Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Russian Victims of Natural Disasters Send Record Number of Complaints to Putin, Kremlin Admits

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 14 – Russian victims of flooding and fires sent more than 2500 complaints to Vladimir Putin during April and May complaining about the failure of the authorities to help them, a number far in excess of the figures registered in 2019 before the pandemic and the war in Ukraine occurred, the Kremlin has acknowledged.

            According to the Kremlin, almost a third of these complaints came from Orenburg Oblast alone, the hardest hit region in the Russian Federation situated between Bashkortostan and Kazakhstan (letters.kremlin.ru/digests/year/2024/308, letters.kremlin.ru/digests/year/2024/309 and istories.media/news/2024/06/14/zhalobi-na-problemi-s-viplatami/).

            While the Putin regime may be pleased that Russians choose to write to Putin about their problems rather than to any one else, its officials can hardly welcome the fact that these data suggest that Russians are ever more ready to complain in a public and entirely identifiable way about things that hit their lives directly.

Russian Opposition Paralyzed by Fear of Choice Between Centralization and Disintegration, Guseynov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 16 – One of the most serious weaknesses of the Russian opposition, Gasan Guseynov says, is a lack of a vocabulary which could allow it to overcome its paralyzing fear “before the choice between a centralized Russian state and a multiplicity of new states which could arise on the territory of the present-day Russian Federation.”

            The Paris-based Russian philologist says that the words leaders of the opposition use not only prevent them from seeing just how far Russia has moved to becoming a Russian nation state but also prevent them from being able to navigate between centralizers now in power and those who advocate disintegration as the only way forward (rfi.fr/ru/россия/20240616-с-чего-начинается-освобождение-языка).

            The word “disintegration” frightens them to the point that they cannot respond adequately when it is mentioned. As a result, they don’t recognize how small that threat is now that Russia is becoming a nation state and thus find themselves in an alliance with the centralizing imperialists and thus make the possibility of disintegration far greater.

            Is it really better for Russian people today living in the vastness of Eurasia to have a single aggressive and unjust state rather than several additional compact and peace-loving states named for example after large Russian cities or regions?”  the philologist asks rhetorically. But the vocabulary the Russian opposition uses prevents this from even being discussed.

            Instead, Guseynov says, those in the opposition who dream of “a beautiful Russia of the future … forbid representatives of the Russian minorities from even mentioning the possibility of ‘the collapse of Russia.” And still worse, they tell the latter to “’know their place’” lest in saying anything about changing relations between center and periphery they frighten people.

Muslims Moving Beyond the Umma into Russian Establishment

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 14 – Kazan’s Business Online has offered its list of the 100 most influential Muslims in the Russian Federation. The most striking thing about the list is that these influentials are now in the Russian establishment government or business rather than at the top of the Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) which oversee the umma in that country.

            Among the top 10 of these influential Muslims, only three are leaders of the Muslim community as usually understood: Ravil Gainutdin, head of the MSD of Russia, Talgat Tajuddin, head of the Central MSD in Ufa, and Albir Krganov, head of the Spiritual Assembly of Russia (business-gazeta.ru/article/636876).

            The others are government officials, Duma members and business leaders, a pattern that holds for the other 90 Muslims on the list, and clear testimony to the fact that Muslims now have multiple ways of rising to the top of Russian society and are not nearly as ghettoized as some would like and many more continue to believe is the case. 


Navalny Team’s ‘Traitors’ Affecting Russian Opposition Much as Khrushchev’s 1956 Secret Speech Affected Communists, Zharkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 14 – The new film, Traitors, prepared by Navalny’s Foundation for the Struggle with Corruption, is having an impact on the Russian opposition comparable to that which Khrushchev’s secret speech in 1956 had on communists both in the USSR and around the world, according to Vasily Zharkov.

            In both cases, the Russian activist who is now at the European University of the Humanities in Vilnius says, they attacked an earlier leader, Yeltsin in the film and Stalin in the speech, for betraying the principles in which he supposedly acted and opened the way for the recovery of those principles (moscowtimes.ru/2024/06/14/dvadtsatii-sezd-v-emigratsii-a134023).

            Just as Khrushchev’s attack on Stalin gave “the children of the 20th congress” the opportunity to seek to restore Leninism so now the film is giving “a new generation of Russian politicians, the generation of the children of Aleksey Navalny” the opportunity to propose “their version of a democratic future and a path to a more just, equal and free society.”

            “In the eyes of most Russians, the terms ‘democracy’ and ‘liberalism’ were seriously discredited by the policy of Yeltsin and his team.” If they are to be revived, they must be freed of that burden, something that requires “an analysis of the mistakes of previous political generations” and a rejection of their discredited approaches.

            Comparing the new film with the 1956 congress is “of course, a metaphor.” There are many differences, but these two events are “turning points for the history of ideologies and the political history of Russia.” The 20th congress began “the long process of revising ideas of socialism;” the new film, the ideology of liberalism and democracy.

            “In criticizing Stalin, Khrushchev called for returning to ‘Leninist principles’ but not to tsarist times.” In criticizing Yeltsin, the new film is doing something similar, not calling for a return to Soviet times but to fulfilling the promises of democracy and freedom that Yeltsin failed to keep.

            That demolishes what had been a long-standing consensus in the liberal opposition: say nothing about Yeltsin or speak only good about him.” Now what the first Russian president did to subvert democracy and freedom can be openly discussed by a new generation of opposition figures without any suggestion that the alternative is a return to Sovietism a la Putin.

            For the opposition, criticism of Yeltsin has been “finally legalized,” and that has triggered a fight between the older generation of opposition figures who backed his “good tsar” approach to introducing the ideology but not the substance of freedom and democracy and those who want those values in forms that allow them to be pursued.

            What happened under Yeltsin was the establishment of “freedom exclusively in a negative sense, freedom from government oversight but not freedom for participation in the affairs of the state and society. The state and the people for a time turned out to be free from one another, but a decade later, the state retook what it had lost,” Zharkov says.

            Most of the earlier opposition leaders have fled abroad but there they lost social capital and “committed a fatal mistake,” he continues. That mistake, which consists of “a fear of the people alongside the absolutization of the role of the market,” remains for them what it was for Russian liberal dogmatists of the 1990s, the only way forward.

            Their attitude can be summed up in the following way: In addressing the people, they say “you are rabble so you don’t deserve anything good in your life. You will never have democracy but must instead recognize our privileges and power over you in Russia because we are your intellectual elite.”

            “Such a message,” Zharkov points out, “does not make democratic ideas more popular across society.” Instead, by taking that position, “Russian liberals have driven themselves into a ghetto from they can escape only by returning to empathy for their fellow citizens,” something a younger generation of the opposition is willing to do.

            “Unlike the heirs of the old Soviet pop nobility who flourished in the 1990s,” the commentator says, “these people do not consider themselves ‘an elite’ and are much closer to understanding the needs and aspirations of the mass population.” They don’t view their fellow countrymen “as a rabble but rather as people worthy of living in an equal and free society.”

            The new film will speed this process as it is “high time” for “the Russian opposition to leave the pseudo-elite ghetto” it has been in and instead “learn to speak with the people in a respectful way and in clearly understandable language,” Zharkov concludes.

 

Monday, June 17, 2024

Putin Arose Because Russian Reformers of 1990s Focused on Privatizing Economy Rather than on Creating a New Political System, Chernova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 11 – Russian liberal reformers in the 1990s laid the groundwork for the rise of a ruler like Putin by using despotic means to achieve the liberal goal of privatizing the economy rather than seeking to create a new political system that would institutionalize conflicts, Elena Chernova says.

            The St. Petersburg sociologist who specializes in the study of conflict says that by acting in this way, the reformers allowed those like Putin who favored a despotic approach to all things to rise to power because they set the precedent and failed to create countervailing institutions (reforum.io/blog/2024/06/11/kak-ne-predat-sleduyushhuyu-popytku-demokratizaczii/).

            “The reformers have entered history as liberals because they freed the economy from the rule of the CPSU and proclaimed a free market,” she argues; “but on the political level, they acted in the typical despotic approach to the country as an economic system.” That subverted their own goals and made the return of authoritarianism inevitable.

            The Russian economy “beyond doubt” needed to be restructured, “but the political system needed to be created from scratch.” Instead of focusing on that, the reformers argued that “democracy would have to be developed after the introduction of ‘elements’ of capitalism.” And as is not always appreciated, that departed from what Gorbachev was trying to do.

            “Gorbachev’s reforms,” Chernova continues, “were directed above all at the development of ‘glasnost and pluralism,’ that is on the creation of a republic political milieu. But after 1991, Boris Yeltsin led a team of reformers for whom politics was equated with economics and pluralism was an afterthought.” The clash of October 1993 highlighted this change.

            The Yeltsin government, “armed with the only true economic doctrine of the free market, sought to quickly get into a bright future” [stress supplied, just as the Soviet government had]. The conflict was acute and was fundamentally different than anything that had occurred in public in Soviet times.

            But instead of viewing this as progress to a new Russia, “Yeltsin labelled it a destructive vicious cycle he had to break” to ensure that his position won and resistance was destroyed. As a result, “the liquidation of the ‘retrograde’ parliament was not the beginning of the end of democracy but the restoration of the traditional despotic type of government” Russia has had.

            As a result, a Putin figure became almost inevitable.

Chernova does not say but very much could have that the approach of the Russian liberals in the 1990s was in fact supported by Western governments who were quite prepared to declare Russia a democracy even though it wasn’t as long as the regime dismantled the state-controlled economy and blocked the return of the communism.

 

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Patriotic Education in Russia Both Broadly Similar and Very Different from Its Soviet Predecessor, Vinogradov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 11 – Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the Petersburg Politics Foundation, says that the content of patriotic education in Russia under Vladimir Putin shows 10 important continuities with that of Soviet times but varies in 20 equally important ways by what it leaves out and what it includes.

            The continuities (t.me/Vinogradov74/3994) include:

1.     Positive assessment of country’s past rulers except for immediate predecessors,

2.     Identification of the country, state and people with the current regime,

3.     Emphasis on country’s exceptionalism,

4.     Ideological loyalty based on birth or citizenship,

5.     Presenting West as main threat to the country,

6.     Emphasizing weakness, injustice and approaching collapse of opposing countries,

7.     Support for countries in the third world who are opposed to the colonial and imperial west,

8.     Glorification of military service,

9.     Government pressure on family to promote these values, and

10.  Avoidance of any reflection of social stratification or divisions within one’s own country.

The 10 features of Putin-era propaganda that were not found in its Soviet predecessor.

1.     Promotion of patriotism as the key ideological element,

2.     Promotion of traditionalism and emphasis on threats from minorities of various kinds,

3.     Promotion of cultural homogenization as an ideological goal,

4.     Backing for geopolitical rivalry and the creation of a multi-polar world,

5.     Emphasis on and unconditional priority for national interests that remain undefined,

6.     Appeals to the use of nuclear weapons as the argument of last resort.

7.     Playing down of the value of international partnerships,

8.     Presentation of China as the primary ally,

9.     Moral sympathy for those who engage in violence, and

10.  Support for the idea that the previous century was “golden.” 

And the 10 principles found in Soviet patriotic propaganda that are not found in the Putin-era variant:

1.     Internationalism,

2.     Atheism,

3.     Humanism,

4.     Progressivism,

5.     Anti-Capitalism,

6.     Criticism of consumption,

7.     Collectivism and egalitarianism,

8.     Any talk about the obligation of the state to the citizenry

9.     Encouragement of social mobility, and

10.  The struggle for peace and disarmament.

Putin Working to Reduce Nations within Russia to Status of Ethnic Groups, Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 15 – Since coming to power in 2000, Vladimir Putin has consistently worked to reduce the peoples within the current borders of the Russian Federation from self-standing nations, as proclaimed in the 1993 Russian constitution to mere Russian-speaking ethnic groups, Kharun (Vadim) Sidorov says.

            This change in terms, one long promoted by neo-Eurasianist Aleksandr Dugin (tengrifund.ru/aleksandr-dugin-o-desuverenizacii-respublik.html) and former nationalities minister Valery Tishkov (iz.ru/920557/valerii-tishkov/narod-ne-umiraet-s-iazykom), is no small thing, the Prague-based specialist on ethnic issues says (idelreal.org/a/mordovskiy-festival-i-rossiyskaya-mnogonatsionalnost-/32992102.html).

            Instead, it is fateful because once the peoples of the Russian Federation are reduced from the status of nations to that of ethnic groups, they are put on the road to losing their republics and their languages and becoming component parts of the only remaining nation in the country, the ethnic Russians.

            While many in Western countries may have no problem with this change, viewing it as nothing more than bringing Russia into line with what their countries have gone through in the past and now enshrine as completely acceptable, two aspects of Russian policy show why this is a mistake, Sidorov continues.

            On the one hand, Moscow is reducing nationality to ethnicity by suggesting that festivals are the best manifestation of the latter and working to eliminate distinctions between nations within the Russian Federation and ethnic groups with roots in other countries where those groups are defended as nations.

            And on the other, Moscow’s approach stops when it comes to the ethnic Russians not only within the country but especially beyond its borders where the Russian government demands that other states protect Russians as a nation and opposes all efforts to reduce them to the status of an ethnic group speaking the language of the state in which it exists.

            Sidorov’s important reflections on this point have been prompted by events in Mordvinia, a place where there are two nations submerged by Soviet and Russian policy to an artificial Mordvin identity and where these are equated with registered Cossack and diaspora groups and where all concerned are being compelled to speak Russian and ultimately to reidentify as such.