Peter Rutland is a professor of government at Wesleyan University. He writes widely on Russian political economy and politics and is author of two books The Politics of Economic Stagnation in the Soviet Union and The Myth of the Plan: Lessons of Soviet Planning Experience. His most recent article is “Petronation? Oil, Gas and National Identity in Russia,” published in the journal Post-Soviet Affairs.
Killing Joke, “Money is Not Our God,” Extremities, Dirt, and Various Repressed Emotions, 1990.
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By Sean — 5 years ago
The Kremlin seems capable of creating two types of figures: heroes and martyrs. The production of heroes is crystal clear and requires no elaboration. Martyrs, however, are a different story because they provide adrenaline to political movements to galvanize their adherents, sanctify their positions, and strengthen their solidarity. Moreover, martyrs are so needlessly created, and the Kremlin, out of either ineffectiveness or incompetence, can’t seem to stop providing even its most retrograde political foes the fertile soil for their germination into impeccable flora. And that’s the thing; the path to martyrdom is always one of transformation, a cleansing ritual that turns the corrupted into the incorruptible, the self-interested into the selfless, the vulgar into the prosaic, and the invisible into the visible. Don’t believe me? Just ask the three young women of Pussy Riot.
Sure, some will note that a vast propaganda machine, mostly emanating from the West, plays an enormous role in the elevation of the Russian opposition to sainthood. This is true. But even still, the buck stops at the Kremlin, because it is Russia’s leaders who provide the initial baptismal waters with their often unnecessary heavy handedness.
It’s too soon to say if the latest defamation, search, interrogation, and possible criminal indictment of Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov will result in his martyrdom. But the placid surface of the baptismal pools is once again rippling. And be sure the steely pens of the international martyr machine are pulsating with ink waiting to shower Udaltsov with words of benediction.
As reported yesterday, the Russian authorities prompted by their own propaganda “documentary,” Anatomy of a Protest-2, searched the apartment of and interrogated Sergei Udaltsov, arrested his aide Konstantin Lebedev, and scoured the resident of Leonid Razvozzhaev, an aide of the State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev. The Left Front leader has since been released on recognizance, but an indictment is expected in the coming days. Today, a court foreshadowed this inevitability by lengthening Lebedev’s original 48 hour detention to two months. As for Razvozzhaev, he’s has gone underground to whereabouts unknown.
According to the latest, prospectors have opened a criminal case claiming that Udaltsov et al. were planning their own little coup of the Russian government funded with Georgian cum American money. Originally, this coup was to take place in Kaliningrad. But according to documents filed with the Basmmanyi Court, the plot was far more ambitious. “[The trio] and other undetermined persons have planned mass violent disorder, riots and arson with the use of firearms and explosive devices in the territories of Moscow, Kaliningrad, Vladivostok and other cities.” That’s not all. The court files also state that for Udaltsov, Lebedev and Razvozzhaev to carry out their scheme, “they planned to recruit 35,000 people to carry out mass disorder by means of SMS-messages.” Given the conspiracy’s expanding breath one might think that Udaltsov, Lebedev and Razvozzhaev were really Lenin, Trotsky and Zinoviev readying the Military Revolutionary Committee to seize the bridges, railways and telegraphic stations before carrying out their own October Revolution. What will the Russian authorities think up next? Implicate the trio in a plot to kill Putin, Medvedev, and other Soviet, err, Russian leaders?
All of this sounds ridiculous because, well, it is. Yet, the question that consistently boggles my mind is: Why? Why does the Kremlin persist in turning virtual political nobodies with little public stature into fodder for martyrdom? One easy answer is because Russian politics is a zero-sum game, and this all or nothing contest breeds authoritarian responses. Now while access to politics is circumscribed in liberal democratic states, and repression is freely used to squash dissent (i.e. the Occupy movement), these states still maintain the illusion of political inclusion. Not in Russia. Since he’s formally returned to the driver seat, Vladimir Putin has abandoned the political chimeras people like Vladislav Surkov understood were a vital technology of rule. In its place is a strategy, if one can even call it that, that is far blunter and forceful.
Another answer, which is not wholly disconnected from the first, is that Putin et al are really, really scared. They are scared partly because Russian politics is a zero-sum game, and partly because they know deep down they sit atop a weak state that makes their ability to manage Russian society tenuous. In this scenario putting out fires replaces governance and the stick supplants the carrot. Thus, I expect this siege mentality to keep on intensifying, and the fate of Udaltsov is just another indication of that trend. The only problem is that while siege mentality is good for extinguishing fires, the ashy remains makes fertile terrain for sprouting more and more martyrs.Post Views: 73
By Sean — 10 years ago
I thought Mark Ames said something quite interesting today. He concluded his addition to the Medvedfest, “Dmitry Medvedev & The Banker’s Murder” with,
If this sordid story reveals anything, it’s that the only way to grasp the current power-transfer is through Russian eyes. Trying to understand Medvedev and his significance through the liberal/Stalinist prism explains nothing; Dmitry Medvedev is neither liberal nor neo-Stalinist, but rather, Russian, the sort of Russian who was groomed in the chaotic and savage transition from perestroika through Putin’s stabilization.
I think Ames’ emphatic statement that “Dmitry Medvedev is neither liberal nor neo-Stalinist” but rather, a “Russian, the sort of Russian who was groomed in the chaotic and savage transition from perestroika through Putin’s stabilization” deserves some thought.
Russia is not a “this” or “that.” It’s never been the first, and the second, the venerable “neo-Stalin,” is just analytically lazy. First, this Russia is capitalist (albeit, protectionist.). Second, Russia has a history. We know many of you are suffering from “Cold War syndrome” and long for a more manageable (or is it imaginable?) enemy than the “Islamists.” But get over it.
What and who is this princely traumatized, “morally complex” Russian “groomed in the chaotic and savage” times of the smuta of the late 1980s and 1990s? That’s a great question worth pondering.
For some reason I thought of Nicholas I. Not that I think Putin is some neo-Niki. It’s more that Russia imperial past (a past that spans 1200 years) is often left out of the “What is Russia?” grab bag. Also, for some reason I think he and Putin possibly share a lot of qualities.
So I grabbed W. Bruce Lincoln’s Nicholas I: Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russians off my bookshelf to give him a revisit. I found Lincoln’s opening paragraph something to think about in regard to Ames’ words.
Perhaps no ruler left more of an impression upon nineteenth-century Russia than did the Emperor Nicholas I, for the origins of nearly every major change or event during the last century of Romanov rule can be traced to his reign. Certainly was an imposing figure. Many Russians admired, even venerated him; others saw him as the personification of oppression. But none who lived during his thirty-year reign cold remain indifferent to the force of his personality and the system which he developed.
He continues on second page,
Nicholas’s reign was a good time for many Russians, and some looked back upon it with a sense of longing even nostalgia. It was, after all, the last time in Imperial Russia’s history when things were certain and predictable. Russia stood at the pinnacle of her power during those years, and Russian society was plagued by few of the self-doubts that would begin to tear the old order apart in the half century after Nicholas’s death. As the Baroness Fredericks, who had lived at Nicholas’s Court as a child, wrote in the 1880s, when looking back upon his reign after some three decades of social turmoil . . . “during the lifetime of Nikolai Pavlovich, Russia had a great and noble stature . . .[and] he heaped still greater glory upon her. Everyone and everything bowed down before him and before Russia!”
Lincoln’s book should prove to be an interesting read as Russia shuts down for the holidays.Post Views: 74
By Sean — 10 years ago
I found a great PBS documentary called Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy while searching for video for a lecture on the Yeltsin years. PBS has put all the film’s chapters online, and I wanted to let readers know about the segments on Russia:
Communism on the Heights, [6:16]
The Ghosts of Norilsk, [4:27]
Behind the Iron Façade, [8:18]
Heresy in the USSR, [8:08]
Gorbachev Tries China, [7:17]
Soviet Free Fall, [4:52]
Reform Goes Awry, [4:26]
Russia Tries to Privatize, [5:33]
Loans For Shares, [6:18]
Closing the Deal, [3:50]Post Views: 47