Daily Archives: March 30, 2008

The Sunday Photos

The YouTube above shows the offices of Oborona after being raided by the Kremlin’s stormtroopers last week in an effort to evict them and drive them underground. Below, an Oborona activists heroically displays the group’s colors during the raid.

The Sunday Satan

Yulia Latynina, writing in the Moscow Times:

Long before we passed the eight-year anniversary of President Boris Yeltsin naming Vladimir Putin as his successor, we began hearing about how Putin saved Russia from disintegration. “Putin stopped Russia’s collapse!” “Putin established order!” And these are not so much political slogans as they are a measure of the unconditional faith that pro-Kremlin officials have in their fearless leader. When these politicians greet you, their first words are: “Putin saved the nation that Yeltsin ruined.”

But Putin should have given Yeltsin fair warning about this when Putin was anointed as his successor. He should have looked Yeltsin right in the eyes and said, “Boris Nikolayevich, you let this country degenerate into disorder and chaos, but I will save it.”

But the problem is not that Putin is trying to destroy the reputation of his deceased benefactor, violating all codes of honor and decency. The problem is that he is forcing distorted interpretations of the Yeltsin era down people’s throats.

We are always told that under Yeltsin there was corruption and chaos. For example, Anatoly Chubais, the former first deputy prime minister who headed the country’s privatization for much of the 1990s, accepted $90,000 as a book advance from a publishing company belonging to Vladimir Potanin’s Oneksimbank shortly before the bank won 25 percent of Svyazinvest’s shares in a privatization auction. This conflict of interest was such a scandal that Chubais left his job over the issue.

Now what do we have? Putin openly hands out multibillion-dollar companies to his friends and no questions are asked.

Under Yeltsin, Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov initiated an investigation into an allegation that government officials in the Presidential Property Department accepted huge kickbacks in the Kremlin renovation project. It caused a national scandal, but could something like that happen now? Could Putin’s prosecutor general investigate, for example, why state-owned Rosneft sells oil through Gunvor, a private company owned in part by Gennady Timchenko, who has close ties to Putin?

The situation truly has changed — not that under Yeltsin there was rampant corruption and that now there is none. The difference is that a minister accepting a $90,000 book advance under questionable circumstances used to be enough to cause a scandal, but now it won’t even raise eyebrows.

We are also told that, under Yeltsin, we did not have a civilized “freedom of the press” as such, but a wild, uncontrollable media permissiveness. But the idea of a free press necessarily contains an element of permissiveness in the sense that the journalists are permitted to write what they want and people are permitted to read what they want. Now we have a terribly perverse form of permissiveness — the government is permitted to lie as much as it wants, and we are “permitted” to listen to all of it.

The Kremlin elite imposing this worldview have stolen billions of dollars, and they understand very well that with a free press, allegations of a $90,000 kickback could lead to a government official’s dismissal. The mere thought that today’s elite should be exposed to public criticism or dismissed because of their crimes seems to them as being inherently wrong — even underhanded.

They fear transparency and open criticism the same way a vampire fears the light. They talk about the tremendous work they have done in smashing every lamp and in extinguishing every candle.

And they never tire of telling us how terrible things were under Yeltsin, when there was light. They point to all of the fires caused by faulty electrical wiring, how people were reduced to poverty trying to pay their electricity bills and what an enormous burden it was to the national budget to keep all the street lights working.

It is obvious why vampires hate the light, but why should ordinary people be forced to live in the dark?

The Sunday Shakedown

An editorial from the Wall Street Journal:

A senior executive at TNK-BP told us a few months ago that the oil company was “a poster child” for foreign investment in Russia. So it is turning out to be, only not in the way that he intended.

Blessed by Vladimir Putin at its creation in 2003, BP’s Russian joint venture is now getting the standard Kremlin treatment. Yesterday a “bureaucratic” visa problem forced the British company to send home 148 expatriate workers. Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry launched a “tax evasion” probe into a TNK-BP unit. And last week, the (renamed) KGB raided the oil company’s Moscow offices and arrested a Russian employee for “industrial espionage.”

How subtle. Whatever is behind the shakedown of the only large oil company partly owned by foreigners, recent history suggests that visa snafus, back taxes and “espionage” have nothing to do with it. Maybe the Kremlin wants TNK-BP to lower the price on the large Siberian gas field the company was pressured last year to sell to state monopolist Gazprom. Or perhaps it’s escalating a diplomatic war with Britain dating back to the 2006 assassination of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko.

The likelier explanation is that Mr. Putin is kneecapping another private oil company to secure the goodies for his cronies. Kremlin wolves swallowed whole Russia’s largest major, Yukos, and sent its boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky to rot in a Siberian jail. “Tax evasion” was the excuse. A year ago, Royal Dutch Shell got into trouble for “environmental” infractions and was forced to sell half its oil development on Sakhalin Island to Gazprom. TNK-BP, Russia’s fourth-largest oil producer, is a tasty prize.

In six weeks, Gazprom Chairman Dmitry Medvedev takes over the nation’s presidency from mentor Mr. Putin, who’ll become Prime Minister. The TNK-BP case sends a useful reminder: Nothing is likely to change.

The Sunday Stalin

Paul Goble exposes the fundamental insanity of Russia’s Stalin-loving masses:

Many commentators in Moscow and the West explain the rising popularity of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in Russian society as a reflection of the continuing importance of paternalistic values there and to present this phenomenon as a single unified whole that threatens the future of the country. But in an analysis posted online this week, Aleksandr Sobkov not only dismisses the “paternalist” explanation but argues that various groups in Russia today have constructed mutually exclusive myths about him that almost certainly preclude the formation of a unified pro-Stalin front in the future.

And because that is so, the Moscow commentator suggests, those who are disturbed by Stalin’s renewed popularity would do well to focus on these various parts rather than on a whole – one that is just a mythical as the images of Stalin each of these groups now has created. Paternalism, he argues, is an entirely inadequate explanation for the current upsurge in popular approbation for Stalin. That concept denies to the individual and indeed to society as a whole “any independent status” and makes everything that happens the result of the will and actions of the government. Moreover, as traditionally understood, paternalism involves regimes “that put themselves above such criteria as justice which ‘simple people’ think about” and that “the government exists in order to do great deeds and not in order to do something for the little people.”

“To deny the presence of survivals of paternalistic consciousness in contemporary Russia is, of course, wrong,” he says, but “to exaggerate the strength or rootedness of these survivals of the past is a mistake as well” because “Russian society a long time ago ceased to be traditional” and its members have their own interests. Consequently, he continues, one must look at how various groups in the population view any particular individual or event like Stalin and Stalinism. If one does that, it becomes clear that “each group has its own Stalin, one very much mythologized and quite far from the historical Stalin” and from the images of him other groups have. In each case, the group “selects and absolutizes one side of the activity of Stalin in correspondence with its own value orientations” and ignores everything else about him that does not fit into that framework. The Moscow analysts give three examples of groups with very different reasons for backing Stalin.

First of all who may be called “the extreme left” are those on “the extreme left” for whom Stalin is still “’the proletarian revolutionary,’ the continuer of Lenin’s work, the defender of the disposed, a fighter against social inequality, who was leading humanity to a society free from oppression.” But in supporting Stalin for that, members of this group “do not notice that he created a cruelly hierarchical system” in which those above ruled arbitrarily and often viciously over those below and in which no one was ever able to feel secure. And such supporters also ignore the human cost of Stalin’s successes.

The second group of contemporary “Stalinists,” he continues, includes “the Russian great power patriots, supporters of the black hundreds and fascists. For them, Stalin saved Russia from the destructive activities of “’Judeo-Bolshevism’” and restored the Russian Empire. According to members of this group, Stalin’s repressions were not errors or crimes but rather “’a mobilization technology’” that promoted “a severe asceticism and spirit of self-sacrifice” in the population. And his continuing purges were thus “the best means of running a society for all times.” They ignore Stalin’s rhetoric about equality and human progress, dismissing it as a kind of “opium for the people,” because members of this group do not believe in “freedom, equality and brotherhood.” For them, there is only “a will to power, to domination, to putting down everyone else. An eternal boot on the face of the enemy.”

The third group is in some ways the most interesting and the most frightening, he suggests. Made up of those who made their way in the difficult years of transition from communism, they too have “found their own Stalin,” a figure whom they view as “simply ‘an effective manager’” who was able to run a highly complicated state at a difficult time. This is “the Stalin of the football fans. A completely bourgeois Stalin, and any party worker, who had to be shot because he did not catch the latest change in the general line of the party was simply someone who had proved unsuccessful like some old crone found in the metro.”

These are the basic views of the three most significant Stalinist groups within the population, Sobkov argues, but he then inquires: what about Russian officials in the Kremlin? What kind of mythologized Stalin do they have in mind when they talk about the Soviet leader and the system he created? On the one hand, Putin and his entourage are committed advocates of many of the ideas of the great power patriots. They believe in the primacy of the state as a historical actor, and they thus do not want to dwell on things like Stalin’s crimes that would raise questions about their general approach. But on the other hand, Sobkov insists, they aren’t yet prepared to so control the discussion of the past that only one version of Stalin will be available. Instead, they propose that any discussions of him or other leaders not feature “an excess of emotional moral assessments.”

In short, Putin and his entourage have a foot in each camp and are not willing to plump for only one of them. But because that could open the way for a rapprochement of these three groups and create the broad-based Stalinist camp that does not now exist, this approach could in the end threaten Russia’s future far more than any one of them.

The Sunday Crybaby

Russian “president” Vladimir Putin portrays himself as a tough “real” man. In fact, he’s a pathetic crybaby who can’t even take joke, as Bloomberg reports:

A Russian television station censored jokes about President Vladimir Putin and his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, from its broadcast of the equivalent of the Oscars movie awards show, Moskovsky Komsomolets reported. Privately owned TV station STS cut out satirical comments by a Russian film academy official about speculation that Medvedev will play a subordinate role to Putin, who plans to become prime minister, the Moscow-based newspaper said. Last weekend’s broadcast of the Nika awards, which was shown a day after the ceremony took place, also left out a spoof film clip that showed Putin as the czar and Medvedev as his son, the newspaper said. Natalia Myshkina, head of sales at STS, which focuses on entertainment programs and is the fourth-most-watched channel in Russia, said its policy is to be “nonpolitical.” The station cut 90 minutes from the four-hour event, she said by telephone, declining to specify what was cut.

Free Republic adds:

A series of jokes about President Vladimir Putin and president-elect Dmitry Medvedev were censored from the screening of Russia’s equivalent of the Oscars film awards ceremony, newspapers reported on Monday. The jokes – mild by Western standards of satire – at Friday’s “Nika” awards, were cut by private television station CTC in its broadcasting Saturday of the event, according to Moskovsky Komsomolets. “All the juicy stuff from the broadcast was edited out,” the daily said.

One of the comments axed, the newspaper said, was an allusion to uncertainty over whether Medvedev or his mentor Putin, who is set to become prime minister when Medvedev takes over in May, will really be in charge. “Traditionally we have a message from the Russian president (at the awards),” Russian film academy head Yuly Gusman was quoted as telling the live audience.

“Since clearly no one knows who we have as president, you can consider it coming from me.” A spoof film sequence shown to “Nika” guests in which Putin appeared as tsar and Medvedev his son also never made it onto the television broadcast, the report said. Russian television has come increasingly under state control under Putin and satire directed against the political elite is almost non-existent. “It is fear of your own shadow and nothing more,” wrote Izvestia on Monday about the scenes deleted from the show.

The Sunday Funnies

Source: Our South African friend.

Source: Ellustrator.