Memorial goes back to the Dzerzhinskii District Court on Monday to get a decision on whether the police raid on its St. Petersburg headquarters was lawful. This is the organization’s third hearing. The last one was postponed because the head investigator did not prepare his case materials. I’ll be sure to report on the hearing after it happens.
In the meantime, there is one piece of new information. According to Fontanka.ru, the raid’s head investigator Mikhail Kalganov told the judge that the raid was the result of “outside surveillance of an unknown male of slender built, who after leaving Memorial made his way to the apartment of Aleksei Andreev, the editor in chief of Novyi Peterburg. Detective Kalganov concluded that this man was Andreev himself, though he did not have any direct proof.” Readers will recall that police argue that Memorial is connected to the paper, which is under investigation for extremism.
While there has been a lot of international condemnation of the Memorial raid, Russian academics were silent for the most part. Until now. A group of 24 scholars affiliated with the Russian Academy of Sciences have sent a letter to President Medvedev, General Proscutor Chaika and St. Petersburg Prosecutor Zaitsev asking for the immediate return of Memorial’s archival materials. There was some indication that the materials were to be returned last month. That still hasn’t happened.
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- By Sean — 2 years ago
- By Sean — 13 years ago
In his masterful narrative of Imperial Russian history, Russian: People and Empire, Geoffrey Hosking stated that Russian nationhood is caught in an irreconcilable binary between russkii and rossiiskii. The former signifies the ethnic category for Russian, which has its roots in the Slavs who established Kievan Rus’ in the 9th century, while the latter suggests a category for subjects or citizens of the Russian Empire despite their ethnic identity. Russian state and national development, agues Hosking, is in many ways characterized by the effort to reconcile these two concepts. “The great question for Russian leaders during the 19th and 20th centuries,” he wrote, “might be formulated as whether they could inculcate an analogous compound national identity in their empire’s more diverse elements.” (xxi)
Efforts to solve this question abound. Peter the Great attempted to create civic categories with his Table of Ranks, eschewing ethnic difference as something that could be overcome through service and loyalty to the State. Nicholas I addressed the civic and ethnic binary via his Digest of Laws (1832) by codifying Russian estates or soslovie coupled with an aggressive policy of Russification. The Bolsheviks attempted to reconcile russkii and rossisskii by Bolshevizing the problem. They suppressed Russian and ethnic nationalism while celebrating sovietization, preached the vague “national in form, socialist in content,” and attempted to create an overarching national-civic category of Soviet. However, as the collapse of the Soviet Union shows us, both the Tsarist and Soviet systems failed in uniting these seemingly contradictory categories. In fact the recent resurgence of russkii in the form of extreme nationalism and racial violence suggests that like during the late Imperial period, rossiiskii is taking a back seat. It appears that the problematic that plagued Russia’s state building continues to nag its post-Soviet development.
Nothing suggests this more that the current law before the Duma called “On the foundation of State national politics of the Russian Federation.” The bill is full of the problem the binary russkii and rossiisskii poses. Ethnic minorities within the Russian Federation see the bill as yet another attempt to codify Russian ethnic and cultural dominance. The State Council Committee on Culture, Science, Education, and National Affairs of Tatarstan, for example, has denounced the bill as chauvinistic and harking back to the “unrealistic experiment” to create a Soviet nation because it singles out a privileged position for the Russian people (Article 16) and declares that Russian (rossiiskii) citizens are “duty bound”(Article 20) to know the state language of the Russian (Rossiiskii) Federation—Russian (Russkii). Further, Article 21 states that “the violation of the legislation of the Russian Federation on the state national politics is a criminal penalty.” Once again, russkii trumps rossiisskii. In the view of Indus Tahirov, a deputy of Tatarstan’s Parliament, such Articles, especially with its provisions guaranteeing non-Russian’s right to use and preserve their native culture and language, makes the bill
a very insidious law. It gives the impression of defending the Russian people, but in essence it is directed against the Russian people. It appears to compliment the Russian people but actually it sets the Russian people up against all the other peoples. Then there is that terrible article where it states that citizens of the Russian Federation are obliged to know the Russian language. What does it mean: “obliged”? If they have to imprison me, what will they do?
Empire leaves a bad taste in the mouth. And any effort by the Russian majority to create an overarching civic category based on Russia (rossisskii) recalls a well known bitter taste.
The Radio Free Europe article on the matter states that the impetus behind this bill is fears of demographic change in Russia. Russian society is becoming more diverse and the growth of the Muslim population, the Kremlin fears, will one day whittle down Russian ethnic and religious dominance.
However, I feel the problem is more at the heart of Russian concept of nationality than the materialism of demography. It seems, (and by the way Russian concepts of nationality and ethnicity are shamefully understudied and under theorized), that nationality (natsional’nost’) and the people comprise it (narod) are becoming more and more synonymous with the concept of race. Here in the United States, for example, we tend to think of race as biological, and nationality and its members as more civic (though certainly not completely lacking biological markers). Both are more or less distinct categories. However, in Russia, race, nationality and its members (narod) seem to be intersecting more and more because the latter two have always been understood as a biological-cultural category, that is, it is blood and culture. This means that one’s nationality or nation is determined by biological lineage, language, culture and to some extent geographical origin. This conflation of nationality (natsional’nost’) and people (narod) with race seems to be recognized in the Duma bill because two distinct terms are used when speaking of, say, the “Russian nation” in the text. When it talks about the Russian nation as a civic entity it uses “Russian nation” (Rossiisskaia natsia), whereas when denoting an ethno-national entity it uses “Russian people” (Rossisskaia narod).
The Russian concept of nationality, therefore, forecloses the creation of a purely civic identity because the civic category rossiisskii cannot be separated from its ethno-biological roots. Rossiisskii is inherently based on an ethnic concept: Russia is a geographical territory where Russians (russkii) are its foundation. Nothing says this more than the first line of Article 16: “The Russian people (russkii narod) are recognized as the “state-forming” (rosudarstvoobrazuiushchii) people who have constituted itself in all territories of the Russian Federation.” No other ethnic group is given such a primary and privileged position in the law. In fact, no other ethnic group is specifically named. They are silenced as they are subsumed into the general category of narod. The Russian people’s (Russkii narod) primacy is only furthered by the following statement:
Organs of state power of the Russian (Rossiiskii) Federation, organs of state power subject to the Russian Federation and organs of local government under working and implementation of federal, regional and local programs of social-economic and national-cultural development of the peoples (narod) of the Russian Federation are duty bound to take into consideration the needs and interests of the Russian people (russkii narod). (Article 16)
How can an overarching civic category based on rossiisskii be created if it must make particular consideration of the “needs and interests” of the ethnic category of russkii? The above statement seems to negate that possibility thus making the bill “On the foundation of State national politics of the Russian Federation” to end up being yet another failed attempt.
- By Sean — 9 years ago
As hundreds of thousands protesters fill the streets of Tehran and other provincial centers, one can’t help think that we’ve seen this all before. So much about the Iranian protests look like the “colored revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, (the failed attempts in) Moldova and Belarus. In fact, “colored revolution” has become a preeminent phenomena in our young 21st century. It’s scripted like a bad TV drama with recycled plot lines, characters, and props. Colored revolutions unfold like ready-made, recyclable skits. Their ingredients include a “managed democracy,” a contestable election where the opposition claims “foul,” mass protests, a prominent place for “social networking” technologies (SMS, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, and the like), and the adoption of a color to symbolize all political demands. The dramatic conflict plays out between the “state” and “the opposition” (whether the latter is actually outside the former matters little) over the legitimacy of the election. All that is missing is the canned laughter. Nevertheless, no matter how much one may deride how revolutionary colored revolutions actually are, they do provide a glimpse into the political unconscious of our age. Whereas the 20th century provided us with the template for communist/anti-colonial struggles, the 21st has already given us an idea of what liberal revolution will look like.
The connection between the boiling discontent among Iranians and the possibility of a “colored revolution” in the Islamic Republic hasn’t been lost on the hardline leadership. According to Abbas Milani, prior to the election, Sobhe-Sadeq, the main organ of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard “warned in a lead editorial that the opposition’s use of the color green had become dangerously similar to the kind of “color revolution” that dethroned governments in Ukraine, Lebanon, and Georgia.” With his eyes clearly on events in those countries, Supreme Leader Khamenei ordered the creation of a committee to investigate the possibility of “colored revolution” three years ago.
Nor has the “colored revolution” paradigm been far from the minds of observers. When protests erupted in Tehran, Joshua Tucker asked in the New Republic whether Ukraine could teach us anything about events in Iran. After pondering the question for a few days, he rejected the idea. Not because of the anatomy of the protests, but because “the Iranian authorities may have learned a number of specific lessons from their less fortunate post-communist counterparts.” But after more than a week of escalating protests, every lesson Tucker says the Iranian government learned have proved to be ineffective against a determined and growing opposition. The question is: are we witnessing a “colored revolution” in Iran? Given that events in Iran do appear similar to colored revolutions in the former Soviet republics, how do some in the Russian press see in the Iranian protests? After all, Russian journalists should know a colored revolution when they see it given all their experience with observing them in their near abroad or watching their state hysterically dedicate its security apparatuses to preventing one at home.
A good place to start to identify what parallels Russian commentators see between Iran and post-Soviet states is a commentary by Andrei Kolesnikov published in Vedomosti. Kolesnikov sees the Iranian protests and the “revolutions” in CIS countries as symbolic of what Jurgen Habermas calls “catch-up revolution.” Kolesnikov writes:
This phenomena described in political philosophy is called “catch-up revolution.” The philosopher Jurgen Habermas labels a revolution in reverse rewind when a society painfully attempts to make up for years of induced stagnation. Moldova, lived through, like the majority of post-Soviet states, a national revolution but did not undergo a bourgeois revolution. The part of Iranian society disposed toward modernization were seriously disillusioned in the years of the predecessor of Ahmadinejad–the moderate reformer Khatami. And now 12 years after what began as Khatami’s rapidly unfurled “thaw”, and after came to be a genuine “frost”, results in a catch-up revolution, a revolution not so much of hope, but of persistent disappointment.
Whether a catch-up revolution is in the making is difficult to gage. Plus the whole idea of “catch up” suggests that a there is something to catch up top. Habermas’ idea, and Kolesnikov embrace of it, is based in the historical teleology that state’s political development follows a singular path toward liberalism. Still, one gets the feeling that Kolesnikov musing in political philosophy has little to do with Iran per se. Kolesnikov’s views speak more to his native country, Russia. Indeed, like so many around the world, the Iranian protests have been subsumed into the desires of the observers. Iran, therefore, only highlights the nadir of political change in Russia. “Perhaps,” Kolesnikov writes, “one of the few comparatively poor states, where a catch-up revolution is now impossible by force of the shapelessness of political protest is Russia. Our political revolutions occur in kitchens and social salons. And protest continues to be purely social, and Pikalevo-like.”
Perhaps this is why the Russian press lacks the adulation that one finds in the Anglo press. Whereas the American politicos see an Iran budding into a potential Persian America, the Russians are more pessimistic and emphasize the limits of political change; limits which undoubtedly stem from their own historical experience with “revolutions.” Take for example, Petr Goncharov’s opinion in RIA Novosti,
The situation in Iran indeed recalls something revolutionary. And the “green” opposition chose the green color of Islam as “a symbol of struggle against stranglehold of the regime.” The most recent circumstances gave the possibility to adherents of the “sacredness” of any order to see in it its “orange” essence. Today, every protest, slogan and other demands “for liberalization” have accepted the stamp of the danger of “orange” revolution. There won’t be a revolution. Neither “green,” nor “orange” for that matter. The revolution has been postponed. Postponed by Imam Khamenei the Supreme (and lifelong) spiritual leader of Iran.
Statements about the revolution being postponed are certainly premature. But the foreclosure that both Kolesnikov and Goncharov place on it speaks volumes. They both seem to be saying in their own disillusioned way that, “It’s happened in Iran, but it cannot and won’t happen in Russia.” Russia liberals, of course, are asking similar questions along similar lines. “Why isn’t Russia Iran?” asks Alexander Golts. The question must eat at liberals like Golts as they watch citizens of a theocracy excercize their rights while those in an arguably more open Russia remain idle. As for why this is the case, Golts gives this answer,
There are several objective factors which makes Iranian society more “passionate” than the Russians. First of all, the age of the [Iranian] urban population. Seventy percent are young people who absolutely don’t want to rot for several more years under the leadership of a narrow-minded fanatic. Moreover, in this theocratic state, as it’s been shown, political competition has a place with frank, you will laugh, debates on television. But the main conclusion is that Vladimir Putin does not mess with Russians to the degree and with such passion as Ahmadinejad does Iranians. The Russian government does not meddle, in contrast to the Iranians, in private life. However, I surmise that the effectiveness with which Vladimir Vladimirovich guides the national economy will very soon compel Russians to spit on his charisma and remember their right to choose . . .
Of course, Golts, in all his liberal hopes, forgets that while he thinks that the future of post-Soviet Russia is still up for debate, or rather than he and his ilk are part of that debate, the reformers in Iran are. As the last weeks have proven, the Iranian opposition is part of Iranian mainstream political culture however much the hardliners who back Ahmadinejad try to deny it and paint them as part of a CIA/Mossad plot.
For all intents and purposes, the Iranian opposition isn’t calling for an undoing of the Iranian Revolution. For the most part, their calls are for the regime to abide by its own rules. Their demands are still very much within its ideological and discursive confines, though as some note, the situation is so unpredictable that Islamic regime could be swept away as easily as its predecessor. This relationship to the past is what differentiates events in Iran with those in post-Soviet states. The “colored revolutions” in former Soviet states are in part an effort to break from the past, and in particular, move away from Russia’s orbit to face the West. In this case, they were a continuation of a process of national revolutions began in 1991. In Iran, the position of the opposition leadership appears to be for a retooling of the past, a return to the principles of the Revolution, rather than its utter disregard.