Immigration Blues

Immigrant hopefuls would be deemed eligible and competitive based on the points they accrue through a set of criteria, including educational specialty or degree, age, English proficiency, and a high-salaried job offer. They would need to show that they “like our way of life,” a senior official said, and that they are capable of “patriotic assimilation.” They could demonstrate that quality by passing a civics test much like the kind someone might encounter at a U.S. college.

I never had to take a civics test at a US college. The only civics test I have taken was the highly politicized test on Russian history and Russian laws I took last summer, along with a Russian language test, as part of the application to extend my Russian residence permit another five years.

It was a bloody joke, explicitly designed to show I “liked [their] way of life,” which they do not like themselves.

So, for example, I had to choose from among four possible answers when asked whether the “RF” (“Russian Federation”) was: 1) a totalitarian country, 2) an authoritarian country, 3) a hybrid country or a 4) a democratic country.

russian state

The right answer, obviously, was No. 4. I had enough Russian Bizarro world street smarts to choose it, although it was right only on the exam. In real life outside the exam, meaning on the ground, the RF is a No. 2 that badly wants to go No. 1.

If you imagine the test’s authors laughed their heads off when they drafted questions like this, you would probably be right.

When I was getting my other papers ready at Petersburg’s shiny new Amalgamated Documents Center (where Russians themselves can apply for foreign travel passports and lots of other precious papers, seals, stamps, permissions, visas, etc.), an employee suggested to me that, if I paid twice as much for the test, I would not have to take it for real. The fee would be considered a fee for an exam prep course I would not really take, either. On the appointed day, I would report at a certain time to a certain room to pick up a certificate showing I had passed the test with flying colors, although I would have done no such thing in reality.

I decided to take the test for real. I studied for it by taking sample tests I found on the web.

In the event, I passed the Russian civics exam with flying colors the hard way: by studying for it for most of a day and then taking it the next day.

A few months later, the FSB raided the language text and civics exam prep center at the Amalgamated Documents Center, claiming, probably on good grounds, the test center was helping applicants scam the government, which was footing the bill.

But the Russian government generated the problem in the first place by insisting immigrants take a hokey exam that, I am sure, most government officials would not be able to pass, much less rank-and-file Russians.

How odd the US government, currently headed by an avowed Putinist, would suddenly propose setting up the same hurdles to legal immigration to the US (“United States”). {TRR}

NB. The illustration, above, is a screenshot of the question on a sample test found on the internet. But the same multiple-choice question, with the same set of four possible answers, was on the real exam I did take as part of my application.

Grigorii Golosov: An Anti-American Dictatorship

An Anti-American Dictatorship: The Russian Concept of Sovereignty
The regime is sovereign, not the people, and only if it does not seek to benefit from cooperating with the US
Grigorii Golosov
Republic
November 9, 2017

4f1d12efea4954e40cedcc6cf03e3d2bVladislav Surkov. Photo courtesy of Dmitry Azarov/Kommersant

Recently, after a long silence, Vladislav Surkov made another public appearance in print. The article itself, entitled “A Crisis of Hypocrisy” and written in a style typical of intellectually pretentious picture magazines, is not very interesting. It is not that Surkov rebukes the west for insincerity. That would be like the pot calling the kettle black. He does claim, however, that the effectiveness of hypocrisy as a means of control has been forfeited in modern democracies. Surkov thus finds himself agreeing with “prophetic comics” and other authoritative sources that a king of the west might appear to forcibly lead the world out of chaos. A good example, perhaps, of how such a king might act is Surkov’s own work in the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic.

As many of you will remember, until his forced immersion in the affairs of a neighboring country, Surkov laid claim, albeit not very successfully, to the role of the current Russian regime’s ideologue. It was Surkov who back in the day coined the controversial term “sovereign democracy,” which was supposed to be either an alternative to western democracy or a variation on it. In this case, Surkov messed up royally, as was pointed out to him with appropriate severity by his more senior comrades. The point of Russian electoral authoritarianism, like electoral authoritarianism anywhere else, is to feign being a democracy without actually being a democracy. Since everyone realizes there really is true democracy in the west, any juxtaposition is invidious. Russia has democracy, and that is that. It is no worse than other democracies. It is just like them. There is thus no need to qualify it with any adjectives.

Now Surkov, being a person who is, on the one hand, quick on the uptake and, on the other, not averse to particular flights of fancy, has adopted the politically correct stance while creatively elaborating on it in the sense that democracy in the west is on its last legs, even as Russia still cherishes the ideal of people power. Naturally, there is no point in debating the nature of democracy when the issue is put this way, and sovereignty comes to the fore as in Surkov’s original take on the matter. Sovereignty is the central concept of modern Russian ideology.

Sovereignty is now the talk of the talk of the town, the favorite topic not only of the media but even of those people who speak from the highest bully pulpits. The Russian concept of sovereignty includes two axioms that we should examine thoroughly. I should note in advance that neither of these aspects is unique. Each of them is ordinarily found in any logically consistent concept of sovereignty. The whole trick is how they are applied specifically to modern day-to-day circumstances.

The first axiom states that all decisions about power in a given country are taken at a purely national level.  The point is incontestable. It suffices to have a look at how acutely the Americans react to any outward attempts to shape their own politics to be convinced that they, too, operate in full accordance with the axiom. The specific nature of the Russian interpretation, however, is nevertheless apparent. To detach it from its basic content we should look at the events in Syria.

The cause of the events was the crisis generated by the extremely brutal, truly barbarous dictatorship established in Syria by the Assad family. Only an intellectually unscrupulous person could publicly state the Assad regime had been the choice of the Syrian people, at least at some point in time. The Assads came to power in a military coup and were elected to the country’s presidency solely on an uncontested basis, under circumstances in which all opposition was quashed. An uprising took place in 2011. The regime survived it, but was unable to crush it completely. A civil war broke out. It is characteristic of modern civil wars in more or less important countries that they involve outside actors.

The last point has been at the heart of the Russian concept of sovereignty. Frightened out of their wits at one time by the specter of “color” revolutions, the Russian authorities, first, regard any regime in any country, except Ukraine, as legitimate, and any attempt to overthrow it, however bloody and tyrannical it may be, as solely the result of outside interference. I would again underscore that outside interference is a perpetual occurrence, but nor does Russia miss its own chance to catch fish in troubled waters. This aspect is always secondary, however. Western political thought has traditionally argued the people’s sovereignty consists, in particular, in its ability to put down tyrannies. Since elections in such circumstances are not a tool for doing this, all that remains is civil disobedience and insurrection. If we approach the matter differently, the notion of sovereignty has been replaced by the notion of the regime’s sovereignty. This is exactly how sovereignty is treated in modern Russian ideology.

Second, the Russian concept of sovereignty consists in the notion that all decisions on foreign policy must be taken at the national level. When expressed in such concise form, the claim is also indisputable. However, when it is applied in Russian public discourse, the claim is more controversial: since most national governments take the interests of the US (or, alternately, the EU) into account when making foreign policy decisions, their sovereignty is limited.

The problem with this interpretation is that it is advantageous to pay attention to the interests of the United States or the European Union, or both. This coincides with the preferences of most governments. They themselves limit their freedom to maneuver when it comes to foreign policy. Take one of Russia’s biggest grievances against the west: Nato’s eastward expansion. It is true that when the Eastern European countries joined Nato, they limited their freedom to operate, but they did this not merely voluntarily, but with colossal enthusiasm. They applied to join Nato and celebrated their joining the alliance as if it were a national holiday. Ask Donald Trump why they wanted to get in. He would tell you what percentage of the alliance’s expenditures are footed by American taxpayers. It is not even worth enlarging on the fact that the new European Union members received certain perks. Actually, back in the old days, even Vladimir Putin was given to saying it would not be a bad idea for Russia to join the western alliances. It follows that he saw the benefits.

For it would be wrong to say no one takes Russia’s interests into account. Even some of the Eastern European countries, which the Russian media arrogantly disparages as satellites of the western powers, occasionally express a dissenting opinion on issues sensitive to Russia, such as sanctions. When they do this, are they limiting their own sovereignty in favor of our country? No, they are just taking care of their own business. The general rule, however, is that most countries regard the interests of the US as more important than Russia’s interests. There are exceptions: Iran, North Korea, Syria, and five or six other countries. By a coincidence that is hardly strange there is not a single democracy amongst them. All of these countries are small or medium sized. It is naive to believe China is one of these countries. China regards the US as more important.

We no longer speak of sovereign democracy. The idea has not vanished, however, but has merely acquired a more appropriate guise as an anti-American dictatorship. It is this guise that has become Russia’s own political pole star. And why not? It is a matter of choice. We should be aware, however, that how you define yourself defines how people treat you, taking this into account when assessing the prospects for improving relations with the rest of the world.

Grigorii Golosov is a professor of political science at the European University in St. Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader 

Sovereign Xenophobic Biopower

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Putin Talks about Collection of Biological Samples from Russians
RBC
October 30, 2017

During a meeting of the Presidential Human Rights Council, which took place in the Kremlin on October 39, Vladimir Putin claimed that “biological samples” were being collected from people living in Russia.  The meeting was broadcast on TV channel Rossiya 24.

The president’s remarks were preceded by remarks made by Igor Borisov, president of the Russian Public Institute for Voting Rights. He said that on the last nationwide election day, September 10, around a million views of video broadcasts from polling stations “were undertaken from foreign IP addresses.” Borisov asked, “Why are so many people interested in watching our elections and recording them, that is, in recording images of people? What will they be used for down the road?”

“I am personally concerned images of my fellow citizens have fallen into the wrong hands. It is unclear how and to what end they are being held there,” Borisov added.

Putin responded.

“Forget about the images. Do you know biological samples are being collected nationwide, moreover from the different ethnic groups and people who inhabit different parts of the Russian Federation. That is the question: why is it being done?”

The collection of biological samples has been implemented professionally, added the president.

“Russians are the focus of very great interest,” he said.

“Let them do what they will, and we must do what we must,” the president concluded.

When this article went to press, this exchange was missing from the transcription published on the Kremlin’s website. The Human Rights Council had discussed state policy on memorializing the victims of political repression and specific measures that have been taken in this regard, as well as environmental issues.

Igor Borisov told RBC that he had drawn the president’s attention to the “heightened interest not only in our elections but also generally in Russia citizens” on the part of foreign powers.

“During the last elections, just under a million views and recordings were undertaken from addresses located abroad, outside the Russian Federation. It’s clear this information was collected for some purpose,” he said.

According to him, interest in Russia and the Russian nation [sic] is heightened.

“Material that could be used in the future is being collected,” added Borisov.

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Onishchenko Urges Oversight of Invitro Biological Sample Collectors
Yevgeny Kalyukov
RBC
October 31, 2017

The MP talked about a draft law on the biological security of Russians, pointing to the dangers represented by collecting of their “fluids, organs, and tissues.”

Russian authorities must adopt laws dealing with the biological security of Russians and take oversight of foreign companies carrying out clinical studies in Russia, said Gennady Onishchenko, the country’s former chief sanitary officer and deputy chair of the State Duma’s education and science committee.

The MP noted that Invitro [it is not clear what company MP Onishchenko and RBC have in mind — TRR]  and foreign laboratories operating in Russia have access to “the most intimate things,” which threatens the country.

“They conduct research and do quality research, but they have huge opportunities for studying this matter in our country and sending the data overseas. I have on several occasions alerted the secret services to the fact this must be stopped or seriously monitored,” Onishchenko said on TV channel Rossiya 1.

The MP noted the needed to strengthen biological security at all levels, since the evolution of biotechnology paved the way to the production of genetic weapons.

“The fact that today the fluids, organs, and tissues of our fellows are being collected is nothing more than an indication that the US has not ceased its offensive military program,” Onishchenko explained.

The MP said that a law bill on Russia’s biological security, which is being drafted by the government, could be tabled in the State Duma as early as December.

RBC has sent a request for commentary to Invitro’s press service.

On October 30, during a meeting of the Presidential Human Rights Council, President Putin claimed that foreigners were “deliberately and professionally” collecting “biological samples” from people living in Russia.

“Do you know biological samples are being collected nationwide, moreover from the different ethnic groups and people who inhabit different parts of the Russian Federation. That is the question: why is it being done?” said the president

On October 31, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov explained that the collection of “biological samples from Russians” had been recorded by the secret services.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of ITV

Learning Is Fundamentalist

Greg Yudin
June 24, 2015
Facebook

Imagine you are the president of a big country, and you don’t like the fact that foreign foundations are funding your children and acquiring too much influence over them. Can such things happen? Of course they can. What do you do in this case? That’s right, you immediately offer talented young people different options for self-realization and launch funding programs in different areas. And then, all other things being equal, your children will gladly choose domestic funding. After all, they love their country and have dealings with foreign foundations only for lack of something better. What choices do they have?

steig-spiteful-little-man

Now imagine you are spiteful little paranoiac who believes that people can only be bought and intimidated; otherwise, they won’t do anything. If you allow your children to get support from foreign foundations, they will immediately sell you out. For there is no reason to love you. And everything that is happening is meant to spite you and turn everyone against you. So then the first thing you will do is not think about the children but combat your enemies. You’ll say that children who are supported by foreign foundations have fallen into the enemy’s clutches. And you’ll spend money on propaganda so that everyone finds out about this and those children get scared.

Because in Russia there are pitifully few opportunities to break through and get your ideas heard. To do this you usually have to be born in Moscow and have good contacts. How many times have I heard from mayors, administrators, and all sorts of people outside of Moscow that the main problem is there is no way to engage young people, that young people do not know what to take up in life. In fact, young people who have had the courage, patience, and talent to secure support from any foundation are the nation’s gold. They are capable of creating something while overcoming difficulties. And now they are being told they are potential traitors. Because they have a dream and are prepared to go for it.

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Putin Accuses Foreign Organizations of Looting Russia’s Brightest Youth
June 24, 2015
The Moscow Times

President Vladimir Putin has accused foreign-backed organizations of pillaging through Russian schools in search of their most talented pupils and then spiriting them away via educational programs abroad, state news agency RIA Novosti reported Wednesday.

Speaking at a meeting of the Council for Science and Education, Putin said it was necessary to pay attention to the work of nongovernmental organizations in schools because they threatened to suck Russia dry of its future talent.

“A network of [foreign] organizations has ‘rummaged’ through the schools in the Russian Federation for many years under the guise of supporting talented young people. In reality, they simply hoover everything up like a vacuum,” he was cited as saying by RIA.

Putin was responding to comments by Vladimir Fortov, head of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who said in March that a “brain drain” was robbing the country of its future talent as educated youngsters sought out lives abroad.

Last year, as relations between Moscow and the West became strained over the crisis in Ukraine, Russia canceled an education exchange partnership with the United States in protest of the alleged adoption of a student by a same-sex couple.

The FLEX — or Future Leaders Exchange — program was established in 1992 and saw more than 8,000 Russian high schoolers travel to the United States for study purposes.

 learning is fundamental

 

[Vladimir Gelman]
Why foreign education does not meet the “highest international standards”
June 22, 2015
grey-dolphin.livejournal.com

The Russian government has decided that educations in political science, history, sociology, and other disciplines received at foreign universities do not meet the “highest international standards.” This follows from the list affirmed by Russian Federal Government Decree No. 1101-r (dated June 15, 2015). The document, which runs to over two hundred pages, includes a list of foreign universities that are among the leaders in the international rankings, a list that has been corrected compared to a similar document adopted a year ago. Whereas last year’s version of the document merely included a list of the universities, the current document specifies which areas and specialties in these institutions are in accordance with the Russian national classification.

What is significant is not which areas and specialties the Russian authorities have deemed as meeting the “highest international standards,” but which of them have not been included in this list. If you follow the government’s list, an education in political science, sociology, history, law, journalism, etc., at Harvard or Oxford does not meet the “highest international standards.” From the viewpoint of the Russian authorities, chemistry, physics, and even “economics and management” can be global, but political science and history are “sovereign” disciplines.

Images courtesy of Books around the Table and Google Images