It appears that the Soviet practice of erasing history from sight and therefore mind continues in Putin’s
Support and opposition to the move surely breaks along generational/political lines. “As the son of a War veteran, I can’t vote for the bill,” Sergey Minorov, speaker of the Federation Council, said before the vote. “If our elderly are against it, let’s respect their opinion.” Communists have also opposed the change stating that “symbol of Victory Day now looks more like that of the Day of the People’s Republic of
However, mention of workers’ and peasants’ unity didn’t spark any nostalgia among members of United Russia, who are spearheading the bill as a way to search for “more efficient models for interaction with the countries on the post-Soviet space.” In the case of the Victory Banner, United Russia wants to harness the victories of the Communist past only without the Communists.
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Today, Human Rights Watch released their report on systematic torture in Chechnya. The report, “Widespread Torture in the Chechen Republic” serves as HRW brief to the 37th UN Commission Against Torture. None of its contents should be a surprise to anyone. Though the Chechen War has been officially declared over by the Russian Government, war continues by other means. Chechen rebels continue to target Russian forces. The most recent reported incident of Russian casualties was on Saturday, when two Russian soldiers were wounded when their vehicle hit a rebel landmine. Despite hopes that violence would abate with the killing of Shamil Basayev in July, many believe that Russia now faces a regrouped force of younger, harder, and even more fanatic jihadis.
For the Russian side, violence continues mostly via proxy. Since 2003, “Chechenization” has increasingly put efforts to eliminate Chechen rebels in the hands of Putin’s man in Grozny, Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. According to HRW, since “anti-terrorist” operations came under Kadyrov command, secret detention, disappearances, and torture have become the norm, even overshadowing the methods of Russia’s Second Operational Investigative Bureau (ORB-2).
Torture and other forms of ill treatment by ORB-2 personnel appear aimed at coercing confessions from detainees, which then lead to fabricated criminal charges and court convictions. Kadyrovtsy, by contrast, resort to such treatment to secure incriminating information about rebel forces from detainees whom they subsequently release or force to join their ranks. They have also taken hostage and mistreated relatives of alleged rebel fighters.
This is exactly what Anna Politkovskaya’s last article documented, and HRW’s report now confirms.
In regard to ORB-2 tortures, one Sulim S., 29, told HRW in an interview:
For the first five days they kept me blindfolded. I did not know what they wanted. They kept saying, “We know that you know, and you know that we know!” and when I asked what I was supposed to know, they tortured me. They put a gas mask on my face and would cut the airflow until I started suffocating. They repeatedly gave me electric shocks—my head was swinging back and forth; one discharge went through my tongue, and my tongue got all swollen and was falling out of my mouth.
They beat me mercilessly. They put me against the wall with my legs spread apart and kicked me on my privates—I later saw that the entire area in between my thighs was all black from bruises. They pulled my pants down and threatened to rape me.
I kept telling them, “Just kill me!” but they said, “No, we won’t kill you right away—we’ll do it slowly, and we will also rip your brother apart.” I felt like during these interrogations I was dying over and over again, and they would revive me to continue. Finally, after they realized I could not come up with anything, they offered me three crimes to choose from—a bombing of a bus, a killing of two policemen or a killing of one woman. But I refused.
About a week after his detention, Sulim’s brother, Salambek was detained. He described similar torture at the hands of ORB-2:
The men started beating me while we were still in the car, but did not explain where they were taking me and why. Then they put me into a room, and told me to tell them “everything.” I thought they were referring to a short period of time in 1999 when I helped to dig trenches in the city along with everybody else, but they . . . said they were not interested in that—they wanted me to confess to bombings and killings. I said they must have mistaken me for someone else.
They attached wires to my fingers and ears, and started giving me electric shocks—I could not see the device, as they put a gasmask on my head, but heard the clicking sound. They pushed me against the wall and started beating me on the kidneys, and then threw me on the floor—I was lying on my stomach, and one of the men put his boot under my heart area, while [at the same time] another was sitting on my back. As other men pressed the pain zones on my legs I would twitch and the boot would press hard into my heart—I felt like my heart was stopping and couldn’t breathe.
They repeated these interrogations and beatings for several days, and then told me that if I did not confess, they would bring my wife and rape her in front of my eyes, and then do the same with me. They brought a club and said they would stick it up my ass.
I would rather die than be dishonored like that; it is just unthinkable in our culture—I told them I would confess to a bombing of a bus, and made up a story, coming up with the most unbelievable details. When I tried to take my confession back, they started torturing my brother in the adjacent cell, saying, ‘Do you hear? That’s your brother screaming.
The Kadyrovtsy’s methods show little difference. HRW documented 82 cases of torture committed by the Kadyrovtsy, 54 of which occurred in 2006 alone.
Take for example, the secret detention and torture of one Magomed M., 24.
Magomed M. told Human Rights Watch that Kadyrov’s forces brought him and the four other men to one of Kadyrov’s bases on the outskirts of the village of Tsentoroi. Personnel at first put them in a boiler room on the base, and soon thereafter the base commander took three of the detainees out to a nearby field for questioning. Magomed M. told Human Rights Watch:
“There were three or four personnel there—the same ones who brought us to the base. They kept asking about a rebel fighter from our area—they said we should know him since we are the same age. I knew nothing about the man, but they wouldn’t believe me. They kept kicking me and beating me with sticks; it lasted for five or six hours.”
Magomed M. said that he was taken out for questioning and severely beaten every day during his detention.
Relatives of the five detainees learned of their whereabouts through a contact in Kadyrov’s forces and managed to secure their release; four of the men were released the day following their detention, and Magomed M., several days later. “Before releasing me they warned me not to say a single word about my detention,” he told Human Rights Watch. “Otherwise, they said they would take me away again and I would disappear.”
After his release Magomed M. spent more than three weeks in a hospital, where he said doctors documented his injuries, including multiple hematomas on his body, kidney damage, and a concussion.
Thus the meat grinder of asymmetrical warfare continues unabated in Chechnya.Post Views: 26
The Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci wrote that hegemony is exercised through the combination of force and consent. Ideally, rule by consent is preferred, though force is always waiting in the wings. Gramsci, however, mentioned a third form of rule, one that is often skipped over because it is buried in a footnote of his classic essay “Notes on Italian History.” That third is rule by corruption and fraud. “Between consent and force,” he wrote, “stands corruption/fraud. This consists in procuring the demoralization and paralysis of the antagonist (or antagonists) by buying its leaders—either covertly, or, in cases of imminent danger, openly—in order to sow disarray and confusion in his ranks.”
It would be beneficial to keep rule through corruption and fraud in mind when thinking about the nature of the Russian state. In many ways, it is not a traditional liberal state with independent branches of government, though it professes itself to be as such. It is also not a state solely based on vertical flows of power. While one may view Putin’s centralization of power as a sign of the state rotating on a singular axis, this view is more a mystification than anything else. To be sure, Putin specifically and Russia in general would like to be perceived as a unipolar state. The ubiquity of photos of Putin personally meeting with officials strives to reproduce a common theme in Russian history: a strong, competent Tsar at the center who subordinates his functionaries for the safety and benefit of the people.
But Putin’s photo ops also engender another interpretation. Putin must personally meet with his functionaries because he can’t trust the state apparatus to run itself. It is and can only be held together through a widespread network of personal connections. Therefore, I would argue that the Russian state is a network state where power is located in concentric circles that are held together by an axis personified by Putin himself. The words “held together” need to be emphasized here. The figure of Putin is not so much for benefit of himself, but more for the benefit of the rulers of the fiefdoms that make up the circles. Putin keeps the peace. He prevents the competing power centers from killing themselves.
This geography of the Russian state has its social manifestation in corruption. Much of this corruption is illegal in that it violates Russian law; some of it is not. However, it is ubiquitous because it is socially legitimized. Corruption gets its legitimacy because the ruling classes rule through personal connections, clans, and networks. As Owen Mathews writes in an article in Newsweek called “The New Feudalism,”
These days, any transaction of value—from getting your kid into university, to arranging visits to doctors, to starting a business—depends upon the whims of the king, his knights in the Kremlin or the legions of vassals who live off their patronage and in turn pay them tribute. From the mightiest oligarch to the lowliest common citizen, every aspect of every Russian’s life—their right to a home, their car or work—increasingly presupposes some form of crooked relationship with the state and its servants.
While I think Owen overstates the issue by implying a straight line from the Kremlin down to its lowliest municipal servant, in a sense he is right. The problem is that corruption in Russia mostly appears benign. There is a saying there, “?????? ?? ????????,” or “forbidden but possible.” Combining two seemingly contradictory worlds captures the essence of corruption. And that corruption is not necessarily located in monetary bribes. There is a recognition in Russia that “?????? ?????,” or “personal connections” open doors, get things done, thereby making the forbidden possible. This doesn’t mean that personal connections are rooted in illegality. It merely functions according to long standing traditions of customary law which in the flow of everyday life trump juridical law.
Being a friend of a friend matters. As a Russian researcher explained to me the other day, “You can’t survive in Russia with just your immediate family. Therefore you have to make your family larger. When a person climbs the economic or social ladder, the rest, the “?????,” has an interest in that person too. Your benefit is also theirs.” Though ???? (pull or influence) is becoming increasingly monetarized, as you go up the class ladder, the connections widen. It is trickle down economics ?? ??????????? (that is person to person)
My own experience in this has been minor though rewarding. I’m too small of a fish to be privy to any real corruption. Since I tend to have good relations with archivists (or know people who do), my orders get filled quicker than others, I am warmly greeted when I arrive, and sometimes I get privileges that others don’t, namely working in the archive when it is closed for others, discounts on photocopying, and other advantages when they stretch the rule.
It also would be wrong to charge that blat is immoral or corrupt. As one observer Alena Ledeneva quotes in her book, Russia’s Economy of Favours:
“You of course will think that . . . the behavior of [the] Homososes [that is Homo Sovieticus—Sean] in such a situation is amoral. But we look at it differently. It is easy to be moral if you live in conditions which do not force you into morally reprehensible actions. You are well fed and clothed; you have a nice house with books and other ways of enjoying yourselves. And it seems to you that to be moral is natural and not in the least bit difficult . . . Everything is simple and clear cut. But if a man finds himself below the bread line, beneath the minimum that is indispensable if morals are to be considered applicable in real life, then it is senseless to apply moral criteria to his behavior. A man in such a position is not only freed ipse facto from normal norms; he is freed from them by these moral concepts themselves. It is immoral to expect a man to be moral if he lacks the minimum living conditions that permit society to demand morality from him . . . Homososes are born, are educated and live in such conditions that it is just ridiculous to accuse them of immorality.”
While this quote was from the Soviet period, I think it still can be applied today in terms of how blat is understood by its practitioners. It does however raise the question that if Russia is structured around a multiplicity of personal networks, does that necessarily make the Russian state feudal as Owen suggests?
Forgetting the fact that Owen doesn’t provide a definition of feudal in his article, to suggest that Russia is also implies that it is a) not modern, and b) states based on the rule of law are devoid of such corruption. The latter is rather easy to dismiss. Most liberal states have a measure of corruption and personal connections that make them work. Liberal blat exists up and down the social food chain in various degrees. More doors open when you know someone than when you don’t. The difference between Russia and liberal states is one of quantity than quality.
Still, at some point quantity becomes quality. The social and cultural importance of connections in Russia suggest that there is a qualitative difference between how things are done there than in liberal societies. This is where the issue of modern comes in. Liberal states became “modern,” the argument goes, by eliminating the importance of personal connections, and by extension corruption by establishing the rule of law. On a cultural level most citizens in liberal states believe, rightly or wrongly, that the law stands above society. In Russia, however, the law is understood by most as merely a tool of the powerful. In this way, many observers place Russia next to “third world” countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia rather than in the modern pantheon of the West.
It seems that the Economist shares this latter point. Citing the Transparency International’s “corruption perceptions index”, it reports that “Russia has fallen to rank alongside Niger, Sierra Leone and Albania. A recent survey by Indem, a Russian think-tank, found an enormous hike, since 2001, in the number and size of bribes given by young men and their families to avoid conscription and, relatedly, in those paid to get into universities. (Fixing a court case, Indem found, has got a bit cheaper.)”
All of this reflects on the nature of the Russia state. From the upper circles of the Russian state to the lowest rungs of society, Russians can only rely on others in their circle for mutual aid. That means that the institutions that the Russian state provide: security, legal recourse, social welfare, education, and more importantly stable rule, gives way to a system that is inherently centralized but at the same time dispersed. The result produces what the historian Alfred Rieber said of Alexander II, a managerial tsar that keeps the warring clans from eating themselves. The “autocrat,” therefore, finds himself not in hegemonic control, but constantly playing a careful game of placating the powerful whose patronage allows him to rule in the first place.Post Views: 61
Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman devoted a segment of her Monday show to Anna Politkovskaya’s murder. You can listen to it here. The segment includes a discussion with Nation Magazine editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel and Richard Behar, former investigative journalist for Forbes Magazine and current director of Project Khlebnikov. Project Khlebnikov is dedicated to finding the murderer of Forbes Russia editor Paul Khlebnikov, who was murdered on July 9, 2004. His murder has yet to be solved.
In the discussion Vanden Heuvel and Behar address Politkovskaya’s work, reasons for her murder, the status of the press in Russia, and how the murder is a reflection of Putin’s rule.Post Views: 41