Alexey Kovalev is a journalist living and working in Russia. He was a senior editor at RIA Novosti, Russia’s largest state news agency, and edited inosmi.ru, a website that translates news articles from foreign publications into Russian. He is the founder and editor of noodleremover.news, a Russian-language fact-checking and anti-propaganda website. He writes a bimonthly column for the Moscow Times on the maneuverings of the Russian media.
Carson Robinson, “I’m No Communist,” 1952.
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By Sean — 8 years ago
Just after taking the throne in the spring of 1855, Alexander II convened a meeting of his ministers to assess the state of Russia, and in particular, its participation in the Crimean War. Unlike under previous Tsars, several of the “enlightened bureaucrats” didn’t hold their tongues and provided the newly minted Emperor an honest appraisal of the Empire. Among them was this unnamed Finance Ministry official, who gave the following assessment of the Imperial system:
“Nowhere is there so much and at the same time so little centralization as there is in Russia. On the one hand the ministries have arrogated to themselves the virtually exclusive right to decide all matters, but at the same time there is not the slightest link between the separate ministries. Everyone’s perpetual concern to safeguard himself against having to take legal responsibility necessitates a fearful expenditure of effort, paper, ink, and time, slows down the transaction of business, removes from the provincial and district agencies all the feelings of independence, and teaches them to act surreptitiously if at all. It goes without saying that all this stops short at the people, who have been abandoned to the authorities’ exploitation.”1
I couldn’t help but note the resonance this passage has for Russia today.
1 David Saunders, Russia in the Age of Reaction of Reform, 1801-1881, Longman, 1992, 209.Post Views: 466
By Sean — 10 years ago
Dmitri Medvedev’s speech to the Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum might be an indication of what he has in store for Russia. Before a crowd of Russian businessmen, Medvedev laid out his vision in a forty minute speech; a vision that when boiled down doesn’t look to rock the boat too much.
One of Medvedev’s themes revolved around the “s” word, svoboda, or freedom. “Freedom is better than non-freedom,” Medvedev declared, rather tritely. He then when on to emphasize that his view of freedom includes “personal freedom, economic freedom, and finally, freedom of expression.” How banal. Before anyone could get too excited with Medvedev’s liberal pretentions, he capped off his “freedom” rap with a Putinian maxim. “Freedom cannot be separated from the actual recognition of the power of law and to not chaos and respect the accepted order of the country.” Sounds like 2000 all over again.
At the moment, I take Medvedev’s “liberalism” as nothing more than campaign posturing. Sure, some might ask why he needs to placate the Russian business elite with a more liberal stance. Especially since his election is all but a forgone conclusion. The answer is that he’s not appealing to the Russian business elite’s liberal tendencies. They don’t really have any to appeal to. The last thing Russia’s chinovniki, er, businessmen want is anything akin to a populist notion of freedom. Medvedev’s statements are merely assurance that when in office he will continue along the present course. This is crystal clear when you put his “liberalism” alongside his statements about the law and the “accepted” order. In addition, Medvedev made it a point to refer to Putin six times. A move that I assume is to let the elite know that business will be as usual. Russia’s journey to 21st century modernization will be directed by the state and not against the fundamental interests of the Russian elite.
Here is where Medvedev’s plan of four “I”s come in: institutions, infrastructure, innovation, investment.
Within these four “I” Medvedev spelled out seven tasks: “overcoming legal nihilism, a radical reduction in administrative barriers, a reduction in taxes, the formation of a powerful and independent financial system, the modernization of infrastructure, the formation of the basis for a national system of innovation, and social development.” Notice there is no role for society in this effort. Like Russia’s many attempts at reform over the last three centuries, it is the state that will be its alpha and omega. Society’s seat at the table will be provisional, and at most advisory.
The truth of the matter is that Putin could have given this speech himself. And perhaps that is what is most comforting to the Russian business elite.
The same goes for voters. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is Putin or Medvedev at the helm as long the former is there to watch over the store. According to a recent poll conducted by the Leveda-Center, 80 percent of Russians polled plan on voting for Medvedev. People’s expectations seem to be similar to what they were in 2000 and 2004 says Kommersant.
Some 51 percent expect him to secure the great-power status for Russia, and the rule of law and order in the country are the highlights for 45 percent. Some 41 percent would like Medvedev to ensure fair distribution of income, 34 percent expect social protection from him and 34 percent want him to step up the government’s share in economy.
Moreover, Medvedev’s supporters see him as “a continuation and a copy of Putin;” a fact that certainly is the origin of his widespread support. While no one is sure who power will be distributed between the two, polled Russians seem fine with the idea of a power dyad.
Some 41 percent of respondents think both leaders will be equal after March 2 election, 23 percent predict Putin to keep the authority, but 20 percent expect Medvedev to emerge as the leader. At the same time, 47 percent of the polled want Putin to remain Russia’s president, viewing election as something inevitable.
Something inevitable indeed. Two weeks from now the inevitable will arrive, and after a few days of hooting and hollering, things in Russia will go back to normal. That is assuming the Kremlin clans will acclimate themselves to the new (old) order.Post Views: 712
By Sean — 10 years ago
President Bush sent a gushing statement to Georgia on the fifth anniversary of the “Rose Revolution.” Bush said in White House press release,
One of the most inspiring chapters in the history of freedom was written by the Georgian people during the Rose Revolution. Thirsting for liberty and armed only with roses in hand, citizens throughout Georgia peacefully staked claim to their God-given right of liberty. These demonstrations proved once again, that when given a choice, people choose to live in freedom.
On this anniversary, Americans honor the brave Georgian citizens who defended freedom, and we renew our commitment to supporting Georgia’s democracy, independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. We also look forward to the day when the light of liberty shines on all people throughout the world.
Blech. Under normal circumstances, one could, in fact, one should ignore Bush’s blathering. His days are numbered, he’s the lamest of all lame ducks, and frankly even he’s looking like January 20 can’t come fast enough. But these aren’t normal circumstances. Especially since along with an anniversary greeting came $250 million, the first installment of the $1 billion the US promised to send Georgia as compensation for Saakashvilli’s little war.
The money is to prop up Georgia’s budget as follows:
The USD 250 million grant will fund Georgia’s budget expenditures to cover state pensions, state compensation and state academic stipends – USD 163.3 million; health care costs for people living below the poverty line – USD 26.1 million; allowances to individuals displaced by the conflict in Abkhazia USD 6.1 million; financial support to schools through a voucher system on a per-student basis USD 24.2 million; USD 30.3 million will be allocated for compensation and salaries for government employees of all ministries excluding the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior, according to the U.S. embassy.
I love how the Bush Administration snuck school vouchers into the aid. They’ve been trying to shove this code phrase for privatizing public schools down Americans’ throats to no avail. One sure way to force a privatization experiment ship it to a foreign country all nice and wrapped up with aid money.
Now granted, in the big scheme of things, $250 million is chump change to the US coffers. It pisses away $1 billion in Iraq in three days. But considering the recent uproar over holding US automakers responsible for putting themselves on the brink of bankruptcy, shouldn’t there at least be some commotion over sending money to bail out a country that got itself in a mess? Guess not. Apparently claiming your “God-given right of liberty” comes with a few perks and a lot more dollars.Post Views: 538