Happy New Year, Neo-Soviet Russia!

Yuri Zarakhovich, writing in the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor:

“A Happy New 1937 [the peak of Stalin’s Great Terror] to you,” Moscow wits quipped on January 1, 2009, while the Putin regime, frightened and incompetent in the face of a mounting systemic crisis, prepared to lock up protesters and squash mass protests with crude force.

Over the last decade, the Russians swapped whatever flimsy freedoms they had for the illusion of stability and prosperity offered by the Putin regime and sustained by high hydrocarbon prices. Now that the prices have dropped and the regime is failing to provide either, the people are beginning to grumble. According to a poll taken from December 12 to 15 by the authoritative Levada Center, 23 percent of the respondents saw protest actions as “quite possible” and 20 percent were ready to join them. Meanwhile, the Social Sentiment Index (SSI, a synthesized index of trends in mass sentiment, which reflects the impact of mass consciousness on the country’s development) dropped by 21 percent from March to December 2008. The Levada Center analysts believe that the rate of this fall is comparable to the worst SSI decline in September 1998, one month after Russia’s financial meltdown (www.levada.ru/indexisn.html).

The Russians may not care for lofty ideas like freedom, democracy, and so forth; but when food runs out, they will have August 1991 all over again, when an attempted hard-line coup backlashed in a popular revolt that ended Communist rule.

Last month a wave of discontent rolled through Russia from Vladivostok in the Far East to Moscow (www.ntvru.com/russia/). On December 9 President Vladimir Putin raised tariffs on imported used foreign cars in order to support Russia’s automobile industry (www.steer.ru/archives/2008/). Putin fumed that some 350,000 cars were being imported annually through Vladivostok and other Far Eastern ports, with only 50,000 staying in the area (RTR TV, December 10, 2008).

The rest of the cars do, in fact, go further into Russia because many consumers prefer a five-year-old Ford or Toyota to any brand of new Russian-made car. Used car imports are the main source of subsistence for at least a million people (www.bablaw.livejournal.com).

On December 14 several thousand protesting Vladivostok drivers blocked traffic and sought to block airport landing strips (www.ntvru.com/russia/). The next protest action in Vladivostok on December 21 was brutally broken up by the Zubr, a special riot police force controlled personally by the Interior Minister and flown in from Moscow, as the local police force was deemed unreliable (www.demset.org/).

The regime is cracking down on anything it sees as a potential threat. On December 14 riot police manhandled with equal brutality a dissident march, headed by liberal democratic opposition leader and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, and a protest action by old Soviet Stalinist generals (www.newsru.com/russia/). Regardless of the atrocities committed by Stalinists, it is deeply disturbing for 80-year-old generals to be beaten up by young policemen.

The Kremlin is going ahead with its plans to fire 160,000 army officers (www.mil.ru/info/) and 120,000 warrant-officers (http://www.riw.ru/), but on December 16 the long-planned reduction of the Ministry of Interior (MVD) Internal Troops was abruptly cancelled (www.vlcrime.net/read.php). On December 24 First Deputy MVD Minister Mikhail Sukhodolsky said that the MVD expected a worsening of the “operative situation in the streets” because of the developing economic crisis (www.rbcdaily.ru). To deal with the anticipated problems, the Internal Troops set up three Special Purpose Centers, equipped with state-of-the-art weapons and technical equipment, including drones, paragliders, and divers that will “execute any assignment on the ground, in the air, or underwater,” an MVD press release said on the same day (http://www.arms-expo.ru/). Gennady Gudkov, a former KGB Colonel and now Deputy Chair of the State Duma Security Committee, commented to Nezavisimaya Gazeta on December 25 that with the worsening crisis, “It could happen that no amount of Internal Forces will be enough” (www.newsru.com/russia/).

On December 17 Russian lawmakers released seven articles of the criminal code (the so-called crimes against the state) dealing with a range of subjects from the right to trial by jury to an article on “participating in mass disorders” such as the one in Vladivostok (www.tagsnews.ru/politics/). Now, such cases will be tried by a panel of three federal judges (www.zaks.ru/new/archive/view/<wbr></wbr>53291), reminiscent of the infamous Stalinist-era “troikas” (three-member boards of police and party functionaries) that arbitrarily sentenced people to death or labor camps.

On December 15 Putin’s cabinet introduced a bill to the Duma to expand the definition of high treason and espionage to include even advisory “and other assistance” to foreign and international organizations (www.newsru.com/russia/).

On December 18 a large group of human rights activists, including prominent Soviet era dissidents Lyudmila Alexeyeva, now Chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and Sergei Kovalev, equated the bill to Stalin-era persecution. “This is a very dangerous and consequential development,” their open appeal to legislators and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reads. “It returns the Russian justice system to the norms of the 1920s to 1950s,” when any independent estimate of the situation in the country, let alone criticism of the regime and unsanctioned association with foreigners, was considered treason against the motherland. The appeal calls on Russians “to step out together against the adoption of laws [that are] in the spirit of Stalin and Hitler…and stop a new 1937” (www.svobodanews.ru).

Putin, however, remains relentless. Any attempts to weaken Russia or threaten its interests would be cut short, he vowed on December 19 to a Kremlin reception marking the anniversary of the state security services (www.kommersant.ru/). What constitutes Russia’s interests and threats is to be interpreted by Putin himself, of course, and handled by his services on the basis of his new legislation.

Happy New Year, Russia!

14 responses to “Happy New Year, Neo-Soviet Russia!

  1. “The Russians may not care for lofty ideas like freedom, democracy, and so forth; but when food runs out, they will have August 1991 all over again”…..

    Well, Putin’s crowd has been busy in December. It looks like they are more than prepared to crack more skulls and have reconstituted Stalin’s old “traitors to the State” script. But, hey, Stalin is the third most admired Russian so at least those folks will approve.

    Food won’t run out but it will get damn expensive as inflation is heating up as Grigory Pasko (http://www.robertamsterdam.com/2009/01/grigory_pasko_crisis_what_crisis.htm#more) has noted in his most recent column addressing Russian hubris and willful ignorance.

    If Russians had insisted that those “lofty ideas” had been put firmly in place and protected over the last decade they wouldn’t be cynically viewed as barn yard sheep by their vertical power crime syndicate.

    The global financial crisis will resolve itself, economies have been through boom and bust cycles before. Citizens in the west have information and the ballot box to rely on. You can count on Russians to emerge not any freer or wiser. The Homo Sovieticus mind frame is just too entrenched there.

  2. Tower Bolshevik

    “The Russians may not care for lofty ideas like freedom, democracy, and so forth; but when food runs out, they will have August 1991 all over again, when an attempted hard-line coup backlashed in a popular revolt that ended Communist rule.”

    I don’t think Russians want to go back to the days when their money was worth nothing, losing their jobs, their homes, flooding the streets with tent cities, and taking their place way below th poverty line. Or is that what you call “freedom” and “democracy” in western terms? The gifts of capitalism. Might I suggest you ignore the failures in Russia, and look at the failures of America? Such as skyrocketing unemployment claims, larger crowds at job fairs, and the high rate of businesses closing. Ain’t America great?

    For Penny:

    “But, hey, Stalin is the third most admired Russian so at least those folks will approve.”

    I’m not sure what you’ve been reading. Stalin was Georgian, not Russian. Surely, someone who could bash Russia as you do should at least know that minor detail.

    “The global financial crisis will resolve itself, economies have been through boom and bust cycles before.”

    Can you give me an estimate?

    “You can count on Russians to emerge not any freer or wiser. The Homo Sovieticus mind frame is just too entrenched there.”

    So to on Americans who believe the economy is in more than perfect working order. The Americus Idioticus mindframe is too wide spread among such.

  3. Tower – Penny is actually speaking of the results of the recent “Name of Russia” Survey in which 5 million Russians were asked to name “The Greatest Person in Russian History.” Stalin took third with 500,000 votes, only 6000 behind the two winners – Alexander Nevsky and Stolypin.

  4. scott – don’t confuse our dear bolshevik with facts… don’t you understand – facts are for Americus Idioticus.

  5. Well said Scott, no matter how the Russophiles try and spin it, Stalin is damn popular in the Rodina.

  6. aww Tower, don’t tell me you’ve forgotten the black market of the good old state-regulated times? You know, when it mattered who you knew and what you could trade for such nice things as meat, milk and bread not to even mention shifting your way into the good graces of the bureaucrats giving new apartment or car permits? All those bribes and you’re saying that THAT was better (=cheaper) than capitalism?

  7. Tower Bolshevik

    For Scott:

    She refered to Stalin as a Russian. I merely made the correction that Stalin wasn’t Russian. Russified perhaps, but not Russian.

    For er:

    As bad as it was, it sure was a lesser evil to capitalism. At least back then there wasn’t homeless people living all over the streets in tent cities, people had a roof over their heads, people had a job, got a month paid vacation, longer life expectancies, free education and health care, and lower suicide rates. Let’s not forget human trafficking. So now you tell me which was better: Under bankrupt Stalinism or under the “free and democratic” former USSR under capitalism which promised paradise.

  8. Dont forget the free trips to siberia, free being tortured and shot for expressing opinions, free mass deportations of ethnic minorities etc etc

  9. I also remember Gorbachov joking with Reagan that the eason you never saw homeless people in the Soviet Union was because they had to keep the Gulags stocked.

  10. Tower Bolshevik

    For Andrew:

    Be that as it may, capitalism has killed far ore throughout the former USSR than Stalinism. From civil wars to ethnic cleansing committed by the “democracies”. From homelessness to starvation, from high murder rate to high suicidal rate from a system that promised mansions and limousines to all. I don’t doubt Gorbachov would say something like that. Being the Stalinist bureaucrat that he was, he was at the point of kissing Reagan’s ass.

  11. TB, you really are either badly misinformed or a complete idiot.
    Stalinism & communism killed in the USSR alone over 50,000,000 people from 1917 to 1991, and in China, Mao’s Stalinism killed in excess of 70,000,000 people during his reign alone.

    There was a hell of a lot of starvation and homelessness in the USSR, it is just that the government hid it by deporting said homless people to places like central asia or siberia, and by rigid control of “news” coverage.
    As my wife remembers from growing up in the USSR there was a good saying “There is no pravda (Truth) in the news, and no news in Pravda (communist newspaper).
    The Soviet Union had a very high death rate prior to the collapse of communism due to its shambolic and poorly equipped health service, poor diet of the population, heavy drinking and smoking, and the fact that the government beauracracy constantly falsified everything from industrial production figures to hospital reports.

    I am sorry to burst your bubble, but your really need to look at reality, rather than Nashi slogans.
    You look back in fond remembrance to a system that destroyed the lives on millions of people through executions, mass deportations, labor (to death) camps, ethnic cleansing and so on.

  12. TB,

    there are still a number of wonderfully communist countries around, like North Korea or Cuba. How come you prefer to live in the obscenely capitalist California? It is just so much more pleasant to declare love for communism from a safe distance to it, right?

  13. Okay, for everyone who gets riled up over TB, please do a search on google using his nick! You’ll see a different side to our dear friend, Hector.

  14. Actually, my point regarding Penny had nothing to do with Stalin’s ethnic heritage, but rather that you were discounting her commentary on a false premise of ignorance.

    With regards to your contention that Russia was better off under Communist rule than under the post-Communist capitalists – well that I can understand. The Yeltsin years were certainly not pretty, although it must be noted that the notorious Oligarchs were in position to do what they did precisely because they benefited from their positions as apparatchiks in the Soviet system before its fall.

    I would also say that in its 73 year history, the Soviet Union had many more “bad” years than “good.” The Civil Wars, the Red Terror, the famines of the 20’s, the famines of the 30’s (including the man-made Golodomor of ’32), the Second World War, the famines and economic disaster following WWII, the famines resulting from Krushchev’s disastrous mistakes (such as trying to singlehandedly convert the Soviet agricultural economy to corn), a relatively better period in the 60’s and 70’s leading to a return to economic disaster in the 80’s leading to the downfall of the nation. Even during its “best” times, the Brezhnev years, the Soviet Union was hardly a paradise – Rashidov’s misrule in Uzbekistan is enough to prove that on its own. In the end, the good years had more to do with the high price of oil and everything else, and once the price fell, the whole edifice fell with it (strange how history repeats itself…)

    Yes, capitalist democracies have problems, and serious ones, but to paraphrase Churchill, “Capitalism is the worst economic system, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Socialism is nice in theory, and with work, has been at least partially successful in some instances where it was necessary for grand goals of ideology – the Soviet Victory in World War II and Israeli Kibbutzes come to mind. But in general, and every time in the long run, true Socialism has led to the rights of the individual being subsumed to the rights of the State, and the State then crushing the individual to the tune of millions of lives ended, and billions ruined. It is no accident that of the three most notorious mass murderers of history, two led Communist Regimes, and the third was a “National Socialist.”

    In the end, it was not a surprise that Communism in the Soviet Union ended the way it did. There are really only two paths – one leading to rule by Terror, as in the Stalin Era, and the other leading to its economic, social, and moral bankruptcy, as in Gorbachev’s rule. The sad truth is that it is easier to jettison the economic idealism of Communist rule than it is to remove its oppressive elements – that is exactly what happened in China. Of course, the definition of a Communist state that practices de facto Capitalism would probably have to be Fascism…

    Perhaps the best empirical results can be seen through a small piece of evidence:


    As you can see, the satellite photos seem to indicate another result entirely.

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