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Dimitri Medvedev’s effort to court youth into politics continues on Thursday when he meets with young members of United Russia. According to Kommersant, the meeting will be attended by party leaders Mintemer Shaimiev and Yuri Luzhkov, General Council secretary Vyacheslav Volodin and young United Russia representatives from the provinces.
The meeting appears to have been thrown together at the spur of the moment, right before Medvedev’s comments on youth policy last week. Little has been said about the actual content of the meeting. According to Alexander Tretyakov, the head of the Perm’s United Russia office, “the delegation has been formed, but still not the full information about the event.” Aleksei Volotskov, a member of Volgograd’s youth council and UR member, said that he only got a request to submit his information for a background check two weeks ago.
As to what the President’s urgency to meet with young URs might be, Vlacheslav Burkov, United Russia member and speaker in Perm’s youth parliament, thinks that it could be about drawing up names for a national parliament for youth under 30. It is the “Year of Youth” as Medvedev’s press secretary told the business daily. Yet, according to Kommersant‘s sources, United Russia has yet to form a plan to addressing young members most pressing concern: forming a cadre of young political reserves. This isn’t expected to happen until the end of the year.
Nevertheless, it seems that Medvedev is taking the appropriate steps to draw fresh blood into the political establishment. As political commentator Dmitri Badivskii told Kommersant, “Medvedev may propose his idea of using the cadre of reserves especially at the municipal level and also propose party candidacy for governor appointments.” Maybe the President’s personal anointing of young people into municipal positions will begin breaking the stranglehold of local elder bureaucrats. Let’s hope so.
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By Sean — 13 years ago
“This is a mass organization which is not interested in the Kremlin. The arm of the court is trying to liquidate us, but we will not stand for it and will go to the European Court on Human Rights . . . If you ban us we will flee underground and from this it will be worse for everyone!” Such were the words from the former Soviet dissident, writer, and the National Bolshevik Party founder and leader Edward Limonov at the Moscow District Court last Wednesday. Kommersant reported quite a scene. Outside the court a bus full of OMON agents (the Russian riot police) waited for signs of protest. Police lined the corridor leading to the court room. Agents were on duty in the courtroom with dogs. The Moscow District Court banned the National Bolsheviks or Natsbols because they failed to properly register as an official political party. According to Russia law, “social organizations,” which the Natsbols registered themselves as in 1993, cannot call themselves a political party. Since the Natsbols don’t run candidates, and by Limonov’s own words are a “mass organization” that is “not interested in the Kremlin” they don’t seem to fit in the legal definition of political party. They don’t have candidates for office. Nor do they participate in the electoral process at all. In fact, it seems their goal is to destroy it.
The question I’ve had since I heard of Limonov’s motley crew of radical youths is: what exactly are the National Bolsheviks? This question pertains more to than just the semantics of Russian electoral law. Like most radical groups the Natsbols straddle the line between “party” and “mass organization.” Their actions and ideology hardly fit in a liberal electoral system. Their politics appeal to the disaffected. Their style hails from the fringes of youth culture. Their discourse is political venom that seeks to demolish the pretenses of polite political society.
Because of all this, many correctly surmise that their liquidation is not about form, but content. The National Bolsheviks are a fascist organization of mostly young people in their late teens and early twenties who are attracted to Limonov’s radical writings, the group’s extremist views, and militant, if not cartoonish, tactics. Their symbol: a red flag with a solid white circle in the middle with a black hammer and sickle in the center of it that embodies the colors of Nazism and the symbol of Soviet Communism. In their program, the Natsbols call for the destruction of the “anti-human trinity” of liberalism, democracy, and capitalism; the creation of a Russian Empire from “Vladivostok up to Gibraltar on the basis of Russian civilization”; and, among other things, the creation of a “total state” that places the nation above human rights. All that sounds pretty fascist to me.
Yet there is something about the Natsbols that makes it hard to take them seriously. They seem more style than politics. Theirs is a political aesthetic that weds the politics of the 1920s and 30s with the punk rock nihilism of the 1970s and 80s. As Limonov describes in his trademark broken English in the Exile, a Moscow expatriate weekly a new political aesthetic was the center piece of the National Bolsheviks birth:
“In 1994 I have founded National-Bolsheviks party. I was so sick of conventional politics that I have decided to create some entirely new idiology [sic] based on style. Much later I have declared that National-Bolsheviks were in existence before National-Bolsheviks Party was created. Yes, when in 1994 somebody asked Egor Letov, Russian punk idol, why he is so poorly dressed, I was present in that moment. Letov answered that he is wearing clothes which his admirers normally wear. “And they are poor people, you know,” explained Letov. “That why I wear cheap baskets, he pointed at his sneakers.”
Taking example from Letov we have recommended to our followers in few first issues of “Limonka” to wear black jeans, black footwear, to cut their hair short. That was precisely those clothes that poor moscovits youngsters were sporting in those days, and now. So our party style was an imitation of street style. In that very sense it is true that National-Bolsheviks were valking streets of Russian cities before National-Bolsheviks Party was created. Black is very practical colour, stains and dirt are less visible on black clothes. Later some vise journalists wanted to tie our black clothes to fascist black shorts. I always pointed out that poor moscovites youngsters are dressing up in black. And short hear is practical, it doesn’t require much care.
Moreover, Limonov claims, “Our party style was an imitation of street style. In that very sense it is true that National-Bolsheviks were valking [sic] streets of Russian cities before National-Bolsheviks Party was created.” Their combination of fascist and Bolshevik symbols produced shock in a country where Soviet Communism defeated German Nazism to the cost of 28 million of its citizens. As did the Natsbol slogans like “Capitalism is shit!”, “We hate the government!”, and “Eat the rich!”
Their political actions are more akin to anti-globalization groups in Western Europe and the United States. The Natsbols have dropped banners from expensive Moscow hotel windows calling for Putin’s resignation. They’ve pelted former NATO Secretary-General George Robertson with rotten vegetables, smeared mayonnaise on Russian officials, and even slapped Prince Charles with carnations. The National Bolshevik style is to be scandalous, witty, confrontational, loud, and colorful. Their aesthetic was to offend; to turn politics into the carnvalesque of street theater.
Yet there is nothing in this political aesthetic that is antithetical to fascism or communism. In fact, quite the opposite. The political aestheticization of everyday life was a main tenet of Italian, German and Central and Eastern European fascism and communist movements. Fascist uniformed marches, banners, slogans and songs went hand in hand with street brawls and attacking individuals, whether they were Jews, ethnic minorities, liberals, communists, anarchists, etc. In fin-de-siecle Russia, futurist youths engaged an in your face street transformed “hooliganism” into a political art. The aestheticization of politics also captured the imagination of early 20th century avant-garde artists, writers, poets, and dramatists. Many were subsequently drawn to and joined both radical movements.
The Russian Revolution made the aesthetics of politics a centerpiece of youth’s political expression, whether official or unofficial. For example, under the auspices of “cultural revolution” or “anti-religion,” both of which employed a wide range of propagandistic styles, members of the Communist Youth League (Komsomol) broke into churches or mosques, destroyed religious artifacts, and even beat up the resident priests and mullahs. In 1928, in Turkistan, Komsomol members turned the celebrations of the introduction of the Turkmen alphabet into a pretence for pulling the beards and knocking off the turbans of men and ripping the veils off of women. All of this was much to the horror of their superiors, who referred to these members as “Komsomol hooligans.” Such incidents were quickly referred to the secret police.
By National Bolshevik accounts, they too have attracted the attention of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Their confrontation with the State security forces came to a head in Devcember 2004 when 39 Natsbol members took over a Presidential administration office near the Kremlin. Several Natsbols are now on trial and could face up to ten years in prison. The combination of fascist-communist rhetoric, aggressive style, and militancy seems to have finally caught up with them.
The legal crackdown on this small group that portends to have 1500 “active” members and 30,000 “sympathizers” in all of Russia (their website, both official and unofficial boasts National Bolshevism as an international movement) must also be explained within the current context of “orange revolution” hysteria. Many believe that the crackdown on the National Bolsheviks is the Kremlin’s way of sending a message to both the far right and left. They’re small and they’re freaky social outcasts so no one will miss them.
Despite their existence on the fringes of Russian politics, the ban of the Natsbols has got the notice of Russian political parties. Ivan Mel’nikov from the Communist Party said that the case showed that the court lacked “independence” and the decision was completely “political.” Dmitrii Rogozin, the leader of Rodina (Motherland) declared that the banning of the Natsbols was a “precedent” and that the Kremlin ultimately seeks to “liquidate the opposition.” Sergei Mitokhin from Yabloko simply saw the whole affair as a way for the Natsbols to get media attention. And predictably, Vladimir Zhironovsky from Liberal Democratic Party felt that the ban was the correct decision and that “[the National Bolsheviks] have no place in a modern democratic society” while Oleg Kovalev from United Russia said that the descision was also correct because “this brown plague must be liquidated.”
What then is the source for this so-called “brown plague” that Kovalev speaks of? Surprisingly, Zhironovsky, (surprising because if you’ve ever seen Zhiri debate on Russian TV, you’d know that with him there is little debate, less sense, and a lot of shouting. Zhiri would be great on Reality TV. He would make the Donald look like a total wimp) in a discussion of the matter on Ekho Moskvy radio, said that the reason why many youths are attracted to Limonov’s group was because
“We’ve got a lot of young people who are, basically, destitute. They’re not in school. They’ve got no jobs. They’re from poor homes. And they need some sort of revenge. And they can see there’s a party and it’s okay, it’s got the hammer and sickle – didn’t their grans and granddads say that was a good thing? – people with armbands, like Hitler.”
He then went on to add that the Red Youth Vanguard (a similar, but far left wing group based in St. Petersburg) was next because, “It’s a warning to everyone who will try to go out on the streets in the next few years and resort to violence,” emphasizing events in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. He added, “Everyone had to be warned that nothing like that can happen in Russia … It shows the danger if radical organizations aren’t put in their place in good time.”
Once again the specter of the Ukraine haunts Russian politics. I’m afraid Zhiri is correct on both points. Aspects of Russia’s present economic, political and social climate parallel the conditions that made youths attracted to such radical movements in the 1910s and 1920s. Granted the situation is not near the same, nor do I think Russia will get to that point. However, the extreme reaction to such a small band of youths, who probably never contemplated the seriousness of their actions, shows that there are some real visible tensions in the Russian polity. Sections of the elite seem scared, if not down right paranoid.
Is it justified to ban the Natsbols, even if they are honest to god fascists? I can’t say. I’m still trying to figure them out, however much their rhetoric and platform scares me. I can’t help seeing this as just another politically opportunistic move by the Kremlin to send a warning to everyone else, even if there is no place for such groups in a modern “democratic” society.
Updates will follow . . .Post Views: 167
By Sean — 5 years ago
Another member of Medvedev’s camp has left the building. Sergei Guriev, the renown economist, Medvedev advisor, and rector of the New Economic School in Moscow has fled to France after being questioned by the Investigative Committee about the “Yukos Affair.” What drove him abroad has become a familiar pattern. According to two Guriev confidants, he fled Russia to avoid criminal prosecution by the Investigative Committee. Putin’s oprichniniki raided the NESh looking for Guriev on suspicion that the economic institute received money from Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Another case of embezzlement, it seems. Guriev also has a long rap sheet of silovik designated “crimes.” He defended Khodorkovsky and called his prosecution a sham. The New Economic School receives money from abroad, hosted a Barack Obama speech in 2009, and has regular contact with US Ambassador Michael McFaul. In the atmosphere of “foreign agents,” it’s surprising that it took Bastrykin this long to break down RESh’s doors. But perhaps Guriev’s real sin is that he’s working with Aleksei Navalny, the currently reigning enemy of the people. The Kremlin, of course, has denied Guriev’s politics has anything to do with anything.
Once again purging in Russia is not just what you do, it’s who you’re connected with. If all of this is true, Guriev becomes another “Medvedev liberal” turned enemy of the people for cozying with the opposition.
Granted, it’s all still a theory, but Forbes.ru is running with it. In an article, “The Guriev Case: How Liberals Stopped Being Fellow Travelers,” Boris Grozovskii argues that the Investigative Committee’s targeting of Guriev is another strike by the siloviki to purge out the technocrats. “The siloviki no longer need the services of disloyal specialists.” This evokes a tragic historical reminder:
Liberal economists, who up to this point were former “fellow travelers” and aides, like the bourgeois specialists during NEP, still haven’t been accused of being “wreckers,” but they are already becoming “internal enemies.” The siloviki, who reigned in the background of the Orange-democratic threat, are getting rid of more of them. It’s like when the engineers, technicians and economists of pre-revolutionary Russia became no longer necessary during the transition from a quasi-market to a command economy in the beginning in the 1930s. Therefore the [siloviki] are eating up the liberals.
Is Grozovskii engaging in historical hysterics or just highlighting another casualty in silovik war on corruption liberals? Either way, every week another from Medvedev’s connected technocrat suddenly gets routed.Post Views: 227
By Sean — 7 years ago
Putin and Medvedev disagree on the NATO air strikes on Libya! Sound the alarms! The tandem is collapsing! Oh, the horror! The horror!
Yesterday Putin caused a media storm when he likened the military intervention into the Libyan civil war to “a medieval call for a crusade.” A few hours later, Medvedev shot back with “Under no circumstances is it acceptable to use expressions that essentially lead to a clash of civilizations — such as ‘crusade’ and so on.” Without mentioning Putin’s name directly, he then called the “crusade” reference “unacceptable” and voiced his moral support for the UN no-fly zone, and by extension Western notions of humanitarian interventionism. But what else could Medvedev say? He’s responsible for foreign policy, and Russia’s abstention in the UN Security Council was a de-facto voice of support without commitment. To backtrack now would, like Sergei Lavrov’s concern about civilian casualties, make Russia look silly. They knew what was on the table when they decided to keep quiet.
Moreover, to not respond to Putin, whose word everyone inside and outside Russia hangs on, would reaffirm that Medvedev is exactly what most think he already is: Putin’s lap dog. He’s been in office three years now, and his days sulking in Putin’s shadow are long over. It’s just that most of us have yet to accept the truth that Putin’s and Medvedev’s “differences in style” can indeed be reconciled into a Hegelian whole, and Russian politics can be, ahem, normal.
This of course isn’t the first time Medvedev and Putin have disagreed. As Kommersant helpfully reminds us, they butted heads in June 2009 over entering the WTO as part of the customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus, or go it alone. In September 2010, they disagreed over grain exports and then that December over the second Khodorkovsky trial and the nature of the USSR. Most recently, they had differing statements about the investigation of the terrorist bombings in Domodedovo. All of them were much to do about nothin’. Much to the disappointment of pretty much everyone, the sky did not fall.
Still, the difference in opinion has produced a lot of chatter and speculation. There is good reason for this. First, unlike the above incidents, there is no grey area when it comes to foreign policy. This is exclusively the President’s turf. Second, and perhaps because it’s his turf, Medvedev’s rebuke was quick, clear, and forceful. Medvedev’s message: Back in your yard, big dog.
That said, the reaction to two alpha-dogs pissing around their territory speaks to the larger issue of how disagreements within the tandem are interpreted. I’m not sure if the repeated hoopla is based in real substance, a desire to see tandem collapse, or a strange assumption that Russian politics can’t sustain difference. I tend to think it is the latter. Many assume that Russian politics is monolithic and monochromatic, and any sign of cracks will inevitably lead to the utter collapse of the entire edifice. However, while this view is based in historical-cultural assumptions about how Russia is ruled, it is also one facilitated by the powers that be themselves. The fact that political disagreements among the big boys are rarely aired in public, and when they are, quickly retreated behind closed doors, gives the impression that they are part of one uni-mind or can’t sustain difference because their collective leadership is based on a fragile coalition of players.
And because of they are rarely public, disagreements in the tandem have great signaling power. Putin may be coy about running for President in 2012, but his supporters are going to get increasingly impatient especially since it is clearer and clearer that Medvedev is going seek a second term. So while these public moments might not have any real meaning to Medvedev and Putin beyond a simple difference of opinion, the factions that support them might blow them out of proportion. As insider Gleb Pavlovsky told Interfax, “Putin’s statement created an occasion for people who are searching for a split in the tandem. He unwittingly sent a conflicting signal to those who are searching for the possibility to unite against Medvedev and his policies. Such a signal was a mistake by the Prime Minister because it was not only seized by opponents of Medvedev but also opponents of Putin, and everyone who wants a split in the tandem to destabilize the entire political situation.” He went on to add, “This signal is really unusual. We see and hear how the chorus of Medvedev opponents, including opponents in the government apparatus, and also in the executive and legislative branches, who are afraid up until now to speak publicly, can now exclaim “Let Putin be our leader and political chieftain!”
Politics however is mainly about appearance and interpretation, especially in our soundbite ridden decontextualized world. Therefore while the differences between Medvedev and Putin might be “stylistic,” their unleashing into the similacrum might, in Pavlovsky’s words, become “dangerous.” This is why I think that there has been a concerted effort to downplay any real difference between the two, even when it’s meaningless. And it is especially imperative to do so in this case. The bombing of Libya ignites the passions of Russians who, like Putin, remember the bombing of Serbia and hold deep justifiable suspicions of NATO and the projection of Western power. So it is no surprise that Putin declared that his statement was his personal opinion, and his spokesman Dmitrii Peskov reiterated this fact to the press. Nor is it astonishing that other experts have been quick to say that there is no fundamental break between the two. Plus, as Stas Kucher wrote on his blog, the suggestion that there is any real split between these “blood brothers” is naive. No matter how many different cords the two strum, the song remains the same.
Perhaps this public moment will finally convince people that these disagreements between Medvedev and Putin are a good thing. First, they show that there can be coexistence with difference. And given that in my opinion the Russian state is haunted by an enduring sense of fragility, this will add a bit to its confidence. Second, these tiffs, if you can really even call them that, at the very least open the possibility for political pluralism and open public discourse. If this incident sends any signal, it should be that. The more the political elite sees that every ripple in the tandem’s armor isn’t reason to go to the mattresses is to the benefit of everyone, especially themselves.
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