Being the world’s (self-declared) only “democrat” is quite lonely. Just ask Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. The Russian President feels that there are no more democrats to talk to. No one who will understand the travails as the world’s “absolute, pure democrat.” “But you know the problem?” Putin rhetorically asks. “It’s not even a problem, it’s a real tragedy. The thing is that I am the only one, there just aren’t any others in the world.” Awww . . . poor guy!
Yes shame on the evil German police for using rubber bullets and tear gas on all those poor G8 demonstrators.
And shame on those heartless North Americans with their homeless, wonton use of torture and
And let us not forget those ungrateful Ukrainians with their absolute disregard for “the constitution and all its laws” as they goosestep toward “complete tyranny.”
Yes if only the venerable Mahatma Gandhi were still alive because now “there’s nobody to talk to.” Why God? Why do you always take the good ones!?
Sniff . . . I think I’m going to cry . . .
Or cry laughing.
To demonstrate his fortitude as the world’s only democrat, Putin suggested that Russian presidential terms be extended to “five or seven years.” After all, democracy is long hard work.
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By Sean — 6 years ago
The Kremlin is ratcheting up its crackdown on opposition and this inevitably conjures up some of the darkest moments in Russia’s. Indeed, the seemingly fabricated case against Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov, his aide Konstantin Lebedev, and abduction of Leonid Razvozzhayev in Kiev, the budding case against Alexei Navalny, the sustained harassment and media campaign against the opposition, the laws on protests, NGOs, and treason, Pussy Riot, and the expulsion of USAid suggest repression is on the rise. But what does this repression mean and what can Russia’s past tell us about it? I had the opportunity to talk about this and more with Brian Whitmore and Mark Galeotti on the Power Vertical Podcast.
You can hear the show below:
By Sean — 6 years ago
May 6 is the first anniversary of the Bolotnaya protests that erupted in violence. Twenty-eight people and possibly more await prosecution. Bolotnaya has also served as the impetus to link Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov to a wider conspiracy where he, Leonid Razvozzhaev (who confessed then retracted it claiming it was given under torture), and Konstantin Lebedev (who has confessed and is cooperating with the Investigative Committee) of planning a coup financed with Georgian (i.e. American) money. I discussed the significance of Bolotnaya on the Power Vertical podcast on Friday. There I stressed that what Bolotnaya represents is Putin adopting Stalin’s ominous maxim made in reference to the 1928 Shakhty Trial: “We have internal enemies. We have external enemies.”
While I caution against any comparison between Putin and Stalin, the existence of the internal/external enemy duumvirate is clearly apparent. In fact, Forbes.ru‘s Aleksandr Morozov put it at the center of his article, “Cold War-2013: What Grew Out of the 2012 Protests.” Morozov makes some interesting observations about the state of things a year after Bolotnaya.
As I alluded on the podcast, the internal/external enemy is the guiding principle of Putin and Investigative Committee chief Aleksandr Bastrykin’s effort to discredit the opposition. Interestingly, however, there are indications the circle of internal-external enemies might be expanding to include Medvedev’s circle.
This last point was the subject of a recent Novaya gazeta article that connected the criminal investigation against Aleksey Beltyukov, Senior Vice President of the Skolkovo Fund, and the payment of $750,000 to Just Russia Duma deputy and street oppositionist Ilya Ponomarev to Dmitry Medvedev (who is the face of Skolkovo) and Vladislav Surkov (who supervises Skolkovo). Essentially, paying Ponomarev an enormous amount of money for ten lectures and scientific research is an “indirect but quite transparent hint” that Medevdev and Surkov are funding the street opposition.
In a similar vein, Morozov notes an effort to connect Medvedev’s “liberalism” and “foreign agents.” This is a further indication that the tandem is dead (did anyone think it was still alive?) and that Medvedev is a “delinquent member of the family” without “the means to win forgiveness.” Hence, the campaign to discredit him and his circle. In one of the stranger facts, a Yandex search for “Dvorkovich is a British agent,” i.e. Arkady Dvorkovich, Medevdev’s right-hand man and silovik mandarin Igor Sechin’s arch-nemesis, unearths 120,000 links. Even weirder is that this claim is attributed to American freakazok-in-chief, Lyndon LaRouche. Yes, that is how kooky the smear campaign has gotten. The message however muddled is clear: Medvedev is not one of “us.”
The extension of the umbrella of Otherness goes further. Morozov explains there is an effort to dehumanize oppositionists of all stripes. “The enemy must lose human features and be turned into “nonhumans”, beasts, insects, ‘livestock,’ and ‘larva,’” he writes. This effort to dehumanize the enemy is harrowing for anyone who knows Soviet history. Things haven’t gotten to an Andrei Vyshinsky level of dehumanization, though. Vyshinsky was a maestro of bestial adjectives. During the show trials of the 1936-38, the Soviet state prosecutor cast the defendants as rabid dogs, venomous snakes, swine, among others, who “sold themselves to enemy intelligence services.” This is why the “foreign agent” label for Russian NGOs stirs so much controversy, ire, disgust, and foreboding.
Morozov, however, has a larger characterization of the state of things beyond of the friend-enemy distinction. True to his article’s title, Morozov sees the situation between the authorities and the opposition as a “cold civil war.” And, in his opinion, this only gives Putin the advantage.
It gives [Putin] the possibility to mobilize the “People’s Front,” a new form of political and electoral support. A year after the inauguration, the features of the new regime are clearly replacing the conception of rule through the “dominant party.” If Putin ruled in his first and second terms relying on the electoral and ideological pseudo-competition between United Russia and other parties respecting the norms of “illiberal democracy,” then there will now be another system.
In order for the People’s Front to work it’s necessary to permanently keep non-party “forms of the enemy” alive. The People’s Front isn’t facing off against local party structures, but against a global plutocracy with a fifth column inside the country.
Those who protested a year ago against electoral violations and spoke for institutional reforms think that political inclusion is better than exclusion. But it will be hard to adapt them if you consider them “enemies of the state” and not loyal citizens. But it’s necessary to look at reality in the eyes. There is a “front” and there are “the people.”
And if we accept Morozov’s diagnosis of the current conjecture, the internal-external enemy matrix will be around for a long time. In fact, it seems to be a basis of Putin’s domestic rule. If true, this places the opposition in a complicit position in Putin’s master plan. Yes, most want a seat at the table. They aren’t revolutionaries. But if that seat is continually denied, or the pressure keeps increasing, as it undoubtedly will, more and more of them will radicalize, giving Putin the perpetual flow of “enemies of the state” he requires.
By Sean — 11 years ago
I was going through Russia’s Great Reforms, 1855-1881 the other day looking for information on Alexander II’s judicial reforms of 1864. I was particularly interested in the creation of jury trials in local courts. The book is a wonderful collection of articles in its own right. Sadly, its one of the few that has been published in English since 1991 that has tried to rethink what the reforms meant or didn’t mean for Tsarist Russia.
While going through the book, I had a chance to reaquaint myself with Alfred Rieber’s fascinating essay “Interest-Group Politics in the Era of the Great Reforms”. Rieber is a professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania. I saw him give a paper in London last year that was just delightful. He flayed his arms about as he spoke, sometimes grabbing the podium to thrust his body back and forth. The man turned dry academic discourse into a fiery historical diatribe. I don’t even remember what his paper was about. But I remember the performance.
Given the recent news about the Kremlin clans taking their feud public and Putin’s recent intervention to mediate, even subdue them, made Rieber’s essay take on a whole new relevance. He essentially argues that Alexander II was a “managerial Tsar” who had to balance noble factions. Dispensing with the typical historical labels like liberal and conservative to describe the various positions of royal insiders, Rieber instead sees them in terms of group interest. From this he identifies four main factions: the Economists, the Engineers, the Military and the Shuvalov Faction (this group was centered around Count Piotr Shuvalov which opposed the terms of emancipation). All four of these groups, Rieber writes,
“Still part of the ruling class, interest groups were associations of individuals from the upper and middle strata of society who acted in concert to defend and advance public policies that met their ideological aspirations and material needs. They were either occupational or opinion groups, formally or informally organized. The occupational groups clustered around specific ministries; indeed, at times it was difficult to distinguish between the traditional type of faction with a powerful minister as patron and his ministerial subordinates as clients and the new form of an interest group.”
Rieber argues that Alexander had to balance all these factions and though he had his loyalties, especially to the Economic and Military factions, he nonetheless served more as arbiter than partisan. Nor did Alexander’s role as “manager” quell noble infighting. On the contrary, “the political struggle continued,” Rieber concludes, “with the tsar favoring one or another interest at different times. But he found himself in the position of regulating rather than eliminating the bureaucratic conflicts.” As Russia’s reforms rolled on the interests and infighting only increased. The result of Alexander’s arbitration ended up being its own contradiction. The Tsar’s personal intervention essentially prevented the development of an “institutional framework” for the him to resolved conflicts without his personal intervention. The end result was “following the Great Reforms the autocrat steadily lost control over the governing process, but the competing interest groups were too fragmented to take it over.”
Sounds like a good allegory for today’s Russia.