The latest attack on the Levada Center (this past Monday, the organization was labeled a “foreign agent”) provoked a justified outcry from people in various parts of the ideological spectrum, from the center’s friends competitors, and opponents. The formal basis of the attack was the insane law that punishes people and organizations for something that should be rewarded. If Russia wants to be strong in academic research, then here were researchers who collaborated with serious foreign partners. (The University of Wisconsin, with whom the Levada Center had been working, has traditionally been a powerhouse in sociology.) Worse, the law construes “political activity” as something unsavory right at a time when Russia really needs to awaken an interest in politics, and any NGO willing to study the dynamics of political life in Russia deserves all the encouragement it can get.
The Russian Ministry of Justice can paralyze the operations of one of the country’s three major public opinion polling factories one and half weeks before national and regional parliamentary elections on September 18. In this case, the elections will be held with a newly configured polling industry, which has not changed for a long time. Putting our emotions aside, however, the assault on the Levada Center seems unexpected. For the past decade, the organization has objectively worked to maintain the current regime’s legitimacy.
The public opinion research field, a field once populated by many players, was purged by the Kremlin ten years ago, leaving only three companies standing. Two of them, FOM (Public Opinion Foundation) and VTsIOM (Russian Public Opinion Research Center) are substantially affiliated with the Kremlin, since they are wholly dependent on the commissions they regularly receive from the presidential administration and other government agencies. The Levada Center, on the contrary, has been financed independently of the Kremlin, and the liberal views of its senior staff have put the company almost in political opposition to the current regime. Yet the outcomes of the Levada Center’s polls have rarely diverged from the data published by its colleagues and competitors. The numbers adduced by all three pollsters have usually generated a sense of broad or overwhelming support for everything the authorities do, however aggressive and irrational it sometimes might appear.
Praise from the enemy is worth twice as much, especially if it is voiced publicly. Vladimir Putin has confessed on several occasions that polls mean a lot to them, and when the Levada Center records public support for him, this is proof the support is undeniable. Look, even our opponents are forced to admit the people are behind us, the regime’s supporters say time and again. These same people sincerely believe research results depend on who pays for the research.
Research studies, however, are much more complicated, and the results of Levada Center’s polls have had nothing to do with the political stance of its executives. Instead, they are stipulated by the way polls are conducted. In daily life, Russians show little interest in politics, so if you deluge them with a wave of news reports about some issue of little importance to them, such as relations with Turkey, and then ask them the next day whether we should be afraid of Turkey, they will respond in good faith based on the information they got the day before. With few exceptions, the Levada Center has humbly tackled the political agenda set by television, and asked the same questions as the other pollsters, questions focused on this agenda, predictably garnering nearly the same outcomes as the other pollsters. However, the center’s alleged oppositional status made the answers more important for the authorities and, at the same time, indirectly increased the credibility of the other companies. The depressive antidemocratic discourse about the stupid, aggressive common people with which the middle classes have been spooking each other nationwide has largely been the product of the Levada Center’s poll numbers, even if the outcome was unintentional.
You need a good reason to shoot the goose that has been laying golden eggs. What compelled the authorities to break off a piece of the rigging propping up its legitimacy? I should explain right off the bat how the Levada Center does actually differ from the other two major Russian pollsters. The difference has nothing to do with honesty or professionalism. The myth that one group of sociologists does honest work, while the two others fake the numbers is not even worth discussing seriously, and yet they all get the same results.
What matters much more is the fact that the Levada Center does not get commissions from the Kremlin. The Kremlin cannot tell it what questions to ask and what results to make public. We should not forget the poll results reported in the Russian media are only the poll results the client has allowed them to publish. The client can impose a temporary or permanent veto on publication of the results. The media’s picture of public opinion thus passes through two powerful filters nowadays. First, the client imposes on the polling organizations the subjects for which he is willing to pay, and then he decides what information he would like to make available to the public. The Kremlin can easily ban publishing results that shatter the image of monolithic public support for its decisions, and it has often done this. It has no such power over the Levada Center, although in recent times it has not needed it, since the company has not produced polling data that would put the Kremlin in a vulnerable position.
Polling data has been long the main fodder from which Russians shape their notions about the balance of power at election time and decide how to vote. The numbers act like a tranquilizer, persuading voters not to waste time and energy by getting involved in elections whose outcome is clear in any case. Simultaneously, they send a signal up and down the power vertical about how much “slack” needs to be made up at the local voting precincts. The main thing is not diverge to too radically from the polls. If the Kremlin has had to break with this way of doing things on the eve of the elections, it means the independent player had become too dangerous. The mirror reflected something that forced the Kremlin to throw a stone at it.
If the Levada Center is forced to suspend operations, the credibility of poll numbers will drop, and the client will increase pressure on the remaining players. We will have to treat the polling numbers we see before and after the elections with a bigger grain of salt. If before, the public was shown only the pretty half of the picture, while the ugly was hidden from it, now it will see even less of the picture.
Greg Yudin is a research fellow and lecturer at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Translated by the Russian Reader
This minute-long excerpt from a program on the Russia channel is an excellent illustration of what some people have been trying to turn patriotism into recently.
First, the smug presenter fudges the surname of his colleague, one of the country’s best sports commentators. Then, instead of apologizing, he says it is no big deal, because the commentator did not hear him in any case, and basically who cares what his name is. Next, he claims, seemingly is passing, it was the English who attacked the Russian sector in Marseille, although we know it was the other way around. Finally, the commentator, Vladimir Stognienko, is accused of not supporting Russia, just because he refuses to back up this lie on the air. The studio audience applauds.
It so happened that today we rode back from the match in Lille in the same bus as Vladimir Stognienko. Later, we discussed the fact that he was, seemingly, the most upset about the defeat [against Slovakia]. Anyone who has heard his play-by-plays knows how emotional he gets about the Russian squad. For the presenter of the TV show, it boils down to the fact we lost, we chatted about it, and now we have moved on, but a commentator lives for football. Maybe Stognienko has dreamed his whole life of someday doing the play-by-play of a European Championship final involving the Russian team.
Two hours later, Stognienko goes on the air from downtown Lille and hears from the presenters that he does not support Russia and is basically a traitor. As they say this, the presenters flash sparkling white smiles. I am curious: what are they so happy about? Our team lost, and they did not play particularly strongly.
A strange kind of patriotism has emerged recently in Russia. For the new breed of “patriots,” supporting Russia and telling the truth are incompatible. Yet they somehow feel entitled to tell others who is a patriot and who is not.
It does not occur to these people that saying a honest man cannot be a patriot is tantamount to insulting one’s country. That the slogan “you are either for the truth or for our side” demeans Russia.
In my opinion, Stognienko summed up the basic principle of the real patriot.
“If there is a problem, you have to talk about the problem,” he said.
Honest professionals have always been and will always be the main patriots in Russia.
And yes, our day will definitely come.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy ofRusfootball
I really like it when a big man in uniform speaks out with fanfare on perennial topics like the structure of society. You think it’s funny they all get Ph.D.s, but they really do consider themselves major theorists and are always willing to teach lessons in wisdom in their spare time. An entire genre has even emerged in Russian newspapers: lessons in political philosophy by generals.
“For democracy or people power is nothing other than the power of the people itself, realized in its interests. It is possible to achieve these interests only by means of the common good, and not through the absolute freedom and arbitrary will of individual members of society,” he writes.
It must be admitted that this is the pure, unadulterated truth. We might rejoice that democracy in Russia has found a new supporter.
Then, however, Bastrykin the democrat’s argument takes an unexpected turn. He proposes setting things up so that he, Bastrykin, would decide himself what information should be considered extremist, and would limit Internet access without a court order! In addition, he would also decide in which cases providers are obliged to provide him with the personal information of their clients.
There are lots of other tasty tidbits in his article, including innovative tactics for fighting terrorism by confiscating property, but that does not concern us here.
So somebody comes and says, Now I am going to decide who is an extremist and who can read what. You will also be informing me everyone’s personal information. If this is not “absolute freedom and the arbitrary will of an individual member of society,” then what else would you call it?
I am going to have to upset Mr. Bastrykin. Democracy is, in fact, people power. Therefore, the main objective of democratic governance has been and will be preventing the usurpation of power, not defending the people from the machinations of external foes, not hunting down traitors, not surveilling unreliables, but combating usurpers. And so democracy’s main enemy is the guy who comes out and says he is going to decide who the extremists are round here.
The problem with these scholarly generals is that the only form of social organization they are capable of conceiving is the prison camp. And so whether they write about democracy, traditional values or economic progress, the same speech in defense of the prison camp always comes out.
* * * * *
“It’s time to erect an effective barrier against the information war” Alexander Bastrykin, chair of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee, on methods of combating extremism in Russia Kommersant
April 18, 2016
Chair of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee, general of justice of the Russian Federation, doctor of juridical sciences, Professor Alexander Bastrykin, special to Vlast magazine, on the ways and methods of combating extremism in Russia
In 2015, the Russian Federation witnessed negative trends in criminal extremism and terrorism.
1,329 extremist crimes were recorded, which was 28.5% higher than in 2014 (1,034 crimes). A growth in this type of crime was noted in fifty-six regions of the Russian Federation.
The numbers of such crimes as public calls to extremist activity (Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 280) and inciting hatred or hostility, and humiliation of human dignity has soared by nearly forty percent in comparison with 2014.
The crime of organizing an extremist organization was recorded 42 times (+2,4%).
A significant increase (+36.3%) in terrorist crimes committed in the Russian Federation has been noted. A total of 1,538 such crimes was recorded in 2015 (as opposed to 1,128 in 2014).
Seventy such crimes were prevented at the stage of planning or during the attempt. 133 terrorist crimes were committed with the help of the Internet network.
A particularly difficult situation has been observed in the North Caucasus Federal District, which accounts for the bulk of terrorist crimes: 1,168 crimes or 75.9% of all such crimes (leading to an increase of 32.3%). (In 2014, 883 such crimes were committed.)
Both external (geopolitical) and domestic political factors have contributed to the growth of this type of crime.
Over the past decade, Russia and a number of other countries have been living through a so-called hybrid war, unleashed by the US and its allies. The war has been conducted on various fronts, political, economic, informational, and legal. In recent years, it has moved into a new phase of open confrontation.
The main elements of economic pressure have been commercial and financial sanctions, dumping wars on the hydrocarbons market, and currency wars. Skillfully manipulating the huge number of dollars in circulation, the States have brought down the national currencies of developing countries. Russian organizations have had their access to channels of external long-term financing blocked, channels that formed the basis of investment for developing the real (productive) sectors of the economy. It is noteworthy that restrictions on the movement of financing have not affected short-term financing, which currently has been widedly employed to exert speculative pressure on our national currency. In many respects, the outcome of these measures has been the deep devaluation of the ruble, falling real incomes, a decline in industrial production, and economic recession. There has been a budget deficit and ensuing consequences in the form of cuts in expenditures, as well as an increasing fiscal burden to raise revenues.
Unfortunately, international law and the justice based on it have increasingly become tools of this war.
Obvious examples are the decisions in the Yukos cases, the decision in the murder case of former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, the report of the Security Council of Netherlands on the investigation into the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, the FBI’s investigation of the legitimacy of awarding the right to hold the World Cup to Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022, and the extradition of our citizens Victor Bout and Konstanin Yaroshenko to the US and their sentencing to long terms of imprisonment.
However, the information war has caused the most devastating effects. By supporting radical Islamists and other radical ideological tendencies, the US has completely destabilized the situation in the Middle East. The effects of artificially initiated coups, revolutions, and crises in this region are still being experienced by Europe, overrun by mobs of refugees who profess qualitatively alien sociocultural traditions and have displaced the local population. Islamic State, the Al-Nusra Front, Al Qaida, and other terrorist organizations involved in the armed conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic have also been an effect of this policy. Manpower for replenishing these organizations are recruited all over the world, including in Russia.
More than a thousand Russian citizens have gone to the Syrian Arab Republic to participate in the armed conflict. 469 criminal cases have been filed against these persons. 135 of them have been killed in armed clashes with Syrian government troops.
The main channels of entry for Russian citizens into areas of heightened terrorist activity have been Turkey and Egypt, where they travel both directly and through third countries (Georgia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova) under the pretext of holidaymaking, receiving theological education, doing business, etc.
The main technique of the information war is the manipulation of an ideology that a particular social group finds congenial by radicalizing it. It is clear that the system of religious, ethnocultural, and confessional values is the segment of social existence that defines the most significant feature of any nation (ethnic group) and other such social groups as self-identification. Many of these values were shaped, preserved, and passed from generation to generation for centuries. Therefore, no nation is willing to give up its identity. Perhaps it is the only universal value it is willing to defend with arms and, as they say, until the last drop of blood is spilled.
Aware of the devastating effect of conflicts based on ethnic hatred, the US has bet on this informational element. At the current level of understanding of the issue, it is clear that the subversion of the Soviet Union’s ideological foundations, which were based on the principle of the brotherhood of nations, was also initiated from the outside and based on methods of ethnic strife. It was no accident that in the early 1990s numerous ethnic conflicts (Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgia-Abkhazia, Ossetia-Ingushetia, Transnistria) broke almost simultaneously. At this time, the first mass rallies of nationalist-minded citizens took place in Kiev. In addition, the subversion of state power was carried out by means of anti-Soviet agitation and financing of the political opposition in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, and other countries.
Of course, in the minds of the local populace, those events were then regarded as local conflicts. However, it is now completely obvious that all these clashes were elements of the initial, as-yet-hidden phase of the information war.
Undoubtedly, the informational-ideological “weapon” will be deployed in the future. This is evidenced by the increase in US government spending on programs for the so-called development of democratic institutions in countries bordering on Russia and in the Central Asian states. The true meaning of these assets becomes clear from the name of this budget item, “Countering Russian aggression through public diplomacy and foreign aid programs, and the creation of stable government in Europe.”
About 4.3 billion dollars have been allocated under his item in 2017, and around a billion dollars will go to programs for the so-called fight against corruption and supporting democracy in countries neighboring Russia.
Funds already received under this program have been spent by by various non-governmental organizations under the guise of promoting education, developing civil society, and other seemingly useful purposes. The outcome has been the incitement of anti-Russian moods in neighboring countries, the shaping of the pro-American and pro-western so-called non-systemic opposition in Russia, and the spread of inter-confessional and political extremism within our country.
Recent events in Nagorno-Karabakh witness to the repeated attempts of forces opposed to Russia to undermine the peace between the Armenian and Azerbaijani peoples and establish yet another hotbed of war on Russian’s borders.
It seems it is time to erect an effective barrier against this information war. We need a tough, appropriate, and balanced response. This is especially relevant in light of the upcoming elections and the possible risks presented by the stepping up of efforts by destabilizing political forces. Enough of playing at pseudo-democracy and following pseudo-liberal values. For democracy or people power is nothing other than the power of the people itself, realized in its interests. It is possible to achieve these interests only by means of the common good, and not through the absolute freedom and arbitrary will of individual members of society.
The following measures can be proposed to counter extremism.
It is extremely important to establish a concept of state ideological policy. Its basic element could be a national idea that would genuinely unite Russia’s unified multinational people. The concept could stipulate specific long-term and medium-term measures, aimed at the ideological education of our younger generation. Conscious resistance to radical religious and other ideologies could knock out the foundations on which current extremist ideologies are constructed. With this protection in place, even the most generous outside financing of destabilizing the situation in Russia will prove useless.
It is also important that youth are regarded by terrorist groups as a natural reserve. From this it follows that everything must be done to seize the initiative, to include young people at risk in the development and implementation of programs for countering armed extremism.
It seems appropriate for the supervisory and regulatory authorities to organize a wide-ranging and detailed verification of the compliance with federal legislation of all religious, ethnocultural, and youth organizations, suspected of engaging in banned extremist activity.
Using the know-how of the Northern Caucasus, we should organize specific and narrowly targeted preventive work with members of informal youth associations in order to adopt measures aimed at procuring information about negative processes underway in the youth milieu and identifying the ideologues and leaders of radical organizations who involved young people in extremist activity.
The positive know-how of the Republic of Ingushetia is also worthy of support. They have established a military-patriotic club that unites the children of law enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty and children of neutralized members of the bandit underground, which facilitates their rapprochement and shapes an atmosphere of mutual understanding among them.
The proposed concept sees it as expedient to define the limits of censoring the global Internet network in Russia, since at present this problem is causing a heated debate in the light of the stepping up of efforts by advocates of the right to the free receipt and dissemination of information. Interesting in this sense is the know-how of foreign states, opposing the US and its allies. Due to unprecedented pressure from information, they have taken steps to restrict foreign media in order to protect the national information space. Thus, for example, on March 10, 2016, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology introduced a ban on electronic media fully or partly owned by foreign residents. These media will no longer be able to disseminate information through the Internet and, in the best case, by means of print publications. Chinese media will cooperate with foreign online media only with the permission of the ministry. Only Chinese nationals will be able to work in the management of national media. Online media servers can be located only in the People’s Republic of China.
It seems this know-how could be employed in Russia to a reasonable extent.
Internet providers must be furnished with a integrated set of rules for storing the personal information of their clients and users in the right amount in the event that such information is required when investigating cyber security violations.
In public places (libraries, schools, and other educational institutions) with access to the World Wide Web, filters restricting access to sites containing extremist content should be established.
In addition, it seems appropriate to stipulate an extrajudicial (administrative) procedure for including information in the federal list of extremist content and blocking the domain names of sites that disseminate extremist and radical nationalist information. However, if the proprietors of this information do not consider it extremist, they can appeal the relevant actions of the authorized government agencies in court and prove their innocence there. This procedure will enable a faster and more effective response to the promotion of extremism on the Internet. It is necessary to step up work on introducing modern technology for the effective monitoring of the radio waves and the Internet.
It is necessary to expand the range of criminal law measures to stop the illegal actions of terrorist organizations committed on the Internet network involving recruiting. To this end, we should consider the criminalization of possessing such materials, collecting them or uploading them from a computer. Modern evidence technologies make it possible to present to the court and confirm technical elements of intercourse on social networks that testify to the connections between the accused and the relevant electronic messages.
To expose the real aims and intentions of Islamic extremists and establish the insolvency of their theoretical approaches, which contradict the realities of the modern world and the fundamental interests of Islamic countries, it would seem useful for the State Duma to regularly hold special hearings involving experts from the Federal Security Service (FSB), eminent Islamic scholars and authorities, and scholars of Islam. The hearings should be widely covered in the press.
Particular attention should be paid to the migration process. Migrants are often targets of espionage recruiting and radicalization. Many of them have overstayed their limit in Russia, dropping out of the sight of law enforcement. We must analyze the regulatory acts governing the presence of foreign nationals and persons without citizenship in the Russian Federation. Based on our analysis, we should take additional measures for improving the legislation.
It is necessary to improve the work of precinct police with foreign nationals in the realm of monitoring compliance with the established rules of residence in Russia (monitoring of persons letting and renting residential premises in the precinct, and obtaining information about the nature of these persons’ employment). The internal affairs departments of agencies should exclude possible corruption here. Full use of the public’s assistance should be made.
Certain features of extremist activity have taken shape in the Crimea Federal District, where attempts have been made to mold anti-Russian moods, by means of falsifying historical facts and distorting the interpretation of modern events, and call into question the outcome of the referendum on Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation. This act of the legal expression of the Crimean population’s popular will has become an integral part of Russian constitutionalism. Considering the place of this act in the hierarchal system of values of Russian state and society, it is certainly in need of special legal protection, including by means of criminal legal coercion.
It should be noted that criminalizing the denial or falsification of historical events of particular importance to a state and society is a widespread practice. For example, in many countries, including Russia, criminal punishment is stipulated for promoting fascism. France and a number of other countries have introduced criminal liability for denying the Armenian genocide. The State Duma of the Russian Federal Assembly is considering a similar law bill, No. 938567-6 (“On Criminalization of Public Denial of the Genocide of the Armenian People in Western Armenia and Ottoman Turkey in 1915-1922”). In Israel, it is a crime to deny the Holocaust.
In view of the above, it seems necessary to supplement the notion of extremist activity (extremism) contained in the federal law “On Countering Extremist Activity” with such a manifestation as denial of the outcome of a national referendum. It is necessary to decisively counteract the deliberate falsification of the history of our state. In this connection, we might also propose that Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 280 (public calls for extremist activity) include an additional stipulation, which would qualify the falsification of historical facts and events as a call for extremist activity.
In addition to countering the ideological component of the information war being waged against Russia, it is important to step up efforts to combat financial support for this activity, including tightening control over cross-border capital flows. As experience has shown, terrorism is often financed by virtual cryptocurrency, which has no central issuer, no single point of transactional control, and features anonymous payments. In addition, as a result of their wide dissemination, these currencies can displace legal money from the market, which threatens the state’s financial stability. It is therefore suggested that criminal liability be introduced for the illegal issuance and circulation of cryptocurrency and other money substitutes.
We should also review social security legislation concerning the close relatives of persons involved in terrorism, entitlement to survivor’s pensions, and other benefits. A person who is going to commit such crimes should know that in the event of death not only will he be buried in an unmarked grave but he will also deprive his loved ones of support from the state.
Another measure that would contribute to the effective fight against extremism, terrorism, and other dangerous criminal manifestations is confiscation of property as a form of criminal punishment. As we know, the relevant legislative proposals have been prepared and are in need of speedy legislative implementation. Unfortunately, this process has been unduly delayed.
No less important is improvement of the legal mechanism of international cooperation among law enforcement and other state bodies empowered to counter terrorism and extremism.
Russian law regulates only the procedure for submitting an international request for legal assistance, whereas international acts in this field stipulate the possibility of closer integration, including the establishment of international investigative teams. Such cooperation would help in cases where Russian investigative authorities need to perform a number of investigative procedures or even perform a preliminary investigation in a foreign country and that country has agreed to provide such assistance. This gap became apparent during investigation of the armed conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia in 2008 and the terrorist act committed on board the Russian Airbus 321 over the Sinai Peninsula.
Translated by the Island of Misfit Toys. Thanks to Greg Yudin for his courage.
The transcript of Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich and Severstal president Alexei Mordashov’s meeting with relatives of miners who perished in the recent coal mine disaster in Vorkuta makes for hellacious reading. It is like the last circle of hell.
I won’t even mention the fact they did not want to take any responsibility for the incident, that it was their incompetence which lead to the deaths of rescuers, and that they covered for a flagrantly brutal system in which miners were forced to turn off sensors and worked like slaves.
But these people really, seriously consider themselves heroes, because they came to the meeting with the unfortunate relatives.
Dvorkovich: You know, many people tried to dissuade me from coming here and traveling here at all, because it is incredibly difficult, really difficult. Nevertheless, my colleagues in the republic and I decided we had to share this grief along with you.
I can just imagine the “many” people who tried to dissuade Dvorkovich.
“Arkady Vladimirovich, what is with you? Why are you going there? There are those stupid widows there. They don’t understand a thing, and they cannot control themselves. How are you going to help them? All the orders have been given already. They will get the money, bawl a bit, and calm down. Dmitry Anatolyevich is not insisting that you go. As it was, we were planning to order a table at a restaurant and drink a toast for the greatness of Russia and our common victory in this difficult time. Well, and we would drink a toast for the dead miners, too, of course.”
“No, I have to go! Of course I know it will be hard for me, very hard. I must show the country’s leadership is mindful of the common people and shares their pain.”
“Oh, Arkady Vladimirovich, what heroism! You’re a hero. It is people like you who make Russia strong.”
You get the sense they flew in from another planet. Why do miners tamper with the sensors? What do you say? They are afraid of losing their jobs? Let them find another job! We have a free labor market. Loans, you say? You cannot afford to buy an engagement ring? So who forced you to take out a loan?
Mordashov: Well, you know, coming to see you all was a personal choice for each of us. Those of us present here made this choice. We cannot force anyone else to make it.
How has it happened that Russian officials and fat cats have come to think they could choose not to come and talk with the relatives of victims, that it is their “personal choice”? I remember quite well how twenty years ago or so Prime Minister Chernomyrdin talked with terrorists to save people’s lives, but nobody reported that it was his “personal choice.” Because it was his job.
Actually, it isn’t difficult to understand why these bastards consider themselves heroes. Because hiding behind them is a man who sixteen years ago, when the Kursk sunk, was so frightened he went into seclusion for several days, but then called the widows of the drowned submariners “paid whores.”*
Since then the country has been ruled by men and women incapable of sharing the grief of their own people in a way that at least would appear convincing, because they fear and despise the people.
Translated by the Russian Reader
*The new Russian president grew particularly irate early in his tenure when the submarine Kursk sank in the Barents Sea in August 2000 and Russian television aired tough reports about the government’s slow response and dishonest public statements. Even state-controlled Channel One, under Berezovsky’s control, broadcast critical segments, including interviews with the wives of Kursk sailors distraught at the way the situation was being handled
Outraged, Putin called personally to rail about the report and accuse the journalists of faking it. “You hired two whores … in order to push me down,” Putin exclaimed, as former anchor Sergei Dorenko remembered it. Dorenko was taken aback. “They were officers’ widows,” he said, “but Putin was convinced that the truth, the reality, did not actually exist. He only believes in [political] technologies.”
Putin’s anger boiled over at a closed-door meeting with relatives of the crew six days after the submarine sank. When fuming relatives shouted him down, saying they knew from television that the Russian government had initially turned down foreign assistance, Putin bristled.
“Television?” he exclaimed. “They’re lying. Lying. Lying.”
Here are four very different but complementary reflections on the dangers of Putin’s new Syrian adventure by, respectively, an electrician and veteran grassroots activist, a sociologist, a magazine editor, and a political scientist and leftist activist.
Russia pacified the North Caucasus just as the US pacified Afghanistan. The Taliban have disappeared from the news but not from life.
The US has started many wars, and the Russian Federation has already started two. The US has got into conflicts in the Middle East primarily for domestic political reasons, and the Russian Federation has done the exact same thing.
The US lies constantly, and the Russian Federation does, too. (As do the EU, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and everybody else.)
But is there even a single reason to support the dispatch of Russian forces to Syria? There are no such reasons, just as there were no reasons to support the NATO bombing of Libya or the [US/UK] bombing of Iraq.
And now, as in the case of the war in Ukraine, just watch carefully and take note of what you see.
P.S. That is, while there is no chance to do anything more substantial.
You would have to be Putin, of course, to support Assad by way of restoring order.
Assad is a man who, in the past four years, has:
let slip an armed grassroots uprising;
permitted a civil war with hundreds of thousands of victims;
used chemical weapons against his own citizens;
allowed the full-scale deployment of an international terrorist group;
and lost control of two-thirds of his country.
And this man, of course, is the man who will pacify all of Syria and calm everyone down.
It has often been said of Putin that he takes a cynical (i.e., “realistic”) approach to foreign policy. It is nothing like this. In the case of Syria, it is Obama, who says we should get together and appoint them a leader who can restore order, who has taken the cynical approach.
The approach of Putin and his elite, however, is not cynical but stupid. The point of this approach is that you should always support the current regime. Simply put, the boss is always right just because he is the boss. They arrived at this hard-won conviction through their own uncomplaining obedience. This belief is the basis of their power and their philosophy in life. For its sake they are even willing to entangle themselves in an international conflict.
Until today, this business with Syria seemed strange to me in the sense that it would not be easy to sweep the Russian people off its feet with it. I understand about small victorious wars, but I imagined that this was not like Ukraine, which is next door, or Hungarian geese, which we could even fondle with our own hands until recently. And then, we are talking about a country that has lived through a war in Afghanistan, despite the incomparable scale of the conflicts and so on. But this morning I was riding the subway and saw this guy, an ordinary guy in his forties with a decent face, even, a guy who looked a little like actor Yevgeny Mironov. This guy was riding the subway and looking at something on his telephone. He was not just looking but literally devouring the phone with his eyes and putting it next to his ear from time to time to make out the sound over the roar of the subway. (For some reason he was not using earphones.) I peeped a little and saw that Sergei Ivanov was on the screen of the dude’s phone. This was when I got curious and a bit anxious, because, on the one hand, it is hard to imagine a situation in which a normal person would get so excited by a speech by Sergei Ivanov. On the other hand, in the morning I had heard on the radio about the Federation Council, which Putin had again asked for authorization, just like that other time, and that had made me a little queasy. So I broke down and gently asked the man what was happening.
“Sy-ri-a!” he mouthed to me, clearly afraid to miss something important in the broadcast.
Then he briefly turned to me again and sighed, “We are going to bomb!”
He said it as if a weight had finally been lifted from his shoulders, as if the going had been tough, but now, thank God, it had been decided.
And at that moment I had the terrible desire not to be here, to disappear somewhere completely. I realize this was cowardice, a momentary weakness, but I felt it all the same. And I also remember a conversation I had with Bob when we were sailing down the Irrawaddy River, and thought that perhaps he had been right: “You may hate him, but you cannot get rid of him.” I don’t want to be responsible for these motherfuckers. I don’t want to think constantly about whom else they have taken it into their heads to crush or bomb. Let them build underwater chapels for scuba divers and invisible bus stops, but please, please, don’t let them bomb anyone.
Bob, an Australian who looked like a gray-haired Homer Simpson, spoke intermittently and passionately, now and then dipping his elongated head into his third glass of claret.
“Very well, I know you Russians have it hard. You always have someone to answer for, either Putin or Stalin. ‘He’s Russian? Very well, let’s ask him about Putin.’ It’s the same crap with the Americans. At the drop of a hat they get told, ‘It’s all because you made a mess of things in Iraq, fellows!” You guys are constantly confused with someone else, with some big, important motherfucker. We have it much easier in this sense. ‘Australia? Isn’t that the place where there are kangaroos ?’ We are just Aussies, you know, Alex? I travel where I wish, live where I can earn money, and nobody is going to torment me with your Putin.”
“I already told you,” I replied, “I don’t like Putin.”
“Bingo!” Bob roused himself. “You may hate him, but you cannot get rid of him. Although I know that things are even more complicated in Russia. You Russians hate yourselves most of all.”
Then, in keeping with the conventions of bad movies, Bob laughed heartily and, winking conspiratorially, said, “I’ve read Tolstoyevsky!”
If I were in Putin’s shoes I would think hard about the following paradox. Of course, you can accuse America of “destroying sovereignty” everywhere from Libya to Ukraine all the time. But America cannot just up and destroy sovereignty. It can encourage the opposition. It can even drop bombs. But it is not capable of just up and destroying state institutions themselves. The problem is that wherever a state has collapsed, it had already been weak. And a state’s weakness lies in the absence of its autonomy vis-à-vis narrow group interests, be they elite clans, oligarchs, tribes, and so on. A weak state is also labeled “patrimonial,” meaning it has been “privatized” by particular interests. This weak state syndrome was typical of absolutely all the countries Putin thinks the State Department got to. The paradox is that the Russian state, the Putinist state, is weak. It has low autonomy vis-à-vis elite groupings, and its formal institutions are window dressing for backroom deals. The more Putin “immunizes” the state from the opposition, the “fifth column,” and so, the more he strengthens precisely these same elite groups, all those Sechins and other “friends of the president,” who have an interest in weak institutions. Thus, everything Putin does only weakens the state. The easiest way to illustrate all this is with the dilemma of his successor. Putin has built a state in which no one knows what will happen after Putin, including himself. Ukraine-scale chaos is quite possible at the very least; Libya-scale chaos, at the very most. But unlike Libya and even Ukraine, Putin will only have himself to blame for this. After fifteen years, there is nothing left of the government, the parliament or the courts. All that remains are Putin’s “friends” and his “manual control.” It is a sure bet that the State Department and American imperialism are not to blame for this. In this case, it is homemade.
“How long depends on the circumstances. Of course, there are rules stipulated by the Constitution, and they definitely will not be violated on my part. But I am also not sure I should take full advantage of these constitutional rights. It will depend on the specific situation in the country and the world, and on my own mood.”
Do you also feel something is missing in this response? I recall there should be something about voters, the people, and that kind of thing. But no, the old man is as honest as ever: it all depends on his “mood.”
The main problem with Putin is that he has usurped power. And all because if once, “by virtue of the circumstances,” the Constitution was adapted to a particular person, the next time round that person will forget about the Constitution altogether, firmly convinced there is only one law—his mood, his arbitrary will.
Incidentally, Putin is well aware that his entire reign amounts to the destruction of order on behalf of tyranny. Otherwise, he would not have led off his reply with something no one had asked him about: the fact his third term is unconstitutional. You can conjure away reality as much as you like, but you cannot hide the truth from yourself.
Greg Yudin is a research fellow and lecturer at The Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Translated by the Russian Reader
Excellent, just excellent. I look and see that Ulyana Skoibeda has published a diary about how terrible life is in Germany [in the mass circulation newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda]. I think, what is this crap? What would Skoibeda know about Germany? I have a look: the entire structure of their propaganda and the stuff of which it is made are visible after three paragraphs.
The diary’s author is a certain Galina Ivanova, who moved to Germany but is now escaping it in horror at the influx of immigrants and the inaction of Germans. Since the text is executed in the “eyewitness” genre, it has immediately become wildly popular. To drive the point home, Skoibeda has supplied the diary entries with “links to major German media and speeches by officials.” She is thus hinting that every piece of evidence of Europe’s disintegration is backed up with a reference in perfect German. This is not the story of the three-year-old boy, allegedly crucified in Slovyansk by Ukrainian soldiers, but since proven a fake, she seems to say. You won’t nitpick this one to death.
What is great is that if you follow these links and start reading, you will find that almost all of them are total lies. And the lies come in all sizes. Some of the links lead to off-topic stuff like poverty statistics. Or, for example, the diary’s author angrily reports that Muslims have been abusing Germans to such an extent that “in many school cafeterias, pork sausages, salami, and pâté have been banned.” The link leads to a story about a crazy Egyptian family who asked a court to ban pork dishes. This happened in Vienna (which, for Skoibeda’s information, is in Austria) and was laughed off by the local legal community. But does it really take much to scare Russian readers?
Or, for example, there is a tear-jerking story about German pensioners having to dig in trash urns to collect empty bottles. The link is to an item in Die Republikaner in which there is not a single (!) mention of pensioners. The item itself is about how a society in which people are forced to collect bottles (by the way, have you never seen such a society outside of Germany?) should deal with this rather than facilitating the collection of bottles.
And then there is the top of this pop chart, which, of course, consists in the fact that the majority of the links in the text (including the links to newspapers, officials, and various sensational news items) in fact lead to one and the same site, Netzplanet, a collective right-wing blog that went online two years ago. The bloggers there complain about immigrants and scare each other over Islamization. Their Facebook page has already been blocked because its owners were not willing to provide the necessary information about themselves. The site itself is registered to a company in Panama. I won’t go on.
No “Galina Ivanova” really exists, of course. (In any case, it wasn’t she who wrote this text, unless Galina Ivanova is Skoibeda’s real name.) Because at any newspaper, even this one, there are fact checkers, and if Skoibeda really had been sent a “diary with links,” she would have found people with a knowledge of German and verified the information.
But the miserable PR people and degenerates from the security service who were given the task of collecting facts about problems with immigrants in Germany do exist. And they blew it. And now Skoibeda’s byline is attached to an article with a thousand proofs that she lies.
I always recommend the first thing university students do is learn foreign languages. Because you are surrounded by tons of people who intend to mess with your brains, and your own government is engaged in this above all. It is not the gullible who are most easily manipulated, but those who don’t know how to check things. Languages are the best chance of navigating the world on one’s own. It is impossible to know all languages, but if you know one foreign language, and your friend knows another one, the government will find it much harder to put one over on you. That is exactly why our MPs are so keen to ban the study of foreign languages in schools. Then Skoibeda will be able to tell readers that people with dogs’ heads inhabit Europe.
Greg Yudin is a research fellow and lecturer at The Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Photo courtesy ofTrud.ru. Translated by The Russian Reader