Daily Archives: June 26, 2007

Annals of Weaponizing Psychiatry: Another Original LR Translation

La Russophobe has already reported three different times on the increasing weaponization of psychiatry in the neo-Soviet Union, and here through the good offices of our original translator is yet a fourth terrifying installment.

The Abuse of Psychiatric Authority
Zoya Svetova
Yezhednevniy Zhurnal
June 22, 2007

At the end of May the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia held a meeting in Moscow. Among the issues they discussed was the possibility or impossibility of a re-emergence in Russia of punitive psychiatry, the use of which against dissidents in the Soviet Union for many years covered Soviet psychiatrists in shame. This issue did not come up by accident. The introduction of censorship, political exiling, the use of the judicial system for settling scores with enemies, the appearance of political prisoners – all of these elements of the Soviet totalitarian system have gradually migrated back into Russian authoritarianism. The full picture is lacking only punitive psychiatry. According to sociological polls, most of the residents of the country are satisfied with their lives. The rating of the current president is simply off the scales. And suddenly there appear these people who are unhappy with these highly-rated authorities – they do not agree with them. Something is not right. Something is wrong with them. Could it be they’re sick?

The head of the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia, Yuri Savenko, assesses that “the authorities have not yet given the signal, but the appearance of the Law on Extremist Activities, which can be interpreted rather broadly, along with the inevitable appearance among protest-minded citizens of a certain percentage of people with so-called personality disorders, is likely to lead to some people being placed in psychiatric hospitals.” The problem is exacerbated by the fact that among professional psychiatrists there has never been the necessary assessment of the prevalence of punitive psychiatry in Soviet times.

Repentance for psychiatric repressions was expressed at the beginning of the 1990’s by the Director of the Serbskiy Institute, T.B. Dmitriyev, as was loudly broadcast to audiences in the West, and to Vladimir Bukovskiy, as described it in his book “The Moscow Process” (1996). But in Russia it was spoken of only unofficially, without “excessive noise”. Now, just ten years later, the very fact of the abuse of psychiatry has been categorically denied. And many psychiatrists continue to believe that there was nothing wrong with forced hospitalization of dissenters. One still encounters the view among some doctors that “putting anti-Soviet activists in the hospital saved them from being sent to the Zone” [TN: a.k.a., the Gulags].

Never Write a Letter to a Duma Deputy or Psychiatrist

Is it easy or difficult nowadays to forcibly hospitalize a “difficult” person?

The Law on Psychiatric Care regulates hospitalization fairly strictly, especially when it is done without the consent of the patient. Involuntary hospitalization is still allowed only in certain circumstances, such as when there is an indication of serious psychiatric disorder, which would pose a direct danger to the patient and those around him, or if the patient is helpless, or if remaining without medical care would result in a worsening of the patient’s condition. But the case of one resident of Moscow (we’ll call her “Elena”) seems to me a worrying symptom. Elena is not an oppositionist. She does not go to the March of Those Who Disagree. She is simply a non-standard person. And due to certain circumstances she turned out to be “difficult” for a fairly high-ranking official. And for this she suffered.

Psychiatric diagnosis is a somewhat delicate matter. In diagnosing one and the same patient, the opinions of doctors can vary widely. What one doctor may see as an indication of illness, another may consider a “borderline condition”, which does not pose a threat to either the patient or those around him.

“Obviously, this was an unfortunate experiment,” says Elena today, evaluating what happened to her. “I had always liked strong, self-confident, action-oriented women. Among those I took an interest in was the Duma Deputy Svetlana Savitskaya. I found her home phone number and called her with a request for her email address, so I could send her a certain political text. Savitskaya reacted to my call somewhat strangely: She said she was going to file a complaint with the police or have me committed to an insane asylum. She said that I was keeping her from sleeping and working. I later decided to give her a copy of a book by George Soros, “The Bubble of American Supremacy”. I thought that all patriotic fundamentalists should read this book. Along with the book I passed a disk of Tibetan music to the female guard on duty at the entrance to Savitskaya’s home. I then called Savitskaya to make sure she had gotten my book. Once again she was very unhappy with my phone call.” Elena was unperturbed, and next tried to deliver her political text to the Deputy in person. The “political text” contained some articles by well-known journalists, as well as Elena’s personal thoughts about the intelligence services and the role of Joseph Stalin in Russian history. Elena went through the entrance to Savitskaya’s building and rang her doorbell. Savitskaya did not open her door, but called the guards, and they ejected the unwanted guest from the Deputy’s building.

Could the behavior of our heroine be considered that of a person who was abnormal, aggressive, or presented a danger to society? No. Her behavior was odd, annoying, but nothing more than that.

Then Elena wrote a letter to the director of the Serbskiy Institute, Tatyana Dmitrieva, whose appearance on television Elena had much enjoyed. Elena decided that Dmitrieva could help her understand herself and give “an evaluation of the behavior of Savitskaya”. After giving a detailed description of her interactions with the Deputy, Elena waited for a reply from the psychiatrist Dmitrieva. At Dmitrieva’s request, the Deputy Director of the Center, Zurab Keklidze, answered the young woman as follows: “… in accordance with the charter documents, the Federal State Office of the V.P. Serbskiy State Scientific Center for Social and Judicial Psychiatry is not empowered to give an opinion (express an evaluative opinion) in either verbal or written form on the activities of any entity or person. Therefore, unfortunately, T.B. Dmitrieva cannot respond to your request.”

Elena still tried several times to send emails to Dmitrieva and called her at home. Eventually, Tatyana Dmitrieva complained to the police, and Elena was visited by a police officer from the local precinct who sought to find out why she would not leave the Director alone. No criminal case was ever brought against her. But a short while later Elena found herself in a psychiatric hospital. She had come to a lecture by Dmitrieva and, attempting to talk with her, lunged at her car.

Hospitalization “By Phonecall”

Dmitrieva’s driver called for a “psychiatric ambulance”. After talking with Elena, the doctors refused to hospitalize her. A second ambulance team also refused to hospitalize her. “I explained my actions to the doctors,” recalls Elena. “One of them told me that Dmitrieva had called the Moscow City chief psychiatrist. Then a third ambulance arrived, and they took me to the hospital.” There Elena was placed in the “acute section”, in a ward with a dozen seriously ill women. The next morning, in a meeting with a doctor, Elena said that she did not consent to remaining at the hospital. After two or three days, a court convened. “They told me that I had to stay in the hospital, or else my condition would worsen. They gave me antidepressants. Later various doctors and consultants came. I asked them to release me. But they kept putting it off. The most unpleasant thing was not knowing when I would ever be allowed to go home. I was afraid that I would lose my job. The first two weeks I was in a ward with 16 people. I couldn’t talk with any of them. It was horrible for me to even to look at them.”

Elena spent two and a half months at the hospital. Professor Aleksandr Gofman, a doctor who is well-regarded in his profession, believes that it was unnecessary to hospitalize Elena. “It should have been sufficient to treat her as an outpatient, explain to her that if she did not do as she said she would do, she would have to be hospitalized. But by her behavior, she did break the law. She could have been held criminally responsible for interfering in the work of an official functionary, for entering into an occupied domicile. And for disturbing a person’s peace, calling them on the telephone,” he explained. Another psychiatrist, Professor Vladimir Rotshteyn said, “Tatyana Dmitrieva receives hundreds of letters like this every day. And, as a rule, she does not answer them. A person who receives no answer usually stops writing. Hence, one cannot condemn Dmitrieva for being frightened.” He is certain that “hospitalization was good for Elena.”

The head of the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia, Yuriy Svenko categorically disagrees: “This woman was forcibly hospitalized without sufficient reason. Only the third ‘psychiatric ambulance’ team, which included a doctor who worked at the Serbskiy Institute, agreed to hospitalize Elena. She should not have been detained at the hospital for so long.” Savenko believes that the doctors who decided against releasing Elena from in-patient status were pawns of “divided loyalties”. On the one hand, they had taken the Hippocratic Oath, and were obliged to serve their patient, but on the other they were obliged to obey a senior official, in this case the chief psychiatrist of the Ministry of Health, who happened to be one and the same T.B. Dmitrieva.

“Every experienced psychiatrist has at various times attracted the attention of mentally ill people. This can in fact be quite dangerous,” continues Savenko. “So Dimitrieva’s first reaction was natural. But her failure to take into account the opinion of a consultant-professor, and then a second, and then a third, to say nothing of the opinions of the doctors at the hospital, clearly shows the extent to which professional ethics and the rule of law are observed by the country’s head of judicial psychiatry, who is also the sole leader and chief psychiatrist in the ministry. Such occurrences are not a rarity, but are carefully hushed up. Transparency in this case occurred thanks to the work of journalists and a fortunate confluence of circumstances. Hence, my arrival at the hospital was the final drop needed for the release of Elena, shortly before the end of the three-month period after which she would have lost her job, at which she does quite well. Her worshipping of Dmitrieva on the television was transformed into a stubborn desire to sue her in court. She approached our Association with a request for legal assistance in this. The fact that we were able to talk her out of a trial is more than enough proof that her behavior had no characteristics mental illness. Of course, a trial would have been very notorious. But we give priority to the individual futures of those who turn to us for assistance.”

Elena still has a bad taste from her stay in the psychiatric hospital. “None of the professors could explain my behavior. They simply said that there was no severe disorder, but there was depression. But no one would explain to me what sort of psychological problems I had and what I could do to get over them. I was there for two and a half months, and for nothing. So what was the point of sending me there for treatment? I needed a psychoanalyst, not psychotropic pills, which caused side effects in me, and worsened my depression. The question I asked Dmitrieva, as a leading specialist, how to explain my behavior, remains unanswered.”

This story is not only about how easy it is to get a non-standard, unusual person committed to a psychiatric hospital. It is also a story about indifference and intolerance.

Our parliamentary deputies and bureaucrats – worst of all, our government medical professionals – have forgotten how to get along with private citizens. They are deathly afraid of them. It is easier for them to brush off a person who wants to talk with them, simpler to declare them crazy, than to pay attention to someone who is asking for just a minute of their precious bureaucratic time.

Here is what Elena wrote in her letter to Deputy Svetlana Savitskaya: “Tolerance should be taught beginning in kindergarten, in the schools and colleges. One must have constant discussions about any theme. The main idea should be to instruct children in the field of argument. So that every person from childhood on is predisposed to conduct arguments and the search for information…”

Nemtsov’s Advice on How to Beat Putin

There was a time when Boris Nemtsov (pictured), then mayor of Nizhny Novgorod, looked like the bright future for Russia, especially after he famously threw a class of cold OJ into the sour puss of crazed neo-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky on a TV talk show.

Since then, to say the least, he’s been disappointing. But recently he talked quite a bit of sense on strategy as to how Putin might be beaten, or how at least a good show it it can be made. Radio Free Europe reports:

PRAGUE, June 11, 2007 (RFE/RL) — Boris Nemtsov is a member of the Political Council of the Union of Rightist Forces and a co-chairman of the Committee-2008 opposition umbrella group. Nemtsov, who served as first deputy prime minister in 1997-98, spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Brian Whitmore about the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia and his view of what strategy the opposition should adopt.

RFE/RL: If public-opinion polls are reliable, a major percentage of the population supports President Vladimir Putin. What developments are necessary for the democratic opposition to achieve any kind of success?

Boris Nemtsov: Putin has 75-80 percent popular support. Under these conditions, the opposition’s only chance is if it advances a common presidential candidate. I am a strong advocate for this strategy. They must not choose separate candidates independently, even on the level of the Other Russia. As you can see, they’ve got [former Prime Minister Mikhail] Kasyanov, [Yabloko St. Petersburg head] Sergei Gulyayev, [former Central Bank head Viktor] Gerashchenko, and also [Yabloko leader Grigory] Yavlinsky. Maybe the Union of Rightist Forces will promote someone else. The result would be an absolute travesty of common sense, on citizens and on our supporters. So my suggestion is essentially that all potential presidential candidates sign a memorandum that at the final stage of the preelection campaigns, one candidate will emerge. This will be the most popular candidate, and the others will be obligated to support him by pooling all the resources available to them, for instance, organizations, structures, and so forth. If this happens, in the case of the fragmentation of the bureaucratic elite — and it is obviously fragmented, some are for [First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei] Ivanov, others are for [First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry] Medvedev — then there is really a chance for the opposition to reach the second stage of the electoral process. That is the situation as I see it. Putin is popular, but his appointed successors aren’t. If Putin were in the running, nobody else would have a chance. But since only his chosen successors are running, the opposition has a window of opportunity. But the opportunity is finite. If there’s more than one candidate, then just forget it — nobody’s got a chance. It’s a shame, political infantilism, and it means that the opposition is good for nothing.

RFE/RL: How do you determine which candidate is the most popular? Do you have primaries, like in the U.S. system?

Nemtsov: We can’t have primaries because Putin will arrange it so that there are none, that’s obvious. The only thing we can do is conduct a survey, since he can’t outlaw those. For example, a survey of 50,000 people, or just residents of large cities: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Nizhniy Novgorod. The survey must be conducted by an independent agency that everyone trusts. Also, the census must be jointly financed. Each candidate must give the same amount of money to the organization conducting the survey, so that no one can say that the agency is working for the benefit of its biggest benefactor. Primaries, I think, are virtually impossible. Primaries are speeches in front of large auditoriums. What auditoriums have we got? We have doors nailed shut, broken-down chandeliers, psychopaths walking around. So unfortunately we can only dismiss the idea of a primary, and it becomes essential for us to pick the most popular and thus the last remaining candidate.

RFE/RL: Certain people in the Russian opposition say the electoral system is so corrupt and under the control of the Kremlin that it is impossible to win elections and that it would be more useful to not participate in them and instead to apply one’s efforts to civil society, as in Belarus. Do you agree?

Nemtsov: We can learn from Belarus’s sad experience. When in 2000 they boycotted elections, what good came out of it? Did [Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka become better? Unfortunately, a boycott is ineffective because elections will happen anyway. There will be several candidates — [Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir ] Zhirinovsky, [Communist Party leader Gennady] Zyuganov, and so forth. In the eyes of the people, they will be typical elections regardless. A boycott can only be organized when one candidate remains. But they will definitely make sure that there are several candidates, so a boycott is a dumb idea. It can be supported emotionally and there could even be legitimate political reasons for it, for example repressive electoral legislation. A candidate could be removed; signatures could be unregistered; election results could be rigged. But a boycott won’t be noticed; it won’t help to ensure the legitimacy of the elected government; and it will only weaken the opposition. So it’s not a good strategy to boycott any kinds of elections, whether parliamentary or presidential. I think it would be total foolishness to boycott parliamentary elections and participate in presidential ones. If you’re boycotting, you may as well boycott everything. If you’re participating, participate in everything. Otherwise you appear wishy-washy. For example, if the Other Russia doesn’t participate in parliamentary elections, they can’t participate, but boycotting them would be foolish. It’s much more sensible to publicly support a specific political campaign.

RFE/RL: In a recent interview with RFE/RL, Garry Kasparov said that one of the best opportunities for the opposition would be to work with certain sections of the elite. Do you agree?

Nemtsov: It looks like I’m a more dogged person. I think that under no circumstances should one collaborate with Ivanov. He led our army to total ruin, limitless corruption, and banditism. He is an advocate for a kind of corporate, Chekist capitalism. So why should we collaborate? I don’t view him as a potential colleague. Also, I think that there is a clan, a fraternity that people don’t leave so easily, even if they are alienated. Another place is always found for them. For example, [Aleksandr] Veshnyakov. He was fired from the [Central] Election Commission, but he didn’t run to a different party. He’s waiting for Putin to appoint him somewhere else. I think that even if one of these candidates loses, he’ll be put somewhere else. Do you really think he’ll be abandoned? He won’t go and collaborate with anyone else, that’s clear as day. It’s a kind of mythical picture. In any case, from Putin’s point of view, the ideal alternative is to put two endorsed successors into the elections. Let them both run. Look, what’s important for Putin? He wants a loyal president and a weak one. He already picked two of these — Ivanov and Medvedev. They satisfy both these criteria. They’ll both run and advance to the second stage. A whole campaign is planned — [Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir] Churov is appointed, whose only guiding principle is that Putin is always right. These two candidates will advance to the second stage, both loyal and weak, and these will compete. But in any case, everything depends on Putin. He won’t be a lame duck; he’ll continue to exert influence; his will be the decisive voice; he’ll remain president until the very end. Whoever supports them is in his debt, which is good for him. And whoever loses will also be found a place. Maybe he’ll be appointed prime minister. Why would there be a schism within this Chekist, St. Petersburg fraternity? There won’t be any schism.

RFE/RL: So it’s impossible to collaborate with Ivanov, but what about Medvedev?

Nemtsov: Medvedev differs from this whole gang in that he never served in the KGB or FSB [Federal Security Service]. I think that this is, of course, his surprising and fantastic advantage over the others. The question with Medvedev is different: Is he capable of governing such a huge country? Is he prepared to govern the country? Not to move along PR projects, in which publicity trumps actual business, but is he actually skilled enough? Does he have enough charisma, force of will, energy, even experience to do this, or not? This is a very big question. Of course, when forced to choose between these two people, many liberal-minded individuals prefer Medvedev, that’s true. But is he fit to be president? Therein lies the question.

RFE/RL: One of the problems of Russian politics is the absence of a reliable system of democratic presidential succession. During presidential transitions, everyone panics. The elite fights it out and chooses a candidate and elections merely become coronations. Why is this the case, and what must be done to establish a legitimate system of succession?

Nemtsov: In Russian history, there was one instance of elections without dynastic succession. That was the presidential election of 1991. These were honest elections. They ended well. But then everything returned to its usual state of affairs, and I think that it is important to consider the long history of autocracy. Dynastic succession is in the nation’s blood. The Romanov dynasty lasted for 300 years. Then there were bequeathed successions among the communists, that is, Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, and the rest. This is all genetically saturated, next to [one’s] mother’s milk. To just knock it out of people’s heads, that there should be honest elections, that someone has to win the popular vote, it’s a difficult task. Putin put an end to this tradition entirely. When people started to get accustomed to democracy, when there were gubernatorial elections and bequeathed succession was practically nonexistent — mayoral elections and elections of federal-level deputies also didn’t have bequeathed succession. Russia was basically headed in the right direction in the 1990s. It was a difficult journey, a painful one, but it was correct. Putin put an end to it and autocracy was restored. Some call it white autocracy, others Chekist autocracy, but it’s autocracy. On the one hand, there was a historical precedent. On the other hand, he interrupted healthy development in the right direction. This was his huge mistake, and many people can’t forgive him for it. You see, democracy is a new phenomenon for Russia. That sounds absurd, but it’s true. To engrain something new, there needs to be will. Putin had no will whatsoever when it came to this issue. He thought, for 100 years there was a dynasty, so now there’ll be a Chekist dynasty. That’s all there is to it. But in order for there to be democracy in Russia, the chief himself has to believe in it. Does Putin believe in it? Of course not. [Former President Boris] Yeltsin did, and for a time that was how it was. But even Yeltsin, a democrat, finally appointed a successor. Even Yeltsin. So what can we expect from Putin? He’s not Yeltsin.

RFE/RL: Your party supported Putin in 1999. It wasn’t clear then that this is how things would turn out. What happened?

Nemtsov: You know, there are really two Putins. There is an early Putin who lowered taxes, gave people land, supported America on September 11[, 2001], first expressed his sympathies to President [George W.] Bush, and everything was somehow very touching. And then there is the later Putin. He took office on October 25, 2003, when he imprisoned [jailed oil tycoon Mikhail] Khodorkovsky. This is a man who treats everyone as an enemy. This is a man who completely destroyed the opposition, and so forth. The earlier Putin was steeped in paradox. He continued progressive reforms in the economic sphere, but politically he started pulling strings. First slowly, then faster and faster. But it was clear to me from the very beginning that he should not be supported because of his background. People with a Chekist history cannot believe in freedom. They hate criticism; they don’t consider the triumph of justice a main priority. They’re used to living by notions. So for me, the dilemma of whether he should be supported then or later never existed. I never supported him.

Further Proof of How Much More Erudite and Cultured Russians are Compared to Americans


The Moscow Times reports that Russians, while claiming to be more erudite and cultured than Americans, are not only copying American sitcoms but adding another whole new layer of vapid exploitation to the mix.

The heroine of CTC’s new sitcom “All of a Sudden” is a champion figure skater who reinvents herself as a pop singer in a sexy girl group drooled over by the male half of the nation. Then she ditches the sequins and goes into acting, swiftly bagging the lead role in a primetime show. Actually that’s not the plot — although it should be — but the career path of the show’s lead actress, the former ice dancer and former Blestyashchiye singer Anna Semyonovich. And I haven’t even mentioned the breasts.

So formidable are the above assets that the scriptwriters have been forced to make them a central feature of the show, which is a copy of a sitcom that aired in the United States, “Suddenly Susan.” That show starred Brooke Shields, and I haven’t seen it, but still feel pretty sure her cleavage didn’t loom over the proceedings in the same way. Perhaps there were eyebrow jokes. Anyway, the first episodes of the Russian version this week showed a male character clinging to Semyonovich’s embonpoint and a female character summing her up with an Italian-style hand gesture.

The show certainly must be an answer to the prayers of Russia’s teenage boy demographic. Although what is the etiquette on actresses’ breasts? I know “Baywatch” had a set number of shots of Pamela Anderson’s swimsuit per episode, but it still did the gentlemanly thing and had characters talking to her face. Possibly Semyonovich’s experiences as a singer in Blestyashchiye, a group that leaves you humming the cup sizes, has made her inured to cameras zooming around at chest level. It’s a little hard to tell on screen, since she only seems to have two expressions: smiling and pouting. Still, that’s understandable — figure skating and lip-synching haven’t stretched her dramatic range yet, and half the viewers won’t notice anyway.

The plot of the show is that Suddenly Sasha runs away from her wedding with a wealthy older man and returns to her job at a glossy magazine, which just happens to be edited by the brother-in-law of her rejected fiance. Unexpectedly, he doesn’t fire her, but instead gives her the chance to write her own girl-about-town column. This gives her the chance to meet new quirky characters each episode and also hang out with a permanent cast of bitchy journalists and photographers, whose male representatives all more or less secretly fancy her. That’s not far off, although unlike Sasha I never resorted to buying people sandwiches to cement my popularity.

In the first episodes, each of which seemed to last about five minutes due to CTC’s generous attitude to commercial breaks, Semyonovich’s character sparred with her sarcastic editor, who barked at her, “If I don’t like your very first column, I will fire you.” She also went to a bar with a female colleague, who was disgruntled at being ignored by all the men in favor of the luscious Sasha. Finally, she researched her column by shadowing a sleazy assertiveness trainer called Doctor No.

The show has been localized to Russia to some extent — even if the fiancees of oligarchs don’t usually seem to work at lowly magazine jobs. At one point, the editor moaned that magazines couldn’t compete with television. “They have the latest news and we have last week’s gossip; they have Ksenia Sobchak and we have … Ksenia Sobchak,” he joked, referring to the blonde TNT presenter who rarely sees a party invitation she doesn’t like. According to Semyonovich’s web site, the It-Girl was one of the candidates to play Sasha, but the other actress just had something extra to bring to the role. Never mind, I’m sure Ksyusha took it on the chest.

Putin’s Wolf Pack

Writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Alexei Bayer explains that the Putin regime has literally gone to the dogs:

What surprised me about Alexander Litvinenko’s poisoning is how many of my American friends in New York, generally so ignorant of Russia, have taken the trouble to learn about the case. Of course, it is probably the first nuclear terrorist act in history. But I’ve noticed greater awareness of other murky things going on in Russia, as well, such as the murders of maverick journalists. A lot more attention is being paid by the public to President Vladimir Putin’s bellicose pronouncements and Russia’s squabbles with its neighbors.

I’ve been getting calls from people I haven’t heard from in years, wanting to know, in essence, what’s going on in Russia. I find that Russia’s political reality can be best understood through works of Russian fiction. Today’s Russia, for instance, calls to mind “Faithful Ruslan,” a novella by dissident writer Georgy Vladimov.

Written more than 40 years ago and circulated clandestinely in the Soviet Union, it is a story of a Great Terror labor camp told from a guard dog’s viewpoint. Ruslan, a smart, ferocious German shepherd, finds himself at loose ends after Stalin’s death, when the gates of the camp are thrown open and the prisoners are set free. Naturally, Ruslan hates the new world, where people can do whatever they want and go anywhere they please. He pines away for the time of blind obedience and recalls fondly the power he used to have over the inmates.

The book ends with the arrival of a party of construction workers. As they walk from the train station, former guard dogs spontaneously gather and begin to escort them. The workers turn upon the dogs once they realize that they are being formed into a column, and Ruslan is killed. A similar incident, supposedly, did take place in the mid-1950s on the site of a former labor camp. Writing at the start of Brezhnev’s era, Vladimov no doubt meant his book as a warning against the restoration of Stalinism. The novella — and especially its prophetic ending — works wonderfully, however as an allegory for Putin’s Russia.

The Soviet system was cruel, murderous and misguided, but it was based on an ideology and, however vile the crimes it committed, everything was done in the name of that ideology and followed an internal logic. The Communist Party gave the marching orders and employed the state security apparatus to make sure everybody marched. Since Putin came to power, his former colleagues from the security services — those who, to use the Russian expression, wore the epaulets — have come out on top. They have appropriated the state and have renationalized lucrative resource industries for their own benefit and profit. They have re-introduced many of the features of the old Soviet Union — from the tightly controlled media to a poor man’s version of the Communist Party, in the form of United Russia. The rhetoric and the pervasive spy mania of the Soviet era are back, and even the Young Pioneers are being revived.

What the system lacks is a bona fide ideology at its core. The nation is being gradually formed into a column, but in the manner you would imagine a pack of guard dogs going about this task — all form but no content. This explains cruel, senseless acts like the botched hostage rescues at Dubrovka and in Beslan. Or Litvinenko’s grotesque murder. Or Russia’s foreign policy, which brings to mind Ruslan snarling at Kiev or Tallinn rather than civilized diplomacy.

Vladimov died in 2003, just as the arrest of Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky marked the end of the 1990s’ liberalization. It would have been interesting if he could have extended “Faithful Ruslan” along the lines of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” — how the dogs would have handled the situation had they overpowered the workers and locked them up in the barracks. I suspect it would have looked much like Putin’s vertical of power.

Putin’s Wolf Pack

Writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Alexei Bayer explains that the Putin regime has literally gone to the dogs:

What surprised me about Alexander Litvinenko’s poisoning is how many of my American friends in New York, generally so ignorant of Russia, have taken the trouble to learn about the case. Of course, it is probably the first nuclear terrorist act in history. But I’ve noticed greater awareness of other murky things going on in Russia, as well, such as the murders of maverick journalists. A lot more attention is being paid by the public to President Vladimir Putin’s bellicose pronouncements and Russia’s squabbles with its neighbors.

I’ve been getting calls from people I haven’t heard from in years, wanting to know, in essence, what’s going on in Russia. I find that Russia’s political reality can be best understood through works of Russian fiction. Today’s Russia, for instance, calls to mind “Faithful Ruslan,” a novella by dissident writer Georgy Vladimov.

Written more than 40 years ago and circulated clandestinely in the Soviet Union, it is a story of a Great Terror labor camp told from a guard dog’s viewpoint. Ruslan, a smart, ferocious German shepherd, finds himself at loose ends after Stalin’s death, when the gates of the camp are thrown open and the prisoners are set free. Naturally, Ruslan hates the new world, where people can do whatever they want and go anywhere they please. He pines away for the time of blind obedience and recalls fondly the power he used to have over the inmates.

The book ends with the arrival of a party of construction workers. As they walk from the train station, former guard dogs spontaneously gather and begin to escort them. The workers turn upon the dogs once they realize that they are being formed into a column, and Ruslan is killed. A similar incident, supposedly, did take place in the mid-1950s on the site of a former labor camp. Writing at the start of Brezhnev’s era, Vladimov no doubt meant his book as a warning against the restoration of Stalinism. The novella — and especially its prophetic ending — works wonderfully, however as an allegory for Putin’s Russia.

The Soviet system was cruel, murderous and misguided, but it was based on an ideology and, however vile the crimes it committed, everything was done in the name of that ideology and followed an internal logic. The Communist Party gave the marching orders and employed the state security apparatus to make sure everybody marched. Since Putin came to power, his former colleagues from the security services — those who, to use the Russian expression, wore the epaulets — have come out on top. They have appropriated the state and have renationalized lucrative resource industries for their own benefit and profit. They have re-introduced many of the features of the old Soviet Union — from the tightly controlled media to a poor man’s version of the Communist Party, in the form of United Russia. The rhetoric and the pervasive spy mania of the Soviet era are back, and even the Young Pioneers are being revived.

What the system lacks is a bona fide ideology at its core. The nation is being gradually formed into a column, but in the manner you would imagine a pack of guard dogs going about this task — all form but no content. This explains cruel, senseless acts like the botched hostage rescues at Dubrovka and in Beslan. Or Litvinenko’s grotesque murder. Or Russia’s foreign policy, which brings to mind Ruslan snarling at Kiev or Tallinn rather than civilized diplomacy.

Vladimov died in 2003, just as the arrest of Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky marked the end of the 1990s’ liberalization. It would have been interesting if he could have extended “Faithful Ruslan” along the lines of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” — how the dogs would have handled the situation had they overpowered the workers and locked them up in the barracks. I suspect it would have looked much like Putin’s vertical of power.

Putin’s Wolf Pack

Writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Alexei Bayer explains that the Putin regime has literally gone to the dogs:

What surprised me about Alexander Litvinenko’s poisoning is how many of my American friends in New York, generally so ignorant of Russia, have taken the trouble to learn about the case. Of course, it is probably the first nuclear terrorist act in history. But I’ve noticed greater awareness of other murky things going on in Russia, as well, such as the murders of maverick journalists. A lot more attention is being paid by the public to President Vladimir Putin’s bellicose pronouncements and Russia’s squabbles with its neighbors.

I’ve been getting calls from people I haven’t heard from in years, wanting to know, in essence, what’s going on in Russia. I find that Russia’s political reality can be best understood through works of Russian fiction. Today’s Russia, for instance, calls to mind “Faithful Ruslan,” a novella by dissident writer Georgy Vladimov.

Written more than 40 years ago and circulated clandestinely in the Soviet Union, it is a story of a Great Terror labor camp told from a guard dog’s viewpoint. Ruslan, a smart, ferocious German shepherd, finds himself at loose ends after Stalin’s death, when the gates of the camp are thrown open and the prisoners are set free. Naturally, Ruslan hates the new world, where people can do whatever they want and go anywhere they please. He pines away for the time of blind obedience and recalls fondly the power he used to have over the inmates.

The book ends with the arrival of a party of construction workers. As they walk from the train station, former guard dogs spontaneously gather and begin to escort them. The workers turn upon the dogs once they realize that they are being formed into a column, and Ruslan is killed. A similar incident, supposedly, did take place in the mid-1950s on the site of a former labor camp. Writing at the start of Brezhnev’s era, Vladimov no doubt meant his book as a warning against the restoration of Stalinism. The novella — and especially its prophetic ending — works wonderfully, however as an allegory for Putin’s Russia.

The Soviet system was cruel, murderous and misguided, but it was based on an ideology and, however vile the crimes it committed, everything was done in the name of that ideology and followed an internal logic. The Communist Party gave the marching orders and employed the state security apparatus to make sure everybody marched. Since Putin came to power, his former colleagues from the security services — those who, to use the Russian expression, wore the epaulets — have come out on top. They have appropriated the state and have renationalized lucrative resource industries for their own benefit and profit. They have re-introduced many of the features of the old Soviet Union — from the tightly controlled media to a poor man’s version of the Communist Party, in the form of United Russia. The rhetoric and the pervasive spy mania of the Soviet era are back, and even the Young Pioneers are being revived.

What the system lacks is a bona fide ideology at its core. The nation is being gradually formed into a column, but in the manner you would imagine a pack of guard dogs going about this task — all form but no content. This explains cruel, senseless acts like the botched hostage rescues at Dubrovka and in Beslan. Or Litvinenko’s grotesque murder. Or Russia’s foreign policy, which brings to mind Ruslan snarling at Kiev or Tallinn rather than civilized diplomacy.

Vladimov died in 2003, just as the arrest of Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky marked the end of the 1990s’ liberalization. It would have been interesting if he could have extended “Faithful Ruslan” along the lines of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” — how the dogs would have handled the situation had they overpowered the workers and locked them up in the barracks. I suspect it would have looked much like Putin’s vertical of power.

Putin’s Wolf Pack

Writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Alexei Bayer explains that the Putin regime has literally gone to the dogs:

What surprised me about Alexander Litvinenko’s poisoning is how many of my American friends in New York, generally so ignorant of Russia, have taken the trouble to learn about the case. Of course, it is probably the first nuclear terrorist act in history. But I’ve noticed greater awareness of other murky things going on in Russia, as well, such as the murders of maverick journalists. A lot more attention is being paid by the public to President Vladimir Putin’s bellicose pronouncements and Russia’s squabbles with its neighbors.

I’ve been getting calls from people I haven’t heard from in years, wanting to know, in essence, what’s going on in Russia. I find that Russia’s political reality can be best understood through works of Russian fiction. Today’s Russia, for instance, calls to mind “Faithful Ruslan,” a novella by dissident writer Georgy Vladimov.

Written more than 40 years ago and circulated clandestinely in the Soviet Union, it is a story of a Great Terror labor camp told from a guard dog’s viewpoint. Ruslan, a smart, ferocious German shepherd, finds himself at loose ends after Stalin’s death, when the gates of the camp are thrown open and the prisoners are set free. Naturally, Ruslan hates the new world, where people can do whatever they want and go anywhere they please. He pines away for the time of blind obedience and recalls fondly the power he used to have over the inmates.

The book ends with the arrival of a party of construction workers. As they walk from the train station, former guard dogs spontaneously gather and begin to escort them. The workers turn upon the dogs once they realize that they are being formed into a column, and Ruslan is killed. A similar incident, supposedly, did take place in the mid-1950s on the site of a former labor camp. Writing at the start of Brezhnev’s era, Vladimov no doubt meant his book as a warning against the restoration of Stalinism. The novella — and especially its prophetic ending — works wonderfully, however as an allegory for Putin’s Russia.

The Soviet system was cruel, murderous and misguided, but it was based on an ideology and, however vile the crimes it committed, everything was done in the name of that ideology and followed an internal logic. The Communist Party gave the marching orders and employed the state security apparatus to make sure everybody marched. Since Putin came to power, his former colleagues from the security services — those who, to use the Russian expression, wore the epaulets — have come out on top. They have appropriated the state and have renationalized lucrative resource industries for their own benefit and profit. They have re-introduced many of the features of the old Soviet Union — from the tightly controlled media to a poor man’s version of the Communist Party, in the form of United Russia. The rhetoric and the pervasive spy mania of the Soviet era are back, and even the Young Pioneers are being revived.

What the system lacks is a bona fide ideology at its core. The nation is being gradually formed into a column, but in the manner you would imagine a pack of guard dogs going about this task — all form but no content. This explains cruel, senseless acts like the botched hostage rescues at Dubrovka and in Beslan. Or Litvinenko’s grotesque murder. Or Russia’s foreign policy, which brings to mind Ruslan snarling at Kiev or Tallinn rather than civilized diplomacy.

Vladimov died in 2003, just as the arrest of Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky marked the end of the 1990s’ liberalization. It would have been interesting if he could have extended “Faithful Ruslan” along the lines of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” — how the dogs would have handled the situation had they overpowered the workers and locked them up in the barracks. I suspect it would have looked much like Putin’s vertical of power.