Gleb Bogush is an associate professor in the Department of Criminal law and Criminology in Moscow State University’s Faculty of Law and counsel for Threefold Legal Advisers. He’s the author of over 6o articles on Russian and International Criminal law. His most recent commentary is “Killing Russian Criminal Law” for the Carnegie Moscow Center.
You Might also like
- By Sean — 9 years ago
Every once and I while I get emails from editors of magazines and newspapers alerting me to their articles on Russia. The intent of their communique is clear: Can you plug this? They rarely say this outright. Usually the request is masked with statements like “this might interest you” or “your readers might like . . .” Sometimes I give the story a mention if it is worthy. Most of the time I don’t. Why should I advertise the big corporate media for free? I gotta eat too.
I got one of those emails today from Slate saying that I’d “be interested” in Julia Ioffe’s “Nano-Potemkin Village” (There’s your plug, Slate.) To wet my palate further, the Slate rep added that the article’s thesis was on “the wildly ambitious Russian tech initiative, Rosnanotech, and why it’s absolutely doomed to fail.” I suddenly got the feeling that I’ve read this article before . . .
Nevertheless, I decided to check it out.
I know nothing about nanotechnology. Nor do I really care much about it beyond its appearance in X-Men comics and sci-fi movies. And I’m certainly in no position to objectively evaluate whether Russia’s attempt to modernize via nanotech is “ambitious” or is “doomed to fail.” Nor do I really give a shit. My problem is with the whole tone of the article. You see when it comes down to it, Russia is doomed to fail even before it starts. The implicit suggestion is that Russia shouldn’t try at all, or at least not try in its own Russian way. It’s a total set up for one of those damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenarios. Because if nanotech becomes the big thing in ten or twenty years and Russia isn’t lock step, it will be called backward and hopeless, followed by the usual condemnations of its failure to reform. If Russia tries to develop nanotech, like it’s doing, the effort will be castigated, as Ioffe does, as “little more than an elaborate a PR stunt designed to make the Kremlin appear to be forward-thinking and reform-oriented while shunting wads of cash to its friends.”
Sadly, you don’t just have to go to Russia to find (state-)capitalists using the public coffer as an limitless ATM. In America, this practice gets softer labels like “tax breaks” or “bailouts” and shrouded in “committee hearings” where the politician and industrialist/financier put on their own kind of “production.” The truth of the matter is, as the recent financial crisis has proven once again, that the state and capital are Siamese twins joined at the heart and the ass. The heart because of their symbiotic relationship, and the ass because their shit tends to fall in the same direction: on the heads of the public. But I digress . . .
When it comes down to it, the only thing the Kremlin is really good at doing is building “Potemkin villages.” It’s too bad it doesn’t figure out how to market those. They could name the state corporation Rospotemselo, or something like that. To explain why Russia is doomed from the get go, Ioffe turns to the wisdom of the great Russian semioticians Yuri Lotman and Boris Uspensky.
Historians Yuri Lotman and Boris Uspensky once noted that Russia does not do gradual change well. Rather, its leaders have long approached reform as a one-two break with the past, an approach that often has the reverse effect: In cleaning the slate, Russia too often simply locks in what’s already there.
You see it’s not the Russians fault that they are better at flash than substance. They are just slaves to the dialectic of their own cultural-political master. It’s reform pistols only fire “futuristic magic bullet[s]” I’m surprised that the venerable names of other Russian clean slate reformers like Peter the Great, and well of course, comrade Stalin, didn’t make the text.
Ioffe lists other reasons why Russia’s nanotech plan won’t work even though its barely off the ground: state intervention, bureaucracy, inefficiency, graft, deficits, brain drain, and, alas too many dreamers. Maybe the latter will at least get a good izba in the “nano-Potemkin village” for their efforts.
But I didn’t have to read this article to know this plan won’t work. I read it almost everyday about every other Russian plan. The marriage of failure and Russia is a match made in discourse. Because when it comes down to it, there is really only one thesis fit to print: Russia is fucked.
- By Sean — 5 years ago
My new Russia Magazine column, “Sochi’s Workers: Invisible and Expendable,”
“The final stage in such a massive undertaking is always difficult,” Putin told officials in a meeting during the waning days of November. “A lot has been done, but it’s still a long way from perfection… [there is] still work to be done. We have the New Year and Christmas holidays ahead of us. I’d like to say, I think it should be clear that for you, New Year’s will come… on March 18 [the last day of the Paralympics]. For you and for everyone who is working on the Olympic venues.” With that, Vladimir Putin cancelled the Christmas and New Year’s holiday for some 95,000 people making the final push to ready the Sochi Olympics. A lot is riding on the Olympics, which begins in less than two months from now. It’s the most expensive Games to date, an estimated $46.1 billion—almost four times Putin’s initial estimate of $12 billion (Putin’s Games, a new documentary on corruption in Sochi estimates up to 50 percent of construction costs go to kickbacks), and the completion of this mega-construction project will come down to the wire. The stadium slated to host the opening and closing ceremonies isn’t finished, the pedestrian zone is half built, electricity goes in and out with a good portion of it powered by generators, pipes line the roads, signs reading “coming soon” dangle in restaurant fronts, and the drilling, stamping, and hammering are incessant.
The backdrop to all of this is a wide range of abuses. Human Rights Watch has cataloged those ranging from exploitation of laborers, forced evictions, harassment of civic groups, activists and journalists, environmental damage, and of course, the anti-homosexual propaganda law. While the last has gotten widespread coverage, I want to draw attention to the exploitation of laborers without whom Sochi would be impossible.
There is an estimated 70,000 laborers working in construction, 16,000 are foreign labor. They work long hours and for little pay. In its detailed report on worker abuses, HRW reported that workers got typically paid $1.80 to $2.60 an hour with a monthly average salary of $455 to $605. Their pay is routinely delayed, and sometimes they’re never paid at all. One HRW respondent, Yunus, said “I have no written contract. I got paid only in February: 2,400 rubles [$77] for December. I wasn’t paid after that. I worked for 70 full days without pay. We worked from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with no days off.” He quit before receiving the wages owned to him. Milorad Rancic, a migrant from Serbia, told HRW, “We got paid in pieces. For 10 days, maybe we would get $400. The rest of the month, we would get rubles, around 2,000 rubles [$63] at a time. Then, at the end of the month, when you tried to establish the balance owed, the employer would say, “Oh, we never kept track of it. We don’t have any record of it.” “Almost all employers routinely withhold wages for two months,” Semen Simonov, who works for Memorial’s Migration and Rights project, toldNovaya Gazeta. “People are used to this and don’t even bother. But there are people who’ve come to us who’ve worked in five Olympic sites and never received any money at all.” “There are 500 companies represented in the Olympic sites,” he continued. “I can’t say all of them don’t pay. But we can put together a list of those that don’t because people come to us every day and the list is growing.”
- By Sean — 8 years ago
I know it’s quite out of date at this point. I had planned to share some impressions and photos from Victory Day a few weeks ago but my self-imposed hiatus got in the way. I had pretty much abandoned the idea, but then a colleague of mine posted her thoughts and I said to myself, why the hell not. Otherwise, my impressions would have just remained in my head and the pictures exiled to the abyss that is my hard drive.
Basically, my impressions can be summed up as follows:
1. Security nightmare.
This picture from Chekhovskya station is indicative of the security hell that