My latest piece for The eXile is now online. Here is an excerpt of “The Myth of the Democratic Model“:
Stanford poli-sci prof and Commissar of Transitionology, Michael McFaul, is quiet no more. After a few years of relative reticence, McFaul, once known as the most gregarious cheerleader for the Yeltsin regime, was smoked out of his academic hole by Time’s recent crowning of Vladimir Putin as the “Person of the Year.” McFaul’s first response was a comment in Slate titled “Putin? Really?” The second was a lengthy quasi-academic condemnation in Foreign Affairs called “The Myth of the Authoritarian Model.” In the Slate piece, McFaul said that Putin’s accolade “most certainly doesn’t ‘feel right,’ and most certainly doesn’t feel like journalism.”
The fact that Time‘s decision doesn’t “feel right” to McFaul shouldn’t surprise avid eXile readers. What doesn’t “feel right” to him is the possibility that “as political freedom [in Russia] has decreased, economic growth has increased.” This is what McFaul has dubbed the “myth of the authoritarian model,” which he argues is based on “a spurious correlation between autocracy and economic growth.” After all, giving Putin any credit for anything except being a mini-Stalin, the second coming of Hitler, or simply a fire breathing hydra, is an affront to academic political correctness.
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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.
Image: Частный КорреспондентPost Views: 339
By Sean — 7 years ago
I’ve long argued that if Westerners are looking for liberals in Russia, all they need to do is turn to Vladimir Putin and the rest of the cabal that runs the country. True, caveats are in order. They are not the “liberal communist” variety that Slavoj Zizek speaks of. For the most part, the liberals in the Kremlin do not preach the sanctity of the free market while at the same time championing the “liberal values” that have become the market’s ideological correlative: democracy, tolerance, freedom etc., etc. Putin is far more of an old school liberal, though rhetorically he and his people speak the language of their American and European counterparts. Nor are Putin et al. classical laissez-faire liberals who eschew an economic role for the state. In their social-economic cosmology the state plays a fundamental role as initiator, facilitator, and stabilizer of economic development. They are situated on the conservative end of a particularly Russian liberal tradition that accepts capitalism as a fundamental truth, but only as far as it can bolster the Russian state’s transformation into the ever elusive Rechtstaat, or legal state. The Putinists do not pray to Locke or Smith but to the Russian pantheon of great reformers Speransky, Witte, and, I think most importantly, Stolypin.
Nothing confirms Putin being in the tradition of the latter more than his recent chairmanship of the committee tasked with erecting a monument to Stolypin in time for his 150th birthday in 2012. The monument will stand in front of the White House.
Here’s a snippet of Putin’s opening remarks on the Tsarist Prime Minister:
Pyotr Stolypin served his country for a long time and was its prime minister at a very difficult, truly dramatic period in Russia’s history, a time of political and social turmoil. The consequences of the Russian-Japanese war, revolutionary upheavals and economic decline presented a real danger to Russia’s territorial integrity and even sovereignty. Society was searching for answers to questions of fundamental importance to Russia’s development, including the perennial question of land ownership. The prime minister needed not only a will of iron but also personal courage and readiness to assume responsibility for the country at that time. Pyotr Stolypin had all of these qualities in full measure.
A true patriot and a wise politician, he saw that both all kinds of radical sentiment and procrastination, a refusal to launch the necessary reform were dangerous to the country, and that only a strong and effective government relying on business and the civil initiative of millions could ensure progressive development and guarantee tranquillity and stability in a large multinational country and the inviolability of its borders.
Furthermore, he thought that the state and society should not be divided from each other, that the state in the form of government and society in the form of public institutes should be united by a common responsibility for the country. When it served the interests of the state, he always assumed an uncompromising and tough stance and was never afraid of making decisions that were considered unpopular.
Pyotr Stolypin formulated the ideology of reform and also launched large-scale change in nearly all spheres of life in Russia. He believed that the main goal was to remove all obstacles and limitations to the development of productive forces. He thought it was necessary to release the nation’s creative energy and direct it towards creation. He achieved many of the goals he had formulated. He created foundations for social policy in Russia, reformed state institutions and government agencies and ensured the impressive growth of industries and an industrial breakthrough. I’d like to remind you that, at the time, Russia’s economy was growing at the highest pace in the world. It also implemented large development projects in Siberia and the Far East. The last, but not the least of his achievements was agrarian reform, which had a staggering potential. He said, yes, it was Stolypin who said it: “Give Russia 20 years of internal and external peace and quiet and it will change beyond recognition.” These words point to his deep belief in Russia and its people.
Putin could have been talking about himself.
I’m not the only one who thinks so. Olga Kryshtanovskaya told Nezavisimaya gazeta: “Of course it’s no accident that Putin sufficiently and consistently connects his stance to Stolypin.”
But it seems that the committee’s opening meeting was a big ceremony wedding the two Prime Ministers. Andrei Kolesnikov argues in Kommersant that committee’s members in and of itself point to Putin’s desire to drape himself in Stolypin’s legacy. In attendance were Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin, government ministers and representatives, provosts, archimandrites, Duma deputies, and also none other than the head of the Filmmakers Union, Nikita Mikhalkov. Was this a meeting for a monument or a shrine? According to Kolesnikov, Putin’s effort to directly connect himself to Stolypin isn’t just plainly evident from the who’s who at the meeting. It’s all too clear if you merely substitute “Vladimir Vladmirovich” for “Petr Arkadevich” in the Prime Minister’s speech, particularly where he talks about Solypin’s will, patriotism, and commitment to preserving the state’s interests while recognizing the need for reform. In an effort to put his money (or I should say other people’s money) where his mouth is, Putin even demanded that committee members give up a month of their salary to fund the Stolypin monument. “Members of the cabinet, and not only members of the cabinet, will have to direct at least a month’s salary to the Stolypin monument,” Putin said. They should think of it more as a personal tribute to Putin himself.
Pavel Pozhogailo, the head of the Regional Social Fund, got the message, and adjusted history accordingly: “[Stolypin] was a key figure who could lead Russia away from catastrope. His principal quality was that he could unite the divided. And he dealt with the task of bringing peace to society! You see, the moment he entered power he took ahold of the bacchanalia of terrorism! This courageous man could rally the healthy forces of society around himself and showed that the government was not a powerless! He returned moral authority to the government!” For him, Putin’s speech was nothing less than “magnificent.”
The only problem is that it’s hard to figure out who Pozhogailo is talking about here: Stolypin or Putin, or some mutant hybrid of the two.
But I think Mikhailkov summed it up the best with “Stolypin lives!”
Yes, in Putin’s Russia, Stolypin lived, Stolypin lives, Stolypin will always live.Post Views: 353
By Sean — 10 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.Post Views: 128