Russia

Russia’s new foreign agent legislation will further silence independent media

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/11/2017 - 5:15pm in

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Russia

New legislation targeting foreign media operating in Russia has evoked parallels with the US. Here’s why they’re wrong. 

Federation Council, Russia. CC BY 2.0 / Wikimedia. Some rights reserved.On 22 November, Russia’s Federation Council approved new legislation designed to assign “foreign agent” status to foreign media organisations. Previously voted through by the Russian parliament, this new “foreign agents” law was received 154 votes, with one abstention. There’s no doubt that Vladimir Putin will soon sign the document into law. The question now is: how will this legislation, which was clearly written in a rush, be applied?

Forgetting for a moment the anti-constitutional nature of this legislation, you need to understand that its language completely destroys Russia’s whole system of media law. Article 1 of Russia’s current Law on Means of Mass Communication notes that a “media” is a form of periodically distributing information. The latest amendments introduce a new term (“foreign media”), though there’s no discussion of whether this refers to an organisation or “structure”, and there’s no further mention of the “periodical” element. For example, you want to sell your bike, so you put an ad up on eBay. You receive money from a distant relative in Uzbekistan, and that’s it — welcome to the black list. This lack of clarity on fundamental terms will destroy Russian media law. This couldn’t happen in a normal legislative environment. (That said, who are we kidding.)

In the case of Russia’s new media legislation, a lawyer clearly won’t be able to help you

The amendment’s careless formulations don’t meet the standard requirements for legislative acts as stated by the Russian Constitutional Court, or the European Court of Human Rights. Both of these institutions have stated on different occasions: the minimal criteria for legal definitions mean that a law should, first, conform to the principle of the rule of law, and second, be understandable to citizens who have to regulate their behaviour as a result. It should be clear to an ordinary, competent citizen what they might be punished for. In extreme cases, they should have the opportunity to gauge potential risks together with legal counsel. But in the case of Russia’s new media legislation, a lawyer clearly won’t be able to help you. I’m confident that, on the basis of the legislation alone, not a single specialist will be able to advise an editorial office how to act in order to avoid being branded a “foreign agent”.

The document states directly that the Russian Ministry of Justice can declare anyone who has any kind of relationship abroad and receives foreign financing a “foreign agent” (with all the unpleasant consequences that entails). An important detail here is that the Ministry can declare a media a “foreign agent”, but it doesn’t have to. In our globalised world (which Russia, despite everything, still belongs to), the Ministry can apply these criteria to whoever it pleases.

After years of accusations of propaganda against RT, a US TV company linked to RT has registered as a foreign agent in the US. (c) Jaap Arriens/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.Russian propaganda often compares this legislation to the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), but this is absolutely incorrect. FARA has many shortcomings, it is also discriminatory and should be revoked — but this is a problem for US citizens. If they want it, then so be it. It’s worth remembering that only four media are registered as “foreign agents” in the US — two Japanese and Korean television networks, the China Daily newspaper and now RT. In Russia meanwhile, nine media organisations have already received warnings. There’s likely to be more, mostly to the detriment of Russian-language media and organisations suspected of connections to the US authorities. Russia has declared 160 NGOs “foreign agents” in the past five years, and 40 organisations have been liquidated as a result. The scales at stake here are incomparable.

This legislation will be applied in a targeted fashion in order to force independent media into silence — particularly foreign media with correspondents or partners in Russia

Despite FARA’s discriminatory nature (I believe limiting freedom of expression on the grounds of ownership should be considered discrimination), this legislation contains rather strict provision that defends independent media. Where “agents” are concerned, 80% of a given company, according to FARA, must belong to a foreign state. In the Russian version of the law, the amount of foreign financing doesn’t matter.

There’s no doubt that the Russian authorities won’t be able to apply this new media legislation en masse. Instead, this legislation will be applied in a targeted fashion in order to force independent media into silence — particularly foreign media with correspondents or partners in Russia. Indeed, this is what’s in the Ministry of Justice’s proscription list: they will pressure the media they don’t like, the media that criticise them and the media who are independent.

The main target, then, is foreign media who broadcast, write and publish in Russian. And the number of these media is only increasing. Unable to find  ways to pressure foreign editorial offices, the Russian authorities will, most likely, focus on blocking websites, broadcasts and persecuting these media’s Russian correspondents. Journalists will have their accreditation refused, public officials will be banned from granting them information. The police and other state representatives will stop treating journalists as journalists, which means no immunity at work — for example, at public rallies or in conflict zones. Head offices will find it harder to receive payments and pay their Russian partners and offices.

It’s telling that Russia’s Ministry of Justice started sending out warning letters to “undesirable” media a month ago — that is, before the law came into effect. The Ministry did not have the right to do this. The legislation states that the Ministry will develop and confirm rules for declaring media “foreign agents” — but the legislation was neither law, nor had the Ministry developed its rules.

Still, the names of “harmful” media are already known, and the operation has begun. As one editor-in-chief often says: “It will only get worse.”

 

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Five years of Russia’s Foreign Agent law

Four years in prison for utopia

Digital sovereignty à la russe

Russia’s “foreign agents” law is bankrupting campaigners and activists

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Why doesn’t Russia defend Syria against Israeli fighter jets?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/11/2017 - 10:15am in

Tags 

Israel, Russia, Syria

The image taken from social media shows the site of a reported Israeli strike in Masyaf, Hama Province, Syria, September 7, 2017.   ArabiSouri on steemit: This was a question asked on Quora and some had different answers, many talking in favor of #Israel with a lot of wishful thinking for the #Zionist apartheid Israel. Here’s my reply which covers some of the reasons. Israel is a rogue borderless ‘entity’ living on land foreign imported immigrants stole from Palestinians using terrorism as the main method then waging horrific wars against its neighbors. Israelis couldn’t live a single day without complete funding from the USA, France, Germany and even from Russians but through a different way. US Aid to Israel – Try not to be shocked! Here’s how the Political Zionism movement took control of all the Western countries: Political Zionism in the United States of America – Astounding Facts! About 1 million Russians, many of them Jews, migrated to occupied Palestine aka Israel. They are a main source of income and trade and a profound …

Russia’s Kuzbass coal region is on the verge of an ecological catastrophe

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/11/2017 - 7:46am in

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Russia

This corner of Siberia is famous for coal production and its local kingpin. Ecologists believe there are dark days ahead for the centre of Russia’s export coal industry.

Sergey Sheremetyev. Photo(c): Elizaveta Pestova / Mediazona. All rights reserved.This article originally appeared in Russian at MediaZona. We are grateful for their permission to publish a translation of it here.

By regional standards, the Kemerovo coal basin in southwestern Siberia (also known as the Kuzbas), is considered an industrially developed and heavily populated area. Its governor and local kingpin Aman Tuleyev has been dubbed by the press as both “the most effective governor in Siberia” and “one of the most authoritarian regional leaders in Russia”. He’s even been called “head of the Kuzbas Khanate”.

Tuleyev, 73, isn’t Russia’s longest serving governor (Yevgeny Savchenko has governed the southern region of Belgorod for 24 years), but he is definitely top dog. Tuleyev is just a year younger than his region, which was carved out of the Novosibirsk region in 1943: with the Donbas and its coal reserves occupied by German troops, the Kuzbas became critically important to the Soviet Union as a source of fuel. The scale of mining here has grown incrementally ever since.

Spichenkovo airport lies 25 km from the city of Novokuznetsk. The road is lined with private houses and large black hills — slag heaps left after the open cast mining of the area. The surface layer of soil is removed by bulldozers, revealing barren rock which is then crushed by powerful machines to expose the coal beneath. The waste rock, known as “tailings” is then piled into heaps. This method of coal mining has only been in use in Russia for the last 10-15 years: in Soviet times coal was extracted from deep mines.

The landscape around Novokuznetsk, seen from a plane, is like nothing on earth, its fields broken up by the enormous gray quarries, sometimes kilometres wide and up to 200m deep, left after the coal has been extracted.

“Either we don’t live here, or they don’t mine”

The regional government and its loyal press don’t talk about the dangerous proximity of this mining activity to the towns of the area. Governor Tuleyev constantly sings the praises of the coal industry, which increased its output by 9% this year. So far, the only people to protest are the residents of the villages threatened by the sprawl of the mines: Sergey Sheremetyev from Alekseyevka and a few allies succeeded in halting operations by the Bungursky-Severny Excavation Company, a kilometre away from a residential area (rock fragments from the blasts were landing in people’s gardens). Mining was also halted in the picturesque village of Apanas, on the edge of the taiga.

To my question about whether they had tried to dissuade or intimidate him, Sheremetyev just smiles and says it’s hopeless

“We fought them from 2010 until 2013,” says Sheremetyev. “We used all kinds of tactics: we lay under the excavators’ caterpillar tracks, we entered the explosion zone, we stopped them loading coal, and of course we wrote protest letters. Either we don’t live here, or they don’t mine — there are no other options.” To my question about whether they had tried to dissuade or intimidate him, Sheremetyev just smiles and says it’s hopeless. Now activists from Ananyino and Alekseyevka have started sharing their experiences with other people. They recently organised a protest on the occasion of Russia’s Year of the Environment, planting fir and cedar trees around the edge of an old open cast mine, and releasing young carp into the water that now fills it.

"The profitable factory". Photo(c): Elizaveta Pestova / Mediazona. All rights reserved.Anton Lementuyev, a mining engineer and coordinator of the Ecodefense movement, tells me that locals are increasingly unhappy about the mining operations. The first protest rally took place in Novokuznetsk on 24 September, when people came together from several dozen villages. Yuri, one of its organisers, recalls the day: “The weather was dreadful — during the previous night they wrapped up the stage in netting, cordoned it off with tape and put a barrier around it. We had planned to speak there. Then, in the morning, they surrounded the site with buses and stationed a circle of cops round it as well.”

In early October, the protesters gathered in Gavrilovka, a village of 20 houses near Novokuznetsk. Five kilometres away, coal is being mined at the Stepanovsky open cast site — without the necessary documents, activists claim. Residents of other villages unhappy with what was going on joined those from Gavrilovka to protest.

The activists planned to block the road leading to the excavation site with a bulldozer, but at the last moment the people from Gavrilovka decided against it. Sheremetyev tells me that the night before, trucks arrived with free coal and villagers were promised that the one and only road in the village would be mended. In the end, a sparsely attended rally did take place, ending with the signing of a collective letter to the law enforcement bodies, demanding an official inspection of the Stepanovsky site. The site manager then admitted that not all the necessary formalities had been completed, but the local authority ruled that operations there were perfectly legal.

Quiet explosions in honour of the Birth of the Holy Mother of God

Critics of the region’s coal industry are often reminded by the authorities that the mining operations provide jobs for the local population, says Anton Lemetuyev. Some 150,000 of the Kemerovo region’s 2.5m inhabitants are directly involved in the mining sector, and others work in its infrastructure and numerous industries connected with it. Lemetuyev tells me that the wages of many people living in the region “are linked to the amount of coal extracted and sold”.

“I’d rather find work 100km away than work in the mines,” Sheremetyev tells me with disgust. He works as a minibus driver in Novokuznetsk.

Lementuyev calls Kuzbas a “mono-region”: it seems to consist entirely of mine-towns, quarry-towns and power plant-towns

Lementuyev calls Kuzbas a “mono-region”: it seems to consist entirely of mine-towns, quarry-towns and power plant-towns. Official figures put the number of open cast mines at 120, but it’s difficult to work out the real figure: environmentalists believe there are quite a few sites where mining continues illegally.

There are 10 open cast mines in Kiselevsk, a district with 90,000 inhabitants. The quarry edges sometimes come right up to houses: like where English teacher Svetlana Kolomeychenko lives. Most houses in her street were demolished long ago, but Svetlana refuses to sell her plot to the mining company; she feels the compensation being offered is inadequate.

Behind the trees in her back garden is a steep drop, and beyond the drop is a disused open cast mine, where smoke rises from the coal from time to time. The windows of her house are always coated in a layer of black dust. She has a tear-off calendar where she notes the blasts: “25 September, 14.45: the explosions are quiet today, in honour of the Feast of the Birth of the Holy Mother of God.” More powerful explosions produce cracks in her walls.

Bachatsky open cast mine. Photo(c): Elizaveta Pestova / Mediazona. All rights reserved.Near Belovo, a town of 70,000 people 100km from Novokuznetsk, is the Bachatsky open cast mine, the largest in the region, which has produced several million tonnes of coal since 1949. The pit is 250m deep, black dust rises from it constantly and the massive BelAZ dump trucks look like children’s toys in its lifeless landscape.

“You can’t get rid of coal”

Ecodefense campaigner Vladimir Slivyak believes that the Kemerovo region is on the brink of an environmental disaster and social disintegration. The mining industry has been in decline for several years and the EU countries signing the Paris climate agreement in 2016 committed themselves to reducing their use of coal and phasing it out completely in the near future, leaving major coal producers with a financial shortfall.

Anton Lementuyev believes the local mining corporations are aware of the situation, but continue to operate with impunity thanks to sweeteners from the regional government: “they have no social responsibilities, which avoids a huge amount of outlay: they have abandoned any responsibility for rehousing, environmental obligations or just observing the law. Everything has been rigged to allow them to avoid paying for anything.” Thus, legal requirements are ignored so that firms can open mines near population centres, and the land is never cultivated afterwards. According to Lemetuyev, this is because opencast mining is cheaper, and by excavating near towns and villages they save a fortune on infrastructure. “Everything comes down to mining company profits,” concludes Slivyak.

Kemerovo governor Aman Tuleyev meets Vladimir Putin in Moscow, October 2014. Photo (c): Mikhail Klimentyev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.Kemerovo’s regional government denies that the world is moving away from coal-fired power stations because of their detrimental effect on the environment. “You can’t get rid of coal: it has been, is and will continue to be one of humanity’s most precious resources,” declared Aman Tuleyev in February 2016. In an interview with TASS on the eve of Miners’ Day in August, the governor said that “We have all had to make a colossal effort to turn Kuzbas from a jobless hole into Russia’s industrial backbone. For the last 20 years, our coal industry has gone through a complete cycle of rejuvenation, and has changed from a failing sector subsidised by the government to an economically effective one and become the first wholly privately owned sector of the Russian economy.”

Most houses in the region still use coal for heating,
and the government is in no hurry to lay gas pipelines to replace it

In the European part of Russia, Vladimir Slivyak tells me, coal accounts for only a small part of our energy use, “but Siberia and the Far East are a totally different story”: coal provides about 50% of energy here. “So environmentally-minded conversations about having to do something — lower waste emissions, develop different energy sources — are bad news in Kuzbass, because we’re so reliant on coal,” Slivyak adds that most houses in the region still use it for heating, and the government is in no hurry to lay gas pipelines to replace it.

While EU countries have been signing agreements on phasing out coal, the Russian government has been developing a plan to support its coal industry until 2030 and hopes to increase exports. According to Slivyak, the plan is “to use less gas and more coal. Why? Because gas is a valuable resource that can be much more conveniently and profitably sold to the west. And while there is certainly a demand for coal, if we look at reality, rather than government plans, it’s clear that a serious growth in its export is unlikely.”

According to environmental specialists’ figures, one and a half million tonnes of pollutants and about half a million cubic metres of contaminated effluents are annually released into the environment in Kuzbas. Anton Lemetuyev of Ecodefense gives me an example: over the last few years the water in the river Aba, which flows through the centre of Novokuznetsk, has turned black. And 300-350 tonnes of redundant rock are annually deposited next to open cast mines — this waste occupies a large area and, according to environmentalists, is toxic.

The cut in Alekseyevka. Photo(c): Elizaveta Pestova / Mediazona. All rights reserved.Coal for the Kuzbas also has an effect on the environment of other parts of Russia. In the far eastern ports of Vanino, Sovietskaya Gavan and Nakhodka, for example, a tense situation has arisen over coal shipments. The port workers unload coal in the open, releasing toxic dust into the air. The environmentalists explain that, as far as atmospheric pollution is concerned, the local residents may as well be living in an open cast mine. Local campaigners are trying to get a ban on the open shipment of coal, but so far with little success.

“It’s not like we have mutants wandering the streets of Novokuznetsk or Kemerovo,” says Slivyak, “but if you look at the figures, even the official ones that are probably understated, you can see that there is an environmental catastrophe. Living here is just bad for your health. It’s difficult to find a single indicator in environmental or health statistics that would correspond to the Russian average. They are all much worse, and the cost is enormous.”

Slivyak believes that the coal export figures will inevitably continue to fall, so local people will start losing their jobs and then any concern about the environment will fly out the window: “The local authorities are doing all they can to turn a blind eye to the situation, and will continue to do so until someone in a hard hat appears and starts doing something.”

Translated by Liz Barnes.


Sideboxes
'Read On' Sidebox: 

Kuzbassbashi” Ilya Azar’s profile of Kemerovo region’s strongman Aman Tuleyev for Novaya Gazeta (in Russian)

Related stories: 

In Russia, some men want to watch the world burn

Russia’s eco-activists: not out of the woods yet

Chelyabinsk copper plant conflict reaches new (and sad) lows

“When you buy coal, you have a moral right to ask where it came from”

Russia: the tinderbox in the struggle for a safe climate

Rights: 

CC by NC 4.0

Russia’s Kuzbass coal region is on the verge of an ecological catastrophe

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/11/2017 - 7:46am in

Tags 

Russia

This corner of Siberia is famous for coal production and its local kingpin. Ecologists believe there are dark days ahead for the centre of Russia’s export coal industry.

Sergey Sheremetyev. Photo(c): Elizaveta Pestova / Mediazona. All rights reserved.This article originally appeared in Russian at MediaZona. We are grateful for their permission to publish a translation of it here.

By regional standards, the Kemerovo coal basin in southwestern Siberia (also known as the Kuzbas), is considered an industrially developed and heavily populated area. Its governor and local kingpin Aman Tuleyev has been dubbed by the press as both “the most effective governor in Siberia” and “one of the most authoritarian regional leaders in Russia”. He’s even been called “head of the Kuzbas Khanate”.

Tuleyev, 73, isn’t Russia’s longest serving governor (Yevgeny Savchenko has governed the southern region of Belgorod for 24 years), but he is definitely top dog. Tuleyev is just a year younger than his region, which was carved out of the Novosibirsk region in 1943: with the Donbas and its coal reserves occupied by German troops, the Kuzbas became critically important to the Soviet Union as a source of fuel. The scale of mining here has grown incrementally ever since.

Spichenkovo airport lies 25 km from the city of Novokuznetsk. The road is lined with private houses and large black hills — slag heaps left after the open cast mining of the area. The surface layer of soil is removed by bulldozers, revealing barren rock which is then crushed by powerful machines to expose the coal beneath. The waste rock, known as “tailings” is then piled into heaps. This method of coal mining has only been in use in Russia for the last 10-15 years: in Soviet times coal was extracted from deep mines.

The landscape around Novokuznetsk, seen from a plane, is like nothing on earth, its fields broken up by the enormous gray quarries, sometimes kilometres wide and up to 200m deep, left after the coal has been extracted.

“Either we don’t live here, or they don’t mine”

The regional government and its loyal press don’t talk about the dangerous proximity of this mining activity to the towns of the area. Governor Tuleyev constantly sings the praises of the coal industry, which increased its output by 9% this year. So far, the only people to protest are the residents of the villages threatened by the sprawl of the mines: Sergey Sheremetyev from Alekseyevka and a few allies succeeded in halting operations by the Bungursky-Severny Excavation Company, a kilometre away from a residential area (rock fragments from the blasts were landing in people’s gardens). Mining was also halted in the picturesque village of Apanas, on the edge of the taiga.

To my question about whether they had tried to dissuade or intimidate him, Sheremetyev just smiles and says it’s hopeless

“We fought them from 2010 until 2013,” says Sheremetyev. “We used all kinds of tactics: we lay under the excavators’ caterpillar tracks, we entered the explosion zone, we stopped them loading coal, and of course we wrote protest letters. Either we don’t live here, or they don’t mine — there are no other options.” To my question about whether they had tried to dissuade or intimidate him, Sheremetyev just smiles and says it’s hopeless. Now activists from Ananyino and Alekseyevka have started sharing their experiences with other people. They recently organised a protest on the occasion of Russia’s Year of the Environment, planting fir and cedar trees around the edge of an old open cast mine, and releasing young carp into the water that now fills it.

"The profitable factory". Photo(c): Elizaveta Pestova / Mediazona. All rights reserved.Anton Lementuyev, a mining engineer and coordinator of the Ecodefense movement, tells me that locals are increasingly unhappy about the mining operations. The first protest rally took place in Novokuznetsk on 24 September, when people came together from several dozen villages. Yuri, one of its organisers, recalls the day: “The weather was dreadful — during the previous night they wrapped up the stage in netting, cordoned it off with tape and put a barrier around it. We had planned to speak there. Then, in the morning, they surrounded the site with buses and stationed a circle of cops round it as well.”

In early October, the protesters gathered in Gavrilovka, a village of 20 houses near Novokuznetsk. Five kilometres away, coal is being mined at the Stepanovsky open cast site — without the necessary documents, activists claim. Residents of other villages unhappy with what was going on joined those from Gavrilovka to protest.

The activists planned to block the road leading to the excavation site with a bulldozer, but at the last moment the people from Gavrilovka decided against it. Sheremetyev tells me that the night before, trucks arrived with free coal and villagers were promised that the one and only road in the village would be mended. In the end, a sparsely attended rally did take place, ending with the signing of a collective letter to the law enforcement bodies, demanding an official inspection of the Stepanovsky site. The site manager then admitted that not all the necessary formalities had been completed, but the local authority ruled that operations there were perfectly legal.

Quiet explosions in honour of the Birth of the Holy Mother of God

Critics of the region’s coal industry are often reminded by the authorities that the mining operations provide jobs for the local population, says Anton Lemetuyev. Some 150,000 of the Kemerovo region’s 2.5m inhabitants are directly involved in the mining sector, and others work in its infrastructure and numerous industries connected with it. Lemetuyev tells me that the wages of many people living in the region “are linked to the amount of coal extracted and sold”.

“I’d rather find work 100km away than work in the mines,” Sheremetyev tells me with disgust. He works as a minibus driver in Novokuznetsk.

Lementuyev calls Kuzbas a “mono-region”: it seems to consist entirely of mine-towns, quarry-towns and power plant-towns

Lementuyev calls Kuzbas a “mono-region”: it seems to consist entirely of mine-towns, quarry-towns and power plant-towns. Official figures put the number of open cast mines at 120, but it’s difficult to work out the real figure: environmentalists believe there are quite a few sites where mining continues illegally.

There are 10 open cast mines in Kiselevsk, a district with 90,000 inhabitants. The quarry edges sometimes come right up to houses: like where English teacher Svetlana Kolomeychenko lives. Most houses in her street were demolished long ago, but Svetlana refuses to sell her plot to the mining company; she feels the compensation being offered is inadequate.

Behind the trees in her back garden is a steep drop, and beyond the drop is a disused open cast mine, where smoke rises from the coal from time to time. The windows of her house are always coated in a layer of black dust. She has a tear-off calendar where she notes the blasts: “25 September, 14.45: the explosions are quiet today, in honour of the Feast of the Birth of the Holy Mother of God.” More powerful explosions produce cracks in her walls.

Bachatsky open cast mine. Photo(c): Elizaveta Pestova / Mediazona. All rights reserved.Near Belovo, a town of 70,000 people 100km from Novokuznetsk, is the Bachatsky open cast mine, the largest in the region, which has produced several million tonnes of coal since 1949. The pit is 250m deep, black dust rises from it constantly and the massive BelAZ dump trucks look like children’s toys in its lifeless landscape.

“You can’t get rid of coal”

Ecodefense campaigner Vladimir Slivyak believes that the Kemerovo region is on the brink of an environmental disaster and social disintegration. The mining industry has been in decline for several years and the EU countries signing the Paris climate agreement in 2016 committed themselves to reducing their use of coal and phasing it out completely in the near future, leaving major coal producers with a financial shortfall.

Anton Lementuyev believes the local mining corporations are aware of the situation, but continue to operate with impunity thanks to sweeteners from the regional government: “they have no social responsibilities, which avoids a huge amount of outlay: they have abandoned any responsibility for rehousing, environmental obligations or just observing the law. Everything has been rigged to allow them to avoid paying for anything.” Thus, legal requirements are ignored so that firms can open mines near population centres, and the land is never cultivated afterwards. According to Lemetuyev, this is because opencast mining is cheaper, and by excavating near towns and villages they save a fortune on infrastructure. “Everything comes down to mining company profits,” concludes Slivyak.

Kemerovo governor Aman Tuleyev meets Vladimir Putin in Moscow, October 2014. Photo (c): Mikhail Klimentyev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.Kemerovo’s regional government denies that the world is moving away from coal-fired power stations because of their detrimental effect on the environment. “You can’t get rid of coal: it has been, is and will continue to be one of humanity’s most precious resources,” declared Aman Tuleyev in February 2016. In an interview with TASS on the eve of Miners’ Day in August, the governor said that “We have all had to make a colossal effort to turn Kuzbas from a jobless hole into Russia’s industrial backbone. For the last 20 years, our coal industry has gone through a complete cycle of rejuvenation, and has changed from a failing sector subsidised by the government to an economically effective one and become the first wholly privately owned sector of the Russian economy.”

Most houses in the region still use coal for heating,
and the government is in no hurry to lay gas pipelines to replace it

In the European part of Russia, Vladimir Slivyak tells me, coal accounts for only a small part of our energy use, “but Siberia and the Far East are a totally different story”: coal provides about 50% of energy here. “So environmentally-minded conversations about having to do something — lower waste emissions, develop different energy sources — are bad news in Kuzbass, because we’re so reliant on coal,” Slivyak adds that most houses in the region still use it for heating, and the government is in no hurry to lay gas pipelines to replace it.

While EU countries have been signing agreements on phasing out coal, the Russian government has been developing a plan to support its coal industry until 2030 and hopes to increase exports. According to Slivyak, the plan is “to use less gas and more coal. Why? Because gas is a valuable resource that can be much more conveniently and profitably sold to the west. And while there is certainly a demand for coal, if we look at reality, rather than government plans, it’s clear that a serious growth in its export is unlikely.”

According to environmental specialists’ figures, one and a half million tonnes of pollutants and about half a million cubic metres of contaminated effluents are annually released into the environment in Kuzbas. Anton Lemetuyev of Ecodefense gives me an example: over the last few years the water in the river Aba, which flows through the centre of Novokuznetsk, has turned black. And 300-350 tonnes of redundant rock are annually deposited next to open cast mines — this waste occupies a large area and, according to environmentalists, is toxic.

The cut in Alekseyevka. Photo(c): Elizaveta Pestova / Mediazona. All rights reserved.Coal for the Kuzbas also has an effect on the environment of other parts of Russia. In the far eastern ports of Vanino, Sovietskaya Gavan and Nakhodka, for example, a tense situation has arisen over coal shipments. The port workers unload coal in the open, releasing toxic dust into the air. The environmentalists explain that, as far as atmospheric pollution is concerned, the local residents may as well be living in an open cast mine. Local campaigners are trying to get a ban on the open shipment of coal, but so far with little success.

“It’s not like we have mutants wandering the streets of Novokuznetsk or Kemerovo,” says Slivyak, “but if you look at the figures, even the official ones that are probably understated, you can see that there is an environmental catastrophe. Living here is just bad for your health. It’s difficult to find a single indicator in environmental or health statistics that would correspond to the Russian average. They are all much worse, and the cost is enormous.”

Slivyak believes that the coal export figures will inevitably continue to fall, so local people will start losing their jobs and then any concern about the environment will fly out the window: “The local authorities are doing all they can to turn a blind eye to the situation, and will continue to do so until someone in a hard hat appears and starts doing something.”

Translated by Liz Barnes.


Sideboxes
'Read On' Sidebox: 

Kuzbassbashi” Ilya Azar’s profile of Kemerovo region’s strongman Aman Tuleyev for Novaya Gazeta (in Russian)

Related stories: 

In Russia, some men want to watch the world burn

Russia’s eco-activists: not out of the woods yet

Chelyabinsk copper plant conflict reaches new (and sad) lows

“When you buy coal, you have a moral right to ask where it came from”

Russia: the tinderbox in the struggle for a safe climate

Rights: 

CC by NC 4.0

How Did 1917 Change the West?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/11/2017 - 5:55pm in

The US and Europe were more influenced by the Russian revolution of 1917 than they care to admit.

Reading other people’s diaries in Russia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/11/2017 - 5:18pm in

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Russia

Historian Mikhail Melnichenko runs a digital archive of personal diaries from Russia's 20th century. The result is both an alternative to tightly guarded government archives and an important artistic resource. RU

Mikhail Melnichenko. Photo(c): Katerina Chopenko. All rights reserved.This article is the fourth in our series "Practically about memory". Here you can read about the project.

Mikhail Melnichenko is the creator of the Prozhito project, a digital archive of personal diaries from Russia's 20th cenutry — and he is on a mission to digitise and publish as many as possible. Although Prozhito ("Lived through") was only launched recently, it is already incredibly popular, having zeroed in on the niche of increasing interest in personal histories in Russia. Today, Prozhito features 817 diaries.

You spent a long time researching jokes. When was it that you switched from one “lesser” literary genre to another- that is, when did you switch to diaries?

Mikhail Melnichenko: I spent too much time researching jokes, about a decade, and at some point I exhausted this topic. I realised that I don’t want to write about jokes, because they speak for themselves. The quantity of commentary and analysis is not that important wherein a joke is concerned. A joke needs to be well publicised.

For the last few years during my work on jokes, I merely created a big database of jokes and was cleaning it up. It took me a year to whittle it down into a book, and then I took that book to a publisher and sat down on my couch and had no idea what to do with myself now.

I knew I didn’t want to do research in the classic sense – while I also knew that I like organising big blocks of data. I thought about creating a search tool for scientists in the humanities, a tool that would search dated texts. It seemed it would be simplest to do that using diaries. Besides that, diaries have a special place in my heart; because they were such a good source of jokes, and because they were my favourite things to read at the time.

Archives are still considered a space for the chosen few. Who is your target audience? Is it general or is it more for other researchers like you?

Mikhail: I’m reaching out to both audiences. Prozhito is a project that is targeted at everyone. Its participants are developing it – most of them are not professionals.

We get people who are beginning to untangle their family history, they’ve found a manuscript at home, and we give them recommendations as to methodology and an outlet to publish their work. We also have people who don’t have a family archive but who are interested in working with these texts.

If you want to work with us, you need to know your way around a computer and know how to decipher a text — if not a handwritten one, then at least a typed one. We are just the curators who work on establishing the work of a particular community with texts, but there also important issues for me to reflect on.

Prozhito is a project that is targeted at everyone

I don’t know where to draw the privacy boundaries. As a researcher, I treat a text as a source – I don’t believe in redactions, and I believe in making a text available to everyone. At the same time, I was brought up differently, and I worry that by publishing everything, we could screw things up for some people, especially since we’re getting into recent stories when we work with diaries from the 1990s. Dumping all of that out for everyone to read is dangerous. But at the same time, we can’t get into the mechanics of keeping everything private until 75 years have passed – then there would be no point in starting this project.

I have a feeling that eventually, the project will split into two parts. On the one hand, Prozhito is a publically available site and research tool with texts; on the other hand, it’s an electronic archive mostly made up of diary manuscripts that can be accessed only by curators and professional project members.

How does this filter work?

Mikhail: When we go to publish a text, those who have control over the manuscript – the author or the relatives – have the right to work with the deciphered texts and say what they want to be redacted. Let’s say somebody’s great-grandfather accused a colleague of working for the security services, called someone else an anti-Semite, and then recorded the story of yet someone else’s adulterous affair. We fight for each paragraph, but ultimately, we accept the relatives’ final edit. But professionals who know how to formulate their goals and keep to certain ethical principles have full access to the text.

There are researchers with formal status. But what if I, for example, show up and tell you, “I’m writing a documentary play about the daily life of St Petersburg writers in the 1920s. Give me full access”?

Mikhail: Daily life in 1920s would be a yes. When it comes to diaries of the 1980s and 90s, we have no answer yet. Let’s say you have a person who died in the 1970s, his diaries were found in a dumpster, someone brings them to us and says, “They’re getting wet under the rain, please take them, you’ll be able to preserve them.” We publish the text. Nobody but us is responsible for it – as we take someone’s soft underbelly and expose it to the public. I at least want to be able to save someone’s memory from the so-called wit of bored idiots.

Do you divide project members into curators and volunteers? I understand that the word “employees” is not applicable to Prozhito.

Mikhail: All curators are part of a small inner circle, so they’re basically employees. There are also several high experienced volunteers who work for us like employees would, but they still don’t have full access to materials. We ask people like that to pore over the most difficult works, which need maximum diligence.

If a person isn’t coming to you with their ancestral archive – how do they arrive to the project as a volunteer?

Mikhail: In very different ways. To become a Prozhito volunteer, you need some minimal amount of free time and personal interest. Over the course of three years, we have nearly 500 people take part. I have a spreadsheet of volunteers, number 480 got in touch to join up yesterday.

We are working on decentralising the project in order to create working team

The number of working volunteers changes – people come and go. The average one stays for a few months. All are motivated by their own story. We have a lot of students. There are lots of people who studied the humanities, who have been separated from the things they are interested in by work, but are still driven to work with texts. We have some people who moved abroad, and for them, Prozhito is a way to reach out, to deal with nostalgia, to work with language. There are those who are not interested in research, but have a lot of time and curiosity. Or else we have readers who are on parental leave or between jobs – and they spend that time with us.

We are working on decentralising the project in order to create a working team. We have several long distance working teams, where two or more people work together very well.

In Russia we have the obvious problem of the nationalisation of memory. Government archives are either closed, or just halfway open. Do you ever see Prozhito as an alternative in light of that?

Mikhail: I know what it’s like to work in a government archive. I left there with an internal conflict brewing: I had the “protectionist” archival logic, but I also had a researcher’s need to have access to everything. Today, the researcher in me is winning.

As I’ve discussed many times with friends, if we can’t change a massive, inert institution, then we can create alternatives. This is both simpler and more difficult. Prozhito is precisely this kind of means of creating a modern digital archive with a human face.

If we don’t want to play by the rules that have been forced upon us, we will create our own history. If the government archive won’t let us in to digitise, we will take the time to work on family archives, whose owners are more flexible.

Prozhito has become a de-facto platform for alternative voices not heard anywhere else. That wasn’t originally part of the plan, was it?

Mikhail: The plan to give voice to the unheard was a conscious decision. The diaries of unknown, unnoticed people interest more than “first league players,” because those are the people who will, sooner or later, find their own diligent publishers.

There are manuscripts that can’t be fully published in a classical format, they can’t become books – they may be too long or too complex. We want to work with absolutely everything. We don’t care about the author’s social trajectory, we don’t care about the diary themes, we will take reading diaries as well as diaries of observing a child grow, and even the kind of pensioner’s diary where the author basically spends fifteen years transcribing the newspapers.

If we can’t change a massive, inert institution, then we can create alternatives. This is both simpler and more difficult

Diaries are not just important because of the facts they contain – their very language is a sphere of research. Computer linguist Natalia Tyshkevich, who joined Prozhito after the project was re-launched, showed us that we created a serious linguistic framework – and the wider our authors’ circle becomes, the more interesting the results of working with our database be.

How many diaries do you have that have not yet been digitised and published?

Mikhail: We have two types of materials: those already published and those that are our own manuscripts. 400 texts are in the publishing queue. As for the manuscripts, those are more or less annotated. I have about ten manuscripts that don’t have descriptions, because they are quite weird or complex, that’s something to get done. It’s always a matter of a few weeks. Several people do irregular copying work for us. My colleague Alexey Senyukhin, the editor of Prozhito, and I are the two people who work directly with originals – because it’s dangerous to hand that stuff over to volunteers.

We have the fairly sad story of the People’s Archive, created by Boris Ilizarov at the end of the 1980s. Today the archive has drowned in the swamp at the Russian State Archive of Newest History (RGANI), where it’s being eternally inventorised. Were you thinking of that precedent, did you take what happened to the People’s Archive into account?

Mikhail: That’s a very important story for me. What happened to the People’s Archive is very painful and very educational. Prozhito is a step in the direction of the People’s Archive, but we are taking that step while making note of what happened.

In order to create archival institutions, one needs a certain resource of stability. This is the most precious resource, and we have a deficit of it. If you create analog storage with the right temperature, the right level of humidity and a tonne of documents, you are always going to be in danger: the more important this burden is for you, the more compromises you will make in order to save it. But if you create digital cloud storage, everything is simpler.

Prozhito accepts diaries written before 2000. Photo CC BY 2.0: Barry Silver/Flickr. Some rights reserved.Prozhito doesn’t have the physical anchor that the People’s Archive had. We take originals, copy them, and create a cloud that has several independent, synchronised copies. Even if something happens to one cloud, are terabytes are safe in another. And if you have a branched out community of volunteers, motivated only by their interest and interested in working with the texts, things are easier.

My ultimate goal is not to gather and publish all diaries, my ultimate goal is to create a People’s Archive in new form. So that it can be accessed from anywhere, and so that there were places where people could bring manuscripts left over from their grandmothers and grandfathers, as well as suitcases full of papers that they find in the garbage.

And so that in these places, the manuscripts were digitised and that everything is at least minimally annotated and inventorised and that we create these digitised “stocks” of people both known and unknown. That’s our model, the digital archive of Prozhito and its apex, the digital publishing platform, both of which work closely with one another.

But you guys also do something unexpected for an archive: you conduct workshops. What is the Prozhito workshop’s place within the structure you have imagined for yourselves?

Mikhail: The workshop format is one we adopted quickly, all thanks to Ilya Venyavkin, who came up with it. I am very attracted to going down these academic rabbit holes, while Ilya was the first one who saw Prozhito as a project for volunteers. We gained strong volunteer numbers quickly and it became obvious that the system was too vertical – there was the coordinator and volunteers who are not connected to each other, which is not a very stable system. In order to be stable, a project must continue even if any person who is part of it leaves. You can only achieve that with good horizontal ties between people.

The first workshop Prozhito in Irkutsk, September 2017. Photo: Mikhail Melnichenko. All rights reserved.At first we staged public readings in which anyone could participate, they were created in order to popularise our project. The workshop program is our main program on how to work in the Russian regions. We just did workshops in Irkutsk and Perm, we will soon have them in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. We hope that eventually the workshop format will become totally independent from us and that any cultural institution, upon discovering a diary manuscript, stage a public event where absolutely anyone can take part, and then share their results with us or use them for their own needs.

At the Moscow workshops, half of the people are regulars, the other half are newbies. It’s important to me that people communicate with each other at these events.

You’ve been quoted as saying, “A diary is a sign of difficult or hard times.” Yet you guys work with materials from different eras. So why do people really keep diaries?

Mikhail: This is one of the most difficult questions for me. I know why I keep a diary.

You keep a diary? You write it down in a journal?

No, I write it on the computer. I’ve kept a diary since I was 21, I never did it as a child. For me, keeping a diary is like maintenance work. It’s important for me to talk things out, to write out the facts of my life. And because I can’t remember anything, I can’t tie facts with chronology otherwise. I also think of a diary as a very strong therapeutic exercise and a very good tool to deal with stress and come out of depressive episodes.

I think the majority of people who take up this genre are in a similar place. We have an enormous amount of diaries that began in the summer of 1941 and petered out in 1945 – they are these complete war diaries, we can’t tag them in any other way. When things are stressful, people need to talk to themselves, tell themselves everything. And then there are those who get used to having a diary and it becomes part of their daily life. We have a lot of these diaries, that won’t be interesting to a wide audience, written by archivists, museum workers, and people prone to systemising everything.

We have a diary that someone kept for 30 years. Every day is recorded according to a strict formula – the weather, followed by what the author did and whom he saw that day. This is an amusing diary, because for three years in a row you have 365 entries, and then you get a leap year, and you have 366. A person lives according to their own life table and the diary is a part of that table. I am saying this with some admiration, I am also prone to this, it’s easier for me to live according to this scheme.

We must look at complete diaries that were being kept not for a person’s entire life, but during a certain period in that life. I see this now – people often start keeping diaries when they are growing up. The diaries of children and adolescents are complete and independent works. If a person keeps a diary as a child, they usually abandon it at some point, and then begin keeping a diary a few years later, when they are different. I think that’s a different variety of the genre. There are war diaries, travel diaries, it’s important for people to let out the emotions they have from encountering a lot of new things, and maybe there are other pragmatisms of diary-keeping, but I mostly work with the diary as a form. I am less self-assured when it comes to talking about what diaries mean.

Director Anastasia Patlay, curator of the Archaeology of Memory theatre workshop at the Sakharov Center, used a part of the diaries that you have published for the dramaturgical material. Have the diaries been used by others in similar ways?

Mikhail: Yes, this is happening more and more now. Sometimes we are not even told that our materials are being used, and I see this as perfectly normal, because we are, overall, for the free distribution of information.

Of course we are very inspired when we find out that our materials are being used to create something interesting, worthy, beautiful.

Popular publications featuring our materials have been popping up regularly for a while, but now a wave of theater-related interest has begun. I know of three separate theater workshops using our materials.

Besides the Archaeology of Memory, there is the theater studio of Valery Karavayev, where older people learn to act. A few days ago I was the Theater Na Naberezhnoi, which is interested in topics that are close to what we do: they’ve put on a production about Varlam Shalamov, and productions based on the personal histories and family histories of children who go to a club at this theater. This theater is interested in the diaries of teenagers from the 1930s and 40s that we have, and may launch a production using these diaries.

When we first began, we were just like this tightly packed tin, full of diaries. We had 100 diaries with thirty thousand daily entries, which is very little, and visitor weren’t exactly sure of how to use our site. Now we have over 260,000 entries and over 800 diaries, we have quite the impressive collection. And you can find something almost on any topic.

I want us to be a tool that people use in their work. Call us the Prozhito hammer. Available to all.

 

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How did 1917 change the west?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/11/2017 - 7:30am in

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Failed utopias lead to the death of idealism, and the likes of Putin and Trump are symbols of this process. As we watch Russia struggle with history, the US and UK cannot afford to pretend that this history doesn’t affect us too.

October 1917: Red guard unit at the Vulkan factory in Petrograd. Source: Public Domain. Revolutions – and their centenaries – are best dealt with in the first person. That, of course, creates a certain awkwardness for an academic, whose stock in trade is meant to be distance from the subject of study. But nothing forces a reckoning with one’s place in the order of things quite like a revolution, and that is true of academics even 100 years after the fact. Witness, for example, the never-ending debates about what a revolution even is.

Slipping into the first person – reckoning with my place in the order of things – allows me to admit another awkwardness that has arisen in this centenary season: That of an American, living in the UK, who is expected by virtue of his profession to pronounce on the “Russian” revolution. If any combination of subject, audience and personal heritage could make me feel like more of an imposter, I don’t know what it is.

To lessen that awkwardness, I have told myself – and a handful of audiences – that October 1917 was not just a Russian revolution. February had already done away with monarchical absolutism and the doorway to modernity – at least in the Euro-centric conception that dominated the age – was open. But Bolshevism, as the name would suggest, was meant to be about more than that: about more than Russia, perhaps about more than modernity.

The Bolsheviks looked at western modernity and found it lacking – in need of transformation. However misbegotten, and without regard to its eventual mutations, the communist ideal – what Yuri Slezkine has described as a millenarian, utopian vision for the fall of Babylon and the establishment of Justice – was to its adherents a universalist idea. It was a pathway to universal justice, to global justice, and it emerged onto the scene just as its brother, the Wilsonian democratic ideal, strode forth from America. Both of these universalist projects shared a progenitor, in the Scottish Enlightenment of Hume, Ferguson and Smith.

Russia and America: mirroring ambition, mirroring failure

Each vision of Utopia presented an insurmountable challenge to the other.

Woodrow Wilson’s conceit was that paradise on Earth was already extant, in the New World and pockets of the Old, and, provided that the passions of humanity could be tamed, this paradise would eventually bathe the world in a gently rising tide of democracy. Lenin’s conceit was a hotter one, an understanding of the world so structurally unjust that only the fire of revolutionary uprising – the passions of humanity unleashed – could clear away the suffocating underbrush and allow for new growth. Russia and America have spent the last 100 years as mirrors held up to one another, revealing in excruciating detail both the loftiness of our ambitions and our frequent failures to live up to them. Indeed, our almost ubiquitous failures to live up to them. Russia and America – and perhaps the west more broadly – have constructed their contemporary selves with clear and abiding reference to one another: the American way was American because it was the rejection of the Soviet way, and vice versa.

A Works Progress Administration poster. Source: Public domain. That reflexive, reflective modernity continues today. It outlasted the death of ideological fervour in both Moscow and Washington. It was the New Deal and the rise of the western welfare state – propelled by the example of state socialism and the fear of contagious ideology – that fueled Khrushchev’s Thaw. It was Yuri Gagarin who put Neil Armstrong on the moon. It was in the hall of mirrors that we call the Cold War that Martin Luther King Jr and Andrei Sakharov came into focus.

Utopia, of course, died long before the Soviet Union, but it is threatening to drown idealism in its wake. It is easy to forget, but in 1991 – in that moment of genuine euphoria – many Americans and Russians alike believed in a common future.

We fear, in truth, not that Trump was installed by Putin, but that in electing Trump we ourselves have elected our own Putin – a leader who allows us to be our basest self and absolves us of guilt

It took Americans longer than Russians to realize that this dream – that Russians would somehow become “like us” (whatever that might mean), the dream of the end of history – would not come true. Russians began to see in their American mirror something unattainable, but also something undesirable, and retreated from universalism into particularism, an insistence on a special path, a uniquely Russian civilization.

And Americans have come to see in the Russian mirror an image of everything we so desperately fear becoming – and that image is getting sharper by the day. We fear, in truth, not that Trump was installed by Putin, but that in electing Trump we ourselves have elected our own Putin – a leader who allows us to be our basest self and absolves us of guilt. If poet Fyodor Tyutchev (of “You cannot understand Russia with your mind…” fame) has replaced Lenin in the Russian discourse, Sarah Palin has replaced Wilson in the American.

As Russia grapples with its history, are we doing any better?

It has become commonplace to note how few conversations are happening in the Russian public space about 1917. The current masters of the Kremlin have hewn to a story of uninterrupted Russian power, from the princes of Kyiv, through Ivan the Terrible’s Muscovy and the Romanovs, into the Soviet era and beyond, with Putin the rightful heir of all of these disparate lineages. It is a neat trick, made possible only by the replacement of universalism with particularism. The only legitimating idea that connects the 19th, 20th and 21st-Century constructions of Russian power into a single arc is that of Russia itself.

Having noted that, it’s worth turning the same question back on ourselves: If Russia is struggling to come to grips with the transformation caused by 1917, are we doing any better?

Rally marking the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in St Petersburg. (c) NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.We call it the Russian revolution – or the Bolshevik revolution, which, if anything, makes it sound even more foreign – and we hold lectures and exhibitions. Excellent lectures and engrossing exhibitions. The Royal Academy. The Tate Modern. The British Library. Even King’s College London. John Reed is serialised on BBC Radio 4, with Russian workers speaking in cockney and Stalin sporting a spectacular Scottish brogue. We have dozens and dozens of opportunities to reflect – on Russia. And they’re fascinating. And we’re fascinated. But they miss the point.

To a very great extent, the west as we know it was born in 1917 in Petrograd

How did 1917 change us? I don’t mean the fate of capitalism and socialism in the west, though that matters, too. I mean the west itself. To a very great extent, the west as we know it was born in 1917 in Petrograd. And 100 years later, it is still in Russia’s mirror that we see ourselves most clearly. If we care to look.

Revolutions generally begin with a mixture of concrete grievance and an abstract sense of justice – while the most powerful revolutions seem to involve an appeal to a transcendent, universal justice, to values that accrue to us all. Revolution in its purest sense thus might be thought of as the negation of identity and the rejection of particularism.

Revolutions are also about imagination – a simultaneous re-imagination of the future and the past, transforming our past into an abstraction of injustice to be rejected, and transforming the future into its opposite. In the process, we universalize our particularism – we ascribe to all of humanity our own grievances and our own imaginations.

But revolutions are also mobilisational processes, and sociology tells us that mobilisational processes seek solidarity by reinforcing dichotomies – between just and unjust, past and future, us and them.

The first thing we need to understand, then, was that 1917 threw all of us into a process of self-definition by reference to different imagined utopias. Competing and incompatible claims to universality – stalemated first by accidents of history and then by the design of Mutually Assured Destruction – decay into competitive claims of exceptional particularism, with the caveat that each particular exceptionalism is grounded in an exclusive universality.

Let me repeat that. Over the course of the 20th Century, Russia’s and America’s competing and incompatible claims to represent a universal vision decayed into competitive claims of exceptional particularism. And each of these particularistic formulations of exceptionalism was grounded in a mutually exclusive vision of universality.

An impossible future, and a past that never existed

Because we “won” the Cold War – because our system of political and economic governance survived and the Soviet Union’s did not – we might forget that we have walked the same path and arrived at the same destination.

The Soviet Union began by attempting to build a future that could not exist: universal prosperity could not be planned. As the idea of that shining future faded, Russia sought shelter in a past that never existed, a myth of pan-Slavic virtue, harmony and plenty. The argument that justifies Crimea, that justifies Donbas, is not an argument – it is the absence of an argument. It is the argument that arguments do not matter. That ideas do not matter. That what matters, is where we are, and right now, we are here.

The America of the NRA and Black Lives Matter – or the Britain of UKIP and Grenfell Tower – are not the lands we told the Soviets we were building. They are not the lands we told ourselves we were building

But the America of the NRA and Black Lives Matter – or the Britain of UKIP and Grenfell Tower – are not the lands we told the Soviets we were building. They are not the lands we told ourselves we were building. And we, too, retreat from future into past. We elect governments on the basis that government is the problem, not the solution. We cleave to leaders who base their politics in the absence of policy. And we, too, fight wars because we can.

I’m in danger of sounding like an activist, rather than an academic — but I have tried, briefly, to make two arguments. One is that the process that has led to the politics we observe and dislike in Russia is not distinct from the process that has led to the politics we observe and dislike in the west. But the second is that we need to have arguments. As social scientists, what we want from this is to be provoked into finding our own new universalities, our generalizable conclusions drawn from methodical observation and rigorous analysis.

The evisceration of idealism that enables both Putin and Trump afflicts us, too

For those of us who study politics, these past few years have also been a time of retreat into particularism – into methodological exceptionalism, if you will. Rational choice. Realism. Constructivism. As a discipline, whatever your preferences, your foundations have been shaken. The politicians tell us our nations have had enough of experts, and we are duly, maybe ritually indignant – but in our quieter moments, we, too, wonder about our usefulness. The evisceration of idealism that enables both Putin and Trump afflicts us, too.

Maybe the time for quiet moments has passed. Maybe we can raise the volume a bit. Maybe we can turn the tide back towards the universal, towards understanding something about the other in ourselves and the self in our others. Wouldn’t that be revolutionary?

This text is adapted from a keynote address delivered at the British International Studies Association Conference on “1917 in 2017: Russia’s Unfinished Revolution” on 17 November 2017, in London.

 

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Lenin’s Speech Denouncing Anti-Semitism

I found this fascinating little clip of a speech by Lenin, the founder of Soviet Communism, on Maoist Rebel News, presented by Jason Unruhe. I am very definitely not a Maoist, as I think it’s undeniable that he was one of the most murderous tyrants of the 20th century. About 60 million Chinese died in the purges and mass starvation created by the ‘Cultural Revolution’, and countless precious art treasures and other monuments from the country’s rich, ancient past, were destroyed.

Nevertheless, this piece is interesting and important as it shows how the Bolsheviks took seriously the threat of anti-Semitism, and were keen to stamp it out. Unruhe made the video in response to an appearance by Rick Harrison of Pawn Stars on Mark Levin’s radio show. Harrison owns the pawn shop featured in the show. It’s an American programme, but it’s also shown over here on one of the satellite/cable channels. I tried watching it once, when it was on the History Channel, in the vague hope that it might actually be interesting. It wasn’t. The programme largely consisted of the crew musing over various artifacts – in this case, a couple of pistols left over from the Old West – and speculating about how much they were worth. It reminded me a little of the Beeb’s antiques’ programmes, with the exception that the people looking at the antiques didn’t actually seem to know very much about them, apart from the very basics.

On Levin’s show, Harrison went off and laid into Barack Obama. Obama was ‘anti-business’ and blamed the Jews and intelligentsia for everything, just like Lenin. Well, no. Barack Obama is not at all like Lenin. Barack Obama is very definitely not ‘anti-business’, even remotely. As the Jimmy Dore Show and other alternative news shows have pointed out, ad nauseam, Obama is a bog-standard corporatist politician. He tried to privatise the public schools by turning them into Charter Schools, the American equivalent of British academy schools. Even Obamacare is private enterprise. It was originally dreamed up by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and promoted by Newt Gingrich, an arch-Republican. The last time I looked, America was still very much a private enterprise economy. Obama has even said that he considers himself to be a ‘moderate Republican’.

But such accusations are almost par for the course for the bonkers end of the Republican party. There have even been right-wing Christian radio hosts declaring that he was a mass-murderer, who was secretly planning to kill even more people than Mao and Stalin. And this is apart from all the hysterical screaming that he was a Communist-Nazi-crypto-Islamist terrorist intent on bringing about the fall of America and western civilisation.

He also spent eight years in power, and has now departed. Nobody was assassinated, or rounded up in cattle trucks to be deported to death camps. Or incarcerated in FEMA, which would be the modern equivalent, if you believe Alex Jones. But the rhetoric shows the sheer, blind hysteria that gripped some of these maniacs whenever Obama was mentioned.

Unruhe points out that it is factually incorrect that Lenin blamed the Jews for the problems of the nascent Soviet Union. He states that the Soviet leader spent a year touring the former Russian Empire, denouncing anti-Semitism and Jew hatred. How is this known? Because there are recordings of him. He then plays one. It’s clearly from a gramophone recording, complete with crackles and scratches, but it is subtitled in English. My Russian really isn’t very good at all, but from what little I can catch, the translation is accurate, and it states what Lenin is actually saying.

Lenin states that it is the capitalists, the landowners and the tsars, who were trying to stir up hatred against the Jews, as a way of dividing the working people of all nations and getting them to hate each other. He states that it is a medieval, feudal superstition, that exists only when workers and peasants are kept in slavery by the landlords. He says that most Jews are workers, and therefore our brothers. He acknowledges that amongst the Jews there are capitalists, the bourgeois and kulaks, just as there are all of these amongst Russians. He states that this hatred against the Jews is being stirred up by the capitalists to divert attention away from who really is exploiting working people: capital!

He cries out several times ‘Shame upon the tsars’ for stoking hatred against the Jews, for stirring up pogroms, massacres and persecution.

Unruhe points out in his introduction to the speech that it was actually Lenin’s opponents, the tsars, who were anti-Semitic. This is solid, established fact. Nicholas II was viciously anti-Semitic himself, and believed firmly in the ‘Blood Libel’ – the poisonous myth that Jews killed Christian children and used their blood to make the matzo bread for Passover. One of the issues that discredited Nicholas II’s rule was his repeated attempt to prosecute a Jew, Beilis, on this charge, despite the most anti-Semitic of his ministers telling him that it was stupid and ridiculous.

And in opposition to the workers’ and revolutionary movements, there were the Black Hundreds. These were groups of extreme right-wing supporters of the traditional order, who were viciously anti-Semitic.

It’s obviously glaringly true that Lenin was ‘anti-business’. But saying that makes it appear as though it was just a matter of prejudice. It wasn’t. Russia’s working people and peasants at the time laboured in appalling conditions, with many on literal ‘starvation wages’. And although the serfs had been freed in the 1860s by Alexander I, their lords and masters still treated their workers as unfree slaves. There were cases where factory masters told their workers ‘We own you!’ Hence before the Bolshevik coup there were hundreds of strikes and peasant revolts up and down the Russian Empire. You can easily see why before Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized power, there was a revolution that overthrew the Tsar, and the workers began electing left-wing parties like the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Trudoviks and Socialist Revolutionaries on to the workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ soviets they set up to represent their own interests against the power of the capitalists.

As for the capitalists and business using anti-Semitism to divide working people of all nations, anti-Semitism in the West has been rightly discredited and regarded with loathing by the majority of people since the defeat of Nazism. But the right has used racism to try and attack the left and organised Labour. You can see it in the way the Tories have tried to stir up nationalist sentiment against Muslims and other ‘unassimilable’ immigrants, quite apart from the fearmongering about workers coming from elsewhere in the EU and eastern Europe.

I’m not a fan of Lenin. He created a very authoritarian system, which eventually led to the murderous tyranny of Stalin. But he was no anti-Semite, and his speech still remains a very relevant commentary on the political uses of racial hatred.

81 Wrongs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/11/2017 - 11:29pm in

The United States tried to overthrow or directly interfere in the elections of at least 80 countries throughout the Cold War alone. How exactly is it in a position to complain if it turns out to be true that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election?

RT Report on Food Bank Donations Placed Outside Downing Street in Protest against Universal Credit

This is another excellent piece of reporting from RT, and shows why we need the Russian-owned station to provide us with the news that the mainstream channels won’t give us.

In this short segment, RT’s Laura Smith covers a protest by the People’s Assembly against the planned roll-out of Universal Credit to even more areas. The organisation has stacked some of the food donated to it outside Downing Street to call attention to the way Universal Credit is forcing more people into poverty. UC is supposed to make the benefit system simpler by rolling six benefits into one, but delays can mean that it is up to six weeks before claimants receive any money.

Smith also interviews the spokesman for the People’s Assembly, Sam Fairbairn, who states that the extension of UC across even more parts of the UK will throw an extra 30,000 people into poverty, while the clip also shows headlines predicting that as many as half a million people more could be forced to use food banks. The organisation has chosen today to make the protest as Philip Hammond will announce his new budget tomorrow. Fairbairn states that the existence of such poverty is not acceptable in Britain, one of the richest countries in the world. He states that the government should either get rid of Universal Credit, or get out.

Mike over at Vox Political has also covered this, and included RT’s video. He remarks that he hasn’t found anything about the protest in the mainstream press, with the exception of the Metro. He also jokes that he’s not sure that the Tories will understand the message. Theresa May will probably take it as meaning that the food can be used for the next time she goes for a banquet with Murdoch or Dacre.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/11/21/food-bank-donations-dumped-at-downing-street-door-in-budget-protest/

Universal Credit was, of course, the big idea of Ian Duncan Smith, who boasted that it would be the greatest strategy to raise people out of poverty since William Wilberforce ended the slave trade in the British Empire. Which shows the sheer, colossal vanity of the man.

And I don’t believe for a single minute that the problems with Universal Credit and the various snags and delays in paying it to those claiming it are remotely accidental. The Tories have said time and again that they believe in making the process of claiming benefits as painful and humiliating as possible in order to force people off welfare and into work. Or rather, just off welfare. The neoliberal and Monetarist economics they follow demand a ‘reserve army’ of the unemployed to keep wages down by making sure that jobs are actually in short supply. Thus we have something like 4 million jobless, but for the sake of his political career the Tories have to lie about the figures being much less. This explains why Philip Hammond appeared on TV on Sunday to claim that Britain ‘had no jobless’.

I am also not remotely surprised that none of the mainstream media, with the exception of the Metro, are covering this. The right-wing media really wouldn’t want to, as they’re probably acutely aware how weak and fragile May’s position actually is. For all the Tories’ criticism of her leadership, they have no desire to see her fall just yet, and take the rest of the current Tory government with her.

As for the BBC, the Corporation has consistently tried to avoid reporting on protests against the Conservative governments. It even managed to ignore one, that occurred right outside its front door when David Cameron was in power a couple of years ago. This was a protest by a crowd of several tens of thousands. But it didn’t appear on the broadcast news. It was, however, mentioned on the Beeb’s news website, so they could claim that they had covered it.

As I’ve mentioned many times previously, the Beeb’s management is very solidly composed of White, public-school, Oxbridge educated men, and there is a very strong Conservative bias at the Corporation. You only have to consider the very anti-Labour bias of ‘Goebbels’ Nick Robinson and ‘Arnalda Mussolini’ Kuenssberg. Years ago Private Eye reviewed Robin Day’s autobiography, Grand Inquisitor. Day was, or had been, the corporation’s main political interviewer. The Eye remarked that while Day was keen to present himself as a fearless journalist holding the government and civil servants to account, in reality his instincts were to side with the government and authority against criticism and protest. The BBC is the state broadcaster, and it sees itself very much as one of the country’s great, central institutions. While it’s supposed to be impartial, it does have an institutional bias towards established authority. And it’s refusal to cover anti-government protests properly seems to indicate that this bias is such that it seems to look upon such protests as something close to subversion. Any act of mutiny against established authority, which should not be indulged, but ignored or suppressed as quickly as possible.

RT is under concerted attack in America, where the current ruling elites are bitterly hostile because of the way it covers domestic discontent, and poverty and injustice within America itself. It’s also being used by Killary’s team as a convenient scapegoat for her failure to gain the American presidency against Trump. And so Republicans and corporatist Democrats are claiming that the protests and demonstrations that have taken place across America, including movements like Black Lives Matter and the Take The Knee protest by NFL players, aren’t genuine, authentic demonstrations of popular anger, but all stirred up by RT, which just disseminates propaganda for Putin.

It’s absolute nonsense, but the Tories and Theresa May have tried to copy the Americans and have made the same accusations over here.

This shows why we need RT to cover the demonstrations and issues that the mainstream media and the state broadcaster would prefer to ignore.

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