My column for Russia Magazine, “Palaces in Sochi on Monday,”
Until recently, Sochi was mostly viewed in the context of Russia’s anti-homosexuality laws. No more. Stories of corruption and rights abuses in the preparation of the Olympics are all the rage. Joshua Yaffa’s recent article in Business Week is a must read on the subject. The BBC has also produced an hour long audio documentary, the “Putin Project,” surveying corruption, housing demolition, labor abuses and international affairs in the context of Sochi. There are numerous of other treatments pushing the subject to saturation. Given the coverage, it’s a legitimate question whether another expose on Sochi is necessary. Enter Putin’s Games, an hour long documentary directed by Aleksandr Gentelev and produced by Simone Baumann. It’s a comprehensive film that covers similar ground as Yaffa and the BBC. Its value is less in the information and more in giving a visual sense of the monstrosity of Sochi and its various heroes and villains. What’s more, the film has gotten some extra unsolicited exposure. Baumann was approached three times and offered 600,000 euros to can the film.
Why is this film so dangerous? It’s hard to say. In many ways it’s a standard expose of corruption in Russia. But then again, it’s about Sochi, Putin’s personal megaproject. Putin’s Games makes this personal touch clear by treating Russia’s Olympic bid as the president’s personal mission. Apparently, however, the idea didn’t originate with him. Having the Olympics in Sochi was first floated by former ski champion and Russian Olympic Committee chief Leonid Tyagachev while he and Putin were skiing at Krasnaya Polyana.
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By Sean — 4 years ago
My new Russia Magazine column, “Happy Birthday Foreign Agents!” Given that Ukraine is all the rage, I managed to make some Ukrainian connection.
“The events in Ukraine are more like a riot than a revolution,” says Vladimir Putin about the protests that have thrown his western neighbor into political crisis. “What is happening now suggests that these are, apparently, well-prepared actions, and, in my opinion, these actions have not been prepared for today’s events, they have been prepared for the presidential campaign in the spring of 2015.” Veiled in these comments is the suggestion that the protests against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich were orchestrated from abroad. The idea that political machinations are the fruits of foreign plotting is tried and true Putin. He thought similar the last time Ukraine was rocked by revolution nine years ago. When protests hit his own country in the winter of 2011-2012, he reiterated the belief that foreigners—particularly the US State Department—were behind them. A political chill descended upon Russia in the aftermath of each. Pushback against the Orange menace and the Russian protests are hallmarks of Putin’s second and third presidential term.
If the present political chill in Russia will become a full blown political freeze in the wake of Ukraine remains to be seen. It all depends, I think, on whether Yanokovich survives and in what shape. Either way, Putin already has a number of tools at his disposal to further tighten the screws on Russian civil society. Principle among them is the infamous foreign agents law. The law had its one year birthday two weeks ago. So given the current situation in Ukraine and what it might portend for Russia, I thought I’d give an update on its impact on Russian civil society.
“On Introducing Changes to Certain Pieces of Legislation of the Russian Federation as Regards Regulation of Activities of Non-Commercial Organizations Performing the Functions of Foreign Agents,” or simply the foreign agents law, was enacted on 21 November 2012. In a nutshell, the law requires any non-governmental organizations operating in the Russian Federation to register as a “foreign agent” if it receives funding from abroad and engages in “political” activities. Organizations deemed “foreign agents” that fail to register are subject to fines (up to 500,000 rubles or $16000 for organizations and 300,000 rubles or about $10,000 for individuals) and, if they continue to resist, closure. As Putin likes to point out, other countries have similar laws, including his favorite example, the United States, which enacted the Foreign Agents Registration Act in 1938. I leave the reader to decide the virtuousness of both the American and Russian version. I only want to note that in Russia the label “foreign agent” has a sordid history that recalls the dark days of Stalinism. The term essentially demonizes these organizations as spies and traitors. For this reason, Russian NGOs roundly reject the idea that grants from abroad makes them an agent of a foreign government. To date, not a single organization has complied with the law.
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By Sean — 2 years ago
I was on Brian Whitmore’s Power Vertical podcast this week. In thinking over some of my comments, I realized that I was basically giving the Russian elite advice on how to be a functioning bourgeoisie. The bourgeois class project in Russia has been a historical failure. Russia’s third bourgeois is currently too busy with its head buried in the trough or is too paranoid to see the reality before it.
You can listen to my appearance on the Power Vertical here:
It’s so pathetic that me, a Marxist, has to tell it how to be a functioning bourgeoisie.
But I feel that I must. Because let’s face it, the Russian elite sucks as a ruling class.
Here’s my open letter to the Russian elite.
Dear Russian elite,
I understand you’ve historically had a rough go. Your forefathers have been decimated three times in the last 100 years. It’s difficult to reconstruct yourself as a class over and over again. But you must.
There are many types of bourgeoisies. You don’t have to be like America’s or Europe’s. You should take some lessons from them, but you can be your own Russian bourgeoisie. Find the right fit for you.
Now, I don’t think you’re currently teetering on the precipice. But the next few years will pose challenges. You have economic crisis, parliamentary elections, and a presidential election. Elections are supposed to be legitimizing rituals but as Putin’s tenure has dragged on, they’ve increasingly become periods of potential instability.
So it’s time to use this opportunity to get your shit together.
Your problem is a simple one, but indulge me, and let me put it in Marxian terms. You are a class in itself, but not for itself. That is, you exist as a sociological category but you don’t collectively pursue your class interests. Sure, you do this individually but that leads to inter-class cannibalism. You’re a lawless creature without inter-class rules. This is why you always need an arbiter to keep you from killing yourselves. Becoming a class for itself means coming up with collective rules of the game: fight amongst yourselves but don’t destroy, expropriate but do it legally, rule but mostly through consent.
So, you need to make a decision and there’s no time is like the present. The question is simple: Are you going to ever become a proper capitalist ruling class?
If so, then you first need to learn to govern. Not rule. Govern. Governing requires a few things at this historical moment.
1. Rebuild your institutions.
You had them in the past—the zemstvo, real courts that settled real disputes, competitive Dumas (think about it, the Fourth Duma (1912) was far more competitive than Putin’s today. It had 15 Bolshevik representatives. Bolsheviks! And ten political parties. Real ones.), the soviet, the Party, and many, many social and cultural organizations.
Today’s Russia is not totally de-institionalized. It’s just that institutions merely act as fiefdoms for ravenous elites. You just can’t help yourself from eating them up or hollowing them out.
Do you want to have your cake and eat it to? You need to start the Atkins diet. You can still feast very well. You just can’t eat everything.
2. Nationalize the Navalny Experiment
You have Duma elections coming up. Face reality. You’re really not as popular are you think you are. Your provincial elites know this. But the Kremlin and its puppies in the Duma still think they can manage popularity by crude propaganda, stuffing the box or, worse, letting uncle Bastrykin talk to the guests again. You need to take a political hit. All you’ve done is pass idiotic laws just to let the media know you exist. What was the 6th State Duma’s great legislative achievement? How did it represent its constituents?
You don’t have to continue like this. Just look to Navalny as your savior.
Navalny’s 2013 mayoral campaign was a class success. You had a more or less free election. You let an opposition candidate run and allow him to get 27 percent of the vote. The election helped pull the opposition’s plug, not that Navalny and the urban “creative class” pose any real class threat. They just want to be part of the club. And you should let them in (see item #5). But in all you let him run and you’re still securely in power.
My advice here is simple: nationalize the Navalny experiment.
3. America is out to get you but not in the way you think.
The United States would love to see the Putinists go. But the United States does not have wondrous powers. Yes, it plays all sorts of dirty tricks and interferes in other people’s countries. It does love to bomb. It has a lot of power but its ruling class has forgotten how to effectively use it. It’s slowly decaying because it’s bourgeoisie gave up governing. But besides military power, its influence is rather circumscribed. But for some reason you keep eating its bullshit up. Stop acting like you’re a besieged fortress. You just aren’t.
4. Putin can’t keep driving you.
It’s time to learn to drive yourselves. Ruchnoi kontrol’ is not governing. It’s a substitute for governing.
5. If there is any lesson you should take from the American and European bourgeoisie it is how to build hegemony.
Let an autonomous civil society exist. Don’t see it as a threat but as another transmission belt for strengthening your hegemony. Gramsci described civil society as a system of “fortresses and earthworks” that propped up the state when it was in crisis.
6. Cut a deal amongst yourselves.
Stop using corruption and anti-corruption as an inter-class disciplinary mechanism. Come to some collective class agreement that if you stop stealing, you’ll actually make more money in the long run. And get this. Governance can help you! This is called the Rule of Law. And guess what? You get to write the laws! For the time being, you just need to accept a lower annual rate of return. If anyone steals, you bust them. You don’t have to be perfect. Property is theft after all. But keep corruption at politically acceptable levels. And if you still want to be corrupt, then follow the American example: legalize it.
7. Start thinking about life after Putin.
Botox doesn’t prolong life. Come to an arrangement where Putin will gracefully retire and receive all the benefits of being an elder statesman. He’ll go down in history as one of Russia’s greatest leaders. Put forward a class compromise candidate and establish rules of succession. You almost had it with Medvedev, but you let Papa come back.
8. Put your trust in Kudrin.
Alexei Leonidovich is the perfect shepherd for your journey in becoming a class for itself. He gets it. You just have to listen to him.
These eight points are my advice to you. I could elaborate on each of them more, but I assume you get the point. You don’t have to be successful all at once. Take some time. Just resist your inner Stalinist urges.
SeanPost Views: 686
By Sean — 11 years ago
Vladimir Putin threw a curve ball into the “who will be the next Russian President” guessing game. Kommersant reports that he told reports at the G8 Summit that his successor should be “a decent and honest person with a high level of professional qualities and work experience who has proven himself well and positively either in a region or at the federal level,” adding that that person might be “some governor.” Putin’s comments prompted the business daily to run an article titled “75 Successors to Many.”
I love how any illusion that the Russian Presidential election will be democratic is completely thrown out the window. Yes the election will resemble democracy in the sense that people will vote and that the majority of people might honestly vote for who Putin picks. Putin has the credibility and any formally named successor will immediately be the front runner. But no one is under the illusion that the next President will be handpicked.
But now, Kommersant wonders, who will that be? Thankfully in addition to Putin’s, they’ve provided a few criteria:
1. He will be Russian. Putin successor will have an -nin or an -ov at the end of his name. If he doesn’t at least sound and look Russian, he’s probably out.
2. Veteran governors are out. No one who came to power under Yeltsin. Experience doesn’t leave much room for cultivation and exercising influence. Plus their loyalties might lie elsewhere.
3. If a novik is the man, then he must be loyal to the president and his circle. And while all current governors show their loyalty to Putin regardless of political affiliation, its a good bet that the choice will most likely come from United Russia.
When all the above criteria are applied, Kommersant is left with 10 possible governors plus three recent governors who now have other jobs (Vladimir Yakovlev, former governor of St. Petersburg, now works in the Ministry of Regional Development; former governor of Yury Trutnev, who became minister of natural resources; and Sergey Sobyanin, former governor of and now chief of the presidential executive staff.).
Here is Kommersant‘s short list (minus the above three):
Alexander Tkachev (
Valentine Matvienko (St. Petersburg)
Alexander Khloponin ( )
Dmitry Zelenin ( )
Vyacheslav Shtyrov (Sakha Yakutia)
Sergey Morozov ( )
Viktor Maslov ( )
Vladimir Kulakov ( )
Nikolay Denin ( )
Nikolay Shaklein ( ))
Putin is just screwing us. It’s probably going to be Sergei Ivanov anyway.Post Views: 114