Steve Crowley is a Professor of Politics at Oberlin College where he researches transitions to democracy and capitalism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. His current work focuses on how post-Communist unions face the challenges from past institutional and ideological legacies, current political conditions, and the constraints placed by the global economy. He’s co-editor with Teri Caraway and Maria Lorena Cook of Working Through the Past: Labor and Authoritarian Legacies in Comparative Perspective published by Cornell University Press. His most recent article is “Russian Labor Protest in Challenging Economic Times” in the Russian Analytical Digest No. 182.
Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the U. S. A.,” Born in the U. S. A., 1984.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
Things are looking bad for Russia’s floundering “opposition”. I say “opposition” because the Western media has declared the Russia’s liberal forces–Yabloko, SPS, and Other Russia–the true challengers to Putin and United Russia rather than the real opposition, the Communists. Be that as it may. Apparently, pumping up small and insignificant parties is far more agreeable to the Western political establishment than giving credence to Zyuganov.
It’s difficult to measure whatever strength, if any, the “opposition” has in Russia. If today’s rally is any indication, it’s not much. The Other Russia rally ranged between 1000 to 3000 participants depending on who you ask. About an hour into the rally, a band of 200 National Bolsheviks waving black flags with hammer and sickles broke away and began marching. This gave OMON the legal green light to move in and bust the whole thing up. Moscow authorities only sanctioned a rally. Scuffles ensued but eventually armor clad OMONtsy encircled the “dissenters.” And to the tune of billy clubs rapping against their shields, they snagged the most vocal of activists and hustled them into an awaiting van. Limonov, Kasparov, Maria Gaidar, Ilya Yashin and 100 others were arrested. The four faces of “opposition” were on their way to present a complaint to the Electoral Commission office. According to the Moscow Times, they barely made it to McDonald’s.
All were released shortly thereafter (Gaidar as a Duma rep for SPS has immunity) except for Kasparov who was charged with resisting arrest and organizing an illegal march. He is expected to sit in the slammer until Thursday. Given the paltry turn out, Other Russia should be happy that OMON was there to make their march relevant. Without arrests there wouldn’t have been anything noteworthy.
Things looked no brighter in St. Petersburg. There about 500 Other Russia supporters gathered in defiance of city authorities. OMON didn’t hesitate to round up all the rally’s organizers including newly named SPS presidential candidate Boris Nemtsov and local party head Nikita Belykh. Both were released. Again, its a good thing OMON showed up because then the Financial Times couldn’t call their action a “crackdown,” the Moscow Times couldn’t declare the march “quashed,” and RFE/RL would have to find another verb besides “crush” for their headline.
The Bush Administration issued a statement condemning Moscow’s “aggressive tactics.” That should provide Channel One, which called Other Russia a bunch of “aggressive extremists” and provocateurs looking to brainwash pensioners in its coverage of the march, with more xenophobic fodder. Its seems that the powers that be love the word “aggressive.”
The march culminates several weeks of police harassment of Other Russia and other oppositionists. On Friday, police raided their Moscow headquarters with a mandate to search for “weapons, drugs, and illegal literature.” The first two were nowhere to be found (probably to the cops’ disappointment), but the police were nonetheless able to walk away with some “illegal literature”: 300 stickers that read “Vote for the Other Russia List.” Wow, scary.
If Other Russia is in a bind, Yabloko is faring no better. Forget the fact that police blocked their offices the morning of the St. Petersburg march. And forget that Yabloko Ivan Bolshakov was detained a few days before. The real signal to the “dissenters” is the murder of Farid Babaev, Yabloko’s chief in Dagestan. Babaev was shot four times, including one “control shot” in the head, in his apartment vestibule on Wednesday. The assassins’ whereabouts, of course, are unknown and probably will remain so.
Will the suppression of the Russian “opposition” matter to voters? It will certainly harden the belief among the already converted that Putin is no democrat. But for most Russians Sunday’s events are par for the course. According to a poll conducted by RFE/RL the government’s pressure is exactly what they expect. Putin and his people will ensure their victory either through graft, influence, or plain old violence. The fix is already in and Putin is holding all the cards. Or as poli-sci prof Vladimir Gelman told RFE/RL,
“You can compare the situation to a football match in which the result is known in advance, the referee completely favors one team that is the preordained victor, and the spectators are not even interested in watching or in supporting one team or another.”
Putin the spread buster must really irk some bookies.Post Views: 508
By Sean — 5 years ago
This week’s Russia! Magazine column, “Family Values and Putin’s Fourth Pillar,”
Last month, the Russian journalist Oleg Kashin called the 23 year old man brutally murdered in Volgograd for being gay a “sacrificial victim.” Kashin argued that the anti-gay rhetoric coming from the Duma would “quiet down” because the murder revealed “state homophobia” which was until then still “virtual” had become “perhaps more convincing than the state itself wished, and has now started materializing into reality.” Kashin was wrong. But I can’t blame him for suffering from a lapse of naïve hope. Crimes like the one in Volgograd, after all, should have caused national pause. It should have at least tempered the actions of the State Duma. This man’s humanity should have overshadowed his otherness. But it didn’t. Kashin underestimated the conservative cultural politics defining Putin’s third term.
Since December 2011 the Russian government has retrenched itself on a myriad of fronts: political, cultural, economic and social. Several theories come to mind to explain this siege mentality. It’s the state striking back against the liberal thaw of the Medvedev years. The culture war is part of Putin’s efforts to erect a new populist majority. It’s a new anti-cosmopolitianism seeking to purge Russian society of its Western infections. Putinist conservativism serves as a retrograde substitute for a proactive social ideology to rebind the nation. All of these are plausible. They could even exist concurrently as they complement more than contradict. But still, one or even all of these interpretations appear too superficial. It’s important to remember Putinism is characterized by a series of reconstructions: the reestablishment of the power vertical; the rebuilding of the Russian economy; and the reinstitution of the social structure. Viewed in this light, the recent efforts to assert Russian Orthodox family values are an attempt to re-erect the last pillar: the cultural sphere.
A society’s character is constructed on the margins. Meaning, a society gets its identity not from the inclusion of the normal, but from the identification, isolation, and expulsion of the abnormal. For it is the aberrant that defines the border between what is acceptable and unacceptable. The reassertion of Russian Orthodox values is no different. Its increasing presence as a pillar in Russian cultural life is not established by what it is, but by what it’s not: Western, liberal, feminist, and homosexual. Today’s Russian conservativism is not proactively constituted. It is reactively defined by negation.
Image: Slon.ruPost Views: 2,194
By Sean — 1 year ago
Guest: Judith Beyer on The Force of Custom: Law and the Ordering of Everyday Life in Kyrgyzstan.