About two weeks ago I had the pleasure of being on This is Hell!, one of my favorite leftwing podcasts to talk about Russia, Navalny, protest, and Putin.
Chuck and his crew were kind enough to let me re-purpose the interview as part of the SRB Podcast.
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I’ve been reading Slavoj Zizek‘s In Defense of Lost Causes and he has some interesting thoughts on revolutionary terror (Ch. 4, “Revolutionary Terror from Robespierre to Mao”) and Stalinism (ch. 5 ‘Stalinism Revisited, or, How Stalin Saved the Humanity of Man”). I thought I’d share this one passage I found interesting,
The public prosecutor in the show trial against the “United Trotskyite-Zinovievite Center” published a list of those that this “Center” was planning to assassinate (Stalin, Kriov, Zhdanov . . .); this list became “a bizarre honor since inclusion signified proximity to Stalin.” Although Molotov was on good personal terms with Stalin, he was shocked to discover that he was not on the list: what could this sign mean? Just a warning from Stalin, or an indication that soon it would be his turn to be arrested? Here indeed, the secrets of the Egyptians were secrets also for the Egyptians themselves. It was the Stalinist Soviet Union which was the true “empire of signs.”
A story told by Soviet linguist Eric Han-Pira provides a perfect example of the total semantic saturation of this “empire of signs,” the semantic saturation which, precisely, relies on the emptying of direct denotative meaning. For many years, when the Soviet media announced the funeral ceremonies of a member of high Nomenklatura, used a cliché formulation: “buried on Red Square by the Kremlin wall.” In the 1960s, however, because of the lack of space, most of the newly deceased dignitaries were cremated and urns with their ashes were placed in niches inside the wall itself – yet the same old cliché was used in press statements. This incongruity compelled fifteen members of the Russian Language Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences to write a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, suggesting that the phrase be modified to fit the current reality: “The urn with ashes was placed in the Kremlin wall.” Several weeks later, a representative of the Central Committee phoned the Institute, informing them that the Central Committee had discussed their suggestion and decided to keep the old formulation; he gave no reasons for this decision. According to the rules that regulate the Soviet “empire of signs,” the CC was right: the change would not be perceived as simply registering the fact that dignitaries are now cremated and their ashes placed in the wall itself; any deviation from the standard formula would be interpreted as a sign, triggering a frenzied interpretive activity. So, since there was no message to be delivered, why change things? One may oppose to this conclusion the possibility of a simple “rational” solution: why not change the formulation and add an explanation that it means nothing, that it just registers a new reality? Such a “rational” approach totally misses the logic of the Soviet “empire of signs”: since, in it, everything has some meaning, even and especially a denial of meaning, such a denial would trigger an even more frantic interpretive activity – it would be read not only as a meaningful sign within a given, well established, semiotic space, but as a much stronger meta-semantic indication that the very basic rules of this semiotic space are changing, thus causing total perplexity, panic even!Post Views: 718
Dmitri Medvedev is not just President of Russia. Nor is he simply a rising global interlocutor. He, or really his visage, is also the subject to the whims of the marketplace. According to Kommersant Vlast,
People are even trying to sell the portrait of the President of Russia using spam. Evidently, the reason for the crisis of production which has arisen in the market of portraits of Russian government leaders, is because sellers overestimated buyers demand for portraits of Dmitri Medvedev. On the internet several internet shops exists that sell the portrait of the President and between them there is a genuine trading war.
One site, www.portrets.ru, is allowing you to download creepy portraits of Medvedev and Putin for free!Post Views: 881
The political fallout from Moskovskii Korrespondent‘s rumor about Putin dumping his wife Liudmila for contortionist extraordinaire and Olympic medalist Alina Kabaeva is taking political shape. Last Friday, the Duma passed an amendment to the mass media law that adds slander to the list of unmentionables such as revealing state secrets, supporting terrorism, advocating pornography, and promoting violence. The law doesn’t use the word “slander” but redefined it with “intentionally false information,” which, of course, is just about anything. Perhaps more important than the vague, elastic language is the fact that the amendment gives the Ministry of Justice the power to issue warnings to media outlets for publishing slanderous and libelous material. Two warnings in twelve months allows Justice to shut the media outlet down pending trial.
The amendment’s introduction came from an interesting source. Former Nashi commissar, youngest Duma rep, and Putin loyalist Robert Schlegel introduced it. Ironically, Nashi was recently saved from a $1.2 million libel suit filed by Garry Kasparov. Kasparov claimed that Nashi literature slandered him by claiming that he was an American citizen. The court threw out the suit because, as Nashi lawyer Sergei Shorin argued, “there is no proof that the pamphlet was produced by Nashi.” Well, in reality, Nashi did produce the pamphlet and claims that Kasparov is a American citizen have been a mainstay of its propaganda. Granted, I’m no Kasparov fan, but any claim of Nashi’s innocence is completely preposterous. As this Nashi flyer states, “The USA has another plan. They want traitors and thieves to win–the American citizen Kasparov, the fascist Limonov, and the seller of the state Nemtsov.” Nashi’s logo is at the bottom of the page.
But I digress. It takes no brainiac to note that the law is in direct response to the Putin-Kabaeva rumor. After all, Moskovskii Korrespondent suspended publication after the story hit the international press and Putin had to field questions about its veracity in a press conference with Silvio Berlusconi. According to Interfax, Alexander Lebedev the owner of MK’s parent company National MediaComany (Kremlin friendly but also owns a majority stake in anti-Kremlin Novaya gazeta) pulled tabloid’s financial plug.
But Russia being Russia, nothing is assumed to happen by accident. And the Putin-Kabaeva story is no different. The reigning conspiracy theory is that the story is nothing more than black PR in the ongoing political battle between Kremlin factions. As Mark Ames explains on Radar Online, “It looks more and more likely that someone from the FSB planted it knowing it would make Lebedev and his paper look foolish. That would be a clear retaliation for Lebedev’s attempts to exonerate Storchak, the FSB’s most valuable captured chess piece in its battle against Putin and the liberals he’s propped up. The FSB’s message is simple: If you fuck with us, we’ll fuck with you, your paper, and Putin—in more ways than you know.” Lebedev’s explanation in Novaya gazeta for closing Moskovskii Korresondent seems to confirm this. “I now know,” he writes, “that one of the most controversial pieces of gossip was custom-made and was printed in Moskovskii Korrespondent as part of a personal vendetta against me.” That or he’s falling on his sword.
Boris Kagarlitsky also suggests that the story was a “dirty trick” different sort. Namely, to keep the state bureaucracy and ruling factions guessing. Will Putin stay or will he go? The answer to this seems simple. There is no evidence that Putin is going to step aside in the near future. He’s already implementing measures to subordinate regional leaders to the prime minister’s office. His call to purge United Russia of its “useless members” seems to be gathering steam. Local party organizations have already started their proverka to clean out their “dead souls.” All of this, and more, have some already predicting Medvedev’s future as the next “False Dmitry.”
How false Medvеdev’s role will be ultimately boils down to how he will deal with the siloviki. They, not Putin, pose the most serious challenge to his legitimacy. They have the political and police connections and control Russia’s state assets. They are the only real potent force to undermine a president.
If the conspiracy theories are true and the Putin-Kabaeva story is merely another “dirty trick,” then increased restrictions on “slander” is another arrow in their quiver for Putin loyalists to lob against their rivals lurking looking to stir up trouble in the press. The rules of the game demand that Kremlin infighting remains in house and out of the public eye. And if keeping this rule enforced means more control over the media, then so be it. It’s not like these people want a free press anyway.
In his interview with Argumenty i Fakty, Medvedev assured the public that there won’t be any surprises with the transfer of power. Judging from the way Kremlin elites and their clients are continuing their pot shots against each other, I don’t foresee any surprises either.Post Views: 1,224