Russia Has Surpassed the Soviet Union: I Would Only Learn German Because Putin Spoke It
Liana Turpakova Vechorka
February 24, 2017
Russian TV channels were dominated by the February 23 holiday yesterday. The topic of war and patriotism was off the scale at a concert held to mark the holiday, as broacast on Channel One.
One girl recited a poem in the style of Mayakovsky, which ended as follows: “And though I were an old man getting on in years, really, in fact, basically, I would learn to speak German only because Putin had spoken it.”
The audience applauded, of course, and the camera switched to a shot of VVP and Defense Minister Shoigu, seated in the first row. They didn’t smile, but looked on seriously. Shoigu said something to Putin.
I was a Young Pioneer during the Brezhnev era. We recited lots of poems with a patriotic filling, and if they mentioned the names of Soviet leaders, those leaders were dead. I am talking about Lenin. At the time, there were no panegyric verses about the then-General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. Words of gratitude were spoken, and there were slogans, but children, at least at my school, did not memorize anything of the sort. Odes to the living leader of the country were composed and declaimed only under Stalin. The parallels are obvious. And they say that insanity flourished in the Soviet Union.
I’ll take another potshot at this ecstatic orgy. How do you like the idea of building a mock-up of the Reichstag, in Patriot Park in Kubinka, for the Yunarmiya kids to storm? As Shoigu noted, they would thus have “a specific location to storm, not just any old place.” We’re talking about the same Yunarmiya kids who performed the doggerel about Putin. I am sure they fought it amongst themselves over how who would get to recite the punchline about the country’s biggest VIP. It was the girl who gets straight A’s at school and whose comportment is impeccable.
I’m not against promoting love for one’s country. But this business about German and Putin is clearly overkill. By the way, it used to be a joke. Now it’s a patriotic poem. The times have changed.
Holiday Concert in Celebration of Defender of the Fatherland Day, 23 February 2017, in its entirety. Originally broadcast on Channel One in Russia
How to Understand the Russian Orthodox Church
Grigory Lourié Ekho Moskvy
February 24, 2017
There are people whom the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has succeeded in surprising. This group now includes not only its own parishioners but also utterly innocent folks. Their terms of reference for the ROC were at odds with reality. That is the sort of thing that happens with terms of reference, even when they emerged in the pure souls of first-year seminary students or, on the contrary, in the elastic souls of museum directors. It even happens that officials of a secular state, who by constitution are not supposed to have souls at all, conceive false terms of reference for the ROC.
We won’t discuss the question of how the ROC is “actually” organized. Our objective is modest: describing the terms of reference by which we can predict all of the ROC’s actions as a corporation, both internally and externally—meaning what makes it tick.
Attentive analysts have already conceived one model. It is correct albeit too crude, and so it leads to lots of mistakes. It is only around 60% accurate. But we shall start with it, and then we will modify it to make it 100% accurate.
I am referring to the so-called business model, which imagines the ROC as a corporation with a monopoly on the business of religious ritual. Its unattainable paragon is Gazprom. Like Gazprom, it wants to be ubiquitous from bottom to top, from the flats of poor people to the Kremlin and international politics. Like Gazprom, it is involved in the international rivalry over natural monopolies. (The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, its main competitor, grabbed it by the throat and forced it to release Ukraine.) Like Gazprom, the ROC is not in the business of historical preservation. You can put the religious ritual businessman into a museum, but you cannot turn him into a museum curator. The controversy surrounding the potential transfer of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the ROC is on a par with Gazprom’s attempt to build a skyscraper on the spot where the Swedish fortresses Landskrona and Nyenskans had once stood.
The business model, however, is at odds with the ROC’s other qualities. Real money likes silence, but the ROC likes money and hullabaloo at the same time. Its bishops enjoy a luxury worth of African chieftains, not modest millionaires. The inefficiency of slave labor is a scientific fact, but rank-and-file ROC clerics say that slavery was outlawed in Russia in the nineteenth century, but not for Russian priests. Finally, run-of-the-mill businesses do not defend their turf either with religious processions led by storm troopers or round dances featuring “pale boys with burning eyes,” whatever their age or sex.
These things are symptomatic of the emergence of archetypal regressive groups within the business. As described by British psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion, all three such so-called basic assumption groups find a place in our precise portrait of the ROC.
Screenshot of an announcement posted on the VK social network page of Andrei Kormukhin, coordinator of the fascist Russian Orthodox lay movement Sorok sorokov (SS). (The name of the movement should be translated as “Multitude,” rather than “Forty by Forty” or “Forty Forties,” as you might find in other Anglophone articles on right-wing extremism in the ROC.) The poster invites Petersburgers to take part in a religious procession at St. Isaac’s Cathedral on 19 February 2017. It urges them to “join the right ranks,” and not a “faggot” [sic] or people wearing blue ribbons, the symbol adopted by Petersburgers opposed to the earlier Gazprom skyscraper project on the Neva River and now plans to hand over St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the ROC. In Russia, “blue” also connotes “gay.” Courtesy of Fontanka.ru
The model takes the shape of a living being, consisting of a fleshy body and the two halves of a thin exoskeleton. The body is the leadership from top to bottom, their subordinates, and the few believers who ask the clergy for advice on how they should live. In Bion’s terms, this is the dependency group. Junior members of the group are infantile and irresponsible vis-à-vis senior members, while the latter are narcissistic and sadistic toward their juniors. Sadomasochism provides everyone with a bit of happiness, even the most abject. The narcissism, typical of the group’s leaders, is often coupled with homosexuality. (This is a medical fact.) You cannot do without it, but not everyone can be allowed to engage in it. So it is a product of elite consumption and a means of climbing the career ladder.
The exoskeleton is the only thing visible from afar, from the vantage point of secular society. The skeleton is thin but sturdy, although it looks shabby, since it is constantly exfoliating.
The first section consists of the storm troopers. Bion labels them the fight-flight group. They are always itching for a fight, and always on the lookout for enemies. There are not enough enemies, so they have fight each other and, sometimes, the leadership. The old layers of chitin thus peel away, even as the exoskeleton accumulates new layers.
The other section of the exoskeleton consists of idealists. They wait and they hope. They know everything about the leadership, but they believe in the Church. Not, however, in the Church that has canons and the examples of the saints, which show how bad church leaders need to be replaced and, most importantly of all, which oblige the faithful to do this. No, they believe in their own church, where “things have always been this way.” Bion call these groups pairing groups. They resemble married couples who go on hoping that Someone with a capital “s” will be born to give their lives meaning, but for the time being they wait and are barely alive. Some grow weary and leave the group, but they are replaced by new members.
Russia’s cultural figures thus “dialogue” with this combative creature, while the country’s officials stumble over themselves trying to sate its appetites, hoping it will cover their own ugliness with its beauty. You cannot even say who are the most inveterate idealists in this case. Judging by their persistent belief in beauty, it must be the government officials.
On February 23, female feminists spoke out—finally!—in defense of men.
“We think the very idea of ‘defenders’ is one of the pillars of oppression, whether ethnic, gender or whatever other kind. From the time they are babies, men are inculcated with the notion that they must be defenders. Actually, however, they are merely taught to behave aggressively and completely suppress their emotions. And they grow up as people prone to exercise violence and control. They become cogs used by those in power, dogs who have been taught a single command: ‘attack.’
“We believe society must change, that a more humane society is a sign of progress. Armies and armed conflicts must become things of the past, like human sacrifice and the bonfires of the Inquisition. Like the first winged chimeras, which had been built but still could not fly.”
Duma to Legalize Elimination of Settlements by the Regions
Maria Makutina RBC
February 22, 2017
The Duma has tabled an amendment that would legalize converting municipal districts into urban districts. RBC’s sources have informed us the move to eliminate local government in settlements would be supported by the relevant committee. In Moscow Region, such mergers have sparked grassroots protests.
An “Elegant Way” of Eliminating Local Self-Government
Mikhail Terentiev, an United Russia MP from Moscow Region, has submitted amendments to the law on general principles of local self-government to the Duma Committee on Local Self-Government. (RBC has the document in its possession.) The MP has proposed amending the law to make it possible to merge all settlements, including rural settlements, that constitute a municipal district with an urban district. Under such a merger, the settlements and the municipal district would forfeit their status as municipal entities. Decisions about such mergers would be taken by regional authorities “with the consent” of local representative bodies.
Terentiev has also proposed changing the definition of an “urban district,” as stipulated by the law. Currently, it is defined as a urban settlement that is not part of a municipal district. The new draft law defines it as “one or more contiguous populated areas that are not municipal entities.”
Moscow Region authorities have found an “elegant and simple way” to legalize the single-tier system of local government that, in recent years has, been established in a number of Russia’s regions, including Moscow Region, Andrei Maximov, an analyst with the Committee of Civic Initiatives, explained to RBC.
In November of last year, Andrei Vorobyov, governor of Moscow Region, announced plans to convert around twenty municipal districts into urban districts in 2016–2017. According to Vorobyov, the reform would save money by reducing the number of officials.
The proposed move sparked popular protests. Moscow Region municipal district council members, unhappy with the dissolution of local executive and representative bodies, held protest rallies. Public hearings on reforming local systems devolved into clashes with the Russian National Guard.
A Local Self-Government Congress was held in Moscow in February. Local council members from Moscow Region requested that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and law enforcement agencies investigate “numerous incidents in which local government bodies, including municipal districts, rural settlements, and urban settlements, have been forcibly dissolved.”
“The law does not provide for dissolving a municipal district or converting it into a urban district, so Moscow Region authorities conceived a way of getting round the law. First, they merge rural settlements with an urban settlement, and then they turn it into an urban district. But the municipal districts are left in a limbo,” said Maximov.
The Presidential Human Right Council has argued that the reforms in Moscow Region violate the public’s right to local self-government. HRC deputy chair Yevgeny Bobrov said as much to Vladimir Putin at the council’s December 8, 2016, meeting. The president promised to “work” on the issue.
Nevertheless, in 2015, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that the merger of two rural settlements and the Ozyory urban settlement into an urban district was legal.
MP Terentiev explained to RBC that his amendments were motivated by the need to optimize the budget in Moscow Region.
“The governor and I realized that money could be saved on officials,” he said.
Thanks to the reforms, “there will be an overall approach to wage policies and the opportunity to reduce administrative barriers to business,” Terentiev argued.
The current law stipulates that Russia is divided into settlements, which are organized into municipal districts, and particularly large settlements, which are organized into urban districts, Maximov explained. According to Terentiev’s draft amendments, any territorial entity in Russia can be turned into an urban district, meaning it can be moved from the two-tier system to the one-tier system.
The authorities have been attempting to confer the status of urban districts on municipal districts in order to dissolve settlements and simplify governance. Rural authorities can interfere with the plans of regional authorities to implement urban planning projects and create obstacles to resolving land use issues, which currently require the consent of the settlements affected, political scientist Alexander Kynyev explained to RBC.
The Total Deterioration of Settlements
Experience has shown that populated areas lacking elements of self-governance deteriorate and disappear, RBC’s source on the Local Self-Government Committee told us. According to the source, the draft amendments would lead to the total deterioration of the settlement-tier of governance throughout the entire country.
“It is nonsense to eliminate settlements in densely populated Moscow Region. It doesn’t fit into any paradigm. It is just the governor’s whim. It will be easier for him to manage his affairs this way, and so the law has been mangled for this sake. He has to demolish everything so it will be easier to build it up again,” RBC’s source said.
The reform has been opposed by people of different views and parties. Local self-government as such has been threatened. As the 2018 presidential election approaches, the federal authorities want to avoid such controversies, argues Kynyev.
Through the Back Gate
Terentiev tabled his draft amendments as part of the second reading of a draft law bill that would abolish direct popular votes on whether to change the status of urban and rural settlements. The government tabled the draft law back in the spring of 2015. It was passed in its first reading the same year, after which the Duma has not returned to it.
Radical change in the territorial basis of local self-government has been brought in “through the back gate,” noted our source in the Duma, although the 2014 local self-government reforms were “seriously discussed” in society, he recalled.
Alexei Didenko (LDPR), chair of the Duma’s Local Self-Government Committee, agreed the draft bill could “eliminate the machinery of popular self-government,” and ordinary people would find it harder to defend their interests. According to Didenko, the draft amendments were at odds with what the president said during his 2013 state of the nation address: “Local governance should be organized in such a way anyone can reach out and touch it.”
Didenko told RBC the decision whether to support Terentiev’s draft amendments or not would be made by his committee, most of whom are United Russia members, in March. Two sources in the Duma told RBC the committee would approve the draft amendments.
How Local Authorities Have Been Stripped of Their Powers
In his December 2013 address to the Federal Assembly, President Putin asked that the organizational principles of local self-government be clarified. According to Putin, the quantity of responsibilities and resources of municipal officials were out of balance, “hence the frequent confusion over powers.”
In May 2014, a law reforming local self-government was passed, endowing the regions with the right to assume a considerable number of the powers previously exercised by local authorities in taking economic decisions.
The original draft of the bill called for the abolition of direct elections of big-city mayors and city council members. The final draft stipulated the heads of municipal entities could be either elected directly or appointed from among council members. In the first case, the head of the municipal entity could lead the administration himself. (If the municipal entity in question is a city, he would become city manager.) In the second case, the head of the municipal entity would chair its representative body.
Regional legislative assemblies were accorded the right to divide cities and towns into intra-urban municipal entities. Two new types of municipal entities were introduced for this purpose: urban districts with intra-city divisions, and intra-urban districts.
First-tier council members (that is, council members of urban and rural settlements) are elected directly by voters. Second-tier council members (of municipal districts and urban districts with intra-city divisions) are either elected or delegated from among the heads of settlements and first-tier council members, in the case of municipal districts, or only from among first-tier council members, in the case of urban districts with intra-city divisions. The method of electing council members was also to have been defined by regional law.
In February 2015, two other methods for electing heads of municipal entities were introduced. The first method allows the head of a municipality, chosen by the municipality’s council from among its members, to lead the local administration. However, he surrenders his mandate as a council member. The second method allows a bureaucrat, chosen by council members from a slate of candidates suggested by a hiring committee, to lead the local administration. This had made it possible for city managers to become autocratic mayors.
Translated by the Russian Reader. See my December 15, 2016, post on the same topic,“In Tomilino.”
Front page of St. Petersburg news website Fontanka.ru on the morning of 21 February 2017. The lead story is headlined, “Who Is Accused of Attempting to Kill Montenegro’s Prime Minister?” On the other hand, today’s most popular story is, allegedly, “Defenders of the Fatherland to Be Congratulated with a 30-Gun Salute.”
Russia law on killing ‘extremists’ abroad
Steven Eke BBC News
27 November 2016
A new Russian law, adopted earlier in the year, formally permits the extra-judicial killings abroad of those Moscow accuses of “extremism”.
In the wake of the death of ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko in London, the Sunday Telegraph has alleged that Russian spy agencies – “emboldened” by the new law – have carried out a number of such targeted killings.
In July, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament – the Federation Council – approved a law which permits the Russian president to use the country’s armed forces and special services outside Russia’s borders to combat terrorism and extremism.
At the same time, amendments to several other laws, governing the security services, mass media and communications, were adopted.
The overall result was to dramatically expand those defined as terrorist or extremist.
Along with those seeking to overthrow the Russian government, the term is also applied to “those causing mass disturbances, committing hooliganism or acts of vandalism”.
Much more controversially, the law also defines “those slandering the individual occupying the post of president of the Russian Federation” as extremists.
Russian lawmakers insisted that they were emulating Israeli and US actions in adopting a law allowing the use of military and special forces outside the country’s borders against external threats.
But the Russian law is very specific in that it permits the president – alone, and apparently without consultation – to take such a decision.
The only proviso is that he must inform the Federation Council within five days.
At the same time, he is not obliged to disclose the location of the operation, which units are involved, or the timescale for its execution.
Memorial, one of the oldest and most-respected Russian human rights groups, reacted strongly to the new law.
In an open letter addressed to Vladimir Putin, it accused the Russian leader of sanctioning extra-judicial executions.
It said the country’s “highest leaders” had turned a blind eye to the activities of “death squads” in the North Caucasus for some years. And, it predicted, with the adoption of the new law, those activities would now be seen in other countries too.
The case of Mr Litvinenko has led to an outpouring of conspiracy theories, many of which suggest he was killed by a Russian secret service, of which there are several.
But in reality, there have been only a very small number of killings by poison of Russia’s opponents abroad.
Indeed, the last known case abroad of this type of execution was of Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian dissident assassinated by “poison umbrella” in London in 1978.
Many years later, during the perestroika era, a retired KGB general admitted that he had provided the toxin.
Such events were, however, widespread inside the Soviet Union during the terror of the 1930s to 50s.
The 1958 trial of Pavel Sudoplatov – a lieutenant general in the Soviet secret service, who was closely involved in the execution in Mexico of Trotsky – heard how toxins were “illegally tested” on a large number of prisoners who had been sentenced to death.
In more recent years, there is convincing evidence that an extra-judicial killing was carried out by Russian special forces in Qatar in 2004 when the former Chechen separatist president, Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, was blown up by a car-bomb.
It’s not the rostbif and svinina (“roast beef” and “pork”) that caught my eye. They’ve long been part of the great and mighty Russian language.
What caught me eye was the word ban (bun). Why were “Russia’s Jamie Oliver” (not my coinage) and Co. unable to condescend to the perfectly Russian, extremely ordinary, and utterly comprehensible word bulochka (“bun”) when writing up the menu?
Because that would have sounded too common. For €6.77 a pop Mnatsakanov’s diners expect something “fancier” (as Mum would have put it) than a plain old bulochka their babushkas could have baked for them out of the kindness of their lonely hearts.
Mnatskanov’s customers don’t want kindness. They want conspicuous consumption. And they want it labeled, at least partly, in English, even if that English is as supremely common and humble as “bun” (ban). TRR
Smash the fascists in World War II and become a Soviet hero! A New Online Strategy [Game] about the Second World War
Tank battles, naval and air war fought on historical maps! Command your troops and destroy the enemy with nuclear missiles! Are you ready to rewrite history?