Monday, May 17, 2021

1986 Film Showed What Life in USSR would Have Been Like if Country Hadn’t Been Soviet, Mironov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 16 – A 1986 film that was released in the immediate wake of Chernobyl and passed almost unnoticed showed something remarkable, Maksim Mirovich says, what the USSR might have been had it not been suffused with sovietism and what Russia and the other post-Soviet states could yet be if they get rid of the Soviet elements in their culture.

            Mirovich, a commentator who specializes in comparing Soviet and Russian experience says the film, “Over the Rainbow,” shows what the country could have been like “without the constant ideological processing, without the financing of cannibal regimes throughout the world and without the failure of the regime to pay attention to its own citizens.”

            In short, he says, the film shows not “’the population’ but Citizens, who have their own positions on all issues, make independent decisions on how to raise their children, master interesting professions, and do not wait for ‘free gifts’ from the state.” As a result, and in contrast to those in the Soviet USSR, “they live happily” (     “It is very sad,” Mirovich continues, “that this country did not exist in reality and exists even now only in the imaginations of the authors of the film,” although of course there are examples of where this alternative world really exists, such as Finland, which once was part of the Russian Empire but escaped in good time.

            The film tells the story of a young man from an artistic family who aspires to be a great athlete. He is granted his wish on condition that he not tell any lies. And at first he succeeds. But under Soviet conditions, he finds it impossible not to lie and loses his sudden athletic gifts.

By hard work, however, he reclaims them.

            He lives with his parents, a composer and a dress designer, in an apartment large and tastefully furnished and unlike those of most Soviet people. More important, his parents treat him as a member of the family, ask and value his opinions, and do not treat him like some lesser being they can order about.

            The school he goes to is at odds with Soviet practice as well. It is “an absolutely non-Soviet school.” No one is wearing a uniform; no one has a Pioneer kerchief; and the teachers are interested in their subjects and their students and interact with them like human beings rather than like burdens they have to put up with.

            And the city in which this all takes place is equally non-Soviet. Nominally, the film was made in Odessa, but most of the scenes were filmed in Tallinn, Estonia, where the impact of Sovietism on the urban landscape was far less because so much of the pre-Soviet had managed to survive.

            The film thus showed what life could have been like in the USSR had the country not been sovietized, something that would have allowed all of its people a better future and could still be the foundation for their achieving happiness in the future, Mirovich suggests.


Putin the Louis Napoleon of Today, Some Russian Scholars Suggest

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 16 – At a St. Petersburg conference on the 200th anniversary of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte, Russian scholars drew some parallels between Vladimir Putin and the first Napoleon but even more between the current Kremlin leader and Louis Napoleon, parallels that point to still more radical changes ahead, Leonid Smirnov says.

            In reporting the proceedings, the Rosbalt journalist quotes European Institute expert Oleg Kharkhordin as saying that “we all live among those institutions which the Code Napoleon marked the beginning of.” And both he and others insisted his most important contribution was to base his authoritarian power “directly on the people without any intermediaries” (

            Bonaparte’s system was based not on three elements as the ancien regime had been but on two, “only the leader and the people,” Kharkhordin says, a structure “which it would be more correct to label not Bonapartism but Caesarism because it was introduced not by Napoleon but by Octavian Augustus.”

            Grigory Yudin of the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service adds that “Napoleon understood that divine right was over and a different legitimation was needed;” and he recognized that he needed to combine the empire and the republic” in order to make the whole that the revolution had won “something more long-lasting.”

            A third participant, Artemy Magun of the European University argues that in some ways Bonaparte was reacting to the resistance of the outside world and the sense of injury France felt from this hostile reaction, a reaction that intensified significantly under the reign of Louis Napoleon almost half a century later.

            “We see parallels in our own history,” he continues. “The collapse of the USSR delegitimized the world order, and we, having received Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq, live today in this state of panic” which recalls that which the first Bonaparte felt to a degree but which the third felt deeply.

            “Our situation is very similar to Bonaparte after the revolution,” Magun says. “Delegitimization has led to the formation of gray zones” which one’s opponents try to exploit and lead to the rise of “Bonapartist figures” not only in Russia but elsewhere, he continues.

            Sociologist Grigory Yudin says that more can be learned from the parallels suggested by Napoleon III who was emperor of France from 1852 to 1870. “The foundation for his coming to power was resentment and the complex of historical defeats.” And he used democratic institutions to legitimate himself -- he was president before he became emperor -- before insisting on the need for “a return to monarchy.”

            Thus arose “a powerful tradition,” the sociologist continues, one “between monarchy to which there was no return and the republic which seemed excessively radical.” That plebiscitarian impulse has appeared elsewhere, of course, but in France, it has never disappeared entirely.

            Russia today, he says, “also suffers from a complex of historical defeat, and we also have a leader who operates directly on the masses, demanding democratic legitimation and trying to actively promote it with the assistance of plebiscites.” In that respect, Russia and its leader now are quite like France in the middle of the 19th century.”

            Magun suggests in response that what we are seeing in Russia is happening around the world because of the crisis that arose with the collapse of the Cold War world. “The demand for a charismatic leader is very great in mass culture, especially now when ever more people are alienated from bureaucratic structures.”

            “This is very dangerous: we can in the course of the next historical turn of events get a Bonaparte, and not only in Russia.”

Russian Federation under Putin Repeating Cadres Policy that Destroyed the USSR, Kulbaka Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 16 – The current policy of the federal authorities is reproducing the situation of Soviet times, “when regions were better off to be recipients” than producers and when governors were more likely to be successful and be promoted if they were lobbyists for funds from Moscow than if they actually develop their regions, Nikolay Kulbaka says.

            Just how dangerous that approach is, the economist at the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service says, can be easily seen if one considers three senior members of the Soviet regime at the end, all of whom had been obkom secretaries and learned how to behave (

            History associates the collapse of the Soviet machine with the names Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin and Yegor Ligachev, Kulbaka says. “All three were active participants in the events of the last years of the life of the USSR, two became presidents, and the third, according to rumor could have been CPSU general secretary in place of Gorbachev.”

            But all three shared one thing in common: Before coming to Moscow, they had headed regional party committees where they were successful or not less in terms of the work they did locally than in terms of their lobbying Moscow for more assistance. At that time, Kulbaka says, obkom secretaries weer in fact the chief tolkachi of their regions.

            Those who extracted the most from the center did the best and thus were the most likely to rise, leading to a situation in which former obkom secretaries dominated the CPSU leadership. In that place, they continued to work as they had: lobbying for resources both domestically and abroad rather than managing development.

            Many expected things to change after 1991, and for the first few years, it looked like they might. Strong regional leaders emerged “who could have become serious and up-to-date presidents.” But that wasn’t fated to happen. Instead, Russia became once again a presidential republic, who reduced regional heads to supplicants for federal largesse.

            And this means, the economist says, “that we are moving along the same vicious circle” and that when the current rulers leave the scene, they will again be succeeded not by managers but by lobbyists, the very group who thirty years ago contributed so much to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Putin Increasingly Issues Decrees without Publishing Them to Avoid Angering Russians, Investigations Find

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 16 – During his time in office, Vladimir Putin has increasingly issued decrees giving awards of various kinds without publishing these decisions in many cases apparently fearful that the Russian people might be infuriated by his decision or read more into it than he intends them to know.

            As in Soviet times, Russian presidents have issued secret decrees. Typically, these have been about security questions where classification is understandable; but ever more often Putin has expanded the practice to include government awards like Hero of Russia, TRT reports (

            (For background on Soviet and Russian presidential decrees and the propensity to classify them, see Thomas F. Remington’s definitive study, Presidential Decrees in Russia: A Comparative Perspective (Cambridge, 2014).)

            The new TRT investigation builds on one conducted by Vedomosti in 2019. The earlier one found that the share of unpublished decrees ranged from 25 to 40 percent and that these included both security questions and other actions “society might not approve of” ( and

            And the TRT study also draws on Russian media reports about the difference between the number of Hero of Russia awards Putin actually makes and the number of decrees published about this since 2014 when large numbers of Russian media personnel were given this award for their promotion of the Crimean Anschluss ( and

            The fact that the decrees required for such easily checked cases as the awarding of a medal are not being published, TRT says raises the question as to how many more decrees, involving more serious issues, are now being hidden from the Russian people.

Moscow May Be Forced to Make Vaccinations Compulsory for Many, Severinov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 16 – New increases in the number of Russians infected with the coronavirus and a slowing of the rate of increase in the number of Russians getting vaccinated may compel Moscow to make vaccinations compulsory for officials and others in key institutions, Konstantin Severinov says. Otherwise, there will be a third wave and disaster.

            The head of the Institute for Molecular Genetics at the Russian Academy of Sciences says that fewer than 10 percent of Russians have yet been vaccinated and that only 10 percent more have recovered, leaving the country far from the levels needed for herd immunity (

            Obviously, the scholar says, individuals should have freedom of choice; but at the same time, the government must recognize that those who choose not to will infect others and take steps to require that those in places where they deal with the public get the vaccine to limit the spread and a new wave of the pandemic.

            Today, Russian officials registering 8554 new cases of infection and 391 new deaths from the coronavirus, with figures for Moscow down and those for St. Petersburg still rising as most of the rest of the country remained unchanged (, and

            Health Minister Mikhail Murashko appealed to Russians to get vaccinated “without waiting for the third wave,” as anew Superjob poll showed that 42 percent of Russians say they have no intention of getting the vaccine under any conditions, while 20 percent said they would if it allowed them to go abroad ( and

Peaceful Coexistence between Armenians and Azerbaijanis ‘Not Possible,’ Each Side Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 15 – The latest incidents on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in which Yerevan has accused Baku of violating Armenian sovereignty and Baku has responded by saying that its troops are simply shifting on what is Azerbaijani territory shows both how far from peace the region still is and even suggests that peaceful coexistence between the two is impossible.

            MBK journalist Liza Velyaminova spoke with two journalists about how the peoples of those two countries view the larger picture, Viktoriya Pisarenko of Yerevan and Emil Akhundov of Baku, who offer a more realistic but pessimistic assessment than Moscow media have since Vladimir Putin brokered a ceasefire between the two countries in November 2020.

            Pisarenko, a university student, says that all Armenians expected an escalation of the fighting this spring. “Everyone predicted this,” she says. “They said that people had to get through the winter” and then be prepared for a renewal of military actions “at the end of April or the middle of May” (

            Akhundov for his part says that for the last 30 years, Azerbaijanis have been living “in expectation of new military actions” and so new violence is only to be expected, although he suggests that “the present conflict won’t grow into a full-scale war.” Azerbaijan now is in a position to reintegrate lands that are properly its.

            Like Armenians, however, Azerbaijanis remember clearly the losses they suffered last fall and do not want to have any repetition, the Baku journalist continues. Every day, people in Azerbaijan are reminded about those losses and also about Azerbaijan’s victory against the Armenian occupiers.

                Pisarenko says that in Armenia too, there are mixed feelings; but she decries the appearance of Internet posts suggesting that “we are so great” that we can go to war again and win. Akhundov for his part adds that “after the war, hatred between Azerbaijanis and Armenians has increased many times over.”

            Yerevan is full of tourists now, Pisarenko says; and there is little sense of the war. But she says, her friends and acquaintances “are ready for the worst course of development. We understand what can happen and what we must do in that event.” As a result, “we all will stand shoulder to shoulder with our boys” in uniform.

            Akhundov is also inclined to pessimism. “I do not see a possibility for peaceful coexistence,” he says. Talk of open borders and trade is fine, but at the everyday level, “I cannot imagine this after such a quantity of victims among the civilian population has build up.” No one is going to forget that anytime soon.


Chechnya’s Housing Stock Largely Rebuilt but Not Its Factories

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 15 – Moscow and Grozny regularly post pictures of the center of the Chechen capital today to make the claim that the republic has completely recovered from the wars Russia launched against that North Caucasus republic in the past. But what neither stresses is a fateful imbalance: Chechens have rebuilt their homes, but no one has rebuilt their factories.

            The Chechens have a long tradition of working on their houses during weekends and vacations, and they have done so to a remarkable degree over the last decade. But the republic has been unable to attract investors to rebuild the factories and Ramzan Kadyrov has not used the money Moscow sends for that purpose.

            As a result, a heavily illustrated article on Zen.Yandex suggests, much of Chechnya looks just fine as far as the residences of its people are concerned; but the republic lacks the industrial economy that was its base before 1991 and shows little sign of getting it back (

            According to the article, outside investors say they are reluctant to invest because they have no idea what conditions will be like over the next 20 to 30 years, perhaps a more accurate reflection of what people really think about the future of Chechnya than those offered by Moscow and those it has installed as rulers in Chechnya itself.

            The skyscrapers Kadyrov has erected in Grozny may look impressive, but they can’t hide three things: the dominance of women because the men have been killed or forced to flee to Russia or abroad for work or to avoid arrest, the power of the teips over all aspects of life, and the massive presence of siloviki who are prepared to view any violation as separatism.

            All three things, the article says, suggest the peace in Chechnya is shakier and more deceptive than many want to believe; and it points to “the de-Russification” of the republic which means there is less glue to hold Chechnya to Russia than is the case in other non-Russian republics.

            Because that is so, it is the height of absurdity to think that Russians will soon be travelling around Chechnya the way they do around the Altai. That isn’t possible now and won’t be for a long time, perhaps ever because Chechens aren’t going to forget or forgive what the Russian invasions meant.

            “The cemeteries are a reminder of that, and even now, Chechens keep up the graves of “those who died in the war with Russia,” not exactly the image of the past the Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin want to project and one that suggests the future there is far less certain than Moscow thinks.