Daily Archives: June 6, 2007

June 6, 2007 — Contents

WEDNESDAY JUNE 6 CONTENTS


(1) At Last! Bush Bashes Russia!

(2) Anne Applebaum on the Neo-Soviet Genie

(3) An Open Letter to Alexander Solzhenitsyn

(4) Annals of Russian Youth Apathy: Nashi’s Achilles Heel?

(5) More Sports-Related Humiliation for Russia

NOTE: Other Russia has announced they will march in St. Petersburg on June 9th. Apparently, they received direct support from the German government in convincing the authorities in St. Petersburg to greenlight the march.

At Last! Bush Blasts Russia!

“In Russia, reforms that once promised to empower citizens have been derailed, with troubling implications for democratic development.”

That’s U.S. President George W. Bush, believe it or not, speaking in Prague, Czech Republic, to a group of neo-Soviet dissidents. Hooray! Three cheers for the Big Dubya! Maybe there is hope for him yet! Bush also strongly defended the missile defense system for Eastern Europe. The full report, via the Associated Press:

President Bush risked further stoking a testy dispute with Russia over a new U.S. missile defense system on Tuesday, saying Moscow has “derailed” once-promising democratic reforms.

In a speech celebrating democracy’s progress around the globe — and calling out places where its reach is either incomplete or lacking — Bush said that free societies emerge “at different speeds in different places” and have to reflect local customs. But he said certain values are universal to all democracies, and rapped several countries for not embracing them.

“In Russia, reforms that once promised to empower citizens have been derailed, with troubling implications for democratic development,” Bush said, speaking at a conference of current and former dissidents.

The president asserted that this discussion of democratic backsliding in Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin was just one part of a strong relationship. “America can maintain a friendship and push a nation toward democracy at the same time,” Bush said. But the lecture, however gentle, was not likely to be well-received by Putin, already riled over what he sees as unwelcome meddling by the United States in Russia’s sphere of influence. Most recently, Moscow has become increasingly irritated by U.S. plans to build a missile shield in Eastern Europe, on Russia’s doorstep.

U.S. officials have been alarmed by threatening statements from Putin and others over the proposed network. Russia believes the system — with a radar base to be sited in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in neighboring Poland — is meant for it. Putin has said he has no choice but to boost his nation’s own military potential in response. Putin warned over the weekend that Moscow could take “retaliatory steps” including aiming nuclear weapons at U.S. military bases in Europe. China on Tuesday joined Russia in saying the shield could touch off a new arms race. “Part of a good relationship is the ability to talk openly about our disagreements,” Bush said in the speech at Czernin Palace. “So the United States will continue to build our relationships with these countries and we will do it without abandoning our principles or our values.”

Bush said this same approach applies to other allies with difficult democratic records, naming Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and China. “China’s leaders believe that they can continue to open the nation’s economy without also opening its political system,” Bush said. He listed as the nations with the “worst dictatorships,” Belarus, Burma, Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Iran and Syria. He also criticized Venezuela, Uzbekistan and Vietnam as places where progress had been made but now “freedom is under assault.” The conference was hosted by Natan Sharansky, a former prisoner of the Soviet regime who has continued to champion freedom, an former Czech President Vaclav Havel, who led the Velvet Revolution that ended communism in the former Czechoslovakia in 1989. The president met with dissidents after the speech.

With the Iraq war raging and that country far from a stable democracy, critics say there is widespread skepticism about Bush’s “freedom agenda” — the byproduct of his promise to advance democracy in every corner of the globe. But Bush claimed the mantle of democratic warrior.

“I pledged America to the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world,” he said. “Some have said that qualifies me as a dissident president. If standing for liberty in the world makes me a dissident, then I’ll wear the title with pride.”

Earlier, Bush defended the plans for the missile shield here against fierce opposition by the local population as well as Russia. Czech leaders chimed in to back him up, as did Poland’s prime minister from afar. “The people of the Czech Republic don’t have to choose between being a friend of the United States or a friend with Russia,” Bush said at a joint appearance with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and President Vaclav Klaus in a high-ceilinged hall of medieval Prague Castle. “You can be both. We don’t believe in a zero-sum world.” Standing on soil that was in the Soviet orbit less than 20 years ago, Bush made a declaration not thought necessary for decades: “The Cold War is over.” The once-obvious statement has been rendered less so lately amid an escalating war of words between Washington and Moscow.

So far, the Bush administration has mostly held its rhetorical fire, giving muted reaction such as calling Putin’s remarks “not helpful” and repeating its insistence that the network is meant to protect NATO allies against a missile launch from Iran, not Russia. U.S. officials do not want to give Putin the satisfaction of appearing to be engaged in a dispute among equals with the world’s only superpower. But the system is unpopular in the Czech Republic, too, among its wary citizens if not its leaders. People fear becoming a terrorist target, and they worry about Russia’s wrath, as well. Bush, Topolanek and Klaus sought to calm those fears.

Bush said he will make his case directly to Putin Thursday when they meet on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Germany. “My message will be Vladimir — I call him Vladimir — that you shouldn’t fear a missile defense system,” Bush said. “As a matter of fact, why don’t you cooperate with us on a missile defense system? Why don’t you participate with the United States?” Klaus applauded Bush’s promise to make “maximum efforts” with Putin. Bush was flying from Prague to Germany for the three-day summit. Bush’s eight-day European trip also includes stops in Poland, Italy, Albania and Bulgaria.

Applebaum on the Neo-Soviet Genie

Writing in the Telegraph, ace Russia columnist Anne Applebaum (pictured) describes the danger of letting the nationalist genie out of the bottle in Russia:

Last week, I found myself in Dom Knigi, the very largest of all the very large Moscow bookstores, staring at the history section.

Spread out over an entire wall were books of a sort I’ve never seen in such quantities during 10 years of visits: endless glorifications of Soviet fighter pilots, Soviet war heroes, even Stalin himself. Stalin: the Author of the Great Victory was one title; others had cover illustrations featuring red stars, or hammers and sickles.

I don’t think this new publishing trend heralds a new period of Stalinism, or not exactly. But it does illustrate a growing Russian fascination – encouraged and manipulated by the Kremlin – with Russia’s imperial past.

Every year, celebrations marking the anniversary of the end of the Second World War grow more elaborate. One by one, those countries in Russia’s periphery which remember that conflict differently – Estonians, say, for whom the war ended with 40 years of Soviet occupation – have found themselves in open conflict with the Russian federation.

A Russian historian and publisher told me a few days ago that government authorities had informed him, more or less outright, that while they didn’t mind what he or anyone else wrote about the internal, Soviet victims of Stalin and his Gulag, he’d do well to stay away from the Katyn massacre.

The Katyn massacre? It sounds distinctly odd. After all, the massacre by Soviet secret police of more than 20,000 Polish officers in and around the Katyn forest happened nearly 70 years ago in 1940. But that doesn’t seem to matter. Maybe, my friend speculated, the Kremlin hopes to make use of the Katyn story in its current trade dispute with Poland. Or maybe Soviet behaviour in what used to be the Soviet empire is taboo simply because right now the Russians want to remember that period as one of success and glory.

Either way, this creepily retrograde mood forms the backdrop to the current foreign policy of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Whether by waging cyberwarfare on Estonia, threatening the gas supplies of Lithuania, or boycotting Georgian wine and Polish meat, he has, over the past few years, made it clear that he intends to reassert Russian influence in the former communist states of Europe, whether those states want Russian influence or not.

At the same time, he has also made it clear that he no longer sees Western nations as mere benign trading partners, but rather as Cold War-style threats. Last week, Andrei Lugovoi, the man accused of poisoning Alexander Litvinenko in London, responded by accusing MI6 of the crime instead – a statement he surely would not have made without the Kremlin’s support.

This week, Putin himself upped the stakes further, threatening to point nuclear missiles at Europe if the United States puts missile defence bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. “It is obvious,” he said, that “if part of the strategic nuclear potential of the US is located in Europe and will be threatening us, we will have to respond.”

Actually, though I have some doubts about the missile defence bases – are they really necessary? Will they work? Couldn’t someone have done some better advance diplomacy to explain them? – it is a pretty big stretch to call them “part of the strategic nuclear potential of the US”.

Nor are they designed to threaten Russia, or indeed to threaten anybody. They are designed to block missiles that might some day head in America’s direction from North Korea or Iran – as the Russians must know perfectly well. It is deeply cynical for Putin to use Cold-War rhetoric to describe them. And now that this rhetoric is beginning to worry people in the capitals of Western Europe, as well as in Prague and Warsaw, he must be counting it a huge success.

But why Stalin? Why militarism? Why empire? Why now?

Of course Putin is trying to build support for himself, unifying the country behind him in the face of external “enemies”, such as Estonia, and internal “enemies”, such as the few human rights activists who still manage to function in Russia or the tiny opposition groups, such as the one led by Gary Kasparov, a former chess champion and hardly a political threat.

Of course Putin is trying to use this support to “maintain stability” as people around him become frantic about who, 10 months from now, will succeed him, and what that person’s policy towards the country’s wealthiest men will be.

Of course there are economic advantages for Russian companies if the Kremlin has more influence in the countries on Russia’s borders, particularly given that natural resources, the one area in which Russia is a true powerhouse, tend to be government controlled.

Yet there is a huge price to be paid, both economic and political. Russia risks being refused entry to those Western clubs it still wants to join, such as the World Trade Organisation, and risks being expelled from those it is in already. Russia risks investment, too: though oil companies will always come to Moscow, others will surely stay away. Russia even risks real violence.

Maybe all Putin wants is to stir up imperialist emotions in order to maintain public support for himself or his successor – but once such emotions are unleashed, uncontrollable violence may follow. That’s what happened in Estonia a few weeks ago, when a Russian-speaking mob fought Estonian police over a government decision to move a war memorial from the centre of town to a nearby cemetery – over history, in other words.

Next time, the violence might take place at home, not abroad. It’s a dangerous game he’s playing. Does Putin really understand the rules?

An Open Letter to Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Dear Mr. Solzhenitsyn,

We’ll make this brief because you’re half-senile and probably have a very short attention span, especially where irritating foreigners like us are concerned. You’re one of the world’s greatest living writers and in your youth you were one of Russia’s greatest patriots. But in your advanced years you’ve become a non-entity, and in fact some of your actions could be construed by history as helping to recreate the Soviet state that you struggled against so heroically in your youth.

You’re an old man, and you’ll be dead soon. Your time to correct the record is running out fast. We’ve just learned that you’re about to receive one of Russia’s highest honors from the Kremlin, the State Prize in Humanities. Don’t miss this chance, sir, it might be your last. Set the record straight. Use whatever influence you have to stand up to the rise of dicatorship in Russia, with your brilliant mastery of words just as you did in Soviet times, so that you can pass into history with your honor clean. Look around you and open your eyes, and then give the Mother of All Acceptance Speeches.

Your country still needs you. The judgment of history will be sure and severe if you fail to meet that need. We suggest you screen the British film “Bridge on the River Kwai” and check on the expression on Alex Guiness’s face when he suddenly realizes he’s been helping the Japanese to win World War II. Do you really want to leave this world with that look on your face?

Sincerely yours,

La Russophobe

Annals of Russian Youth Apathy: Nashi’s Achilles Heel?

Ordinarly, La Russophbe would not be filled with delight to learn of a new study showing that young Russians couldn’t care less about politics. However, there may be a silver lining in this news, in that at least it shows the Nashi youth cult is an abysmal (and classically Russian) failure, having giving rise to no increase in political interest whatsoever. Indeed, it may well be that Russia’s only protection from total neo-Soviet ruin is the ignorance and apathy of Russian y young people. On the other hand, this was undoubtedly true in the time of Stalin as well at least to some extent, and this probably gave rise to the need for draconian violance to force the slackers into line. The Moscow Times reports:

Young Russians today are more materialistic and less political than any other generation before them, according to a study released Monday. The study, conducted by the Sociology Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, indicated that half of all young people have no interest in politics. It also found that many young people know nothing about Young Guard, Nashi and the other youth organizations that have made national and international headlines in recent months.

A total of 49 percent of the young respondents expressed no interest in politics whatsoever, a sharp increase from 33 percent in a similar study in 1997, said Mikhail Gorshkov, director of the Sociology Institute.

Gorshkov blamed the entertainment industry for the growing apathy. “It is wielding a much greater emotional influence,” he said at a presentation of the study. He said the number of young people taking an active interest in politics (14 percent) and participating in politics (about 2 percent) have remained relatively stable over the past decade.

The study also found that youth movements are not quite as popular as might have been believed. Twenty-six percent of respondents said they did not know any of the 16 movements mentioned by researchers, while 31 percent said they did not know any youth movements at all.

Of the 16 groups mentioned, United Russia’s youth group, Young Guard, received the highest level of support, at 11.9 percent, followed by another pro-Kremlin group, Nashi, at 6.3 percent. None of the remaining 14 movements got more than 3 percent. A leading member of Young Guard, Nadezhda Orlova, said she was pleased with the findings. “Not everybody has to be interested in politics,” she said, calling 11.9 percent a good result. The study found widespread apathy about elections, with 27 percent refusing to commit to a political party and 22 percent saying they did not vote. Asked about their preference for the presidential election in 2008, the largest group, of nearly 35 percent, named Vladimir Putin. Asked whom they would pick if Putin kept his promise not to seek a third term, 12 percent supported First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and 9 percent backed First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov.

Denis Belunov, a senior official in Garry Kasparov’s oppositional United Civil Front, expressed concern that the growing apathy would benefit the Kremlin. He added: “I am not surprised at the fading interest in politics after the Kremlin has brought much of the media under its control.” The study found that young people are much more concerned with their education, career and future economic well-being than they were 10 years ago. They also are more positive about the overall quality of their lives, with 64 percent claiming to be happy compared with 46 percent in 1997. The study, conducted with support from the German Friedrich Ebert foundation, interviewed 1,796 people aged 17 to 26 as well as 655 people aged 40 to 60 in March and April. No margin of error was given.

Annals of Russian Youth Apathy: Nashi’s Achilles Heel?

Ordinarly, La Russophbe would not be filled with delight to learn of a new study showing that young Russians couldn’t care less about politics. However, there may be a silver lining in this news, in that at least it shows the Nashi youth cult is an abysmal (and classically Russian) failure, having giving rise to no increase in political interest whatsoever. Indeed, it may well be that Russia’s only protection from total neo-Soviet ruin is the ignorance and apathy of Russian y young people. On the other hand, this was undoubtedly true in the time of Stalin as well at least to some extent, and this probably gave rise to the need for draconian violance to force the slackers into line. The Moscow Times reports:

Young Russians today are more materialistic and less political than any other generation before them, according to a study released Monday. The study, conducted by the Sociology Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, indicated that half of all young people have no interest in politics. It also found that many young people know nothing about Young Guard, Nashi and the other youth organizations that have made national and international headlines in recent months.

A total of 49 percent of the young respondents expressed no interest in politics whatsoever, a sharp increase from 33 percent in a similar study in 1997, said Mikhail Gorshkov, director of the Sociology Institute.

Gorshkov blamed the entertainment industry for the growing apathy. “It is wielding a much greater emotional influence,” he said at a presentation of the study. He said the number of young people taking an active interest in politics (14 percent) and participating in politics (about 2 percent) have remained relatively stable over the past decade.

The study also found that youth movements are not quite as popular as might have been believed. Twenty-six percent of respondents said they did not know any of the 16 movements mentioned by researchers, while 31 percent said they did not know any youth movements at all.

Of the 16 groups mentioned, United Russia’s youth group, Young Guard, received the highest level of support, at 11.9 percent, followed by another pro-Kremlin group, Nashi, at 6.3 percent. None of the remaining 14 movements got more than 3 percent. A leading member of Young Guard, Nadezhda Orlova, said she was pleased with the findings. “Not everybody has to be interested in politics,” she said, calling 11.9 percent a good result. The study found widespread apathy about elections, with 27 percent refusing to commit to a political party and 22 percent saying they did not vote. Asked about their preference for the presidential election in 2008, the largest group, of nearly 35 percent, named Vladimir Putin. Asked whom they would pick if Putin kept his promise not to seek a third term, 12 percent supported First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and 9 percent backed First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov.

Denis Belunov, a senior official in Garry Kasparov’s oppositional United Civil Front, expressed concern that the growing apathy would benefit the Kremlin. He added: “I am not surprised at the fading interest in politics after the Kremlin has brought much of the media under its control.” The study found that young people are much more concerned with their education, career and future economic well-being than they were 10 years ago. They also are more positive about the overall quality of their lives, with 64 percent claiming to be happy compared with 46 percent in 1997. The study, conducted with support from the German Friedrich Ebert foundation, interviewed 1,796 people aged 17 to 26 as well as 655 people aged 40 to 60 in March and April. No margin of error was given.

Annals of Russian Youth Apathy: Nashi’s Achilles Heel?

Ordinarly, La Russophbe would not be filled with delight to learn of a new study showing that young Russians couldn’t care less about politics. However, there may be a silver lining in this news, in that at least it shows the Nashi youth cult is an abysmal (and classically Russian) failure, having giving rise to no increase in political interest whatsoever. Indeed, it may well be that Russia’s only protection from total neo-Soviet ruin is the ignorance and apathy of Russian y young people. On the other hand, this was undoubtedly true in the time of Stalin as well at least to some extent, and this probably gave rise to the need for draconian violance to force the slackers into line. The Moscow Times reports:

Young Russians today are more materialistic and less political than any other generation before them, according to a study released Monday. The study, conducted by the Sociology Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, indicated that half of all young people have no interest in politics. It also found that many young people know nothing about Young Guard, Nashi and the other youth organizations that have made national and international headlines in recent months.

A total of 49 percent of the young respondents expressed no interest in politics whatsoever, a sharp increase from 33 percent in a similar study in 1997, said Mikhail Gorshkov, director of the Sociology Institute.

Gorshkov blamed the entertainment industry for the growing apathy. “It is wielding a much greater emotional influence,” he said at a presentation of the study. He said the number of young people taking an active interest in politics (14 percent) and participating in politics (about 2 percent) have remained relatively stable over the past decade.

The study also found that youth movements are not quite as popular as might have been believed. Twenty-six percent of respondents said they did not know any of the 16 movements mentioned by researchers, while 31 percent said they did not know any youth movements at all.

Of the 16 groups mentioned, United Russia’s youth group, Young Guard, received the highest level of support, at 11.9 percent, followed by another pro-Kremlin group, Nashi, at 6.3 percent. None of the remaining 14 movements got more than 3 percent. A leading member of Young Guard, Nadezhda Orlova, said she was pleased with the findings. “Not everybody has to be interested in politics,” she said, calling 11.9 percent a good result. The study found widespread apathy about elections, with 27 percent refusing to commit to a political party and 22 percent saying they did not vote. Asked about their preference for the presidential election in 2008, the largest group, of nearly 35 percent, named Vladimir Putin. Asked whom they would pick if Putin kept his promise not to seek a third term, 12 percent supported First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and 9 percent backed First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov.

Denis Belunov, a senior official in Garry Kasparov’s oppositional United Civil Front, expressed concern that the growing apathy would benefit the Kremlin. He added: “I am not surprised at the fading interest in politics after the Kremlin has brought much of the media under its control.” The study found that young people are much more concerned with their education, career and future economic well-being than they were 10 years ago. They also are more positive about the overall quality of their lives, with 64 percent claiming to be happy compared with 46 percent in 1997. The study, conducted with support from the German Friedrich Ebert foundation, interviewed 1,796 people aged 17 to 26 as well as 655 people aged 40 to 60 in March and April. No margin of error was given.