In his seminal essay on hegemony, State and Civil Society, the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci summed up the post-WWI revolutionary convulsions with the following:
“In Russia the state was everything and civil society was primordial and gelatinous: in the West there was a proper relation between the state and civil society, and when the state trembled the sturdy section of civil society was at once revealed. The state was only an outer ditch, behind which was a powerful system of fortress and earthworks.”
I was reminded of this passage as I tried to mentally sum up Putin’s first year of his third presidential term. The Russian state is once again suffering from tremors, the climax of which—Putin’s formal return to the presidency and the Bolotnaya “riots,”—will be a year ago next week. And though it’s a stretch to apply Gramsci’s analysis of the Russia of 1917 to the Russia of 2012-13, how Putin has dealt with this newly diagnosed epilepsy suggests the calculation of hegemony has moved demonstratively toward force. At the moment, the Russian state may not be “everything” or its civil society “primordial and gelatinous,” but they are both increasingly farther away from what Gramsci calls a “proper relation.” This turn to force—and to be clear, by force I mean Putin’s reliance on coercive measures rather than soft, inclusive power—is making the ground under Russia’s body politic fragment.
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- By Sean — 11 years ago
Two days and counting before Dmitri Medvedev can lose the “elect” that sits after of his moniker President. The ceremony promises to be lavish and well choreographed. And why not? You can’t have a king without a coronation. But the question on everyone’s mind is not what Dima will do in his new position. It’s who’s in charge. Perhaps for once Russian and English language media are singing in chorus. Putin will be in charge. It’s just not clear how much.
One area VVP will certainly have sway is over the next cabinet. For the first time in a long time, the Russian Prime Minister, in this case Putin, will exercise his Constitutional right to form a government. According to Kommersant, the new government will probably look a lot like the old. Viktor Zubkov, Alexander Zhukov, Alexei Kudrin, all current vice premiers, will join the cabinet. As will Igor Sechin, Alexei Gromov, and Sergei Ivanov. Chief ideologist of Putinism, Vladislav Surkov will run Medvedev’s administration. These are all members of Putin’s clan. To solidify Putin bailiwick, there is speculation that Chapter 5, Article 32 of the 1997 law “On the Government of the Russian Federation” will be axed. Eliminating this article will strip the President’s power to appoint the heads of the military and foreign ministries.
Perhaps most important, especially if Medvedev intends to someday step out of his patron’s shadow, is that Putin’s appointments will give him a tight leash over the siloviki.
But what of Medvedev? How will he staff his administration? What does he intend to do? Few are asking because no one seems to know or really care. Nor is there any indication that Dima will spring any surprises. Besides pithy statements about fighting corruption and economic liberalization, it sounds that Dima’s role is to hold the ship steady, and remain, at least for the time being, the Skipper’s little buddy.
Honestly, how could it be anything different? Putin is the face of Russia in politics, kitsch, and culture. If Medvedev stepped into office and started shouting directions without a political base of his own, the siloviki would eat him alive. Plus, its not like Russian elite cares much. Apparently, they are too busy gorging themselves on the fat of the land to be concerned about the inner workings of Kremlin Inc.
Indeed, all seems right with the world if you’re looking out from a Kremlin window. But some refuse to drink the Kool-Aid. For them, Russia is eternally standing on the precipice of disaster. “I think one thing is dead clear. We have entered a period of profound instability in the country.” says Yevgenia Albats. In her view, “the double-headed state will inevitably lead to power struggles.”
Maybe. But that could ultimately be a good thing. Diarchy is better than nothing. Certainly better than autocracy.
- By Sean — 11 years ago
“Democracy” enjoys the support of only 36 percent of Russians according to the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development’s report “Life in Transition: A Survey of People’s Experiences and Attitudes.” Moreover, 40 percent of Russians prefer a planned economy over a market one. These statistics made Kommersant declare that “1/3 of Russians Prefer Authoritarian Rule” and Vedomosti write of a “Planned Satisfaction.”
But why the glass half full assessment? Clearly there is another 64 percent and 60 percent of respondents think otherwise. A clear majority. Yet given these two articles, one would assume that Russian’s are ready to return to the halcyon days of Brezhnev, or one might even dare say, Stalin. But this is not the case.
I think it is important to note that in regard to the 36 percent of Russians favoring “authoritarianism” (whatever that means) is a bit misleading. Respondents were given the following answers for questions about democracy: 1) “For people like me, it does not matter;” 2) “Under some circumstances, an authoritarian government may be preferable to a democratic one;” 3) “Democracy is preferable to any other form of political system.” About 20 percent of responds from the CIS plus Mongolia chose the second answer. But what does “under some circumstances” and “may be preferable” mean? What kind of circumstances? On this the report does say.
While about 55 percent of respondents chose “Democracy is preferable to any other form of political system”, it is interesting almost 30 percent don’t care either way. This means that either they don’t feel the effects of “authoritarianism” or “democracy” on their daily lives, or don’t really see the difference between the two. I think this ambivalence deserves far more investigation.
Respondents’ attitudes toward the market are similar. Again, the survey provided similar answers: 1) “For people like me, it does not matter;” 2) “Under some circumstances, a planned economy may be preferable to a market economy;” 3) “A market economy is preferable to any other form of economic system.” Again, “under some circumstances” isn’t defined. A bit over 40 percent of respondents from the CIS plus Mongolia said that the market economy is preferable. Almost 30 percent chose “under some circumstances” a planned economy may be better. And like with democracy, a good 30 percent didn’t care either way. Again, if Kommersant and Vedomosti would have had headlines like “1/3 of Russians are ambivalent toward democracy, authoritarianism, planned economy, and market economy” a whole different light would have been cast on “Life in Transition.” Namely, that despite what ideologues think at least a third of the population, if not more, will go along and cope with whatever system they’re given.
These statistics break down in interesting ways when you combine authoritarianism and democracy with planned economy and market economy. 19 percent of Russians favored “democracy and market economy”, 12 percent “democracy and planned economy”; 5 percent “authoritarianism and market economy” and 23 percent “authoritarianism and planned economy.” One might immediately point out that the last choice scored higher than the other three. However, it becomes less significant when you see that 21 percent of respondents said that “neither matters” and 20 percent favored “all other combinations”. As to what those “other combinations” are the report doesn’t say. But the point I want to emphasize is that as many people are ambivalent about their political economic system as those who care.
The survey gives other charts that chop these results up further according to age, gender, and income. It is no surprise that the young and wealthy have more positive attitudes toward “democracy” and the “market” than the old and the poor. After all, the lives of the young and the wealthy have had an easier time in the “transition.” Such tends to be the case anywhere.
The survey also records attitudes toward corruption, “trust in society,” and “trust in public institutions.” The vast majority of Russians despite age and income level feel that corruption is about the same as it was before 1989. Trust in society, however, has fallen sharply. Before the collapse of communism, trust in people hovered between 70 and 60 percent. Now its fallen to between 30 and 40 percent. One can include a bit of nostalgia to explain the pre-1989 numbers. But it is important that regardless of age and income most people perceive that people can’t be trusted.
Statistics about how people feel about public institutions are also interesting. Over 50 percent of respondents said that they had “complete plus some trust” in the Presidency, surely a boost for the effort to make Putin a “National Leader.” About 10 percent were ambivalent toward the president and about 30 percent didn’t trust him at all. The public trust hierarchy went as follows: the military (40 percent), the Government (30 percent), the Banks and Financial System (30 percent), the Courts (28 percent), the Parliament (22 percent), the Police (20 percent), and finally Political Parties (13 percent). “Neither trust nor distrust” in all these hovered around 20 percent.
I think the discrepancy in trust in the Presidency and in Political Parties says a lot of what Russians think about politics. Especially in regard to the upcoming Duma elections. But I also think the gap suggests something else: When Russians say that they favor democracy what do they mean exactly? Here, as always, were are left to our own speculation.
- By Sean — 5 years ago
This week’s Russia! Magazine column, “Migrants and Russia’s Split National Identity,”
When asked about migrant workers in a recent interview with Moskovskii novosti, Sergey Sobyanin stated, “Moscow is a Russian (rossiiskii) city and it should remain that way. It’s not Chinese, not Tajik and not Uzbek.” For Sobyanin, it was better for labor migrants, with their poor command of Russian and “totally different culture” to go back to “their countries.” A permanent place in Moscow was only reserved for “Russian speakers, whose culture is compatible with our traditions.” Sobyanin then followed his musings on Moscow’s cultural particularity with assertions of its multiculturalism. “Russia is a multiethnic country, a mixture of all its nationalities and traditions. Separating some out and contrasting them to other cultures is very dangerous, simply explosive, particularly for our city.”
At first glance, Sobyanin’s contradictory statements ring xenophobic and even racist. But his claim that Moscow is a Russian, yet multiethnic city can easily get lost in translation. Sobyanin specifically referred to Moscow as rossiiskii, that is, a city for the multiethnic citizens of the Russian Federation, not specifically a city for ethnic Russians (russkii). The important difference between rossiiskii and russkii gets conflated when rendered in English because both translate as Russian. Yet, Sobyanin’s civic gestures are not without ethnic slippages. Placing “Russian speakers” as consonant with “our traditions” and migrants’ “totally different culture” as their antithesis points to the primacy of Russian ethnicity (russkii) as the norm in Russia’s multiethnic community. The migrant, who has the potential to become Russian (rossiiskii) through cultural mimicry, is perpetually relegated to a state of almost the same, but not quite.
Russians’ attitudes toward the migrant reveal the inherent tension in their bifurcated national identity. On the one hand Russian is an ethnic-biological category which vis-a-vis the Central Asian and Caucasian migrant is becoming increasingly racialized. On the other hand, Russian is a civic category rooted in Imperial and Soviet efforts to unify a multiethnic and multicultural society in a common political community. The contradiction lies in that the more the ethnic is given primacy and privilege, the civic is rendered hollow. Given the fragility of Russia’s national identity, it’s no surprise that the increasing flows of migrants produce anxieties and foreboding.