New Russia! Magazine column, “Ukraine Slipping into Paramilitary Arms Race.” Here’s the opening paragraph:
Max Weber defined a state by its power to uphold its “claim on the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force.” The fledgling Ukrainian state’s ability to maintain its monopoly on violence is quickly disintegrating as militant separatists, volunteer militias, oligarch backed paramilitary groups, and criminal gangs fight to control the streets of its southern and eastern cities. Ukraine is on the verge of becoming a failed state. The expansion of these forces, on both sides of the conflict, is a disturbing trend. They undermine any political solution to the crisis and gives prominence to armed radicals ready to solve disputes through the barrel of a gun. But peel back the veneer and the emerging Ukrainian civil war looks more like a gang war between competing oligarchs.
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- By Sean — 5 years ago
There’s a new campaign in Moscow: “Two Thousand Russian Buildings.” The campaign seeks to paint two thousand buildings in the two capitals with patriotic graffiti. One such facade has already gone up in the Tagansk district of Moscow. Last week, the entire side of the Solzhenitsyn building was covered with large image of Crimea painted in the Russian tricolor. Next to it the artist emblazoned it with “Crimea and Russia together forever.” The graffiti was signed with the logo of the ruling party United Russia and the art collective LGZ-Art, or World’s Best City-Art. This graffiti is the latest example of the patriotic sentiment in Russia.
According to the Village, LGZ Art was registered in early March under the company Antikupon, a Russian version of Groupon. Dmitry Tsvetkov, a representative from Antikupon, the painting in Tagansk is part of a larger campaign to paint murals about the uniting of Crimea to Russia and other patriotic scenes “to nurture patriotic feelings in urbanities with the help of a wide spectrum of themes.”
How did this mural go up so fast for a project that was just legal registered a few weeks ago? Especially since getting permit for such a mural is a “long and difficult process”? It helps to be connected to Putin’s government. Aleksandr Dyagilev, the general director of Antikupon and the “Two Thousand Buildings” campaign’s face, has those connections. He’s a graduate of the Russian Academy of State Service under the President of the Russian Federation and a former participant in several pro-Kremlin youth groups: a coordinator with Walking Together, a Nashi commissar and a Molodaia gvardiia district leader in Moscow’s East Biriulevo district. Since 2009, Dyagilev also served as an election commissioner in several local and national elections. As for the permission to paint the mural, Dyagilev told the Village that everything was handled legally with the permission of the local administration and “local residents.” However, sources tell the Village that the “patriotic graffiti” didn’t get any administrative permission, but rather was initiated “from above,” presumably from United Russia’s leadership, since the painting carries its logo. According to Dyagilev, two million rubles has been allocated for the project.
As of today, another mural has gone up on the side of an apartment building in the district of Marino. Again there’s a Russian tri-colored Crimea decorated with the slogan “Enough lounging around at home, go vacation in Crimea.” Again the United Russia and LGZ-Art logo appears. About this mural, the Russian photojournalist Ilya Varlamov wrote, “This building is familiar to many reporters as the place where the apartment of Alexei Navalny, who is under house arrest, is located. It seems they decided to play an April Fool’s joke on Alexei.”
LGZ-Art murals aren’t the only Crimea inspired graffiti art to spring up. In the Crimean capital of Simferopol, the art group “Crimea’s Future” painted a mural influenced by the Michelangelo’s’ Sistine Ceiling, showing Putin with an outstretched arm saving the people of the peninsula. The painting includes the slogan, “You are with us, we are with you.” According to a “Crimea’s Future” press release, the mural “reflects the support which the Russian president extends to the residents of Crimea and also symbolizes that Putin is now personally creating the history of the peninsula.”
The art group has also created as series of posters in support for Putin. One features a leather jacket wearing Putin with “Order” across the top. Another shows Putin riding a bicycle with the Crimean coat of arms with “Ready or not here were come!” on it. A final poster shows Putin with third eye and the slogan “He knows better.”
Though some of these posters seem ironic, they’re not.
When asked about “Crimea’s Future’s” position on Crimea unification with Russia, Andrei Evseenko, a participant in the art group, told Ridus,
“We think that the new Ukrainian authorities completely discredited themselves before Crimea. When we declared our desire to conduct the referendum in which we ourselves wanted to determine the fate of the region, the nationalists who came to power took unprecedented measures to beak us. This [came in the form of] financial isolation and a transportation blockade. In this situation the vaunted western democracies did not come to our aid, but Vladimir Putin who has promised that Crimea would get all possible assistance. This is why we are so grateful to him and want to connect ourselves with Russia. This view is held by hundreds of thousands of people all over the Crimea, and they have already written us in support of our work and are grateful that we are not afraid to openly express our approval of Putin.”
- By Sean — 13 years ago
Boris Kagarlitsky’s analysis of the Belarusian elections is a breath of fresh air at a time when what exactly Belarus is has been so muddled by the ideological dueling between East and West. I encourage readers to check out his column “Nine Lives of the Belarusian Cat”. Here are some excerpts.
On why Lukashenko won:
The Russian and the Western mass media have split up into two camps: fervent partisans of the Belarusian regime and its furious enemies. With all that, either of the camps wouldn’t even make a guess, what this regime looks like, and especially, what kind of opposition that is.
Unlike Russia or Kazakhstan, Belarus is not rich in natural resources, therefore, it cannot export raw materials. Unlike Ukraine, it does not have siderurgy. Its domestic market is quite limited as well, for the country is not big. In the times of the USSR it served as the Soviet economy’s “assembly line”. In other words, only the developed processing industry will keep the Belarusian economy floating, given it produces goods of high enough quality to be exported to the former Soviet Republics and anywhere else if possible.
Implementing Russian model of privatization will result in an immeasurable disaster, against which all horrors of Neoliberal reforms implemented by Egor Gaidar would seem just a joke. The entire country would just die out. The more relaxed Ukrainian version wouldn’t work out either, due to the shortage of the resources available. To stay alive, the Belarusian economy needed guaranteed secure and modernized industry, simultaneously keeping wages low; otherwise, the Belarusian enterprises will not be competitive on the exterior market. Holding the wages and trying to avoid the collapse could only be made possible, preserving the social security protection, which inevitably handed the control over economy to the state, making it act as an investor, a proprietor, responsible for the healthy functioning of the industries, and as a distribution system. The Soviet type of economy has slowly been modifying in Belarus into an East Asia type of “export economy”, though with local flavor: not a tiger, of course, but a cat. The “Belarusian cat” model predetermined Lukashenka’s political endurance. Bat’ka was doing what the society expected him to. He did it roughly, undemocratically, enjoying support of the bureaucratic structures, inherited from the Soviet times. In return, he got the unlimited power for himself and his team.
And on why the opposition made little headway among the population:
The opposition was rejected by the Belarusian population in the first place because it hasn’t come up with something inspirational to suggest. Liberal programs and promises to prosper in the European house were nothing but bluffing. Paradoxically, what did add some weight the opposition was its persecution by the authorities. It raised the opposition’s moral prestige, stirred up sympathy. It was not enough to compensate for the narrow social basis, though. And the narrower the social basis is, the more significance is attached to the foreign sponsors. The attempts to repeat Kyiv Maidan in Minsk failed, as would other similar activity. Dumb Russian bureaucrats and mediocre journalists may of course trust the omnipotent political technologies. In practice they work out only under certain conditions and may not be thoughtlessly replicated. Lukashenka didn’t even bother to break up the demonstration. The cold did a better job than police squads would have done.
Neither the current opposition, nor its updated version, which will undoubtedly be created after the elections, will ever seize power. This absolutely must not lead to thinking that the future of the Belarusian regime is cloudless. Lukashenka as a political phenomenon was produced by specific circumstances back in mid-1990s. Since then, the situation has changed and keeps changing. The survival matter is no longer the case, but the further development issues will eventually become more and more acute. Lukashenka’s new term will not just be another one in a row.
According to Kagarlitsky, Lukashenko’s lease on life might begin to wear thin once Belarusian bureaucrats look to get a bigger piece of the pie they’ve only had a taste from. This, not an opposition, will force Lukashenko to proceed with more privatization. If not then, Kagarlitsky concludes,
One way or the other, the political crisis is inevitable, perhaps, resulting in a “color” revolution, conducted (like other color revolutions) not by the opposition, but the part of the ruling elites, determined to make changes. This is exactly how the story in Ukraine unfolded.
I highly encourage reading the rest.
- By Sean — 10 years ago
I’ve been reading Slavoj Zizek‘s In Defense of Lost Causes and he has some interesting thoughts on revolutionary terror (Ch. 4, “Revolutionary Terror from Robespierre to Mao”) and Stalinism (ch. 5 ‘Stalinism Revisited, or, How Stalin Saved the Humanity of Man”). I thought I’d share this one passage I found interesting,
The public prosecutor in the show trial against the “United Trotskyite-Zinovievite Center” published a list of those that this “Center” was planning to assassinate (Stalin, Kriov, Zhdanov . . .); this list became “a bizarre honor since inclusion signified proximity to Stalin.” Although Molotov was on good personal terms with Stalin, he was shocked to discover that he was not on the list: what could this sign mean? Just a warning from Stalin, or an indication that soon it would be his turn to be arrested? Here indeed, the secrets of the Egyptians were secrets also for the Egyptians themselves. It was the Stalinist Soviet Union which was the true “empire of signs.”
A story told by Soviet linguist Eric Han-Pira provides a perfect example of the total semantic saturation of this “empire of signs,” the semantic saturation which, precisely, relies on the emptying of direct denotative meaning. For many years, when the Soviet media announced the funeral ceremonies of a member of high Nomenklatura, used a cliché formulation: “buried on Red Square by the Kremlin wall.” In the 1960s, however, because of the lack of space, most of the newly deceased dignitaries were cremated and urns with their ashes were placed in niches inside the wall itself – yet the same old cliché was used in press statements. This incongruity compelled fifteen members of the Russian Language Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences to write a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, suggesting that the phrase be modified to fit the current reality: “The urn with ashes was placed in the Kremlin wall.” Several weeks later, a representative of the Central Committee phoned the Institute, informing them that the Central Committee had discussed their suggestion and decided to keep the old formulation; he gave no reasons for this decision. According to the rules that regulate the Soviet “empire of signs,” the CC was right: the change would not be perceived as simply registering the fact that dignitaries are now cremated and their ashes placed in the wall itself; any deviation from the standard formula would be interpreted as a sign, triggering a frenzied interpretive activity. So, since there was no message to be delivered, why change things? One may oppose to this conclusion the possibility of a simple “rational” solution: why not change the formulation and add an explanation that it means nothing, that it just registers a new reality? Such a “rational” approach totally misses the logic of the Soviet “empire of signs”: since, in it, everything has some meaning, even and especially a denial of meaning, such a denial would trigger an even more frantic interpretive activity – it would be read not only as a meaningful sign within a given, well established, semiotic space, but as a much stronger meta-semantic indication that the very basic rules of this semiotic space are changing, thus causing total perplexity, panic even!