Here’s something to chew on. Nicolai Petro asks in his column “Why Russian Liberals Lose“:
“Why have Russia’s self-proclaimed “liberals” done so badly at attracting popular support?” A few reasons actually. First, he states that liberals like Vladimir Ryzhkov, Irina Khakamada, Grigory Yavinsky, Mikhail Kasyanov and Boris Nemtsov’s initial embrace of figures like Eduard Limonov and Garry Kasparov have caused more harm than good. The fact that most of them, except for Ryzhkov and Nemtsov, have dumped Other Russia, the fact that they were once wedded to them is a hard thing to shake.
Second, the problem isn’t that the liberals can’t get its message to the public. Petro claims that a quarter of Russians have access to the internet, each of the eleven parties on the ballot got “three hours of prime national television time,” and that Yabloko has a 97 percent name recognition rate. In his view, this is enough to circumvent “censorship.” Of course, I can’t help wonder how the three hours of TV time compares to Putin’s airtime and if 97 percent of Russians do recognize Yabloko, how often is it proceeded or followed by grammatically applicable variants of “idiots” or “traitors” I buy this reason less. If anything, our times tell us that media matters.
But no Petro says that the lack of fanfare for Russian liberalism boils down to the political winds. And given how they’re blowing, Yabloko’s and SPS’s sails are either at half-mast or full of holes. Basically, he writes, “the problem is with the messengers, who have managed to alienate their natural constituency – Russia’s growing middle class.”
Then he presents a political choice:
What you would do if faced with the following choice:
One, a political movement that unites a former chess champion whose family resides overseas, a former prime minister popularly nicknamed “Misha 2 percent” because of alleged kickbacks for authorizing government-backed loans to private firms, and an ex-punk rocker released from prison a few years ago who vows to restore the Russian empire by any means necessary.
Two, the party of Vladimir Putin, which has pledged to continue the policies that have increased average salaries from $81 a month to $550 a month, which has dramatically increased social spending and reduced the poverty level from 27 percent to 15 percent.
Um, option #2, please.
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By Sean — 6 years ago
Arch Getty’s comment, “Putin in History,” was included in today’s Johnson’s Russia List. I asked him if I could repost it here. He kindly agreed. Full disclosure, Professor Getty was my dissertation advisor and mentor at UCLA.
Putin and Russian History
By J. Arch Getty
An occupational hazard of being a Russian historian is that people often ask “What about Putin?” “What’s going to happen in Russia?” Historians are generally allergic to making predictions, and predicting Russia has a very poor track record; almost nobody predicted the sudden fall of the USSR. But because we are at least somewhat the products of the past, that past may tell us something about the future. So where does Putin come from?
In the short-term, Putin’s perception of society is easy to trace to KGB culture in the Brezhnev era: disruptive or unorthodox events were seen as misguided, incomprehensible, or even mentally unbalanced challenges to order. In short, because Soviet society is perfect, protests must originate with foreign enemies, outside agitators or mental illness, so protestors should be ridiculed and punished. This explains Putin’s ludicrous but characteristic reaction that the 2011-2012 winter Bolotnaia election protestors were dupes responding to Hillary Clinton’s “signal,” his offensive mocking of their white ribbons as condoms, and his reflex to punish demonstration leaders.
But there are historically deeper Russian sources for Putin’s myopic vision and actions. For example, in 1825, following the defeat of Napoleon, noble Russian army officers returned from Paris with subversive French Revolutionary ideas about human rights, elections, constitutions, and the rule of law. In December of that year, they staged a demonstration and abortive coup attempt aimed at overthrowing the Russian monarchy. The “Decembrist Revolt” was quickly put down by royal power deployed by the new tsar, Nicholas I.
From the official side, tsar Nicholas I (like Putin) could not understand what was happening. Nicholas was so perplexed that while harshly punishing the Decembrists, he (unlike Putin) had jailhouse conversations with several of them in order to understand their motivations. But like Putin, Nicholas’ world view prevented him from seeing that society was changing. He responded with the official slogan “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality,” a conservative statement that, by the way, Putin could embrace. Instead of understanding the changes around them, both rulers quickly deployed punitive state power against the ringleaders. Since society was basically sound as it was, one could nip change in the bud simply by decapitating it, right?
It seemed that nothing came of the 1825 revolt. Disappointed observers ridiculed the dilettante noble demonstrators for being unable to transform their opposition into a real revolution: They had no mass support. They were poor planners and organizers. Some of them even overslept or got lost that day and missed the action altogether. In the long run, however, seeds had been planted. The poor, marginalized and imprisoned Decembrists of 1825 would inspire later generations of Russian reformers and revolutionaries of all stripes who gradually attracted broader social support and who eventually brought down the monarchy in 1917. Reformers and revolutionaries would later glorify the memory of the hapless Decembrists as forerunners who planted the seeds of change but could not live to see their flowering.
Today’s protesters are also ridiculed and belittled, especially by leftists both in Russia and the west, for not becoming more. But in the long view (which we historians are trained to take) change in Russia has always come very slowly, and one wonders if in a future Russia people will not look back at the Bolotnaia and even Pussy Riot demonstrators as the beginnings of something big, something that took a while to mature. Even if we scoff at their lost potential, let us also not forget that these recent demonstrations for democracy were unprecedented in their scale. They dwarf the Soviet dissident movement of the 1970s and 1980s which, as it turned out, planted much smaller seeds.
Both Nicholas I and Putin represent an old Russian tradition whereby the monarchy doggedly refused to understand or compromise with change. Nicholas’ unbending obsolete vision and inflexibility would do much to radicalize later Russian reformers. Like him, his great-grandson Nicholas II would also be inherently unable to understand the forces for social change around him, and he and the monarchy were eventually swept away by the 1917 revolutions. Nicholas I, Nicholas II, Brezhnev and Putin just didn’t get it. They were constitutionally unable to understand society and how it changes.
They all had silent majorities behind them at one point. Today, some 65% of the population supports Putin, compared with 1% for demonstration leader Navalny. But the long clocks of change were and are ticking, even if few notice at the time. Today it seems that Putin has an unchallenged upper hand and has never been stronger. On the other hand, the Bolotnaia protesters, Pussy Riot women, and possibly leaders like Navalny seem to be fading into obscurity, oblivion and prison. But in the future, the historical results of today’s impotent protests and Putin’s reaction to them could look very different.
It is possible that Russian strongman monarchy is built into Russian political culture. But it is just as possible that its days are numbered. Polling support for Putin is inversely proportional to educational levels, which are broadly rising. These protesters may mark something big, something ultimately decisive. Putin’s clock is ticking, but he has inherited the deafness of all Russian monarchs. And even if he could hear the ticks he wouldn’t know what to do about them.
J. Arch Getty is Professor of History at UCLA. He is the author of several books on Russian history, including Practicing Stalinism: Boyars, Bolsheviks and the Persistence of Tradition, (Yale University Press, 2013) will be published in July.
By Sean — 11 years ago
Sergei Mironov, the leader of Just Russia, calls it “Socialism 3.0”. An interesting choice of words considering that this year marks the 90th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Anniversaries tend to function as both remembrance and rebirth, and the talk of “socialism” at Just Russia’s party congress might certainly be a rebirth of sorts. Even if the revival of “socialism” in Russia might simply be political verbiage rather than possessing any real material content.
Be that as it may, what is clear is that talk of “socialism” is a way for Just Russia to position themselves politically as Russia’s left wing alternative to the Communist Party. To see this all one has to do is peek into Mironov’s historical positioning of Just Russia in the “history” of socialism. In his 30 minute speech to congress delegates he spoke of how the Russian Revolution ushered in Socialism 1.0. This version was something called “war socialism”. This was later countered with Socialism 2.0, a western intervention, presumably to quell the attractiveness of version 1.0 among its populations, that was more “humanitarian.” Both of these, however, “proved to be unsustainable and inviable.” Now Mironov and his party are going top all those with “Socialism 3.0”. Not only will this socialism be the most humanitarian to date, it will do so by recognizing that the “socialist idea is supported by not only economics, but also cultural endeavors of our people. We are for a dignified and secure life for Russians.” Judging from this rhetoric, I fail to see what the upgrade features 3.0 portend to offer.
It doesn’t take a keen observer to notice how all of this sounds familiar. So much that Svetlana Goriacheva, former Communist Party member and now State Duma deputy for Just Russia, made a point to emphasize that Just Russia’s platform is different from the Communist Party’s.
But Just Russia can split hairs over this “socialism” and that “socialism” all it wants. The truth of the matter is that the party, which is nothing more than a Kremlin creation, is there to gradually whittle away at the Communist Party’s electorate. After all, Kremlin doesn’t call it “managed democracy” for nothing, and while many seek to dismiss the notion as simply ideological hot air, there is something very real in the concept.
What is “managed democracy”? Its meaning is right there in its name. It means that in the eyes of Team Putin, the Russian State will erect the building blocks for a stable democratic system that many Western states enjoy, but took decades to develop. As a great power swimming in a sea of “democratic states” Russia can’t afford to waste time taming the groundswell of democracy from below, as say the United States did to its many labor and civil rights struggles of the 20th century, by subsuming little “d” democracy back into the hegemonic machine of big “D” democracy. Such efforts require tolerating the chaotic and sometimes unpredictable nature of social movements long enough for them to fizzle out and reside themselves to work within the system rather than against it. The Russian elite is clearly not ready, or at least confident enough in their power, to give a little in the short run for grander riches in both power and money in the long run. Since the democratic lie can’t be formed organically, it must be manufactured from above.
In this sense, then, the architects of Russian democracy are working from a political position akin to Alexander Gershenkron’s ideas about the benefits of economic backwardness. Here the Russian state is privy to all the bells and whistles that most “mature” democratic states possess and use so effectively to keep their populations gleefully bathing in their own repression. Mass media, the internet, political PR firms, consultants, advertising, pundits, spokespeople are all available in Russia to package and repackage democracy as a slick, smooth, and shiny object, all consumable in one bite, or at least in one sound bite. If postmodern life is a characterized by a litany of single servings, then there is nothing to suggest that “single serving democracy” can’t be one of the choices available at the smörgåsbord of affective chimeras that constitute the modern political subject. With this in mind, if “democratic backwardness” is truly an advantage, then the Russian elite’s ability manipulate democracy’s most advanced technologies to overcome that backwardness might prove to be nothing less than revolutionary.
This is where the Just Russia’s “Socialism 3.0,” Nashi’s DMD militias, the fiction of the “specter of colored revolution,” Zubkov’s nomination, “Operation Successor,” the demonization of Berezovsky, Litvinenko, Other Russia (as if they have any power), the curtailment of NGOs, the Public Chamber, and many, many other forms of “democratic management” all enter the picture. All of these little pawns are put into motion with the hope that democracy will function in Russia like it does elsewhere else–a predictable, well oiled machine where the people are made to believe that they do the choosing, when in reality the range of choices is no more diverse than one between Coke and Pepsi.
This is by no means to suggest that Russia is any less democratic than their Western counterparts. It’s that the mechanisms for realizing democracy in Russia are much more visible, harder, and violent. With that in mind, as Mironov announces “Socialism 3.0” as part of global history of socialism, one can’t help wonder what political upgrades “managed democracy” looks to bequeath upon the world.
By Sean — 11 years ago
The post election political lull appears to be over as Russia’s politicians gear up for Medvedev’s presidency. As everyone already knows, Medvedev is expected to nominate Putin as Prime Minister. No one expected any opposition to this, since denying Putin dominance over Russian politics is like preventing tidal wave from hitting the shore. But it seems that Zyuganov’s Communists will make a show of opposition. The KPRF threatens to oppose Putin’s nomination because they haven’t been invited into any discussion about the future cabinet or Putin’s candidacy. According to Zyuganov, any candidate for Prime Minister “has a duty to meet with all [Duma] factions and give his opinion on how he will carry out his administrative and economic duties and how he perceives the administrative system.” Deputies from the other Duma parties, however, don’t see what Zyuganov is griping about. Sure, there might be a custom for an aspiring PM to meet with Duma leaders, says LDPR deputy Igor Lebedev, but “I think that Vladimir Putin can’t be bothered with it.”
The Duma pasted the third reading of a law that places new restrictions on national referendums. According to the Moscow Times, the law abolishes referendums on the federal budget, taxation, treaties and presidential terms. The Communists’ 57 members walked out of the vote. KPRF deputy Alexandr Kulikov stated that the passing the bill meant “we’re asking people to shut up.” United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov touted the bill as as a effort to maintain political stability. “We don’t need any political forces promoting the idea of a referendum, playing on the destabilization of the political situation,” he told reporters.
Gryzlov’s days as United Russia head appeared to be numbered. Putin is expected to be named party leader at its congress on April 14.
Russia’s self-proclaimed oppositions are also making moves and giving ultimatums. Last weekend, oppositionists met at the “The New Agenda for Democratic Movement” conference in St. Petersburg to plot their next move. 200 delegates from 30 regions came together with the to hope of forming a broader united democratic opposition. Until now, Russia’s liberals–Yabloko and Union of Right Forces–have declined joining up with Garry Kasparov’s Other Russia coalition. But given that Yabloko and SPS are on the precipice of political irrelevancy, it seem they need all the friends they can get.
However wide the democratic movement may be, it certainly is in no position to make ultimatums. But that didn’t stop the conference from passing a resolution that informed the Kremlin that they are prepared for a “constructive dialog with the state” and to have “contact with the state” on a variety of questions, namely, “the dismantling of authoritarianism.” Then came the ultimatum to President-elect Medvedev. Their demands were:
A review during the first hundred days after inauguration of all political issues including the Khodorkovsky case, securing the rights of citizens to assemble and demonstrate, the revoking of media censorship, and most important to change the electoral laws and prepare to conduct a special parliamentary election.
Let’s see, the chances of any of these happening are about, well, zero. But you have to give them a gold star for persistence.
The fact that the “orange threat” has been declared over hasn’t stopped the FSB. On Tuesday, FSB director Patrushev accused foreign NGOs of aiding terrorists. “Emissaries of foreign terror and religious extremist organizations, exploiting socio-economic problems and ethnic and religious differences, are trying to conduct recruiting efforts,” Patrushev said. “Individual foreign nongovernmental organizations provide information support to them to a large extent.” No specific NGO was mentioned. Patrushev’s comments were made with the announcement that the number of NGOs operating in Russia has dropped from 600,000 in 2002 to 227,577 in 2007. Human rights activists are expected an additional 15,000 to 20,000 to collapse this year. It seems that Russia’s new NGO registration law is doing its job. 11,000 NGOs were denied registration and another 8,274 were closed by the courts.
Aida Edemariam notes that Antonia Shapovalova’s Nashi wear is part of a wider phenomenon of political panties.
Quibbles about the usefulness of a political statement generally hidden under outergarments notwithstanding, a bit of digging reveals that there is quite a precedent for this kind of thing. In the run-up to the 2004 US election, for example, an outfit called Axis of Eve organised what they called “Operation Depose and Expose”: gaggles of women flashing red, fuschia, black and lavender drawers at TV cameras. It was the slogans that were the point, however. “Weapon of Mass Seduction”, many of them read. “My Cherry for Kerry” and “Expose Bush”. This time round BarelyPolitical.com has got in on the act, selling skimpy red boy-shorts with “OBAMA” written in big white lettering across the back.
And just this February Agent Provocateur, not generally known for its serious political leanings, designed a pair of Guantánamo Bay orange knickers, accessorised with a tiny pair of handcuffs, some fetching black ribbon, and the slogan “Fair trial my arse” curling across the rear. Vivienne Westwood (whose son runs Agent Provocateur) sent some down the catwalk at London Fashion Week. Even Gordon Brown was presented with a pair. The effectiveness of pants in the fight for justice across the world is unrecorded. But cavilling seems churlish. After all, in a healthy – or aspiring – democracy, everyone must do their bit.
In this case, that “bit” includes wearing only a little bit.
Natalia Morar, who was banned from Russia as “a danger to the safety and security of Russia,” has lost her appeal in Russian court. The court gave no reason for denying her appeal to get the ban removed. According to her lawyer Yuri Kostanov, “I have no proof but I suspect the case has a political subtext,” he told reporters. “As far as I understand it, Morar has not done anything subversive. But her activity is journalism and she published a great many political articles, including about VIPs. I cannot exclude that namely these people applied some leverage, and this may be the root cause (for the decision). I cannot rule this out.” No, really, you think?
And finally, it seems that Putin could only contain himself for so long at the NATO-Russia Council last weekend. This is despite the fact that Western diplomats pleaded that he tone down his rhetoric. But apparently Putin could only contain himself for so long. According to reports, Putin “lost his temper” during discussion about Ukraine’s possible NATO entry. One diplomat told Kommersant that at one point Putin turned to Bush and said, “You do understand, George, that Ukraine is not even a state! Part of its territory is in Eastern Europe and considerable part was given to them by us!” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Putin ever made any such statement. Nevertheless, I’m sure that after hearing this, there are many Ukrainians who can’t run into NATO’s arms fast enough.