Grace Kennan Warnecke has had a lifelong personal and professional association with Russia. She’s served on the boards of the National Advisory Council, Harriman Institute, at Columbia University, as well as a member of the Advisory Council of the Kennan Institute. She served as country director for Winrock International in Kyiv, Ukraine, from 1999 to 2013. The former president of SOVUS Business Consultants, she was also the founder and project supervisor of the Volkhov International Small Business Incubator in Russia and executive vice president of the Alliance of American and Russian Women among many more initiatives and projects. She currently serves as Chairman of the Board of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.
If that wasn’t enough Grace is also the daughter of George F. Kennan, perhaps the most influential American diplomat of the 20th century. Grace’s memoir, Daughter of the Cold War, will be published by Pittsburgh University Press in Spring 2018.
Tamar Miansarova, Chernyi kot (The Black Cat),” 1965.
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By Sean — 10 years ago
Last week, the Moscow Times reported on eXile getting called for a meet and greet at Russia’s Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications and the Protection of Cultural Heritage.
Now Mark gives us the lowdown in “A Troublesome Visitor” on Radar Online. Sounds like the end . . .
Thursday morning, Moscow time, four Russian government officials came to the office of my English-language newspaper, the Exile, and conducted an “unplanned audit” of our editorial content. They are carrying out an inspection of my paper’s articles to see, in their words, if we have committed “violations.” And they specifically asked to question me, since I’m officially listed as the founding editor-in-chief.
I started up the Exile 11 years ago with a Russian publisher, and it grew into a kind of cult phenomenon, with an online readership of 200,000 visitors per month, launching the careers of Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi and the “War Nerd,” Gary Brecher, but ensuring that anyone who sticks with the paper is condemned to a life of poverty and paranoia.
In all my years I’d never heard of an “unplanned audit” of editorial content. The insiders whom I contacted all said, “It’s … strange.” That’s how my Russian lawyer reacted, it’s how an American official reacted, and it’s even how the head of the Glasnost Defense Fund reacted, even though his NGO focuses on problems between the Russian media and the Kremlin.
“As far as I know, there has never been a single Moscow-based media outlet which has been audited like this,” Glasnost’s lawyer told me. “We’ve seen a few of these in the far regions, but never Moscow. But really, don’t worry about it, Mark, I don’t think you’re in any personal danger at this point.”
Whenever a Russian tells me, “Don’t worry, Mark,” or, “It’s no problem,” I start to sweat.
I first learned of the government audit last week while I was out in California dealing with a family illness. I was already in a heightened state of paranoia at the time—one week in my native suburbia is all it takes to trigger panic attacks—so when the government sent notice of the “unplanned audit” to our office, my first thought was, “Can an American get political asylum in his own country?” Then I remembered some of the articles I’d written from Moscow—for example, my post–2004 U.S. presidential election editorial titled “Gas Middle America,” and how former U.S. congressman Henry Bonilla (R-TX) once used his office to pressure the Russian authorities into arresting me because of a prank I’d played—and the next thing I knew, I was rifling through my mother’s medicine cabinet looking for something strong to steal.
Eventually I calmed down and flew back to Moscow in time for the audit. At 11 a.m., four officials from the Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications, and the Protection of Cultural Heritage arrived—the men in shabby Bolsheviki suits, and a squat middle-age woman with pudgy arms and hands that pinched the seams of her wrists. On the advice of a Russian attorney, we greeted them with a box of dark chocolates. It was solid advice, and probably did more to protect us than a hundred attorneys’ briefs could have.
Read on . . .Post Views: 205
By Sean — 11 years ago
The US State Department has released its Trafficking in Persons Report 2007 which details the global slave trade in mostly women and children for labor and sex. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slave trade (but not legalized slavery) and this ghastly system continues. The report seeks to “to raise global awareness, to highlight efforts of the international community, and to encourage foreign governments to take effective actions to counter all forms of trafficking in persons.” Getting governments to take serious interest in stopping the trafficking of human beings is a tall order. Few nations where the practice persists are interested in devoting the resources necessary to protect the globes most vulnerable victims.
The Report defines human trafficking as:
- Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or
- The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.
The scope of global human trafficking can only be estimated. According to US government research, about 800,000 people are trafficked across borders (internal trafficking is not calculated) and about 80 percent of trafficked persons are women and girls and around 50 percent are minors.
The Report categorizes countries into tiers according to their compliance with the minimum standards for combating human trafficking. Teir 1 are those who fully comply, Teir 2 are those countries making significant efforts to comply, and Tier 3 are those who don’t really try to comply at all. In addition there is a “Tier 2 Watch List” which includes countries that verge on slipping down to Tier 3.
The Government of Russia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Russia is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a fourth consecutive year for its continued failure to show evidence of increasing its overall efforts to combat trafficking, particularly in providing trafficking victims with protection. Specific trafficking victim assistance legislation, pending before the Duma, was neither passed nor enacted in 2006. Russia continued modest progress in its law enforcement efforts, particularly in its trafficking investigation efforts. In early 2007, the Ministry of Interior created the federal-level Counter Human Trafficking Unit to further strengthen anti-trafficking law enforcement coordination. In July 2006, the Duma passed asset forfeiture legislation that permits prosecutors to seek the forfeiture of the assets of convicted persons, including traffickers. In January, the Public Chamber of the national government provided grants to three anti-trafficking NGOs. Two local governments signed agreements with NGOs that establish a mechanism for victim referral. Although these are positive developments, Russia has yet to provide comprehensive human trafficking victim protections, covering the entire process from victim identification through reintegration and support. Overall, victim protection and assistance remains the weakest component of Russia’s anti-trafficking efforts.Post Views: 174
By Sean — 13 years ago
“At least under the Communists I wasn’t hungry.”
—Zoya Ivanova, 73, pensioner, protester, (Moscow Times, Jan. 25, 2005)
It has been a year of colored revolutions in the former Soviet Union, and many pundits and experts are speculating whether Russia might get its own. For the last two weeks pensioners have been protesting across Russia, from St. Petersburg in the northwest to Khabarovsk in the Far East. These are the largest protests in Russia since the coal miner strikes in 1998. Vladimir Putin’s uncontested dominance over Russian politics suddenly looks like it stands on shifting sands. The issue: a new law that went into effect January 1 that stripped pensioners, servicemen, WWII veterans, victims of Stalinist repression, Chernobyl victims, and the disabled of their in-kind benefits for cash payments. In-kind benefits of free public transportation, medicine, reduced rents, and other state subsidized services were a hold out from the Soviet system. The Putin Administration decided to celebrate the New Year by removing all of these benefits in exchange for an increased monthly cash payment of 200 rubles ($6). The result: the possible emergence of Russia’s Grey Revolution.
Even in the wake of Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” the protests caught everyone by surprise. After all, for the last few months experts routinely denied any such thing occurring in Russia. Putin had too much control, was too popular, and the Russian electorate was too passive. Moreover, as many Western pundits like to explain the Putin phenomenon, Russians are “naturally” tuned into the authoritarian personality. Its logic speaks to them in simple language. Despite the fact that Russia has experienced three revolutions in 100 years seems to escape most, though this is not to suggest the pensioner uprising will result in anything of the sort. Not even in the year that marks the 100th anniversary of the 1905 Revolution.
Not even the most opportunistic anti-Russia pundits have jumped on the opportunity to spit venom on the Putin regime like they did in the Yushchenko affair. No Western foundations are pouring funds into any “pensioner” or youth organizations. No Western campaign strategists have arrived to coordinate the pensioner campaign. Even William Safire has yet to write a column declaring that “democracy was on the march” in Russia.
Perhaps “democracy” isn’t on the march according to Western pundits because pensioners are doing exactly what their brethren in the U.S. should be doing: flooding the streets against the Bush Administration’s swindle of social security privatization. Yet, we Americans are the more democratic nation, while the Russians are perfectly comfortable living with what their government dishes out. But the silence from the American Right is understandable. The whole pensioners’ revolt probably has their pro-market and anti-Russia personalities waging their own subconscious civil war. But, they are not the only ones that seem dumbfounded. These protests seem abnormal even to well intentioned journalists, like Fred Weir. “What’s astonishing,” he wrote in the Christian Science Monitor, “is that this is the generation that grew up under Stalin. The idea that someone who fought on the Russian and Polish fronts during World War II would now confront the Russian police is remarkable. You expect the post-Soviet generation, like the students in the Ukraine, to behave this way. But this is the first time we’ve seen such widespread demonstrations in the Putin era, and I certainly didn’t expect to see pensioners to be leading it.” Apparently, such actions are unfathomable to the pre-Soviet generation, who were thoroughly atomized by Soviet totalitarianism.
Many instances during the Soviet period could be cited to the contrary, but I will only point to one. These protests are not so remarkable if you consider the historical phenomena of “babi bunty.” In 1930, civil war loomed over the Russian countryside. The violence of collectivization was met with peasant uprisings, rumors of apocalypse, bands of peasants slaughtering any Communist they could find, and something called “babi bunty”, or “women’s riots.” In many cases, special military detachments of the NKVD (the then secret police) were sent to quell the uprisings. According to Historian Lynne Viola, in an article published almost twenty years ago, “babi bunty” were when women “physically blocked the carrying away of requisitioned grain or the entrances to huts of peasants scheduled to be exiled as kulaks, and forcibly took back seed and livestock, and led assaults on officials.” “Babi bunty” were tactical masterpieces because they played on the regimes own prejudices toward peasants. Since these “riots” were led by women, Soviet officials viewed them as expressions of the “dark masses” and tended to let them run out of steam rather than crush them with violence. Peasant men, knowing they would be thoroughly crushed if they participated from the get go, could join the protests by claiming they were “protecting” their wives and daughters. So much for that totalitarian atomization.
One can’t help view the current protests of the elderly as a contemporary echo of the “babi bunty.” Pensioners around Russia have spontaneously blocked intersections in the towns of Penza, Vladimir, Samara among others. In the Moscow suburb of Khimki, they stopped commuter traffic on the Leningrad Highway for two hours. Russian TV news show images of old people chastising local politicians and crowd the entrances of government buildings only to be held back by walls of police. (Ironically, the police themselves also lost their transportation benefits at the start of the year.) Veterans in Petersburg greet the year of the 60th anniversary of the Soviet defeat of the Nazis with signs that read: “Putin is worse than Hitler!” and “No to Genocide!” For people who survived WWII and the 900 day blockade of Leningrad, not only can these actions punch holes in Putin omnipotence, it shows that they aren’t going to be deterred with idle threats or cheated with verbal promises.
To free market reformers, the monetization of benefits was a long time coming. The in-kind benefits were yet another moribund legacy of the former system. Monetization would give the government flexibility that marketization had longed for: cash payments, unlike their in-kind variant, can be streamlined, more closely monitored in the government books, and slowly whittled down. Nothing indicates this more than the fact that the Kremlin only allocated $6 billion to cover $18 billion in benefits. Moreover, the center has shifted the majority of the pension payment to its provinces. As the law went into effect, two-thirds of Russia’s provinces could not afford to make the cash payments. Some opted out of implementing the law altogether, citing a provision that allowed cash strapped provincial governments to do so.
The unpopularity of the monetization law was well known before January 1, yet the Putin government decided to strip all in-kind benefits in one fail swoop. Some 40 million Russians (out of a population of 144 million) were affected. In St. Petersburg, where 15,000 protested, one out of four residents are pensioners. Interestingly, Moscow residents are exempt from the law. Pensioners in the capital retain full in-kind benefits. Perhaps this “exemption” is the reason why the Putin government is still standing.
The outrage over the law goes beyond the fact that compensation does not cover the costs of lost benefits. For residents of Moscow’s environs, free public transportation allowed many to travel to the capital to earn extra money. The entrances to the Moscow Metro are frequently occupied by old women selling trinkets, fruits, vegetables, nuts, clothing, and prepared salads to earn a few extra rubles. Now with the costs of transportation added to their expenses, whatever is earned is quickly siphoned away. Cash payments only cover about 20 one-way trips a month. To make matters worse a Metro ticket in Moscow was increased from 10 to 13 rubles ($.50) and a bus ticket from 10 to 11 rubles ($.30) on the New Year. Not only has Putin alienated the pensioners, who were a large portion of his political support, the law also strips servicemen of free travel. Reports indicate that the rank and file have been grumbling increasing concern that the soldiers might join the elderly.
Protesting old women plus angry soldiers makes the specter of February 1917, not to mention Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution,” haunt Russian pundits’ analysis and predictions. The more outlandish experts predict (or perhaps hope for) Putin’s demise before his presidency ends in 2008. Others, especially those tied to the liberal Yabloko Party, hope that this will spur the creation of a much desired “civil society.” While still others issue idle threats such as that from Duma Deputy Andrei Isayev, who promised harsh punishment to “those who seek to carry the orange illness to Russia.”
Such threats have done nothing to deter the elderly and the forces that now support them. There have been reports of the elderly attacking bus and train conductors. An anti-Putin student group called Marching Without Putin (a play on the pro-Putin group Marching Together) has emerged in St. Petersburg to protest not only the abolition of benefits, but also the Chechen War and the government’s plan to eliminate student exemptions from military service. A dozen WWII veterans who participated in the Khimki protest are to be prosecuted. The Christian Science Monitor reports that some pensioners claim the police have used dogs and beat them.
Even Russia’s political opposition of Communists, Nationalists, and Liberals has decided to step into the fray, as they did after the protests took down the Tsar in February 1917. Unfortunately, Marx’s remark that history occurs the “first time as tragedy, the second time as farce” rings true in this situation. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation’s attempt to wrest control of the protests has only injected it with hyperbole that is usually reserved for Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Communist Party leader Gennadiy Zyuganov declared on radio station Echo Moskvy: “We demand that this government be sacked, it couldn’t cope with Beslan, it still hasn’t managed to cope with it, and now it has created a quiet social Beslan here, in a country in which citizens are dying by the million, now they are putting this plastic bag over the heads of all the veterans.” The Communists are also collecting support to hold a no confidence vote in the Duma. Not to be outdone, five members of the Motherland Party, who until now supported Putin, have declared a hunger strike. All the opposition parties, who ironically formed an anti-Putin coalition a few weeks ago, are vowing to stage a day of mass protest in February.
Putin has made the typical response: blame subordinates and make compromises to defuse the situation. After coming out of silence last week, he immediately blamed the provincial governments and his lower functionaries for not implementing the law correctly. He also declared an increase in payments from the measly $3.57 scheduled for April, to an equally measly $7.14 now to begin in March. Also pensions would be pegged to inflation two months earlier.
The Putin government has since bended further. Free transportation has been reinstated, though only for those pensioners on the federal list. Although this is a great victory, the central government has stated it will only finance 30% of the costs, once again leaving the provinces in yet another bind. The Kremlin also announced it will fund any pension short fall with oil receipts from the recently nationalized Yukos. The government has also backed away from plans to eliminate student exemptions from military service, fearing that students might join the pensioners. Finally, the Russian Minster of Finance, Aleksei Kudrin, has assured citizens that the benefit payments would be pegged above inflation and all disbursement mistakes would be solved by the end of the month. Regional governments in Liptesk and Omsk, for example, have paid the cash payments and reinstated the majority of benefits. Despite these concessions pensioners persist, knowing full well that what the Russian government says and what it does are always two different things.
Should we be even surprised that the Russian government has made some compromises? Not really. No, because even Stalin compromised. Most historians recognize Stalin’s March 1930 speech “Dizziness with Success” as a retreat from full throttle collectivization. Collectivization remained but not without some permanent compromises: peasants were allowed private plots, domestic livestock, and limited direct access to markets. Viola argues that “babi bunty” played an important role in forcing these compromises. Peasant women didn’t back down from Stalin, so there is no reason to think Russian pensioners would let Putin run roughshod over them. One therefore shouldn’t be surprised by pensioners’ willingness to take to the streets or success in gaining some victories. For all we know, some of these pensioners’ mothers could have been participants in “babi bunty” or maybe they grew up with the folklore that now surrounds them. If not, they survived WWII, and anyone who thinks these people are going to let the State push them around, let alone the Russian police, then you haven’t been to Russia.Post Views: 780