Tag Archives: Navalny

Everyone We Don’t Like Is Hitler

 

So it seems the Kremlin has already begun its mudslinging campaign against anti-corruption blogger and presidential candidate (for now) Alexei Navalny. Of course it seems a bit early and quite frankly unnecessary in a country that hasn’t had a free election in many years if it ever had one at all, but given Navalny’s role in prompting last month’s mass protests you can understand why the powers that be are starting to take him seriously.

As is laughably predictable at this point, the video compares Alexei Navalny to…get ready for it…HITLER!!! 

 

That’s right, they skipped over the old “foreign agent” child’s play and went full Hitler, something usually reserved only for Ukrainians. A few minutes into the video called to mind something I wrote in the early days of this blog, when Russian Nazi-labeling went nuclear. As for the reaction to the video well, the like-to-dislike ratio says a lot:

Now what, you ask, is the basis for calling Navalny Hitler? Well one of the biggest criticisms of Navalny (often coming from other Russian liberals or their supporters) is his ties to Russian nationalists. His links are rather tenuous and he’s not connected to the most odious groups (unlike, say, the Presidential Administration), but he has participated in the nationalist Russian March and he has hitherto refused to give any sincere apology for this past activity. That being said, the film in question sometimes exaggerates or cherry-picks some of Navalny’s quotes to make him seem much worse that he really is on this issue.

Of course Navalny’s nationalist leanings (as well on his weaselly stance on Ukraine) should continue to be targets of criticism, but the fact is that the Kremlin is not qualified to make such criticism.

First of all, Navalny’s sin when it comes to nationalism is a simple product of populism. There’s a large demographic in Russia, especially in Moscow, that is receptive to nationalist ideas of various strains. But why does that demographic exist? Where did all these Russians get the idea that Russians are the rightful rulers of the country and all non-Russians need to know their place? They get it largely from the Kremlin media and various politicians.

If we ignore for a second the fact that Kremlin-owned press like RT and Sputnik have published the work of anti-Semites and neo-fascists (one of which served as a guest commentator), domestic state media often decries “tolerance” and “multiculturalism.” Even the KPRF, the so-called “Communist Party of the Russian Federation,” once pushed for officially recognizing ethnic Russians as the nation-forming nationality of Russia, essentially giving them a special place of honor.

Most infuriating is the part in the video where it talks about Navalny’s xenophobia during his run for mayor in 2013. The video correctly points out that Moscow has a very diverse, multi-national population. On this particular occasion, multiculturalism and diversity are portrayed as positive. Yet the rest of the time, the Kremlin’s media says diversity is destroying Western Europe. What is more, the Russian government actively aids xenophobic far-right parties in Europe. In other words- the Kremlin actively supports and praises individuals and political groups which espouse views far more xenophobic than those expressed by Navalny. In fact, in my own experience I’ve noticed that many of the Putin-supporters who are so quick to drop the Nazi label actually hold key views in common with the Nazi party or their fascist fellow-travelers. Anyone who knows Kremlin propaganda knows that in their parlance, “Nazi” has nothing to do with fascism or the beliefs associated with it; it simply means you oppose the Kremlin.

hitlerbook

Required reading for the Russian state TV journalist

This is why it’s so hard to take these morons seriously anymore, and this is why the video garnered so many dislikes and negative comments. The whole gay Hitler one-two punch works great on elderly people in provincial Russia, but it’s become nothing more than a joke to the younger generation of Russians who prefer Youtube to the traditional tube.

But hey- you’ve got to give them a hand for trying to make this election interesting at least. Now it’s only a matter of trying to predict what the next anti-Navalny video will allege. Will they keep pushing the Hitler meme, possibly trying to link Navalny to Russian WWII Nazi-collaborator Andrei Vlassov or perhaps Hitler himself? Or will they change things up by accusing Navalny of being gay or working for the US State Department? Stay tuned!

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A Big Deal

In case you haven’t heard yet, yesterday Russia experienced its largest protest action since 2012. Sanctioned and unsanctioned anti-government protests took place in over 80 different cities all over Russia. Over 700 people (including American Guardian reporter Alec Luhn) were detained in Moscow, where the march went ahead without official sanction.

Of course if you watch any news besides Russia’s major state-run networks, you probably already know about the protests.

protestlive.png

Moscow

Now I had planned to write an explainer about the significance of these protests, but as it turns out, Mark Galeotti handled that:

 

I have a few points I’d like to add to Mark’s, but before I do, check out that massive collection of Osprey military history books on the right. That’s an impressive collection. This is a measure of wealth among military history nerds. A friend in the States is hanging on to my Osprey collection (which is about the same size as what you see there) so that, as per tradition, they may be buried with me when I die so I’ll have something to read in the next life. For as it says in The Havamal, “Cattle die, kinsmen die, you yourself must die. But I know of one thing that never dies- the fame of a dead man’s Osprey book collection.”

Now getting to my own points about the protests, I think the first thing to keep in mind is that the Moscow march was unsanctioned and it happened anyway, drawing as many as 20,000 people. This makes it smaller than some of the recent sanctioned opposition marches, but huge by unsanctioned protest standards. I can’t stress this unsanctioned part enough. People tend to get carried off by police even during sanctioned meetings in Moscow. If a meeting is unsanctioned, it’s possible to get hauled off by police just for getting too close as you pass by. The implication is that if the meeting is unsanctioned and you go to it, they have every right to take you (they actually don’t, according to the Russian constitution). Yet in spite of this threat hanging over everyone’s head, about 20,000 Muscovites decided to roll the dice. This is very important. It shows that there is a growing number of Russians who refuse to submit so easily.

Another interesting point is how the Russian state media almost totally ignored the protests. While yesterday’s events were unfolding in the center of Moscow, several state news outlets were covering the exciting story of a cow in the US that led police on a wild chase after it had escaped. This is curious because you think it would have been a great time to deliver a call to arms to the alleged 96%, the die-hard pro-Putin majority who support the Glorious Leader out of sheer patriotism and who don’t want to see him toppled by a US-sponsored “Maidan.” But alas, they decided to cover almost anything but this, including a helicopter crash in Ukraine. Of course.

Lastly, I’m now in a position to better gauge Ukrainian reactions to the protest, and while some of my friend were at firs highly skeptical and critical of the protests before they took place, that attitude changed somewhat when they saw how many Russians came out in spite of the threats and arrests. Ukrainians are understandably upset because most Russian opposition figures, including Alexei Navalny, typically tip-toe around the question of the Crimea and the Russian occupation of the eastern Donbas. What I would remind them is that first of all, there’s often a big difference between Russia’s opposition leadership, which has many ideological problems beyond the Ukrainian question, and the rank-in-file. Anti-war messages and Ukrainian flags were more visible at the past two Nemtsov memorial marches. In fact, this year’s march apparently had a lot of Crimean Tatar flags, which is even more controversial as it directly highlights the Crimean issue.

Ukrainians have every right to feel betrayed by the Russian people, including opposition supporters, but there comes a time when you have to ask yourself whether you’re going to remain bitter towards everyone or start forging ties with those who are closest to your side. Let’s not forget that at Maidan, a number of political groups with horrible ideas were tolerated and even respected because the brutality and corruption of the Yanukovych regime deliberately forced disparate groups into one camp. If it is wrong to associate Maidan as a whole with those marginal groups (a mistake I was once guilty of), it is surely wrong to pretend that Russians willing to risk arrest and much worse for the sake of standing up to the regime are no different from a pro-Putin vatnik just because they haven’t yet accepted the reality about the Crimean annexation and occupation. These are the people who you can actually dialog with, but not if you just dismiss their protest offhand, the way you were all dismissed as neo-Nazi Banderites by the Russian media back in 2014.

One more important thing to keep in mind on this point is that while it is true that many anti-Putin Russians still hold imperialist views on the Crimea, you’re unlikely to find any who support the war and occupation in the Donbas. In fact, I’d say very few Russians in general actually support the war in the Donbas. While it is important to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity in total, it is the Donbas that is literally bleeding Ukraine at the moment. A new democratic regime in Moscow may be unlikely to hand over the Crimea without a struggle, but they’ll happily end the war in Ukraine to stop wasting state resources and lift the most hard-hitting sanctions. Also, if Putin feels threatened at home he will have to cease or at least greatly scale back his military adventures, and that includes in the Donbas.

So from the Ukrainian point of view, it’s important to realize that a seed has been planted and it needs to be nurtured. Just three years ago it seemed like all resistance in Russia was dead and buried. Now Putin and his cronies are waking up to reality- that the opposition they thought they’d all but stamped out is not only alive, but actually growing and spreading in places they never expected. Given the fact that non-political labor protests and strikes have been increasing throughout provincial Russia in the past few years, it’s only natural for them to eventually become politicized as more and more formerly regime-loyal people wake up and realize that the problem isn’t the “bad boyars” but the Putinist system itself.

It may go slowly or quickly, but one thing’s for sure- it’s only downhill from here for the Kremlin regime.

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t you

Hey remember that time Sunday news host Dmitry Kiselyov ran a story accusing Alexei Navalny of being either a CIA or MI6 agent using the code name Agent Freedom?  And remember how I said this country appears to be run by children? Well guess what- you’re about to see another reason why I get that impression.

In case you weren’t following the case, Navalny responded in two ways. He announced that he would sue the Russian state network for slander, and he also publicly asked the FSB to investigate his alleged ties to foreign intelligence (they categorically refused, indicating that they are either convinced his is not a foreign agent or they are laughably incompetent- you decide). You’re probably no going to be shocked when you learn that the court rejected Navalny’s suit earlier this week. Just wait until you learn why, however.

You can read the story here (or from Navalny himself in Russian), but essentially the representatives of the network claimed that…brace yourselves…that the piece they aired was not about Navalny, and secondly, that the part which accuses not-Navalny of receiving money to overthrow the constitutional order of Russia (something they can easily prosecute you for) is not defamatory. They claimed that “labor relations are allowed” in Russia. While slander can be difficult to prove in some Western courts, you can usually bring in witnesses to help make your case. As is typical in politicized Russian cases, Navalny was not allowed to call his witnesses or enter any documents as evidence.

I say let the viewer be the judge- even if you don’t speak Russian, watch at least part of this video and decide whether or not someone might get the impression that this story is about Navalny.

Now do you see what I mean when I say that this place seems to be run by children? But let’s ignore that for a second, because now that the Russian media company VGTRK has been vindicated in court, there are a couple of important conclusions we can make.

The first and most important conclusion is that based on the decision of the Russian court, the FSB, and the Russian state-run TV network, Alexei Navalny is definitely not a foreign agent. So if you ever hear anyone claiming that he is, you can kindly remind them that the Russian judicial system and its main domestic intelligence service both categorically disagree.

The second conclusion, and this is a very important one, is that Dmitry Kiselyov and his media empire are full of shit. Just recently Kiselyov was interviewed by the BBC, when he pulled the typical whataboutism argument in response to the charges that he is a propagandist. You can watch that video here:

While he manages to score one minor point about the creative use of visuals to create a certain mood about public figures, Kiselyov’s argument fails because no, actually the BBC doesn’t put out propaganda, at least nothing comparable to what he has done. While Western media has often fallen for hoaxes or shown itself to be too reliant on official sources, when has the BBC deliberately produced a story accusing someone of being a Russian spy based on poorly translated documents? Where is the BBC’s “crucified boy?” And when asking these questions, it’s always helpful to remember there is to date no evidence of any big shake ups or firings in response to any of the infamous fake stories Russian state press has run. The answer is always the same. Either it’s our job to prove that it didn’t happen, or “you do it too,” even when you clearly don’t. Again, these people are children.

Variety Pack

As I recover from last night’s festivities, I developed three potential topics for upcoming articles. This, of course, would require me to write and release them over the course of three days. Seeing as how I don’t get so much free time anymore, I decided it would be better to combine those topics in a more concise fashion. Think of it as the equivalent of a Simpsons Halloween episode.

Part I: A Parallel Universe

The Russian government and even many ordinary Russians are still crowing about “returning the Crimea to Russia.” They aren’t saying much about returning its electricity, but they’re just thrilled that the peninsula is “theirs” even if they’ve never been there and can’t afford to go there thanks to the impending economic crisis. What is more, and in fact crucial to this point I’m making, is that Putin and all his lackeys have transformed the Crimea into some sort of Russian holy land. Russian Jerusalem. The joining of the Crimean peninsula to the Ukrainian SSR is the only Soviet edict  everyone can openly criticize these days, but to be sure that’s probably because it’s one of the few Soviet laws they actually remember. Crimea, we are told, is like the Russian equivalent to the Temple Mount. That it was left part of independent Ukraine was a historical travesty akin to the Roman exile of Jews, except nobody was exiled in this case. Crimea is sacred Russian ground; keep that in mind and stick with me here.

Now I’m sure I’ve already brought up the paradox that the Crimea was more accessible to Russian citizens when it was in Ukraine, but recently I’ve discovered an even more ridiculous paradox, thanks to reading the idiotic screeds of Russian patriots.  The standard Russian narrative is that the people of the Crimea voted to separate from Ukraine because of Maidan. Well, actually it’s because they wanted to avoid the war that broke out in the Donbass, even though that occurred nearly a month after the referendum in the Crimea. No wait, the Russian troops were there to save the Crimean people from a war like that which hadn’t yet started in the Donbass. But those troops who saved the people weren’t there because this was a referendum, not an annexation, and…Shit.

Okay I’m sorry, I just remembered that there’s never one Russian standard narrative, or at least not one that is coherent and doesn’t play so wildly with the space time continuum as to open up a rift to another dimension. Let me start over.

A basic claim of Russian annexation apologists is that the loss of the Crimea is Ukraine’s fault. If they hadn’t driven Yanukovych out of power, they’d still have the Crimea. No Maidan, no annexation totally legitimate referendum. Guess what- we’ve got a problem here.  Time for a thought experiment.

Suppose that Maidan didn’t drive Yanukovych from power. Imagine that however you want, from the protest never happening in the first place, to the crowds dispersing in the wake of the 21 February agreement. It’s your pick because it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that Yanukovych is in power. What would that mean for the Crimea? According to the Kremlin’s top leadership, its media’s pundits, and legions of vatniks on the street, the Crimea is only in Russia because of Maidan and the “coup” against Yanukovych. That means that if Maidan hadn’t happened or if Yanukovych somehow remained in power, the Crimea, that island of holy Russian land, would still be a part of Ukraine. Even if Ukraine joined Russia’s Custom’s Union and the Eurasian Economic Union, it would still be part of Ukraine and they still couldn’t make it any more accessible to Russians than it already was. The horrible, travesty of historical justice would still be enshrined in law.

Remember, the Russian government had made no open attempt to raise the issue of the Crimea up till that moment when they organized their little uprising. Russia did not dispute the territorial integrity of Ukraine and had not raised the issue of returning the Crimea.  While you would hear ordinary Russians lament the “loss” of Crimea from time to time, but everyone pretty much accepted it. I never heard anyone suggest that Russia should take it by force, and besides, most of those same people preferred to vacation in Turkey, Egypt, or Europe.  Thus we have no choice but to assume that based on the “patriots” own claims and the fact that Russia had not raised this issue prior to the annexation, the absence of the “coup” would have left the Crimea in Ukraine, ostensibly forever.

Of course we all know what really happened. While it is true that the Russian military had a plan to return the Crimea with the help of local collaborators, this was most likely nothing more than a hypothetical, the kind of plan that all military forces around the world create by the dozen. In the wake of Maidan and the flight of the president, however, they saw an opportunity, and the Kremlin is nothing if not ridiculously opportunistic.  Putin was desperate for a victory as the Russian economy was already starting to decline in 2013 and Maidan proved how much of a failure his regime was, in the sense that people were willing to engage in massive, violent protests just to get as far away from Russia’s orbit as possible. Maidan was proof that given a choice, nobody wants to be associated with Russia because Russia has nothing to sell.  I think it is in that context that Putin decided to bet on the Crimea, giving virtually no thought to the long-term consequences of doing so.

Still, it is worth remembering this thought experiment the next time an annexation apologist starts lecturing you about the sacred status of the Crimea to Russians, and how a historical injustice was rectified. Remind them that their heroes were not making any attempt to address that supposed injustice for roughly thirteen years, and even they insist that this rectification occurred only because of the Maidan protests. Do be aware, however, that should you so remind your interlocutor of these facts, they will most likely start babbling about Libya, Kosovo, Iraq, and the Donbass. They will also most likely dispute the existence of objective truth. You’ve been warned.

Part II: Why Russians don’t protest

As some of my readers may know, the Russian court moved the sentencing of Alexei Navalny and his brother Oleg from 15 January to 30 December. It is well known that supporters of Navalny, the dastardly Western agent who conspires to overthrow the Russian government by blogging about corruption, had planned a rally in support of their hero for the 15th. Therefore the snap decision to change the sentencing to 30 December, announced only the previous evening, is largely seen to be a ploy aimed at heading off protest attempts.

A demonstration took place on Manezh square outside the Kremlin nonetheless, but it was estimated that only around 1,500 people showed up to the protest that lasted roughly two hours. I don’t even know if that number factors in the pro-government counter-protesters who of course labeled everyone “Yankees” and told them to leave Russia if they didn’t like it.

To Westerners who aren’t very familiar with Russia, the apathy and submissiveness of Russians must appear confusing indeed.  Their government treats them with utter contempt and reminds them of it almost constantly. To live in Russia is to constantly be reminded of how you have no rights, and that people with more money than you can do what they want with impunity. I’m not basing this solely on hundreds, of anecdotes and news stories I’ve heard or read over the years, i.e. on that which I have witnessed as an outside observer. My family and I have personally experienced this sort of corruption in action.  With me this has always been somewhat mitigated by my status as an in-demand professional, at times my income, and my passport, but ordinary Russian citizens do not possess these privileges.  They are totally at the mercy of those who have more power or connections than they do. Any foreigner, upon being made aware of this fact of life in Russia, may be dumbstruck as to why Russians tolerate this humiliation. It seems as though they should have been in the streets years ago, even when things were objectively better.

There are many reasons why Russians don’t stand up for themselves, but probably the most common or at least the most important these days is the belief that protesting doesn’t help anything. Either it makes things worse or it does’t accomplish anything. As is the case with many things in Putin’s Russia, the Kremlin takes advantage of certain historical events and weaves them into its own cynical narrative.

Early on I noticed that Russians were interested in anything but politics. Back in 2006 and 2007 things were looking up for many people. It’s not that they attributed this to Putin; they rolled their eyes at the government’s propaganda and they could easily recount a litany of encounters with corruption they or their friends had experienced.  They saw no point in politics though, because they had come to believe they have no power whatsoever. The government clearly fostered this notion. On the other hand, back in those days the state was rather liberal. They went on stealing and the people could busy themselves with whatever they liked, be that all manner of foreign dance or music or traveling abroad. The state didn’t demand patriotism and conformity. Realistically, people had little reason to protest in those days, though that might have been a mistake on their part.

Of course virtually nothing came of the protests in 2011 and 2012. This fit the state narrative, that protesting doesn’t accomplish anything, quite well.  Crackdowns soon followed, reminding the people who was in charge. Putin’s return was accompanied by the campaign promise of “stability,” and protests go against that. The state media just loves showing footage of mass protests and riots in other countries, especially the US or in European countries. The message is always the same. “Look at how those countries are all in chaos. Russia’s not like that. We have stability here.”  Russians are encouraged to put a high value on stability, even though they don’t actually receive it. Russian life is anything but stable.

The media is also careful to make sure its audience always misses the point of protests in other countries. For example, they will say that Europe is in chaos and show you images of protests from Greece, Spain, Italy, etc. Of course many European countries do have serious problems, but they also grant their citizens enough freedom to take to the streets and be heard. They are able to put some pressure on their governments, even if it achieves little in the short term. The Greek protester or the American Occupy supporter may not have achieved their goals, but they both made their ideas a part of their countries’ political discourse. They stood up for what they believed in public. The Russian on the other hand stays home and grumbles, afraid to do anything that will threaten the stability he never actually receives in exchange for his servility.

Of course Russians are allowed to protest some things, but the targets must be authorized. For example, there is a limited ability to protest local bureaucrats or businessmen; just hope they aren’t well connected. You cannot blame Putin or the government; you must pretend that the Great Leader is unaware of the machinations that go on somewhere down the chain. This is essentially what happened at a recent demonstration by teachers and medical professionals in Moscow last month. Even then some people got carted off by the police. Of course you can always protest the United States or some European country. Russian citizens are allowed to let off some steam against pretty much anyone except the people who are actually responsible for their problems. Of course this is often portrayed as patriotism, but patriotism cannot exist in such a highly atomized, cynical society. When you look at the Ferguson protests across the United States, that is real patriotism because hundreds of thousands if not millions of people who may never have even visited Missouri and who certainly did not personally know Mike Brown took to the streets in his honor. They realized that what happened to that one individual matters to them to, and to the country as a whole. While the Russian media portrays these protests as chaos, they are in fact a sign of strength.

As far as historical background goes, there are a few key events observers must take into account. The first is the movement which brought down the USSR. Russians and many other former Soviet nationalities suffered a lot from the destruction of their country. Some peoples suffered more than others. There is plenty of blame to go around on all sides, but the Kremlin has created a narrative whereby the blame lies solely on a small minority of “traitors.” These were the “liberals” who came to power with words like freedom and democracy on their tongues, and indeed chaos followed in their wake. Realistically speaking though, these two things were not always connected. Plenty of liberal democracies didn’t experience what Russia went through in the 1990’s.  Russia’s problems were connected with specific historical, cultural, and economic factors, and many of those so-called liberals had little control over them.

Another key event was the crushing of the demonstrations in Moscow in October 1993. I often remind people that as much as Putin has done to reduce people’s personal freedom today, it’s worth remembering the far more violent crackdown Yeltsin unleashed in ’93 when speaking about this topic. This is especially important because many Russian oppositionists have a problem with presenting the 90’s as a positive time. I realize that in many cases they are referring to the potential of Russia to develop a functioning democracy, but the fact remains that it did not, and many people had horrible experiences during that time. Ignoring the crime of suppressing demonstrations with tanks and snipers cedes the moral high ground and sends the implication that the opposition wants Russia to be as it was in the 90’s, i.e. weak and humiliated.

These historical factors do not excuse the Russian attitude towards protesting, and taken by themselves they don’t even fully explain it. The Kremlin’s media and army of pseudo-intellectuals take these events and then weave them into the larger tapestry. “You are powerless, there are problems everywhere, at least you have stability, don’t rock the boat, protesting never solves anything,” and so on. That is the cynical message, the soft power. Just in case the message isn’t clear enough, however, the state is more than happy to resort to intimidation and force. That seems to be the trend since 2012.

Part III: How to spot a troll

Recently I was having a discussion with a reader about Kremlin trolls, aka Nashi-bots, and other regime supporting sources you find on the net. When it comes to comment trolls, they can often be spotted by their poor English skills, in spite of the fact that they claim to be Americans, Britons, Canadians, etc. They also tend to have names which signify their nationality. Of course if you’ve ever made the mistake of reading comments on sites like Youtube or Yahoo News, you know how difficult it can be to distinguish between a non-native English speaker and a half-literate dumbass.

Personally I’m not too interested in comment trolls. Far more important are various “independent” sources who either have their own platforms, or who are cited as sources by outlets such as RT. Here’s a particularly interesting example of a phony think tank possibly set up by Russians. Its rhetoric appears to be anti-Russia, but apparently their conclusions amount to something like, “Russia is just so dangerous we have no choice but to let it do what it wants!” I highlight this example because it is a rare instance of a possible Russian propaganda ploy which attempts to impersonate its own opposition, i.e. an anti-Putin false flag of sorts.

It’s important not to give into paranoia and hysteria and start flinging accusations of Kremlin agent left and right. This is precisely what the Russian government wants; it is the exporting of the same cynical narrative to the rest of the world. Therefore I wanted to share a few tips on spotting Kremlin shills based on my vast experience in this sphere.

-First of all, educate yourselves on various political movements. Read about libertarianism, Communism, and even far right-wing extremism. The more you know about various ideologies, their history, and their key figures, the more you will be able to spot the ideological slant in people’s writing. This is immensely helpful.

-Putin fans tend to be right-leaning populists. The more intelligent ones among them are good at concealing some of their more reactionary views from the eyes of leftists or otherwise progressive leaning people. Luckily there are a few ways to draw them out into the open. Bring up topics like LGBT rights, abortion, feminism, etc. These people will rarely make arguments in favor of any of these things.  If the person is claiming to be a leftist, especially a Communist or socialist, keep a close eye for their positions on social issues. Pretty much every Communist or socialist party in the world today favors women’s reproductive rights and LGBT rights. If you see a self-proclaimed Communist coming out against these things, you’ve probably got a Putin-lover on your hands.

-Excessive talk about BRICS, replacing the dollar as a reserve currency, etc. Russia’s psuedo-intellectual hacks have deluded themselves into believing that BRICS is some kind of anti-American, Warsaw Pact-like alliance, led by Russia of course! Pro-Kremlin hacks will often regurgitate these talking points, as well as predict the coming collapse of the dollar, claim that Russia is becoming more powerful, and so on.

-Look for anti-globalization rhetoric. Some of the more clever far-right wing extremists seized upon globalization because it helps them blend in with left wing movements. Anti-globalization appeals both to less-educated leftists and right wing nationalists.

-They claim they have complaints about Putin, but usually only when someone asks, and those complaints basically revolve around him needing to crack down harder on dissent, force some kind of ideology on the people, etc.

The above are just a few items I could think of after a night of New Year’s festivities. Obviously I could probably add many more items just as I could probably write entire articles on any one of those I’ve provided above. These are essentially off the top of my head.

Again, it doesn’t help to be paranoid or toss accusations at anyone who seems to display one or two possible indicators. Don’t make assumptions based on one article or appearance; try to get a good, representative look at their work. Also keep in mind that if they are being cited by a pro-government source, they may have been deliberately misquoted or taken out of context.  Happy shill hunting in 2015!

Those guys

Remember those guys everyone was talking about back in 2011-2012? You know, they were all over the news! Who were they again? Oh that’s right! The Russian opposition. The white ribbon folks. Whatever happened to them?

Seriously I have to be honest here and say that despite attending the first Bolotnaya rally and the big gathering on Prospekt Sakharova which followed shortly thereafter, I never really followed the nebulous opposition movement very closely. I was familiar with the big names and some of the organizations, but I had little faith in it.  I think that the past two years have vindicated me, as I think it’s fair to say that a major reason for the silence of the opposition is that a large portion of their supporters went back to Putin’s side.

Of course that shouldn’t be a surprise since many of them were nationalists or pseudo-Communists whose main beef with Putin was that he wasn’t nationalistic enough. When the president began all his anti-American posturing and the Western media as well as American politicians stupidly played along, these people simply couldn’t resist. The idea of Russia pissing off the West is like heroin to these people. Heroin that causes one to start furiously masturbating immediately upon shooting up.

Of course the dreams and desires of that faction of the opposition might have been totally disconnected from reality, but for the rest of the opposition there was incoherence. Navalny is often put forth as a leader of the “liberal” opposition when in fact he is an open nationalist. His claim to fame is exposing corruption, but on the rare occasions that he puts forth his solutions they are nothing but unrealistic, populist crap. Boris Nemtsov can’t seem to get it through his head that Russian people are never going to be nostalgic for the era of Yeltsin. Yeltsin’s regime was not conducive to building a democracy either; the whole crushing protests with tanks and snipers bit should have been a dead give away.  And Pussy Riot? Please. Name a major political change for the better that came from shitty performance art.

When I’m critical of the Russian government, opposition-minded people perk up their ears the same way “patriots” are all too happy to listen to me condemn the American or Ukrainian government. But the fact is that the “opposition” is largely part of the problem. Some of them lack the principle, resolve, and attention span not to be distracted by jingoistic flag-waving, while others simply do not understand the values they claim to represent. In nearly all cases alliance politics rears its ugly head, e.g. “The state-run media is saying there are fascists involved in Maidan? Well then it must be a total lie! We must uncritically support Maidan now!” It’s as if there are no real politics in Russia, only what I refer to as cargo cults.

If the reader isn’t familiar with cargo cults let me run it down for you. The phenomenon involves small tribes of people inhabiting very small Pacific islands. During WWII, these islands were used by the Japanese and more often Americans, who would turn them into supply bases and airstrips. These natives, not having had outside human contact for generations, were awed by the strangely-dressed newcomers. As if that weren’t enough, imagine what it must have been like for them to see massive ships approaching their shore. The newcomers would start constructing some kind of metal mat on the land they had cleared, and sure enough these massive flying beasts would land and disgorge more newcomers and crates full of exotic food. The term cargo cult derives from how long after the war it was found that many of these tribes were discovered to be mimicking the behavior of either American or Imperial Japanese military personnel, adopting drill and ceremony practices as sacred rituals and building mock-ups of airplanes out of wood. They had come to believe that those strange men who appeared in the 40’s had great patron gods who bestowed unimaginable riches on them in return for their bizarre rituals.

This is what I see when I look at many Russian political movements, but especially the “liberals.” They don’t really understand the concepts they espouse. They only believe that the Kremlin is opposed to them for some reason and therefore they must be doing something right. They rattle off words like human rights and civil society without understanding these things as part of a coherent ideology. That’s how you end up with people like Navalny attending nationalist rallies full of football hooligans or the late “liberal” dissident Novodvorskaya, who praised Apartheid and the bombing of Iraq. In Western nations these people would find themselves excommunicated from liberal or progressive movements because they espouse beliefs or exhibit behaviors which directly contradict the basic values of those movements. In Russia it’s totally cool because you’re for democracy and civil society, or something. There’s no inconsistency in demanding freedom for Pussy Riot while you simultaneously demand that the police round up and deport all immigrants from Moscow.

To be fair, many people in Western democracies are politically illiterate. Occupy really demonstrated this, since you could see how many protesters with supposedly socialist leanings were duped into alliances with the libertarian “End the Fed” crowd. But there are some distinct lines in our political arena. You don’t see liberals cozying up with people who think the Bible should be taught in biology class instead of evolution, and you don’t see Tea Partiers whose grievance with Obamacare is that it’s not single payer.  Yes there’s hypocrisy, yes people sometimes cross a red line or two, but there are at least more or less distinct camps, and that means there is at least some form of opposition in American politics, to use one example.

I don’t think the Russian opposition realizes this. It’s as if they, like the Ukrainian Maidan supporters, need to be sat down in a chair while someone carefully explains to them why it’s bad for a movement supposedly concerned about freedom and human rights to associate itself with neo-Nazis or radical nationalists.  No, they want to go toe-to-toe with the Kremlin in a motley alliance of creative hipsters and nationalists who dream of restoring the Russian empire. They can’t see why this won’t work, and it won’t work because they are just assuming that the most important core belief they can have is hostility toward Putin.  While they share that one feature, their motivations, goals, and visions of a better Russia differ widely. Putin himself proved that by showing what a large chunk of the opposition could be hacked off and brought to his side with some patriotic posturing.

The focus on Putin as the root of all evil in Russia is counter-productive as well. Putin is a symptom, not the disease. Although with each passing day I lose more and more faith in his connection to reality, he is the only person who can lay the foundation of a future, functioning democracy. When the so-called liberal opposition manages to pull its head out of its own ass and actually learn what liberal values actually are, they should strive to open up a dialog with Putin and encourage him to help build an actual democratic society, by bourgeois standards at least. He might not realize it now, but Putin has a big incentive to work with such a movement for that goal. That’s what will allow him to retire in peace without fear rather than leave Russia in the manner of Yanukovych. Rest assured that he will not be able to maintain this farce for the nationalist, militant forces he has stirred up in recent years, and those folks aren’t going to be so compassionate or principled as to follow the rule of law. But again, this requires the opposition to accept the reality of Putin and work with him since there is no way they can work against him.

Whatever happens, it’s probably going to be a while before the opposition comes back in any form, but rest assured it will be back, especially due to the Kremlin’s recent shot in the foot, i.e. “counter-sanctions” on imported foodstuffs. Unfortunately I’m afraid that a large part of that opposition is going to consist of more militant, far-right fanatics blaming Putin for betraying their imperial dreams of recreating “Novorossiya.” I certainly hope either an alternative appears real quick, or at least everyone can just try to maintain the status quo long enough so that I can get myself and my family out of here. After that they’re free to wreck the country in the manner they see fit as far as I’m concerned.