In June, Stanislav Belkovsky wrote that Putin “never created a power vertical.” Instead, the Putinist system is a “rhizome” state, a horizontal network “composed of innumerable multiplicities of power centers.”
Putin stands at the core but is isolated. He is the last to know or is simply left in the dark. In the network, each node, which is a merger of money and administrative resources, is really where the Russian state “is born, lives, and from time to time dies.” The implication that Russia as a rhizome state is clear: We must abandon the vertical for the horizontal if we really want to know how Russia is ruled.
I was reminded of Belkovsky’s provocative revision as I read Alena Ledeneva’s excellent and informative Can Russia Modernize? Sistema, Power Networks, and Informal Governance. This book is a sequel to her Russia’s Economy of Favors: Blat, Networking and Informal Exchange (1998) and her exploration of post-Soviet informal practices in How Russia Really Works: The Informal Practices that Shaped Post-Soviet Politics and Business (2006).
Can Russia Modernize? is not so much a sequel as it is the outer crust to these previous subterranean explorations. While the first two texts focused on the societal workings of informal networks, the new book illuminates their presence in the innards of the Russian state.
Like Belkovsky, Ledeneva also sees Russia as a network state, a vast web of money and power linked through informal practices, clans, personal relations governed by unwritten rules and codes. This complex circuitry forms the sistema, or system, of Russia that Putin lords over – and of which he is just as much a prisoner.
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By Sean — 7 years ago
It’s a notable feat that two of Russia’s most powerful symbols, Vladimir Putin and the Great Patriotic War, could jump the shark on the same day.
Granted it’s possible to argue that Putin jumped the shark a long time ago. The man has so many talents, that the Fonz himself could only awe in amazement. Putin has proved to be a Judo master, jet pilot, tiger wrestler, woodsman, super model, and now, race car driver. All that is needed is for someone to make a Putin action figure with the kung fu grip. Oh wait, someone has already thought of that, though sans the important fighting grip action.
But really, folks. Enough already. What’s next Vladimir Vladimirovich? Is jumping an actual shark on waterskis in your future?
Unfortunately, Putin wasn’t the only Russian symbol that completed the passage from adoration to absurdity.
Yesterday was the 83rd anniversary of the Great October Revolution. Whatever one might think of the outcome of the Revolution, one cannot deny that Lenin and the boys single changed the course of the 20th century when the “stormed” the Winter Palace. Though, any serious student of the Revolution knows that the supposed dramatic storm is a myth.
Sadly, myth-making hasn’t lost its allure.
Indeed, the Revolution remains difficult to sublimate into Russia’s post-Soviet collective memory, and nothing says this more than yesterday’s military parade on Red Square. Since the Revolution remains such a controversial issue, the Russian government can’t commemorate it as such. To do so would give the Communist Party legitimacy as a past modernizing force. Official recognition would renew the “glorify the Soviet past” hailstorm in the press. So what does the Russian government do? Well, it rewrites the Revolution into the only acceptable Soviet historical event: The Great Patriotic War.
As you can see from the Russia Today report, the Revolution, which the original parade commemorated, is silenced. This act as memory revision is the only way I can make sense of this reenactment of the legendary parade held on November 7, 1941. Then, the commemoration of October was defying the Nazi onslaught. It was giving the middle finger to the fascists by saying that we Russians weren’t going to sacrifice the holiest of holy days even though you are some 70 to 100 kilometers outside of Moscow.
But now? While this was all well and good in 1941, in 2010 it just looks like a silly parody. Who exactly is the Russian government defying here? Certainly not the Nazis. The West? If so, I’m sure that gesture fell on deaf ears. Yet another “thank you” to the grandfathers for their sacrifice? Too many thank yous out of context render them hollow. A chance to show off some vintage uniforms and tanks? That’s always pretty cool in a manly sort of way. Or was it an attempt to renarrate an event that tore the nation to pieces by placing it within one that bound it together? That’s my choice. But in sublimating the Revolution into the Great Patriotic War in 2010, the parade made a mockery of the latter. The war’s memory is rendered merely an empty signifier ready to be refilled with an ever malleable, politically expedient kit of signified.
You heard it here. The memory of the Great Patriotic War has officially jumped the shark. So there, “Sit on it!”Post Views: 102
By Sean — 10 years ago
Lenta.ru reports that Ivan Bolshakov, the Moscow head of Yabloko Youth, was subjected to a criminal search and detention. He has now been released from custody. Bolshakov was detained in the Kursk train station in Moscow as he and Ilya Yashin waited to board a train to Nizhny Novgorod for a pre-election trip. According to Lenta:
They put Bolshakov in handcuffs, and after this they took him to the Ziuzinskii Interdistrict Prosecutor’s Office for questioning. As his comrade in arms [Yashin] emphasized that according to existing law a candidate to the State Duma can only be detained with approval of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation. The officers who conducted the criminal search did not have this.
Bolshakov’s detention, according to Yashin was because he was accused of assaulting a police officer during the Butovo protests in June 2007. No charges have been filed against Bolshakov and Yabloko considers the accusations “a complete fabrication.”
Bolshakov’s brief detention comes right before Yabloko Youth submitted a complaint to the Central Elections Commission charging that the website Zaputina.ru is really a front for Putin and United Russia and not an independent project. According to Russian electoral law, all election advertising must be paid with funds from political parties’ coffers. United Russia would be violating the law if Zaputina.ru was registered as mass media.
Za Putina is run by Konstantin Rykov, who stands as United Russia’s candidate for Nizhni Novgorod, and features among other things airbrushed Putinist Realist photos of Putin, the faces of many Putin supporters, a game called “Putin Chess”, video, and other propaganda promoting all things Putin. The site is slick indeed. And since its establishment at the beginning of this month it has clocked over 70,000 pro-Putinites, the majority of whom come from Moscow.
“The site Zaputina.ru is obviously for agitational purposes, and its creators are obliged to pay for its activities from the electoral funds of United Russia. Moreover, it’s clear that this internet portal is not a private initiative, but an expensive pre-electoral project. There are video clips on the site that shape a positive image of the main candidate. On the sites material Putin is presented as a hero,” Yashin told Gazeta.ru.
Looks like the run up to the elections are shaping up as expected.Post Views: 52
By Sean — 10 years ago
Here’s a surprise. The Russian Duma overwhelmingly approved Putin as Prime Minister. Okay, it’s not that surprising. The Communists did hold to their word to vote against him. Out of the possible 450 votes, Putin got 392, all 56 Communist reps voted against him. Two Duma members weren’t present to cast their ballots. But Zyuganov speech where he criticized much of Putin’s presidential tenure didn’t sway anyone else. If you want to read a thorough analysis of Putin becoming PM, then I advise that you turn to Lyndon’s analysis on Scraps of Moscow.
But how the diarchy, tandemocarcy, or whatever you want to call it, sees itself might lie in Medvedev’s coronation, ahem, I mean, inauguration. Russia Profile‘s Andrei Zolotov articulates something that I felt while watching it: the ceremony’s Tsarist flavor. Zolotov writes:
The tsarist allusion was all too natural throughout the ceremony – and it correctly reflects the nature of the Russian regime, which combines the elements of democracy with a strong monarchist tradition. After all, it was in the throne hall of the royal Grand Kremlin Palace, which was reconstructed in the 1990s, that the inauguration was taking place, with the throne draped behind the backdrop in the colors of the Russian flag. Or maybe it was removed for the occasion – the glamorous television broadcast did not show it. But in any case, it stands empty, although carefully reconstructed after Soviet-era demolition – a telling sign of the often untold mourning of the monarchy lost.
The role of the Orthodox Church in the inauguration of the head of the secular state requires special attention. During President Boris Yeltsin’s inauguration in 1996, which took place in the Soviet –era Kremlin Palace of Congresses, Patriarch Alexy II of the Russian Orthodox Church was on the stage, along with the heads of the Constitutional Court and the chambers of parliament, and he gave a blessing to the president and made a short speech at the end of the ceremony.
Dmitry and Svetlana Medvedev with Patriarch Alexy II and other Russian Orthodox Church officials after the private prayer service in the Kremlin’s Annunciation Cathedral on Wednesday. On the left – Archpriest Vladimir Volgin, apparent pastor to the Medvedev family. As of Putin’s first inauguration in 2000, the authorities began to treat the separation of church and state more carefully. On Wednesday, just as in 2000 and 2004, the patriarch stood first among the guests in St. Andrew’s hall, but not on the podium where Valery Zorkin, the chairman of the Constitutional Court dressed in a mantel and hat, played the role of the high priest of the law. But immediately after the inauguration ceremony per se, he served a private prayer service for the new president in the Annunciation Cathedral – the ancient private chapel of the Russian tsars. Apart from some prominent bishops, according to a group photograph released by the Moscow Patriarchate, the ceremony was attended by a prominent Moscow Archrpriest Vladimir Volgin, thus confirming the rumors that he is the pastor to Medvedev family.
Just for a comparison, here’s a snippet of how Count von Moltkle described Alexander II’s coronation in 1855.
At nine o’clock the doors of the imperial rooms were opened; the flock of the chamberlains set itself in motion; the empress-mother appeared, supported by her two youngest sons. She wore a close crown entirely of diamonds, an ermine mantle of gold material, the train of which was borne by six chamberlains, and which was fastened by a magnificent diamond chain. The slight figure, the cameo profile, the majestic carriage of the illustrious woman, the joyful seriousness of her features, called forth the unconscious admiration of every one. On the previous evening she had assembled all her children and blessed them. She was followed by the hereditary grand duke, the grand dukes and grand duchesses, Prince Frederic William, Prince Frederic of the Netherlands, Alexander of Hesse, and the other royal princes, then their suites, and after us the ladies. The procession passed through the halls of Alexander, Vladimir, and George, which together make a length of about five hundred feet. On the left paraded the Palace Grenadiers, the Chevalier Guards, the Cuirassiers, with shining breastplates, deputations from the other cavalry and infantry regiments—all with standards and flags and bright arms. To the right were all the officers.
. . .
Then the regalia were brought in by the highest military and civil officials—the imperial banner with the double-eagle of Byzantium, the great seal (a great steel plate without any other ornament), the sword of the Empire, the coronation robes of both Their Majesties, the imperial globe with a cross belt of great diamonds (Severin served it upon a drap-d’or cushion), the scepter with the well-known great Lazaref diamond—which stands second in size only to the Kohinoor (mountain of light), the Prince Regent, and perhaps one or two others—and, finally, the two crowns. The large one of the emperor is formed by a bow from front to back of diamonds, and trimmed with a row of very great pearls. The bow has a cross in which is a ruby of inestimable value. This stone is an inch long, about half an inch wide, and a quarter of an inch thick, but irregular and not cut. From the band around the head rise on either side two covers which fasten on to the bow, so that one sees nothing of the velvet cap that is inside. The band and the sides are entirely of diamonds, of considerable size and the finest water. It glitters with every color in the sun. The empress’s crown is similar, but smaller, and it did not seem easy to keep it on the top of her head, where it was fastened with diamond hairpins.
Now the cross was carried from the church toward the approaching emperor, and the Metropolitan of Moscow sprinkled his path with holy water. Their Majesties bowed three times toward the gate of the sanctuary, and then took their seats upon the throne; the high church dignitaries filled the space from the throne to the middle door of the ikonostase; and the choir struck up the psalm “Misericordiam.” I have already written you of the affecting beauty of the Russian church songs, executed by male voices without instrumental accompaniment. They are very old, and have been collected from the East, and differ widely from the poor hymns of the Protestant and from the opera-music of the Catholic Church. The singers are extraordinarily trained, and one hears almost incredible bass voices, which echo with imposing strength from the firm walls and domes of this limited space.
Since Peter I incorporated the patriarchal power, the metropolitan is the highest priest of this great empire, at this time the handsome but already decrepit old Philaretes, who crowned the Emperor Nicholas I. It is of great importance for a high priest to have a strong bass voice: the voice of the old metropolitan could scarcely be heard, when he requested the emperor to say the creed. As soon as this was done, the emperor was invested with the coronation mantle, consisting of the richest gold brocade lined with ermine. He bowed his head, and remained in this position while the metropolitan laid his hands on his head and gave two long benedictions. Then the emperor called for the crown, placed it himself upon his head, took the scepter in his right hand, the imperial globe in his left, and seated himself upon the throne. Thereupon the empress stood before him and knelt down. The emperor takes the crown from his head and touches the empress with it, after which she is also invested with mantle and crown, and seats herself on the throne to the left of her spouse.
It was beautiful to see the intense interest with which the stately old empress-mother followed all the ceremonies. Meanwhile her youngest son was always at her side, supported her, wrapped the ermine about her that she might not take cold. The wife of a North American diplomat fainted near me, the Grand Duchess Helene fell into the grand duke’s arms, but the old mother of the emperor remained steady. Then she arose and firmly ascended the steps of the throne, the glittering crown upon her head and her gold brocaded mantle trailing behind her. Before all the world she embraced her first-born son and blessed him. The emperor kissed her hands. Then followed the grand dukes and princes with low bows; the emperor embraced them. Meanwhile the Domine salve fac imperatorem was sung, all the church-bells were ringing, and hundreds of cannon made the windows tremble. All present bowed low three times. Then the monarch divests himself of the imperial robes, descends from the throne, and kneels to pray. After he has risen, all present kneel or bow their heads to pray for the welfare of the new emperor.
No mortal man has such power in his hands as the absolute monarch of the tenth part of all the inhabitants of the earth, whose scepter reaches over four quarters of the globe, and who rules over Christians and Jews, Mussulmans, and pagans. Why should one not pray to God heartily to enlighten the man whose will is law to sixty millions of people, whose word commands from the Chinese wall to the Weichsel, from the Arctic Ocean to Mount Ararat; for whose call a half-million soldiers wait, and who has just given peace to Europe? May he be successful in the innumerable conquests still to be made in the interior of this great empire, and may he always remain a strong supporter of lawful regulations!
Von Moltke’s hope that Alexander “remain a strong supporter of lawful regulations” has quite a familiar echo in the present.Post Views: 50