Monday, September 24, 2018

Declaring Russian Cities More Ancient than They Are Now the Fashion, Historian Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – Unlike in imperial and Soviet times, when the authorities typically blocked efforts to present this or that city or region as more ancient than the historical record justifies, in post-Soviet Russia, the passion for pushing founding dates back has spread often to the point of absurdity, historian Aleksey Sirenov says.

            “In post-Soviet times,” he continues, “the ideological function of the state has significantly weakened” and other groups, religious and public, are taking the lead (newizv.ru/article/general/19-09-2018/v-rossii-poyavilas-moda-na-udrevlenie-gorodov, a repost of istorex.ru/page/sirenov_av_o_fenomene_udrevneniya_gorodov_v_rossii_postsovetskogo_perioda).

            Such groups should be ensuring that historical accuracy is maintained, Sirenov says; but “on the contrary, those structures and movements which should speak against the falsifiers turn out to be their supporters and sometimes even the creators of the falsifications” with no one left to challenge them.

            “In our time,” he says, “marking jubilees is an accepted practice,” one that attracts money and even prestige; and consequently, many places in the Russian Federation are trying to push back the dates of their founding as far as possible into the past and to ensure that when officials want to celebrate a date, it will be a “round” one, that is, equal to a decade or century.

            Sirenov acknowledges that “from the point of view of local patriotism, making cities more ancient than they in fact are is viewed as an exclusively positive phenomenon.” But it undermines the understanding of history and reflects the abdication of responsibility by those who should care about that.

            Worse, it produces absurdities which can only elicit laughter and regret.

                Among the examples Sirenov gives is the 1992 decision of the authorities in Vladimir to mark the 1000th anniversary of the founding of their city, something that attracted attention because it came only 34 years after it marked the 850th.  There was no mystery: the city council formed a commission and voted for the new founding date. 

            An even more ridiculous projection into the past involves Belgorod, which in 1995 also wanted to mark its 1000th anniversary.  The problem is that the Belgorod that existed a millennium ago is not located anywhere near the Belgorod of today: it is near Kyiv in Ukraine where it is now the village of Belgorodka. But officials didn’t care: they got their jubilee.

            Then, in 2012, the city fathers of Kursk decided to celebrate the 980th anniversary of the founding of that city.  There was a pre-Mongol city of Kursk – its people are even mentioned in the Law of the Host of Igor – but it ceased to exist and was restored only in 1596, just over four centuries ago and not nearly a thousand. Again no one cared enough to oppose this travesty.

            One interesting example with a somewhat different outcome occurred in Dubna, the nuclear city near Moscow.  It was founded in 1954 but then expanded to include a neighboring village with an ancient lineage going back to 1134.  The city did not miss a trick: it decided to view that date as the founding of the city.

            Several years ago, a Museum of Archaeology and History was set up in Dubna; and its staff began pressing the authorities to proclaim that the city, founded in 1954, had in fact been set up by Yury Dolgoruky. But this campaign fell short, Sirenov says, because the population rejected this total falsification of history.

            The reason of this appear to be “the high educational level of residents of the science city Dubna,” something again “atypical for present-day Russia,” Sirenov concludes.

Putin Preparing Major Attack on Navalny and ‘New Left’ for this Fall, Gaaze Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – On election day two weeks ago, Konstantin Gaaze says, “the largest coalition of support for the existing authorities since 1991, the so-called ‘Crimean consensus,’ has disappeared,” ending “four years of ‘the golden age’ of Russian authoritarianism” and thus forcing the Kremlin to take new measures to maintain its power.

            As a result, the Moscow commentator says, the regime will be launching in the coming months an attack “not on those on the right side of the political spectrum but against the new left headed by [Aleksey] Navalny” and including young people in the two capitals (carnegie.ru/commentary/77231 reposted at newizv.ru/article/general/16-09-2018/konstantin-gaaze-kreml-gotovit-osennee-nastuplenie-na-pyatuyu-kolonnu).

            Such people, Gaaze continues, “are the ideal victim of a major campaign against the enemies of Russia” and the recent case involving the Novoye Velichiye group thus represents a testing of the waters by the FSB for the organization of similar but larger and more numerous operations of that kind in the near future. 

            Attacking such groups is the logical consequence of the system Putin had created and that he now must modify in order to survive, the commentator continues. “In 2014, Putin finally was able to construction that mythical Putinism that was simultaneously ‘national’ and ‘global,’ ‘socialist’ and ‘capitalist.’” 

            “Hands’ on management and informal deals of the government with business … did not eliminate social inequality as such but allowed its softening in each specific case by targeted interference,” Gaaze says. As a result, while the standard of living didn’t rise, both businessmen and the population remained in the Kremlin’s corner.

            “Friends of the president were transformed from middle-ranking entrepreneurs to people fulfilling the most important geopolitical tasks, and oligarchs saved during the crisis received helped but were lowered in rank. Ministers and deputy prime ministers … became their ‘senior comrades as they were customarily called in the Soviet Komsomol,” while “oligarchs became ordinary deputy ministers and deputy ministers ordinary oligarchs.”

            According to Gaaze, in this arrangement, Putin himself played the role of a professional mediator: all business, all the elite, and all those whom Putin promised to share with ‘simple people’ became his subordinates.”  But that created a problem which has now surfaced and called these arrangements into question.

            “Nikos Poulantzas, one of the most important Marxist theoreticians of the second half of the 20th century,” according to the Moscow commentator, “asserted that the chief conflict within dictatorial regimes is that between the comprador (globally oriented) and national (locally oriented) bourgeoisie.” 

            This conflict, Poulantzas argued, “in the end destroys dictatorships.”  What has happened in Russia, Gaaze suggests, is that by 2016, “a comprador bourgeoisie did not remain,” with capitalists focusing on the West fleeing abroad. But at the same time, “there isn’t a national bourgeoisie” because it isn’t a bourgeoisie in the classical sense – it is part of the state.

            As a result, the Kremlin combined within itself all these various forces and occasionally offered some sop or other to the population. But that means, especially when the oil money ran out, that “any protest against even ‘liberal’ initiatives [has become] a protest against the powers that be,” Gaaze continues.

            Faced with growing popular unhappiness with government policies that benefit businesses and the regime at the expense of everyone else, Putin is being forced to use repression “against the enemies of Russia,” the notorious “’fifth column.’” And he is “preparing to play this card it appears this fall precisely against the left rather than the right.

            That will shore up the regime’s power with the elites, but it will create a situation in which ever more repression is likely to be necessary to keep the population in line. And that in turn will create problems for development that at present the Putin regime does not appear to have any solutions for.

Putin’s Support for Pension Age Boost Means System Can’t Function as It Did, Shelin Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – Vladimir Putin’s backing of government plans to raise the pension age has not been accepted by the population, Sergey Shelin says; and consequently, while the system remains strong, “in the new atmosphere, it cannot work in the old way, although it is trying to,” leading to “surprises every day.”

            The Rosbalt commentator says that until relatively recently, all the components of Russian society and politics had their specific niche, one assigned by the Kremlin, and fit into what might be called Putin’s “utopia.” Everyone knew what he could and could not do from loyalists to the extra-systemic opposition (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2018/09/17/1732512.html).

                That “utopia” worked, Shelin continues, but only “in the special climate” which existed in Russia, one in which those below “saw in the leader their benefactor” or at least “the lesser evil” as compared to any who might challenge him.  But “suddenly the climate has changed,” and the old rules have along with it. 

            This is “not simply about ratings,” he says. They have fallen back to pre-crisis levels “but all the same are still high.” Two other things are more important. On the one hand, the masses have begun to sense that the leader and his regime “have turned their back on the people” and are pursuing only their own interests.

            And on the other, the pension reform which Putin has now come out in support has called attention to the growing gap between rich and poor in Russia, with the rich apparently having won out in demanding that the poor pay more for the continued well-being of the rich, something that many Russians find deeply offensive.

            Chairman Mao famously said that the top of society “wants to receive everything without giving anything in return. And this is a violation of heavenly harmony, something heaven always punishes people for.”  “This thought,” Shelin suggest, “is completely applicable to [Russian] affairs, albeit with modifications reflecting the specific features of Russia.”

            What is happening, he continues, are some strange things that wouldn’t have occurred only a few months ago: the head of the Russian Guard challenging the previously unmentionable Navalny to a duel, sloppy and embarrassing propaganda about the Skripal case, and the scandalous handling of fraud and regime losses in the September 9 elections in the Far East.

            But while those developments have received the most attention, Shelin argues, what happened in St. Petersburg with anti-pension meetings on September 9 and September 16 is even more indicative of the new reality, with the regime clumsily and repressively moving against more groups than before.

            “If the authorities earlier had been severe to the Navalny people, now, the level of repression has sharply increased”  not only against them but against all its critics even if they are prepared to play by the rules, a reflection of a violation of the rules of the utopia that had existed and one that by its nature destabilizes the situation.

            “Apparently,” the Rosbalt commentator suggests, “the fear of losing control over events has overwhelmed” officials even in this case. The authorities are denigrating even peaceful opposition figures and refusing them even the small possibilities they had extended to such groups in the past.

            Like all utopias whose creators plan for them to last for centuries, the Putin one “has turned out to be short-lived.”  The regime has been shaken but not yet weakened, and so the coming months promise to feature many new developments as the regime struggles to come up with “a different cocktail of repressions and concessions.”