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 — 6 years ago
The Kremlin seems capable of creating two types of figures: heroes and martyrs. The production of heroes is crystal clear and requires no elaboration. Martyrs, however, are a different story because they provide adrenaline to political movements to galvanize their adherents, sanctify their positions, and strengthen their solidarity. Moreover, martyrs are so needlessly created, and the Kremlin, out of either ineffectiveness or incompetence, can’t seem to stop providing even its most retrograde political foes the fertile soil for their germination into impeccable flora. And that’s the thing; the path to martyrdom is always one of transformation, a cleansing ritual that turns the corrupted into the incorruptible, the self-interested into the selfless, the vulgar into the prosaic, and the invisible into the visible. Don’t believe me? Just ask the three young women of Pussy Riot.
Sure, some will note that a vast propaganda machine, mostly emanating from the West, plays an enormous role in the elevation of the Russian opposition to sainthood. This is true. But even still, the buck stops at the Kremlin, because it is Russia’s leaders who provide the initial baptismal waters with their often unnecessary heavy handedness.
It’s too soon to say if the latest defamation, search, interrogation, and possible criminal indictment of Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov will result in his martyrdom. But the placid surface of the baptismal pools is once again rippling. And be sure the steely pens of the international martyr machine are pulsating with ink waiting to shower Udaltsov with words of benediction.
As reported yesterday, the Russian authorities prompted by their own propaganda “documentary,” Anatomy of a Protest-2, searched the apartment of and interrogated Sergei Udaltsov, arrested his aide Konstantin Lebedev, and scoured the resident of Leonid Razvozzhaev, an aide of the State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev. The Left Front leader has since been released on recognizance, but an indictment is expected in the coming days. Today, a court foreshadowed this inevitability by lengthening Lebedev’s original 48 hour detention to two months. As for Razvozzhaev, he’s has gone underground to whereabouts unknown.
According to the latest, prospectors have opened a criminal case claiming that Udaltsov et al. were planning their own little coup of the Russian government funded with Georgian cum American money. Originally, this coup was to take place in Kaliningrad. But according to documents filed with the Basmmanyi Court, the plot was far more ambitious. “[The trio] and other undetermined persons have planned mass violent disorder, riots and arson with the use of firearms and explosive devices in the territories of Moscow, Kaliningrad, Vladivostok and other cities.” That’s not all. The court files also state that for Udaltsov, Lebedev and Razvozzhaev to carry out their scheme, “they planned to recruit 35,000 people to carry out mass disorder by means of SMS-messages.” Given the conspiracy’s expanding breath one might think that Udaltsov, Lebedev and Razvozzhaev were really Lenin, Trotsky and Zinoviev readying the Military Revolutionary Committee to seize the bridges, railways and telegraphic stations before carrying out their own October Revolution. What will the Russian authorities think up next? Implicate the trio in a plot to kill Putin, Medvedev, and other Soviet, err, Russian leaders?
All of this sounds ridiculous because, well, it is. Yet, the question that consistently boggles my mind is: Why? Why does the Kremlin persist in turning virtual political nobodies with little public stature into fodder for martyrdom? One easy answer is because Russian politics is a zero-sum game, and this all or nothing contest breeds authoritarian responses. Now while access to politics is circumscribed in liberal democratic states, and repression is freely used to squash dissent (i.e. the Occupy movement), these states still maintain the illusion of political inclusion. Not in Russia. Since he’s formally returned to the driver seat, Vladimir Putin has abandoned the political chimeras people like Vladislav Surkov understood were a vital technology of rule. In its place is a strategy, if one can even call it that, that is far blunter and forceful.
Another answer, which is not wholly disconnected from the first, is that Putin et al are really, really scared. They are scared partly because Russian politics is a zero-sum game, and partly because they know deep down they sit atop a weak state that makes their ability to manage Russian society tenuous. In this scenario putting out fires replaces governance and the stick supplants the carrot. Thus, I expect this siege mentality to keep on intensifying, and the fate of Udaltsov is just another indication of that trend. The only problem is that while siege mentality is good for extinguishing fires, the ashy remains makes fertile terrain for sprouting more and more martyrs.Post Views: 636
By Sean — 6 years ago
The protests against Vladimir Putin. The prosecution of the protests’ activists. The series of laws directly or indirectly aimed at the street opposition: upping fines, the branding of NGOs funded from abroad as “foreign agents,” the re-criminalization of libel, the restricting the internet, and the proposed law on volunteers. Occupy Abai. Pussy Riot’s detention and trial. All of these have received much attention in the Western press, and rightfully so. However, I have to agree with Katrina vanden Heuvel’s recent call that “perhaps it’s time for some reporting on the millions of working or unemployed Russians who will bear the brunt of economic policies hatched by the Putin government and supported by many of its opposition critics.” As she astutely notes,
In a case replete with ironies, here’s the final one: even as Putin reaps political benefit from the resentments of this other Russia, his economic and social policies are poised to hit its citizens hardest—and his most prominent critics in the opposition are on board as well. Last month ushered in a fairly dramatic increase in utility and transit costs. And austerity, Russia-style, is coming to other sectors as well: neoliberal “reforms” are on the way in education, housing and pensions. These changes will mean socio-economic disaster for already-suffering Russians, many in regions far-flung from Moscow. What is little reported in the West is that Putin’s own critics, those who’ve led many of the street protests in Moscow, also back these measures. These include elite critics like former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, Boris Nemtsov and Ksenia Sobchak, once the Paris Hilton of Russia until she became its Pasionaria. Perhaps that should be no surprise: they’re not the ones about to get hurt.
There has been some question as to what vanden Heuvel means by “austerity.” And in regard to Russian macroeconomic policy, its overall Federal budgets, and general fiscal order, though there is some concern about the cost of Putin’s campaign promises, vanden Heuvel’s use of “austerity” might be a misnomer. But the devil is in the details, as they say. And the neoliberal reform she references without elaboration is the law “On Amendments to Individual Statutes of the Russian Federation in Connection with Improving the Legal Status of State (Municipal) Institutions” passed on May 8, 2010 and brought into force on July 1, 2012. This 200 plus page behemoth, which has local governments still scrambling to implement, effectively splits Russia’s public-sector institutions into two groups: “public institutions” and “new public-sector institutions.” The former includes national defense and security organs and larger medical institutions like psychiatry hospitals. The budget allocation of these organizations will remain the same. The latter, however, which includes the overwhelming majority of institutions, about 330,000, of health care, education, sciences and culture will be partially decoupled from the Federal budget and run according to market principles. The ideas behind the law are steeped in neoliberal assumptions that I thought only existed in the US and Britain. Namely, the law’s authors believe that Russia’s social institutions are bloated, inefficient, and moribund (okay, not much of an argument there) and therefore have no incentive to optimize and improve the quality of services to citizens. In the words of N. Mukhetninova, a critic of the law, the authors’ “intention is to transform the authorities’ existing public-sector network, which is inefficient and costly, into a highly efficient one (aimed at meeting the highest standards for the quality of the services provided) that is relatively cheap for the government.” The broader logic of 83-FZ is to realize Putin’s desire for a balance federal budget with a move so often utilized in the US: liberalizing public services like health care and education to performance as a means of “accountability” and cost saving.*
What does 83-FZ do? On the surface, 83-FZ has all the usual positive liberal claptrap. It speaks of institutional autonomy, budgetary transparency, and efficiency. But the “main intrigue” as Mukhetninova explains, is that the law puts these so-called “new public-sector institutions” at the whim of the market. Their budgets will no longer be calculated on previous spending, but will be subsidies based on fulfilling state assignments, which cannot be refused, but the subsidy for which can arbitrarily altered by municipal governments. The law doesn’t provide any standards for determining the norms or financial payment for fulfilled work. Moreover, by making these institutions “autonomous,” the state is relieved of any responsibility for their economic viability. This creates, in Mukhetninova’s words, “a fundamentally new stage of commercialization of the social sphere and the government’s dumping of its responsibility for the functioning of the social sphere on the citizens themselves.” Is this not austerity by otherwise neoliberal means?
Indeed, as many health care professionals, labor unions, educators, and cultural workers believe, 83-FZ will eventually lead to the privatization of Russia’s social services. Mekhetninova implies this with her claim that transforming the funding of public-sector institutions to subsidies for work rendered will ultimately result in “bankruptcy thereby causing a redistribution of ownership in the social sphere.” Basically, the fear is that the already existing virtual privatization of public-sector institutions by their senior management will allow the latter to become formal owners. This is an effective means to legalize public-sector bureaucrats’ longstanding practice of pilfering state institutions all the while transferring more of the costs for services to Russia’s citizens. The law already allows for a measure of this since its gives administrators the power to engage in income generating activity, i.e. to charge service fees, dispose of movable property (though there are limitations for valuable assets), and declare unused budget monies as income to be used in the following calendar year. All sounds good–public-sector institutions are being given the means to better allocate resources. However, all I can see is another means for bureaucrats to move public funds and property into their own pockets.
Granted, many of the fears espoused last fall about the abolition of free education did not come to fruition. However, the law only went into effect on July 1. So for the ultimate results of 83-FZ, positive or negative, remains to be see. Given the disaster of welfare liberalization in other contexts, I, for one, am not optimistic.
So where is the Russian opposition on all this? There are many groups that have been and are continuing to protest 83-FZ, but many of them are labor unions and small leftists organizations that often fly under journalists’ radar. There was a lot of opposition to its passage in 2010, but to no avail. But wariness of the law was visible even among the Party of Power. Barely half of the Federal Council voted for it. In contrast, the “stars” of the Russian opposition have been mostly mute. Thus, while vanden Heuvel’s assertion of austerity, Russian style can be debated (I happen to agree with her), there’s one thing’s she unfortunately spot on about: When it comes to social and economic matters there is more congruence than divergence between Putin and his opponents. After all, why should Ksenia Sobchak et al care? The answer to that question, I’m afraid, is that they don’t.
*It’s important to note that 83-FZ is connected to several other policies. Mekhetninova: “In connection with the latter circumstance, we cannot fail to point out the organic relationship between FZ 83 and another recent legal document produced by federal executive authorities: the Ministry of Finance Program for Increasing the Efficiency of Spending Budget Funds in the Period up to 2012, approved by the RF government on May 20, 2010. Section 8 of the program is aimed at “optimizing” the public-sector network, developing it with funds from extra-budgetary sources, and expanding competitive relations, further implementing market principles in the social sphere, in all of its components.” For a survey of welfare reform liberalization under Putin, see Linda Cook, Postcommunist Welfare States: Reform Politics in Russia and Eastern Europe, Cornell University Press, 2007, Chapter 4.Post Views: 1,751
By Sean — 5 years ago
It just goes to show that there are two things that will bring Russia to the world’s attention: a Vladimir Putin PR stunt and a meteorite smashing into the country. The latter happened today outside of Chelyabinsk causing a lot of fear and a lot of minor injuries. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology and the Russian propensity to mount dash cams, there are some amazing videos of the fireball from space.
But what is perhaps better than the apocalyptic magic of Hollywood (almost) coming to life are the wild conspiracy theories that leap to the mind. After all, there is no way that the meteorite could actually be a meteorite, right? The obvious is merely for dupes of the Americans and Putin. For the former we have the always cogent words of Vladimir Zhirinovsky: “Those were not meteorites, it was Americans testing their new weapons.” But such musings are EXACTLY what we expect from our favorite Russian clown.
Zhirik, however, isn’t the only circus performer who is gayly dancing around the meteor crater thinking they’ve exposed a naked emperor. We also have the equally foolish Yulia Latynina, columnist for Novaya gazeta and the Moscow Times and harsh critic of all things Putin. Those familiar with Latynina’s usual screeds won’t be surprised by her latest conspiracy-mongering. But those who embrace her commentaries as insightful depictions of modern Russia might pause and consider who they’re putting their faith in.
What did Latynina make of the meteorite? Well, that it wasn’t a meteorite at all, but a secret rocket fired by the Ministry of Defense. Here’s a screen shot of five questions Latynina put forward to suggest her Kremlin rocket theory:
I’m not a rocket scientist. I’m a philologist. Therefore as a philologist I have several questions about rockets (and the Ministry of Defense) in regard to the meteorite near Chebarkul.
Question #1: Why did the meteorite fly directly from the Elansk area to the Chebarkul area?
Question #2: Why did it fly parallel to the ground, that is, along a trajectory which looks more like a rocket than a meteorite?
Question #3: Why did the meteorite leave a tail that looks like one from rocket fuel?
Question #4: Why did the meteorite’s explosion look like the emergency self-destruction of a rocket at launch?
Question #5: Why did such an incredible number of servicemen participate in the search for the meteorite? Eight planes, 20 thousand cops and soldiers, thousands of units of technology? (Tanks, for example, located the crater.) Where they afraid that someone would find the tail number on a piece of the meteorite?
Now you won’t find this article any longer on Novaya gazeta’s webiste. Nor will her English readers find a translation in tomorrow’s Moscow Times. It’s been removed because according to the url where it first appeared: “The author asked to remove their article from the site in light of new information.”
You bet she or the Novaya gazeta editors did. Becasuse Latynina’s “five questions” are those of an utter fool.
It never ceases to amaze me that anyone continues to publish her.Post Views: 2,205