Mark Galeotti is an expert on Russia’s security services and a prolific commentator on current Russian domestic and international affairs. He is the principal director of the Mayak Intelligence consultancy in Prague and senior researcher at the Czech Institute for International Relations. He blogs on Russian security affairs at In Moscow’s Shadows.
The Pixies, “Break My Body,” Surfer Rosa, 1988.
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By Sean — 9 years ago
The politics of culture is perhaps more contentious in Russia than in other countries. Since the 1930s, there has been a close relationship between the state and artistic creative unions. The best historical example of this was when Socialist Realism became state policy with Stalin’s 1932 decree “On the Reconstruction of Literary and Art Organizations.”
Despite the ideological control over the arts, creative unions nevertheless presented artists with an avenue to influence state policy, as well as a collective body representative of artists’ mutual intellectual and social and economic interests.
Today, the relationship between the current Russian state and its artists is not so overt, but as Danil Dondurey points out in his article “The ‘vertical of power’ grabs Russian cinema,” this doesn’t mean that it is no less contentious. This was evidenced in the recent congress of the Russian Film Makers Union, where an on going struggle between pro-Kremlin and Putin bud Nikita Mikhalkov and more liberal forces calling for his ouster has apparently come out in the former’s favor. With his victory, Russia’s cinematic elite have abandoned politics altogether. As Dondurey explains,
Cinema does, of course, directly affect us all. The underlying theme of the recent congress was changes to the creative unions. To judge from the published plans, they are all going to have to abandon their intellectual mission and become a mixture of trade union and social services. They will restrict themselves to helping the old, providing money for medicines and arranging funerals. And that’s it! There will be no more thoughts about politics in the cinema, partnerships between government and business, no more talk about the quality of films or educating the audience. And above all no more programmes linking us up with other cultures and countries.
This is momentous. The creative unions go back to 1934. Their task was to mediate between the artist and the state, the artist and society, the artist and business. They looked after the interests of the creative professions. As of today, this mission is over.
In fact, this is a process which has been going on ever since the fall of communism. They have not been engaged with cultural politics and economics, or been in real partnership with the Ministry of Culture for a long time. They have mainly been concerned with anniversary celebrations, recommendations for honours and finding a use for the property granted them by Khrushchev and Brezhnev.
It was the cultural politician extraordinaire Nikita Mikhalkov who first announced that the creative unions were no longer going to be communities of like-minded people charged with managing partnerships between artists and the state. All these functions were to be transferred to the specially created Academies, which have been springing up like mushrooms.
It is significant that during the 10 hours the congress was in session not a word (!) was actually said about Russian cinema. Nothing about its crisis, or about how to come through it, nothing about any achievements or failures. No one talked about what we should do next, although these congresses only happen once every five years. There was no analysis, only pompous declarations of love for the way it used to be. No one was looking for co-operation or reconciliation.
It was presented as a conflict between a small group who supported the incumbent president Khutsiev and the overwhelming majority of film-makers. It was not by accident that there was no government representative at the Congress – neither the Minister of Culture nor anyone else.
So what direction will Russian cinema take now? In all European countries the government acts on the arms’ length principle: they subsidise the arts, but decisions are taken by the artists themselves. This is how it is in Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Norway… In Russia strategic questions about the organisation and development of the film industry have not been discussed for 10 years. Perhaps things really would improve if decisions were all taken behind the scenes?
You should have seen this ‘Congress of Victors’. Everyone, even people who knew nothing about the politics of cinema, knew what was going on. What we were watching was not just one famous person attacking another (who is important, talented, moneyed and very well connected, a kind of cultural oligarch).
There has been a lot of discussion recently, even beyond the industry, about the ‘vertical of power’ which is being set up within Russian cinema. After the Congress many people will winder whether anyone in the country is going to able to take decisions about culture on behalf of the wider public. Will it be possible to sack cultural bureaucrats without an imperial decree? Do we need cultural tsars who can’t really be asked where the money is coming from.Post Views: 213
By Sean — 10 years ago
I first learned from Andy over at Siberian Light about the press brouhaha over Putin’s alleged $40 billion tucked away in banks in Switzerland and Lichtenstein. Intrigued, I set my sights on said press accounts for the story.
Claims of Putin’s hidden money bags comes from an interview Stanislav Belkovsky recently gave to Die Welt. There Belkovsky perhaps spells out the true nature of “Putinism,” a nature that harks back to Andrei Pointkovsky’s claim that Putinism is “the highest stage of robber capitalism.” Indeed, except Russian capitalism is more like collective thievery. Under Putin’s tenure, says Belkovsky, “all the interest groups are represented in the Kremlin. The people who sit there are the direct advocates and co-owners of large enterprises.” Nothing new here. What is new is the claim that Putin himself has reaped the spoils of Russia’s economic might. “Putin is a big businessman. He control 37 percent of Surgutneftegaz stock, which has a market value of $20 billion. In addition, he contols 4.5 percent of Grazprom stock. In the oil firm Gunvor Putin holds 50 percent more than its founder Gennady Timchenko.” In an interview with the Guardian, Belkovsky claims that Putin’s stake in Gunvor is as high as 75 percent. However, the numbers are mostly speculation since the paper trail confirming Putin’s stash has yet to be found.
If the estimates of Putin’s wealth are believed, the $40 billion he has tucked away would instantly make him Europe’s wealthiest man. Moreover, if true, then the comparisons between Mexico under the PRI and Russia under United Russia might gain whole new resonance. Putin’s fortune simply makes him a Slavic caudillo equipped with all the benefits the office bestows. As Robin Leach used to say in his signature accent, “With champagne wishes and caviar dreams, these are the lifestyles of the rich and famous!”
The real question is why now? Why is Putin’s wealth not only being revealed, but also discussed? For this we have to turn to Luke Harding’s take on the matter. According to him, the reason for why what was once taboo is now suddenly out in the open has to do with the machinations of those damn siloviki. Harding explains,
Discussion of Putin’s wealth has previously been taboo. But the claims have leaked out against the backdrop of a fight inside the Kremlin between a group led by Igor Sechin, Putin’s influential deputy chief of staff, and a “liberal” clan that includes Medvedev.
. . .
Insiders say the struggle has little to do with ideology. They characterize it as a war between business competitors. Putin’s decision to endorse as president Medvedev – who has no links with the secret services – dealt a severe blow to the hardline Sechin clan, they add.
. . .
Critics say the wave of renationalisations under Putin has transformed Putin’s associates into multimillionaires. The dilemma now facing the Kremlin’s elite is how to hang on to its wealth if Putin leaves power, experts say. Most of its money is located in the west, they add. The pressing problem is how to protect these funds from any future administration that may seek to reclaim them.
True. Multimillionaires they be. Sechin, as Chairman of Rosneft, might be the next carcass for the Kremlin vultures to feast from. He’s been hit, and hit hard over the past several weeks. So does this mean that a battered and beleaguered Sechin is going to the mattresses? Is the leak of Putin’s alleged wealth simply a black PR hit against the Don? Stay tuned, dear reader. Stay tuned. Because the siloviki war might have just been ratcheted up a notch.Post Views: 327