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By Sean — 10 years ago
In Russia, December 14 is remembered as the day of the Decembrist Uprising of 1825, but today’s dissenters are marking it as a annual day of protest. While most international reporting has focused on the arrests of some 90 demonstrators at the sparsely attended the Dissenters’ March in Moscow, on the other side of the country thousands of people paralyzed the city of Vladivostok for five hours in a protest against taxes on the purchase of foreign cars. The increase set to take effect on January 11, 2009 will increase the price of an imported car by 10 to 20 percent.
The action pits the Russian government and citizen against each other in the form of a classic tax revolt. Ironically, the government’s attempt to protect the fledgling Russian auto industry from foreign competition has found its greatest foe among the very people Russia’s economic boom has benefited: those Russians who now have enough disposable income to buy a new car. According to one figure, about 90% of small cars in Primorya are Japanese models. Much of the protesters’ anger was directed at Putin with slogans like “Improve the standard of living, but no taxes!” and “Mr. Putin help the oligarchs from your own pocket!” Given the protest’s constituency, economic theme, and target is why Russian television was silent about the protests. According to one report, no central television station–NTV, Pervyi, or Rossiia–reported on the protests. The Russian print media and blogosphere, however, continues to be abuzz with reports and discussion of the significance of the protests.
The protest, which was organized by the Society for the Defense of Drivers of the Primorya, appeared to catch local authorities off guard. Sure, the Vladivostok city administration gave a permit for the action, but it seems that they didn’t realize that it would garner that much support. According to Kommersant, the action was a two pronged attack. About half of the protest gathered in the center of the city in front of the city administration while a chain of cars caused a traffic jam to the airport. According to Igor Pushkarev, the mayor of Vladivostok, the action paralyzed the city and “caused serious problems for tens of thousands of people” including delays in emergency vehicles, disruption of businesses, and deliveries to grocery stores. It took the cops several hours to get control of the situation. In the end, several tens of people were arrested, fined 2,000-2,500 rubles, and then released. The organizers were fined 1,000 rubles.
The protesters can say that their action was a success. They may have been dismissed by the national television media, but they got the attention of their intended target: local and national leaders. Today, deputies from Primorya voted unanimously to appeal to Medvedev, Putin and the State Duma to reverse the planned tariffs on foreign cars. The Federal Council has already promised to help the protesters. One council member, Vyacheslav Fetisov, put it this way: “Once Primordtsy went out on the street it means that [the tariffs] will seriously affect their lives.” Funny how that didn’t cross his mind until now.
The protestors are serious. So much so that they aren’t going to take any empty words or gestures from goverment officals. They are already thinking about increasing the pressure with a repeat performance on December 21.Post Views: 807
By Sean — 11 years ago
A few weeks ago, the Russian body politic heard from the Liberal-Left when about 3000 supporters of Other Russia clashed with police in St. Petersburg. Now the Right is planning a march for April 8th titled, “Imperial March.” The march is being organized by Alexander Dugin. The organizers boast that 1500 participants will attend. This list includes a virtual who’s who of the Russian far right: writers Alexander Prokhanov and Maxim Kalashnikov, television host Mikhail Leontyev, the National Bolshevik Front (a breakaway group from Eduard Limonov’s organization), the Ukrainian party Russian Bloc and the Ukrainian Labor Conference. As Kommersant explains:
“Among the people, there is great disappointment with the Orange, but the Orange are now raising their heads, as the recent March of Those Who Disagree in St. Petersburg showed,” Zarifullin said. “We need an imperial project that supports Putin. We don’t want a Maidan in this country.” Zarifullin made it clear that he considers pro-Kremlin groups such as Our, the Youth Guardian of a United Russia, Young Russia and the Local allies.
“We are also fighting the Orange revolutions,” Youth Guardian organizer for the Central Federal District Alexey Shaposhnikov said, “but they can be fought differently.”
“They, of course, will receive a permit to march,” observed Yulia Malysheva, leader of Mikhail Kasyanov’s People’s Democratic Union of Youth. “They are a completely Kremlin project, Putin-Jugend. I hope they have the brains not to dress up like Santa Claus this time,” she added, referring to an action by government supporters the day after the first March of Those Who Disagree.
National Bolshevik leader Eduard Limonov asked rhetorically “Who needs them? They are corrupt and disgraceful. Three strange men with beards will show up and march together.”
Orange Revolution. That is so 2004. Like the Other Russia march, I’m sure that the Imperial March will be little more than a fart in the wind. Though I won’t be surprised at all if the Western media doesn’t use the it as an opportunity to douse its readers with cries that Russian fascism is right around the corner.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
“Only by uniting our efforts can we achieve results in developing our country and ensure that it take an appropriate place in the world,” Putin said in reference to National Unity Day. “That is why, the idea that inspired this holiday seems to be very important to me and deserves support.”
By all accounts, on this National Unity Day is an empty holiday created by the Kremlin to replace Revolution Day on November 7. Even more a sign of desperation, is the fact that the historical event chosen to mark said unity is Russia “liberation” from the Poles in 1612. If you have to look back four centuries to find national unity, then you know you are in trouble.
But everyone knows that the historical reasons for National Unity Day are a sham, and to emphasize that again really isn’t the point. The point is that the celebration of especially this year’s holiday is a reminder of how Russia’s past and present is marked with disunity. And while Putin is for the most part something for the Russia people to unite around, his words can’t help contain a tinge of desperation.
This year’s unity day is like none since its invention in 2005 by the simple fact that November 7 marks the 90th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. No there won’t be any grand celebrations. Nor will there be much recognition of the anniversary on global scale. It’s a bit sad really especially since it’s not a stretch to say that the Bolshevik Revolution was the most important event of the 20th century. Some honest reevaluation of it seems necessary to me, but maybe that is just the historian in me talking.
Celebrations marking the Revolution’s 90th Anniversary will surely be small. Only the most staunchest of communists will probably commemorate it. Still, most Russians, according to a poll conducted by the Levada Center, continue to view it as positive. 31% of respondents felt that the Revolution spearheaded “Russia’s economic and social progress.” 26% said that it “helped Russia turn over a new leaf.” Only 16% said it was an impediment to Russia’s development, and 15% saw it as a national disaster. Given how tendentious the Revolution continues to be, there is no doubt that many will argue about what these percentages actually mean.
No matter how one views the Revolution, whether it was a “coup,” a “social revolution,” or simply some kind of back room hatched conspiracy, one can’t deny that it symbolized and continues to symbolize more disunity rather than unity. Such was the case in November 1917. Speaking to the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, Lenin crafted the Bolshevik’s victory in terms of unity. “We have now learned to make a concerted effort,” he said. “The revolution that has just been accomplished is evidence of this. We possess the strength of mass organization, which will overcome everything and lead the proletariat to the world revolution.” Lenin knew that taking power was a gamble and that his party’s strength was concentrated in Russia’s urban centers and among the soldiers. So Lenin, as he would do until his death, preached unity at the moment when disunity was at its most virulent.
But whatever unity among the toiling classes Lenin hoped to retain, they were dashed by the realities of rule. By January 1918, Lenin’s government was getting flooded with letters of protest against disbanding the Constituent Assembly, failing to fulfill its promises, and incapable of dealing with the burden of rule. One unsigned letter “from the front” dated 15 January 1918 to Lenin is especially telling. It reads:
Comrade Lenin: It’s been been four whole days since we’ve had a glimpse of bread, we are walking around naked and barefoot. Yet still there’s no peace and none is expected. Comrade Lenin, did you really seize power so that you could drag the war out three more years? Comrade Lenin, where is your conscience, where are the words you promised: peace bread land and liberty in three days’ time? Did you promise all that just so you could seize power? And then what? But no, you don’t want to fulfill your obligation. Now, this is all lies. If you don’t keep your promises by 1 February, then you’re going to get what Dukhonin got: you’ll drop like a fly. If you’ve picked up the reins then go ahead and drive, and if you can’t then, honey, you can take a flying fuck to hell, or as we say in Siberia, you’re a goddamned motherfucker, son of an Irkutsk cunt (если взяли вожжи то правте а если неможите то летика ты свет нахуй посибирски сказать к ебёной матери ты ёб тваю мать иркутская блядь), who’d like to sell us out to the Germans. No you won’t be selling us out: don’t forget that we Siberians are all convicts.
It’s unknown whether Putin has received any letters from “Siberian convicts” calling him a “motherfucker” or a “son of an Irkutsk cunt,” though if he did, it wouldn’t be all that surprising. Because like with Lenin 90 years ago, Putin’s increasing calls for unity against outsiders, between peoples, and even between security organs speaks more to the reality of its opposite. True, Russia is hardly in the condition it was in 90 years ago, but one should not take Putin’s stability as a sign for greater social harmony.
Perhaps this is why it was a mistake to call the holiday National Unity Day in the first place. Many disgruntled Russian youth have appropriated it as a symbol of their own perceived disenfranchisement. For them, “national unity” means Russkii unity rather than Rossiiskii unity. In weeks leading up to National Unity Day, the few racial attacks were interpreted as examples of this. It’s unlikely that they had any connection to the holiday. If anything they speak to what many fear is a “mushrooming” of Russian ultranationalist groups. And it is clear that authorities are taking more and more notice. The far right presents even more a threat to Russia’s political stability than the liberal or even radical left. 5000 police were mobilized around Moscow and non-Russians were advised to stay off the streets.
The rally for a “Russia for Russians” missed its goal of 7,000, but only by a few grand. 5,000 nationalists turned up including an American named Preston Wiginton. Wiginton, a white supremacist from Texas, addressed the crowd with black cowboy hat and all. “I’m taking my hat off as a sign of respect for your strong identity in ethnicity, nation and race,” he told onlookers weathering the light Moscow drizzle. “Glory to Russia!” he said in broken Russian. “White power!” he shouted in his native English. It just goes to show that despite tensions between Russia and the US, Russian and American racists can find common ground. Moreover, for all the talk about racism and xenophobia in Russia, one should recognize that spitting on immigrants has become a favorite pastime of the US Congress and the EU.
Nashi activists countered the Russian March with its own calls for unity. Taking a page out to the Soviet notion of the “friendship of peoples,” 30,000 Nashi, United Russia’s Young Guard, and Mestnye activists marched through central Moscow carrying a “blanket of peace” which they sewed together to symbolize Russia’s multiethnicity. “Young Guard and other guys will come together to show the will of the people unified against those who want to divide the country,” State Duma and United Russia rep Valerii Riazanskii told Kommersant on Friday. “Nashi will present 4 November as a new tradition of celebration, and to Russian (россиян) confidence in multinational friendship and unity of peoples,” said representatives of Nashi. As a group that employs xenophobia as a campaign tactic, I don’t think Nashi is really a good symbol of tolerance.
Of all the marches and rallies around National Unity Day/Revolution Day, I think Saturday’s “March of the Empty Saucepans” in St. Petersburg is my favorite. Comprised of 1,500 protesters, half of which were pensioners, the rag tag crowd shouted slogans like “Putin’s plan is trouble for Russia” and “We’re awaiting a bread uprising” to express their anger at rising food prices and inflation. As NPB organizer Andrei Dmitriev told Reuters, “In Russia, 90 years ago, everything also began as a result of rising bread prices. People took to the streets and the tsar was overthrown.” Well, yes bread riots do have a exceptional place in revolutionary lore but I would advise Dmitriev to not get his hopes up.Post Views: 619