You Might also like
- By Sean — 11 years ago
The diplomatic confrontation between Russian and Britain is hitting a boiling point. In response to the expulsions, Russia said they were “russophobic,” ‘immoral,” and part of “a carefully choreographed action” that could result in a political backlash. Nevertheless, Mikhail Kamynin, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, reiterated Russia’s willingness to cooperate with Britain in the Litvinenko case.
That doesn’t mean that Russia is going to sit idle. Alexander Grushko was quoted in the Guardian saying that Russia will give their response soon adding that whatever it will berespo1 Russian-British business ties will be kept in mind. Russia’s Resources Minister, Yuri Trutnev, told reporters that “I don’t think it makes sense to impose restrictions that would affect the investment climate, because that would be very expensive, including for Britain.” He’s right and the Guardian concurs. There is no way Russian or British elites are going to pump this crisis up far enough so it starts hitting their wallets. For what? Justice? Lugovoi? Pride? There are limits to pride and they usually begin and end with one’s pocket book. As Marsellus Wallace said in Pulp Fiction, “Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps.”
Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that the crisis will be free of all sorts of historical imagery and comparisons. The Guardian declared that “Cold War Diplomacy is Back as UK Expels Spies” but failed to explain the connection. The Daily Telegraph stated that Britain’s actions hark back to the “depths of the Cold War” when Russian and Britain engaged in tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions in 1985. The article then proceeds to recount the 1985 crisis to suggest continuity.
Russia also pulled out some historical arrows from its rhetorical quiver. One Kremlin adviser, Sergei Markov said that Britain was behaving in an “imperial” manner. Vladimir Zhirinovsky dug deep into the history books saying that Britain’s machinations can be spotted not only in the Crimean War, which Russia lost against Britain, but also in Alexander II’s assassination, and the Russo-Japanese War. Zhiri is always good for a laugh. I’m surprised he didn’t bring up the 1927 war scare over Britain’s proposal to give Germany Danzig and the Polish Corridor in the Western powers efforts to redraw the Eastern European map. Just for fun, if historical allusions must be made, I think that revisiting the “Great Game” of the 19th century is the most promising and often neglected because of the Cold War’s continued hegemony of historical memory.
Andrei Lugovoi has also responded to Norberto Andrade’s claims that he was distracted the night of Litvinenko’s poisoning. Lugovoi called Andrade’s statements “laughable” and either “a lie or stupidity.”
Lie maybe, stupidity, well, that certainly can’t be applied to Mr. Andrade alone. It’s clear that both Britain and Russia are skipping hand in hand down Stupid Lane quite gaily.
- By Sean — 10 years ago
My participation in the Paul Klebnikov Fund’s event “What is Russia Thinking? The Word from the Last of the Independent Media” was a great honor. Paul’s widow Musa Klebnikov and his brothers Peter and Michael were amazingly gracious and thankful for my participation. The pleasure however was truly all mine. They’ve built a vary warm, lively, sophisticated and touching community around Paul’s memory. Being a part of it was certainly an emotional and intellectual experience. For those who’ve never read Paul Klebnikov’s work, I highly recommend it.
What of the event itself? I would say that well over 100 people were in attendance. Being in a crowd of such politically well connected people was intimidating at first. I still consider myself a lowly graduate student who lacks the proper credentials to mix with such a crowd. But thankfully people were incredibly nice and any nervousness I had wasn’t anything that a few glasses of wine couldn’t smooth out. Most attendees seemed to have some connection to Paul, whether they were friends and neighbors, colleagues, or admirers of his work. At the same time, many people who I talked to had a deep interest in Russia, and particular America’s relationship to it. What was perhaps most encouraging was that many appeared frustrated with the typical thinking about Russia, and my sense was that there was a real craving for a more nuanced discourse. Hopefully, Mikhail Fishman, Sarah Medelson, Andrew Meier and I provided that.
The forum was a dialogue that lasted around an hour and followed by a half and hour of questions. As often the case in forums like this, not to mention topics as complicated as Russia, time proved to be our greatest enemy. Not only was there not enough time to cover everything, there was barely enough time to adequately address the questions Andrew Meier posed to us. Topics ranged from what advice we would give Barack Obama in formulating a Russia policy, the workings of Kremlin politics, the state of Russian journalism and English language journalism on Russia, the Georgian War, the effects of the economic crisis, and the state and future of Russian-American relations. I won’t recount the details of the discussion. I doubt my memory would do it justice. I’m told that the event was recorded and I will provide information about how to get access to that when I find out.
The star of the event was Mikhail Fishman, this year’s recipient of the Paul Klebnikov Prize for Excellence in Journalism. By all accounts, Fishman is one of the “rising stars” of Russian journalism. Fishman covers Russian politics for Russian Newsweek, though he wonders how much time he will have to do this since he was just recently promoted to the magazine’s chief editorship. If Fishman’s comments at the forum were any indication, his stewardship of Russian Newsweek will certainly be something to follow.
What was the final answer to the event’s title/question: What is Russia thinking? Well to paraphrase how Andrew Meier ended the evening: We don’t fully know what Russia is thinking, but we know what the three participants think about Russia. Very true. Speaking for myself, I would never presume I could speak for Russia or Russians. My only hope is that through this blog and participating in events like Monday’s, I can at least attempt to be a fair mediator for Russians to speak and think for themselves.
- By Sean — 9 years ago
It has been a long haul and I’m slowly crawling out of my hole.
For those who don’t already know, I filed my dissertation, We Shall Refashion Life on Earth! The Political Culture of the Communist Youth League, 1918-1928, on Monday. The process of filing was a bureaucratic nightmare in and of itself. Back and forth between UCLA’s Murphy Hall because my middle name, “Christopher” (which I never use, but I somehow put down when I registered at UCLA), was not on the the dissertation. Then two trips to the library to get it checked over by the dissertation lady. What a thankless job that must be! A quite unpleasant, though somewhat charming, woman sits in a small office surrounded by dissertations, goes through each and every page to make sure the margins and typeface are correct. I was told she busts out a ruler but this must be an urban myth. I made a few slip ups and had to go back to the History Department to repair them, then go back to her to get her signature on the appropriate form. Then it was back to Murphy to get my “Certificate of Completion.” It was a journey that started at 10:30, and should have been over by noon at the latest, but ended at 2:30. The last time I experienced this many bureaucratic entanglements was paying for photocopies from the Komsomol archive and dealing with my health insurance provider. But what am I really whining about? After all, at the end of this red-tapist’s wet dream was a PhD. Still, the 1968 slogan “Humanity won’t be happy till the last capitalist is hung with the guts of the last bureaucrat” had renewed relevance.
So what now? Well back to blogging is an immediate goal. I have a lot of catching up to do in the world of Russia, and sadly, as I peruse the hundreds of news stories I’ve neglected over the past several weeks, I am reminded once again how much of the reporting is a rerun of the shame shit over and over again. Will Putin run for President in 2012? Will Medvedev? Who’s really in charge of Russia? Are US-Russia relations hot? Cold? Do they exist? Does Medvedev really like hobnobbing with Obama? Was dropping the missile shield a concession or appeasement, or just the US facing reality? Who really started last year’s war? Georgia? Russia? A pox on both houses! Iran? Is Russia an abettor to who my wife’s grandmother calls the “Second Hitler”*? Or are they on the side of the “good guys” i.e. the West? The specter of Stalin.** Back in vogue or never left the room? What to make of Medvedev’s stinging critique in his manifesto “Forward Russia!”? Does he mean business or was it just yet another empty gesture? Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan are looking like more of a mess everyday. Oh, and by the way, it kinda sucks to be a journalist (please feel free to substitute “human rights activist” or “oppositionist”) in Russia. Um, like, duh?
It is not like these issues aren’t important. They are. It’s just that when you’ve read one, you’ve read it all. There has to be some expectation of new knowledge, or at least a fresh way of looking at it. Sometimes I wonder if journos have a keyword database of ten topics that are randomly spirited to their Blackberries. A word like “Putin” appears and the article flows accordingly. The names change but the narratives always stay the same.
Now, don’t ask me how this rehashing of narratives can be avoided. Its ideological hold is so strong that even its most aware, dogged opponents (of which I include myself) can’t help but be pulled into its vortex. Events in Russia certainly don’t help. But the news filter is so thick and the categories of thought so rigid, that what’s really going on there is impossible to pinpoint. At most, we, who watch and write about the place, are only able to dance around the periphery of truth in an everlasting rendition of the hokey-pokey. Much of our thought about Russia is governed by a silent watchman akin to what Michel Foucault called a “regime of truth.” This regime is backed by a whole host of apparatuses, economic, cultural and political forces, “scientific” knowledge, categories, and rhetorics that are all deployed by a long list of christened “experts.” All of this makes anyone’s attempt to think about Russia otherwise a poster child of deviance: Putin apologist, Kremlin shill, FSB agent, etc. (See the great Anatoly Karlin’s blog for a full list of said deviants.) It is this power over knowledge, or in Foucault’s terms power-knowledge nexus, that engulfs us. It is the reason why I think everyone, Russophile and Russophobe (two categories which already delimit thought), are ultimately engaged in an orientalist project.
As I enter into a new era of intellectual exploration, armed with a degree that is equally revered and vilified, perhaps I can add a few new steps to the hokey-pokey. Perhaps I can inch a bit closer to the truth lurking behind the mystifications that govern the discourse about Russia. It is this modest task that serves as my manifesto.
Lastly, everyone, and I do mean everyone, should read Claudia Verhoeven’s The Odd Man Karakozov: Imperial Russia, Modernity, and the Birth of Terrorism. I’m about half way through it and it is hands down one of the best books I’ve read in a while.
Oh, and Anna Applebaum has really gone over to the side of lunacy. Whereas before she was merely an intermittent visitor.
*I wonder who was the first post-Hitler Hitler. A friend swears that it was Sadat.
**Another friend recently sent me the best Stalin quote ever. Unfortunately, I can’t reveal it all, because, well, it’s an academic thang. Anyway this tidbit should suffice. Stalin on Party appointments based on personal connections in Transcaucasia in 1931:
“If you pick people that way, then they will fuck you up. It’s no good. They will just fuck you up. It’s a chieftain system, totally without a Bolshevik approach to picking people…. But they do it otherwise: who is their friend, who supports them. Everybody says, “we have no disagreements; why fight?” It’s a gang.”
Makes you wonder how different this is from political appointments anywhere.