Yesterday I joined Serhiy Kudelia, professor at George Washington University, and Vor, the leader of Voina, on The Stream, Al-Jazeera English’s daily news talk show, to discuss Voina, protest art and visual parody, and the Russian protests.
Here’s the video:
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By Sean — 4 years ago
Who killed Laura Palmer? Was it James Hurley? Bobby Briggs? Leland Palmer? Or was it the demonic entity, Bob? The question has occupied fans of the dark and quirky drama series since it went off the air in 1991. Perhaps we’ll finally learn who killed Laura Palmer when the series returns in 2016.
One fan nagged by the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer was none other than Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union. Twin Peaks aired in Russia in 1993. According to a new oral history of the series, Brad Dukes’ Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks, Gorbachev pressed President George H. W. Bush to ask the series’ creators about Laura’s killer. This is what Jules Haimovitz, then President and Chief Operating Officer of Spelling Entertainment Inc, recalled:
“Twin Peaks aired in Russia and Mikhail Gorbachev was a big fan of the show. . .One day Aaron [Spelling] gets a call from Carl Lindner who wants to know who killed Laura Palmer. Aaron was not that involved with the show on a day-to-day basis, so he calls me up and he said, “Who killed Laura Palmer?” I said, “No clue.” He said, “It’s really important.”
I called David [Lynch] and he says, “I can’t tell you.” I don’t want to press David, so I call Aaron back to say, “David won’t tell me, who wants to know?” and he says “President Bush.” What happened was Gorbachev called Bush, who called Carl, who called Aaron, who called me. So I called David back and I said, “This isn’t going to go anywhere, it’ll be a secret. You have to tell me who Laura’s killer is.” That’s when I realized David had no idea who killed Laura Palmer.”
Gorbachev made HW Bush try and get Lynch to admit who killed Laura Palmer pic.twitter.com/Bb1E1yNEGu
— Ryan Hamilton Walsh (@JahHills) November 16, 2014Post Views: 887
By Sean — 6 years ago
The protests against Vladimir Putin. The prosecution of the protests’ activists. The series of laws directly or indirectly aimed at the street opposition: upping fines, the branding of NGOs funded from abroad as “foreign agents,” the re-criminalization of libel, the restricting the internet, and the proposed law on volunteers. Occupy Abai. Pussy Riot’s detention and trial. All of these have received much attention in the Western press, and rightfully so. However, I have to agree with Katrina vanden Heuvel’s recent call that “perhaps it’s time for some reporting on the millions of working or unemployed Russians who will bear the brunt of economic policies hatched by the Putin government and supported by many of its opposition critics.” As she astutely notes,
In a case replete with ironies, here’s the final one: even as Putin reaps political benefit from the resentments of this other Russia, his economic and social policies are poised to hit its citizens hardest—and his most prominent critics in the opposition are on board as well. Last month ushered in a fairly dramatic increase in utility and transit costs. And austerity, Russia-style, is coming to other sectors as well: neoliberal “reforms” are on the way in education, housing and pensions. These changes will mean socio-economic disaster for already-suffering Russians, many in regions far-flung from Moscow. What is little reported in the West is that Putin’s own critics, those who’ve led many of the street protests in Moscow, also back these measures. These include elite critics like former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, Boris Nemtsov and Ksenia Sobchak, once the Paris Hilton of Russia until she became its Pasionaria. Perhaps that should be no surprise: they’re not the ones about to get hurt.
There has been some question as to what vanden Heuvel means by “austerity.” And in regard to Russian macroeconomic policy, its overall Federal budgets, and general fiscal order, though there is some concern about the cost of Putin’s campaign promises, vanden Heuvel’s use of “austerity” might be a misnomer. But the devil is in the details, as they say. And the neoliberal reform she references without elaboration is the law “On Amendments to Individual Statutes of the Russian Federation in Connection with Improving the Legal Status of State (Municipal) Institutions” passed on May 8, 2010 and brought into force on July 1, 2012. This 200 plus page behemoth, which has local governments still scrambling to implement, effectively splits Russia’s public-sector institutions into two groups: “public institutions” and “new public-sector institutions.” The former includes national defense and security organs and larger medical institutions like psychiatry hospitals. The budget allocation of these organizations will remain the same. The latter, however, which includes the overwhelming majority of institutions, about 330,000, of health care, education, sciences and culture will be partially decoupled from the Federal budget and run according to market principles. The ideas behind the law are steeped in neoliberal assumptions that I thought only existed in the US and Britain. Namely, the law’s authors believe that Russia’s social institutions are bloated, inefficient, and moribund (okay, not much of an argument there) and therefore have no incentive to optimize and improve the quality of services to citizens. In the words of N. Mukhetninova, a critic of the law, the authors’ “intention is to transform the authorities’ existing public-sector network, which is inefficient and costly, into a highly efficient one (aimed at meeting the highest standards for the quality of the services provided) that is relatively cheap for the government.” The broader logic of 83-FZ is to realize Putin’s desire for a balance federal budget with a move so often utilized in the US: liberalizing public services like health care and education to performance as a means of “accountability” and cost saving.*
What does 83-FZ do? On the surface, 83-FZ has all the usual positive liberal claptrap. It speaks of institutional autonomy, budgetary transparency, and efficiency. But the “main intrigue” as Mukhetninova explains, is that the law puts these so-called “new public-sector institutions” at the whim of the market. Their budgets will no longer be calculated on previous spending, but will be subsidies based on fulfilling state assignments, which cannot be refused, but the subsidy for which can arbitrarily altered by municipal governments. The law doesn’t provide any standards for determining the norms or financial payment for fulfilled work. Moreover, by making these institutions “autonomous,” the state is relieved of any responsibility for their economic viability. This creates, in Mukhetninova’s words, “a fundamentally new stage of commercialization of the social sphere and the government’s dumping of its responsibility for the functioning of the social sphere on the citizens themselves.” Is this not austerity by otherwise neoliberal means?
Indeed, as many health care professionals, labor unions, educators, and cultural workers believe, 83-FZ will eventually lead to the privatization of Russia’s social services. Mekhetninova implies this with her claim that transforming the funding of public-sector institutions to subsidies for work rendered will ultimately result in “bankruptcy thereby causing a redistribution of ownership in the social sphere.” Basically, the fear is that the already existing virtual privatization of public-sector institutions by their senior management will allow the latter to become formal owners. This is an effective means to legalize public-sector bureaucrats’ longstanding practice of pilfering state institutions all the while transferring more of the costs for services to Russia’s citizens. The law already allows for a measure of this since its gives administrators the power to engage in income generating activity, i.e. to charge service fees, dispose of movable property (though there are limitations for valuable assets), and declare unused budget monies as income to be used in the following calendar year. All sounds good–public-sector institutions are being given the means to better allocate resources. However, all I can see is another means for bureaucrats to move public funds and property into their own pockets.
Granted, many of the fears espoused last fall about the abolition of free education did not come to fruition. However, the law only went into effect on July 1. So for the ultimate results of 83-FZ, positive or negative, remains to be see. Given the disaster of welfare liberalization in other contexts, I, for one, am not optimistic.
So where is the Russian opposition on all this? There are many groups that have been and are continuing to protest 83-FZ, but many of them are labor unions and small leftists organizations that often fly under journalists’ radar. There was a lot of opposition to its passage in 2010, but to no avail. But wariness of the law was visible even among the Party of Power. Barely half of the Federal Council voted for it. In contrast, the “stars” of the Russian opposition have been mostly mute. Thus, while vanden Heuvel’s assertion of austerity, Russian style can be debated (I happen to agree with her), there’s one thing’s she unfortunately spot on about: When it comes to social and economic matters there is more congruence than divergence between Putin and his opponents. After all, why should Ksenia Sobchak et al care? The answer to that question, I’m afraid, is that they don’t.
*It’s important to note that 83-FZ is connected to several other policies. Mekhetninova: “In connection with the latter circumstance, we cannot fail to point out the organic relationship between FZ 83 and another recent legal document produced by federal executive authorities: the Ministry of Finance Program for Increasing the Efficiency of Spending Budget Funds in the Period up to 2012, approved by the RF government on May 20, 2010. Section 8 of the program is aimed at “optimizing” the public-sector network, developing it with funds from extra-budgetary sources, and expanding competitive relations, further implementing market principles in the social sphere, in all of its components.” For a survey of welfare reform liberalization under Putin, see Linda Cook, Postcommunist Welfare States: Reform Politics in Russia and Eastern Europe, Cornell University Press, 2007, Chapter 4.Post Views: 3,099
By Sean — 13 years ago
On Friday, I went to my local photo shop to get some passport sized photos for a library card. While I was waiting I noticed a letter sized portrait of Vladimir Putin on the wall. This was no regular portrait that you see in most government buildings with Vlad looking all presidential and, incidentally, ever so metrosexual. This one was of Putin the commando. It was him, shoulders up, so you could see he was wearing a winter commando jacket and fur hat. I couldn’t help thinking of not just the cheesiness of the portrait, nor just how easy the ubiquitous pictures of Lenin of the Soviet times too easily returned in different content, but I also wondered what will happen to Russia once their beloved Vanya is gone.
Such is also the question increasingly on every Russian politicos’ mind: What will happen in 2008? You see, in 2008, there will be a Presidential election, in which Putin cannot run because of term limits. The newspaper articles seem non-stop. They overflow with predictions of chaos. From the necessity of a handpicked successor to avert chaos to complete doomsday scenarios about colored revolutions and the Russian State imploding. There doesn’t seem to be any room for any middle ground. Authoritarian anti-chaos or democratic chaos. Take your pick.
These views, of course, break down by political affiliation. Many liberal democratic politicos envision, or rather hope, for some kind of Russian version of a “colored revolution” similar to their cousins in the Ukraine and southern neighbors in Georgia. Many liberals are already mobilizing their grassroots forces a la Ukraine to prepare for the 2008 challenge. Yabloko is trying to make a political comeback. Students and other youths are starting to form their own anti-Putin groups. Taking a page from the Ukrainian youth group Pora (It’s Time) and the Georgian group Kmara (Enough), Russian youth groups like Yabloko Youth led by Ilya Yashin, Mikhail Obozov’s Idushchiye bez Putina (Walking Without Putin), student associations Ia Dumaiu (I Think) and Da (Yes) are starting early in anticipation of a 2008 showdown in the streets. The groups first began networking on the internet. Since the pensioner protests at the beginning of the year, they had increased in membership and furthered their activities. Speaking to the LA Times in January, Mikhail Obozov summed up liberal youths desire in this way:
“We are not for bloody revolutions or cataclysms. We are looking for normal democratic development. But if they continue their suppression of all possibilities, I’m afraid some bloody variation of events is possible. In Ukraine, everything went down peacefully. It won’t be like that in Russia.”
Translated: we’re not for chaos, but we won’t shy away from it either.
Many “pro-democracy” (whatever that means in the Russian context) advocates are hoping former Prime Minister Mikhail Krasianov makes a run for President. In something that is pretty unprecedented in Russian politics, Krasianov openly criticized Putin for his move away from democracy. Many observers note that Krasianov might be one of the few Russian politicians who could muster not only a coalition of liberal or anti-Putin parties, the backing of Russians Oligarchs, and possibly exploit the factions that have developed in Putin’s clan of former KGB/FSB and other security elites, the Siloviki.
Such political hopes for many Russian liberals might never get beyond hope, though their early mobilizations might fare them well. All this, especially the youth activity, only fuels the already widespread beliefs that the CIA orchestrated the “revolution” in the Ukraine with a combination of marketing and Soros money. Putin supporters and nationalists thus vow that Russia will not tolerate any “colored revolutions,” and some concrete steps are being taken to make that so. Pro-Putin youth have since ditched the moderate youth group, Idushchie vmeste (Marching Together), for the much more openly nationalist Nashi (Ours). Though the group has not been officially endorsed by the Putin Administration, its leader, Vasily Yakemenko also headed Marching Together. Nashi, says Yakemenko, has a long list enemies: oligarchs, bureaucrats, and what he called “fascist” enemies, which, as he told the Christian Science Monitor, includes “counter-revolution of former officials trying to seize power” (3/16/2005).
Despite the difficultly in imaging life with Putin, legislaters squashed the anticipated official move to allow Putin to run again. Last week, Lower Duma member Alexander Moskalets from United Russia introduced legislation that would alter Chapter V, Article 32.4 of the Russian Constitution so Putin could run again. The bill only gained 32 of the 226 votes it needed to pass. Such a defeat shows that United Russia, which dominates the Duma and is Putin’s party doesn’t even favor such a move.
It seems that the Putin/United Russia camp is paving a different road to victory in 2008. Despite the emergence of a more militant youth group like Nashi, United Russia might attempt to transform itself into a centrist party that places “Just imagine if they came to power” at the center of their platform. The “they” in this slogan is the Communist Party and Rodina (Homeland) the respective far left and right parties. In an interview given to the German weekly Der Spiegel this week, Putin deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, described a strategy where, unlike their main opponents, United Russia is preparing for the future without looking to the past for solutions. This means that United Russia will focus on providing viable candidates not just for President, but for lower political positions as well. It is also looking to present an inclusiveness that could siphon off support of liberal democratic parties like Yabloko.
Yet the doomsday scenario continues to weigh heavily in the political discourse around 2008. After all, Untied Russia’s “Just imagine” slogan is a play against imagined right and left wing political chaos. Surkov’s response to Der Spiegel’s question about a potential revolt rising was “Sure, there will certainly be some attempts to stage a coup – but they will not succeed.” (Vedomosti, 6/30/2005). The assurance that there will be “certainly be some attempts” is an equivocal yes something will happen.
But will it? Such is hard to say. With the specter of revolution in Russia is only being fueled by the simultaneous hope and the fear of a repeat of the Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan informing the entire discourse surrounding of 2008, it will certainly be anti-climatic if there isn’t. It certainly seems that in the Russian and Western press, 2008 is being built up to Y2K proportions. There is no middle ground. Any suggestion of normalcy is cast off as naive.
However, one does have to wonder why normalcy for Russia is so out of the question. Sure, daily life lacks predictability. There is always some stumbling block. Take a small, but I think telling example. One day, I went to buy a bass pass and was refused purchase because I didn’t have exact change. The women in the ticket booth did not have 30 rubles to give me change. I walked away without a pass. Such is a standard occurrence. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve got eye fucked by grocery store checkers for not having kopecks for exact change. At the same time, there is a saying here in Russia: “Nel’zia, no vozmozhno” (It is forbidden, but possible.) There are barriers everywhere, but all barriers are movable. If you know how to play the game, especially if it involves bribes of money, chocolate, flowers, tea, etc, all things are possible. Daily life is a constant negotiation that involves a set of personal relations that stand in for the lack of legal ethic. (Here I mean not the rule of Law, whose existence here is also quesntionable, but an professional/service ethic that governs daily transactions.) If this game occurs on a micropoltical level can you imagine it in the macropolitical heavens of Russian politics?
The sheer lack of predictability creates a political culture that assumes chaos as the norm. Everyone predicted said chaos in the transition from Yeltsin to Putin, and when that chaos didn’t happen it was then argued that it was because Yeltsin handpicked a successor. Chaos inevitable and chaos averted in the same breath. Now, it is the same line. There will be some kind of chaos unless Putin runs again or hand picks a successor. His opponents are predicting a chaos of their own because they seem to believe that since Russian “democracy” is a sham, the only way to come to power is through chaos.
They are right about one thing: Russian democracy is a sham. But the only people who seem to care about this are Russian liberals who want power and the Western, mostly American, observers who see the Yukos affair as a sign of, that’s right, chaos. My sense is that most Russians don’t care about Putin’s assault on freedom of speech and political rights. They certainly don’t care about Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Yukos. As far as they’re concerned, he is a crook.
What many Russians are looking for is a predictability to the micropolitical chaos that rules their life. They don’t care, or need, anymore. They care about stability. A predictable chaos, if you would. For them, Putin’s rule has established at least a semblance of it. It has put the breaks on the truly chaotic times of the 1990s. This new stability is not necessarily happening economically, though it perceived as better than ten years ago. The stability is mostly happening culturally. Reconciliation with the Soviet past has finally begun that doesn’t damn it, but praises its achievements. Nothing said this more than the recent 60th Anniversary of Victory Day celebrations. The glory of defeating the Nazis was relived through red flags with images of Stalin and Lenin. Putin has slyly absorbed the Soviet Union into his narrative. It lives in content, but not in form. This doesn’t mean that Putin is a Communist. Not by a long shot. What it does mean is that he is exploiting a nostalgia for the stability that the Soviet Union provided without actually providing it.
This is why I think when 2008 arrives, United Russia will come out on top because people don’t want to “imagine if they came to power.” And in my local photo shop, the Putin as commander picture will come down, and the picture of some, probably, handpicked Putin successor will take his place. Commando suit and all.Post Views: 558