Mikhail Kasyanov, or Misha 2% as he’s known in Russia, was interviewed in today’s LA Times. Kasyanov proves why that 2% moniker continues to stick. Like much of Russia’s self-described opposition, he has nothing to say that concerns Russians’ daily lives. Instead, he counterposes Russia with the “civilized world;” suggests Russia is a “totalitarian state,” and perhaps more insulting thinks that the Russian population are simply duped by propaganda. Here is one example,
How does Russia view the development of friendly relations between the United States and former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia?
The propaganda streaming today from television screens and newspaper pages is, in a simplified way, calling on the nation to rally together and to protect the motherland. Hinting that war is on the threshold, that the enemies are knocking on our gates and that Russia is surrounded by enemies who want to break Russia into pieces. The current authorities want the citizens to say, “Oh, thank God, anything but war.” They want to cover the problems they’ve created in the last few years . . . by alleging that evil forces surround Russia and dream of its destruction.
Luckily, Russia has Misha to speak the truth to the narod. In fact, it is his mission in life. A brave lone wolf in a forest of ignorance. “I consider it my job,” he declares, “to let people know what’s going on, because every day the number of people who can speak the truth and who are not afraid of doing so decreases.” Misha the Brave.
What strikes me is Misha’s political naivete toward the “people.” I almost reminds me of logic of Russian populists from the 19th century. Kasyanov says, “I claim that the current Russian authorities don’t enjoy the support of a majority of Russian citizens. As soon as conditions for daily propaganda disappear, Russian citizens will understand the essence of the current regime.” He may claim this all he wants, but he’s wrong. I think a more revolutionary position would be to freely admit that the authorities do have popular support and then ask yourself the hard question as to why. Citing propaganda and alleging Russia is a closed system is a cop out that only serves to embolden oppositionists’ own egotisical self-proclaimed victimhood. Alternatively, answers to the hard questions of where genuine popular support comes from could serve as a beginning for real politics. Sadly, many in Russia’s opposition rather be oppositionists in the abstract that speak “the truth” rather than doing the hard organizing to make that truth a reality.
After reading this interview, Misha should be happy with 2%.
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By Sean — 2 years ago
Recent reports in Vedomosti and RBK dovetail nicely with the editorial I’ve translated below from the folks at OpenLeft.ru. Vedomosti predicts that in 2016 Russia’s economy will only worsen—the price of oil will be cheaper, inflation higher, incomes lower, and the ruble weaker. Along these lines, RBK evaluates the growth of social protests in 2015 and suggests that the trend will only continue after the new year. These social actions are a different animal from the protests of 2011-2012. Then Putin could simply wait out angry urbanites with only yielding to a few minor, and mostly cosmetic, concessions. The subsequent tightening the screws effectively neutralized the more radical remnants.
But Putin did something else in 2012 that was no less important to neutralize the threat from the streets. He shifted his constituency away from the cosmopolitan urban classes to the so-called “silent majority” of the working classes in the provinces. This Nixonian move incorporated heavy doses of populism, patriotism and conservative identity politics. Putin’s “populist turn” never contradicted elite rapaciousness. It was never meant to. Elite acquiesces was the other side of coin, and in many ways only continued, not contradicted, the tenor of his first two terms. And until recently, this unity of opposites worked.
As the editors of OpenLeft.ru write below, the social protests of 2015 symbolize the potential fracturing of the “Putin consensus.” It is this splintering of “national unity” that poses the greatest threat to the system. This is not to say that the Putin system is teetering on the precipice as many would like to imagine. Rather it looks to face challenges that expose one of the “third term’s” inherent weaknesses—the system’s lack of political and economic flexibility and dynamism. One of Putin’ successes has been his ability to sell “stability” as legitimization for his continued rule. Now legitimacy is under pressure as “stability” slides into ossification. As the editors suggest, in the context of the economic downward slide, attenuating those pressures might require pitting the two inherently contradictory elements of the “Putin consensus” against each other.
Editors, 25 December 2015
Summing up the past year
The system Putin built wants to appear unchanging: it is based on “stability”, that is, the illusion that there is no alternative to its policies and authority. Analysts’ numerous apocalyptic prophecies signaling the impending collapse are the flipside to “stability.” This past year has witnessed the end to “stability,” but the collapse has not occurred. Instead, a third option between stasis and disaster has prevailed: The quickening oscillation of a downward spiral.
The main elements of the Putin system remain in place, but it’s clearly obvious this very system cannot cope with the deep and extensive crisis. It’s a crisis of incomes of the population (their unprecedented fall since the 1990’s); the crisis of the social sphere (the authorities’ rousing populist statements are not able to conceal their deadly policies of austerity: pervasive “optimization”, budget cuts and the increased pressure on the public sector, and the freezing of pensions); the crisis of regional budgets, upon which the federal center unloaded the main burden of social spending; and the crisis of the Putin economy and its inability to find new engines of growth.
In the context of contracting incomes Putin’s politico-economic system can no longer conceal its predatory nature. The novelty of the past year has been the attempts to resolve budget shortfalls while at the same time filling the pockets of officials and businessmen close to the government with the help of new taxes and fees. It’s not just the Platon system, which provoked the most significant social protests this year, but also tax increases on small businesses, the introduction of paid parking, and additional charges for utilities. The population will pay, that is those who still have something to pay with, for the crisis and so that state corporations and Putin’s friends will have “a very large amount of money.” The conflict is unequivocal: the minority of haves are against the majority of have-nots.
This conflict is becoming more pronounced. It’s not just about the truckers’ protests. The number of labor protests is rapidly growing. According the Center for Social and Labor Rights (TsSTP), the number of protests has increased by more than a third, 37percent, compared to last year, and more than half, 53 percent, to previous years (2008 – 2013). Petr Biziukov, an analyst at TsSTP, concludes that the quantity of protests has transformed into quality. “Physicians’ protests across the country, as well as the truckers’ protests comprised dozens of regions, and showed that the new kind of protests will be connected by a network rather than by local actions. Interregional, multisectoral and even intraregional actions arise more often. It seems that in this instance, the transition from local (isolated) protests emerging in disparate industries to networked actions uniting workers and organizations from different industries, cities and regions under the same slogans is a qualitative shift in the Russian protest movement.”
The “patriotic” consolidation over the last two years, the only purpose of which has been to mask the fundamental conflict of Russian society—the minority haves against the majority have-nots—has stopped working. The “Crimean Consensus” presaged this rift. Surveys show a decline in the public’s confidence in the media which throughout the “third term” has played a major role in maintaining the illusion of national unity against numerous internal and external enemies.
Boris Nemtsov’s murder and the perpetual “Bolotnaya Case” has completely demoralized the urban White Ribbon movement. However, though today’s urban middle classes are forcibly denied political rights, it doesn’t mean that they will not try to go back into the streets. This return, however, won’t be a simple replay of 2011-2012 but will be tied to the current crisis. Only time will tell what form it will take: part of a broader social coalition against austerity or an attempt to mobilize around the 2016-2018 election cycle.
The “Putin majority’s” potential collapse contributes amazingly to Russia’s cynical and unprincipled foreign policy which experts prudently call “the predominance of tactics over strategy.” Faced with a deadlock in the Donbas, Russia “has shifted the theater of war” and rushed into Syria to restore relations with the West. For the Kremlin, the bombing of Syria is a trump card in the “Great Game”, but it is by no means a game for Syrians: it’s a horrific civil war, the end of which Russia’s participation only delays, and whose bombing results in civilian deaths. Russia’s bombs are no less deadly than those of the United States, England, and France.
It’s unknown how much longer the authorities will be able to spin their adventurous imperialism for “restoring Russia’s place in the world.” To keep its own citizens eyes on the illusion that the Syrian adventure is “a war without consequences,” the ruling elite has resorted to regularly falsifying the numbers of military casualties. Another glaring example of this information strategy was the two weeks of deliberate deception about the true cause of the passenger deaths in the A321 Russian airliner over Sinai. In Russia itself, the mass production of external enemies has acquired the traits of a petty and despicable farce. The harassment of Turkish citizens in the last weeks of the year are an especially disgraceful page in this history.
The accelerating economic and social crisis exposes the existing regime’s limited room for maneuver and its stunning lack of flexibility. At the present moment it is practically incapable of reforming itself, or at least, significantly restraining the elite’s appetites. The regime with the country in tow can only barrel downward and bitterly defend “their own” from public criticism, intensify repression, defiantly refuse to make concessions to demands from below, and cut off any possibility for unauthorized political participation from above.
The country enters a new year fearful of the still hidden future, but the “grapes of wrath” are clearly ripening.Post Views: 73
By Sean — 4 months ago
By Sean — 13 years ago
Let me tell you about the ‘invalids.’ The invalids are young men who ride the Moscow metro begging for change from passengers. Begging, however, is really not the right word. What they are really doing is collecting a payment. A payment of a few rubles from all the passengers who either fought in Chechnya and returned physically unscathed (though mentally, who knows) or those who were lucky enough to be a woman, too old, weren’t sent there during their two year, mandatory military service for all men over 18, or were able to pay to get out of their service. See, these men lost their limbs in the war in Chechnya. Sometimes it’s an arm (these are the lucky ones), sometimes it’s an arm and a leg. The most frequent of late have been those missing both legs. These men are only torsos. They are propped in a wheelchair or worse on a plank with wheels, which they propel themselves forward with their arms.
The sight at first glance is one of horror. But for the majority of passengers, their glance is filled with guilt. You can see it in their eyes; in how they bow their heads in shame, in how some slowly turn their heads toward the walls, or in how some act like the invalid isn’t there. Now matter now matter how much you pretend that this half-man is invisible, he’s there. His silent message is clear: For you. For security. For Russia. For, what? A tithe of a few rubles is made so maybe this former soldier can live, and perhaps if he is lucky get prosthesis. Many people give, but is it enough? Can a few rubles, even from hundreds of people, perhaps even thousands of people who fill the Moscow metro everyday, repay a man for half his body? I’ve started carrying my coin rubles so I can also pay. . .
I don’t know much about the Russian military system. I don’t know how well they take care of their soldiers. I don’t know what kind of medical care they get. But, I think that the invalids’ presence in the metro plays a function that goes beyond money for daily bread. The invalids are a reminder of a forgotten war, an invisible war that has been waged off and on for the last 12 years. I think it is simply a war to exterminate the Chechens and to mentally and physically decimate a generation of Russian men. At first, however, the war in Chechnya was to prevent the Chechens from breaking with Russia and establishing their own state. Now, Putin’s government claims the war is part of a global war on terrorism. Recall the Pushkinskaya metro bombing, the apartment bombing, Nord-Ost theater hostage crisis (where most died because the Russian Security Forces gassed the theater), the slaughter of hundreds of children (by both Chechen hostage takers and Russian Security Forces) in Beslan, the blowing up of two airliners, and the more recent bombings in the metro. Despite all this, the reality of the war is a forgotten one. The greatest irony is that while one can see images on Russian TV of American soldiers fighting house to house in Fallujah, raiding people’s homes and forcing women and children to the ground at gun point, or Iraqi civilians fleeing their homes after the U.S. bombed their neighborhood, thereby making this forgotten, American war real, similar images of Russians in Chechnya are missing. To make matters worse, the Russians seem to respond to any mention of Chechnya with a face of disgust. Not for the senseless war there, but for Chechnya itself, its people, the whole matter. I call it a disgust of apathy. This apathy, like so many other emotions and opinions, turns to guilt at the sight of an invalid. You can’t pretend anymore with an invalid in your presence. The half-man before you is a reminder that there is a war and this is what it does to your OWN youths. The future of Russia is one built on a generation of dismembered bodies.
The invalid is the living symbol for modern war. Gone are high death numbers for states like Russia and the United States. These are only reserved for their enemies and the civilians that surround them. Gone are the wars were the participating societies are devastated by destruction, death, and disease, like the so-called glorious wars, WWI and WWII (the U.S. escaped the destruction the Europeans experienced in these two wars). For Russian and the American soldiers modern war resembles pre-modern wars. Like the peasant warriors of the 16th century who had their limbs hacked off, similarly our warriors also experience a hacking of sorts to the blunt precision of road side bombs. Our boys in uniform don’t lose their lives, they lose their livelihood. They are physically marked for life. Even if they are able to expunge the psychological nightmare of war, the physical reminder will always be with them. The pre-modern frequency of amputation is the face of modern war. The invalid is a testament to this.
Americans shouldn’t view the Russian invalid as yet another opportunity to sing the praises of American society. It would be sheer blindness, if not immoral, to claim difference, let alone superiority. As of this morning, 51 American soldiers have died in Fallujah. This is only going to increase as more men are further killed in battle or die from their wounds. The American casualty numbers from Fallujah and this means not only deaths but injury in battle, are in the hundreds. So far, if I remember correctly (I don’t have exact numbers in front of me) total American deaths since the beginning of the war have probably reached the 1,200 mark. According to investigative reports in the Christian Science Monitor, total casualties fall somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000, and by some estimates even up to 17,000. How many of these are ‘invalids’? It is hard to get an exact number, reporters claim, because the military restricts access to casualty numbers, military hospitals, and military transport of soldiers from the battlefield to bases in Germany. The fact that we can’t even see the shipment of coffins because (officially) it might upset some families (unofficially: remind us of how many of our OWN are dying), makes exactness on this question more a dream than a reality.
No, we can’t claim superiority over the Russians because our media doesn’t show anything about the war either. All we get are military press releases that use the terms ‘victory,’ ‘liberated’, and ‘pacified’ it seems almost everyday. These same press releases are the ones that claim that the U.S. air strikes in Fallujah are on ‘hideouts’ and ‘safe houses’ of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. I honestly believe that this man does not, and perhaps never has existed. You have to be a complete idiot, or worse immoral to continue to believe what the military and our government are telling us the truth about Iraq. I don’t profess to know the truth, but I know that the story we are getting from out government is not it.
One could say that at least we don’t have to experience the horror of the invalid. At least our boys are “taken care of.” If you ever been to a military hospital you will know the increasing falseness of this. If you know about how the government has been steadily decreasing veteran’s benefits, you have to at least wonder. Plus, recognizing the invalid through his invisibility is like lumping him with the other ‘invisibles’ in our society: the homeless, the addict, the mentally ill, and the disabled. The invalid’s invisibility might bring us comfort, but does it make us more human? Is the placebo of invisibility better than the pain of guilt, of the reality of war? Is our society any better with the invalid hiding in their homes or in the dark corners of our cities, shameful of their dismemberment? Isn’t it us who should be shamed. At least the Russians are forced to face theirs in the dismembered body of a human being, even if this guilt passes with the next metro stop.
Every time I see one of these men on the Moscow metro, I can’t help thinking that we are only two years into our war. Despite assurances, it doesn’t look like an end is in sight. This is compounded by the fact that what “we” are fighting for keeps changing. First it was “weapons of mass destruction”, then it was “to liberate the Iraqi people,” now it’s a mixture of “it’s better to fight the terrorists there than here,” and “so the Iraqis can live in freedom and hold elections.” What will the reason be in five years when our invalids begin to make their way into our daily commute? Will the discomfort they bring be assuaged with the tithing of a few dollars? More importantly, will we feel guilt because of their missing limbs or because we didn’t stop the madness that took them sooner?Post Views: 55