The Russian Communist Party’s excellent spoof of the 2012 Russian Presidential Elections with English subtitles.
h/t Jim Meyer
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By Sean — 4 years ago
This week’s Russia Magazine column, “The Economic Spoils of the Biryulyovo Riot,” on the possible reiderstvo of the Pokrovskii fruit and vegetable warehouse.
Residents of Biryulyovo rioted for many reasons, but chief among them was that local officials and police provide protection to businesses, in this case, fruit and vegetable markets and warehouses that employ swaths of illegal migrants. “Markets and warehouses are always connected with a “krysha” (literally “roof” or police or political protection), and a “roof” is generally a police structure.” Kirill Shulika, the deputy chairman of the nationalist Democratic Choice Party told BBC Russian. “[The police] will not chop the head off the chicken that lays the golden egg.” Similarly, Mikhail Pashkin, the chairman of the police union coordinating committee, wrote on Ekho Moskvy, “Practically all dealings there are completely in cash. There are no inspections for the circulation of “black cash” (i.e. money unreported to tax authorities). The police don’t go there and less in the last few years when General [Aleksandr] Podol’nyi became district captain. All of this is possible first and foremost because, according to rumors, guys in the precinct “protect” (kryshuet’) the [Pokrovskii] warehouse.”
That krysha has now collapsed. The Pokrovskii warehouse was attacked by rioters, serving as a focal point for local rage against migrants and corruption. As a result, the warehouse has become a government target. General Podol’nyi has been sacked, immigration agents raided the warehouse arresting 1200 migrants, Russia’s consumer watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, has had the building shuttered for sanitation violations, and its manager Magomed Churilov and general director and minority owner Aliaskhaba Gadzhiev have been arrested for hiring illegal migrants. At the moment, Pokrovskii stands vacant.
To some, the attack, the closing of the market, and the arrest of its directors smells like a case of reiderstvo, or raiding. Reiderstvo occurs when an owner or operator of a business is arrested, and while he sits in prison, raiders take control of the company or property by forging documents and bribing officials. The raiders then quickly sell the property for a huge profit. According to Alena Ledeneva, what distinguishes reiderstvo under Putin from the 1990s is that the raiders tend to be government or police officials rather than independent businessmen or mobsters.
The closing and arrests associated with the Pokrovskii warehouse have sparked conspiracy theories that Shcherbakov’s murder, the riots, and the attack on the warehouse were organized by raiders. Such a conspiracy is farfetched, even ridiculous. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that raiders won’t take advantage of the situation. The Pokrovskii warehouse, and more specifically the land it sits on, has been coveted prizes for years.Post Views: 67
By Sean — 10 years ago
“Putin is stability!”, “Putin is peace in Chechnya!”, “Putin is the Olympics!”, “Putin is an eagle!”, and “Putin, we are with you!” These are some of the slogans 10,000 Nashi activists from over 20 regions shouted as they paraded down Moscow’s Taras Shevchenko Embankment on Sunday to celebrate Putin’s 55th birthday. The procession ended at a stage where Vasilii Yakemenko, Nashi leader and new appointee to head the Kremlin’s Youth Commission, rallied the crowd to the glories of Putinism with techno remixes of Soviet pop hits blaring in the background.
“I want to say that I remember the 1990s, when bandits ruled the streets, the country’s budget was approved by Americans at the International Monetary Fund and Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky declared war in Chechnya.” Yakemenko told the crowd giving his own version of history. “And I want to say that we cannot allow that to be repeated and the election f the national leader depends on us!” He then praised Putin’s heading United Russia’s federal electoral lists in the upcoming Duma elections. “Putin must take no some 30 percent or even 50 percent of votes. He must win decisively and unconditionally. And we the Nashi movement will help him in this!” Putin lives. Putin will always live.
As if unquestionable adulation of everything Putin wasn’t enough, later that day a representative from Nashi, Kristina Potupchik, presented Putin with a “peace blanket” decorated with symbols of many of Russia’s ethnic cultures. “Nashi wants this blanket to be a symbol of the multinational and grand Russia,” she explained. To make sure Putin wasn’t just covered in the material world, Nashi made sure he was nice and snug in the spiritual one and asked all of Russia’s churches to pray for Putin’s health.
Nashi’s presents to Putin made me think about other presents to Russian leaders over the decades. Be sure, whatever Putin got for his 55th pales in comparison to what Stalin was to receive from the Moscow Babaiev Confectionery Factory for his 60th birthday in 1939: A huge chocolate bust of himself.
As a teenager, the writer Valerii Agranovskii, witnessed the chocolate Stalin with his own eyes, and eventually lips, while on an excursion of the factory with his orphanage. Here is his account of the cocoa wonder:
[I]n a small hall in front of the director’s office where a huge bust of Stalin, made of chocolate, was exhibited. It was perhaps ordered by someone, but, most likely, made by the factory as a gift to Stalin for his sixtieth birthday.
I don’t know who touched the pedestal where the bust was seated. The fact remains that Stalin’s bust tottered and fell down, breaking into many large and small pieces. Our teachers were stunned. And the director, when he jumped out of his office and saw what had happened to the chocolate Leader of All the Progressive Humanity, went completely white, then looked at us with suddenly empty eyes, then looked behind him for some reason, and uttered almost without any voice and with only half of his mouth open (I don’t remember, left or right): ‘Eat it!’
We heard his command, and not just heard it but correctly understood it – and jumped… on the Best Friend and the Teacher of All Soviet Children.
The first thing that struck me (and, maybe others as well, but we did not share these thoughts) was that Stalin turned out to be empty inside… I got a huge ear of Joseph Vissarionovich, of the size of my two feet at that time…On another occasion we would have luxuriated on this ear for the whole day… but now we finished Stalin quickly… Nothing was left of Stalin, not a single crumb: the director, we think, even forbade sweeping the floor – which would be an extra blasphemy… – not that there was anything left to sweep; it was Stalin, after all.
Now that’s one chocolaty holy communion! I’d like to see those Nashi kids try and top that.
The chocolate Stalin was not the last, nor of course, the strangest gift the Man of Steel received from worshipers. In 1942, a group of Native American tribes presented the Soviet ambassador to the United States a full feathered head dress for the dictator to commemorate his “election as the honorary chief of all Indian tribes.” I remember seeing the head dress in the Museum of the Revolution in 2001. I couldn’t help picturing Stalin convening Politburo meetings wearing the damn thing.
Gifts to Stalin were so numerous for his 70th birthday that a special exhibition of the gifts was opened at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibit remained open until Stalin’s death in 1953.
Now that Putin appears to be sticking around for a while longer, one can’t help wonder: Is there a chocolate visage in his future?
Update: For more on Nashi, Putin’s B-day, and a translation of the Kommersant article on it, check out Lyndon’s post over at his Scraps of Moscow.Post Views: 74
By Sean — 12 years ago
Apparently Vladimir Putin is not just President of Russia. He’s not just a karate expert. Or just a lover of blondes. He’s also Vladimir Putin, PhD. According to a REN TV report on February 2, Putin wrote a dissertation, “Strategic Planning of Regional Raw Material Operations in a Market Economy,” in 1997 as a student of the St. Petersburg Mining Academy. Anyone can go read it. It’s stored at the Leninka. REN TV took a trip to the Leninka to see if the dissertation was in fact there. Apparently the work has seen some heavy traffic. “Last year the thesis was lent for reading eight times,” reported REN TV’s Aleksandr Zhestkov. “Librarians say it is a lot: some theses remain without anybody’s attention for years, whereas here there is a clear interest.” So much interest that it is rumored that it is required reading by Kremlin staff.
It seems that Putin’s PhD is not simply a thesis on raw material; it is a object that lends to his emerging cult. “You are holding in your hands something that was typed by the person who wrote it,” said Aleksandr Soshnin, the Leninka’s head librarian after handing the text to Zhestkov. “It is like an old manuscript. You are touching something that Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] also touched.” Such an experience is bound give you the chills.
But the cult of personality goes beyond that. Putin’s thesis is also characterized as a “prophecy of the gas war with Ukraine, obviously expressed in a coded fashion.” Or so thinks Vladimir Litvinenko, Vice Chancellor of the St. Petersburg Mining Academy:
One can indeed find if not a direct answer to those processes that are today taking place with Russian gas which passes through Ukraine, then general views on the state’s presence in the system of regulating the activities of large companies.
Prophecy or not, one thing is for sure. The thesis gives some idea of what Putin thinks about the relationship between energy, the state, and the market. One part of the text reads, “Irrespectively of who owns natural, namely mineral, resources, the state has the right to regulate their development and use.” This is enough to make the free marketers at the G-8 meetings quiver.
Perhaps Putin was on to something. Or so thinks Professor Vladimir Shlapentokh of Michigan State University. Energy exports and exerting influence over the global energy market is one way for Russia to reemerge as a superpower.
“In the last few years,” writes Shlapentokh,
The Kremlin has realized that Russia, with its expansive oil and gas resources, can reclaim its superpower status. A few of the president’s myrmidons have recently suggested that Putin had actually predicted this turn of events as early as 1997 when he worked as Petersburg’s deputy mayor and wrote a doctoral dissertation entitled, “The strategic planning of the natural resources in the region.” In any case, on December 22, 2005, at the meeting of the Russian Security Council, Putin proclaimed that the country was back on top and playing a key role on the world stage. A few days later, Moscow decided to settle the score with Ukraine for choosing the West as an ally after the Orange Revolution in 2004. The Kremlin sent an ultimatum to Kiev, forcing it to accept a five-fold increase in the price of gas. One month later, the Kremlin sponsored a rather primitive spy scandal against Britain in the style of the Cold War. It accused the British special services of helping human rights organizations destabilize Russia.
To do this, the Putin government had to overcome a series of “dogmas.” First if the economy was going to rely on energy exports, it had to create a reserve of hard currency to prevent default if oil prices dipped. Putin succeeded in this by creating the “Stabilization Fund” which contains over $35 billion, almost 10 percent of Russia’s GNP. With energy prices on the rise due to the combination of possible “peak oil” and increasing demand from emerging industrial giants of China and India, there is no indication that Russia will have to dip into that fund to stave off a default.
The second dogma concerns “backwardness” or Russia’s reliance on energy exports like other Third World countries as a negative refection on its potential to join “civilized nations.” The fear was that this “backwardness” would prevent the development of alternative export sectors in the economy like manufacturing like so many industrial economies had. The dangers of backwardness have since been rejected by the Putin Administration:
Though strong in the past, the dogma of backwardness is now being rejected by the Kremlin. Putin’s team sees its enormous oil and gas reserves as a blessing that will allow them to solve many of the country’s problems without increasing the production of manufactured goods for export (an unrealistic goal for a country that is unable to make structural economic reforms). However, the high export revenues have allowed Moscow to forget about the times when it had to scrounge for money from world financial organizations. Moscow can now boost military expenditures, pay salaries and pensions regularly, increase social benefits, make some improvements in infrastructure and refurbish not only Moscow and Petersburg, but all major cities in the country.
I hesitate to embrace Shlapentokh’s optimism that capital from energy exports will be redirected to improving Russia’s infrastructure. It’s a possibility, though not without consequences. When Stalin used grain exports to generate capital for industrialization, it increased domestic grain prices and as a result discontent among the population. It also drove the regime to collectivize agriculture to avoid the fluctuations of grain supply the Politburo perceived was a result of peasants withholding grain to get a better price. I should state that I am in no way saying Putin is Stalin-like. I know that placing anyone next to Stalin invites all sorts of political enmity. My point is that Stalin’s move required the centralization of grain production. Such seems to be the case with the energy sector in Russia. The trick seems that the Russian government has to balance exports with domestic consumption. That is, dependence on energy exports requires high energy prices on the global market, but at the same time the state must somehow keep the domestic prices low. Russians have already seen a steady rise in energy costs. The question is how high they can go before cutting into the increased standard of living Shlapentokh hopes an energy export based economy can produce.
It seems that to get out of this bind there needs to be a concerted effort by the state to reinvest the income from energy exports back into the domestic economy. Given the general increase in the gap between rich and poor, the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a thin layer of the Russian middle class, and the geographical concentration of wealth first around Moscow, and then urban centers, one wonders how Russia will break this cycle and redistribute its vast capital more evenly. My guess would be increased state intervention. But if Andrei Illarionov’s charges that the Russian economy and politics is based on “nashism” are correct then how will this redistribution happen?
But does it need to? A lot of the ill effects caused by robber barons can be quelled with ideology. If Russians imagine themselves and their country as a “superpower” then the increased concentration of wealth might not matter. On this, Shlapentokh is right to note the importance of the fact that “the price of oil itself has become a sort of national symbol in Russia, a country that has been searching for a national idea for twenty years.” Oil is the road in which all former glories can rise again: Russia’s military strength, the sanctity of its cultural institutions and traditions, its modern role as a global player. The belief in oil might return the national confidence lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the instability of the Yeltsin years. If Putin’s gamble pays Russia will continue on its steady path of regaining its international footing. But, a sole reliance on energy is not a feasible long term strategy. Energy prices will certainly rise in the coming decades. But what will happen if they rise so high they create a scissors crisis with the costs of living? What will sustain the Russian economy then?Post Views: 33