Wednesday, September 12, 2018

In Challenging Navalny to a Duel, Zolotov is ‘a Mirror of Russian Degradation,’ Pastukhov Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 12 – Russia has had many kinds of people at the top of its political pyramid, Vladimir Pastukhov says; but rarely has it had some who have risen to the top without a revolution who are “so uncouth” as now in the case of Viktor Zolotov, the commander of Russia’s National Guard who has challenged opposition leader Aleksey Navalny to a duel.

            “When a powerful favorite, the first gendarme of the Empire, threatens his opponent,” the London-based Russian historian and commentator says, “this is dangerous” because no one has any doubts that he has “unlimited possibilities in a state where law does not operate” (mbk.sobchakprotivvseh.ru/sences/viktor-zolotov-kak-zerkalo/).

            “But when [this man] proposes to fight his opponent in public so as to reduce him with his own hands to mush, this is already not dangerous but rather funny and sad,” Pastukhov continues. Everyone needs to remember that “what is permitted a military officer is not permitted to a gendarme.” Zolotov, the historian says, is not General Rokhlin.

            Because there has been much talk of dueling in Russia lately, however, some around Zolotov apparently became convinced that he should issue this challenge. But they didn’t think it through and couldn’t imagine how Russians and Navalny would react to such a challenge and such a threat – and how it would affect their views of the powers that be.

            When Usmanov made his dismissive comments about Navalny, that was one thing. “Here however is something else – a fatal inadequacy, a lack of correspondence with the times, a falling out of the cultural space.  Zolotov’s declaration broke through not so much a political or legal bottom as a cultural one.”

            Indeed, Pastukhov continues, “it has become an indicator of the completion of the process of the de-civilization of Russia, and therefore it must be considered in the first instance precisely as a cultural and not as a political or legal phenomenon.”

            Zolotov, the historian says, “is among the group of leaders who are the first to successfully complete this process themselves, at the very least with regard to themselves. He isn’t capable of sensing the border between wildness and culture.” His appeal to the officer’s code of honor only highlights this fact.

            “In reality,” Pastukhov continues, Zolotov “is guided by an entirely different code, the law of the pack.  His reaction is the reaction of a caveman, direct and primitive … It is thus strange that he didn’t propose eating the heart of his enemy at the end of the fight.”  That would have been consistent.

            In Zolotov’s mental world, “physically dealing with opponents directly is normal,” and all the work of humankind to move beyond that over the centuries is something he is not familiar with. In his caveman-like naivete, he is not frightening but funny” – and that carries with it problems for him and for his fellow members of the pack.

            Frightening are the people who killed Nemtsov, Politkovskaya and Estemirova without any publicity. Frightening too are those who torture defenseless people in jails And frightening are Zolotov’s subordinates who “have ceased to distinguish men from women, children from adults” and suppress everyone at protests.

            Here we are speaking about something else, Pastukhov says, “about complete cultural disorientation, about the loss of criteria which allow people to make distinctions between between what can be said aloud and what can be remarked about only after the microphone is turned off.”

            “Zolotov,” Pastukhov argues, “is a distorted mirror of the state of Russian culture today,” a reflection of the fact that “the cult of the fist flourishes and that he who has the biggest fist in the land becomes its chief shaman.” 

            But Zolotov’s actions do have a political meaning: On the one hand, they are causing the Russian people to laugh at their leaders, a development that is always corrosive of the power leaders have. And on the other, they are making Navalny more popular, something Zolotov certainly wouldn’t have wanted to do but now cannot fail to do anything else.


Share of Russians Trusting TV News has Fallen from 79 Percent to 49 Percent Over Last Nine Years, Levada Center Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 12 – Thirty percent fewer Russians trust television news than did nine years ago, with the share saying they do falling from 79 to 49 percent, the Levada Center says. Over the same period, the share of Russians saying that they trust Internet news sites has risen from seven percent to 24 percent – or almost one in every four residents of that country.

            Respondents to a new Levada Center poll say that they view the Internet as providing more objective news than Russian television does on the issue of pension reform, the lifestyles of politicians, the state of the economy, protest actions and foreign policy (vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2018/09/12/780726).

            This decline in public trust in television parallels the decline in trust in Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials. Indeed, the decline in trust in the one case promotes the decline in the other, and each may thus reinforce the other, with more declines ahead for both if nothing radically changes.

            Despite this shift in patterns of trust, Russians continue to get their news from TV, although the share doing so has fallen from 94 percent in 2009 to 73 percent now, while the share who prefer to rely on the Internet has risen from nine percent to 37 percent, Elena Mukhametshina of Vedomosti reports. 

            Among young people aged 18 to 24, these figures are 49 percent for TV as against 54 percent for the Internet while among those over 55, the figures are 89 percent for television and 18 percent for Internet news.

            As a result of growing social tensions and especially after the announcement of the government’s plan to raise retirement ages, Levada Center director Lev Gudkov says, “the rise in the level of distrust to television intensified” given that people felt TV shows were not saying what they knew to be true.

            “Trust in the official world is falling, especially among the young and more educated,” he continues. This reflects not so much technology and modernization as the way in which information is provided in the different media. “People feel sharply that TV is not talking about the negative aspects of pension reform” even though they can see them in their own lives.

            The sociologist added that his surveys also show that Russians are tired of the regime’s unceasing “anti-Western propaganda.”
           
            Moscow political analyst Aleksey Makarkin says that the loss of trust in television has been a two-step process. The first stage reflected the fact that a significant portion of young people “do not want to watch television [because] they consider its format archaic” as they cannot take part in the conversation as they can in social media and the Internet.

            The second stage began with the pension reform and involved middle-aged peole who “in the majority of cases remain oriented to the old Soviet career patterns.” They have a work book and expect to collect their pensions as merited at 55 or 60. Now that won’t happen, and television has failed to talk about the clash of their expectations and the new reality.

            If television were to adopt a more pluralistic approach, it would regain the trust of the population, Makarkin continues. “But the authorities remember perestroika” when criticism got out of hand. Therefore, the powers that be aren’t likely to change much: they may replace a few talking heads but they aren’t going to make “essential shifts.”

Aeroflot to Set Up Four Regional Hubs Outsidef Moscow, Changing Russian Transportation Patterns Forever


Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 12 – In an indication of what the Kremlin’s move toward the economic regionalization may in fact look like, Aeroflot has announced that it plans to establish four hubs outside of Moscow and to begin flights between and among them and not only via Moscow’s Sheremetyevo as is currently the case.

            According to a report in Vedomosti, the four will include St. Petersburg, Sochi, Krasnoyarsk, and a city in the Urals, most likely either Yekaterinburg or Chelyabinsk (vedomosti.ru/business/articles/2018/09/10/780500-aeroflot-haba and thebell.io/aeroflot-potratit-sotni-millionov-dollarov-na-sozdanie-habov-v-regionah/).

            The project will cost hundreds of millions of US dollars, the company says; and it will take some years to be completed. But if the Russian “hub” system works as the American one does, it will fundamentally change the relations of other regional cities among themselves and between them and Moscow.
           
            On the one hand, flights to more distant parts of Russia, including Moscow, will under this system go through these hub cities rather than as now going to Moscow and then on to the destinations.  That will make these hubs vastly more important than the other cities outside of Moscow.

            And on the other, it will mean that people in the regions will look to their regional hub city rather than to Moscow for their transportation needs. That shift in orientation regarding transportation is likely to affect the mental maps people have, reducing the centrality of Moscow and increasing the importance of regions and regional hub cities.

            Because the economic and potentially political consequences of this change are so great, the cities of Yekaterinbug and Chelyabinsk are now locked in an intense competition to be Aeroflot’s regional hub in the Urals. The winning city will gain in stature, and the loser is certain to fade (ura.news/articles/1036276172).