Friday, March 22, 2019

Many Russians Nostalgic for Soviet Past but Some Think They Still Live in It – or Can


Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 21 – Many Russians, encouraged by Vladimir Putin and his regime, are nostalgic about one or another aspect of the Soviet past; but Vyacheslav Polovinko says that “ever more Russians believe that in fact they live in the USSR” and in an entirely “serious” way, they have “their own ministries, coups and shootings in absentia.”

            The Novaya gazeta journalist not only visited several hotbeds of Soviet revivalism but surveyed three experts on why this phenomenon has appeared and why it is likely to continue to expand (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2019/03/20/79945-shinel-dzerzhinskogo-usy-stalina-i-brovi-brezhneva).

            Polovinko’s first stop was at a Stalin-era apartment building near the Semenovskaya metro station in Moscow. There, he reports, he quickly entered “a parallel Universe,” on in which there was a Supreme Soviet of the USSR, a Soviet government, and an active group of Soviet restorationists.

            The first deputy chairman of this Supreme Soviet, Vladimir Kladinov, told him that the group had existed for a little over a year. He added that he woke up to the need to do something in 2015 when he decided that it was necessary to take steps to “go to the USSR” and thus escape “occupied” Russia.

            He quickly attracted a group of enthusiasts around him, including Valentina Reunova, who launched a program on Youtube that has attracted 30,000 visitors and that seeks to have Soviets elected in all parts of the RSFSR and the Union republics, to restore the 1977 Soviet Constitution, and to resist plans by the British monarchy to take over Russia.

            Asked about how many places had done so, Kladinov replied that “we will not talk about statistics. What good are they? If you look around, you will see that about 70 percent of the people support us.” Ever more are applying for Soviet passports or joining Soviet-style trade unions, although their validity isn’t recognized by everyone.

            According to these Soviet activists, the current “’RSFSR documents’ are simply papers like those which were issued on territories occupied by the Nazis” during World War II. Those who take Soviet passports now, the activists say, can look forward to a glorious future because the USSR has “830 quadrillion Soviet rubles” in its electronic accounts.

            The group has its own Soviet council of ministers, admittedly incomplete – some have died – but ready to take action. One of its actions has been to sentence Petro Poroshenko and other leaders of “’false Ukraine’” to death in absentia. Plans are afoot to do the same for German Gref, Elvira Nabiullina and Aleksey Miller.

            As for Vladimir Putin, the Soviet government has decided not to touch him for the time being because he “’must serve the people.’”

            Despite being “a young state,” USSR 2.0 as some refer to it has already experienced its first attempted coup with some activists seeking to displace others.  The coup failed and those who won want to read the others out of the movement.  But neither side has had much success in getting its supporters to take part in public demonstrations.

             One partisan, Sergey Lemkin of the USSR Trade Union recalls a Soviet-era anecdote in which Stalin returns to life and is asked what should be done: he says shoot the entire Duma and government and pain the Kremlin green. He is then asked, why green?  Obviously, the situation with regard to the existing regime and what should be done with it need no discussion.

                Polovinko observes that “dreams about the revival of the Soviet state” are far broader in society than just the followers of Reunova and Demkina. There exist “dozens of organizations which to one degree or another want to “revive the socialist giant,” although their visions vary from the purely Soviet to Russian nationalist. 

            Among the latter, the Novaya journalist says, Kommersant has reported that there were approximately 150,000 who had enrolled in something called “the Union of Slavic Forces of Russia,” “SSSR” in Russian or USSR in translation (kommersant.ru/doc/3579737). All of them agree that the Russian Federation is “an organized criminal group that has occupied the USSR.”

            Polovinko asked experts for their opinions about this marginal but growing group. Commentator Dmitry Oreshkin said that those in such groups are taking part because of their growing disappointment with the current regime and their inability to imagine anything other than the past as a way forward.

            Psychologist Sergey Yenikolopov said that such groups are common when societies have changed radically. Ilf and Petrov, for example, talked about followers of monarchism in the early Soviet period.  Declaring oneself Soviet is a response to the anomie that all too many Russian citizens feel.

            And political analyst Pavel Pryanikov said that such nostalgia for the USSR will only grow given that a majority of Russians think the Brezhnev era was a golden age as far as social supports were concerned. He suggested, however, that some of these actions may be a form of trolling to identify who thinks what.

Renaming Drive in Kazakhstan Sparks Opposition There, Derision Elsewhere


Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 21 – The decision by Kazakhstan’s new president, as confirmed by that country’s parliament, to rename the capital Astana and the major streets in all the cities and towns across Kazakhstan after Nursultan Nazarbayev, has sparked opposition and derision in that country and dismissive laughter elsewhere.

            A petition against this program is already circulating (fergana.agency/news/106044/); and in an indication that the Kazakh authorities will tolerate no opposition on this point, some 20 people have already been arrested (spektr.press/news/2019/03/21/v-astane-zaderzhali-20-protivnikov-pereimenovaniya-goroda-v-nursultan/).

            More serious than this open opposition, however, Kazakhs are making fun of this latest move, one that highlights the absurdity of renaming so many places for the same person.  One blogger, for example, says if this happens, he will have been born in Nazarbayev, studied in Nazarbayev and worked in Nazabayev, three different places with the same name.

            Others say the government’s policy will make it impossible to give directions. If you have to go from one Nazarbayev to another, how will you know which is which?  This will undermine the plans of the programs authors (mk.ru/social/2019/03/20/memy-o-pereimenovanii-astany-v-nursultan-zapolonili-socseti.html and business-gazeta.ru/article/417644).

            Russian officials and mainstream media have treated this Kazakhstan move with respect (regnum.ru/news/polit/2595754.html), but some Russian commentators have not, instead viewing what the Kazakhstan government is doing as a model for their own country and thus making fun of the entire process.

            Anton Orekh, for example, says that what is happening in Kazakhstan can be a real model for Putin’s Russia. Perhaps the government can rename Moscow Putin? Or rename Petersburg Putin?  But he suggests that the best option is to rename Vladimir Vladimir (or perhaps Vladimir Vladimirovich) in his honor (echo.msk.ru/programs/repl/2392403-echo/).

            To put this renaming drive in Kazakhstan in perspective, three things need to be remembered. First, what can be renamed once can be renamed again. One can easily imagine that some future Kazakhstan leader will move to restore older names precisely to show his departure from Nazarbayev’s approach.

            Second, naming cities and streets for someone is no guarantee that the policies of that individual will continue. Stalin took the lead in renaming Petersburg Leningrad but then proceeded to move in a very different direction and even to liquidate most of Lenin’s closest comrades in arms.

            And third, and perhaps most important, officials can change names on the map far more easily than they can change names in peoples’ heads. As every native New Yorker knows, the street between Fifth Avenue and Seventh Avenue is Sixth Avenue, not Nelson Rockefeller’s Avenue of the Americas. Only newcomers and visitors think otherwise. 

Kremlin Actively Preparing for a Return to Totalitarianism, Ponomaryev and Ikhlov Say


Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 21 – All too often, Lev Ponomaryev and Yevgeny Ikhlov warn in a new commentary, observers focus on one or another Moscow action in isolation and do not connect the dots; but if one does, they say, it becomes obvious that the Kremlin is preparing on a “rushed” basis the foundations for a return to totalitarianism.

            Wherever one looks, the human rights activist and commentator say, the Putin regime is engaged in repression, persecution, faked judicial procedures and new laws that can be used much as Stalin did; and one must conclude that they are part of a broader plan rather than mere accidents (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5C9328C96AB3D).

            “Political repressions in contemporary Russia have occurred earlier, but they bore a targeted character,” the two say.  Now, “a new stage has arrived: legal norms, judicial and police practice are again being reoriented toward a policy of mass political persecutions” with laws like those against “fake” news and any criticism of the authority. 

            “In essence,” Ponomaryev and Ikhlov say, “the new laws are a return to the provisions of the infamous paragraph 191.1 of the RSFSR Criminal Code about ‘slander on the Soviet state and social system.’”  Moreover, the new law on “’criminal communities’” can be used not just against professional criminals but against business leaders as well.

            But as bad as the texts of these laws are, they continue, the fact that the authorities routinely ignore the laws in order to punish anyone they want, either to take revenge or to spread terror in the population. And everywhere one looks, this pattern is spreading, affecting ever more activities and ever more groups and individuals.

            And as popular anger increases, the regime is putting in place all the mechanisms it needs to “fabricate thousands of criminal cases.”  They catalogue case after case of persecution and conclude that “all this shows that the mechanism of mass political terror and repressive totalitarian practices has been created and is ready to be used.”

            Russia may not yet be at another 1937, although they suggest there are many cases with strong parallels to that horrible year; but its government now has all the tools to do the same things in the near future – and in the current environment, the existence of such tools and their increasing use acts to intimidate Russians in the latest “hybrid” fashion. 

            In a separate article (echo.msk.ru/blog/lev_ponomarev/2392263-echo/) appended to this one, Ponomaryev traces the ways in which a trial in St. Petersburg that has just begun represents the first trial of the Putin era that fully resembles those of 1937, a confirmation of the argument that he and Ikhlov advance.

            They are not alone in seeing a sea change in Russian realities in the direction of Stalinism at a time when many commentators are suggesting that the Putin regime is in trouble or may even collapse. Irina Pavlova, a US-based Russian historian, is one of them (ivpavlova.blogspot.com/2019/03/blog-post_20.html).

            She argues that what is occurring now is “the end of the Putin NEP. Just as in the NEP of the 1920s, the present-day New Economic Policy also has not led to a civilizational change of the Western type.”  And “just as in the 1920s, the regime has used NEP for its purposes not only economically but politically.”

            “Behind its fa├žade,” Pavlova says, “all these years has occurred the foundation of a new edition of Stalinism” because Russia’s current leaders have no other idea for the future except one taken from the past and “modernized” slightly.

            Russia as so often in the past, the historian observes, is moving cyclically rather than escaping from its past. “The problem is that neither Russia nor the West want to soberly look at the past and draw lessons from it for their future survival.”  Ponomaryev and Ikhlov’s article, as well as Pavlova’s, may help to change that.