The Closing of the Russian Mind: Four Snapshots

Here are four reasons why, despite my affection for Kirill Medvedev’s work, I found his recent appeal to the “intelligentsia,” the “youth,” and all other Russians of good will a little odd. He should be honest enough to know he is appealing to what is, increasingly, thin air. Fifteen years of Putinism have decimated “public discourse” and intellectual life in Russia, and now it seems the regime wants to finish the once-mighty Russian mind off once and for all.

Which is not to say that the pro-Putin “euphoria” described in the first two snapshots is not a stage-managed affair to a huge degree, as obliquely suggested by the fourth snapshot.

1.
According to a survey published this week by the respected independent pollster Levada Centre, 82% of Russians believe MH17 was brought down by either a Ukrainian army fighter plane or missile. Just 3% thought the insurgents were to blame. Given these kind of figures, the prospect of Putin facing a backlash of public anger over suspected weapons supplies to separatist gunmen is virtually zero. Ironically, Putin probably faces more danger from Russians disappointed by his failure to provide more assistance to the rebels. “Many people feel cheated by his refusal to use military force [in east Ukraine],” Alexander Dugin, an ultranationalist thinker whose ideas are reported to have influenced recent Kremlin policy, told me recently.

Western officials may be hoping economic sanctions will force Russians to rethink their support for Putin, but in reality such measures will achieve little more than an entrenchment of a growing fortress mentality. State media’s routine and increasingly vitriolic attacks on the west’s “decadent” morals mean Russians are likely to accept any economic and social hardships brought about by US and European sanctions. Tellingly, in another Levada Centre poll this week, 61% of Russians said they were unconcerned by the threat of sanctions, while 58% were similarly unfazed by the looming possibility of political isolation over the Kremlin’s stance on Ukraine.

These head-in-the-sand attitudes are bolstered by what the director of Levada Centre, Lev Gudkov, calls a “patriotic and chauvinistic euphoria”rooted in the almost bloodless annexation of Crimea in March, which was popular among Russians across the political spectrum. It’s alsoworth noting that many “ordinary” Russians are uninterested in politics and have only scant knowledge of the issues at hand.

source: The Guardian

2.
MOSCOW, July 31 (RIA Novosti) – Life satisfaction and social optimism indices in Russia skyrocketed, reaching all-time highs despite political challenges according to polls conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM).

“Within the last three months, indices of social well-being have shown unprecedented growth, stabilizing at extremely high levels. In June the satisfaction index reached its all-time high of 79 points and the indices of financial self-assessment and social optimism, now at 76 and 77 points respectively, have also risen and stabilized at new highs,” says the poll.

The economic sanctions imposed by the US and EU over the crisis in Ukraine seem to have little effect on Russians. According to the polls, Russians are now far less concerned with the future of their country than they were last year.

The number of Russians who have not ruled out the possibility of a war with neighboring countries is now 23 percent of the population, up from just 10 percent last year. However, the number of those concerned about a Western military threat has held steady at 13 percent for the past eight years.

The VCIOM opinion poll was conducted in 2014, interviewing 1,600 respondents in 130 communities in 42 regions of Russia. Data are weighted by gender, age, education, working status and type of settlement. The polls have margins of error of no more than 3.4%.

source: RIA Novosti

3.
It’s bad news for Russian bloggers, then, that starting today, anyone who attracts more than 3,000 daily readers to his blog is considered a de facto journalist and must register. (In a largely symbolic gesture, LiveJournal has already stopped reporting blog subscribers beyond the 2,500 mark.) Registration entails turning over your personal details to the government—including, of course, your name, meaning anonymous blogging is now illegal for many. (By the way, the law applies to any blog written in Russian for Russians; a post you write from a Brooklyn cafe could face censorship from Moscow.) Bloggers will also be held liable for any alleged misinformation they publish, even in comments written by somebody else. And, insult to injury, bloggers aren’t even allowed to use profanity; a single naughty word would put them in violation of the law. Failure to comply results in a $280 to $1,400 fine as well as a ban on your blog.

The new legislation represents a rather obvious attempt by the Russian government to shut down all criticism of the Kremlin, particularly from the left. The government has already granted itself the authority to shut down any website and used this power to crush popular left-leaning news sites. With this next step, the Kremlin clearly hopes to scare the smaller fish into complying with the official party line. And Russia’s insane Internet crackdown won’t stop with blogs: Starting in 2016, all websites that store data on Russian citizens will have to move their servers to Russian soil—a blatant attempt to assert control over social networks and search engines.

source: Slate.com

orthofascists

4.
The application of [the new law on compulsory registration of NGOs receiving foreign funding as “foreign agents”] against scientific institutions, in fact, constitutes a professional ban on sociologists. Sociology that does not affect public opinion (directly or indirectly) is nonsense. Sociology that does not raise sensitive issues or suggest original answers that run counter to public opinion is intellectually bankrupt. Sociology that does not affect management decisions is as defective as governance that does not use the opportunities of independent social research. Sociology that is deprived of critical analysis of different “policies” loses connections with social science and turns into political technology. Sociology that does not succeed in the competitiveinternational research grant market is devoid of incentives for growth and is doomed to extinction.

In the modern world, any science that exists in isolation from the global context loses its ability to develop. All attempts to control global processes of scientific exchange only lead to the bureaucratization of science, the flourishing of pseudoscientific theories, and talented and open-minded scholars leaving the country. The persecution of independent researchers and research organizations puts an end to the development of a full-fledged scientific community and leads to the degradation of the humanities in Russia, which will ultimately result in a deficit of ideas and strategies for the future of our country.

The law on “foreign agents” is not the only sign of the long-standing crisis of the Russian administrative and political system. It is embedded in a series of decisions that aim to expand state control over various aspects of society and their submission to the bureaucratic logic of the “vertical” power. We can see this in the introduction of censorship and persecution of disloyal media, financial and administrative pressure on public (and especially human rights) organizations, the sterilization of historical memory (pressure on the “Memorial” and ”Perm 36”), criminal and administrative persecution for political reasons and independent (not controlled by the state) activism, dismissal of leading high school teachers for being disloyal touniversity superiors and many other cases. Self-censorship is booming in this society, for which survival has become the main motivation for its members. Overt or non-obvious subjection of one’s own activity to the goals of the “vertical” power is turning into the most effective model of behavior.

It is obvious for us that an independent social science is crucial for a society whose interests are not limited to maintaining stability and “unity” at any costs. An authoritarian state does not need reflection that a professional independent research can provide. It is satisfied with VCIOM polls and various ratings that allow the maintenance of “vertical” tension and promotion of “patriotism”. Such a regime will inevitably degrade and become obsolete, but during its heyday it manages to destroy much of what came before it and exists in spite of it.

We believe that the lack of interest towards the professional opinion of independent sociological community, which often oppose bureaucratic perspectives, points to the incompetence of the Russian administration. The pressure exerted on NGOs and non-governmental scientific centers indicates that the political administration of our country no longer needs feedback and has no interest in the actual state of affairs in Russia. This means it condemns our country to the harsh effects of unreasoned political and economic decisions.

source: Centre for Independent Social Research

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