Sean

Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev

One of the main architects of perestroika, Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev died on Tuesday. He was 81. Born in the village of Korolevo near Yaroslavl in 1923, Yakovlev was of the first generation reared under the Soviet system, and ironically, was instrumental in bringing its collapse. Like so many of his generation, he fought in the Great Patriotic War at 18 years old, where he sustained disabling wounds in 1943 fighting near Leningrad. He joined the Communist Party in 1944 and his Party membership gave him the opportunity to earn a doctorate in history from the Academy of Social Sciences in Moscow. Like so many ambitious Party members of his generation, Yakovlev was quickly shot up the State apparatus. When Khrushchev gave his “secret speech” denouncing Stalin’s cult of personality in 1956, he was a member of the Central Committee. In 1958 he studied at Columbia University as part of an exchange program. In 1965, he joined the Party’s propaganda department. Eight years later he became an ambassador to Canada.

It was then he met Mikhail Gorbachev, another young rising star in the Communist apparatus. They formed comradeship which would lead to the institution of the most sweeping reforms the Soviet Union had known since Stalin’s Revolution in the 1930s. However, while Stalin’s revolution entrenched Communist hegemony over Russian social, political, economic, and cultural life, Yakovlev and Gorbachev’s “revolution,” which was encapsulated in the terms “perestroika” (reconstruction) and “glasnost (openness), unlocked the remaining vestiges of Stalin that more moderate reformers like Khrushchev failed to undo. At the time, they had no desire for their reforms to become revolution; perestroika was an attempt to save the Soviet Union, not destroy it. But history got the better of both men. Their policies took on a logic of their own, and like so many other times in history, the men’s firm grip on its reigns slipped their grasp.

The question now is how Yakovlev be remembered. His death brings another opportunity for Russians to continue to revaluate perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet Union, a process which began earlier this year with the 20th anniversary of the reforms. I was in Russia then, and it was interesting to see interviews and discussions with Gorbachev and Yakovlev dominate the television. For many Russians who lived through those changes, there was a deep ambivalence to the anniversary. The television images of long lines and Gorbachev’s insane ban on alcohol brought back mixed memories of a simpler and predictable time. It was also interesting to see the family I was staying with try to explain life under the Soviet Union to their 18 year old daughter. It was difficult for them to convey the complexity of life then, and how it wasn’t so easy to completely praise or condemn it. In the end, Gorbachev, who for the last 15 years has been reviled by many Russians, got a more favorable assessment from the family. Without Yakovlev and Gorbachev, they wouldn’t be living as they do now. A life they view as much freer and open to opportunity for their daughter, though without the guarantees of security.

The place of Alexander Yakovlev will continue to plague Russian’s historical and national consciousness. His memory will continue to spark controversy as will the question of whether he was a traitor to the system that created him or a patriot because he dared to fix it. When asked to evaluate how Yakovlev felt about his demon/savoir status, Gorbachev told Kommersant, “He was hated by a lot of people who were trying to accuse him of betrayal because he was persistent. But he was a real man who was fighting and warring for the country. He was a real patriot—not like those who just like to talk.”

Why Kabaradino-Balkaria?

News reports are confirming the obvious: last week’s attacks in Nachlik were carried out, or at least according to his own words provided “operational guidance”, by Shamil Basayev, Islamist, terrorist, and, since the killing of Aslan Maskhadov, defacto leader of the Chechen nationalist movement. One report from Radio Free Europe however is of special interest.

The title of Jeremy Bransten’s article poses a simple, yet vital question: Who carried out the Nalchik raids and why? Most of the time the answer we get is simple: Islamists who use terror to strike fear in Russia society because they are evil, inhuman etc, etc. Unfortunately, for the Russians the answer just isn’t so and as long as they take a Bushite analysis of Chechnya they will never extricate themselves from that quagmire.

Bransten quickly points out that whether Basayev masterminded the attacks or simply provided operational guidance means little. The truth of the matter is that the attack was carried out by local men. The spread of the conflict into neighboring Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, and now Kabaradino-Balkaria is often blamed on Chechens crossing the border to cause havoc. However, this time the violence seems homegrown. Worse, Nalchik signals a possible unification between Kabarins and Balkars against Moscow. Bransten writes,

“Nalchik remains under a Russian security lockdown, so obtaining reliable facts remains difficult. But initial indications are that most of the attackers were young locals, including many young Kabardins.

If true, this could be significant because until now, most militants were believed to be Balkars, who make up about 10 percent of the population. The Balkars have historical grievances against Moscow. Like the Chechens, they were deported to Siberia by Stalin during World War II. Ever since returning to their homeland, they have faced discrimination and remained on the economic margins of society. The Kabardins, by contrast, who make up 50 percent of the population, were favored by the authorities. Both groups — naturally — have remained wary of each other.

But if Balkar and Kabardin militants are now making common cause under the banner of the radical group Yarmuk Jamaat, this could portend trouble for Moscow.”

Call it the dialectic of disintegration. When the Soviet Union imploded, all of the external ethnic groups that had their own republics, and perhaps most important their own Communist Parties, broke away. The internal ethnic groups, like the Chechens, Balkars, and Kabardins who have long historical grievances with Moscow, were left to fend for themselves in the periphery. The Chechens sought political independence. Others like the Tatars reconciled themselves to the new Russia. And most like the Balkars and Kabardins were mostly left in economic squalor.

It seems from Bransten’s account that the youth of Kabaradino-Balkaria are less and less willing to put up with it anymore. It is possible that Basayev’s call to holy war is having some resonance among them.

As always, economics is playing a decisive role for the youth’s taking up of arms. But that is not all. The conflict is spreading throughout the region in as a result of another dialectical process: repression. As Bransten notes,

“So what drives young Kabardins and Balkars to answer Basaev’s call for holy war? Paradoxically, say experts, it is the government’s campaign against Islamic extremism that is driving some young men to radicalism.

Human-rights activists say that under the guise of rooting out extremism, police have become notorious for their brutal tactics against the local population — especially young men. This, combined with a hopeless economic situation, has bred a sense of anger and alienation that Basayev has tapped into.

Accuse an unemployed young man of being a Wahabbi, bring him in for a brutal interrogation session — and if he wasn’t a Wahabbi at the beginning, he will likely become one by the time he is released back out onto the street the activists say.”

Police brutality is “rampant” in Kabaradino-Balkaria, pushing otherwise innocent and non-political young men, who’ve been humiliated by the police and security forces, to take up arms to avenge themselves. We shouldn’t be a bit surprised by this. One need only read some of the classics on anti-colonial struggles, namely Franz Fanon, to understand this. He wrote in his classic, Wretched of the Earth:

“At the individual level, violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive despairing attitude. It emboldens them, and restores their self-confidence” (51).

It is this use of violence, even if it only contains a miniscule hope for liberty, can quickly unleash a cycle where the “theory of the ‘absolute evil of the colonist’ a response to the theory of the ‘absolute evil of the native.’” Once it begins to be fueled by its own logic, it can prove so impossible to break, expect through the complete replacement of one group by the other.

???????, 9.10 ?? 15.10

Nalchik has rightly dominated the news this week. But a lot of other newsworthy events have occurred. Here is the brief weekly rundown of some of things that I found interesting.

—In Voronezh, a Peruvian student was a killed and two other foreign students were injured in an attack by skinheads. In response, 200 Voronezh students rallied this week to denounce racism and xenophobia. This is just coming over Interfax: on Friday, a group of skinheads recently attacked a group of Muslim prayer house in Sergiyev Posad in Moscow and brutally beat up leader of the local Muslim organization Arsan Sadriyev.

—It seems that the U.S. government is trying to save face after being thrown out of Uzbekistan. As I reported last week, Condi Rice dropped Uzbekistan from her Central Asian trip. Now she says that the U.S. doesn’t need those bases anyway and bases in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan can pick up the slack. She also vowed to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov that the U.S. won’t seek to build more bases in Central Asia. This all may be true, but the fact of the matter is that U.S. may not need a military base, but it won’t refuse one either. Now it seems that the new Kyrgyz government is questioning the necessity of a U.S. base in its country.

—Corporate criminal Mikhail Khordokovsky and his partner Platon Lebedev were sent to prison this week to serve their eight year sentences for fraud and tax evasion. The past few weeks have further revealed the State’s heavy handedness when dealing with them. Khodokovsky’s appeal was thrown out. His lawyer’s offices were raided by the Moscow police. There is speculation that more charges will be filed against him. There are charges that prison guards mistreated Lebedev. Interfax is reporting that a source from Khodokovsky family says that he will be sent to Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Region and Lebedev will be in Chita Oblast. Russian officials have denied this news, saying that both will serve their term in a prison around Moscow.

Russian Profile has an interesting article about Russians and sex. Though Russia has been bombarded with images of sex since the collapse of the Soviet Union, they still remain in dark when it concerns sex education. A recent survey revealed these facts about Russians and sex:

“The 2003 Durex global sex survey, which interviewed over 150,000 people in 34 countries, reveals some startling facts about Russian sexuality. Out of all the countries surveyed, Russia had the highest percentage of respondents who said they would sleep with a new partner on the first night (39 percent) and Russians were more likely than any other nationality to have had sex with their best friend’s partner (18 percent). Russia was also the country with the lowest average age of first sexual contact.”

So Russians are doing it and doing it a lot. However, sex education continues to be seen as too controversial to be taught in schools. This has led to many Russians to go on believing in a number of rather dangerous myths:

“A survey of over 4,000 young Russians from 10 Russian regions, undertaken by Focus-Media Foundation in February, found that only 33 percent of sexually active respondents had always used condoms for sex over the preceding six months. Twenty-two percent did not realize that unprotected oral sex carries a risk, and over a quarter agreed that “if a person is fated to contract HIV, a condom won’t help.” The survey also revealed that 95 percent of young Russians felt they would like to know more about safe sex. With as many as 1 million Russians estimated to be HIV positive, simply ignoring sex education does not really seem like an option.”

Further, the article notes that while Russia remains a very homophobia society, things are changing according to Dmitry Gubin, editor-in-chief of FHM Russia. He points to the emergence of the Russian “metrosexual” and the opening of more gay clubs as a positive indication. As if we didn’t have enough metrosexuals here in Los Angeles . . .

—Finally, Russia Profile has reprinted an interview from Novaya Gazeta with Alexei Levinson from the Levada Center Polling Agency on the issue of Russian civil society. The question of civil society is a long standing one. Many historians blame the rise of revolutionary politics and the Bolshevik revolution on the lack of a liberal civil society in late 19th century Russia. I personally don’t subscribe to this idea of the Russian sonderweg, but the issue persists to inform how people think about Russian political society now. Some of Levinson’s more interesting comments is the following. When asked if “civil society” is merely a phantom, he had this to say:

“The civil society people dreamed of 10-15 years ago doesn’t exist in Russia today. We’re seeing an entirely different process: a passive society which may simply be termed “the population” is generating interest groups that bear some resemblance to civil society structures. But this process isn’t following the paths known from the history of other countries. In Russia, the first societal groups to emerge and take shape have been those known as criminal structures. They became aware of their goals and formulated them, and now they are pursuing those goals politically, sometimes even via parliamentary channels.

The people believe that the big organized crime groups have their own laws and abide by them. “Look, there’s more order in organized crime than in the bureaucracy” – that’s an opinion I’ve heard hundreds of times from poll respondents.”

Not much, it seems, has changed in post-Soviet Russia from the mafia governance the Communist Party provided in Soviet Russia. Such a view doesn’t give much comfort to those hoping, no, praying for a liberal Russia.

Новости, 9.10 до 15.10

Nalchik has rightly dominated the news this week. But a lot of other newsworthy events have occurred. Here is the brief weekly rundown of some of things that I found interesting.

—In Voronezh, a Peruvian student was a killed and two other foreign students were injured in an attack by skinheads. In response, 200 Voronezh students rallied this week to denounce racism and xenophobia. This is just coming over Interfax: on Friday, a group of skinheads recently attacked a group of Muslim prayer house in Sergiyev Posad in Moscow and brutally beat up leader of the local Muslim organization Arsan Sadriyev.

—It seems that the U.S. government is trying to save face after being thrown out of Uzbekistan. As I reported last week, Condi Rice dropped Uzbekistan from her Central Asian trip. Now she says that the U.S. doesn’t need those bases anyway and bases in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan can pick up the slack. She also vowed to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov that the U.S. won’t seek to build more bases in Central Asia. This all may be true, but the fact of the matter is that U.S. may not need a military base, but it won’t refuse one either. Now it seems that the new Kyrgyz government is questioning the necessity of a U.S. base in its country.

—Corporate criminal Mikhail Khordokovsky and his partner Platon Lebedev were sent to prison this week to serve their eight year sentences for fraud and tax evasion. The past few weeks have further revealed the State’s heavy handedness when dealing with them. Khodokovsky’s appeal was thrown out. His lawyer’s offices were raided by the Moscow police. There is speculation that more charges will be filed against him. There are charges that prison guards mistreated Lebedev. Interfax is reporting that a source from Khodokovsky family says that he will be sent to Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Region and Lebedev will be in Chita Oblast. Russian officials have denied this news, saying that both will serve their term in a prison around Moscow.

Russian Profile has an interesting article about Russians and sex. Though Russia has been bombarded with images of sex since the collapse of the Soviet Union, they still remain in dark when it concerns sex education. A recent survey revealed these facts about Russians and sex:

“The 2003 Durex global sex survey, which interviewed over 150,000 people in 34 countries, reveals some startling facts about Russian sexuality. Out of all the countries surveyed, Russia had the highest percentage of respondents who said they would sleep with a new partner on the first night (39 percent) and Russians were more likely than any other nationality to have had sex with their best friend’s partner (18 percent). Russia was also the country with the lowest average age of first sexual contact.”

So Russians are doing it and doing it a lot. However, sex education continues to be seen as too controversial to be taught in schools. This has led to many Russians to go on believing in a number of rather dangerous myths:

“A survey of over 4,000 young Russians from 10 Russian regions, undertaken by Focus-Media Foundation in February, found that only 33 percent of sexually active respondents had always used condoms for sex over the preceding six months. Twenty-two percent did not realize that unprotected oral sex carries a risk, and over a quarter agreed that “if a person is fated to contract HIV, a condom won’t help.” The survey also revealed that 95 percent of young Russians felt they would like to know more about safe sex. With as many as 1 million Russians estimated to be HIV positive, simply ignoring sex education does not really seem like an option.”

Further, the article notes that while Russia remains a very homophobia society, things are changing according to Dmitry Gubin, editor-in-chief of FHM Russia. He points to the emergence of the Russian “metrosexual” and the opening of more gay clubs as a positive indication. As if we didn’t have enough metrosexuals here in Los Angeles . . .

—Finally, Russia Profile has reprinted an interview from Novaya Gazeta with Alexei Levinson from the Levada Center Polling Agency on the issue of Russian civil society. The question of civil society is a long standing one. Many historians blame the rise of revolutionary politics and the Bolshevik revolution on the lack of a liberal civil society in late 19th century Russia. I personally don’t subscribe to this idea of the Russian sonderweg, but the issue persists to inform how people think about Russian political society now. Some of Levinson’s more interesting comments is the following. When asked if “civil society” is merely a phantom, he had this to say:

“The civil society people dreamed of 10-15 years ago doesn’t exist in Russia today. We’re seeing an entirely different process: a passive society which may simply be termed “the population” is generating interest groups that bear some resemblance to civil society structures. But this process isn’t following the paths known from the history of other countries. In Russia, the first societal groups to emerge and take shape have been those known as criminal structures. They became aware of their goals and formulated them, and now they are pursuing those goals politically, sometimes even via parliamentary channels.

The people believe that the big organized crime groups have their own laws and abide by them. “Look, there’s more order in organized crime than in the bureaucracy” – that’s an opinion I’ve heard hundreds of times from poll respondents.”

Not much, it seems, has changed in post-Soviet Russia from the mafia governance the Communist Party provided in Soviet Russia. Such a view doesn’t give much comfort to those hoping, no, praying for a liberal Russia.

Nalchik

There isn’t too much to add by way of news on the militant attack in Nachlik, the provincial capital of Kabardino-Balkariya republic. Other obligations kept me from writing about it as things were unfolding. I can, however, point readers to a few places that give links to news stories as well as some analysis. Andy from Siberianlight.net has a good rundown of events as well as his take on the incident here and here. My friend and colleague Dave a.k.a. “Johnnie B. Baker” also has some thoughts on the subject. For up to date news on the incident I highly recommend periodic checks of the Interfax News Agency. Finally, as always David Johnson’s Russia list is an invaluable place for a collection of latest news and analysis.

In fact, there are a few articles worth commenting from today’s JRL #9267. The first is from The Economist on the expansion of the conflict into neighboring regions. The article points out the obvious—the conflict is and has been spreading for a while now, threatening to engulf the entire North Caucasus region. However, I think the article makes an excellent point in this passage:

“Mr. Putin runs the risk that more and more of the north Caucasus may slip into lawlessness and out of Moscow’s sphere of influence. This and signs of discontent in other of Russia’s far-flung regions will heighten fears that Russia may disintegrate just as the Soviet Union did. Soon after the tragedy in Beslan, Mr. Putin attempted to reassert a measure of control. He sent Dmitry Kozak, a trusted aide, to be his representative in the region and to foster economic development. And he announced that regional governors would be appointed by him, rather than through direct elections, in an attempt to wrest back powers ceded by his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. Given the corruption and unfitness of many of the elected governors, it seemed a reasonable move, though his dubious choices of replacements offer little by way of reassurance.”

As anyone who’s spent time in Russia knows, corruption is a systematic problem. But the corruption is facilitated by some deep structural problems in Russia’s economy. The problem stems from the fact that economic development is highly centralized in Russia. Moscow is the heart of the beast, but the blood flow of capital thins as it reaches Russia’s outer regions. Thus, for local governors and other politicians, aid from Moscow comes at a trickle. The result is similar to how things were in Soviet times, regional leaders either horde resources from the center or plunder them from their localities. The result has been the continued underdevelopment of its periphery. This chronic centralization is bound to lead to the very break down The Economist is predicting.

Another article worth noting is an interview with political analyst Alexei Makarkin, deputy general director of the Center of Political Technologies, in Gazeta. Makarkin basically reiterates The Economist when it comes to local governors. When asked if appointees from Moscow could have prevented the attack, he said this:

“[W]e can install a Russian general in every region of the Caucasus that depends on federal subsidies. Install and wait to see what will follow. There are only two scenarios really. Either the appointee finds himself in isolation soon, without any power levers to wield or he joins the local elite and stops taking orders from Moscow. We already saw it in Chechnya when prime ministers appointed by Moscow were forced to leave the region soon.”

When asked if the clan system of Russian politics is to blame, he responded further:

“The clan system and poverty, this latter is a fertile soil for Islamic radicalism. Federal subsidies make up 72% of the Kabardino-Balkarian regional budget’s revenue. The officially-admitted unemployment rate is 2.5 times the national average, but the actual rate is much higher. According to official statistics, one in 20 residents of Kabardino-Balkaria have TB, which claims 10 lives a week.” [Translated by A. Ignatkin]

In addition, Makarkin argues that this attack was more about regional political clans fighting rather than “Wahhabis”, though the latter are a real danger and will always be blamed.

Maxim Shevchenko, from the Center for the Strategic Studies of Modern Religion and Policy, echos Makarkin’s argument adding,

“I am 120% sure that it was not a revolt by extremists but an attempt by a group of local elites dissatisfied with the recent appointments in Kabarda (Kabardino-Balkaria( to destabilize the situation in a bid to regain some of their lost powers or get new ones.”

Whether Makarkin’s or Shevchenko view is correct is hard to say. All accounts point to the involvement of militants either based in Kabardino-Balkariya, or from Dagestan or Chechnya. Rumors abound of Shamil Basayev’s presence and even death. News reports have denied the latter. Whatever the circumstances or whoever the perpetrators and their demands or origins, the whole incident points to the further destabilization of Russia’s south. Which, of course, raises many questions about the political fallout of the attack. According to RIA Novosti, Russian politicals are suggesting the incident demands further measures to strengthen vertical flows of power. All of which adds only to an already flood of speculation about who, if anyone, will succeed Putin in 2008.

Soldier Slaves

Two articles in today’s Moscow Times concern the Russian military and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov’s attempts to get a handle on it. The first, “No More Free Labor for Soldiers” reports on Ivanov’s decree forbidding officers from using conscripts to perform work outside their military service. Forcing conscripts to build dachas, collect harvests and other labor is a common practice in the Russian military. Some of these tasks fall under dedovshchina, or hazing, where new conscripts are forced to perform all sorts of laborious and humiliating tasks for older soldiers and officers under the threat of violence. According to the article, the Defense Ministry has recorded 662 non-combat deaths since January to August this year. This number is disputed by the soldiers’ rights organization Mothers’ Rights Foundation. Veronika Marchenko, the head of MRF claims that non-combat deaths, including deaths from hazing, number around 3,000 per year. This number would presumably include other types of deaths from abuse such as suicide and mental illness.

Conscript abuse is a serious problem in the Russian military. Human Rights Watch released a report late last year chronicling the abuse associated with the hazing of new recruits. In one of its most horrific passages, the report summed up dedovshchina with the following incident:

“No sooner was Alexander D. assigned to the Third Company at his unit, than the rules of dedovshchina became apparent. While he described the abuses during the first week as “not all too strong,” after about a week, Alexander D.—a young man with a strong sense of personal dignity—came into serious conflict with the dedy [short for ???????, or grandfathers. In this context senior conscripts—Sean] when he refused to comply with one of their orders. He told Human Rights Watch that “the one way to avoid physical abuse was complete submission—turning into a ‘lackey’ (in Russian: shesterka) who does whatever he is asked no matter how humiliating or senseless.” And Alexander D. was not willing to become one. While Alexander D. was standing guard at night, the dedy ordered him to sew collars on their jackets, and went to bed themselves. Alexander D. did not do any sewing that night. The next morning, when the dedy found out, they made it clear his refusal would not go unpunished. One of the dedy told Alexander D. he would be better off “hanging himself.” Later that morning, one of the dedy took Alexander D. to the storage room and started beating him on the arms with an iron bed post wrapped in a towel. When Alexander D. tried to resist, the ded twice beat him with full force on the thigh. Alexander D. fell and the ded hit him on the back and head. The ded then told Alexander D. that the worst would follow at night. Indeed, that night, after Alexander D. had gone to bed, the dedy hit him over the head with a stool to wake him up and took him to the sergeants’ room, where they beat him for a while and then told him to do push-ups. Alexander D. initially refused but after more beatings he did push-ups until around 2:00 a.m. when they told him to dust and themselves went to bed. Alexander D. again refused.”

Despite this, the Ministry chose to tackle the problem of conscript labor. At a press conference this week in Lisbon, Portugal, Defense Minister Ivanov said this, “The myths that exist in society say that soldiers do nothing else but collect harvests and build generals’ dachas. As of today, if such a case is recorded, the commander that gave such an order will be fired and may even land in prison.” Ivanov also warned in June that the names of dead soldiers would be published monthly on the Defense Ministry’s website for all to see.

Not everyone is optimistic. In an editorial accompanying the article, Alexander Gots doubts that Ivanov’s decree will make a difference.

“Whatever lofty sentiments the brass might express about their concern for the average soldier, disdain for the grunts is the foundation of any large conscript army. Our military leaders can’t understand why they’re being made to answer for the lives of individual soldiers. If there’s one thing our generals are good at, it’s calling up huge numbers of young men, providing them with the most primitive combat training and then using them as cannon fodder. This is why the generals require a ready reserve that comprises the entire male adult population of the country. This is why they bitterly oppose the creation of a professional army. By vowing to investigate and publicize all deaths of military personnel in an attempt to force the generals to see conscripts as human beings, Ivanov has infringed upon one of the armed forces’ basic operating principles.”

The use of conscripts for labor has a long history in Russia. Before the Revolution, soldiers were forced to build roads, bridges, and collect harvests. After the revolution conscript labor was used to build railroads and work in coal mines. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Gots claims that conscript labor became a “full-blown industry.” Soldiers were hired out to local factories. The money was used to supplement local military budgets, while some “good” commanders invested the money back into his units. Gots adds that since things have gotten worse. “In the North Caucasus,” he writes, “things have reached the point where soldiers are sold into slavery. And for officers who earn meager salaries and enjoy few rights, control of this pool of free labor is the last thing that ensures them a measure of social status.”

It is because of this, that Gots thinks that Ivanov’s decree will not be met with much praise within the command structure. The ban seeks to undo a long standing, yet unwritten privilege of Russian military commanders.

The decree does not, however, address the severe problem of dedovshchina. Even if it did, it probably couldn’t do much to alter its pervasiveness. Dedovshchina is too embedded in military culture. It allows older conscripts to regulate and dominate new ones, giving the military a self perpetuating code of conduct that has no written rules and functions according to the laws laid down by rank and file soldiers. As one ded interviewed by Human Rights Watch put it,

“When we arrived as first-year conscripts, nobody spared us, we slaved for the dedy, and were beaten much more than this [new recruit] now… And we did not complain, we did not run away, and eventually we became friends with the dedy. Now it’s our turn. That’s the law here. We didn’t put up with a full year here so that some dukhi [ or ghost, in this context a derogatory term for new recruits] can now ignore us. Let them take it, and then their time of compensation will come.”

As Gots correctly titles his editorial, slavery is not reformable.

???????, 3.10 ?? 8.10

—This item is from two weeks ago and slipped under my radar. The League of United Youth, or LOM has become reality. The September 27 edition of the Moscow Times reported that the coalition, which includes the youth organization Rodina; the Communist Youth League, Red Youth Vanguard; National Bolshevik Party; and the Yabloko youth group Oborona, or Defense, announced its formation.

—This week the Presidium of the Russian Supreme Court nullified its overturning of a lower court’s ban of the National Bolshevik Party, ordering a retrial. NPB spokesman Alexander Averin charged that “the decision was made under pressure from the Kremlin.”

—It sounds like a chill is developing with another of America’s allies on the “war on terror. Mosnews is reporting that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cancelled her stop to Uzbekistan as she visits Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan on October 10 – 13. Mosnews writes:

“The reason of this cancellation was that the United States is concerned over clashes in the Uzbek city of Andijan in May and over the current policy of the Uzbek authorities. [Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, Daniel] Fried said. “We are very concerned over Andijan, not only the very incident but the reaction as well,” he added. Fried said the U.S. administration is worried over other aspects of Uzbek activities, such as “pressure on non-governmental organizations, reduction of exchange programs, the entire atmosphere of fear in the country.”

This still surprises me because it seems that the Uzbek government is doing everything right by U.S. standards. It was reported this week that a Muslim imam, Shavkat Madumarov, died of torture in an Uzbek prison. Madumarov was serving a seven year sentence for ties to Wahhabis. The Uzbek government of course claims that he died of “an HIV infection and anemia.” Um, yeah, right.

—The drama in the Beslan Mothers and Grigorii Grabovoi controversy continues. Lisa Vronskaya provides an interesting analysis of why some of the mothers had gravitated to the cult leader. It seems that the devotion of some of its members is causing a lot of tension within the Mother’s group, causing increased speculation that Grabovoi is really an agent of the Kremlin. I seriously doubt this and just speaks to the tendency to see conspiracy emanating from above to squash the legitimate concerns and complaints from those below.

Vronskaya adds that there is a deep cultural reason why many are willing to accept Grabovoi’s claims:

“Russia has an ancient tradition of belief in the supernatural. Despite the country’s early Christianization, Russians continued to worship pagan gods for centuries. The Soviet regime proclaimed Russia a secular state where all religions were all but outlawed, and ordinary people again turned to mystic and supernatural cults. In the 1990s, ’healers’, albeit widely condemned as charlatans, were allowed to cast their spells on nationwide television.”

It is true that you can open any Russian tabloid and see all sorts of classified ads for a variety of kolduny and koldun’i, znakhari, mystics, soothsayers, palm readers, and “authentic” peasant women who can apply herbs and read chicken bones. Not to mention the popularity of astrological and other supernatural books. And it is also the case that there is a long history of religious sects in Russia. The strangest being the secretive Skoptsy, an odd group that split from the Old Believers and practiced castration as well as other extreme dietary and bodily regulations, about which Professor Laura Engelstein of Yale has written. But to take this particular case to the universal seems a bit much. I maintain that while strange and tragic, it is not hard to see why some of the Beslan Mothers have embraced Grabovoi. He offers them the impossible at a time when they are obviously still in shock.

—The Moscow News is celebrating its 75th Anniversary with an interview with the paper’s former editor, Yakov Lomko. The paper began in 1930, was haulted in 1949 after its editor, Mikhail Borodin was shot, but revived again in 1956. The Moscow News served as only foreign language newspaper published in the Soviet Union. When asked about pressure from the KGB, Lomko has this to say:

“Unlike editors of Russian-language Soviet papers I had a convenient excuse: “The foreign reader will not understand this.” After that they would leave me alone. We had an opportunity to speak about our problems more frankly and openly than Russian-language papers. Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Central Committee dictated us what to write or censored us. We did not get instructions from the KGB, and had no contacts with them. Everything related to the publishing process was discussed by our editorial board.

The paper never was a “troubadour of ideas of Marxism-Leninism.” In the supplement intended for speeches of party leaders we published Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s story One Day of Ivan Denisovich. All this was “swallowed” by the upper echelons, the main thing was to persuade them. But, of course, to go against the “general line” was impossible. We worked for the interests of our country, trying to get close to common human values, believing this the only way to win the trust of the readers.”

—Probably one of the most important news items of the week is that 13 years ago Russian President Boris Yeltsin sent tanks to break opposition led by Chairman of the Supreme Council Ruslan Khasbulatov and Vice-president Alexander Rutskoi to his dissolving of Parliament and the Russian Constitution. I already pointed out how at the time the NY Times and the Washington Post lauded Yeltsin’s use of the military as progress for Russian “democracy” and “reform.” That being said, I find Nikolay Troitsky’s reflection on the event interesting:

“Early in the morning October 4, 1993 the White House was encircled. What happened next some people still call “execution of the parliament”. It was much talked right after the event, and the talks still continue today, that there was some armed resistance, that “defenders” of the House of the Government allegedly seized too much weapons. There probably were weapons but many witnesses of the events did not see them at all. There was General Makashov (he is now representing the Communist Party in the Parliament) with a Kalashnikov gun and three cartridge belts, but the general never shot.

On the day when the House of the Government was stormed, about one hundred of strange men wearing Cossack caps settled in the windows of the building with double-barreled guns or hunting rifles. The men incurred the inimical fire and spoiled the whole of the interior. At that those who fired the House of the Government did not look better than the “defenders”. Among them there were strong athletic men who jumped out of armored troop-carriers with better weapons and fired the building. Nobody knew where the people came from. It was suggested that they were probably engaged by Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, young Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other bankers who afterwards financed the Yeltsin Family. It is astonishing that 12 years after the events, Mikhail Khodorkovsky himself arrived at the parliamentary republic ideas that pushed Khasbulatov and Co.

The storm of the White House was in fact the mixture of senseless outrage and obvious sloppiness. Majority of people sitting in the building – clerks, cleaners, barkeepers – were rather peaceful and did not want to fight the regime. But none of them was allowed to leave the building. Instead, firing of the building began without warning.”

Troitsky ends hid discussion with this lesson of the 1993 “civil war”: “that it is dangerous in Russia to take armed people out in the streets to fight the regime.”

On that note, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin turned 53 on Friday.

Новости, 3.10 до 8.10

—This item is from two weeks ago and slipped under my radar. The League of United Youth, or LOM has become reality. The September 27 edition of the Moscow Times reported that the coalition, which includes the youth organization Rodina; the Communist Youth League, Red Youth Vanguard; National Bolshevik Party; and the Yabloko youth group Oborona, or Defense, announced its formation.

—This week the Presidium of the Russian Supreme Court nullified its overturning of a lower court’s ban of the National Bolshevik Party, ordering a retrial. NPB spokesman Alexander Averin charged that “the decision was made under pressure from the Kremlin.”

—It sounds like a chill is developing with another of America’s allies on the “war on terror. Mosnews is reporting that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cancelled her stop to Uzbekistan as she visits Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan on October 10 – 13. Mosnews writes:

“The reason of this cancellation was that the United States is concerned over clashes in the Uzbek city of Andijan in May and over the current policy of the Uzbek authorities. [Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, Daniel] Fried said. “We are very concerned over Andijan, not only the very incident but the reaction as well,” he added. Fried said the U.S. administration is worried over other aspects of Uzbek activities, such as “pressure on non-governmental organizations, reduction of exchange programs, the entire atmosphere of fear in the country.”

This still surprises me because it seems that the Uzbek government is doing everything right by U.S. standards. It was reported this week that a Muslim imam, Shavkat Madumarov, died of torture in an Uzbek prison. Madumarov was serving a seven year sentence for ties to Wahhabis. The Uzbek government of course claims that he died of “an HIV infection and anemia.” Um, yeah, right.

—The drama in the Beslan Mothers and Grigorii Grabovoi controversy continues. Lisa Vronskaya provides an interesting analysis of why some of the mothers had gravitated to the cult leader. It seems that the devotion of some of its members is causing a lot of tension within the Mother’s group, causing increased speculation that Grabovoi is really an agent of the Kremlin. I seriously doubt this and just speaks to the tendency to see conspiracy emanating from above to squash the legitimate concerns and complaints from those below.

Vronskaya adds that there is a deep cultural reason why many are willing to accept Grabovoi’s claims:

“Russia has an ancient tradition of belief in the supernatural. Despite the country’s early Christianization, Russians continued to worship pagan gods for centuries. The Soviet regime proclaimed Russia a secular state where all religions were all but outlawed, and ordinary people again turned to mystic and supernatural cults. In the 1990s, ’healers’, albeit widely condemned as charlatans, were allowed to cast their spells on nationwide television.”

It is true that you can open any Russian tabloid and see all sorts of classified ads for a variety of kolduny and koldun’i, znakhari, mystics, soothsayers, palm readers, and “authentic” peasant women who can apply herbs and read chicken bones. Not to mention the popularity of astrological and other supernatural books. And it is also the case that there is a long history of religious sects in Russia. The strangest being the secretive Skoptsy, an odd group that split from the Old Believers and practiced castration as well as other extreme dietary and bodily regulations, about which Professor Laura Engelstein of Yale has written. But to take this particular case to the universal seems a bit much. I maintain that while strange and tragic, it is not hard to see why some of the Beslan Mothers have embraced Grabovoi. He offers them the impossible at a time when they are obviously still in shock.

—The Moscow News is celebrating its 75th Anniversary with an interview with the paper’s former editor, Yakov Lomko. The paper began in 1930, was haulted in 1949 after its editor, Mikhail Borodin was shot, but revived again in 1956. The Moscow News served as only foreign language newspaper published in the Soviet Union. When asked about pressure from the KGB, Lomko has this to say:

“Unlike editors of Russian-language Soviet papers I had a convenient excuse: “The foreign reader will not understand this.” After that they would leave me alone. We had an opportunity to speak about our problems more frankly and openly than Russian-language papers. Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Central Committee dictated us what to write or censored us. We did not get instructions from the KGB, and had no contacts with them. Everything related to the publishing process was discussed by our editorial board.

The paper never was a “troubadour of ideas of Marxism-Leninism.” In the supplement intended for speeches of party leaders we published Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s story One Day of Ivan Denisovich. All this was “swallowed” by the upper echelons, the main thing was to persuade them. But, of course, to go against the “general line” was impossible. We worked for the interests of our country, trying to get close to common human values, believing this the only way to win the trust of the readers.”

—Probably one of the most important news items of the week is that 13 years ago Russian President Boris Yeltsin sent tanks to break opposition led by Chairman of the Supreme Council Ruslan Khasbulatov and Vice-president Alexander Rutskoi to his dissolving of Parliament and the Russian Constitution. I already pointed out how at the time the NY Times and the Washington Post lauded Yeltsin’s use of the military as progress for Russian “democracy” and “reform.” That being said, I find Nikolay Troitsky’s reflection on the event interesting:

“Early in the morning October 4, 1993 the White House was encircled. What happened next some people still call “execution of the parliament”. It was much talked right after the event, and the talks still continue today, that there was some armed resistance, that “defenders” of the House of the Government allegedly seized too much weapons. There probably were weapons but many witnesses of the events did not see them at all. There was General Makashov (he is now representing the Communist Party in the Parliament) with a Kalashnikov gun and three cartridge belts, but the general never shot.

On the day when the House of the Government was stormed, about one hundred of strange men wearing Cossack caps settled in the windows of the building with double-barreled guns or hunting rifles. The men incurred the inimical fire and spoiled the whole of the interior. At that those who fired the House of the Government did not look better than the “defenders”. Among them there were strong athletic men who jumped out of armored troop-carriers with better weapons and fired the building. Nobody knew where the people came from. It was suggested that they were probably engaged by Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, young Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other bankers who afterwards financed the Yeltsin Family. It is astonishing that 12 years after the events, Mikhail Khodorkovsky himself arrived at the parliamentary republic ideas that pushed Khasbulatov and Co.

The storm of the White House was in fact the mixture of senseless outrage and obvious sloppiness. Majority of people sitting in the building – clerks, cleaners, barkeepers – were rather peaceful and did not want to fight the regime. But none of them was allowed to leave the building. Instead, firing of the building began without warning.”

Troitsky ends hid discussion with this lesson of the 1993 “civil war”: “that it is dangerous in Russia to take armed people out in the streets to fight the regime.”

On that note, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin turned 53 on Friday.

To Bury or Not to Bury

Today’s NY Times once again raises the question of what to do with V. I. Lenin, whose body remains mummified in his mausoleum on Red Square. The debate reared its head after a senior Putin aid, Georgii Poltavchenko remarked, “Our contry has been shaken by strife, but only a few people were held accountable for that in out lifetime. I do not think it is fair that those who initiated the strife remain in the center of out state near the Kremlin.”

This question seems to come up every so often. Yelstin wanted to bury him in the 1990s as a way to symbolize the transition from the old regime to the new one. The effort failed. It was seen as too soon. Too many people attached their lives and their national pride to Lenin. Putin has refused to move forward on burying him, rightly observing, “Many people in this country associate their lives with the name of Lenin. To take Lenin out and bury him would say to them that they have worshiped false values, that their lives were lived in vain.” Given the pageantry and recreation the Putin Administration put on for the 60th Anniversary of the Great Patriotic War (WWII for Russians for all those who don’t know), complete with banners of Lenin, Stalin and other Soviet imagery, Lenin as a symbol still has a place in post-Soviet Russia.

The truth of Putin’s remarks and the complexity in how Russians construct a historical memory of the Soviet period is what makes me frustrated with articles such as this in the NY Times. There is a tendency in the Western media to place the meaning of a figure like in Lenin in a binary of Communists vs. “Reformers”. One need only look at who is quoted in this story: Gennady Ziuganov, the head of the Communist Party, and prominent film director, Nikita Mikhalkov (Burnt by the Sun, ?????????? ???????, and the Barber of Siberia, ????????? ?????????, among others). Both give a new name to rhetorical hyperbole. Ziuganov: “Raising this issue smells of provocation and illiteracy,” adding that the people who call for Lenin’s removal as those “who do not know the country’s history and stretch out their dirty hands and muddy ideas to the national necropolis.” Mikhalkov: “Vast funds are being squandered on a pagan show. If we advocate Christian ideals, we must fulfill the will of the deceased.”

I’m afraid, the issue is much more complicated than that. We would know this if more Russians were asked what they think of not only Lenin but the fact that his statue continues to be prominently displayed all over Moscow. The biggest towers across the street from metro Oktiabrskaia. The Soviet Union and its legacy remains a contentious issue for some. But for many it is viewed with an understandable ambivalence. It simultaneously figures as the best of times and the worst of times. There is nostalgia for many aspects the Soviet times, especially (and rather ironically because it is frequently associated with stagnation) for the Brezhnev period. I think what Lenin stands for is changing in Russia. For better or for worse, he is becoming more like Peter the Great: a firm and decisive, but necessary ruler who thrust Russia into modernity. But that is historical memory for you. A new historical narrative emerges at the moment of forgetting. Even the Lenins of the world can find their place in the genealogy of the present.

(photo: Associated Press)

"Puppeteers and Puppets"

I promised to write an update on Russian youth organizations, especially the August 29th attack on a meeting of the National Bolsheviks and other youth groups at a Communist Party office at Avtozavodskaia. But time has got the better of me. However, an article published and translated in JRL #9261, “Puppeteers and Puppets” by Andrei Vol’nov from Rossiiskie Vesti has saved me. Instead of writing something of my own on this issue, let me provide and comment on some of its key passages. Russian readers can find the entire article here. Pavel Pushkin did the JRL translation, from which these excerpts are taken.

The article speaks about the recent increase in Russian youth organizations at both the national and local level. According to the article, this rise is in part because “it’s become fashionable to use young people for either “revolutionary” or “counter-revolutionary” activity.” The most significant is Nashi (Our Own), which is pro-Putin and vows to prevent “orange revolution” in Russia. In addition, youth organizations have sprouted in Moscow, Civil Change, which is under the patronage of Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov; and Youth Chamber in Kazan, among others. The basic logic behind these organizations is similar to what the Komsomol was: to funnel young and politically loyal members into city and regional political institutions. This seems to be one of the main thrusts behind Nashi as their week long retreat near Tver showed.

But some of these groups, especially Nashi seem to have “extra legal” intentions. Especially, with using football hooligans as shock troops. The article reads:

“It might seem unlikely that the reasonably law-abiding Nashi would have anything in common with aggressive groups of football fans from the outer suburbs. Nonetheless, according to leader of Dynamo fan club Alexander Shprygin, the football fans have rushed to join Our Own, a well-funded organization (in comparison with other youth groups). Shprygin added, “Nashi’s leader, Yakemenko, has said that if force is needed, he will provide it. He was referring to the football fans. It is known that Spartak fans were responsible for the attack on the National Bolshevik headquarters.”

And it is has been the repeasted attacks on the National Bolsheviks that has increased the tension between left and right wing youth organizations. The facts of the attacks on the Natsbols are narrated as follows:

“It should be noted that no definite connection has yet been established between the Nashi movement and the organized and pre-paid groups of “fans” who were ordered by someone to “sort out” the National Bolsheviks. We can only set out the evidence: on January 29, 40 men armed with baseball bats attacked the NBP headquarters; on March 5, 25 masked men destroyed ransacked the NBP office and assaulted NBP members with baseball bats; on February 12, ten NBP and Communist Party members were attacked by masked men on their way home from a rally. In all these cases, some of the suspects were detained and usually released “after a phone call from above.” No charges were issued against them.

The largest and most well-publicized attack by “organized fans” took place on the evening of August 29. This was an attack on the Communist Party headquarters on Avtozavodskaya Street in Moscow, during a meeting of National Bolsheviks, young Communists, and members of other left-wing organizations. According to various sources, there were about 40 attackers, wearing camouflage and masks, armed with baseball bats and pneumatic pistols. Several young leftists were injured: fractured skulls, concussion, broken bones. The National Bolshevik Party maintains that the attackers were members of a football fan group based on Yaroslavskoe Road, connected with the Nashi movement. NBP leader Eduard Limonov emphasized that members of his party recognized the faces of some attackers, recalling them from previous attacks. But Nashi leader Yakemenko denies any involvement of members of his organization in the incident. The law-enforcement agencies (they released the detained people with the bats again “according to a phone call from above”) keep silent mysteriously again. There is an impression that these are persistent attempts to change behavior and to “monitor” NBP members (now with assistance of football fans).”

When I’ve mentioned these attacks to friends, they immediately respond that it sounds like Germany in the 1920s when fascists and communists fought in the streets. While it does echo that, I’m a bit more guarded with such an analysis. If the left wing begins to strike back with equal intent, then I think a process will be unleashed that will certainly culminate during the 2008 elections.

There is, however, some from liberal/left groups who are calling for just that: battle ready detachments. NBP leader Eduard Limonov has hyperbolically called the attack at Avtozavodskaia the beginning of a “civil war.” Rodina youth leader Sergei Shargunov has called that it is time to organize “self-defense detachments” to combat Nashi. Other liberal/left groups are talking seriously about uniting under the name League of United Youth, or LOM. Don’t let the acronym pass unnoticed. The word “lom” (???) means “crowbar” in Russian. There are hopes that LOM will also include more radical left groups such as the Natsbols, the Communist Youth League, and Red Youth Vanguard.

The article is also presents a view that I have held since Nashi was formed earlier this year:

“It is very interesting to watch how the process of formation of the “pro-government” and “anti-government” youth groups coincide in essence (although not in form) with what the authorities are doing on a higher level of political parties.”

Indeed. What has struck me about all of this is how the center has either dropped out or has been redefined after the Ukrainian elections in November-December, 2004 and the pension protests in January this year. By February, the more moderate pro-Putin group, Walking Together, was liquidated, and the more ardent Nashi suddenly appeared. They now claim to be the “center.” The National Bolsheviks, as well, as other far left groups have increased their activities. The liberal electoral opposition in the form of Yabloko, though their initial presence should not be overestimated, has dropped out almost completely. Even United Russia has grown so large that it has split into left and right wing factions. But the article is also quick to point to the fact that,

“Along with this, it is necessary to say at once that there is no own activeness of the opposition, both rightist and leftist. All its actions have a nature of responses to external events (the terrorist act in Beslan, appointment of governors, monetization of social allowances or persecution of Khodorkovsky) along with complete absence of the own program. Diversity of the PR pretexts only emphasizes fictitious nature of existence of the opposition as a political player. Calling a spade a spade it is possible to say that the opposition is on the lead of the authorities and this lead had been put on voluntarily. In the current circumstances of transition to elections according to the party lists (accompanied with increase of the registered number of party members from 10,000 to 50,000 members) Yabloko, the Union of Right Forces, or Motherland may simply disappear having failed to recruit the necessary number of members.”

Where will this opposition come from? One possibility is that United Russia’s factions will cannibalize themselves and make a formal split. Another is that increased pressure from below, which is now represented by youth organizations, will coalesce into an opposition from outside the electoral process. This possibility is only made more likely with the escalating political polarization and the increased readiness to use violence and oppression against political opponents, whether they are youth organizations or not.

Suffice to say, this is far from the end of this story.

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