On Monday, the Levada Center released a poll on Russian attitudes toward the government, corruption, bureaucracy, the legislature and the party of power, United Russia. The results reveal a growing pessimism toward Russia’s governing institutions, and in particular, the political elite. Over half of respondents (52%), for example, believe that the the circle around Putin are more concerned with their “personal material interests” than with the country’s problems (33%).
This bodes poorly for Russian politicians across the political spectrum. But it’s particularly bad for United Russia. Forty-four percent of respondents consider ER’s Duma deputies the wealthiest, and not due to their entrepreneurial skills, but because “administrative resources are available to United Russia for the possibility of quick enrichment.” More telling, however, is that after a mere two years, Aleksei Navalny’s slogan casting United Russia as a “party of crooks and thieves” is now embraced by a majority of polled Russians.
Putin may take Navalny down “legally.” But the damage is already done. So much for ER’s “re-branding.”
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By Sean — 10 years ago
The political fallout from Moskovskii Korrespondent‘s rumor about Putin dumping his wife Liudmila for contortionist extraordinaire and Olympic medalist Alina Kabaeva is taking political shape. Last Friday, the Duma passed an amendment to the mass media law that adds slander to the list of unmentionables such as revealing state secrets, supporting terrorism, advocating pornography, and promoting violence. The law doesn’t use the word “slander” but redefined it with “intentionally false information,” which, of course, is just about anything. Perhaps more important than the vague, elastic language is the fact that the amendment gives the Ministry of Justice the power to issue warnings to media outlets for publishing slanderous and libelous material. Two warnings in twelve months allows Justice to shut the media outlet down pending trial.
The amendment’s introduction came from an interesting source. Former Nashi commissar, youngest Duma rep, and Putin loyalist Robert Schlegel introduced it. Ironically, Nashi was recently saved from a $1.2 million libel suit filed by Garry Kasparov. Kasparov claimed that Nashi literature slandered him by claiming that he was an American citizen. The court threw out the suit because, as Nashi lawyer Sergei Shorin argued, “there is no proof that the pamphlet was produced by Nashi.” Well, in reality, Nashi did produce the pamphlet and claims that Kasparov is a American citizen have been a mainstay of its propaganda. Granted, I’m no Kasparov fan, but any claim of Nashi’s innocence is completely preposterous. As this Nashi flyer states, “The USA has another plan. They want traitors and thieves to win–the American citizen Kasparov, the fascist Limonov, and the seller of the state Nemtsov.” Nashi’s logo is at the bottom of the page.
But I digress. It takes no brainiac to note that the law is in direct response to the Putin-Kabaeva rumor. After all, Moskovskii Korrespondent suspended publication after the story hit the international press and Putin had to field questions about its veracity in a press conference with Silvio Berlusconi. According to Interfax, Alexander Lebedev the owner of MK’s parent company National MediaComany (Kremlin friendly but also owns a majority stake in anti-Kremlin Novaya gazeta) pulled tabloid’s financial plug.
But Russia being Russia, nothing is assumed to happen by accident. And the Putin-Kabaeva story is no different. The reigning conspiracy theory is that the story is nothing more than black PR in the ongoing political battle between Kremlin factions. As Mark Ames explains on Radar Online, “It looks more and more likely that someone from the FSB planted it knowing it would make Lebedev and his paper look foolish. That would be a clear retaliation for Lebedev’s attempts to exonerate Storchak, the FSB’s most valuable captured chess piece in its battle against Putin and the liberals he’s propped up. The FSB’s message is simple: If you fuck with us, we’ll fuck with you, your paper, and Putin—in more ways than you know.” Lebedev’s explanation in Novaya gazeta for closing Moskovskii Korresondent seems to confirm this. “I now know,” he writes, “that one of the most controversial pieces of gossip was custom-made and was printed in Moskovskii Korrespondent as part of a personal vendetta against me.” That or he’s falling on his sword.
Boris Kagarlitsky also suggests that the story was a “dirty trick” different sort. Namely, to keep the state bureaucracy and ruling factions guessing. Will Putin stay or will he go? The answer to this seems simple. There is no evidence that Putin is going to step aside in the near future. He’s already implementing measures to subordinate regional leaders to the prime minister’s office. His call to purge United Russia of its “useless members” seems to be gathering steam. Local party organizations have already started their proverka to clean out their “dead souls.” All of this, and more, have some already predicting Medvedev’s future as the next “False Dmitry.”
How false Medvеdev’s role will be ultimately boils down to how he will deal with the siloviki. They, not Putin, pose the most serious challenge to his legitimacy. They have the political and police connections and control Russia’s state assets. They are the only real potent force to undermine a president.
If the conspiracy theories are true and the Putin-Kabaeva story is merely another “dirty trick,” then increased restrictions on “slander” is another arrow in their quiver for Putin loyalists to lob against their rivals lurking looking to stir up trouble in the press. The rules of the game demand that Kremlin infighting remains in house and out of the public eye. And if keeping this rule enforced means more control over the media, then so be it. It’s not like these people want a free press anyway.
In his interview with Argumenty i Fakty, Medvedev assured the public that there won’t be any surprises with the transfer of power. Judging from the way Kremlin elites and their clients are continuing their pot shots against each other, I don’t foresee any surprises either.Post Views: 672
By Sean — 9 years ago
Vedomosti has a great article on the history of Russia’s housing crisis. Housing, as Maksim Trudoliubov notes, is a chronic historical problem in Russia, one which the Soviets tried to attenuate, but made little headway until the 1960s. “The comfort of our home life is still not good for many of us,” Trudoliubov begins. “As in the early Soviet and even in the “mature Soviet” period housing was the main problem for the majority of citizens. Life was collective not because the state managed to inculcate citizens with a fancy for the romanticism of “communal life,” and because of this all of Stalin’s construction projects must be seen in this light. There’s just not enough housing (as is the case up to the present). But even more important, housing–from the bunks in dormitories to elite apartments in nomenclature buildings–was an instrument of manipulating people.”
Indeed, as Truboliubov continues, solutions to the housing problem took on a variety of realist and ideological forms to manipulate people. Lenin, for one, saw the housing problem a matter of distribution and allocation. According to the Soviet founding father, the Tsarist elite held a monopoly over living space. The solution was a simple but cold revolutionary formula of “K = N – 1,” where K equaled the number of rooms, and N the number of residents. Meaning that “the number of people in an apartment must be one more than rooms.” Well, as the those intimately familiar with Russian housing know well, the proportion of people to rooms was often many times more lopsided than Lenin’s prescription.
Things only worsened after the Civil War when structural dilapidation, poverty, disease, and general governmental decay exacerbated the existing housing problem. As Truboliubov writes, “In 1921 37% of buildings in Moscow were unsuitable for habitation.” As one resident of what is now Building 9 on Bolshaya Dmitrovka, the street that runs parallel to Tverskaya, central Moscow’s main drag, commented in 1922, “The pluming system, drainage and heating are destroyed. Apartments lack facets, radiators for central heating, and are stripped of stoves. In the majority of apartments the floors are taken apart, and dirt and garbage are everywhere.”
Apartment life in the 1920s was abysmal to say the least. As any reader of Bulgakov’s Dog’s Heart will know, apartments were allocated and reallocated in a sporadic, albeit proletarian, manner. Residents of various classes were cramped together. Revolutionary justice in housing required the bourgeoisie to give up their rooms to the new proletarian ruling class. And “when there weren’t any rooms to rent, then people rented corners, that is parts of rooms, corridors and kitchens.” And if those weren’t available, then sleeping in bathtubs served as a desperate alternative. The average living space in the 1920s was an average of 5.2 to 5.8 square meters per person.
Stalin’s industrial campaign of the 1930s only made matters worse as millions of peasant migrants flooded into Russia’s cities. As David Hoffman notes in his Peasant Metropolis, migration was so great that there was no conceivable way for the authorities to provide adequate housing. The solution was often the rapid and shoddy construction of worker’s barracks. The crunch was so great that the average number of persons per room in the Soviet Union rose from 2.71 in 1926 to 3.91 in 1940. One can only guess that the increase would be even more if the statistics only accounted for the country’s industrial urban centers.
More people meant less comfort. One American cited by Hoffman described his friend Kuznetsov’s living conditions in the barracks of the Kuibyshev electronic factory in the 1930s,
“Kuznetsov lived with about 550 others, men and women, in a wooden structure about 800 feet long and fifteen feet wide. The room contained approximately 500 narrow beds, covered with mattresses filled with straw and dried leaves. There were no pillows or blankets. Coats and other garments were being utilized for covering. Some of the residents had no beds and slept on the floor or in wooden boxes. In some cases beds were used by one shift during the day and by others at night. There were no screens or wall to give any privacy to the occupants of the barracks . . . I could not stay in the barracks very long. I could not stand the stench of kerosene and unwashed bodies. The only washing facility was a pump outside. The toilet was rickety, unheated shanty, without seats.”
Rapid urbanization also gave rise to the Stalinist internal passport system in 1934. The passport system was an attempt to slow migration, especially that induced by the famine in Ukraine. The logic was to prevent an already desperate situation was getting worse. With housing and food supply already short (urban residents were on rations), a tidal wave of starving peasants would have brought the situation to the brink Soviet officials reasoned. The policy was certainly cruel. But Stalinist policies were never known for their niceties.
The passport system also became a permanent biopolitical measure of population control. Urbanites got them. Kholkhozniki didn’t. And though getting off the collective farm was easily done, the system put in place institutionalized discrimination until the mid-1970s when Russia’s rural inhabitants began getting passports. This is not to say that urban residents were allowed to move freely. City to city migration required registration. True, people still moved throughout the postwar period, but the passport and registration system was yet another bureaucratic control for the authorities to wield when necessary.
Substantial housing relief didn’t come until the 1960s when Nikita Khrushchev attempted to tackle the housing problem with the mass production of five story, box like apartment buildings. The “khrushchevki” provided relief, gave many their own apartments, but were hardly aesthetic or structural masterpieces. But a shoddy apartment was better than no apartment, especially for those war refugees who were living in dugouts until the late 1950s. And the continued housing projects of the Brezhnev period provided additional living space. So much so that by the end of the Soviet period, the square meter per person had grown to 15.3 square meters.
Present day housing, though still a problem, appears to be improving. As Truboliubov notes, according to Rosstat, the average living space has increased to 20.9 square meters per person. This is still low by Western European and American standards (Germany, 36 sq. m.; Sweden, about 40; and the US, 60), yet by Russian standards, which has a totally different historical relationship to living, privacy, and relationships, this is a great improvement.
Finally, Truboliubov ends his narrative with a reminder that registration, though deemed illegal by the Russian Constitution, remains in force. The authorities repeadtly balk at abolishing it. They only seem to always promise to “modernize” its application. Why? As Truboliubov notes, one of the features of a capitalist system is to increase the mobility of not just capital, but labor. But Russian capitalism works on an additional profit motive. The registration system has an additional function as an “instrument of extracting the profit of corruption.” “The Stalinist institution of registration now properly serves the bureaucrats as a source of income.”
Photo: English Russia.Post Views: 684
By Sean — 11 years ago
The fact that Putin is adept at judo is well known and admired. I got a taste of this admiration a few years ago when I stopped into a Moscow photo shop across from INION to get picture for my library card. Hanging on the wall were two pictures of Putin. One looking all stately and serious; the other in full judo garb with arms steady for a throw.
Little did I know that Putin and a few of his fellow judo enthusiasts penned a manual of their best throws, tumbles, and dodges called Judo: History, Theory, Practice. That is until I happened upon Daniel Soar’s “Short Cuts” in new issue of the London Review of Books. Soar wonders whether Putin’s judo mastery influenced his recent diplomatic jousting with President Bush. The careful observer can see that it indeed does.
As Soar explains:
The excellent thing about judo – in theory – is that you don’t have to be stronger than your opponent to beat him. The idea is that you use the momentum of his attack to keep him moving in the same direction, and then, with a little twist, you send him flying onto the mat. The bigger they are the harder they fall. This should be useful to Putin, since Russia is so heavily outgunned and outspent by the US military machine that it can’t win the arms race the old-fashioned way. Putin provides a striking metaphor to demonstrate the judo master’s technique. He calls it ‘give way in order to conquer’. Imagine you are a locked door. Your opponent wants to break you open with his shoulder. If he is ‘big and strong enough and rams through the door (that is, you) from a running start, he will achieve his aim’. But here’s the neat bit. If instead of ‘digging in your heels and resisting your opponent’s onslaught’, you unlock it at the last minute, then, ‘not meeting any resistance and unable to stop, your opponent bursts through the wide-open door, losing balance and falling.’ If you’re even more cunning, you can stop being a door and stick out a leg, causing him to trip as he sails through. ‘Minimum effort, maximum effect’, as Russia’s effortlessly effective president says.
The evident ingenuity of this technique made me wonder why Putin didn’t deploy it in the run-up to the G8 dojo. It was puzzling. On his way to Germany, Bush went on the offensive. He visited Poland and the Czech Republic to publicise his plan to install ‘exoatmospheric kill vehicles’ – little missiles designed to hit bigger missiles – on sites close to the Russian border. Putin’s counter-attack was very bold. He said that if America was going to play silly buggers with its Raytheon EKVs, then he would point his biggest ICBMs at Western European cities. ‘A new Cold War!’ the papers screamed. The leaders of the free world were righteously outraged, whereas Putin had merely closed the door. Any moment now he would flip the latch and stick out a leg.
But the analogy was troubling. When would the door open, and where was his leg? At first I wondered whether Putin was readying himself for the long game, hunkering down, raising the stakes to force the US to spend more and more money on more and more weapons until it bankrupted itself and went pop. Except, of course, that this would be playing into Bush’s hands, since American military spending is what the US economy depends on. The need for more weaponry would mean an even mightier America. So Putin wasn’t so clever after all: he’d forgotten all his old teaching and had taken up gunslinging in a fight he could only lose. Or so I thought.
On 7 June the full genius of Putin’s strategy was revealed. Earlier, Bush had said: ‘Vladimir – I call him Vladimir – you should not fear the missile defence system . . . Why don’t you co-operate with us on the missile defence?’ Ingeniously, Putin now called his bluff, and unbolted the new Iron Curtain. He quietly suggested that the US base its missile interception system on a Russian military installation in Azerbaijan, an unanswerable solution if – as the Americans claim – the EKVs really are intended to counter an Iranian nuclear threat. Bush’s people, wrong-footed, could only say that his proposal was ‘interesting’ and that the presidents would discuss it further in Kennebunkport, Maine at the beginning of July. But this is likely to be the end of the missile defence plan for Poland and the Czech Republic. Ippon!
Ippon indeed.Post Views: 492