There’s question how much the revolution in Ukraine would inspire Russians. A successful Ukraine would become a shining example to Russians that a life without Putin is not only possible, but desirable. Putin is certainly aware of this and his comments on extremism to his Security Council shows that the threat of “colored revolutions” occupies his mind.
“In the modern world extremism is used as a geopolitical tool for redistribution of spheres of interest. We can see the tragic consequences of the wave of the so-called color revolutions, the shock experienced by people in the countries that had went through the irresponsible experiments of hidden, or sometimes brute and direct interference with their lives,” Putin told his Security Council. “This is a lesson and a warning for us,” he added. “We will do everything to never let this take place in Russia.”
It is no irony that he made these statements on the anniversary of the Maidan and on the heels of stating at an All-Russia Peoples’ Front forum that the United States is trying to subdue Russia.
What is extremism according to Putin? “People should understand that instigating conflict between people of different ethnic and religious background, the promotion of nationalist ideology, mass violations of public order and calls for forceful overthrow of the existing regime are all direct manifestations of anti-national thought and direct manifestations of extremism,” he said.
The most dangerous for Russia, Putin added, were “nationalism, religious intolerance, and political extremism.”
For some, adding “political extremism” along with his warnings about “colored revolutions” set a clear signal.
Speaking to Vedemosti, political scientist Dmitrii Oreshkin said that “The hysteria is growing and it is a direct result of Putin’s policies when they imagine 45 million Ukrainians as zhidobanderovtsy and fascists and invade the territory of another sovereign state, telling us, that it is lawful.” Putin comments, Oreshkin continued, mean that he “gave the understanding that will not permit attempts at disturbing political stability, everything will be declared extremism that is directed to changing the regime. Putin de-facto said: they surround us and we will be on the defensive.”
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- By Sean — 5 years ago
My article in The New Republic, “Is Russia Suffering From Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?”
In Collapse of an Empire, Yegor Gaidar, the Russian economist and 1990s shock therapist, wrote that “the identification of state grandeur with being an empire makes the adaptation to the loss of status of superpower a difficult task for the national consciousness of the former metropolis.” Gaidar likened the loss of the Soviet empire to Germany’s defeat in WWI and warned, like Weimar Germany, Russia could thirst for a strong national leader to right the wrongs of the Soviet collapse. Empire, after all, was “an easy-sell product, like Coca-Cola” to a parched population. Gaidar turned out to be premature though prescient. Only now, with the crisis in Ukraine, is the opportunity for Russian revanchism—and the collective trauma that serves as its foundation—fully revealed.
Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea is a reaction to a trauma experienced by millions of Russians: In his speech to Russia’s Federation Council, Putin called Nikita Khrushchev’s 1954 transfer of Crimea to Ukraine a robbery that made Russians on the peninsula feel “they were handed over like a sack of potatoes.” Crimean Russians simply “could not reconcile themselves to this outrageous historical injustice.” This trauma redoubled when the Soviet Union collapsed. “Millions of people went to bed in one country and awoke in different ones, overnight becoming ethnic minorities in former Union republics, while the Russian nation became one of the biggest, if not the biggest, ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders,” he said.
- By Sean — 11 years ago
You know Russia has hit the mainstream when CNN decides to devote a entire week of programming to it. All week CNN is running a daily half hour series called “Eye on Russia: The New Dawn.” Presumably the series is connected to Putin’s upcoming trip to the US. The topics include Russia’s “resurgence,” Russian youth, business, “the future,” and arts and culture. The first topic ran yesterday and you can view segments of it online here.
I must say that I think that former Gorbachev scribe Alexei Pushkov did an excellent job addressing CNN’s Jim Clancy’s loaded, and rather simpleton, questions. You could hear the disappointment in Clancy’s voice when Pushkov had to inform him that Russia isn’t going to be just like the West. “It’s not,” Clancy muttered with disappointment. What a boob.
What I really wonder is who Pushkov and Clancy meant by the “opposition.” I believe that they were talking about two different oppositions, or really a real one and a fake one. Pushkov perhaps about former Yeltsinites or even the Communists and Clancy, well, was referring, of course, to Kasparov. Too bad Pushkov didn’t ask for a clarification.
Looking at the list of guests, besides St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko and perhaps Mikhail Kasyanov, there doesn’t seem to be any real players on the Russian scene slotted to appear.
Still I will tune in as much as I can stomach CNN’s mealy mouthed squeamish approach to journalism. I especially look forward to today’s panel on youth, though CNN picked Maria Gaidar from Da! as the representative of youth organizations. I would have liked to see her or Ilya Yashin square off with Yakemenko from Nashi and Belov from the DPNI. But that would require CNN to acknowledge that their liberal darlings don’t represent the alpha and omega of Russian youth politics.
I am also looking forward to the interview with Alexei Balabonov. His new film “Gruz 200” is already causing controversy.
At any rate most Americans don’t get to hear or see much about Russia on the idiot box. At least CNN is providing the opportunity. And who knows? For once it might defy my already low expectations.
Update: Well it appears that Americans won’t see Eye on Russia after all. Or at least very few will. I just found out that CNN International, not CNN in the States, is broadcasting the series. I guess we homebody Americans will be treated to the CNN’s same old cutting edge journalistic potpourri of forest fires, tornadoes, child abductions, and celebrity scandals, and anti-immigrant rantings a la Lou Dobbs. It kinda feels like one of those times when Newsweek or Time Magazine runs real news as the cover story of their international edition but the same infotainment slop on their American editions. Bastards.
- By Sean — 6 years ago
The trial and conviction of Pussy Riot has sparked a number of historical analogies. Never wanting for hyperbole, the Washington Post, among others in the West and Russia, argued that the trial echoed “Stalinism” (an analogy nicely rebutted by Mark Adomanis). The Pussy Riot case has also been likened to the 1964 trial of the Soviet poet Joseph Brodsky, not to mention harking back to the trials of Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel in 1965. But historical analogies did not end with the Soviet period. Another common refrain was that the accusations and trial of Pussy Riot reflected medieval Russia. This comparison wasn’t hard given that Artem Ranchenkov, one of the case investigators, cited Orthodox canonical rules of proper church dress from the 4th century Council of Laodicea and the 7th century Quinisext Council. Nor was it difficult to call the affair “medieval” since the trial proceedings were often more like an ecclesiastical than a civilian court. The coup de grace for which was when Yelena Pavlova, a lawyer representing nine of Pussy Riot’s “victims,” called feminism a “mortal sin.”
Another common historical analogy making the rounds were excerpts from Article 231 of the Imperial Russian Criminal Code of 1845, which stated that “improper loud cries, laughter, or any other noise or unseemly conduct that causes temptation, averts attention of worshipers from their duty to God” carried a fine of 50 kopeks to a ruble or detention from three to seven days. If the disturbance occurred during church service, the sentence was prison for a period of three weeks to three months. The irony here was that under the “well-ordered police state” of Nicholas I, Pussy Riot’s sentence would have been far lighter. Yet, others listed other possible laws applicable to Pussy Riot from the 1845 code. One blog post listed 24 satutes, Articles 182-205, concerning blasphemy, sacrilege, and other violations of faith. The sentences varied from corporal punishment, forced labor in factories and mines, jail time and exile to Siberia. The only problem is that blasphemy and sacrilege are not in the Russian Criminal Code of 2012. That is unless it’s disguised as “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”
But the historical semblances didn’t stop with references to bygone eras or now defunct imperial codes. Some of the more interesting ones were those that placed Pussy Riot within a broader historical tradition of Russian minstrelsy, where hooliganism, art, and protest collided into a staple of Russian medieval culture.
Indeed, there were two references to Russian medieval minstrels, or skomorokhi, in the trial. When one of the prosecutors asked Stalnisalv Samutsevich, the father of Pussy Rioter Yekaterina, if he believed “it was acceptable to say ‘Holy shit’ in a church”, he compared his daughter’s act to that of the skomorokhi of the sixteenth century. Likewise, in her statement to the court, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said that Pussy Riot were in the tradition of the skomorokhi. “We are jesters, skomorokhi, maybe even, holy fools. We didn’t mean any harm.”
Skomorokhi were minstrel entertainers in Kievan and Muscovite Russia that performed for public and Tsar alike. They were wildly popular as they performed songs and folktales or acts of trained bears to the delight of onlookers. Despite their entertainment value, like Pussy Riot, they combined entertainment and mockery with unruliness. Unlike the balaclava-clad feminists, however, the lawlessness of the skomorokhi mostly involved theft and pillage. One famous story told of a band of minstrels distracting the peasants of Likovo with their performance, while their comrades were busy rounding up the villagers’ sheep. Other incidents told of skomorokhi ransacking barns, raiding animal pens, and making off with whatever they could grab. According to Russell Zguta, a historian of the minstrels, “The performing minstrels would frequently allude in song and proverb to the mischief their unseen comrades were engaged in, but no one was wiser until it was too late.”
Sometimes minstrel “hooliganism” was sanctioned, especially by Ivan IV, who was known to use them to mock and heap scorn upon his enemies. These acts were sometimes sacrilegious. One story told of Ivan having Archbishop Pimen of Novgorod placed on a white mare which paraded him around Moscow accompanied by a band of minstrels. In fact, Ivan Grozny was no mere observer. Sometimes he was a participant in the revelry. In the later part of his reign, he was known to put on a mask himself and dance and frolic with the skomorokhi.
As Ivan’s unleashing of the skomorokhi on the Archbishop suggests, the minstrels had few friends in the Orthodox Church. Church officials viewed the skomorokhi as disseminators of paganism, purveyors of “shameful performances” on street corners and marketplaces, and disruptors of church rituals. Weddings garnered many priests’ ire as the minstrels’ performance often overshadowed the religious sanctity of the nuptials. Sometimes confrontations between priests and skomorokhi descended in fisticuffs. In his biography, Ivan Neronov, a leader of the Orthodox Zealots of Piety, told of an incident in the mid-1640s where he attacked a group of minstrels, seized their instruments and smashed them. Angered, the skomorokhi severely beat clergyman in return. But the zealot was undaunted. As Zhuta reports:
Henceforth [Neronov] and some of his students patrolled the streets of the town during the major festival periods such as Koliada in order to discourage the skomorokhi from performing. But, says the author, students “received not a few wounds at the hands of the skomorokhi, those servants of the devil, and they bore these bodily wounds with joy as they returned to their homes, bloodied but alive.”
Avvakum too had confrontations with skomorokhi. When a band of minstrels with dancing bears arrived to his village of Lopatishch in 1648, he quickly set to drive them away. “I, a sinner, being zealous in the service of Christ,” he wrote, “drove them out and destroyed their masks and drums, one against many in the open field, and I took two great bears from them—one I killed but he later revived, the other I set free in the open field.”
Neronov’s patrols and Avvakum’s clash with the minstrels provide a whole new historical context for the recent call by Ivan Otrakovsky, head of Orthodox Christian movement Holy Rus, for Orthodox activists to form patrol squads to protect worshipers from the “enemies of faith.” “The time has come to remind all apostates and theomachists that it is our land and we forbid blasphemous, offensive actions and statements against the Orthodox religion and our people,” Otrakovsky wrote in his appeal to the faithful. A modern day Zealot of Piety, I’d say.
Though skomorokhi enjoyed the patronage of Tsars Ivan IV, Fedor I, and Mikhail Romanov, the latter’s son, Alexei, took stringent action against minstrelsy. Urged by his confessor and leader of the Zealots of Piety, Stefan Vonifatev, and pushed to reestablish public order in the wake mob violence in Moscow and revolts in Ustiug, Solvychegodsk, Yaroslavl, Tomsk, Novgorod and Pskov, Alexei issued “On the Righting of Morals and the Abolition of Superstition” in December 1648 against the skomorokhi. Aleksei was alarmed by the “drunkenness and devilish amusements” of the skomorokhi, which turned the people away the Orthodox faith and God and to the worship of the minstrels. The 1648 edict unleashed a wave of repression against minstrels, including the confiscation and destruction of their instruments, and penalties such as knouting and exile for performing skomorokhi entertainments, as well as prohibitions on a whole host of pagan rites, festivity, games, and practices. Even priests questioned confessors about their connection to the skomorokhi. They asked penitents: “Did you seek out the games of the skomorokhi? Did you seek out Satanic games, look upon these, or yourself take part in them?” If they answered yes, the penitent was required to recite, “I have sinned, I delighted in hearing the sound of gusli and the organon, of horns, and all manner of skomoroshestvo, of Satanic sayings, and for this I also paid them [that is, the minstrels].”
The skomorokhi hobbled along after 1648, but thanks to Alexei’s crackdown, they never regained their popularity, notoriety, or cultural significance. While the practices of the skomorokhi certainly continued in different forms, according to Zhuta, historical references to them died out after 1768.
But as the Pussy Riot affair shows, the memory of the skomorokhi lives on in Tolokonnikova’s “We are jesters, skomorokhi, maybe even, holy fools.” And perhaps thanks to her, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevitch’s “punk prayer” they will live again, in all their former anarchic glory.
All references come from:
Russell Zguta, Russian Minstrels: A History of the Skomorokhi, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978.