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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There are plenty of evaluations coming out about Russia and the G8. What did Putin gain? What did he lose? Does it matter? Let’s put the successes and failures of the state aside and think about the opposition. There were two “counter-conferences” held in St. Petersburg last week: the Other Russia Conference and the Russian Social Forum. The former was a motley assemblage of liberal reformers, presidential hopefuls, nationalists and other colorful figures. The latter composed of mostly radical leftist, anti-globalist youths looking for a world without capital. Both hoped to pose alternative visions to the Kremlin. Both, however, currently stand completely outside the electoral process. Other Russia received loads of Western media attention, but was virtually ignored by the Kremlin. The Russian Social Forum got some decent media play, but mostly arrests and being caged in the Kriov Stadium.
How is one to evaluate these “counter-conferences” as they are and not how we want them to be? Below are a few articles with excerpts. Unfortunately time doesn’t permit me to provide much commentary. My dissertation is calling . . .
Anna Arutunyan of the Nation writes,
Outside of the stadium, the only sanctioned demonstration was a fifteen-minute rally in the center of town, attended by some 400 activists from the Communist Party and radical leftist groups, complete with arrests and beatings by riot police. On Saturday the forum came to a trickling halt as about 100 activists attempted to storm the gates and hold a procession to the Aurora Cruiser memorial, something that was explicitly forbidden by the city authorities. Youths wearing bandannas on their faces (although no tear gas was in sight) huddled with their banners before an iron fence and a handful of cameramen, chanting, “We don’t want to live in cages!” and “Down with capitalism!” A few more people, including foreign journalists, were detained and manhandled at another unsanctioned rally the following day. The forum closed Monday on a characteristic note: City authorities had invited organizers to play a game of soccer–them against the protesters. The authorities won.
Scratch the surface of the state of the weakening Russian opposition, and it becomes clear that an increasingly heavy-handed government isn’t the only culprit. Boris Kagarlitsky, who directs the Institute of Globalization Studies and is close to the organizers, called the counter-summit an “utter failure” that couldn’t rally a considerable crowd because it had been radicalized by marginal groups competing for media attention. “A lot of it was because of the split in the organization committee,” he told me. “Do we want to draw attention to our issues, or do we want to just make noise?” For an organization committee that’s an umbrella for some thirty different movements and, in the words of KED organizer Yevgeny Kozlov, headed by “no single leader,” making noise seemed to be the only option left.
In the end, the counter-summit proved to be a less air-conditioned version of the Other Russia Forum, which was attended by well-established liberal opposition figures like the suave former premier Mikhail Kasyanov, and the slightly hysterical Garry Kasparov of the United Civil Front. Lauded by some observers in Russia as a successful attempt at a reconciliation of various opposition forces, it too failed to “unify” around an alternative. Indeed, what “united” both the Other Russia Forum and the counter-summit in St. Petersburg was that both venues helped the Kremlin put the rowdy multitude of “civil societies” on display to the world.
Both events failed to engage ordinary Russians, who support the current president in general and the G-8 summit in particular. According to a recent poll by the ROMIR Monitoring Center, 73 percent of Russians felt the summit would build up the country’s international prestige. However vital the topics brought up in their forums, the opposition forces seemed to be speaking not to average Russians but to Western media.
Boris Kagarlitsky had this to say at EurasianHome.org:
To be serious, it’s clear that the far right and the far left are just tools in the hands of the Russian right-wing liberals, who are using them up cynically knowing they have zero chances to seize power. The far right and the far left forces don’t have a well-structured program of their own (a couple utopias and catchy slogans don’t count). The ideologist of the “united opposition” Stanislav Belkovsky made himself clear at the Drugaya Rossiya forum: the purpose of their activity is to preserve the current state of things. The society should stay as it is right now. Besides, they are displeased with Vladimir Putin for his irresponsible and careless actions, which are inevitably leading to crisis. His unprofessional strife for stabilization only disturbs the existing order.
The leaders of the far right and the far left thus become a sort of “Landsknechten”, the freelance soldiers of the “united opposition”. Their mission is to fight the security services in front of the foreign TV cameras, become victims of the bloody regime (the more arrests and anarchy they create – the better). In other words, they are catalysts of the fake crisis, which should be fired up before the society has produced a true opposition.
In this respect, the left forces, represented at the Russian Social forum were just the genuine opposition format – democratic, protecting the social rights of the majority, future-oriented. But the forum was surprisingly weak. What its organizers really managed to succeed in was networking with the press, the PR device, so much admired by the liberals. The liberal press took every chance to mention the arrest issues and tracking members of the forum, studiously avoiding the question about these members true activity. As for helpless and pointless attempts to break through the police blockade, performed July 15, they obviously could have but one purpose: to attract publicity to another brawl. The reps of the social movement, who made it to St Petersburg, were outraged. They were actually meant to – without their knowledge or permission – be added to the “united opposition”!
But still, the Russian Social Forum did have positive outcome. The entire country has been talking about the left for three days. Until recently a good deal of our population truly believed that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation is the only opposition we got. Now people discovered the left opposition existed. And some were even lured by its ideas.
Secondly, the forum’s collapse will not just teach a good lesson, but will also be seen as a drive to restructure the left wing both politically and structurally. Almost everyone comes to understand, there are real chances for the left to turn into a functioning political force. But now the left forces themselves put obstacles on their way – they are infantile, disorganized, they are suckers for cheap success and self-promotion, which may be acceptable for Limonov-type people, but definitely not for those who intend to introduce changes to the social sphere, enjoying support of the masses.
In all, it seems that many attendees to the Russian Social Forum left, like many of their counterparts around the world, in frustration. Their frustration was at low attendance, police oppression and harassment and from that, a feeling of ineffectiveness. Unfortunately, the flash and heroics of facing the cops just doesn’t build a movement. The only remedy to this is to rethink the effectiveness of protest and instead engage in the difficult, and boring, task of agitating and educating to regular people’s interests.Post Views: 458
There are three rather disturbing articles in the April 20 edition of the Moscow Times that are worth mentioning.
The first, “Soldiers’ Mothers in the Crosshairs,” concerns how the Justice Ministry’s Federal Registration Service lawsuit against the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees. However, when the case was made public when the Soldier’s Mothers received a summons to appear at Moscow’s Basmanny District Court, it was dropped. Clearly, the government didn’t want to risk the bad press and potential public outcry that could potentially come by targeting this organization under the new NGO registration law. In addition, a court case would inevitably bring more attention to the horrible conditions in the Russian military. With increasing public disgust over dedovshchina, attempting to shut down the Soldier’s Mothers couldn’t produce anything positive. So writes the Times:
Lev Ponomaryov, the head of For Human Rights, an NGO, said the lawsuit signaled the beginning of the end for Soldiers’ Mothers, adding that authorities would probably shutter the group after the Group of Eight summit in July in St. Petersburg.
Ponomaryov said NGOs such as Soldiers’ Mothers “are not convenient for an authoritarian power.”
Alexei Zhafyarov, who runs the registration service’s NGO department, conceded that Soldiers’ Mothers had for the past five years provided reports indicating that they were in operation, along with information about current leadership, addresses and telephone numbers. These reports were filed in early April, after the suit was filed in court, Zhafyarov said. Oddly, Melnikova said she had learned of the suit only on Wednesday. She refused to discuss the accusations lodged against Soldiers’ Mothers.
Zhafyarov said the five years of reports still left two years unaccounted for, but added that officials were willing to overlook that omission.
But they were still concerned about Soldiers’ Mothers’ tardiness: The NGO, Zhafyarov said, should have been filing timely annual reports since its inception.
Zhafyarov said the registration service would simply issue the NGO a warning. After a certain number of warnings, the registration service may seek to have an NGO shut down, he said. But he said the law did not specify how many warnings an NGO was entitled to before the state can take action.
If this wasn’t bad enough, the Times also features “HIV NGOs Linked to Pedophilia.” The Moscow City’s Duma’s is urging Putin to “restrict the activities of foreign nongovernmental organizations that fight HIV/AIDS, saying they “encourage pedophilia, prostitution and the use of drugs among teenagers.” This only adds more difficulties confronting NGOs working on AIDS prevention in Russia. The appeal comes in response to a NGO named Kholis distributing a cartoon which featured “a man inviting a child to ride in his car. An older boy warns the child that the man wants to have sex and could infect him with HIV. The cartoon ends with the man throwing the naked child out of the car.” The NGO is funded by UNICEF. I haven’t a clue how this cartoon foster’s AIDS prevention. Apparently, the effectiveness was also lost of some backers of the appeal.
“In the United States, NGOs are calling for young people to refrain from sex or to put off sexual contact,” [Veronika] Kochetova [the spokeswoman for United Russia Deputy Lyudmila Stebenkova, who authored the appeal] said, referring to a campaign by U.S. President George W. Bush to put an emphasis on abstinence instead of safe sex.
“We also support giving condoms to at-risk groups like homosexuals and prostitutes, but to advertise the use of condoms to all of the population is wrong,” Kochetova said.
According to appeal, the cartoon fit into the opinion that foreign based HIV/AIDS NGOs are exacerbating AIDS rather than preventing it. The appeal reads: “The implementation of [foreign programs] is facilitating the growth of HIV infections rather than prevention.” Now Patriarch Alexei II has entered the fray with a condemnation of Western funded AIDS NGOs.
HIV/AIDS NGOs see the appeal as yet another attack on their activities in particular and NGOs in general. I have no idea what to make of this report. I hope more attention is given to it in the coming days and weeks.
Lastly, is the story, “Student With Anti-Fascist Leaflets Murdered.” On Tuesday, Alexander Ryukhin, a 19 year-old anti-fascist activist and student at the Moscow Electronics and Mathematics Institute, was stabbed to death as he and a friend were heading for a punk rock concert. Ryukhin died instantly from the attack. The attackers, who are assumed to be skinheads who’ve been targeting Ryukhin for his activities, left the knife in his chest. The knife had no fingerprints on it suggesting that the attack was planned.
Not a good day for Russian news by any stretch.Post Views: 356
What the hell is happening in the
? All week it has been racked by political crises. First, Georgia Special Forces were sent into Tbilisi Prison No. 5 to suppress a prison riot. It seems that the riot was a well organized attempted prison break by criminal oligarchs. Seven inmates were killed along with 17 injured. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Republicof Georgia Europehas called for an independent probe into the riot. According to Kommersant, the violence has sparked calls for Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili’s resignation and fear from the Opposition that the accusations could be used as justification to repress them. Perhaps this is already happening as Parliament MP Valery Gelashvili of opposition Republican Party was stripped of his credentials. The ruling majority claims that Gelashvili is running his construction business while a serving as a member of Parliament, which is a violation of the Georgian Constitution. The opposition is claiming that the move is a form of “repression against political opponents.” In response, the opposition is boycotting Parliament. Allegations of repression have also come from other political parties. So writes Kommersant:
“We initiated the protest action,” leader of the Labor Party Shalva Natelashvili, who has been accused of involvement in the prison uprising by several politicians, told Kommersant, “because it is simply impossible to live in modern Georgia. Our maximum program is the constitutional change of power. Our minimum program is freeing business from taxes and requisitions that Saakashvili and his advisers imposed illegally and a guarantee of the inviolability of the media. Since the beginning of the Rose Revolution, two television stations and nine publications have been closed and the director of the 202 television company was recently sentenced to four years in prison. Journalists are insulted and beaten, the free press in
is being destroyed. All of television is the personal holding of Saakashvili. And he says that he is building a democratic state.” Georgia
Next, there are rumors that the criminal oligarchs are plotting to assassinate Saakashvili. The government is accusing the Opposition that has connections to these criminal oligarchs.
The third crisis is based on allegations from Georgian media mogul Badri Patarkatsishvili that businessmen have been subjected to paying government officials bribes to avoid state harassment of their businesses. According to Kommersant,
Patarkatsishvili said that a conflict has arisen over the Imedi television channel, which he owns. Journalists investigated the murder in January of United Gregorian Bank manager Sandro Girgvliani, in which it turned out that high-placed officials of the Georgian Ministry of the Interior involved. (The murder took place after an argument in a restaurant.) The journalists found out that investigators were forced to arrest four members of the Interior Ministry’s department of constitutional security. Patarkatsishvili thinks that that caused displeasure in the administration. “Security and financial organs began to examine the activities of my companies so that I would pressure my journalists at Imdei television company to create a picture that was beneficial to the administration,” he said.
Patarkatsishvili practically accused the administration of running a racket. He said that entrepreneurs were forced to pay large sums of money to various funds founded by state structures whose expenses are unsupervised. The prosecutor’s fund alone gathered 160 million lari ($89 million). But contributions to those funds do not guaranteed businessmen immunity.
It seems that the Saakashvili government has taken up anti-oligarch rhetoric to denounce the opposition. A move that some suggest is a way to discredit the opposition’s legitimate criticisms.
If all this wasn’t bad enough, now the Saakashvili government is claiming that it has unmasked a Russian spy. Yesterday, a low level government official named Simon Kiladze was arrested for spying for an unnamed government. Many suspect the government was
since relations between the two countries have soured since the “Rose Revolution.” As a result, Saakashvili has called for a wider campaign to “root out” spies. Russia
This all came to a head yesterday as 5000-7000 opposition supporters rallied in front of the Georgian Parliament to call for Saakashvili’s resignation.Post Views: 305