With Labor set to go down in flames in next month’s parliamentary elections in Israel, what is a beleaguered Ehud Brarak to do to pump up his tough image among crucial Russian voters? Why, “Putinize” himself, of course. As Lily Galili reports in Haaretz:
In a bid to gain the vote of the Russian immigrants in the elections, Labor leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak will quote Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s statement about killing Chechen terrorists “on the toilet.”
“As you people say, they should be whacked when they’re on the toilet,” Barak will say in a radio election broadcast intended for Russian speakers. Labor, which is launching its campaign among the Russian speakers this afternoon, will ask them to support him, as they did when he last ran for prime minister 10 years ago.
Galili goes on to explain that Barak’s Putin plagiarism is his way of “fashioning his image after that of an aggressive leader whom many Russian immigrants see favorably.”
Until a few weeks ago, Barak didn’t have a chance among Israel’s Russian population. But what a difference a brutal invasion of Gaza makes, and as Defense Minister Barak hopes to reap the political benefits. As one Israeli political commentator told Galili: “Unlike the failed Lebanon war, the war in Gaza was brutal enough and successful enough to score points for Barak.” “Barak is lucky,” he added. “Most Russians see this war as a failure, but Barak is identified with the military victory, not with its political failure.”
Galili explains further:
Under the halo of a military victory, Barak’s messages in his address to the Russian public will be much more radical and aggressive than those in his Hebrew campaign. Russians are assumed to love power and to be looking for a strong leader and Barak will present himself as an answer to both these needs.
Nice. Apparently, if several hundred to over a thousand Palestinian deaths (depending on who you listen to) are needed to give those so-called power loving Russians a strong leader, then so be it.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
The deputy head of Putin’s administration, Vladislav Surkov gave a rare press conference this week. His comments touched on energy geopolitics and Russian democracy. The latter topic has generated the most press as critics have tried to ascertain the meaning of Surkov’s use of “sovereign democracy” versus “managed democracy”. For the latter he gave this definition: “By managed democracy we understand political and economic regimes imposed by centres of global influence – and I am not going to mention specific countries – by force and deception.” Of course Russia doesn’t try to install “managed democracies” on its borders. Yeah, right. In this sense, Russia does what every power currently does. It uses the rhetoric of democracy as a tool of geopolitical maneuvering.
Take Surkov’s democratic rhetoric as an example. His definition of “managed democracy” is a direct reference to America’s view that the only democracy is American democracy or at least the only viable democracy is one that conforms to American interests. Surkov made these comments in the context Dick Cheney’s hypocrisy in labeling authoritarian states “democracies.” “When [Cheney] was in Kazakhstan after criticizing our democracy, he gave the highest rating to Kazakhstan’s democracy. The Kazakh people are our brothers. But I will never agree that Kazakhstan has gone further in building democracy than we have.” I’d have to score one to Surkov here. For Cheney to suggest that Nazarbayev’s regime approaches anything close to a democracy should evoke rancorous laughter. The point however is Russia is itself playing the “democracy” game by measuring others and itself against imagined, and self-referential idealism about its own democracy.
In contrast, western critics use the term “managed democracy” to describe Russia as “backsliding” into authoritarianism. Surkov essentially turned the Western usage on its head. According to Surkov, “managed democracy” is given to states that are under the American neo-imperial umbrella. So Karzai’s Afghanistan, Musharaf’s Pakistan, Mubark’s Egypt, and Iraq are democracies, while Russia is not. “They [the West],” charged Surkov in specific reference to American attempts to dominate the globes energy resources, “talk about democracy but they’re thinking about our natural resources.”
Instead, Russia is what Surkov calls a “sovereign democracy”—a democracy which acts in its own national interest and, (this got the goat of many Western reporters) is no different than democracy in Europe. “It [sovereign democracy] means we are building an open society, that we do not forget we are a free society, and that we do not want to be directed from outside,” said Surkov. In his view, Russia is moving away from the “managed democracy” of the 1990s, when Russia was racked by American influenced “shock therapy” and rule by oligarchs. “What are we backsliding from?” he asked rhetorically. “We are moving further and further away from this non-democracy.”
This semantic game was not lost on Sergei Roy, who had this to say in a recent commentary on the “managed” versus “sovereign” democracy:
Consider the controversy concerning “managed democracy” vs. “sovereign democracy.” Certain “purists” insist that either you have democracy or you don’t, that real democracy comes without any adjectives, that any additions to the concept make it less of a democracy or no democracy at all. Well, those purists should pay attention to the frequency with which the phrase “effective democracy” is used in the US ideological environment and, still more, to the practice of imposing this “effective democracy” throughout the world — most notably in Iraq, of course. Surkov’s, and quite a few other people’s, insistence on sovereign democracy means, quite simply, that to have a democracy in Russia, there must first be a Russia, recognizable to its people as their birthplace with a thousand-year history and a certain future as a single, indivisible country. A sovereign country. No wonder this term, sovereign democracy, is so virulently attacked by the said purists, for whom there can be only one kind of democracy the world over — American democracy. We see only too clearly, however, that American democracy abroad is democracy for Americans abroad and at home, not for the peoples of that “abroad.” Countries like Georgia and Ukraine are too close to Russia for us to miss the effect of the loss of sovereignty on democracy. To the US, these lands may appear to be beacons of freedom and democracy. At closer range, they look more like what the irreverent French call bordel de Dieu, the brothel of Our Lord. They are not even managed democracies, as Surkov calls them. They are mismanaged pseudo-democracies.
And I should not be too contemptuous of Georgia, Ukraine or the like. Just a few years ago, Russia was no better, with “democrats” like Gusinsky, Berezovsky, Nevzlin, Khdorkovsky, not forgetting the Family or Mr. Chernomyrdin (aka Schwarzmordekhai), ruling the land in collusion with the IMF, tearing the country apart, snarling at each other over the more succulent chunks of its assets, and stashing away the proceeds of plunder in foreign securities. That was the type of democracy in Russia that suited the West to a T. Like Surkov said, “If cannibals came to power in Russia and gave away certain things to certain people at once, they would be recognized as a democratic government.” Recall how fervent Mr. Cheney was in praise of Kazakhstani democracy on his recent visit there. Kazakhs are no cannibals, thank God, but they have given away their oil fields to Chevron — and were elevated to the status of arch-democrats by the US vice president. One might have asked what the Kazakh opposition had to say on this score — if there was any opposition worth the name to be found, for love or money.
However, while Roy agrees that Russia needs a Putin (which he refers to as “Putin A”) to move Russia away from domination by outsiders, Russia also needs a “Putin B” to act as counterweight, “otherwise the whole structure is a bit out of kilter and prone to dangerous instability.” This dangerous instability is seen in United Russia’s one party dominance over Russian politics.
What or who does Roy wish this until now non-existent counterweight to be? “A leader of the currently totally disorganized and apathetic masses, a leader who would unite these masses around a trade unions platform somewhat along the British trades union lines of the pre-Blair era. That is what the country needs — a “labor party” and a strong labor party leader, to kick the excreta out of the rotten, currently all-powerful yet incompetent bureaucratic machine and the grasping capitalists who are now exploiting and generally manhandling the proles any damn way they please.”
Roy’s comment echoes the hopes of Boris Kagarlitsky. Kagarlistky also muses on the fact that something is missing in Russian politics. And that “something” is none other than social democracy. Though much of Europe is in the hands of social democratic parties, social democracy as it was known in the early and middle part of the 20th century has all but collapsed. Social Democrats have further reconciled themselves to the Thatcherite slogan, “There is no alternative” to neo-liberal capitalism.
For Russia, however, social democracy has been bankrupt much longer. The ineffectiveness and political stupidity of the Menshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party in 1917 along with its branding as the ideology of “enemies of the people” in the Soviet period, has relegated any social democratic hopes thoroughly in the hands of the equally moribund Communist Party. These folks, in Kagarlitsky’s eyes, are much worse than the Third Wayers in Western Europe. At least the Blairites and Schroederites bare some resemblance to a social democracy now past. Gennady Zyuganov’s “Communists” are nothing more than conservative nationalists wrapped in the red flag of working class emancipation.
It is because of this that Kagarlitsky’s (and Roys’ for that matter) hopes for the development of a Western style social democratic alternative to United Russia are only that, hopes. A substitute will come along to challenge United Russia in the political duel for Russia’s “sovereign democracy”. It just won’t be a force with a social democratic face.
So what does this all have to do with Surkov’s concept of Russia’s “sovereign democracy”? It seems that it has strange bedfellows. Roy’s doesn’t reject the notion. I doubt Kagarlitsky would either. Russian democracy should be a contest that has Russian interests in mind. It should be a sort of nationalist democracy. (And here I use nationalist to mean that it should be conducted without outside influence.) The differences are that Surkov’s democracy looks fine without an opposition to Putin/United Russia. Democracy under the helm of these two powerful forces, though not without problems, is sailing along just fine. For Roy and Kagarlitsky, this smooth sailing is only a dream vacation cruise that is steeped in ideological smoke and political grift. The real journey will undoubtedly hit some rough and choppy waters that will inevitably veer Russia’s “sovereign democracy” into the oncoming rocks.
By Sean — 11 years ago
Vladimir Putin, President of Russian Federation
Vladimir Churov, Chairman of Central Election Commission of Russian Federation
Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russian Federation
Gentlemen, I have no doubt that you are well aware that the free expression of the will of free citizens via free democratic elections can never result in 99.4% of the votes being cast for one party with a turnout of 99.5% of the voters.
Now obviously that is only impossible where there is open, transparent political competition between electoral candidates, with equal opportunities for public campaigning, where there is no administrative pressure on individuals and where one finds impeccable honesty and scrupulous accuracy from the election commissions.
Yet all these are surely the crucial conditions for democratic electoral procedure?
No need to prove to you that these very 99.4% votes “for” provide incontrovertible evidence of vote-rigging. You know that as well as I do, and as well as any remotely literate citizen with at least commonsense, not to mention a basic awareness of the nature and possibilities of the popular vote. You of course also know that such results far above 90% (i.e. the same fraud) did not happen in isolated polling stations, no, in several subjects of the Russian, if one may use the term, “Federation”. This unfortunate circumstance is more than sufficient to correctly assess the tasteless farce being played out by untalented directors on the entire boundless Russian stage on 2 December, and for good measure in the coming event on 2 March.
It is entirely redundant to tediously collect up the electoral commission protocols rewritten in retrospect, or evidence of shenanigans with ballot papers etc – it’s all clear enough anyway. The authorities (who by the way you represent, Gentlemen), mangled electoral legislation and then wantonly, with no finesse, came up with some kind of imitation of elections. In doing so they sneered at the Constitution and armed themselves with administrative resources. The simulation was not for us but for the West you so dislike.
I am not in the slightest claiming that “United Russia” would not have got into the State Duma without the rigging. For goodness sake, obviously they would have been in first place anyway. That’s quite another, also painful problem for the country.
However on another subject now. Through your deliberate efforts, Gentlemen, in a country where the democracy was only budding forth, we once again have no elections – the main criterion for a democracy. And for a long time. Not even Stalin could have dreamed of the Chechen record. In his “elections”, that sort of percentage was gained by a single candidate with no alternative. While in the present case this pathetic 0.1% was supposedly shared by virtually 10 parties.
It’s not by hearsay that we know what’s happening to a country which receives a sycophantic puppet parliament, a decorative Constitution, a justice system working to order and an uncontrolled leadership reappointing itself (like the profoundly expressive word “successor” which has sullied our political lexicon for a good 10 years). Details are hardly appropriate. It would seem that that does not frighten you and you have decided to try it yet another. Or maybe you simply don’t know anything else.
Well, the choice – conscious and well-thought-out – has undoubtedly been made –, and long ago, and I am quite well aware that I can’t stop it.
I do have a question, however: will you be able to stop if at some stage you don’t wish to follow things through to the all too familiar end?
It’s clear that the lies exuding from all your lackey screens, are powerless to hide the electoral shame. Yet despite that, you are forced to lie shamelessly and hopelessly, with arrogance and anger jumping down on any doubts (like “… let them teach their wives …”). You don’t have another choice, I mean you can’t say: “Well, we took over here, slightly corrected the results, and there they went overboard. Well don’t be too critical, it’s all though their enthusiasm and uncontrollable functionary zeal.
And in your step there are the adepts hurriedly bustling to get themselves onto the patriot register. Earlier our leaders quite often had to lie tediously and brazenly for decades, denying the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, or the Katyn Massacre of Polish prisoners of war, or the arrest of Wallenberg. In a word, what was obvious to all around them and now it’s you. History is unfortunately repeating itself.
The lie which you so decisively have again established in government use and which you are incapable of rejecting has an important and extremely dangerous quality – I would say a particularly corrupting force. The point is that the majority of your listeners don’t believe you, and that includes your convinced supporters. That is, they are of course pleased with “United Russia’s” victory, but they understand very well whatever you say how the mould for such a victory was set.
We have a paradoxical change – you lie, your listeners know this and you know that they don’t believe you, only pretend to believe, and yet they also know that you know they don’t believe you. Everybody knows everything. The very lie no longer aspires to deceive anyone, from being a means of fooling people it has for some reason turned into an everyday way of life, a customary and obligatory rule for living. You have a Mr Markov, supposedly a professor, supposedly a political expert, and in fact a hardened and dense cynic. Speaking with him about our “politics”, a journalist said: “lies have short legs”. “Human memory is even shorter”, was Markov’s response. Horrible, yet it would seem that this is in fact the case. Of course they’ll forget a lot about the two grubby spectacles in succession in a couple of months after 2 March. However they’ll never forget something else – that the top figures of the state lie through their teeth. And how could they forget when lying is your natural element?
This memory is catastrophic and its results irreparable because the customary lies of leaders always generate and cultivate cynicism in society and cannot achieve anything else. Whatever your people now say about freedom being better than lack of freedom, about the right to self-expression and so forth, these pompous speeches are fixedly (and fairly, by the way) perceived as a continuation of your untruth. They’re mere words. There is exactly the same attitude to the bombastic ambitiousness of your utterances about the guaranteed phenomenal and swiftest successes in all conceivable areas, matters and issues.
It would seem, however strange this may be, that for us, coming from the Stalin era, those in power also need public support. So you want to rely on cynicism? Yet cynicism is cowardice, the flight from burning problems and hard-hitting discussion. It is the lowest pragmatism, petty timeserving teetering on the verge of baseness, or having toppled over that edge. It is intrigue, preferred to competition, and a rejection of moral taboos.
Can any serious political force really base itself on such social tendencies? Well, yes, cynicism does not scorn obsequious enthusiasm. We all remember well enough the paid mobs of your “nashy”, 150 per body. So what do you expect – they’re your prop in the flamboyantly announced “innovations” and other achievements? Enough, after all you, Mr President, openly shared with us your devastating assessments of your main people – the party of power “United Russia”. What other “innovations”?
What then, do you expect with pitiful charms about “four and “to turn a mob into a creative force? Now that is foolish! From dishonesty, Gentlemen, nothing grows barring new dishonesty. On that road you have already achieved your real main goal. Publicly you name it ponderously as stability, whereas in fact its total power. Simply speaking, modernizing and improving (cynically, yet reasonably subtly one must say) Soviet ideology and political practice, you have built a political construction in Russia within which it’s impossible to win the elections.
Not even squeeze them in any way in parliament. Not even exert any noticeable political pressure. This is a blind alley that can no way lead to democracy. And gradually going back by the same path we came on is almost impossible since you are doomed to lie. As I said before, you can’t renounce the lies once spoken, or your whole system will come tumbling down.
What you are to do in this situation is of no interest to me. Most probably you’ll continue your course, perhaps on the way filling your pockets (those in the know say that you’ve long being doing this – I don’t know, I’m not an expert in this area). What the country is to do, having ended up under you, now that is the question. It is immoral and very dangerous to put up with you indefinitely. Since your present shameless “elections” are absolutely useless, we therefore need an entirely different instrument in other hands.
We don’t need “political experts” and “political technology specialists”, not economists and not politicians in the traditional sense of the word. We need intelligent, daring and extremely well-meaning leaders who instead of loud opposition noises, can create a decisive, calm, persistent and unwavering protest and not allow it to slip out from the tradition of the great peaceful Eastern European victories over despotism, to not allow bloodshed and the brown-shirt plague. This is incredibly difficult. It is much harder in Russia than it was in Poland or Czechoslovakia, harder even than in Ukraine.
Yet who promised that our life would be easy? I believe that these people will at some stage come. I see no other possibility for overcoming our shameful moral crisis.
However it’s not with you that these problems need to be discussed.
With the most sincere and unwavering lack of respect,
By Sean — 11 years ago
The only thing more predictable than United Russia’s victory on Sunday, is the West’s virtually unanimous condemnation of the elections. A spokesman from the German government called them “Neither a free, fair nor democratic election.” The Swedish forgien minister said Russia is a “steered democracy.” A European observer call them “not a level playing field.” U.S. President Bush gave Putin no congradulations, instead making one of his typical responses, “I said we were sincere in our expressions of concern about the elections.” I think it’s time to start translating Washington’s newspeak “expressions of concern” as “We don’t give a shit but I have to say something.” The only Western leader who broke step was France’s Nicholas Sarkozy. In a phone call to Putin, Sarkozy congratulated Putin on United Russia’s victory.
As a whole, however, the post-election reporting is so uniform that the only thing that reporters seemed to prove is that they are somewhat adept at using a thesaurus.
Just take a look at some of the headlines:
The LA Times: “Russian Elections Called a Sham“
The NY Times: “A Tale of Two Strongmen“
The Guardian: “A Managed Election“
The Wall Street Journal: “The Allure of Tyranny“
The Washington Post: “In Russia, the Backward March to Czarism Continues“
No need to read them. I think you get the picture from the headlines. Most intriguing, however, is how the Wall Street Journal and the NY Times lump Putin and Venuzela’s Hugo Chavez into the same bunch: strongmen and tyranny. And in a turnabout, the NY Times writes, “Who would have ever thought that Mr. Chávez could seem more palatable than Mr. Putin, who has the stamp of international respectability as a member of the group of leading industrialized nations? The United States and Europe must let Mr. Putin know that his days of respectability are fast running out.”
The Wall Street Journal even waxed a bit philosophical in its attempt to explain why the Putins and Chavezes of the world have a certain “allure.” To this, Bret Stephens writes that the desire for tyranny “springs from sources deep within ourselves: the yearning for a politics without contradictions; the terror inscribed in the act of choice.” Wow. The WSJ better watch out because it might start sounding like pomo-kings Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. “Everyone wants to be a fascist” the latter claimed in an essay of that title in 1977.
The greater irony of the Stephens’ statement that people have a “yearning for a politics without contradictions” and immobilized by “the terror inscribed in the act of choice” is that this is clearly the case for most Western reporters and politicians in regard to Russia. For them Russia is truly a place without contradiction. It has no mixture. No complexity. It’s politics can only be understood via its reduction. The Kremlin has made a great effort to make Russians think that Putin = Russia. That he is its alpha and omega. In a strange many reports think this too. It’s just that the Western media’s evaluation of Russia is merely the black to the Kremlin’s white. If Putin really rules by an “elaborate hoax” as Stephens claims, then West’s unanimous inversion of it proves that they too have been dazzled by Putin’s trickery. Perhaps many reporters’ inability to understand Russia on its own terms is also an example of “the terror inscribed in the act of choice.”
Nevertheless, there were two comments that dared to veer away from the predictable. First a commentary in the Independent by Mary Dejevsky and the second an opinion by Tony Koron in Time Magazine, of all places. Dejevsky dares to remind her readers that:
[T]he implications of Sunday’s elections may be rather different from those drawn by an international consensus that habitually presupposes the worst. If the elections were, as they were bound to be, a referendum on Putin’s eight years in power, the judgment was strongly positive.
But given Russia’s strong economic indicators, Putin’s undisputed personal popularity, and the sense of national dignity his presidency has helped to restore, the result was unlikely to be otherwise. A strong swing against Putin would have been more suspicious than the vote of confidence United Russia obtained. The elections may not have been as free, and certainly not as fair, as they should have been, but the result is not out of line with Russia’s public mood.
She also suggests that most commentators obsession with apocalyptic visions of “Tsar” Putin have missed the real and unfortunate story: the Russian political process has become ossified. As she rightly points out, United Russia’s victory was no more victorious than in 2003. Further, the far-right and far-left have dropped from the political scene leaving Russian politics the domain of the political center. “The parties represented in the new Duma, and their leaders, will be essentially those that have dominated the past decade of Russian politics.” So while those commentators who wish there to be an electoral revolution with every poll may stomp their feet in frustration, Russians can now breath easy. The post-Soviet “Time of Troubles” is now officially over.
It is this victory for stability that makes Tony Koron’s piece in Time so interesting. Putin has been compared to a lot of things, most of them being the vile villains of History (this is despite the fact that Putin sees himself as a Russian Franklin Roosevelt). But Koron likens Putin to another master of American politics: Ronald Reagan. There is no doubt that comparing Putin to American conservatives’ demigod will make them shutter. But hear Koron out:
The explanation for Putin’s popularity may be found in certain similarities to the man often credited with helping to bring down the Soviet Union. It’s not that the former KGB man has any policy preferences or even a political style in common with Ronald Reagan, the great icon of contemporary American conservatism. But in the sense that he has made Russians feel good once again about their country, his appeal is Reaganesque.
Reagan’s own popularity — even among many Democrats — owed less to his specific policies (tax cuts, arms buildup) than to his overall success in restoring Americans’ national pride and optimism. If the Carter era had been associated with domestic economic woes and a string of geopolitical defeats that culminated in the Iran hostage crisis, Reagan managed, almost as soon as he took office, to convince the public that a new “morning in America” had broken, by getting tough with U.S. adversaries on the global stage.
Talk about the things that make you go, “Hmmm . . .”