On its website, the radio station Ekho Moskvy features a letter from Mikhail Khodorkovsky on the upcoming Duma elections. Khodorkovsky’s letter was in response to one sent to him from a ZheZhe user newreft. A translation of Khodorkovsky’s response follows.
Thank you for the letter. I understand and share your opinion in regard to the elections. They (the elections) will obviously be a predictable victory for ER [United Russia]. Moreover, ER with its satellites will gain a constitutional majority in the Duma, but the chances are that the liberal parties will not completely collapse.
Such is the present political reality.
Does this mean that isn’t necessary to vote at all?
I know Kasyanov in particular holds such an opinion but I cannot agree with him on this question.
The bureaucracy, and today it is exactly our main opponent, feels fine in social apathy. For it this is a confirmation of its monopolistic right to rule the country according to its own discretion. That is to say that the readiness of the citizen to give his vote, his fate to a far off bureaucrat (chinovnik) testifies in their eyes to the utter uselessness of taking the people’s opinion into consideration.
That is, who votes “with their feet”, still to a large degree is who votes for ER, and encourages the bureaucratic class toward despotism and contempt for the “herd.”
Therefore it is imperative that you vote not for those who evoke contempt, it’s better to vote for any of the small parties. This will be Your own clear and personal gesture: I am a citizen, I have the right to vote and will, I am not a slave and I am not cattle.
You Might also like
- By Sean — 7 years ago
God save the noble Tsar!
Long may he live, in pow’r,
In peace to reign!
Dread of his enemies,
Faith’s sure defender,
God save the Tsar!
–“God Save the Tsar,” Vasily Zhukovsky, 1833
A few weeks ago, The New Times ran a story contemplating whether Putin had plastic surgery. “What happened to Putin’s face?” “Why does he look like a Udmurt?” bloggers asked after a photo shoot at Nashi’s camp Seliger revealed a glistening, pulled back Putin. Was it Botox? Plastic surgery? Putin did have that black eye back in October 2010, after all. He attributed it to a judo injury, as a mensch like himself would. But perhaps sanding down those wrinkles was part of a more long term plan?
As of yesterday, it’s now clear that Putin will need that new face as he’s set to dominate Russia’s news broadcasts for at least the next six years. Putin’s coming back to the Russian presidency, in case you haven’t heard. At United Russia’s Party Congress, current President Dmitry Medvedev all but resigned from his post with “I think it’s right that the party congress support the candidacy of the current prime minister, Vladimir Putin, in the role of the country’s president.” As it stands now the tandem will switch seats with Medvedev as Prime Minister and Putin as President, again.
Six more years. Actually, more like twelve. The Russian Constitution forbids a President from serving more than two consecutive terms of six years (previously four, but that was changed in 2008, as many feared to extend Putin’s return to the throne.), so Putin could go at least another two. Putin, 58, will be 70 by the end of his additional twelve year reign. He will have directly ruled Russia for a total of twenty years. Twenty-four, if you count the four he (in)directly ran the place during the Medvedev interregnum.
Whether twenty or twenty-four, Putin’s rule will rival, but not exceed, that of many Russian leaders. Ivan Grozny ruled for 51 years; Peter the Great for 43; Elizabeth, 20; Catherine the Great, 34; Nicholas I, 29; Alexander II, 26; Nicholas II, 22; Stalin, 34; and Brezhnev 18. Historically, Putin’s 20 year run will not be out of the norm. The problem is that for a country that bills itself as a (sovereign) democracy and longs for appearing as a modern nation state of the 21st century, long reigns, let alone achieving them by cynically taking advantage of the Russian Constitution, looks bad. Really bad.
I was surprised that Putin is coming back. Sure, many had pointed out over the last six months or so that the alignment of the political stars suggested that Putin was going to make a big return. Others noted the Presidential switcheroo was on back in 2008 when Putin anointed the politically weak, and virtually obscure Medvedev. But I thought that because Putin’s coming back would look so bad, not to the West (Russian domestic politics shouldn’t take it into consideration anyway) but because of what it says about the insecurity of the political elite and continued ossification of the Russian political system. Insecure because Putin’s return suggests that there is no one in the stable that could effectively confront the issues that plague Russia besides Putin. Only he gives the air of “stability” and whose “heavy hand” can save Russia from itself. It also proves that what I see as the contradiction of centralization in Russian politics. Basically, the centralization of power around one entity, Putin, with the belief that only he can effectively govern, weakens the pool of alternatives nodes of power necessary for the continuation of effective rule. But with those alternatives weak, Putin can only rely on himself thereby justifying nothing short of autocracy. By not allowing Medvedev a second term, not to mention the development of his power base, sets Russia up with a vacuum of leadership at best and possible gerontocratic stagnation at worst.
The threat of political ossification is clear. The threat to elite politics is real, but I think the backroom duels will continue after a period conservative euphoria. I agree with Comrade Rothrock that Putin’s return signals a defeat of the liberal party, but not the end of politics as such. The liberals might have learned that they need to unite and entrench themselves further. It certainly shows that experimenting with entities like Mikhail Prokhorov and Right Cause won’t do it. They need to burrow from the inside if they want to push their agenda. Another lesson is that Dmitry Medvedev is not their man, if he ever was to begin with. But playing interest group politics by lobbying the don has its limitations. The only way to real power and influence is to seek an ally willing to take down Putin.
But the rigidity of politics doesn’t just threaten the top. The threat is what it says to the public. Putin’s return removes the political charade that Russian politics can break out of its Byzantine forms, gradually whittle down the politics of personality and clans, and move toward more pluralistic practices. The decision for Putin’s return seems to have been totally Byzantine. This is at least how Medvedev himself explained it: “We already discussed this scenario back when we first formed a friendly alliance.” If this is true (a large part of me thinks it isn’t), then the last four years have been thoroughly delegitimized, let alone an utter cynical farce. The next six might also suffer from a crisis of legitimacy. As Aleksandr Minkin put it in Moskovskii komsomolets:
Tens (and possibly hundreds) of times you [Putin and Medvedev] were asked: “Who will be the next President?” You answered: “We will sit down and decide.” Here was a complete disregard to the opinion of the people, but, now it seems, this was also deceit. It seems that you decided a long time ago. Why such the cynical candidness?
You and Medvedev could have said something like: “We thought about what would be best for Russia all year long. We made a decision yesterday evening. . .”
It’s not important that people believed it. It’s important that decorum was kept. Why stand naked? No, with a smile which is customary that everyone excuse, Medvedev said that everything was decided and “deeply thought out” already in 2007, if not sooner. We don’t exactly know when “your friendly alliance was formed.”
All these years Medvedev said (it should be written “lied”) that the decision first and foremost was based on people’s opinion. But the decision was made beforehand. And the people were overlooked completely.
In fact, it seems that Medvedev and Putin were the only ones in on the joke. Medvedev’s team appears to have been in the dark. Even United Russia didn’t know who would be on their electoral lists before Medvedev’s announcement. United Russia, according to Stanislav Belkovskii, “has been proven once again not to be the ruling party, not a party at all, and not a political subject.” Moreover, Belkovskii continues, it has proved that “elections in the country have been practically eliminated” therefore no one needs to bother with them or even think about them. In regard to Russia’s long term process of political decentralization, well forget it. The process of “managed democratization” is now officially put on hold.
Sure, one will say: Putin is popular. The Russian people won’t mind. All the polls show that Putin is welcomed back to the Presidency. True, Putin is popular and there are very good reasons why. But this begs the perennial question about the Russian elites: If they are genuinely popular, then why do they have to scheme? Why do they delegitimize their power through subterfuge? What do they fear? The answer is that either they really aren’t that popular, or that even when secure they feel their grip on the country is tenuous.
The question that remains is which Putin will Russia get. As Putin, face pulled back, wrinkles a smooth veneer, thumbs through the annals of Russian history and contemplates the long reigns of his predecessors, what type of Tsar will he decide to become? Will it be the brutal modernizer Peter the Great always with club in hand? Will he be the enlightened despot a la Catherine? The politically arid Nicholas I? The modernizing police state of Alexander III? Or will he gaze deep into the portrait of Alexander II and unveil his grace through “liberal” reform.
We shall see.
But for now, God Save the Tsar!
- By Sean — 8 years ago
Few are surprised to learn that Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s and Planton Lebedev’s 14 year sentence was handed down from above. What was surprising was that Natalia Vasileva, the aide to Viktor Danilkin, the presiding judge in the second Yukos trial, actually went public and admitted the fix was in (original interview in Russia). Whistleblowing is rare in Russia. The risks are too high. Still, there has been a surge of whistleblowing of late. In 2009, there was Alexei Dymovsky, a former police officer who took to Youtube to denounce police corruption. There’s Alexei Navalny’s successful crusade against Transneft’s $4 billion fraud. Then there was that cardiologist who ratted out the Potemkin hospital Putin visited on the latter’s annual Q&A extravaganza. Most recently, there was Artyom Charukhin who came clean about falsifying police reports framing oppositionist Ilya Yashin for assaulting police. Lastly, inspired by Wikileaks, a Russian version, RUleaks.org, has begun. So far that site has been responsible for drawing attention to Putin’s $1 billion garish neo-Tsarist palace near the Black Sea.
Is this some kind of Wikileaks effect? Or have some brave souls just become too damn tired of it all and are stepping forward? Or, and I’m sure this theory is out there somewhere, Vasileva’s revelation, in particular, will pave the way for Medvedev to “pardon” Khodorkovsky by pointing to his favorite pet project: fighting corruption. Namely, this could be the first salvo from Medvedev’s camp for re-election 2012. You never know with Kremlin politics being akin to “bulldogs fighting under a rug” and all. For Vasileva’s part, when asked about her motivation, she said, “I don’t have any vested interests, I am disillusioned.”
Okay, I’ll go with her being sincerely disillusioned. But what has thus far made Vasileva’s whistleblowing fundamentally different from several of those cases above is that they either personally participated in said corruption or provided documents proving it. Vasileva doesn’t seem to have any of those besides her own observations, inter-office gossip and rumor, and personal interpretations all mixed in with a large dose of assertiveness. If she has any hard evidence like, I don’t know, some kind of paper trail, then she’s keeping that close to the chest.
Nevertheless, her interview with Gazeta.ru has produced shock waves. Everyone is talking about it. The gory details are that Judge Danilkin was repeatedly receiving instructions from the Moscow City Court on how to conduct the trial. Not only that, and this is the real scandal, Khodorkovsky’s and Lebedev’s sentence was handed to Danilkin from upon high.
Interviewer: Who wrote the sentence?
Vasilyeva: Danilkin started to write the sentence. I suspect that what was in the sentence did not suit a higher authority. And in connection with this, he received another sentence, which needed to be made public.
But since the (other) sentence was not finished by 15 December that is probably why the postponement period was extended so much.
Does this mean that the sentence that Danilkin wrote could have been read by someone before publication?
It was not read but simply, how can I explain this… When there is total control, there is no need to read it, you just need to ask what is in it.
. . .
You said that Danilkin had the sentence handed down to him from above. Who wrote it and who handed it to him?
I know absolutely for sure that the sentence was delivered from the Moscow City Court. And that this sentence was written by judges from the appellate court for criminal cases – that is, the Moscow City Court. That is obvious.
No-one apart from the Moscow City Court could have written it. And the corrections were due to this being a short stretch of time.
Who wrote the text at the Moscow City Court?
A source in Danilkin’s close entourage named the names of the judges to me, I know the names but I would prefer not to name them now.
To corroborate the assertions above, Vasileva’s claims that she repeatedly witnessed the magistrate fretting, upset and indignant over “the fact that he was being given instructions about what he had to do,” adding, “He did not like it at all, that is clear.” Moreover, Danilkin apparently understood that being the devil’s pawn put him on shakey ground as the whole ordeal began to take a physical and psychological toll on him. His day to day work was paralyzed by the whims of his handlers in the Moscow City Court. At one point he allegedly angrily interjected to Vasileva’s queries, “I cannot give you an answer to those questions because I do not know where I will be tomorrow, or what will happen to me.” Being a tool of higher-ups didn’t sit well with him. On his desk were a series of heart remedies: Corvalol, tincture, and valerian. Moreover, according to Vasileva, since the verdict Danilkin’s “psychological condition . . .has become very morose, he is constantly depressed, sad… Well, like when you understand that something bad is going to happen – that is the condition he is in. He is unsmiling, taciturn, he is sometimes very irritated.” Basically, Danilkin did what he was told and now he will probably have to take the fall for it.
There’s only one problem with all Vasileva’s assertions. She doesn’t really have any hard evidence. Sure we’d like to believe that Khodorkovsky’s trial was fixed. Even I, who thinks that MBK is nothing but a crook and deserves what he gets, understands that his trial is political and nothing short of show trial. My problem is that the trial isn’t political enough and there aren’t more oligarchs, including those sitting in the Kremlin, in the dock with him. Still, even though Vasileva tickles our hot spot, shouldn’t we nevertheless demand something more than her observations of an irritated and worried Danilkin or seeing him on the phone with the City Court? Shouldn’t her assertions that Danilkin didn’t write the verdict be based on more than “indirect” aspects of the text like: “secretaries amending the electronic form of the sentence” to remove “technical errors – the odd paragraph, commas, incorrect line spacing.” I don’t mean to piss on everyone’s collective jubilation over the Kremlin finally got busted for something we all assumed already, but shouldn’t such allegations be based on more than Vasileva getting information from colleagues of colleagues and her own self-assurance that:
I know absolutely for sure that the sentence was delivered from the Moscow City Court. And that this sentence was written by judges from the appellate court for criminal cases – that is, the Moscow City Court. That is obvious.
No one apart from the Moscow City Court could have written it.
How is she “absolutely sure” and how is it “obvious”? Um, like, some actual evidence would be nice? But then again, Vasileva might not have the burden of proof since she’s already telling us what we already think and/or want to hear. Right?
- By Sean — 10 years ago
Protests flared around the world last week in response to the global economic crisis. Last Thursday, a one day general strike of 2.5 million people brought France to a standstill. Wildcat strikes hit Britain as workers at two nuclear power plants protested the use of foreign workers. An action of a few hundred Black Bloc anarchists in Geneva turned violent when police blocked them from entering the city’s center. Protesters responded with bottles, the police returned with clubs and tear gas, arresting 60. A column of Greek farmers consisting of 300 tractors, trucks, and other vehicles protesting the drop in commodity prices were met by riot police. One farmer tried to ram a police van as protesters chucked potatoes, tomatoes, and rocks at the cops. Clashes between farmers and police continued into this week as more of the farmers pour into the port of Piraeus. Protests in Iceland brought an interim Left-Green coalition to power which promises to implement measures to quell protests. Latvia saw a protest of 10,000 people turn into a riot against their government’s dealing with the economic crisis. Many of neoliberal miracles of the last decade–Estonia, Lativa, Ireland, Ukraine, and Iceland have hit the economic wall. Experts say that Ireland is the worst hit in the Eurozone. There a job is lost “every five minutes.”
Indeed protest is in the air. More importantly economics stands at the center. As the Guardian described last Thursday:
It’s a snapshot of a single day – yesterday – in a Europe sinking into the bleakest of times. But while the outlook may be dark in the big wealthy democracies of western Europe, it is in the young, poor, vulnerable states of central and eastern Europe that the trauma of crash, slump and meltdown looks graver.
Exactly 20 years ago, in serial revolutionary rejoicing, they ditched communism to put their faith in a capitalism now in crisis and by which they feel betrayed. The result has been the biggest protests across the former communist bloc since the days of people power.
Europe’s time of troubles is gathering depth and scale. Governments are trembling. Revolt is in the air.
And not just in Europe. There is an estimated 20 million Chinese migrant workers who’ve suddenly become unemployed, adding to the estimated 10 million jobs lost in December when manufactures shut their doors. The high levels of migrant unemployment are feared to make an already tenuous situation in the countryside worse. About 50 to 60 percent of rural families’ incomes come from remittances sent from migrant factory workers. Chinese officials are already contemplating a “softer line” to protesters by urging Party officials to address people face to face. And then there is the shoe throwing copycat in London who failed to plant his rubber sole on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s grill. Some experts are seriously wondering if China is on the brink of an enormous social explosion, if not revolution.
Then there is Russia. Russia joined the chorus of global protest as thousands rallied in several cities last weekend. Actions targeted the economic crisis, the government, car taxes and the murders of Stanislav Markelov and Anastatia Baburnova. Important issues for sure. Still these protests appeared no more stage managed than past ones. Many of the usual protagonists were center stage–Other Russia, National Bolsheviks, anarchists and others from the Russian “Opposition.” OMON played its usual part as dastardly antagonist, though one should recognize that this time its iron fist wore a velvet glove. The dance between OMON and dissenters went according to the usual script. The only additions were the unknown assailants who attacked a group of marchers in Moscow. Each side appeared to get what it wanted. OMON (i.e. the state) showed its ability to keep order. Other Russia affirmed its self-importance and secured its foreign press coverage. As one commentator said about the Moscow action: There were “more journalists than participants.”
Perhaps most interesting was Russia’s real political opposition joined the protests’ ranks. The Communist Party attracted large crowds in the provinces. In the Far East, the communists wedded the unpopular car tax with challenges to the “government of oligarchs'” promises to “make life better by 2020”. Maybe this is the first sign that the KPRF might actually become an opposition in content rather than only in form.
Popular discontent is growing in Russia. No one argues against this. Recent polls indicate a increasing drop in Medvedev’s and Putin’s popularity. The former is hovering around a 51 percent approval rating, while the latter commands a 65 percent majority. A Levada Center survey found that people are increasingly questioning whether the government has a plan to deal with the crisis. “Twenty-eight percent of respondents said their biggest grievance was that leaders “can’t deal with the economic problems in the country,” and 17 percent faulted the Kremlin for not having a “well-considered plan of action,” reported the NY Times.
Growing public discontent also fuels speculations that there is widening rift within the Kremlin elite, particularly between the President and Prime Minister. Is the supposed rift a sign of healthy and needed disagreement at the top? The beginning of the son moving to bury the father? Or is this simply wishful thinking fueled by general social uncertainty? If there is any rift at the top, I don’t think veiled criticism uttered by Medvedev against Putin will be the telltale sign. If any fissures emerge, they will begin just below the tandem as Russia’s political boyars use the situation to rally around one or the other to better jostle against their rivals.
Despite the growth in Russians’ public frustration with the authorities, one shouldn’t jump the gun and put their hopes before reality. Granted the police are concerned, particularly about the potential rise of “extremist” youth on the left and the right. But to call last weekend’s protests “rare” or a sign of the Kremlin’s rule looking “shakier” are more rooted in fantasy. The problem is not that protests are rare. One might say there are too many that are too often ineffective.
The reality is that while last week’s protests should be situated within the larger trend of global discontent, they nevertheless show the longstanding poverty of Russia’s self-proclaimed political Other. National Bolsheviks, Red Vanguard Youth, and Other Russia political celebrities will find little public support with slogans and flares. Clashes with provocateurs and skirmishes with neo-Nazis may give the taste of a Wiemar flavor, but it occupies a fringe on Russia’s political palate. The truth of the matter is that Russia’s wannabe revolutionaries are either incapable or unwilling to do any real organizing that weds politics and people’s lives. Instead, ephemeral calls for democracy and rights stand in for real political action.
Perhaps this points to poverty of liberalism itself. And here Russia isn’t alone. Opposition movements have completely purged the hunger for state power from their gut. A general strike of 2 million French a century ago would have brought the state down. If not, it would have certainly lasted for more than one day. Revolutionaries of yore wouldn’t have bothered calling for the resignation of politicians. They would have demanded the destruction of the state itself. Russia’s revolutionaries too, except for the hapless liberals, would have spent more of their energies burrowing within the working masses than wasting them on spectacles.
But what makes the Russian opposition so pathetic is that it rejects its own history. Revolutionaries of the late 19th and early 20th century–whether they were populist, socialist, or anarchist–faced more difficult challenges than the oppositional diletantes of today. They had no websites or youtubes to organzie and propagate with. The Tsarist regime was far more repressive. Funding was more scarce and cadres were smaller and even more vehemently fractuous. Yet, they were far more organized, purposeful, and diligent. And more importantly they endeavored to connect with people’s everyday lives.
But Russia’s liberals of today, let alone many of Europe’s former “socialists,” makeshift anarchists, unionists, and environmentalists, decry this past because of its association with Communism. Well, like it or not, the communists won and they did so not by calling for resignations, democratic elections, human rights, or freedom of speech. Their position was encapsulated in two words that today’s opposition are too incompetent to imagine or too timid to utter: state power.