My latest for Russia! Magazine, “Navalny’s Neoliberalism,”
It’s no surprise that Alexei Navalny has come under the political microscope since his mayoral bid took off. Little is known of Navalny’s actual politics, and what is, has driven a wedge into the Russian opposition. There is universal support for Navalny the anti-corruption crusader, the victim of political repression, and street and internet activist. But Navalny as an electoral candidate? That is something else entirely. Can he be trusted as a politician? What dangers do his growing cult of personality present? Is Navalny part of a larger movement or is the movement merely Navalny? What about his nationalism? This last question has generated the most reticence toward Navalny. Even some Western commentators are urging caution. Recently, Anatol Lieven warned that Navalny’s “Russian ethnic chauvinism,” “anti-immigrant sentiment” with its “distinctly anti-Muslim edge,” and his connections to extreme right-wing Russian groups make him “closer to Geert Wilders, the far-right Dutch populist, than to the hero of some western imaginings.”
Navalny is a right-wing populist. No doubt. But I would submit he’s more of an American variety than a European facsimile. His xenophobia comes with an anti-elitist élan tinged with a libertarian distrust of big government. If Navalny ran in a US election, he’d find common cause with the Tea Party. He’d make an excellent Fox News pundit if he added flamboyancy to his abrasiveness. And this greater affinity with American rather than European rightwing populism is visible in another, but much less discussed, aspect of Navalny’s politics: his neoliberalism. Navalny’s terse statements about social and economic policy speak to a faith in a world in which individuals with unfettered access to information set in a marketplace will allocate resources rationally and efficiently. Peppered throughout this base philosophy is a litany of neoliberal buzzwords: transparency, competition, openness, accountability, choice, and access. In sum, markets are the most efficient mechanism for governing social life.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
The new issue of the New Left Review has two articles on Russia worth reading. The first, “Russia Redux?” by Vladimir Popov, examines the macroeconomic trends Russia has experienced since Putin became president. Though “there is more stability in Russia today than during the rocky 1990s,” Popov argues, compared to other post-Soviet republics “Russia’s performance is not that impressive.” Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and, to some extent, Armenia all “reached or exceeded their pre-recession (1989) levels of output by 2006, whereas Russian GDP was still only at 85 per cent of the 1989 level.” Further he states the reason for Russia lax growth rate is due to the ruble’s overvalue and economy’s sandy foundations:
The reason for the 2001–06 deceleration in growth was the overvaluation of the real exchange rate—the typical Dutch disease that Russia has developed once again. It first arose in 1995–98, leading to the currency crisis of August 1998, and it now seems that history is repeating itself. Optimists argue that, unlike in 1998, Russia currently has large foreign exchange reserves (over $250 billion), but pessimists point out that if oil prices drop and capital starts to flee at a rate of $5 billion a week, as it did in July–August 1998, these reserves would be depleted very quickly. A future devaluation could take the form of either a currency crisis or a ‘soft landing’, but there is little doubt that it will eventually take place.
Besides, current growth is not based on solid foundations: wages and incomes in recent years have been growing systematically faster than productivity, so that the share of consumption in gdp has increased at the expense of investment. As a result, whereas Russian personal and public consumption has already exceeded the pre-recession level, investment is still below 40 per cent of what it was in the last year of existence of the USSR. Russian gross savings are large—over 30 per cent of GDP—but they have been funnelled away via the outflow of private capital and the accumulation of foreign exchange reserves; gross investment therefore amounts to less than 20 per cent of GDP.
In regard to where Russia is headed, Popov prognosis is that Russia’s future depends on how it chooses to reconcile one of its longest running historical conundrums:
Russia now needs more than anything to strengthen law and order and to restore the institutional capacity of the state. Democracy is also needed, but only later, when the rule of law has been established. There is, of course, a danger that the leadership will use political centralization to line everyone up along the ‘vertical of power’ and eliminate opposition in order to live in serene comfort at the citizens’ expense—and perhaps also to embark on the occasional escapade. This has happened in Russia before. But one must choose the lesser of two evils. Strengthening law and order is only possible under a centralized system. Without centralization, there is no chance at all of it happening; unbounded chaos and lawlessness would rule. This seems to be the choice facing Russia today.
Popov’s article is nicely supplemented by Tony Wood’s “Contours of the Putin Era.” Taking off from Popov’s economic analysis, Wood probes further into how Russian society has faired under Putin in terms of the distribution of wealth, the fissures in the elite, the reorientation of informal practices, and the costs of crime and the Chechen War.
One of the more interesting points Wood makes concerns the character of Russia’s ruling class. He notes that while “the melding of security services and political power is a salient characteristic of Putin’s Russia,” more striking is “the swelling presence of business in the state.”
Business has been a significant source of state cadres. This applies at all levels: a whole section of Putin’s Presidential Administration was drawn from the ranks of Al’fa Bank, while as Table 1 shows, by 2003 some 20 per cent of the government was drawn from business, which provided almost the same proportion of Duma deputies. The representation of business in the upper house of the Russian Federal Assembly was still higher: in 2002, almost a third of Federation Council members came from private enterprises. More than a dozen Russian regions, resource-rich ones prominent among them, are now headed by businessmen from major local companies.
Perhaps Andrei Illarionov charges that the Russian state is “corporatist” is not so far fetched after all.
Wood’s conclusion is an answer to Popov’s notion that Russia must choose between a lesser of two evils:
Popov concludes by emphasizing the need to choose the lesser evil of centralization and potential authoritarianism over the inevitable unravelling and chaos that will accompany any other course. Stability is the prime consideration; democracy can wait until more favourable circumstances develop. The question that immediately arises is: stability for whom? From the foregoing analysis, it should be clear that Russia’s rulers have little interest in the fortunes of the general populace; the current priority is rather to use the country’s natural resources to leverage a greater role in global affairs, and so carve out further opportunities for the internationalization of Russian capital. Entry into the wto will assist in the latter goal, though it will also bring with it a dismantling of the protections that have served Russian industry well, and undermine recent attempts to revive manufacturing in the automobile and aviation sectors. To the dangers Popov lists, then, we should add the exposure to international capitalist pressures and widening of existing inequalities that inevitably accompany WTO accession. These forms of destabilization will, of course, largely bypass the fractions of business and state most actively seeking them.
Finally, there is the matter of the lesser evil. Popov poses the alternatives in stark terms: the status quo or utter disaster. Such logic has long helped to rally critics of various kinds to otherwise unpalatable governments. But it is precisely the immunity from challenge or debate that enables crime, coercion and corruption to flourish; conversely, it is the availability of alternative proposals for future paths of development that constitutes the political health of a nation. Popov’s analysis presents many points from which such a discussion could begin.Post Views: 348
By Sean — 2 years ago
Several years ago when I was living in Moscow I would often see people in the metro holding signs selling doctoral degrees. I even had a friend of a friend who earned money writing them on order. Fake diplomas, theses on order, and plagiarism. Already in 2006, Mikhail Kirpichnikov, the then head of State Commission on Academic Degrees, called the selling of diplomas and dissertations in the metro a “illness of society.” But it’s not just the buying of doctoral degrees that’s a problem in Russia. Plagiarism is quite endemic as well. In 2006, Clifford Gaddy, a senior fellow at Brookings Institute, found that Putin had lifted sixteen pages of his dissertation from a Russian translation of William King and David Cleland’s Strategic Planning and Policy. Indeed, Dmitry Livanov, Russia’s Education and Science Minister, admitted in 2014 that plagiarism was widespread, so much so that a 2013 study conducted by the Russian State Library estimated that ten percent of recent dissertations in history were plagiarized. Many of them were written by Russian officials.
The State Commission on Academic Degrees (BAK) is trying to stem the tide. In addition to adopting guidelines for awarding a masters or doctorate degrees, last year the agency drew up a list of 164 legitimate presses and academic journals for scholarly publications. This list was a extreme paring down of the 2269 on BAK’s 2014 list. The idea here was to especially eliminate the “large number of garbage journals” that will print anything if you’re willing to pay.
But the real fight against academic charlatans lies elsewhere. Dissernet, a crowd sourced project, stands in the front lines in the battle against fake or purchased dissertations and plagiarism in Russia. After many months of research, Dissernet in conjunction with Novaya gazeta, released the results from investigating the dissertations of State Duma deputies. They found that 57 members, or 12 percent of the Duma, had plagiarized, faked, bought or had their dissertation ghostwritten. Given that even Russia’s top dog did it, it’s not too surprising.
Below is a translation of the results.
A Mandate with Plagiarism
Dissernet and Novaya gazeta‘s guide to State Duma deputies’ dissertations.
We met Zayakin about three years ago. In January 2013, the physicist published his first examination of Duma deputies’ dissertations. Deputies Tatiana Alexeeva, Nikolai Bulaev and Richat Abubakirov were “busted.” You’ve probably heard that on November 20, 2015 the State Commission on Academic Degrees finally stripped Abubakirov of his doctorate in economics. This was the first such case in the history of the State Duma. And it all started with posts on Live Journal.
Over the years, activists from Dissernet, of which Andrei Zayakin is the co-founder, with the aid of Novaya Gazeta and other public and anonymous helpers have examined the dissertations of almost every Duma deputy. Here are the results of this work.
Regular readers of Novaya Gazeta will recall that Dissernet published its analysis as interactive tables where the cells were partially or fully filled with different colors. The more colors, the more examples of plagiarism. We decided to issue the final results about the State Duma along the same lines. Only it’s not a table, but a diagram of the parliament chamber on the Okhotny Ryad. And there are parliamentary seats instead of cells. “We need a smart ass infographic!,” demanded some Editor-in-Chief for some other reason. Here it is.
I clearly remember the meaning of what Zayakin told me in an interview three years ago: “The battle against swindlers and thieves should not be carried out with seriousness. It should be fun, like Carlson playing the bogeyman—ferocious, but loveable. It’s like fighting Freken Bok. After all, if you remember, at the end of the story, Freken Bok found a dignified gentleman and became a very nice lady, and not a terrible housekeeper.”
Nikita Girin, Novaya Gazeta
Research was conducted on all current State Duma deputies. The green group are dissertations we examined and found nothing. This does not mean that these deputies wrote these works themselves. It only indicates that we weren’t able to find any plagiarism.
A number of dissertations fell into the grey group because, for a variety of reasons, we didn’t get around to them, even if we wanted to. There are a few dissertations we didn’t check simply because we didn’t have the time (due to the turnover in the Duma and the bottleneck at Dissernet), but want to check because they don’t fall into the “old dissertation” category discussed below.
In some of the “grey” dissertations we found matching content, but the presence of collaborative work and co-authors in the dissertation doesn’t allow us to make definitive conclusions that these borrowings are wrong or we think there could be additional sources. All such cases are classified as “There are signs of matching content. Our work continues.”
The most interesting group among the “grey” are the phantoms, that is, dissertations that don’t exist. In early November, Novaya Gazeta sent twenty-four requests to dissertation authors and abstracts that don’t have references in the Russian State Library, the St. Petersburg Public Library, or TsITIS. Even the titles of these works are unknown. We received six responses: In one case, it pointed us to an old work, which we missed, in three cases the dissertations were classified, and two cases of fake dissertations. These are useless scraps of paper produced in “mickey-mouse outfits” and not recognized by the State Commission on Academic Degrees. According to our findings, such “dissertations” belong to Elena Drapeko (according to her comments to the press, her dissertation defense was held at a certain International Academy of Education), Victor Pautov (at the International Academy of Authors of Scientific Discoveries and Inventions) and Sergei Chizhov (his “degree” was awarded by the Higher Inter-Academic Attestation Commission of the International Inter-Academic Union of the Higher Expert-Qualification Committee). That said, Sergei Chizhov told Novaya Gazeta (quite truthfully, we might add) that he doesn’t have a scholarly degree, and after our inquiry he removed information about it from his State Duma website. That’s when we first made screenshots of these pages.
As a rule, if a deputy has a master’s thesis and a doctoral dissertation, this table will only have the doctorate. Master’s theses are usually written in more ancient times, and they are not so interesting to verify. The exception was United Russia’s Sergei Naryshkin and Alexandr Remezkov, who we have an interest displaying a master’s thesis and doctoral work, as it’s noted in the diagram.
Some dissertations weren’t checked because they were written a long time ago and, as a rule, before the deputy had a political career. Such dissertations are difficult to obtain and aren’t interesting to analyze, and in our experience, if there is plagiarism, it is practically impossible to dig it up. Therefore, we assigned such dissertations with the color purple.
Andrei Zayakin, co-founder of DissernetPost Views: 210
By Sean — 4 years ago
This week’s Russia Magazine column, “The Gulag but Now with a Brutal Commercial Grin,”
The political and moral power of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s letter describing the living and working conditions of her prison, Penal Colony No. 14 in the Mordovia, is immeasurable. The letter immediately made her a candidate for the pantheon of Russian chroniclers of prison life—Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov and Danzig Baldaev,—and brought into view the daily existence of Russia’s lowliest outcasts. Dostoevsky wrote in the House of the Dead (1862) that “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” That maxim, unfortunately, still rings true.
Historically, the prison has served as a metaphor for Russian society writ large. The soviet gulag, argues Steven Barnes, a historian of the camps, mirrored soviet society. Soviet social structure, deprivations, strictures, and transformative impulses of daily life were replicated in the camps, albeit often in extreme form. The bare life of the soviet prisoner was revealed in the state’s naked power to exploit his or her labor. The slogan of the Soloveskii camp in the 1920s read: “A prisoner is an active participant in socialist construction.” The prime directive of the soviet prison camp, Barnes quotes, was that “every prisoner must work as appointed by the administration of the camp.”
Tolokonnikova describes a similar world where the inmate is ruled by the rhythms of the prison-industrial machine. “My whole shift works sixteen to seventeen hours a day in the sewing workshop, from seven-thirty in the morning to twelve-thirty at night. At best, we get four hours of sleep a night. We have a day off once every month and a half. We work almost every Sunday. Prisoners “voluntarily” apply to work on weekends. In fact, there is nothing “voluntary” about it. These applications are written involuntarily on the orders of the wardens and under pressure from the inmates who help enforce their will.” Today, instead of serving as a constructor of socialism, today’s Russian prisoner is an active participant in the construction of capitalist profit. Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) and private companies alike benefit from that revenue.Post Views: 266