Masha Lipman is a frequent commentator on contemporary Russian affairs. She is currently the head editor of the journal Kontrapunkt, a contributor to the New Yorker, and co-editor with Nikolai Petrov of The State of Russia: What Comes Next? published by Palgrave Macmillan.
Jawbreaker, “Chesterfield King,” Bivouac, 1992.
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By Sean — 9 years ago
One reads a lot of weird and fanciful things about Russia. The place is such an enigma to some that attempts to understand it leads one to make all sorts of absurd connections. Take for example, Anthony Julius’ commentary “Dreams of Empire Strike Back” in the Guardian. Julius, whose bio says that he’s a “highly-regarded litigation lawyer specializing in media law and defamation,” poses the rather calumniatory question: “What do Osama bin Laden and Vladimir Putin have in common?” Those who think that the obvious answer is a resounding “nothing” will be surprised to find that Julius believes that the vozhd and the terrorist “have identical perspectives on one specific issue” i.e. the desire to recreate a past empire. He writes:
What is that issue? Bin Laden’s and Putin’s imperialist ambitions are novel because they are driven not by a desire to create something new, but to recapture something that has past. It is now appropriate to consider an additional age of empire, namely the age of attempted restoration.
For Osama bin Laden, it is the Arab-Islamic empire of the mid-seventh century. Bin Laden has romanticised this period in Arab history and sees himself as heir apparent to the earthly caliphate established (briefly) by the warrior prophet Muhammad. When justifying his attacks on western targets, he frequently makes reference to the crusaders and Jews who have thwarted the return of the Arab-Islamic empire.
Putin is also driven by a desire to revive a lost empire, the Soviet Union. In Ukraine and Georgia, Putin has shown that he is not reconciled to its dissolution. He tolerates the independence of the former Soviet states only when such independence is superficial. True acts of independence (such as asserting territorial integrity or attempting to negotiate the terms of an ostensibly commercial contract) are met with forceful demonstrations of Russian strength.
Reading this one might even walk away thinking that Putin is worse than Bin Laden. For while the latter sits in some undisclosed cavernous location along the Afghan-Pakistani border dreaming up “delusional” imperial ambitions, the former’s dreams are “real” backed with a formidable state and its military might. Putin, unlike his Islamist counterpart, is a “master tactician” who deploys the right weapon at the right time. In Ukraine it was the soft power of the economics of gas; in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the silent weapon of doling out Russian passports or using Russian mobile companies to “expand Russian influence in the region.” The August war was merely the cherry on top of Putin’s imperial sundae.
Predictably, in August last year, Putin seized the opportunity to complete his program of expansion. The final stage: the expulsion and murder of elements in the subject population. The burning of ethnic Georgian villages and the forced ejection or murder of their Georgian inhabitants by paramilitary irregulars, armed by Russia, suggests a systematic project of altering the ethnic composition of the regions in Russia’s favour. It defines a moment in which Putin’s imperial dreams became a reality.
I don’t know. Last I checked Russia wasn’t occupying Kiev or Tblisi, unlike say Baghdad and Kabul. Or standing idle as its 51st state turns Gaza into corpse laden rubble for no other discernible reason than to manipulate its election. Or using drones to wage a silent but deadly war in Pakistan. Perhaps the question is not about resurrecting old empires as it is about maintaining the borderless jurisdiction of a current one. Julius’ own dreams of Russian imperial revival have clearly obfuscated the real imperial reality before him.Post Views: 493
By Sean — 10 years ago
Vladimir Putin, President of Russian Federation
Vladimir Churov, Chairman of Central Election Commission of Russian Federation
Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russian Federation
Gentlemen, I have no doubt that you are well aware that the free expression of the will of free citizens via free democratic elections can never result in 99.4% of the votes being cast for one party with a turnout of 99.5% of the voters.
Now obviously that is only impossible where there is open, transparent political competition between electoral candidates, with equal opportunities for public campaigning, where there is no administrative pressure on individuals and where one finds impeccable honesty and scrupulous accuracy from the election commissions.
Yet all these are surely the crucial conditions for democratic electoral procedure?
No need to prove to you that these very 99.4% votes “for” provide incontrovertible evidence of vote-rigging. You know that as well as I do, and as well as any remotely literate citizen with at least commonsense, not to mention a basic awareness of the nature and possibilities of the popular vote. You of course also know that such results far above 90% (i.e. the same fraud) did not happen in isolated polling stations, no, in several subjects of the Russian, if one may use the term, “Federation”. This unfortunate circumstance is more than sufficient to correctly assess the tasteless farce being played out by untalented directors on the entire boundless Russian stage on 2 December, and for good measure in the coming event on 2 March.
It is entirely redundant to tediously collect up the electoral commission protocols rewritten in retrospect, or evidence of shenanigans with ballot papers etc – it’s all clear enough anyway. The authorities (who by the way you represent, Gentlemen), mangled electoral legislation and then wantonly, with no finesse, came up with some kind of imitation of elections. In doing so they sneered at the Constitution and armed themselves with administrative resources. The simulation was not for us but for the West you so dislike.
I am not in the slightest claiming that “United Russia” would not have got into the State Duma without the rigging. For goodness sake, obviously they would have been in first place anyway. That’s quite another, also painful problem for the country.
However on another subject now. Through your deliberate efforts, Gentlemen, in a country where the democracy was only budding forth, we once again have no elections – the main criterion for a democracy. And for a long time. Not even Stalin could have dreamed of the Chechen record. In his “elections”, that sort of percentage was gained by a single candidate with no alternative. While in the present case this pathetic 0.1% was supposedly shared by virtually 10 parties.
It’s not by hearsay that we know what’s happening to a country which receives a sycophantic puppet parliament, a decorative Constitution, a justice system working to order and an uncontrolled leadership reappointing itself (like the profoundly expressive word “successor” which has sullied our political lexicon for a good 10 years). Details are hardly appropriate. It would seem that that does not frighten you and you have decided to try it yet another. Or maybe you simply don’t know anything else.
Well, the choice – conscious and well-thought-out – has undoubtedly been made –, and long ago, and I am quite well aware that I can’t stop it.
I do have a question, however: will you be able to stop if at some stage you don’t wish to follow things through to the all too familiar end?
It’s clear that the lies exuding from all your lackey screens, are powerless to hide the electoral shame. Yet despite that, you are forced to lie shamelessly and hopelessly, with arrogance and anger jumping down on any doubts (like “… let them teach their wives …”). You don’t have another choice, I mean you can’t say: “Well, we took over here, slightly corrected the results, and there they went overboard. Well don’t be too critical, it’s all though their enthusiasm and uncontrollable functionary zeal.
And in your step there are the adepts hurriedly bustling to get themselves onto the patriot register. Earlier our leaders quite often had to lie tediously and brazenly for decades, denying the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, or the Katyn Massacre of Polish prisoners of war, or the arrest of Wallenberg. In a word, what was obvious to all around them and now it’s you. History is unfortunately repeating itself.
The lie which you so decisively have again established in government use and which you are incapable of rejecting has an important and extremely dangerous quality – I would say a particularly corrupting force. The point is that the majority of your listeners don’t believe you, and that includes your convinced supporters. That is, they are of course pleased with “United Russia’s” victory, but they understand very well whatever you say how the mould for such a victory was set.
We have a paradoxical change – you lie, your listeners know this and you know that they don’t believe you, only pretend to believe, and yet they also know that you know they don’t believe you. Everybody knows everything. The very lie no longer aspires to deceive anyone, from being a means of fooling people it has for some reason turned into an everyday way of life, a customary and obligatory rule for living. You have a Mr Markov, supposedly a professor, supposedly a political expert, and in fact a hardened and dense cynic. Speaking with him about our “politics”, a journalist said: “lies have short legs”. “Human memory is even shorter”, was Markov’s response. Horrible, yet it would seem that this is in fact the case. Of course they’ll forget a lot about the two grubby spectacles in succession in a couple of months after 2 March. However they’ll never forget something else – that the top figures of the state lie through their teeth. And how could they forget when lying is your natural element?
This memory is catastrophic and its results irreparable because the customary lies of leaders always generate and cultivate cynicism in society and cannot achieve anything else. Whatever your people now say about freedom being better than lack of freedom, about the right to self-expression and so forth, these pompous speeches are fixedly (and fairly, by the way) perceived as a continuation of your untruth. They’re mere words. There is exactly the same attitude to the bombastic ambitiousness of your utterances about the guaranteed phenomenal and swiftest successes in all conceivable areas, matters and issues.
It would seem, however strange this may be, that for us, coming from the Stalin era, those in power also need public support. So you want to rely on cynicism? Yet cynicism is cowardice, the flight from burning problems and hard-hitting discussion. It is the lowest pragmatism, petty timeserving teetering on the verge of baseness, or having toppled over that edge. It is intrigue, preferred to competition, and a rejection of moral taboos.
Can any serious political force really base itself on such social tendencies? Well, yes, cynicism does not scorn obsequious enthusiasm. We all remember well enough the paid mobs of your “nashy”, 150 per body. So what do you expect – they’re your prop in the flamboyantly announced “innovations” and other achievements? Enough, after all you, Mr President, openly shared with us your devastating assessments of your main people – the party of power “United Russia”. What other “innovations”?
What then, do you expect with pitiful charms about “four and “to turn a mob into a creative force? Now that is foolish! From dishonesty, Gentlemen, nothing grows barring new dishonesty. On that road you have already achieved your real main goal. Publicly you name it ponderously as stability, whereas in fact its total power. Simply speaking, modernizing and improving (cynically, yet reasonably subtly one must say) Soviet ideology and political practice, you have built a political construction in Russia within which it’s impossible to win the elections.
Not even squeeze them in any way in parliament. Not even exert any noticeable political pressure. This is a blind alley that can no way lead to democracy. And gradually going back by the same path we came on is almost impossible since you are doomed to lie. As I said before, you can’t renounce the lies once spoken, or your whole system will come tumbling down.
What you are to do in this situation is of no interest to me. Most probably you’ll continue your course, perhaps on the way filling your pockets (those in the know say that you’ve long being doing this – I don’t know, I’m not an expert in this area). What the country is to do, having ended up under you, now that is the question. It is immoral and very dangerous to put up with you indefinitely. Since your present shameless “elections” are absolutely useless, we therefore need an entirely different instrument in other hands.
We don’t need “political experts” and “political technology specialists”, not economists and not politicians in the traditional sense of the word. We need intelligent, daring and extremely well-meaning leaders who instead of loud opposition noises, can create a decisive, calm, persistent and unwavering protest and not allow it to slip out from the tradition of the great peaceful Eastern European victories over despotism, to not allow bloodshed and the brown-shirt plague. This is incredibly difficult. It is much harder in Russia than it was in Poland or Czechoslovakia, harder even than in Ukraine.
Yet who promised that our life would be easy? I believe that these people will at some stage come. I see no other possibility for overcoming our shameful moral crisis.
However it’s not with you that these problems need to be discussed.
With the most sincere and unwavering lack of respect,
Sergei KovalevPost Views: 435
By Sean — 11 years ago
“Putin is stability!”, “Putin is peace in Chechnya!”, “Putin is the Olympics!”, “Putin is an eagle!”, and “Putin, we are with you!” These are some of the slogans 10,000 Nashi activists from over 20 regions shouted as they paraded down Moscow’s Taras Shevchenko Embankment on Sunday to celebrate Putin’s 55th birthday. The procession ended at a stage where Vasilii Yakemenko, Nashi leader and new appointee to head the Kremlin’s Youth Commission, rallied the crowd to the glories of Putinism with techno remixes of Soviet pop hits blaring in the background.
“I want to say that I remember the 1990s, when bandits ruled the streets, the country’s budget was approved by Americans at the International Monetary Fund and Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky declared war in Chechnya.” Yakemenko told the crowd giving his own version of history. “And I want to say that we cannot allow that to be repeated and the election f the national leader depends on us!” He then praised Putin’s heading United Russia’s federal electoral lists in the upcoming Duma elections. “Putin must take no some 30 percent or even 50 percent of votes. He must win decisively and unconditionally. And we the Nashi movement will help him in this!” Putin lives. Putin will always live.
As if unquestionable adulation of everything Putin wasn’t enough, later that day a representative from Nashi, Kristina Potupchik, presented Putin with a “peace blanket” decorated with symbols of many of Russia’s ethnic cultures. “Nashi wants this blanket to be a symbol of the multinational and grand Russia,” she explained. To make sure Putin wasn’t just covered in the material world, Nashi made sure he was nice and snug in the spiritual one and asked all of Russia’s churches to pray for Putin’s health.
Nashi’s presents to Putin made me think about other presents to Russian leaders over the decades. Be sure, whatever Putin got for his 55th pales in comparison to what Stalin was to receive from the Moscow Babaiev Confectionery Factory for his 60th birthday in 1939: A huge chocolate bust of himself.
As a teenager, the writer Valerii Agranovskii, witnessed the chocolate Stalin with his own eyes, and eventually lips, while on an excursion of the factory with his orphanage. Here is his account of the cocoa wonder:
[I]n a small hall in front of the director’s office where a huge bust of Stalin, made of chocolate, was exhibited. It was perhaps ordered by someone, but, most likely, made by the factory as a gift to Stalin for his sixtieth birthday.
I don’t know who touched the pedestal where the bust was seated. The fact remains that Stalin’s bust tottered and fell down, breaking into many large and small pieces. Our teachers were stunned. And the director, when he jumped out of his office and saw what had happened to the chocolate Leader of All the Progressive Humanity, went completely white, then looked at us with suddenly empty eyes, then looked behind him for some reason, and uttered almost without any voice and with only half of his mouth open (I don’t remember, left or right): ‘Eat it!’
We heard his command, and not just heard it but correctly understood it – and jumped… on the Best Friend and the Teacher of All Soviet Children.
The first thing that struck me (and, maybe others as well, but we did not share these thoughts) was that Stalin turned out to be empty inside… I got a huge ear of Joseph Vissarionovich, of the size of my two feet at that time…On another occasion we would have luxuriated on this ear for the whole day… but now we finished Stalin quickly… Nothing was left of Stalin, not a single crumb: the director, we think, even forbade sweeping the floor – which would be an extra blasphemy… – not that there was anything left to sweep; it was Stalin, after all.
Now that’s one chocolaty holy communion! I’d like to see those Nashi kids try and top that.
The chocolate Stalin was not the last, nor of course, the strangest gift the Man of Steel received from worshipers. In 1942, a group of Native American tribes presented the Soviet ambassador to the United States a full feathered head dress for the dictator to commemorate his “election as the honorary chief of all Indian tribes.” I remember seeing the head dress in the Museum of the Revolution in 2001. I couldn’t help picturing Stalin convening Politburo meetings wearing the damn thing.
Gifts to Stalin were so numerous for his 70th birthday that a special exhibition of the gifts was opened at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibit remained open until Stalin’s death in 1953.
Now that Putin appears to be sticking around for a while longer, one can’t help wonder: Is there a chocolate visage in his future?
Update: For more on Nashi, Putin’s B-day, and a translation of the Kommersant article on it, check out Lyndon’s post over at his Scraps of Moscow.Post Views: 893