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By Sean — 12 years ago
Yesterday, I wrote about Putin and the task of controlling the regional power. An article in today’s Kommersant gives a picture of one of the methods the Kremlin is using to not only combat political opposition to its rule, but to combat corruption and oppositionists within United Russia itself. However, while this may be the end, the means hark back to both a Soviet past and the timelessness of generational conflict.
The method is a group of youths called Molodaia gvardiia (Young Guard). The name’s Soviet connotations can’t be missed. Molodaia gvardiia was the main journal and publishing house of the Komsomol, not to mention a synonym for its role in the Soviet Union. Its Komsomol roots, however, go much deeper than its namesake. Its task is to not only search for enemies of Putin; it also seeks to root out corruption and intransigent regional leaders, even if they are high profile politicians or members of United Russia. According to its leader Ivan Demidov, “No one in the Party is free from responsibility. We must influence power. And if conflicts arise in the regions, which Radov [a pioneering activist in Molodaia gvardiia] spoke about, we will be on the side of the law before anything.” When asked if this meant moving against corrupt officials in United Russia, Demidov cautiously answered, “all will depend on the situation.”
But others contend that there is no conflict between United Russia and Molodaia gvardiia. One representative from United Russia told Kommersant that “that United Russia was prepared to deal with internal corruption itself” and that the group was a good idea because “they could help us.” Others, like political analysis Stanislav Belskovskii see the youth group as a means to pit the young idealists against the entrenched old guard as a way to wage internal party struggles within United Russia. “In the upcoming elections in 2007, Molodaia gvardiia by its own initiative will search for enemies of Putin and possibly will be used to struggle against competitors of United Russia, with Party life first of all,” Belskovskii told Kommersant.
Conforming to the Party line might just be the task. In February, members of Molodaia gvardiia demanded the resignation the governor of Perm for aiding fascists by being lax support to antifascist efforts in the region. Observers then noticed that the apparent call from below coincided with the Kremlin’s desire to clamp down on the governor.
It is here that Putin’s Molodaia gvardiia harks back to a more particular Soviet incarnation: the Legkaia kavaleriia (Light Cavalry). The Light Cavalry was a movement within the Komsomol that Nikolai Bukharin initiated in a speech at the 8th Komsomol Congress in 1928. Bukharin, among others, called for the League to create “initiative groups” to conduct “raids” of Soviet shops and factories to root out corruption and bureaucratism. The move was justified with reference to a section of a speech Lenin gave at the 3rd Komsomol Congress in 1921, which outlined the tasks of the Youth League:
It is the task of the Young Communist League to organize assistance everywhere, in village or city block, in such matters as — and I shall take a small example — public hygiene or the distribution of food. How was this done in the old, capitalist society? Everybody worked only for himself and nobody cared a straw for the aged and the sick, or whether housework was the concern only of the women, who, in consequence, were in a condition of oppression and servitude. Whose business is it to combat this? It is the business of the Youth Leagues, which must say: we shall change all this; we shall organize detachments of young people who will help to assure public hygiene or distribute food, who will conduct systematic house-to-house inspections, and work in an organized way for the benefit of the whole of society, distributing their forces properly and demonstrating that labor must be organized. (“Tasks of the Youth Leagues,” Collected Works, vol. 31)
The Light Cavalry was more than simple “shock force” against poor accounting and bureaucrats. Their “raids” on Soviet institutions also incorporated class politics. Cavalristy routinely denounced corrupt Party members, traders, kulaks, and other “alien elements” they found in factories and shops. In addition, the military rhetoric of the Light Calvary should not be overlooked. Their penchant for military metaphors was part of a general cultural trends in the late 1920s, when Komsomols spoke of their activism in terms of armies, soldiers, campaigns, raids, scouts, fronts, fights, and battles. These expressions symbolized the attempt by a generation to memorialize a civil war that had preceded them by ten years.
If the Komsomols of the late 1920s were using the opportunity to fight their “civil war,” what are Putin’s young guardians fighting for? Social mobility is surely one. There is no better way to rise in the ranks by denouncing your elders. Battles against internal and external enemies is a good way to cut one’s political teeth. Access to regional power is another. Be sure that those who root out corruption will get the nod for those new vacant positions. Thus the young continues to eat its old. Or as Turgenev eloquently put it:
“So that,” began Pavel Petrovich, “that is our modern youth! Those young men are our heirs!”
“Our heirs!” repeated Nikolai Petrovich with a weary smile. He had been sitting as if on thorns throughout the argument, and only from time to time cast a sad furtive glance at Arkady. “Do you know what I was reminded of, brother? I once quarreled with our mother; she shouted and wouldn’t listen to me. At last I said to her, ‘Of course you can’t understand me; we belong to two different generations.’ She was terribly offended, but I thought, ‘It can’t be helped–a bitter pill, but she has to swallow it.’ So now our turn has come, and our successors can tell us: ‘You don’t belong to our generation; swallow your pill.'”
Update: There is another, perhaps more important Soviet connection to Putin’s Molodaia gvardiia. Molodaia gvardiia was also an Komsomol underground anti-fascist partisan group formed in 1942 after the Nazis occupied Krasnodon. Their existance and membership was revealed to the Nazis by turncoats in the groups. In Janurary 1943, the Nazis began arrests of its 80 or so members. Only eleven members escaped capture. All seventy arrested were tortured and thrown to their death in Coal Mine No. 5. Its leaders Oleg Koshevoy, Lyubov Shevtsova, Viktor Subbotin, Dmitry Ogurtsov, Sergei Ostapenkov were shot the next month in the town of Rovenki, only five days before the Red Army liberated it on Feburary 14, 1943. The Soviet novelist Alexsandr Fadeyev wrote a novel called Molodaia gvardiia commemorating its underground activities.
Of all the Soviet connections cited above, I now think that this is the memory the Putin group is hoping to tap–a patriotic youth organization committed to fighting fascism and enemies of the state.Post Views: 474
By Sean — 12 years ago
As the leaders of the G8 meet in St. Petersburg to discuss energy policy, terrorism, Iran, and infectious diseases, hundreds of activists have gathered in the former Tsarist capital to protest the proceedings. St. Petersburg is no different than past gatherings of international organizations like the G8, IMF, World Bank, WTO or the World Economic Forum. For the past 10 years these meetings have been steadily met with people who see themselves as global citizens bent on challenging a political and economic order they see leaves little room for small “d” democracy.
St. Petersburg is also no different in how these protesters are treated by security and law enforcement. Gatherings are relegated to Kirov stadium on the outskirts of the city where the Russian Social Forum is to be held. Police have locked them in the stadium gates and have prevented activists from carrying their message beyond it. Protests are forbidden in the city center unless they have been approved by the state like the small Communist Party rally. The Russian police have carried out preemptive arrests and have jailed others on a whim. Estimates are that over 200 activists have been arrested.
Organizers expected all of this. They made no illusions as to a low turnout, hoping that at least 2000 activists would show. Visa restrictions, registration woes, costs, and just plain fear kept many away. By all accounts the numbers range in the hundreds. Russian authorities vowed to prevent the G8 from descending into the violence that erupted in Genoa in 2001. With all of this, some activists are surprised that they made it. Alex Kinzer, a 19-year-old activist who traveled from Perm by train, told Mosnews, “I’m surprised I even got here.”
There is a bit of comic irony in the fact that reports about the Russian police’s crackdown on protesters are followed by comments about the country’s antidemocratic practices in general. The methods that are being used in St. Petersburg—preemptive arrests and detention, restricting protests and protesters, caging them in, preventing foreign activists from entering the country—are not new in any way to anti-globalization activists. These weapons of state power have been employed against them for years now. Making Russian actions seem any different, or worse, than protests in the past, whether they were held in Western Europe, the United States, Asia, or Latin America, is laughable. The news coverage of the repression, though welcomed, is rather startling. One suspects that the portrayal of Russia as exception is perhaps a way to mask the rule. The methods to squash protest are as global as the protests themselves. To make Russia an exception in this case is to absolve the widespread and violent repression used against anti-globalization activists in general.
Many activists will argue that this oppression is the reason why the attendance in St. Petersburg is so low. They are right, but only partly. The use of force by the state does work. If it didn’t states wouldn’t use it. However, another reason why the attendance is so low is because the movement itself has waned since 2001. September 11 all but ended the movement in the United States, and to some extent in Europe. The War in Iraq further shifted activism away from global economics. And while attendance to the World Social Forum continues to grow, one wonders what kind of relevance it has at all except for a place were activists meet to debate, preach to the choir, train, and network amongst themselves. Much of the focus on issues of global economics rightly remains in the Global South. After all, they are disproportionately affected, and perhaps because of this, they have had the most success in pushing a populist agenda which has translated into state power. Without the Global South there would be no movement to speak of.
Until now the anti-globalization movement in Russia has been an uncertain force. The radical forces that normally attach themselves to the anti-globalization cause are small. A good sign is that they do seem to be growing. However, some are politically questionable as they embrace nationalism and authoritarianism as core beliefs. It also doesn’t help that Russia’s political opposition is fractured in a political climate where it faces state repression, electoral challenges and little public support.
Nothing showed this more than the Other Russia Conference which was held this week. The three political parties that actually have electoral support, Yabloko, the Communist Party, and the Union of Right, refused to attend. Those who did attend included a potpourri of the Russian political fringe: the National Bolsheviks, the Red Youth Vanguard, ex-Premier Mikhail Kasyanov (who incidentally got punched in the face by a member of the Eurasian Youth League), chess champion and presidential hopeful Gary Kasparov, and Viktor Anpilov of the Working Russia movement. This motley crew dubbed themselves “Russia’s real civil society,” a phrase commentator Sergei Roy took great umbrage to, opting to instead call the forum the “Lunatic Fringe Zoo.”
However much one may have sympathy for the conference, Roy does have a point. How seriously should such a forum be taken when even the real electoral opposition shuns it? It also doesn’t help that much of its funding came from Soros’s Open Society and the National Endowment for Democracy, thus heightening suspicion that the opposition is a CIA front. However paranoid this may sound, the Russians do have some reasons. Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” received support from the same foundations. The latter outfit in particular is funded by the Untied States government. It also doesn’t help that the “Other Russia” was attended by such high profile neo-con figures as Daniel Fried, the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Barry Lowenkron, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. On Wednesday, Antiwar.com’s Justin Raimondo, didn’t hesitate to point out how utterly typical that an American outfit like the National Endowment for Democracy, whose slogan is “Spreading Freedom Around the World,” would fund a conference where a group like the National Bolshevik Party would attend. The NBP’s symbol of a black Soviet hammer and sickle on a Nazi flag melds the two of the 20th centuries most powerful, and violent authoritarian systems.
It is hard to take away anything positive from all this political theater. Every side seems to have been perfectly stage managed. Putin struts across the world stage showing Russia’s new found strength and assertions that Russian democracy will proceed on its own path. Yet when it comes to handling anti-globalization protests Russia’s path seems so similar to the path already practiced by many of the world’s model democracies. Then we have Bush’s challenge to Russian democracy easily swatted away with Putin remarking, “”Well, of course, we wouldn’t want the same kind of democracy as in Iraq, I’ll say that quite honestly.” Bush’s response, “Just wait.” What the hell is that supposed to mean!? Still, Bush stood firm and didn’t give his blessing to Russia’s entry into the WTO. However, they did agree on a deal that would allow American nuclear waste to be stored in Russia! Somehow that doesn’t help me sleep at night.
The big losers are probably the so-called Russian opposition and the anti-globalization movement. The movement not only revealed its weakness, it showed its irrelevance. There are no signs of any real opposition to the Putin’s handpicked successor and United Russia candidate in 2008. Not to mention any possibility of an “orange” anything. As for the anti-globalists, and I should say that I cast my ideological support with them, I’m still waiting for them to stand for something besides being against the nightmare we already have. Perhaps it is time to take a cue from the Global South and build a real movement in the North that doesn’t simply organize for the next big protest. Mass protest seems so late 1990s, amyway.
On second thought, the biggest losers of all are the residents of St. Petersburg. The place sounds like a prison. I’m sure anyone with half a brain fled to their dachas.Post Views: 512
By Sean — 13 years ago
The votes are counted. The winners declared. Now comes the fun part: the analysis. There isn’t much to say about the Kazakh Presidential election which isn’t already evident. There was no colored revolution. There wasn’t even an attempt at protest. The ballots were certainly stuffed. As “Presedatel’ Mike” pointed out in his post, President Nursultan Nazarbaev is truly loved but this didn’t prevent making sure he received 91 percent of the vote. Hence, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) statement that “Despite some improvements in the administration of this election in the pre-election period, the presidential election did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections.” We all know democracy in the CIS states is a sham, but the question, as posed by RFE/RL reporter Daniel Kimmage, is about the long term viability of “managed democracy.” On this, Kimmage writes,
“Political upheaval in
Georgia, Ukraine, and in 2003-05 highlighted the risk of catastrophic failure that comes with “managed democracy,” in which ruling elites accept elections as necessary for legitimacy but do everything in their power to predetermine the outcome. But what happens when the system avoids catastrophic failure? Does it tend toward gradual reform? Or does it degenerate, ensuring ever more splendid victories for the status quo even as it undermines competitiveness and thus retains the risk of an eventual catastrophic failure?” Kyrgyzstan
All important questions and their outcome remains to be seen. Now as before reforms to the Kazakh system lie in Nazarbaev’s will to push them forward. And despite his assurances that reforms will proceed, there is no telling when they, even if remotely genuine, will eventually contradict the personality cult of Nazarbaev himself has created.
Analysis of the short and long term meaning of the Moscow City Duma elections are also coming in. I first want to comment on today’s LA Times editorial. As I’ve noted before, my home paper does some really good reporting on Russia. However, this quality doesn’t extend to the editorial pages. Today’s edition features yet another broken record plea for the Bush Administration to tackle the problem of Russian “democracy.” The problem with the Times’ editorial is not that it argues that Russian democracy is faltering. The problem is how this analysis implies that there was once a democracy to falter. The title “CPR for Russian Democracy” suggests just that. Considering past LA Times’ editorials on this subject, the implied meaning is that before Putin there was democracy, but since his arrival it needs resuscitation. Can they surely be so na?ve to think that the Yeltsin regime was more democratic to even suggest that Russian democracy is “nascent”? By that definition, democracy should be seen as flourishing in say Venezuela, but you won’t find such statements in the Times. So where does this nascent before and authoritarian after come from? From what I can gather from this and past editorials, it comes from the fact that during Yeltsin’s presidency Russia was acting in the interests of the United States and now it has the gall to act in its own interest! After all why would Bush need to put pressure on Putin to change “authoritarian” ways when Bush surely has no problem when his allies in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are doing far worse? Yes they are right. The US government should stop referring to Russia as a democracy. Then we can finally stop beating that dead horse and see Russia for what it is and not what we want it to be.
If you want some good analysis of the Moscow elections, I suggest turning to today’s Moscow Times. Two articles stand out. The first is an analysis of what parties received Rodina’s votes. The conclusion is that Rodina’s ban from participating only benefited the Communists, whose nationalistic platform is almost indistinguishable. But this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Rodina was created by the Kremlin to siphon nationalist votes from the KPRF so it is only logical that with Rodina dropped from the ticket sympathetic voters would swing back. The question is then, if Rodina’s ban came from “above” as many suspect, what did United Russia have to gain from it? If anything it would have been better if Rodina stayed on the ticket. Instead, the KPRF, which is United Russia’s most serious political rival, surged to capture 17 percent of the vote and gain four seats.
The second article, an editorial by Nikolai Petrov, looks at the factors that gave the elections their importance, of which he names four: 1) the first election after the passage of electoral reform, 2) a test where the political parties stand, 3) a preview for the 2008 mayoral elections, and 4) establishing new campaigning models for the 2007 parliamentary elections.
The first was mired by what Petrov and others call “dirty tricks”—voter fraud on various levels, multiple voting, stuffing ballot boxes. This according to Petrov made the post-reform electoral system “far worse.” For the second, Yuri Lukhkov’s and United Russia’s political dominance was confirmed, especially for the former, who will undoubtedly be able to hand pick his successor and well be consulted in choosing a suitable presidential heir.
Perhaps what benefits United Russia in the polls is not the corruption, but the fact that it stands for nothing. Its power is based on the popularity of both Lukhkov and Putin, Russia’s perceived prosperity, and stabilization. As Petrov notes, United Russia, unlike its foes, has no ideology. And for an electorate that grew up in a society where ideology was everything, this might be its most appealing factor.
The ruling party’s anti-ideological or perhaps better, apolitical strategy won’t bode well for Russia’s future. There are serious issues that need addressing in Moscow in particular and Russia in general, and like Kazakhstan much of their mending lies on the backs of a few political personalities. And given the path that Russian politics is taking—between the fanaticism of the far right and left, to the ideology-light of the center—there is little hope that these will be addressed in the near future.Post Views: 498