Daily Archives: November 13, 2007

November 13, 2007 — Contents

TUESDAY NOVEMBER 13 CONTENTS

(1) Pasko in the Moscow Times!

(2) Putin’s Party Struggles To Maintain Support

(3) Now This: Entry Visas for Poll-Watchers Delayed

(4) The Horror of Neo-Soviet “Education”

Pasko in the Moscow Times!

La Russophobe does not recall hero journalist Grigory Pasko (pictured) ever publishing an article in the Moscow Times before, and a quick check of the paper’s archives indicates he has not (if any reader knows differently, please tell us). But on Monday he sure had one, blasting Russia on human rights. Weirdly, the paper identifies him only as “a journalist.” That’s like calling Tchaikovsky “a composer.” Then again, our quibble is like complaining that our buttered bread doesn’t have both red and black caviar on it.

Not long ago, when he was in Portugal at the EU-Russia summit, President Vladimir Putin announced that he planned to set up an institute in the EU that would monitor human rights in Europe. Putin’s aide on EU affairs, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, reported to journalists that the new organization would focus on monitoring Europe’s track record on freedom of the press, as well as the rights of ethnic minorities and immigrants. Particularly noteworthy was the fact that the institute would be staffed exclusively by Russian citizens.

I asked a friend in Germany whether he would like his rights to be defended by Russian bureaucrats who are cast from the Putin mold. “Heaven forbid!” he replied. He was a bit rash in his answer, of course. The idea of Chekists monitoring the rights of Europeans is a stroke of genius in its own right. First, rights are violated everywhere. (Is it not an abuse of human rights, for example, when a person is forced to choose among dozens of items at breakfast buffets in European hotels?) Second, if there is one thing Chekists know how to do well, it is monitoring people. They have always watched people — everywhere and everyone. Third, even though the stock argument of double standards and “Why don’t you look at yourself first?” is rather cheap and feeble, it still manages to work in favor of the other side. In recent times, Putin has been using precisely this argument to the hilt in meetings with the leaders of Western countries.

The idea’s weak spot, in my opinion, is that the scope of the planned institute is limited to Europe. Why think so locally? It would be better to reach wider and to think world-scale. Especially since there is a new example out there right now — Georgia. In the opinion of Russian politicians of various stripes, Tbilisi is guilty of committing gross human rights violations. Oh, what self-gratifying, righteous indignation we see on the faces of Russia’s leaders when they talk about all the terrible things happening in Tbilisi. In the words of all the Gryzlovs and Mironovs, it seems that the rights of all Georgians are being perpetually violated.

Every day, Russian television revels in reporting the atrocities that the Saakashvili regime commits against its people. You just want to say to them, using Boris Pasternak’s phrase, “Why don’t you take a look at what millennium it is in your own backyard?”

But let’s get back to the human rights institute. Russia should definitely share its rich experience of watching various categories of citizens — including dissidents, journalists and scholars — and this should be done, of course, on a worldwide scale. Where else can you find the broad experience and global reach of Putin’s comrades? Our experts will be able to teach the art of surveillance, intrigues, dirty tricks and lies to anyone. No problem. And why are they talking about an institute? After all, the efforts of one, lone scholarly establishment — even if it is the best in the world — are not enough to defend the rights of all of the poor and miserable Europeans who are oppressed by the injustice of society. A more potent defense will no doubt be required as well. This is why I propose to Putin and his comrades that they consider the idea of creating an International Basmanny Court of Human Rights. They could base it in Strasbourg so that it is not too far from the institute in Brussels. They could study the theory in Brussels, then reinforce it in practice in Strasbourg.

And naturally, we will also need to create a whole bunch of international and European nongovernmental organizations to protect people all over the world from the arbitrary rule of bureaucrats, security services, unscrupulous medical personnel and plumbers, bribe-taking police officers and cooks who keep attempting to make greasy food with lots of cholesterol. And all of these NGOs will be run by specialists from Russia — preferably, former members of the KGB and the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Of course, this host of NGOs is going to need funding, which is why I propose the creation of the V.V. Putin Global Fund for the Protection of the Human Rights and a Worldwide Public Chamber. The chamber, naturally, should include only people who have been tested for loyalty to United Russia and have a deep personal love for its one and only leader.

Oh, I nearly forgot about the need to create an International Academy of Law, whose activity will consist mainly of instituting the ideas of First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev about how it isn’t Russian laws that need to be changed, but international ones. Closer to the Russian model, of course. There are plenty of lawyers in Russia today who are ready at the drop of a hat to rewrite the laws and Constitution to fit a third term for Putin.

The European Convention on Human Rights and its protocols, as is known, guarantee the rights to:

• life, liberty and freedom of the individual;

• a fair trial in civil and criminal cases;

• to vote in elections and to participate as a candidate in elections;

• freedom of thought, conscience and religion;

• freedom of opinion, including freedom of the press;

• private property protections; and

• freedom of assembly and group association.

Only Russia, of course, can claim to be a role model with respect to all of the above. If we speak about ensuring the protection of journalists’ lives, we’re ahead of nearly everyone else in the world: Two dozen journalists have been killed just during the years of Putin’s rule alone.

And then there are elections. Where else can you find such free and multiparty elections if not in our country? Just ask the members of United Russia about this one, and they will tell you the whole truth.

As for the protection of private property, is there anyone who could speak to that any better than former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is serving an eight-year prison sentence?

The authorities understand very well the importance of complying with prohibitions. After all, the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits:

• torture and inhuman, degrading treatment;

• the death penalty;

• slavery and forced labor;

• discrimination as a result of exercising one’s rights guaranteed by the convention;

• expelling citizens from their home country or refusing them entry; and

• the collective expulsion of foreigners.

All of these prohibitions are strictly observed in our country. You don’t believe me? Go ask the people locked up in Russian prisons about torture and inhumane, degrading treatment. The number of prisoners, by the way, is already approaching a million — just like in Soviet times.

In addition, ask the dozens of foreign journalists who are prohibited from entering Russia simply because they criticized Putin and the war in Chechnya. And ask the Chechens about the government’s sincere concern for nationalities.

And, after all of this, if somebody still has complaints against the state, let him appeal to the International Basmanny Court of Human Rights. The judges will certainly explain to him the rules of the game in Russia.

Putin’s Party Struggles to Maintain Support

One of the least understood facts about modern Russia’s history is that in the spring of 2003 Vladimir Putin’s popularity in opinion polls dropped below 50%. This occurred right after his second invasion of Chechnya, spurned by the Moscow apartment bombings, began to go horribly wrong, and just before he arrested Mikhail Trepashkin (who was investigating the bombings) and Mikhail Khodorkovsky (who was toying with the idea of running against Putin in the 2004 presidential poll).

So Putin knows full well that his actual base of support in the country is paper thin, which is why he moved to aggressively to block foreign election observers from participating in the Duma elections to be held in a few weeks, elections he plans to use as a springboard to remain in power indefinitely. And now new polling data, reported by the Moscow Times, shows just how right Putin is about his vulnerability and his need to use mafia tactics to cling to power:

With less than a month to go before State Duma elections, United Russia’s popularity appears to be withering as higher food prices sink in and the novelty of President Vladimir Putin’s decision to lead the party in the vote wears off. A Kremlin-ordered opinion poll released Friday indicated that support for the party has dropped 6 percentage points over the past two weeks, said the pollster, state-run VTsIOM. Another major polling agency, the independent Public Opinion Foundation, said United Russia’s popularity had peaked at around 44 percent and remained unchanged for the past month. The two pollsters are the only ones measuring the national popularity of political parties every week. Both registered a significant boost in United Russia’s popularity after Putin announced on Oct. 1 that he would lead the party’s list of candidates for Duma elections. United Russia, however, is not likely to lose its enormous lead going into the vote on Dec. 2. The ratings of its rivals remained flat or fell in the surveys.

The percentage of voters backing United Russia jumped from 47 percent in August and September to 56 percent by mid-October, according to VTsIOM. But support dropped by 6 percentage points to 50 percent in the latest poll, conducted Nov. 3 and 4. The polls all had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points. Leonid Byzov, who conducted the polls for VTsIOM, was reluctant to say whether the drop might indicate the start of a trend. “We need to wait for next week’s results to see if this is a trend and not a glitch in our polling techniques,” Byzov said.

If United Russia’s popularity is eroding, Byzov said, it is due to an inflation-fueled growth in food prices. United Russia likes to portray itself as a major force behind everything good that happens in the country. “Pensioners, or people over 60, showed the biggest decline in support for United Russia — from 53 percent to 44 percent,” Byzov said. “This category of people is the most dependent on the authorities.” He said the polls were ordered and paid for by the presidential administration.

The Public Opinion Foundation said support for United Russia had grown from 36 percent before Putin’s announcement to 44 percent the week afterward. But the figure has remained nearly unchanged since. The polls also had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points. Polling agency official Veronika Perevenzevtseva said the figure of 44 percent was lower than VTsIOM’s because the agencies used different polling methods. Both agencies contact 1,600 people nationwide in their weekly surveys. United Russia, meanwhile, is aiming to get 55 percent to 60 percent of the vote, its pointman on the elections, Andrei Vorobyov, said in remarks posted on the party’s web site Friday.

Vorobyov could not be reached Friday for a comment on the opinion polls. Other United Russia officials directed inquiries to him. United Russia officials have portrayed the elections as a referendum on support for Putin and his policies. At a meeting of party leaders Wednesday, they sat under a banner reading, “Putin’s Triumph Is Russia’s Triumph!” — an evident departure from the party’s initial election motto, “Putin’s Plan Is Russia’s Triumph.” United Russia calls its campaign platform — a digest of major Putin speeches — Putin’s Plan.

Putin remains by far the country’s most popular politician, with 57 percent of those polled in early November saying they trusted him, VTsIOM said. [LR That means 43% of Russians DON’T trust Putin].

Voters’ initial excitement that Putin would be so closely associated with United Russia has waned, and they are once again viewing it as a party of faceless bureaucrats, said a spokesman for A Just Russia, a pro-Kremlin party. “Also, United Russia is showing itself to be the least creative party in the ongoing campaign, with slogans and a political style reminiscent of Soviet times,” said the spokesman, Alexander Morozov. United Russia is the only one of the 11 parties participating in the elections to refuse to take part in televised debates, which started last week. The other parties have been using the debates to gently criticize United Russia and the government, rather than argue with one another. But Alexei Mukhin, a political analyst with the Center for Political Information, said the failure of the government to curb the latest hike in food prices had hurt United Russia more than its campaign tactics. Voters are dissatisfied with both United Russia and the Duma campaign overall, as indicated by the fact that other parties’ ratings failed to increase at United Russia’s expense, said Stanislav Belkovsky, a former Kremlin spin doctor who heads the Institute of National Strategy. In both polls, A Just Russia scored less than the 7 percent needed to clear the threshold to win seats in the Duma. Its popularity has dived since Putin joined United Russia’s ticket.

The Communist Party was the only party other than United Russia to get more than 7 percent. [LR: So much for the idea that the people of Russia have every given democracy anything like a fair chance. Now, just as under Yeltsin, the only parties they’ve given real support to are the Kremlin’s and the Communists. That’s barbarism, pure and simple.]

Putin’s Party Struggles to Maintain Support

One of the least understood facts about modern Russia’s history is that in the spring of 2003 Vladimir Putin’s popularity in opinion polls dropped below 50%. This occurred right after his second invasion of Chechnya, spurned by the Moscow apartment bombings, began to go horribly wrong, and just before he arrested Mikhail Trepashkin (who was investigating the bombings) and Mikhail Khodorkovsky (who was toying with the idea of running against Putin in the 2004 presidential poll).

So Putin knows full well that his actual base of support in the country is paper thin, which is why he moved to aggressively to block foreign election observers from participating in the Duma elections to be held in a few weeks, elections he plans to use as a springboard to remain in power indefinitely. And now new polling data, reported by the Moscow Times, shows just how right Putin is about his vulnerability and his need to use mafia tactics to cling to power:

With less than a month to go before State Duma elections, United Russia’s popularity appears to be withering as higher food prices sink in and the novelty of President Vladimir Putin’s decision to lead the party in the vote wears off. A Kremlin-ordered opinion poll released Friday indicated that support for the party has dropped 6 percentage points over the past two weeks, said the pollster, state-run VTsIOM. Another major polling agency, the independent Public Opinion Foundation, said United Russia’s popularity had peaked at around 44 percent and remained unchanged for the past month. The two pollsters are the only ones measuring the national popularity of political parties every week. Both registered a significant boost in United Russia’s popularity after Putin announced on Oct. 1 that he would lead the party’s list of candidates for Duma elections. United Russia, however, is not likely to lose its enormous lead going into the vote on Dec. 2. The ratings of its rivals remained flat or fell in the surveys.

The percentage of voters backing United Russia jumped from 47 percent in August and September to 56 percent by mid-October, according to VTsIOM. But support dropped by 6 percentage points to 50 percent in the latest poll, conducted Nov. 3 and 4. The polls all had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points. Leonid Byzov, who conducted the polls for VTsIOM, was reluctant to say whether the drop might indicate the start of a trend. “We need to wait for next week’s results to see if this is a trend and not a glitch in our polling techniques,” Byzov said.

If United Russia’s popularity is eroding, Byzov said, it is due to an inflation-fueled growth in food prices. United Russia likes to portray itself as a major force behind everything good that happens in the country. “Pensioners, or people over 60, showed the biggest decline in support for United Russia — from 53 percent to 44 percent,” Byzov said. “This category of people is the most dependent on the authorities.” He said the polls were ordered and paid for by the presidential administration.

The Public Opinion Foundation said support for United Russia had grown from 36 percent before Putin’s announcement to 44 percent the week afterward. But the figure has remained nearly unchanged since. The polls also had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points. Polling agency official Veronika Perevenzevtseva said the figure of 44 percent was lower than VTsIOM’s because the agencies used different polling methods. Both agencies contact 1,600 people nationwide in their weekly surveys. United Russia, meanwhile, is aiming to get 55 percent to 60 percent of the vote, its pointman on the elections, Andrei Vorobyov, said in remarks posted on the party’s web site Friday.

Vorobyov could not be reached Friday for a comment on the opinion polls. Other United Russia officials directed inquiries to him. United Russia officials have portrayed the elections as a referendum on support for Putin and his policies. At a meeting of party leaders Wednesday, they sat under a banner reading, “Putin’s Triumph Is Russia’s Triumph!” — an evident departure from the party’s initial election motto, “Putin’s Plan Is Russia’s Triumph.” United Russia calls its campaign platform — a digest of major Putin speeches — Putin’s Plan.

Putin remains by far the country’s most popular politician, with 57 percent of those polled in early November saying they trusted him, VTsIOM said. [LR That means 43% of Russians DON’T trust Putin].

Voters’ initial excitement that Putin would be so closely associated with United Russia has waned, and they are once again viewing it as a party of faceless bureaucrats, said a spokesman for A Just Russia, a pro-Kremlin party. “Also, United Russia is showing itself to be the least creative party in the ongoing campaign, with slogans and a political style reminiscent of Soviet times,” said the spokesman, Alexander Morozov. United Russia is the only one of the 11 parties participating in the elections to refuse to take part in televised debates, which started last week. The other parties have been using the debates to gently criticize United Russia and the government, rather than argue with one another. But Alexei Mukhin, a political analyst with the Center for Political Information, said the failure of the government to curb the latest hike in food prices had hurt United Russia more than its campaign tactics. Voters are dissatisfied with both United Russia and the Duma campaign overall, as indicated by the fact that other parties’ ratings failed to increase at United Russia’s expense, said Stanislav Belkovsky, a former Kremlin spin doctor who heads the Institute of National Strategy. In both polls, A Just Russia scored less than the 7 percent needed to clear the threshold to win seats in the Duma. Its popularity has dived since Putin joined United Russia’s ticket.

The Communist Party was the only party other than United Russia to get more than 7 percent. [LR: So much for the idea that the people of Russia have every given democracy anything like a fair chance. Now, just as under Yeltsin, the only parties they’ve given real support to are the Kremlin’s and the Communists. That’s barbarism, pure and simple.]

Putin’s Party Struggles to Maintain Support

One of the least understood facts about modern Russia’s history is that in the spring of 2003 Vladimir Putin’s popularity in opinion polls dropped below 50%. This occurred right after his second invasion of Chechnya, spurned by the Moscow apartment bombings, began to go horribly wrong, and just before he arrested Mikhail Trepashkin (who was investigating the bombings) and Mikhail Khodorkovsky (who was toying with the idea of running against Putin in the 2004 presidential poll).

So Putin knows full well that his actual base of support in the country is paper thin, which is why he moved to aggressively to block foreign election observers from participating in the Duma elections to be held in a few weeks, elections he plans to use as a springboard to remain in power indefinitely. And now new polling data, reported by the Moscow Times, shows just how right Putin is about his vulnerability and his need to use mafia tactics to cling to power:

With less than a month to go before State Duma elections, United Russia’s popularity appears to be withering as higher food prices sink in and the novelty of President Vladimir Putin’s decision to lead the party in the vote wears off. A Kremlin-ordered opinion poll released Friday indicated that support for the party has dropped 6 percentage points over the past two weeks, said the pollster, state-run VTsIOM. Another major polling agency, the independent Public Opinion Foundation, said United Russia’s popularity had peaked at around 44 percent and remained unchanged for the past month. The two pollsters are the only ones measuring the national popularity of political parties every week. Both registered a significant boost in United Russia’s popularity after Putin announced on Oct. 1 that he would lead the party’s list of candidates for Duma elections. United Russia, however, is not likely to lose its enormous lead going into the vote on Dec. 2. The ratings of its rivals remained flat or fell in the surveys.

The percentage of voters backing United Russia jumped from 47 percent in August and September to 56 percent by mid-October, according to VTsIOM. But support dropped by 6 percentage points to 50 percent in the latest poll, conducted Nov. 3 and 4. The polls all had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points. Leonid Byzov, who conducted the polls for VTsIOM, was reluctant to say whether the drop might indicate the start of a trend. “We need to wait for next week’s results to see if this is a trend and not a glitch in our polling techniques,” Byzov said.

If United Russia’s popularity is eroding, Byzov said, it is due to an inflation-fueled growth in food prices. United Russia likes to portray itself as a major force behind everything good that happens in the country. “Pensioners, or people over 60, showed the biggest decline in support for United Russia — from 53 percent to 44 percent,” Byzov said. “This category of people is the most dependent on the authorities.” He said the polls were ordered and paid for by the presidential administration.

The Public Opinion Foundation said support for United Russia had grown from 36 percent before Putin’s announcement to 44 percent the week afterward. But the figure has remained nearly unchanged since. The polls also had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points. Polling agency official Veronika Perevenzevtseva said the figure of 44 percent was lower than VTsIOM’s because the agencies used different polling methods. Both agencies contact 1,600 people nationwide in their weekly surveys. United Russia, meanwhile, is aiming to get 55 percent to 60 percent of the vote, its pointman on the elections, Andrei Vorobyov, said in remarks posted on the party’s web site Friday.

Vorobyov could not be reached Friday for a comment on the opinion polls. Other United Russia officials directed inquiries to him. United Russia officials have portrayed the elections as a referendum on support for Putin and his policies. At a meeting of party leaders Wednesday, they sat under a banner reading, “Putin’s Triumph Is Russia’s Triumph!” — an evident departure from the party’s initial election motto, “Putin’s Plan Is Russia’s Triumph.” United Russia calls its campaign platform — a digest of major Putin speeches — Putin’s Plan.

Putin remains by far the country’s most popular politician, with 57 percent of those polled in early November saying they trusted him, VTsIOM said. [LR That means 43% of Russians DON’T trust Putin].

Voters’ initial excitement that Putin would be so closely associated with United Russia has waned, and they are once again viewing it as a party of faceless bureaucrats, said a spokesman for A Just Russia, a pro-Kremlin party. “Also, United Russia is showing itself to be the least creative party in the ongoing campaign, with slogans and a political style reminiscent of Soviet times,” said the spokesman, Alexander Morozov. United Russia is the only one of the 11 parties participating in the elections to refuse to take part in televised debates, which started last week. The other parties have been using the debates to gently criticize United Russia and the government, rather than argue with one another. But Alexei Mukhin, a political analyst with the Center for Political Information, said the failure of the government to curb the latest hike in food prices had hurt United Russia more than its campaign tactics. Voters are dissatisfied with both United Russia and the Duma campaign overall, as indicated by the fact that other parties’ ratings failed to increase at United Russia’s expense, said Stanislav Belkovsky, a former Kremlin spin doctor who heads the Institute of National Strategy. In both polls, A Just Russia scored less than the 7 percent needed to clear the threshold to win seats in the Duma. Its popularity has dived since Putin joined United Russia’s ticket.

The Communist Party was the only party other than United Russia to get more than 7 percent. [LR: So much for the idea that the people of Russia have every given democracy anything like a fair chance. Now, just as under Yeltsin, the only parties they’ve given real support to are the Kremlin’s and the Communists. That’s barbarism, pure and simple.]

Putin’s Party Struggles to Maintain Support

One of the least understood facts about modern Russia’s history is that in the spring of 2003 Vladimir Putin’s popularity in opinion polls dropped below 50%. This occurred right after his second invasion of Chechnya, spurned by the Moscow apartment bombings, began to go horribly wrong, and just before he arrested Mikhail Trepashkin (who was investigating the bombings) and Mikhail Khodorkovsky (who was toying with the idea of running against Putin in the 2004 presidential poll).

So Putin knows full well that his actual base of support in the country is paper thin, which is why he moved to aggressively to block foreign election observers from participating in the Duma elections to be held in a few weeks, elections he plans to use as a springboard to remain in power indefinitely. And now new polling data, reported by the Moscow Times, shows just how right Putin is about his vulnerability and his need to use mafia tactics to cling to power:

With less than a month to go before State Duma elections, United Russia’s popularity appears to be withering as higher food prices sink in and the novelty of President Vladimir Putin’s decision to lead the party in the vote wears off. A Kremlin-ordered opinion poll released Friday indicated that support for the party has dropped 6 percentage points over the past two weeks, said the pollster, state-run VTsIOM. Another major polling agency, the independent Public Opinion Foundation, said United Russia’s popularity had peaked at around 44 percent and remained unchanged for the past month. The two pollsters are the only ones measuring the national popularity of political parties every week. Both registered a significant boost in United Russia’s popularity after Putin announced on Oct. 1 that he would lead the party’s list of candidates for Duma elections. United Russia, however, is not likely to lose its enormous lead going into the vote on Dec. 2. The ratings of its rivals remained flat or fell in the surveys.

The percentage of voters backing United Russia jumped from 47 percent in August and September to 56 percent by mid-October, according to VTsIOM. But support dropped by 6 percentage points to 50 percent in the latest poll, conducted Nov. 3 and 4. The polls all had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points. Leonid Byzov, who conducted the polls for VTsIOM, was reluctant to say whether the drop might indicate the start of a trend. “We need to wait for next week’s results to see if this is a trend and not a glitch in our polling techniques,” Byzov said.

If United Russia’s popularity is eroding, Byzov said, it is due to an inflation-fueled growth in food prices. United Russia likes to portray itself as a major force behind everything good that happens in the country. “Pensioners, or people over 60, showed the biggest decline in support for United Russia — from 53 percent to 44 percent,” Byzov said. “This category of people is the most dependent on the authorities.” He said the polls were ordered and paid for by the presidential administration.

The Public Opinion Foundation said support for United Russia had grown from 36 percent before Putin’s announcement to 44 percent the week afterward. But the figure has remained nearly unchanged since. The polls also had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points. Polling agency official Veronika Perevenzevtseva said the figure of 44 percent was lower than VTsIOM’s because the agencies used different polling methods. Both agencies contact 1,600 people nationwide in their weekly surveys. United Russia, meanwhile, is aiming to get 55 percent to 60 percent of the vote, its pointman on the elections, Andrei Vorobyov, said in remarks posted on the party’s web site Friday.

Vorobyov could not be reached Friday for a comment on the opinion polls. Other United Russia officials directed inquiries to him. United Russia officials have portrayed the elections as a referendum on support for Putin and his policies. At a meeting of party leaders Wednesday, they sat under a banner reading, “Putin’s Triumph Is Russia’s Triumph!” — an evident departure from the party’s initial election motto, “Putin’s Plan Is Russia’s Triumph.” United Russia calls its campaign platform — a digest of major Putin speeches — Putin’s Plan.

Putin remains by far the country’s most popular politician, with 57 percent of those polled in early November saying they trusted him, VTsIOM said. [LR That means 43% of Russians DON’T trust Putin].

Voters’ initial excitement that Putin would be so closely associated with United Russia has waned, and they are once again viewing it as a party of faceless bureaucrats, said a spokesman for A Just Russia, a pro-Kremlin party. “Also, United Russia is showing itself to be the least creative party in the ongoing campaign, with slogans and a political style reminiscent of Soviet times,” said the spokesman, Alexander Morozov. United Russia is the only one of the 11 parties participating in the elections to refuse to take part in televised debates, which started last week. The other parties have been using the debates to gently criticize United Russia and the government, rather than argue with one another. But Alexei Mukhin, a political analyst with the Center for Political Information, said the failure of the government to curb the latest hike in food prices had hurt United Russia more than its campaign tactics. Voters are dissatisfied with both United Russia and the Duma campaign overall, as indicated by the fact that other parties’ ratings failed to increase at United Russia’s expense, said Stanislav Belkovsky, a former Kremlin spin doctor who heads the Institute of National Strategy. In both polls, A Just Russia scored less than the 7 percent needed to clear the threshold to win seats in the Duma. Its popularity has dived since Putin joined United Russia’s ticket.

The Communist Party was the only party other than United Russia to get more than 7 percent. [LR: So much for the idea that the people of Russia have every given democracy anything like a fair chance. Now, just as under Yeltsin, the only parties they’ve given real support to are the Kremlin’s and the Communists. That’s barbarism, pure and simple.]

Putin’s Party Struggles to Maintain Support

One of the least understood facts about modern Russia’s history is that in the spring of 2003 Vladimir Putin’s popularity in opinion polls dropped below 50%. This occurred right after his second invasion of Chechnya, spurned by the Moscow apartment bombings, began to go horribly wrong, and just before he arrested Mikhail Trepashkin (who was investigating the bombings) and Mikhail Khodorkovsky (who was toying with the idea of running against Putin in the 2004 presidential poll).

So Putin knows full well that his actual base of support in the country is paper thin, which is why he moved to aggressively to block foreign election observers from participating in the Duma elections to be held in a few weeks, elections he plans to use as a springboard to remain in power indefinitely. And now new polling data, reported by the Moscow Times, shows just how right Putin is about his vulnerability and his need to use mafia tactics to cling to power:

With less than a month to go before State Duma elections, United Russia’s popularity appears to be withering as higher food prices sink in and the novelty of President Vladimir Putin’s decision to lead the party in the vote wears off. A Kremlin-ordered opinion poll released Friday indicated that support for the party has dropped 6 percentage points over the past two weeks, said the pollster, state-run VTsIOM. Another major polling agency, the independent Public Opinion Foundation, said United Russia’s popularity had peaked at around 44 percent and remained unchanged for the past month. The two pollsters are the only ones measuring the national popularity of political parties every week. Both registered a significant boost in United Russia’s popularity after Putin announced on Oct. 1 that he would lead the party’s list of candidates for Duma elections. United Russia, however, is not likely to lose its enormous lead going into the vote on Dec. 2. The ratings of its rivals remained flat or fell in the surveys.

The percentage of voters backing United Russia jumped from 47 percent in August and September to 56 percent by mid-October, according to VTsIOM. But support dropped by 6 percentage points to 50 percent in the latest poll, conducted Nov. 3 and 4. The polls all had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points. Leonid Byzov, who conducted the polls for VTsIOM, was reluctant to say whether the drop might indicate the start of a trend. “We need to wait for next week’s results to see if this is a trend and not a glitch in our polling techniques,” Byzov said.

If United Russia’s popularity is eroding, Byzov said, it is due to an inflation-fueled growth in food prices. United Russia likes to portray itself as a major force behind everything good that happens in the country. “Pensioners, or people over 60, showed the biggest decline in support for United Russia — from 53 percent to 44 percent,” Byzov said. “This category of people is the most dependent on the authorities.” He said the polls were ordered and paid for by the presidential administration.

The Public Opinion Foundation said support for United Russia had grown from 36 percent before Putin’s announcement to 44 percent the week afterward. But the figure has remained nearly unchanged since. The polls also had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points. Polling agency official Veronika Perevenzevtseva said the figure of 44 percent was lower than VTsIOM’s because the agencies used different polling methods. Both agencies contact 1,600 people nationwide in their weekly surveys. United Russia, meanwhile, is aiming to get 55 percent to 60 percent of the vote, its pointman on the elections, Andrei Vorobyov, said in remarks posted on the party’s web site Friday.

Vorobyov could not be reached Friday for a comment on the opinion polls. Other United Russia officials directed inquiries to him. United Russia officials have portrayed the elections as a referendum on support for Putin and his policies. At a meeting of party leaders Wednesday, they sat under a banner reading, “Putin’s Triumph Is Russia’s Triumph!” — an evident departure from the party’s initial election motto, “Putin’s Plan Is Russia’s Triumph.” United Russia calls its campaign platform — a digest of major Putin speeches — Putin’s Plan.

Putin remains by far the country’s most popular politician, with 57 percent of those polled in early November saying they trusted him, VTsIOM said. [LR That means 43% of Russians DON’T trust Putin].

Voters’ initial excitement that Putin would be so closely associated with United Russia has waned, and they are once again viewing it as a party of faceless bureaucrats, said a spokesman for A Just Russia, a pro-Kremlin party. “Also, United Russia is showing itself to be the least creative party in the ongoing campaign, with slogans and a political style reminiscent of Soviet times,” said the spokesman, Alexander Morozov. United Russia is the only one of the 11 parties participating in the elections to refuse to take part in televised debates, which started last week. The other parties have been using the debates to gently criticize United Russia and the government, rather than argue with one another. But Alexei Mukhin, a political analyst with the Center for Political Information, said the failure of the government to curb the latest hike in food prices had hurt United Russia more than its campaign tactics. Voters are dissatisfied with both United Russia and the Duma campaign overall, as indicated by the fact that other parties’ ratings failed to increase at United Russia’s expense, said Stanislav Belkovsky, a former Kremlin spin doctor who heads the Institute of National Strategy. In both polls, A Just Russia scored less than the 7 percent needed to clear the threshold to win seats in the Duma. Its popularity has dived since Putin joined United Russia’s ticket.

The Communist Party was the only party other than United Russia to get more than 7 percent. [LR: So much for the idea that the people of Russia have every given democracy anything like a fair chance. Now, just as under Yeltsin, the only parties they’ve given real support to are the Kremlin’s and the Communists. That’s barbarism, pure and simple.]

Now This: Entry Visas for Poll Observers Delayed

First, the Kremlin bans outright the vast majority of Western poll observers from working the upcoming Duma elections. Now, as to the tiny group granted permission to operate, the visas are being delayed. What a pathetic scam! Reuters reports:

Europe’s main democracy watchdog said on Monday its observers cannot begin work monitoring Russia’s December 2 parliamentary election because Moscow has not issued them entry visas. Russia has already come under criticism from Western governments for slashing the number of observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) it will allow to monitor the vote. Russian President Vladimir Putin is leading the dominant United Russia party into the election. The Kremlin says the vote will be fair but critics say officials will manipulate the election to ensure a huge endorsement for the Russian leader. “We have not, so far, received any visas for those that require them,” said Urdur Gunnarsdottir, spokeswoman for the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which runs the election monitoring mission. She said visa applications were submitted by November 5 for an advance party of 20 observers who need to be in place to monitor the campaign and prepare for polling day. The main body of 50 observers will arrive a few days before the vote.

“Every day that passes now reduces our ability to observe the campaign,” she told Reuters. “It makes it very difficult for us to do the pre-election observation and makes it more difficult for us to prepare for the arrival of the additional 50 observers.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry denied there was a problem with the visas. “All participants in observation missions who have received invitations will be issued with visas. It is just a matter of time,” a source in the ministry told Reuters.

Many Western governments view OSCE observers’ assessments on elections in ex-Soviet states as the definitive verdict on whether they meet democratic standards. The observers were critical of Russia’s last parliamentary vote in 2003. Russian officials say they will not hinder the observers’ work, but they have expressed reservations about the West “lecturing” them about their democratic record. Russian election chiefs delayed issuing an invitation to the OSCE observers, and when they did, they limited the mission to 70 people. In 2003, the OSCE sent more than 400 observers. The White House said last month it was “disappointed” by the restrictions Russia imposed on the observers. Putin is immensely popular in Russia and opinion polls point to a comfortable victory for United Russia in the ballot. The Russian leader is to step down next year when his second term ends. Analysts say a good showing in the parliamentary vote will give him an informal mandate to retain influence after he leaves the presidency.

The Horror of Neo-Soviet "Education"

The Economist blasts neo-Soviet “education”:

The Kremlin uses its version of the past to forge a new ideology for the present

“RUSSIA’S past was admirable, its present is more than magnificent and as for its future—it is beyond anything that the boldest mind can imagine.” Thus Count Alexander Benckendorff in the 1830s, on how Russia’s history should be viewed and written. This advice from the head of the country’s first secret police is now being heeded in the Kremlin, where a new Russian history is being forged.

The decade after the collapse of communism was notable for the absence of any official ideology. Weary of grand designs, the Russian elite preferred pragmatism and enrichment. Asked about his national dream in 2004, President Vladimir Putin said that it was to make Russia competitive. But Russia’s new oil-driven strength and its aspirations to be a world player have once more created a demand for something more victorious and uplifting. And as Mr Putin looks for ways to stay in power after his second presidential term expires next March, his ideological comrades are placing him in a gallery of Russia’s great leaders, a quasi-tsar.

“The attitude towards the past is the central element of any ideology,” Yury Afanasyev, a Russian liberal historian, has written in Novaya Gazeta. Indeed, in Russia arguments about history often stir greater passions than do debates about the present or future. What kind of country Russia becomes will depend in large part on what kind of history it chooses. And that is why the Kremlin has decided that it cannot afford to leave history teaching to the historians.

Earlier this year it organised a conference for history teachers at which Mr Putin plugged a new history manual to help sort out what he called “the muddle” in teachers’ heads. “Russian history did contain some problematic pages,” Mr Putin told the teachers. “But so did other states’ histories. We have fewer of them than other countries. And they were less terrible than in some other countries.” His message was that “we can’t allow anyone to impose a sense of guilt on us.”

This is the thrust of the manual, entitled “A Modern History of Russia: 1945-2006: A Manual for History Teachers”. Were it not for the Kremlin’s backing, it would probably be gathering dust on bookshelves. But Mr Putin’s endorsement has made it one of the most discussed books of the year. New textbooks based on it will come into circulation next year. Russian schools are still free to choose which textbook to teach. But the version of history now proposed by the Kremlin suggests that freedom may not last.

The manual’s choice of period is suggestive: from Stalin’s victory in the “great patriotic war” to the victory of Mr Putin’s regime. It celebrates all contributors to Russia’s greatness, and denounces those responsible for the loss of empire, regardless of their politics. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 is not seen as a watershed from which a new history begins, but as an unfortunate and tragic mistake that hindered Russia’s progress. “The Soviet Union was not a democracy, but it was an example for millions of people around the world of the best and fairest society.”

The manual does not deny Stalin’s repressions; nor is it silent about the suppression of protest movements in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. It does something more dangerous, justifying Stalin’s dictatorship as a necessary evil in response to a cold war started by America against the Soviet Union. “The domestic politics of the Soviet Union after the war fulfilled the tasks of mobilisation which the government set. In the circumstances of the cold war…democratisation was not an option for Stalin’s government.” The concentration of power in Stalin’s hands suited the country; indeed, the conditions of the time “demanded” it.

As Marietta Chudakova, an historian of Russian culture, puts it, for the manual’s author totalitarianism “is a warm bath. He splashes in it and enjoys it. The book tries to convince the reader that there was no other way, and most importantly that there was no need for one. Everything was motivated and clear in that social structure.” The book backs its assessment of Stalin by citing recent opinion polls that give him an approval rating of 47%.

It is less kind to Mikhail Gorbachev. It was his policies, not the Soviet system, that “led to the slowest economic growth in the 20th century.” He is blamed for giving up central and eastern Europe. “Thus the Soviet Union lost its security belt, which a few years later would become a zone of foreign influence, with NATO bases an hour away from St Petersburg.”

Rabid anti-Westernism is the leitmotiv of the new ideology. In return for Russia ending the cold war (“we did not lose it”, the manual insists), America pursued an anti-Russian policy and fomented colour revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, turning them into springboards for possible future attacks. “We are talking about the failure of the course started by Peter the Great and pathetically continued by pro-Western democrats after 1988. We are talking about a new isolation of Russia.”

How should Russia respond? The manual’s answer is a new mobilisation of resources and a consolidation of power in the hands of a strong leader (no prizes for guessing who). “If the national economy is dependent on foreign capital, on imports or the terms of the world market, such a country cannot defend its own interests,” it argues. And it justifies Mr Putin’s attacks on the oligarchs and the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. “Don’t put yourself above the state.”

The manual’s final chapter, on “Sovereign Democracy”, reflects the views of one of the Kremlin’s chief ideologues, Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration, who invented the phrase. Mr Surkov argues that Russia needs a political system to suit its national character and that it should disregard international norms of behaviour as “foreign pressure”. In a lecture to the Academy of Sciences, he suggested that such a system was predetermined by the national character and an instinctive longing for a strong hand. Centralisation, personification and idealisation of power drive Russia’s political culture. A strong and wise leader is more important than institutions—in fact, he is in Russians’ eyes the most important institution.

The problem with such an ideological construct, says Andrei Zorin, a professor of Russian culture at Britain’s Oxford University, is that its sole purpose is to preserve the status quo and keep Mr Putin in power. “But a conservative ideology demands respect for institutions, while an ideology of a charismatic leader requires a grand vision. They have neither.”