My new article for Warscapes, “The Gendarme of Eurasia.” Here’s the opening excerpt:
In 1830, in response to the crowning of Louis-Philippe as king of France after revolution deposed Charles X, Russia’s Nicholas I wrote, “However, our allies, without agreeing beforehand with us on a step so important, so decisive, hastened…to crown insurrection and usurpation—a fatal, incomprehensible step to which must be attributed the series of misfortunes which has not since ceased plaguing Europe.” These words could have easily been spoken by Vladimir Putin about Kyiv. Shave off the literary flourish and exchange “allies” for “partners” and “Europe” for “Eurasia,” Nicholas I’s trepidation about revolution in nineteenth century Europe speaks to Putin’s alarm about the destabilizing nature of revolution in the twenty-first century. Putin’s pushback against his Western “partners’” fancy for revolution was on full display in his speech (here in English) before members of the Russian government. The speech wove together romantic, even volkish, Russian nationalism, anti-Westernism and Russian exceptionalism, and anti-revolution. A Gendarme of Eurasia has risen! But do the verbal epaulets of a gendarme make a different Putin? A Putin 3.0? I say rather than a new Putin, we’re seeing a crystallization of positions that have been apparent since he returned to the presidency in 2012.
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By Sean — 5 years ago
In a recent column, “Incarceration Nation, Fareed Zakaria claimed that number of people in the United States under “correctional supervision” exceeded that of Stalinist Russia. The assertion comes via Adam Gopnik, who wrote an extensive article on the US prison system in January. “Over all, there are now more people under ‘correctional supervision’ in America–more than 6 million–,” writes Gopnik, “than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height.” Correctional supervision means adults on probation, in jail or prison, and on parole. Zakaria follows Gopnik’s incantation of Stalinism with some horrifying figures:
Is this hyperbole? Here are the facts. The U.S. has 760 prisoners per 100,000 citizens. That’s not just many more than in most other developed countries but seven to 10 times as many. Japan has 63 per 100,000, Germany has 90, France has 96, South Korea has 97, and Britain–with a rate among the highest–has 153. Even developing countries that are well known for their crime problems have a third of U.S. numbers. Mexico has 208 prisoners per 100,000 citizens, and Brazil has 242. As Robertson pointed out on his TV show, The 700 Club, “We here in America make up 5% of the world’s population but we make up 25% of the [world’s] jailed prisoners.”
It is no hyperbole to say that the US prison industrial complex is unacceptable, especially for a country that purports itself the world’s preeminent democracy. But it is hyperbole because placing the US next to Stalinism (and Nazism for that matter) is inherently hyperbolic. The rhetorical move is supposed to provoke an emotional reaction not stimulate critical awareness. And as much as American liberals would like to think that the numbers of bodies ensnared in the US prison industrial complex is as bad, if not worse, than Stalinist Russia, the situation is far more complicated.
Here I don’t mean the quality of the Stalinist system No one is claiming that the US system is worse than Stalin’s forced labor camps. I only mean the quantity of humans in both systems.
The Stalinist penal system was a complex network of punishments and detentions: prisons, noncustodial forced labor, corrective labor camps, forced labor detention (katorga) special settlements, and corrective labor colonies. I won’t go into the meanings and various differences between these. Though experts make clear distinctions between these various units, to the popular mind, they all fall under the general name of gulag. The numbers of people, which also included children, in this penal machine at any given period remains partial. Up 20 percent of the gulag population was released every year, new inmates went in, corpses went out, some even managed to escape. But exactly how many people under Stalin’s correctional supervision is unknown.
Here’s the population of some of these institutions between 1935 and 1940:
According to the straight numbers, the Stalinist system did not exceed the US’ six million during the years of the Great Terror. In 1938, there were 2.7 million people in the “gulag.” But this doesn’t include everyone under Stalinist “correctional supervision.” Therefore it doesn’t take account of prisons and released gulag prisoners who were forced to carry “Form A” which detailed their past crime, prison term, the deprivation of civil rights up to five years, and restricted where they could settle. There were roughly 2 million people released from the gulag between 1934 and 1940 which etches the Stalinist number closer to the United States.
Things change in 1953, the height of the Stalinist gulag. Here are the numbers:
This means an estimated 7.4 million people were under Stalinist correctional supervision 1953, exceeding Zakaria’s and Gopnik’s 6 million for the United States. Again the numbers are probably higher since these numbers don’t include everyone in the Stalinist penal system.
Things get even more complicated when you consider the gulag population per 100,000 citizens. According to Eugenia Belova and Paul Gregory, the Soviet institutionalized population in 1953 was 2,621,000 or 1,558 per 100.000. When you include special settlements, the numbers jump to 4,301,000 or 2,605 per 100,000. This puts the 760 per 100,000 in the United States into perspective.
The numbers in the United States should produce outcry. No argument there. But caution is required when Stalinist Russia is thrown into the mix, that is, if you want to go beyond rhetoric and emotion.
Eugenia Belova and Paul Gregory, “Political Economic of Crime and Punishment Under Stalin,” Public Choice, 140, 2009.
Steven A. Barnes, Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society, Princeton, 2011.Post Views: 2,783
By Sean — 4 years ago
I don’t follow Ukrainian internal politics too closely, but I thought I would offer some thoughts on what is clearly a “revolutionary situation.” The basic narrative of the current crisis pits Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich, who abruptly reneged on signing an association agreement with the European Union, against mostly young and middle class Ukrainians who view the agreement as a step toward bringing the country in line with “Europe.” Analysts have given many reasons why Yanukovich backed out: Russian pressure, the EU’s call for the release of Yulia Tymoshenko, the EU’s flat rejection of Yanukovich’s demand for 160 billion euros to institute Union standards, and Yanukovich’s refusal to meet IMF/EU requirements for further economic liberalization. All of these are important realist factors. But what stands out to me is the imaginary Europe that has captured Ukrainians’ minds.
While the protests have been framed as whether Ukraine will go with Europe or go with Russia, it seems that economic concerns are the main drivers behind Yanukovych’s hesitance. Ukraine is in bad economic shape, and as Mark Adomanis noted in a sober column, “The association agreement will do precisely nothing to address Ukraine’s severe (and worsening) short-term economic difficulties.” The agreement is about the long term, and Ukraine has some very serious short term problems.
All of this matters little on the streets of Kiev and other cities. And if the economic side of the EU agreement initially meant something in the streets, that time has passed. The protests have clearly intertwined a future European Ukraine to getting rid of Yanukovich. Since the Orange Revolution in 2004, Yanukovich has represented “Russia” in the minds of many western-leaning Ukrainians, and if the strong presence of Ukrainian nationalists in the streets in any indication, a “European” Ukraine means just as much not “Russia” more than it means with “Europe.”
And that’s the thing. A strong fetishization of Europe drives the protests. Whatever the particular complaints people may have with Yanukovich, their solution, it seems, lies in Europe. You get this from Oleh Kotsyuba’s value-laden column in the NYT:
“The protesters have at times called for resignations, impeachments and new elections. But what’s most striking is their association of Europe with a set of values that results in absence of corruption, a strong social safety net, an inclusive health-care system, fair wages, a stable currency and a responsible government that delivers reliable services and treats citizens with respect. For them, these were even more valuable than the tangible benefits of joining the E.U., like the right to work in other European countries and the prospect of big European investments in Ukraine.”
I got a whiff of similar paeans to Europe when I was in Kiev this past summer. The Ukrainian academics I met pointed to the EU association agreement as a pivotal moment that would really test where Yanukovych really stood: with Brussels or with Moscow. All of their present frustrations and future prospects lied in that 1,400 page document regardless of its contents. Ukraine’s future was in and only in “Europe.”
I found this sentiment encapsulated in one activist’s comment: “We’re not barbarians, we’re Europeans,” as he said as he joined a crowd storming government buildings. The meaning here is an old trope of the West/East divide. To be European is to join civilization, while remaining in the east, and here I’m sure Russia figures prominently in the mind of this activist, is to be barbaric. The question is whether this Europe still exists, if it ever existed at all.
It’s rather ironic that Ukrainians are ascribing the EU with such civilizing powers at the very moment many Europeans “have fallen out of love with Europe.” For many Europeans, “really existing Europe” is only economic crisis, despair, foreboding, and paralysis. Many Europeans, particularly citizens of Spain, Italy, and Greece, have given up on the European Union as an institution and an idea. Instead they are turning inward to their own countries, and even further atomizing themselves by focusing on their personal lives. The Union hardly resembles the future, and the values it represents aren’t necessarily ones of civilization or social welfare, but austerity and cut-throat-capitalism. As Moises Naim recently wrote in the Atlantic:
“The “the rest of the world” increasingly seems to be a mere blip on the radar of many Spaniards and Italians. And, sadly, “the rest” now even includes Europe. Growing indifference to a European project that promised much and has fallen short of high initial expectations has been noticeable for some time now. And the region’s economic crisis, with its uncertain future and legacy of massive unemployment, has deepened disappointment and disinterest in the European Union. Granted, there is support for some of the more tangible features of the EU, like free trade and more open borders that facilitate the movement of people. But there is little backing for a more united Europe, and I could not find anyone during my trip who felt that deeper integration could spur the economic growth that crisis-stricken countries desperately need. On this subject, the opinions of Italians and Spaniards are consistent with those of their fellow Europeans. According to the Eurobarometer, a survey of 27 EU member countries, half of all citizens are pessimistic about the future of the European Union as an institution, and 69 percent express no confidence in it at all. Two-thirds feel as if their voice is meaningless in the decisions taken by the EU.”
Europe is at a nadir. Yet Ukrainians are nevertheless clamoring to join it. Granted, I understand why so many Ukrainians place their hopes on “Europe” as a symbol for the future. In the cosmology of the West/East divide, Europe has wondrous powers over the imagination. My only fear is that by imbuing it with such symbolic meaning, Ukrainians will turn Europe into a false promise.
Image: NY Times.Post Views: 1,199
By Sean — 2 years ago
Julie Hemment, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts where she specializes in Russia, post-socialism, gender and transition, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and global civil society. She is the author of Youth Politics in Putin’s Russia: Producing Patriots and Entrepreneurs.Post Views: 506