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 — 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: 87
By Sean — 12 years ago
Let me see if I get this straight. Prominent Kazakh opposition member, Zamanbek Nurkadilov, is found dead with two gunshots to the chest and one to the head and it’s ruled a suicide!? I mean forget the fact that shooting oneself in the chest not once but twice and then turning the gun to your own dome seems utterly impossible, this is what an investigation into his death has concluded. Opposition leaders are correctly calling his death a “political assassination.” And this all important caveat supports such a claim: Nurkadilov was about to make a “bombshell” announcement about sitting President and election frontrunner Nursultan Nazarbayev’s involvement in corruption. Sounds like the Kazakh Presidential elections, which are next week, are getting off to a rather predictable start.Post Views: 196
By Sean — 12 years ago
Kommersant’s English mirror site has an article with the details about Basayev’s death and autopsy. His body was so mangled by a weapons explosion that forensic experts had to identify the corpse through his hands and feet. Details of the explosion that killed him have been pieced together by representatives of the Interior Ministry and Ingushetian Prosecutor’s Office. They are as follows:
According to the investigation, late Sunday evening, several automobiles – three cars and two KamAZ trucks, one of which was towing the other – came to an unfinished house on the edge of Ekazhevo. There was some movement inside the house for a while, said the very few witnesses investigators were able to find, as people in black uniforms went back and forth between the house and the forest, which began at the edge of the yard and stretched all the way to the border with North Ossetia. They unloaded crates from the trucks and transferred other between cars. Then a powerful explosion took place.
Local police arrived to find the smoking frame of one of the trucks with a thick cable tied to its front bumper and a large pit, on the other side of which was the rear part of a car frame. The other truck stood at a distance of several tens of meters and was relatively undamaged. In the back of the truck were 150 unguided artillery missiles and about 100 cartridges of various calibers. Several dozen barrels from RPG-7 and RPG-26 grenade launchers were scattered within a radius of half a kilometer, as well as unexploded warheads from them and a large number of bullets. Those were the contents of the truck that exploded. Four bodies and four machineguns were also found.
Early Monday morning, about six hours after the blast, FSB agents arrived on the scene. They dismissed the local police and prosecutors and declared that the event had been their special operation. Several hours later they announced that Basaev has been killed.
The material evidence gathered by experts indicates, however, that the militants most likely blew themselves up due to careless handling of explosives. Newly built empty houses were being used by the separatists as warehouses where large shipments of weapons from abroad were received and distributed. Representatives from various groups were dividing a newly received shipment among themselves on Sunday. It is possible that the weapons were to be carried away in the two trucks but, after one of them broke down, the weapons had to be reloaded into a car.
So there you have it. FSB special forces did not have a hand in killing him, though I’m sure they will continue to claim it until their dying end. Rather, Basayev’s death was a result of the “careless handling of explosives.” Not the type of valiant death a “shaheed” would hope for.
I also encourage readers to check out Thomas de Waal’s comment on Basayev in today’s Moscow Times. De Waal met with Basayev once in 1998, and while he claims that the terrorist was no “Islamist” or “politician”, he was a “permanent warrior” and “his fearlessness, cunning, propaganda skills and cruelty made him unique.” In Waal’s view, this makes Basayev irreplaceable. He continues:
Two of his kind do not come around twice in a generation. The bad news is that his removal came many years too late — and not just because many hundreds of people might otherwise be alive. The Russian leadership has eliminated or exiled the moderate wing of the Chechen pro-independence movement, which wanted to negotiate and could have brought alienated Chechens back intosome kind of political process.
Consider the situation of a young twenty-something Chechen male who has been part of the rebel movement for the last decade. He has seen friends and family members die and quite probably has been wounded or tortured by Russian security forces. He has almost no education. If he watches Russian television he will see reports of his comrades being “destroyed” as if they were vermin.
Now this man has no leaders left. What route does he follow? One route is collaboration. The so-called “Kadyrovtsy” who comprise Chechnya’s pro-Moscow security forces aremainly ex-fighters, taking a rest from the hills and earning a decent salary in a new uniform. Their loyalty is entirely provisional and on the day after their leader, Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, is replaced or arrested, there is no knowing what they will do next.
The other road is radical Islam. In the last five years, a network of shadowy jamaats, or Islamic groups, has sprung up across the North Caucasus, from Dagestan to Karachayevo-Cherkessia. Its adherents are anonymous pious young men from marginalized social groups. Not for them the theatrics of Basayev; they will operate like tiny ants gnawing away at the fundamentals of Russian power in the region.
This last point again raises the question of whether Basayev’s death will be a blessing that goes beyond the demise of a ruthless terrorist. Some, like Timur Aliev of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, are reporting how some in Chechnya hope that Basayev’s death will be the beginning of the conflict’s end. Others, like Andrei Smirnov at the Eurasia Daily Monitor, suggest that the militant’s death in no way means the problems in the North Caucauses are solved. Though the reigns of the rebels’ leadership now passes to Doku Umarov, the course he chooses for the movement could engender rivals to his leadership. Thus the movement could further fracture between a young and old guard. Another worry is that now rebel forces in Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, and Ingushetia lack leadership and an iconic hero. While many in Russia might greet the disarray of the Chechen nationalist movement, that chaos will only make any positives that might result from Basayev’s death difficult to achieve.
This difficulty will in part be exacerbated by the utter misanalysis Russia makes of the conflict. As Stephen Blank, another commentator at the Eurasia Daily Monitor, concludes:
Although official Russia likes to attribute the unrest in the Caucasus in general — and in Chechnya in particular — to Wahhabism, in fact the cause of the unrest remains long-standing Russian misrule and oppression. This situation ultimately led to unbridled Islamic terrorism as practiced by Basaev and his like-minded colleagues, but it is doubtful that Kadyrov and his thugs represent a better prospect or that anyone else has a solution to the problems of the North Caucasus. Undoubtedly Putin has won a big battle here, even if inadvertently, and cut down a tall tree of Chechen resistance. But it is unlikely that a people who have fought Russia for more than 200 years will simply accept defeat now or that Russia knows how and will bring about a peace based upon a legitimate order that compels assent rather than fear either in Chechnya or in the North Caucasus.Post Views: 211