethnic nation and ultimately no national border.
National Unity Day can’t make the same claims. First the day celebrates the Russian liberation from the Polish-Lithuanian (read: Catholic) yoke in 1613, marking the end of the Time of Troubles. Many, like Russia Profile’s Georgy Bovt, dismiss the day as indicating “nothing of fundamental importance happened regarding the unity of the Russian nation or the country’s liberation from Catholic aggressors on that day.” This is true in regard to Russian history. But memory is rarely about the past. It is more directed to the present making the Polish-Lithuanian defeat has great symbolic significance. It creates an Other in which to situate Russian national identity in regard to religion, ethnicity, and the integrity of its borders.
Russian Orthodoxy is often overlooked in discussions of Russian national identity, even by those who are actively trying to create it. As Bovt notes, since the 17th century, 4 November was a church holiday celebrating the icon of the Lady of Kazan. By making the day also one national unity, “today’s authorities have managed, largely unnoticed by the general public, to turn a profoundly religious Orthodox holiday into an official state one. It is part of an ongoing plan to give Russian Orthodoxy the trappings, if not the title, of a state religion and thereby to help define the evolution of the “sovereign ideology.”
Another component of that “sovereign ideology” is giving Russian ethnicity a central place in the development of the Russian nation. This is the attempt to reconcile the inner contradiction of russkii and rossisskii, about which I’ve written about before. Celebrating the Polish-Lithuanian defeat concomitantly provides an example of unity and an Other to remind Russians of many present day internal and external Others. Here one can substitute the Poles for Georgians, Chechens, Azeris, Ukrainians, or even Americans for the “Polish-Lithuanians.” It should be noted that in a recent pole by VTsIOM on Russian attitudes to nuclear weapons, two of
’s most prominent Others were viewed as most likely to wage a nuclear attack. 37 percent of respondents thought that a nuclear attack would most likely come from the Russia , and 44 percent saw that it would come from Chechen terrorists. Therefore, what Russian is in contrast what it is not. United States
Finally, the 1613 battle that drove out Polish-Lithuanian invaders signifies the longstanding negotiation over
’s borders. Not only does this fit well with the present tension between Russia Russiaand Georgia, it is also a reminder that ’s internal integrity is threatened by minorities looking either to separate or gain more autonomy. Thus, Russia ’s geographic identity is in relation to these internal and external peoples. Russia
Putin’s brief address to commemorate National Unity Day is full of attempts to reconcile the contradictions inherent in Russian national identity. His statements moved between highlighting
Russia’s “common heritage” and the “multinational people of our country united in order to preserve ‘s independence and statehood.” Here one might read a reformation of the Soviet slogan, “socialist in content, national in form” into “Russian in content, multinational in form.” Russia
I think the Kremlin deserves credit in its attempt to fuse the important place Russian (russkii) culture with its multinational (rossisskii) character. The problem is how this translates to the rest of the population. If the fissures the nationalists exposed in the National Unity Day celebrations are any indication, Russian (russkii) identity continues to present problems for Russian (rossisskii) identity.Post Views: 37
By Sean — 11 years ago
Robert Amsterdam has alerted readers to a rather amusing section where Myers speaks of Aleksandr Donskoi, the young mayor Arkhangelsk who declared his candidacy for president. Since his declaration, Donskoi has been a victim of harassment, some of which are rumors in the local press that he is gay. The rumors have apparently gotten so bad that he has had to hold press conferences to deflect them as well as charges that he falsified his university diploma and has an interest in “gypsy hypnosis”. According to Myers, at one such conference, Donskoi’s wife Marina, visibly flustered by the tabloid style accusations against her husband, interrupted him and shouted “He’s not gay! He impregnated me.” It appears that however fixed the 2008 Presidential Election might be, it won’t be void of bread and circuses.
Lyndon at Scraps of Moscow has also commented on the Myers’ piece. The text conjured memories of the phrase “Who lost Russia?” First, I should say that it’s funny to think that anyone besides the Russians themselves have any claim of loss over Russia. Alas suffice to say that hubris has never quelled a pundit’s gumption. Lyndon provides an excellent genealogy of the question “Who Lost Russia?”, locating its origins in an 1998 article by premier American nationalist Pat Buchanan. Who would have ever guessed Buchanan to be such a sage! Lyndon’s post is a must read not only because of its trip down memory lane but also because in reflecting on that past, he reminds us that “in the end, Yeltsin, because of his move naming Putin acting president just months before the 2000 election, may be remembered as both the midwife of Russian democracy and its executioner.”
The Myers’ article intrigued me for other reasons. I want to put aside the proverbial tales of “there is opposition to Putin” and the very real harassment that Kasyanov, Donskoi, Illarionov, and Kasparov have all faced. I also want to keep silent about the obvious attempts to turn Ivanov and Medvedev into something representing human empathy. These are often told tales and I think Myers does a fine job in retelling them. Instead, I want to focus, or really piece together a notion I think Myers hints at but still requires some culling together. Namely, that Putin’s Russia represents a hybrid of capitalism and authoritarianism facilitated by the practice of patron client politics. The latter characteristic has long historical roots, making it a historical vestige that has been remodeled and reformulated to present elite interests.
Some might argue that there is little difference between what Myers calls the “new imperial Russia” and the “Soviet Union Lite.” Since the collapse of the Soviet Union there has been a revision underway in Russian historiography that sees Soviet Russia as a continuum of Imperial Russia. 1917 was less a break, historians argue, than it was a ratcheting up, an acceleration if you will, of Russia’s journey into the modern era. If this argument is taken to its logical conclusion, Russia is on a different path but to an altogether similar end to the West (and the rest of the world); the singular world historical end of capitalism. Thus, Putin is part of long lineage of Russian modernizers: Peter I, Catherine II, Nicholas I, Alexander II, Mikhail Loris-Melikov, Sergei Witte, Piotr Stolypin, Lenin, and Stalin. A similar assumption is hidden in Myers text. After all, what else could provide the impulse to declare that Putin might be judged as “Russia’s George Washington?” However much each of the listed figures combined personal power with state power, violence and repression with state building, each, when stripped of moral trappings and sentimental analysis, was a Russian modernizer. The odds of Putin eschewing “the possibility of retaining personal power [ to overrule] a young country’s laws and democratic principles” however moribund and hollow those laws and principles may be, places him squarely in that lineage.
Yet the path to modernity is not a smooth one nor is it so teleological. Modernity is filled with contradictions, and despite Marx’s claim that capital makes “all that is solid melt into air,” one can find in his more dialectical moments the articulation of a divergent and rockier path. Namely, where capital only ideally overcomes its barriers (i.e. culture, tradition, religion, identity, and history), “it does not by any means follow that it has really overcome it, and, since every such barrier contradicts its character, its production moves in contradictions which are constantly overcome but just as constantly posited.” Thus, the vestiges of the past are never really past, but only soldered to the crevices of modernity. The end product is not a smooth capitalist system with all its idealized democratic trappings, but one that is a hybrid where the vestiges of the past are fused or braided with the present.
Present day Russia is one such example of this braiding. On the hand, Russia exemplifies the antithesis of what we are told is a modern capitalist democracy. It has democracy in form but not in content. Its vertical power structures outweigh the horizontal. Civil society, which is often touted (or should I say fetishized) as part and parcel to capitalist democracy, is either subordinated to the state or where there it has autonomy is politically irrelevant. The rule of law is better stated as the law of rule. On the other hand, when you look at Russia in regard to economics it has a free market, private property, and is bound to the globalized economy. And despite all of the charges of Putin’s authoritarianism and economic corporatism, privatization of small industry, land, and property has flourished under his tenure. As Myers states, “Kremlin Inc. has become the name for the hybrid system Putin created: capitalism with an authoritarian face.”
Many have wondered why capitalist Russia did not produce a democratic system similar to the European or the Anglo-American model. Forget the fact that the only states that have these models are the Europeans (which is more properly a conglomerate of particular models all under the conceptual umbrella of parliamentarian democracy) and the British, the Americans and their vassals (despite the fact that while they are always mentioned in tandem, really have very different systems). One can throw in Israel and Japan as shining examples of capitalist democracies outside of the Euro-Anglo-American sphere, but still their presence does not make historical law.
Conceptual misnomers, however, have not stopped experts from trying to explain Russia “failure”. They have pointed to Russia’s authoritarianism, unshakable patriarchy, its Asiatic culture and mentality, and its traditional culture as explanations. Others have suggested that its tragic history and perpetual instability are the midwives of authoritarianism. Experts have dug deep into the bedrock of history and have highlighted Ivan IV as an origin; others only scraped the surface of the recent past and put the blame squarely on Bolshevism. Whether primordial or constructed, part of the long dur?e or the quick shifts of modernization, it is argued there is something in Russian society that prevents them from becoming like us. Perhaps the problem is that we, that is, those who hold the “West” (yes, the scare quotes are necessary) up as some sort of archetype of human society, should first strip ourselves of conceptual narcissism before understanding them.
Myers’ article might provide some answers to Russia’s present character. It is often said that Russia’s leaders can aptly claim that “L’Etat c’est moi.” But if you look carefully at Russian history and present Russian politics, the “I” in the state might better represent a tightly bound elite rather than one all-powerful individual. The fact that all societies produce elites is a sociological fact; as is the idea that every society produces elites in their own particular way. For Russia, elites are made and reproduced through patron client networks, where a “manager” is placed at the center to adjudicate conflict and divisions between elite clans. There have been times when the “manager” has had to smash networks that threatened his power (whether real or perceived). Ivan IV’s move against the boyars was one example, as was Stalin’s move against the Old Bolsheviks. Putin’s campaign against oligarchs like Berezovsky and Khodorokovsky can been seen in a similar light.
I have argued before that Putin is also such a manager. But you can see this in Myers’ article with statements like,
The search for his replacement has started to look less like a political campaign and more like a boardroom struggle to select a new C.E.O. As at most corporations, the process is out of the public eye, the result presented to shareholders as a fait accompli. And like most executives, Putin is susceptible to choosing someone most like himself. (Emphasis added.)
All [of the possible candidates for president] have been mentioned as possible successors to Putin, not because they have said anything or even distinguished themselves in any particular way but because they are close to Putin. All, with the exception of Sobyanin, are old friends and allies from his hometown, then Leningrad, now St. Petersburg. No one knows for sure who might emerge as a candidate, because Putin himself will decide, and he has given no indication yet of his final choice. What is certain is that whomever he selects will become the next president of Russia. (Emphasis added).
Ivanov is portrayed as a hard-liner, part of the clan of Putin aides known as the siloviki, or people of power. Medvedev is the (comparatively) liberal, democratic reformer, from the clan representing the modernizing businessmen. Both are oversimplifications, since their singular positions are entirely dependent on their close, personal relations with and loyalty to Putin, who is unquestionably in charge. (Emphasis added.)
Myers is clear that he thinks elites are “dependent” on Putin for their positions, and that is true up to a point. One might also ask: How much is Putin, not to mention his successor, dependent on them for his?
These patron client networks, where the patron is in indisputable charge but that indisputability is given by the client, is a reciprocal relationship that forms the binds of an elite. Much has been made of the fact that Putin has surrounded himself with ex-KGB/FSB types and how this is a reflection of Putin’s inability to shake his spy past. Part of this is certainly true, but such a move is quite logical. First the KGB/FSB produced some of USSR/Russia’s most talented people. Second, the clannish nature of Russian politics is going to make Putin surround himself with people he knows and can trust. Putin hasn’t smashed the oligarchy as much as he created a managed oligarchy. This practice wasn’t called khvostizm or tailism in the 1920s and 1930s for nothing. It is the reality of clan politics that makes Andrei Illarionov’s description of the “succession process as something out of the Middle Ages” quite apt.
In regard to capitalism, Russia is simply a more transparent capitalism, and despite what partisans of capital might say, it fits well in capital’s tendency to concentrate wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands. What makes Russia different than say other capitalist states is that the overt practice of clan politics closes many of the avenues that distributes wealth and power among a wider elite class. Thus, the first question a young Russian up and comer might be asked is “who do you know?” rather than “What do you know?” In addition, the fact that Russian capitalism is predicated on patron-client networks makes its flesh and innards no less capitalist. In fact, I would say that in many ways it wears capital’s true face.Post Views: 39