Are there any more questions about who’s in charge? I think this says it all . . .
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By Sean — 7 years ago
It’s a few days old, but I wanted to draw readers’ attention to an article I wrote for the Exiled on Alexei Navalny as a potential unifier of Russia’s middle class and nationalists. Here’s a snippet:
On December 5, the day after Russia’s Duma elections, the anti-corruption crusader and popular blogger, Alexei Navalny, told a raucous crowd, “I want to say to you: Thank you. Thank you for playing you part as a citizen. Thank you for telling these assholes, ‘We’re here!’ For telling the bearded [Electoral Commission head Vladimir] Churov and his superiors: ‘We exist!’ We have our voices. We exist! We exist! They hear that voice and they are afraid! They can chuckle on their zombie-boxes. They can call us “microbloggers” or ‘network hamsters!’ I am a network hamster, and I will slit the throats of these cattle!” Shortly after giving this speech, Navalny was arrested, and by the next morning, sentenced to 15 days in a spetspriyomnik (special detention center) outside of Moscow. Navalny was released on December 20, and has been considered among many the de facto leader of the Russian opposition.
Why Navalny? One reason is that declarations like “I will slit the throats of these cattle,” though metaphorical, are no mere puffery. Unlike many in the Russian opposition, Navalny puts his words into action, and in a climate where more than a few government critics have met their demise, this action puts his life on the line. Yet, he remains fearless. “It’s better to die standing up that live on your knees,” he told the New Yorker’s Julia Ioffe last spring. With that kind of gumption, it’s safe to say that Navalny has become a nagging pain in the ass of Russia’s corrupt elite. He’s done so not by staging rallies, leading a political organization, or seeking political office. Navalny is an activist of the 21st century: his weapons are a blog, Twitter, and a crowdsourcing website. His army is motley of “network hamsters” ready to root out big moneyed corruption by combing through dry contracts posted on his site Rospil. The results are impressive. Since Rospil’s creation in December 2010, Navalny and his army are responsible for the cancelling of $1.2 billion worth of state contracts. Given all this, it’s amazing that someone has yet to slit his throat.
But Navalny is more than an anti-corruption crusader and renowned blogger. The thirty-five year old Muscovite lawyer is also emblematic of two forces that were once supporters of Putin, but are now increasingly turning against him: the urban, educated middle class, or ROG (russkie obrazovannye gorozhane) as pundit Stanislav Belkovskii has dubbed them, and Russians with nationalist sympathies. On the surface these two groups appear antithetical to each other. The former are often described as “hipster-gadget-lovers” (khipstery-gazhetomany) more interested in Moscow’s cafes, clubs, and sushi bars, and, until two weeks ago, showed no interest in politics besides ranting on their Live Journal blogs and Twitter accounts. The nationalists are portrayed as racist working class street thugs whose sense of Russian victimhood speaks through fists and boots to the heads of migrants from Central Asia and the North Caucasus. Nevertheless, both groups share common ground: they’re by and large suspicious of the West and the Russian liberals who extol its values, patriotic, despise corruption, view immigrants as destroying the integrity of the Russian nation and increasingly loathe Putin and his cronies. With a foot in each world, Navalny is emerging as the logical person who could unite them around a new mass political movement based on what Alexei Pimenov recently called “an anti-corruption pathos plus the national idea.”
You can read the full article here.Post Views: 995
By Sean — 11 years ago
The following is a fascinating article titled “Time of the Strikebreakers” by Oleg Aronson published in the Russian edition of the Index on Censorship. Aronson argues that the biopolitical nature of contemporary Russian politics has turned democracy into a limit rather than a means of political action. This rendering of democracy has made revolt the only politically viable negation of the state’s biopolitical grip. As he writes, “life itself uses revolt to falsify politics, to point out the falsity of its claims.” The philosophical echoes of Negri, Agamben, Foucault, and Deleuze in Aronson’s treatise brings an fresh analysis of present Russian political condition.
Aronson is a kandidat in philosophy and a senior research fellow at the Institute of Philosophy and the Russian Anthropology School. He is the author of many articles on contemporary philosophy, film theory, and mass media. His most recent books are Bogema: opyt soobshchestva (2002) and Metakino (2003).
Thomas Campbell provided the English translation. Campbell is the author of many articles on Russian film in the journal KinoKultura and currently serves as the English language editor of The Contemporary Art in Russia newsletter.
Because of the article’s length, I provide an excerpt with a link to a complete .pdf version.
Time of the Strikebreakers
Index on Censorship (Russian edition), 26 (2007)
It is difficult to write about Putin’s Russia, something one does reluctantly. One hesitates to use the word Putin because by this act alone you intrude into the political arena, where your least utterance doesn’t remain mere hot air but can also turn on you and make you regret what you’d said. Such regret doesn’t arise because you were wrong or unfair, or because you were misinterpreted, but because your words are always addressed not to those who listen, but rather to those who eavesdrop. Some might be inclined to detect paranoia in this last phrase, to interpret it in the light of conspiracy theory, the “rise of the secret services,” or something of the sort. I have in mind something else, however: the specific shift in Russian political sensibility that has taken place before our eyes. A hypersurplus of mutually repetitive utterances has now been stockpiled, and their lack of content underwrites their existence in the mediaverse. It is simply impossible to listen to them any longer, just as listening itself has become a chore.
It is not so much the political situation (in which power, capital, and the mass media are concentrated in one and the same hands) that I would like to discuss, as it is the “nonpolitical” situation. When we examine the zone of the nonpolitical, the lifeworld of the ordinary man, however, politics is, all the same, one of the conditions that shape it. Politics has long since ceased being something in which people take part; instead, it has become something that shapes people. It has ceased being a clash of parties, social groups, views, and convictions; it has ceased being a concern only of the state and its institutions. Politics courses through our bodies—bodies that vote, work, watch TV, sit in cafés, smoke cigarettes, sleep, die, etc. Politics has long ago become biopolitics. This is not news. It is always the time you live in that is the news.
It is this that makes us speak out today: this strange time that we didn’t anticipate and where we find ourselves now. One struggles to find a precise description for this time. Or even an imprecise description, one that would nevertheless capture the situation of the time. In our case, defining even a few of the situation’s peculiarities means giving a chance to the absolutely mute, feeble forces of the nonpolitical. It means revealing the possibility of another politics—not a politics devised by the political scientists and political operatives, but one that grows out of the life of society itself. In our time it is extremely hard to imagine such a thing. For a start, however, it would be good to describe this “strange” time in some way. When does it begin? In what sense is it strange?
We would be mistaken to think that the time of this new political sensibility begins with the rise to power of the new politicians. Their rise is a symptom, rather. Many still remember (although the mass media have done everything they can to make us forget) Gorbachev’s perestroika and the first years of the Yeltsin administration. It was a romantic period, when the experience of democracy became part of our lives. And it was precisely because this experience was new that the very idea of democracy itself was perceived romantically. Ours was an anarchic democracy, one without the institutions that democracy depends on. In this sense it was a popular democracy independently of the fact that a significant part of the population might not have supported it. In turn, the spontaneity and popular character of the democracy in the late eighties and early nineties might not have manifested themselves had not revolt become a vital necessity in Soviet times (especially during the Brezhnev years).
I consciously use the word revolt here, rather than “resistance” or “social change,” because the latter were the bailiwick only of society’s politically active members. Revolt, on the contrary, is always nonpolitical in nature: it springs from life itself, not from its political realities. Revolt is born of hunger and fear, of humiliation and injustice that exceed the individual and thus become social phenomena. Revolt is a resistance of bodies that marks the limits of biopolitics.Post Views: 493
By Sean — 10 years ago
Is oil a boon or a blessing? When it comes to Russia, more and more analysis are seeing it as the former. As Konstantin Sonin argues, the “natural-resource curse” is now a favorite among those who seek to explain Russia’s skewed trajectory toward democracy. For Sonin, the oil curse is now displacing other favorite explanations for Russia’s inability to extricate itself from the tar pit of backwardness. Sonin writes,
The arguments over why Russia repeatedly runs into roadblocks in its path toward democracy will continue as long as the country exists — which is to say eternally. The excuses used to explain these failures also seemed to be eternal: Russia’s subjugation under the Mongolian yoke; the immensity of Russia’s territory and its need for expansion; or the “unique Russian mentality” that is somehow not conducive to democracy. Even the country’s severe climate is cited as one reason for its backwardness.
Russia democratic derailment is so perplexing that some are turning to where Putin and Medvedev sit as an clue to the configuration of power. It’s as if Sovietologists’ practice of finding out who was in charge by where they stood on Lenin’s Mausoleum wasn’t inane enough. But that is the logical outcome of seeing the Russians as eternally backward. Since they aren’t like us, and because of genetics or history can’t be like us, then we will have to decipher their barbarous symbolic order to uncover their hidden secrets. Such is the thrill and the frustration of studying an “abnormal” country.
As Sonin notes, whether the “natural-resource curse” is actually a curse remains to be seen. Sure there isn’t much historical precedent of oil rich countries becoming flower gardens of democracy. Sure it seems that most oil rich countries are wallowing in the morass of lopsided economies, polarizing wealth, and dependency. But the problem for Sonin isn’t oil as such. It’s the power dynamic between rulers and people.
The “natural-resource curse,” which is the theory that high oil and gas profits weaken economic and political development in the long term, is not always a given. The true impact of the curse depends on a nation’s particular history and culture. In some countries, governmental institutions are so stable that even a sharp rise in prices for resource exports would not threaten their integrity. Even in a country without successful experience in democratic development, the efforts of the ruling elite, coupled with the proper political awareness on the part of the people, could prevent the country from sliding into a dictatorship.
This is a nice theory. But “political awareness on the part of the people” has shown to be quite malleable to the whims of leaders. Maybe Sonin has a better ear, but I don’t hear many Russians clamoring for a redistribution of all that oil wealth. In fact, the population appears have been lulled into political content by the dazzling allure of consumerism. The plenitude of new cars, clothes, stereos, cell phones, DVD players, and flat screen TVs if not actually consumed, at least present the potential of consumption. The trickle down of oil wealth to Russia’s middle classes is enough to produce a reinforcing objective and subjective sense of stability. Enough Russians see and feel a bright tomorrow, which acts as a gloss over whatever problems that exist. There is a unspoken pact between leaders and people. One that says, to quote Sonin, “the country’s leaders don’t have to bend over backwards to earn the right to stay in power, and the people aren’t overly concerned about how their government is structured, or who controls what.” With a deal like that, why would any Russian what to muck it up with something as unpredictable as democracy?Post Views: 428