Here’s something to chew on. Nicolai Petro asks in his column “Why Russian Liberals Lose“:
“Why have Russia’s self-proclaimed “liberals” done so badly at attracting popular support?” A few reasons actually. First, he states that liberals like Vladimir Ryzhkov, Irina Khakamada, Grigory Yavinsky, Mikhail Kasyanov and Boris Nemtsov’s initial embrace of figures like Eduard Limonov and Garry Kasparov have caused more harm than good. The fact that most of them, except for Ryzhkov and Nemtsov, have dumped Other Russia, the fact that they were once wedded to them is a hard thing to shake.
Second, the problem isn’t that the liberals can’t get its message to the public. Petro claims that a quarter of Russians have access to the internet, each of the eleven parties on the ballot got “three hours of prime national television time,” and that Yabloko has a 97 percent name recognition rate. In his view, this is enough to circumvent “censorship.” Of course, I can’t help wonder how the three hours of TV time compares to Putin’s airtime and if 97 percent of Russians do recognize Yabloko, how often is it proceeded or followed by grammatically applicable variants of “idiots” or “traitors” I buy this reason less. If anything, our times tell us that media matters.
But no Petro says that the lack of fanfare for Russian liberalism boils down to the political winds. And given how they’re blowing, Yabloko’s and SPS’s sails are either at half-mast or full of holes. Basically, he writes, “the problem is with the messengers, who have managed to alienate their natural constituency – Russia’s growing middle class.”
Then he presents a political choice:
What you would do if faced with the following choice:
One, a political movement that unites a former chess champion whose family resides overseas, a former prime minister popularly nicknamed “Misha 2 percent” because of alleged kickbacks for authorizing government-backed loans to private firms, and an ex-punk rocker released from prison a few years ago who vows to restore the Russian empire by any means necessary.
Two, the party of Vladimir Putin, which has pledged to continue the policies that have increased average salaries from $81 a month to $550 a month, which has dramatically increased social spending and reduced the poverty level from 27 percent to 15 percent.
Um, option #2, please.
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By Sean — 7 years ago
Some of you may know that I’ve started writing op-eds on Russia for Al-Jazeera English. Here’s an snippet of my latest on the Russian elections:
In mid-November, the Russian site Slon.ru noted that political brands have a life cycle of five stages – “rise”, “peak”, “stabilisation”, “fall”, and “political death”. As brands, Russia’s political tandem, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, and the ruling party United Russia, are no less immune to this cycle. Their popularity peaked in 2008-2009, was stable throughout 2010, and began to fall rapidly in the second half of 2011. In this sense Russia’s ruling elite are little different than, say, a pop song or a breakfast cereal. The more you consume them, the more disgusting they become, until their mere mention evokes the dry heaves.
As returns from Sunday’s polls show, more and more of the Russian electorate are getting nauseous with the political establishment, and Putin in particular. Technically, Sunday’s elections were about determining the Russian Duma (parliament) for the next five years. But, in reality, they were a popularity vote for Putin: the man, the politician, and the system he created. And if there is any doubt that “Putinism” is on a downward swing, just take a look at Sunday’s polls compared to the last election in 2007. In 2007, United Russia received 64.3 per cent of the vote, giving it a supermajority of 315 seats. On Sunday, United Russia got 49.5 per cent and is slated to get 238 seats. That’s a drop of 14 per cent and a loss of 77 seats. One should also note that United Russia got walloped in regional parliaments. In three regions, Krasnoyarsk, Primorye, and Sverdlovsk, the Party of Power didn’t even break 38 per cent. Considering that this is the first election since 2003 that United Russia’s power shrank, this election is a turning point.
The whole article is here.Post Views: 442
By Sean — 6 years ago
Gerard Depardieu’s rapid naturalization as a Russian citizen has raised ire inside and outside of Russia. For one of the better comment’s on Depardieugate, I recommend Vadim Nikitin’s op-ed “Depardieu and the New Capitalism” in the New York Times. Nikitin makes the clear headed argument that Depardieu’s run to Russia for a tax haven is nothing more than a symptom of neoliberalism. In a world of fluid capital, outsourcing, global competition, and anything goes profit maximization, isn’t the star of Green Card entitled to do what many multinational corporations do on a regular basis? As Nikitin writes,
It’s odd that people should feel so shocked by Depardieu’s decision. After all, in escaping from a messy, expensive democracy to a cheaper and simpler autocracy, the actor is only doing what thousands of Western multinational corporations do every day by moving their factories to China, and their management to the United Arab Emirates.
For example, when it invests in China, a company like Apple can reap all the benefits of totalitarianism — streamlined governance, low wages and no labor unrest — at the same time as it opts out of the abuses, restrictions and indignities faced by ordinary Chinese people.
Depardieu has done the same thing. In Russia, he can benefit from the double standards the country affords members of the pro-government elite vis-à-vis the general public. Due to his personal friendship with President Vladimir Putin, Depardieu will benefit from the country’s low taxation and other perks of dealing with a democratically unaccountable system, such as having his citizenship fast-tracked by presidential decree while ordinary people have to wait years to get their passports.
When put this way, Depardieu’s dart to Russia seems quite harmless.
Yet it is the last sentence of this passage that I want to dwell on. It’s quite indicative of the way Russia is ruled that it took a mere three days after Putin signed an executive order granting Depardieu citizenship that the French actor had his passport in hand, let alone delivered by the First Migration Officer Putin himself. If anyone was looking for an example of the “power vertical” or, perhaps more poignantly put, the “Putin vertical” it’s the speed in which the Russian bureaucratic machine worked in this instance. It goes to show that in some cases, when the vozhd speaks, someone listens, and with a high profile friend of Putin in the limelight the wheels are all the more greased.
This feat on the part of the Russian bureaucracy was not lost on Shaun Walker, the Moscow correspondent for the Independent, who tweeted: “It took just 3 days for Depardieu to get his Russian passport – and during public holidays. What a triumph for Russian bureaucracy.”
It may be a triumph for the Russian bureaucracy, but is for Putin? Frankly all he’s proven, and this extends to all controversial laws the Duma subserviently passed since March, ending with the Yakovlev Law, which was concocted in Putin’s office, is that he can still rule. He can still command. But can he still govern? That, I’m afraid, remains to be seen.
Gazeta also found this “triumph” curious and decided to investigate on what it takes to get an internal Russian passport and whether Mr. Depardieu had to jump through the hoops. What they found proves that when it comes to citizenship and passports, Putin is still in front of the cue ball.
According to the Russian law on citizenship, the following documents are required to get an internal passport:
“Two copies of an application, a notarized translation of [the applicant’s] national passport (which must be at least six months before its expiration date), a notarized copy of the birth certificate or a notarized translation, a notarized copy of a marriage or divorce certificate, “extracts from a housing register,” a copy of personal finance records, four 3.5 x 4.5 photos, a receipt for the 2000 ruble application fee, a copy of a diploma, a renunciation of previous citizenship (unless the country of origin has a dual citizenship agreement with Russia), and a notarized confirmation of passage of an exam showing proficiency in the Russian language.”
It’s quite doubtful, in fact it’s damn near impossible, that Depardieu got all of these in order. Especially if you consider that Depardieu made his desire to move to Russia public on December 18 and the next day Putin declared, “If Gerard really wants a Russian residence permit or passport, consider that done.” True to form, Putin said that all the required forms, notarized copies, and other scraps of legal documents wouldn’t be needed since it was suddenly urgent to attract people “spiritually and culturally close to [Russia].” Given how natural Depardieu looks in a traditional Russian peasant blouse the spiritual and cultural part appears covered. All he needs to do now is grow a beard and he’d be a shoe in for the next production of Boris Godunov.
We won’t know whether Depardieu submitted any of the documents, except for the 3.5 x 4.5 photos, judging from the pictures of him gleefully displaying his new Russian passport. When asked if Depardieu filed all the necessary documents his press secretary said that he “didn’t have the right to answer that question” and that he “had the information but didn’t have the right to reveal it.”
It seems that no one really knows, and Dmitrii Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, says that all of the forms were submitted and that French diplomats stepped in and quickened the process on their side. That means, as Gazeta notes, that it took the actor a half a day to assemble all eleven documents. That’s right, half a day.
And it took all of one day for the Russian Federal Migration Service to produce the passport.
When asked how many people worked on processing Depardieu’s passport, Zalina Kornikova, FMS press secretary bobbed and weaved:
“What is Depardieu presence to you? Do you have any information or not? First, we have people on duty during the holidays. I can’t answer now, I have to clear up who issued [the passport]. You have to ask technological services how many people worked on it. Why are you interested? How many people worked on Depardieu’s [case]? You have to excuse me, I also have work to do. Depardieu . . . somebody. I don’t understand the question . . . Who took the blank from the stack of passports? Who printed it? Do you have this in mind?”
Later, Kornikova sent an sms to Gazeta simply stating: “It was an exceptional case by decree of the President. And what you have a problem with this?”
But apparently, as Gazeta notes, there are decrees from a Russian president and there are decrees from Putin. After all, when Medvedev granted the Olympic track star Ahn Hyun-Soo Russian citizenship on 26 December 2011, she didn’t get her passport until 7 January 2012, and only after she submitted all the documents. And when Medvedev granted the American snowboarder Vicki Wild citizenship in May 2012 it also took several days, and Wild had already submitted her documents in 2011. True, these women got their passports fast, but not Depardieu fast. Nor, by the way, did either of these women’s becoming Russian citizens turn into an international scandal.
The difference, it seems, boils down to one word: Putin. It’s Putin who made the Depardieu Affair generate such outrage inside and outside Russia. But it is also Putin that made Depardieu’s rapid nationalization possible in the first place. His footprint is everywhere: from personally decreeing Depardieu citizenship, to the rapid generation of the passport, to Putin personally handing it to Russia’s most popular new citizen.
Yet, ironically, this whole debacle shouldn’t be seen as a sign of Putin’s strength. Sure it shows that things move fast when they are at Putin’s personal behest, even on holidays. But at the same time we need to remember that in the big scheme of things granting citizenship is small potatoes. Putin shows that he can still deliver a passport in good order. But can he still deliver Russia?Post Views: 703
By Sean — 11 years ago
Meet Nikita Borovikov, a 26 year old law student from Vladimir, one of Nashi’s five national commissars, and the front runner to head the youth movement after Vasili Yakemenko steps down after the Presidential Elections in March. Borovikov’s designation as Yakemenko’s successor is not without controversy; and one that might signify divisions within and outside the movement overits direction after 2008. First there is the question whether Yakemenko’s handing over the torch will be smooth. It’s rumored that Borovikov was not Yakemenko’s first choice, (it’s said that he prefers Marina Zademid’kova, 22, from Voronezh), but the law student became the choice after chief Kremlin ideologist Vladislav Surkov stepped in. Things got even stranger when Nashi held a competition at Camp Seliger to chose a new leader. Borovikov won, but as Kommersant then reported, the Kremlin appeared unprepared to let Yakemenko go so soon, let alone leave Nashi’s immediate future in the hands of Borovikov. The next day Yakemenko was forced to announce that the election was actually “a game.” The youth organization, it seems, has been tapped play an active role in the upcoming elections.
The second issue Nashi must deal with is what purpose it will have after 2008. The organization is so tightly tied with Putin and Putinism, some feel that their existence will become superfluous after he steps down. What exactly Nashi will become in a post-Putin Russia is unknown, even to themselves. A few weeks ago, Kommsersant Vlast’ correspondent Anna Kachurovskaya, who also interviewed the former Nashi member “Ivan”, sat down with Borovikov to get some sense of the youth organization’s future. I provide translated excerpts below.
Were you offended that the election turned out to be a game?
Somehow a falsehood got into the newspapers from the start. When we organized the elections at Seliger, the word “successors” wasn’t even mentioned. There was talk about a competition of several teams, and the winners would get the right to determine the life of the movement. I say that this is “conditional.” That is to say the team will offer a strategy for the movement’s development in the period from 2008 to 2012. It’s understood that Vasilii [Yakemenko] is planning to leave. But in the movement the role of the leader, if there is one, is informal. According to the charter, we have a federal council, it has five commissars on it, and no leader.
You are one of the five federal commissars.
Yes. But I am not any kind of successor. It is first necessary to decide the tasks for December and March. And here, for all intents and purposes, there won’t be any divisions into teams or parties. Nashi is a monolith and that is precisely our strength.
Is there any meaning in your elections?
In order to begin thinking about the what kind of movement we’ll be from 2008 to 2012. It’s impossible to think two-three months ahead. Here we did all this.
That is to say that you have a program for developing the movement?
Yes. In general, there were three parties–“Democrats,” “Sovereigns,” and “NikIl'” [“NikIl’ is a combination of Nikita Borovikov and another commissar named Ilya Kostnov.–Sean]. The Sovereigns and NikIl’ decided to unite. We agreed that formerly the party “Sovereigns” would be marked off in the elections, but really we formed a single team. Therefore “NikIl'” has six leaders–three from the old NikIl’ and three from the Sovereigns. We got six excellent leaders. That’s sort of how everything was.
Then why are they only talking about you in connection to the elections and not about the other five participants?
It’s very simple. I already told you that we are all equal. But even despite the fact that there was a game, it was an election. It was necessary to have a formal leader, and I became it by consensus of the leadership.
. . .
A when will they vote for a leader of the movement and who will it be?
I can’t tell you that now, because, as they say, you want to make God laugh by telling him his plan. But theoretically we will occasionally talk about figures for the 2008-20012, and that beginning with the new year there will be the question of working with a new team. Now we are thinking about the tasks that confront us in 2007.
And how will you decide these tasks?
These dates, which can have a strong influence on us, which we, to say the least, must not miss. This is December and March. For me personally there is a key date–2 September where we will conduct a test-vote: “If there were an election today, who would you vote for from the party?”
Does this have any relation to the program “Nashi Votes”, in which you participated in?
The tasks of the program are to form a team of professional electors. You know a project has a “turn key”, yes? And the election campaigns have “turn keys.” Here we want teams in the region that can direct the electoral campaign by a “turn key.” We have there several courses, which we formed participants into networks. There are lawyers, analysts, managers, and well, leadership headquarters, yes? These will be the future deputies. We call this course “candidates into deputies,” although we reckon that they will become deputies eventually after participating in the program. These people, who were train in courses, for example, a lawyer, after improving personally and filling in posts at local election commissions, flawlessly organizing votes, will make our small contribution so that we have elections where no one can say we had falsifications.
Moreover, we will take upon ourselves plenty of difficult tasks–conducting exit polls, because exit polls are a button which sets off “orange revolutions”, yes? On the basis of these, the “orangists” say: You see, they deceived you, we won, and they tell you different. Observing all methods of exit polls is one of the tasks of the program. So that we can say: here is the official count of votes, here are exit polls, conducted according to established scientific methods, all have the possibility to compare. Because a party cannot have 3-4% before the elections (or as I already said, 2 September we will have a poll), and suddenly win.
Finally and this is very important. One of the main problems comes from the fact that nowhere in the country do we have trained deputies and deputies’ assistants. You agree that the deputy pool is an important element in a democratic system. It’s one of the authorities of power, which, strictly speaking, decides everything. And it’s certainly necessary to be a professional person, and not simply someone popular from some region to get elected–and beyond that its not clear what to do. We want this branch of deputies to be trained in the first round of deputies’ assistants. We organize guys for training so that they understand what kind of a person a deputy assistant is and how he must ideally work. We hope that the best of the best will proceed to a stage of development of a candidate in the deputies.
And where is the guarantee that only your pupils will become deputies?
There is no guarantee. We train him as a deputy. He wins then he wins.
Do you already have many trained “deputies”?
We just got back from the camp at Seliger, where the representation for the program “Nashi Votes” was more than 700 people. Not all could come. We had close to 35 cities, of those considered deputies–its somewhere around a third of the general number of program participants.
You said that the elections can be seriously fixed. How?
An attempt to take over the government and establish a regime in Russia in the name of a foreign power can occur in December during the State Duma elections and in March during the Presidential elections.
You have in mind the United States?
An external power—this is when decisions in the state are made not in the national interests of this state or the population of the state, but in the interests of other political actors, for example, the United States, which manufactured similar operations in Georgia and Ukraine. Russia, in the span of its thousand year history, when it was called the USSR, when it was called the Russian Empire, and when it was called Rus’, was independent. In light of geopolitics I understand that Russia is the most delicious piece, so they don’t want to miss out on it. There is a division of labor in the world, if the world market is any indication, Russia now occupies the place of a seller. And countries like the EU or the US, which are involved in organizations of color revolutions, we have them as buyers. Here these buyers always casually enter into the store and dictate to the seller how much oil must be sold, for example. I as a representative of Nashi, and the Nashi movement as a whole, and as an ordinary normal person am not going to sit idle if they attempt to impose such a form of life on me.
You think that such a situation would change the lives of Russian for the worse?
One of the basis of Russia’s well being at the moment is oil. If we start to sell cheaper that we can, it can damage the quality of life.
And it’s true that in December and in March on the squares of Moscow tents will be erected, where Nashi will live in order to prevent “orange revolution.”
I didn’t hear about it.
Do you honestly believe in the possibility of an “orange revolution”? To what extent do you think that it’s a reality?
You would like for me to talk in percentages? It’s like in an joke about the dinosaur on Nevskii prospekt: Either we meet or we don’t meet, 50/50. Well how is it possible to count here? I have another fear, Anna. I fear that there is a counter-agent who already knows what we know. Meaning, he will concoct something different. Apparently, “orange revolution” for Russia is a missed opportunity, but they are prepared. They sit and think in some office beyond the oceans or beyond the channel: Aha, well then we need to think up something else. The threat of an “orange revolution” is understood, the mechanisms are clear. How it works is understood and we did all of this and we didn’t succeed. If they didn’t think something new up, they wouldn’t have tried.Post Views: 617