It appears that another Soviet practice is gaining revival in Russia. According to the Baltimore Sun, people who haven’t paid their utility bills, have amassed debts, spread garbage and pollution, and other violators of community norms are getting their names publicly displayed on billboards outside government buildings. The board outside the Mamonovo city administration displays the names of 50 residents. For example, “A recent posting showed someone with the surname Miziryak owing 22,519 rubles, about $873, in unpaid utility bills; and a woman named Gurkina with a debt of about $1,500.” Offenders are always given a chance to pay their debts explains Mamonov mayor Oleg Shlyk. But if they don’t within a 30 day period their names and sometimes even their pictures are added to the board.
Public shaming is an effective form of social control says Shlyk. “It has a good effect because the town is small and everybody knows each other. And when you have your name on the board, no matter what your post or rank, there will be a psychological impact on you,” he told the Sun.
City government is not the only institution using public shaming. The Sun explains,
The tactic has also been used in the private sector. About a year and a half ago, a nightclub in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, posted pictures on its Web site of violators of the club’s rules. The club’s staff wasn’t immune: Among the 14 people listed were two waiters who shortchanged customers and a bartender who under-filled drinks, according to the newspaper Novye Izvestiya.
Public shaming was a common method of enforcing social and political norms in Soviet Russia. According to my own research on Komsomol expulsions in the 1920s, the League’s Conflict Commission (the Komsomol own version of the Party’s Central Control Commission) mandated that local commissions publish the expulsions of members in local newspapers and wall newspapers in workplaces, clubs, and reading rooms.
Public shaming went beyond printing names in newspapers. Expulsions trials often occurred during general cell meetings where the offender’s peers could discuss, question, and vote on the expulsion. While in the mid-1920s Conflict Commission regulations stressed education and reforming offenders, local Komsomol organs were at the same time encouraged to organize public show trials to make examples out of repeat offenders especially if their offense appeared as a common violation.
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By Sean — 5 years ago
This week’s Russia! Magazine column, “Russia’s Real Middle Class,”
When protests erupted in Moscow in December 2011, pundits held them up as the Russian middle class finally finding its political voice. Press reports, like in the New York Times, described “well traveled and well mannered” throngs of “young urban professionals” clad in “hipster glasses” denouncing fraudulent elections, corruption, and Putin. The Times, like many others, emphasized that the emergence of this newly politicized middle class was not without a measure of irony. They were the sons and daughters of the economic successes of very system they were protesting. Then as now the Russian middle class are viewed as the most revolutionary. They after all were fulfilling the historicist truism that “economic growth can inadvertently undermine autocratic rule by creating an urban professional class that clamors for new political rights.”And this assertion, too, is not without irony either. Journalists and pundits, who almost universally reject Marxist theories of revolution, still embrace one of Marx’s key maxims from the Manifesto: “The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.”
There are many problems with this historical teleology. Russia’s middle classes have yet to fulfill its historical mission. Its revolting ranks have atrophied as members of the so-called “creative class” have retreated back into hipsterdom. Many, of course, will point to Putin’s heavy fist as the main culprit. They would perhaps be a quarter right. The government crackdown, an aimless opposition, and the banality of street rallies have all worked in concert to deflate the protests. But there’s another cause for Russia’s middle class political doldrums. The middle class aren’t the savvy upwardly mobile urban professionals desiring political change as many thought. Rather, the Russian middle class has stagnated economically, isn’t growing, and its ranks are being dominated by state bureaucrats and employees of the security organs. This class is not looking for change, but desires above all security and stability. Rather than remake Russia into their own image, this class likes things just as they are.
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By Sean — 9 years ago
Prime Minister Putin continued his annual Q&A with the Russian people on Thursday. A full English transcript is now available on Putin’s website. Russia watchers have already began combing through his words, interpreting their significance, and assessing their political resonance. As most reports emphasize, Putin spoke at length about the economic crisis assuring Russians that things will get bad but the nation will weather the storm. It’s not surprising that the PM’s comments focused on the economy. Issues like unemployment, inflation, benefits and pensions were naturally what concerned most people.
Russians were eager to pose questions to the PM, or as a caller named Dasha Varfolomeeva called him, “Uncle Volodya.” About 2.2 million flooded in via phones, text messages, and the Internet. At times it appeared the studio was barely handling the deluge. At one point, Maria Sittel, the event’s co-host said, “The load is tremendous, Mr Mackevicius. No time for rest. I think we have crossed an important psychological barrier: 2.2 million communications, including 1.5 million telephone calls and just over 600,000 text messages. The rest is from the Internet.” Putin may not be president, but he certainly is “the father of the nation.”
This idea of Putin as “father” or even “uncle” to the masses is certainly not a new political idea for Russia. Direct communication with the Father, whether it be the Tsar, General Secretary, President or Prime Minister has been a dynamic between leader and people for centuries. Normally, the distance between leader and led is vast, giving the opportunity to be in the leader’s proximity a momentary but significant symbiotic relation. Here I find myself in agreement with Masha Lipman’s explanation of this event:
“[It] emphasizes the paternalistic nature of the regime. It is a style of government in which the most important thing is the rapport between the top decision-taker and the people. Many of those questions were local or even individual. And people have their own legislators. They have federal legislators they voted for, they have their own governors and yet there is this sense that maybe the only way to get a problem solved is to get through to the supreme authority.”
Putin’s Q&A does say a lot of about the personalized nature of the regime, but it also says that Russians themselves recognize this as an effective means to get problems solved. For example, the Financial Times notes,
From the southern city of Nizhny Novgorod, a mother called to complain that a subsidised baby food clinic had been closed. Half an hour after the show, the governor of the province announced the miraculous resolution of the problem.
The Tsar + people against the boyars dynamic continues to function. The interests of the leader are sublimated into the people so that for one brief moment they embody the sovereign body of Putin. When looked at closely, the whole exercise exerts an air of the carnivalesque.
The notion of proximity between leader and lead is further seen in how so many Russians crafted their questions. Not only did they address subjects as wide ranging as Christmas trees and pedophiles, how callers crafted their questions says volumes about the language of appeal. The questions were often personal and callers were quick to give Putin a short autobiographical note mixed with a political statement. For example,
Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Oksana Klimova. I’d like to express the pain of many people who live in the Far East. We feel detached from central Russia, since many families cannot buy train or air tickets, because air tickets cost around 30,000 rubles or even more. My kid asked me if we could go to St Petersburg for winter holidays, but I said No.
What will be done for the healthcare and education professionals to help them afford such luxury?
Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Olga Savelyeva.
I am a single mother. My daughter is 16. She studies in the 11th grade, this is her final year. I work at the radio-electronics plant, the Kontakt plant with billions in sales. These days, they have announced layoffs because of the crisis. Out of its 4,000 workers, 1,500 will be dismissed. I have worked as a production engineer for more than 20 years, and my salary grew from 6,000 to 8,000 rubles, but now it is being reduced. I am afraid I may lose my job.
Mr Putin, how will you deal with massive unemployment?
As someone who has read a number of appeals to leaders during the Soviet period, I’m struck by their narratological similarities. Often letters to power began with an autobiographical introduction of some sort. Since those appeals were written, the authors tended detail their life in greater depth than those fielded by Putin. Citizens’ requests from the early Soviet period also had a similar individual tone. I have letters to Komsomol General Secretary N. Chaplin asking for advice on marriage, employment, money, and other forms of assistance. Sometimes people got results. On some letters to Stalin, one can see his marginal notes directing the appeal to the appropriate authority. In other cases, letters of complaint and denunciation opened up investigations of local officials.
Finally, I think the most interesting part of the Q&A was the final part when Putin took short questions and at many points took personal responsibility for their resolution. Here are a few examples:
“I have eight children, my eldest daughter is 20. I have not received the Order of Maternal Glory, and, hence, I don’t get the benefits.”
It goes without saying I will check on this. I can’t comment on this particular case now, but this mistake should be corrected. I hope you’ve left your address here. We will find you.
“Dear Mr Putin, I found my father’s grave killed during WWII on the Internet.” The man asks to help with restoring the monument, which the local budget cannot afford.
We shall contact you. This is a sacred duty of local and regional authorities alike. If they do not have enough money, I would stress that the matter implies not only money but also morals. We shall help if they cannot afford such things, but I don’t think this is a matter where thrift should come in to play.
“We have no school and no art or knitting classes near our home. The children hope you will help.”
This is also a matter of regional scope, but we shall help, as the message has reached me. We shall certainly help.
“My request concerns my son, who will be conscripted next autumn. He dreams of serving in the Kremlin Regiment.”
Good boy! It’s great that he wants to go into the army. As for the Kremlin Regiment, it has certain qualifications. I will pass your message along to the Federal Guard Service, and I believe its chiefs will do something for you.
Whether Putin actually comes through on these is immaterial. What is important is that he acknowledged people’s individual voices in a very public forum. In the big political sense, that recognition is more important as any results.Post Views: 66
By Sean — 7 years ago
What is there to say about the beating Oleg Kashin that hasn’t been said, will be said, and won’t be repeated ad nauseum? The beating of journalists is a familiar story in Russia, and certainly one that will elicit equally familiar narratives, names, and generalizations. Yet, Kashin’s work doesn’t fall into the typical story of the liberal journalist from an oppositionist newspaper who penned vitriolic prose against all things Putin. His writing is more nuanced with a healthy dose of skepticism for all sides of the Russian political spectrum. As some have noted, Kashin had a lot of enemies, as many as he now has broken fingers. United Russia’s youth wing, Molodaia gvardiia and the govenor of Pskov Andrei Turchak quickly come to mind. But given the sheer brutality of Kashin’s beating only one really stands out: the business interests behind the Khimki highway project.
At first, Nashi or Molodaya gvardiia jumped up as a immediate suspects in my mind. Pro-Kremlin youth groups are known to hire football hooligans and other thugs to beat up oppositionists and act as agents provocateurs in protests. Kashin has covered Russian youth organizations for several years, and earlier this year singled out Nashi as the culprit behind the use of anonymous videos to discredit critics of the Kremlin. But Kashin’s point went further than denouncing the Nashists. “If we assume that Nashi has no involvement to these anonymous political provocations, then we have to admit that the government protects not only Nashists, but also some people who we don’t know at all.” Kashin’s brush against youth groups didn’t stop at Nashi. His recent interview with activists protesting the destruction of the Khimki forest sent Molodaia gvardiia into a tizzy. Vladislav Lovitskii, a so-called “marginal observer for molgvardia.ru,” called for Kashin to be punished for the article, saying that Kashin and the editors of Kommersant were “not simply enemies of the entire Russian (rossiiskii) people and all right-minded and law abiding citizens, but most genuine traitors.” Someone must have taken note because punished he was.
It is difficult to say whether pro-Kremlin youth organizations are behind Kashin’s beating. It looks like their modus operandi. But like many things in Russia, what seems apparent usually isn’t a testimony to the truth. Also the brutality of this beating–broken fingers, one of which was amputated, broken jaw, fractured skull, severe brain bleed, is beyond even pro-Kremlin youth’s standards. For the most part, their tactics are usually more hooliganistic than gangsterish.
The culprits behind this one were far more methodical and far more brutal.
Indeed, as Julia Ioffe notes in an excellent article on the subject, if you want to understand who might be behind this, you have to consider the beating suffered by Mikhail Beketov in 2008. Betekov was an early activist-journalists who wrote about the corruption in the Khimki road construction. Perhaps Beketov story would have never gotten widespread attention if it wasn’t for the savagery of his beating. The perpetrators left Beketov so mangled that he had three fingers and a leg amputated. It’s amazing that Beketov survived, though now he is confined to a wheelchair and has such severe brain damage that he can’t speak. If you can’t silence a journalist with a bullet, taking a steel pipe to his head is just as effective.
Such savagery smells so strong of the pungency of money and power that it makes any suggestion of Molodaya gvardiia’s involvement sound like a sick joke. And while most reporting will try to spin this story into yet another Politkovskaya or Estemirova, Kashin’s beating just doesn’t fit into the repression of human rights activist narrative. As Ioffe rightly notes:
Russian journalists are usually killed or attacked because they threaten powerful financial or economic interests. The chopping down of the Khimki forest to make room for a highway between Moscow and St. Petersburg has exactly those interests behind it: It was being financed by Arkady Rotenberg, Vladimir Putin’s judo buddy, and Putin proclaimed this summer, amid growing protests, that “all decisions have been made.” That is, the road would be built as planned. (This remains the silent consensus in Moscow, despite Medvedev’s August moratorium.)
Moreover the attack on Kashin seems to fit a disturbing pattern. Only a few days ago, Khimki activist Konstantin Fetisov was attacked with a baseball bat when he got out of his car in front of his Moscow home. The left side of his head was bashed in. His wife later found a fragment of the bat that had splintered off from the force of the blow. Like Kashin, Fetisov remains in an artificially induced coma and in serious condition.
Yet, even still, as Ioffe emphasizes, Kashin was no real critic of the Khimki project. His reporting defied classification into the usual binaries of anti-Kremlin and pro-Kremlin. Still, the brutal similarities between the attacks on Kashin, Beketov and Fetisov can’t be ignored. If the Russian police want to catch these thugs and if Dmitri Medvedev is serious about punishing them, then I suggest that they stare straight at the blood-monied interests behind the Khimki.
On a final note, there will be those out there who will offer apologetics for Kashin’s beating. They’ll decry the obsession with emphasizing journalists as victims. They’ll hem and haw about how western reporters churn out the same narrative about media freedom in Russia. They’ll scream, ‘What about . . . !” They will certainly offer banal explanations for why Kashin’s skull was fractured and his fingers broken. Such acts of violence happen all the time to normal people, they’ll say, and no one pays attention to their plight? Blah, blah, blah . . .
The truth is, and yes I’ll admit it, journalists ARE special. At least those who practice their craft with all the seriousness the profession demands. Journalists aren’t normal people. As has repeatedly been shown, they risk their lives even when, as in Kashin’s case, they aren’t really trying to. Journalists are members of what used to be hailed as the Fourth Estate, that section of society that in the best of times were the eyes, ears and mouths for the people. You remember that old Enlightenment notion where journalists serve as the guardians of the powerless against corruption, violence, and abuse. You know those people who thanks to their strict standards kept governments in check with straight, uncompromised truth telling. At least they were considered such until our cynical dark age reduced all truth to rhetoric. Journalists are special because cases like Kashin’s symbolize the nexus between money and power, and the levels of violence necessary to maintain them. Such violence shows how the stakes of this marriage can turn even politically ambiguous journalists like Kashin into examples of capital’s unabashed unambiguity.
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