Tag Archives: liberals

Mixed messages

Yesterday a proposal was raised in the Duma to cancel elections so long as Russia was still under “economic pressure” from the West, i.e. sanctions. Yes, the same sanctions they keep telling us do nothing and only hurt the West are apparently causing enough “economic pressure” that the Duma should consider cancelling the upcoming Duma and presidential elections. Sure.

First for you newbies let’s shut down something right here. No, this doesn’t represent Russia’s descent into “Stalinist totalitarianism” or some such nonsense. This is almost certainly not serious and probably won’t be brought up again. This is by no means the first time a Russian politician has suggested suspending elections. LDPR leader Zhirinovsky, despite technically being an opposition presidential candidate, once publicly suggested doing away with all elections indefinitely and renaming Putin “Supreme Commander.” The point is that this proposal is probably just another example of these scare tactics the government uses to panic people and remind them that if they don’t keep their heads down things can get a whole lot worse.

Just one problem though. I’m not saying that the proposal is going to turn into something serious, but in this case the message to the public is really garbled. Most Russians, including opposition supporters, have little illusions about change via the ballot box. Since no one believes in elections anyway, it almost seems like this is a cost-saving measure.

Who is this message even aimed at? The West, which imposed the sanctions on Russia, doesn’t believe in Russian democracy anyway. Therefore one can’t assert that this is some kind of threat like: “Lift your sanctions or look what we’ll do to our own people!” The Kremlin already demonstrated what it could do in that respect with the food import ban.

The message is even counter-productive as well, suggesting that Russia is in such danger thanks to crisis and those Western sanctions (which supposedly were helping Russia), the government can’t even afford to organize and rig some elections.

The most logical explanation I can think of in this case is that it was designed to troll and panic the liberals, which is often the case when you hear about some real draconian proposals being floated in the Duma. Even if they have no chance of winning anywhere, elections have become a sort of rallying point for the opposition and it gives them something concrete to do. Without that, they’d probably be reduced to holding the occasional rally in some sleeping district of Moscow. That and Russian liberals still seem very easy to freak out with bullshit proposals like this. Internet tax, exit visas- you name it and they’ll panic all over the internet for a couple days. You’d think they’d learn by now.

Finally, if it’s not any one of these motives, it could be possible that the message machine is breaking down somehow. Either that, or somebody’s been smoking spice. These days who knows?

So all in all it’s an educational experience and a good case study, but I’m fairly confident that the upcoming Duma and presidential elections will proceed as planned and I’m 100% confident that the United Russia party will maintain a majority while Vladimir Putin wins the presidency.

 

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Enabling Putin

Recently I’ve had a desire to sit down and write a long polemical rant in response to all this talk of right-wing populism and “illiberal democracy” that’s supposedly sweeping Europe right now. It’s not that I deny it’s happening, it’s just that those who seem most concerned about it also seem unwilling to acknowledge its real cause and as such, they don’t really have much of a solution.

Part of this thesis includes the idea that the nefarious Putin is at least partially responsible for this regression in Europe, via his government’s connection with far right parties in Western and Central European states. In reality, many of these parties existed before Putin even became president, and their ideologies of course are much older. In essence, my counter-argument is that Europe’s capitalist system and its response to crises creates fertile ground for the rise of right-wing populism, and that same ground is also fertile for Kremlin manipulation.

At this point I’m sad to say that this is not that polemic article I wanted to write. I’m simply too busy and we’re talking about a long, philosophical polemic. So consider this a trailer. But it is a trailer I’m able to create thanks to Peter Pomerantsev and his latest article on the Litvinenko killing. This is because while others are focusing primarily on the killing itself, Pomerantsev holds Britain’s elite accountable for their complicity in enabling and encouraging Russia’s corrupt elite, their brothers by class.

Only after the release of the British investigation has there been talk of freezing the assets of the two main suspects. Why hasn’t this happened before? That they weren’t convicted in a court of law isn’t an excuse; they haven’t been convicted now. Moreover, why is it that only in 2015 did the British government suddenly got concerned about Russian money laundering through London real estate? Even after that From Russia With Cash documentary, Navalny found that the deputy prime minister Shuvalov purchased a 500-square-meter luxury flat in London. This was the middle of 2015. Why wasn’t this guy on a sanctions list?

Sadly there’s a certain breed of pundit who believes that one should only criticize the Russian government while giving Western governments a free pass, even when the latter has aided and abetted the former in numerous ways. This lack of accountability is infuriating because it begs the question as to why we should believe that these Western leaders won’t do the exact same thing again with a post-Putin Russia. At the end of the Cold War, anti-socialism meant turning a blind eye to Yeltsin’s corruption and human rights abuses. This led directly to Putin in more ways than one. Will the West repeat the same mistake by giving whoever succeeds Putin a free pass? If there’s profit to be made, I’m fairly confident that they will.

Putin’s Russia is, in a number of ways, a natural product of the free market religion that has come to dominate the world. For one thing, this system involves developed democracies exporting those woes they used to visit on their own workers to those workers of other countries. Democracy, in its flawed liberal form, is a luxury of the more developed nations. Meanwhile people in poorer countries get to make do with dictators who often count on Western aid. If not that, they can usually count on the West to turn a blind eye to their money laundering and consumption, as is the case with Russia.

Secondly, when you say let the “market” decide, sometimes it decides in favor of bad people. This is because the market is an abstraction. All that matters is money and commodities. Therefore attempting to reconcile lofty humanist values with a “free market” ideology is simply folly. If the market had its way, slavery would be legal. Oh wait…Slavery’s technically not legal and yet even today as many as 21 million people are held in one form of bondage or another as modern slaves. Terrible, but think how much we’d pay for t-shirts if Uzbek cotton weren’t picked by slaves!

Sure, national borders still exist, and the ruling class of various nations have their divergent interests. As such, you get something like what we see with Russia these days, where Putin and his capitalist cronies’ interests collide with those of the European Union bourgeoisie. As such, Putin finds himself compelled to do whatever he can to try to force his opponents to respect his sphere of influence. But we must not let these events happening in recent years blind us to the far longer period of time during which European and American leaders happily accepted ill-gotten money from the very same Russian elite while making all sorts of deals and investments which were beneficial to the Kremlin. Likewise, the relentlessly pro-business, austerity-for-everyone-else system in the West has made it that much easier for Putin’s propaganda to fall on fertile soil. Indeed, Putin’s Russia was in many ways built with Western money and Western approval.

Therefore if we buy into the West versus Russia dichotomy, blind to the past, we will certainly fall for this same trope in the future should the West and Putin reach an understanding, or if Putin is replaced by another lover of the free market. Let’s  not be duped yet again.