Friday, September 22, 2017

Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian Nostalgia for USSR Based on Values Different than Their Leaders Might Prefer, Mirovich Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 22 – Many Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians express nostalgia for Soviet times, but their reasons for doing so may not be exactly the same as the ones Vladimir Putin might wish for. Indeed, Belarusian blogger Maksim Mirovich says, some of them are very much at odds with what their leaders would like them to focus on.

            In a post yesterday, he lists what he calls five “basic arguments why people so much like the USSR and don’t like their present-day countries,” all based on the believe that they in fact “really live worse” now than in the Soviet past (maxim-nm.livejournal.com/357466.html; reposted at charter97.org/ru/news/2017/9/22/263673/).

            These are:

1.      “The poor quality of today’s products,” especially foodstuffs.

2.      “The sad situation with work in company towns.”

3.      “Bad roads.”

4.      “The loss of status of [formerly] ‘honored professions’” like teaching.

5.      And “hatred for the rich.”

The last is especially important. In Soviet times, the communist authorities encouraged people to have a negative view of anyone with money; and many Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians have not adapted to the shift in values their leaders promote to the notion that gaining wealth is a positive thing. 
But what is striking about Mirovich’s list is less what is on it than what is not.  Based on the comments of people to his blog posts, he finds little of the nostalgia for the past based on the idea that the Soviet Union was a great power, feared if not always respected by others, while Russia and even more her two Slavic neighbors are far less so.
While the Belarusian blogger’s list is hardly conclusion, it is a useful reminder that not all nostalgia is for what Vladimir Putin or other leaders might like to see brought back and that some of what powers that positive view of the past involves values that may even threaten those in power now. 

A Peril for Putin: Bomb Scares in Russia Show No Sign of Letting Up, Officials Say



Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 22 – Over the last 12 days, 400,000 Russians have been evacuated from approximately 1,000 facilities in 80 cities after anonymous callers had warned that bombs were set to go off in them.  Officials, who so far haven’t identified let alone arrested those responsible, say there are no signs the bomb scares are letting up (tass.ru/proisshestviya/4583551).

            The central government media have devoted relatively little attention to this wave, although a Duma committee is considering tougher penalties for what has now come to be known as “telephone terrorism” and the Kremlin has been forced today to say that it is too early to say anything about what is going on (fedpress.ru/news/77/policy/1861027).

            What makes this such a big and serious problem as the emergency services minister said (themoscowtimes.com/news/the-mass-evacuations-in-numbers-59017) is that the authorities have little choice but to evacuate buildings if they receive warnings and that whoever started the calls, others may join in a kind of copycat crime. 

            Consequently, even if the authorities do identify one or another of the callers or those behind that individual or group, others are likely to make use of the same tactic, against which at least for the time being the Russian authorities appear powerless to stop, however much economic damage these evacuations may cause.

            But far more significant than any economic costs, of course, are the political ones. Vladimir Putin has sold himself to the Russian people as a guarantor of order, as someone who ended the “lawless 1990s.” If Russians conclude that he is no longer able to do that, they may conclude that their version of “the mandate of heaven” has passed from him. 

            And that in turn suggests that some opponents of Putin and his regime may continue to make such calls, even if the risks of engaging in “telephone terrorism” are increased, as Russia edges closer to the presidential elections early next year and enters a new and more complicated political season.    

Poklonskaya is the Nina Andreyeva of Today, Ikhlov Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 22 – On March 13, 1988, a previously unknown chemistry teacher named Nina Andreyeva published in Sovetskaya Rossiya – or at least it was published over her name – an attack on Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika under the title “I cannot give up my principles.”

            Because of Gorbachev’s absence at that moment, it was distributed by the Soviet news agency and published in most newspapers in the USSR, an indication that it represented an important point of view supported by many in the Kremlin rather than simply the opinion of one chemistry instructor.

            Andreyeva’s article, Yevgeny Ikhlov notes in a commentary yesterday, called into question the efforts of Gorbachev and Aleksandr Yakovlev to make use of Lenin to push aside Stalin and thereby open the way for what they hoped would be a renewal of socialism (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=59C3DF31C982C).

                According to the Moscow commentator, “Andreyeva destroyed the ideological consensus around ‘the renewal of socialism’ in exactly the same way that the Kornilov attack destroyed the unity of the ‘February’ revolutionaries” in 1917.  But it did far more than that, and its broader impact is why it is worth recalling now. 

            “The split of the perestroika people gave the opportunity to radicals (crypto-anti-communists) legally to create their own extra-party social-political movements, ‘peoples fronts in defense of perestroika,’ in the first instance in the Baltic republics,” with all the follow on from that, Ikhlov says.

            Moreover, Andreyeva’s article provided the occasion for a Politburo declaration in Pravda on April 5, 1988, entitled “Principles of Perestroika: Revolutionary Thought and Actions,” that laid down more clearly than anything up to then exactly where Gorbachev and his team hoped to take the USSR.

            Today, Ikhlov continues, a similar situation has emerged.  Duma Deputy Natalya Poklonskaya has called into question yet another “’perestroika’ but already a ‘monarchical’ one.” The Putin regime wants to promote a return to traditionalist values including many taken from the Russian monarchy.

            To that end, it has promoted articles, books, television programs, and films about various Russian leaders from the beginning through 1917.  But to make a film about the last tsar which paints him in an entirely positive light is impossible not only because of the historical record but because he was overthrown by the Bolsheviks among whose heirs Putin sees himself.

            But “happily” someone recalled that there was the story of the romance between the future Nicholas II and the ballerina Mathilda Kshesinskaya, and someone decided that would make the perfect subject for a popular film that would offer the image of “monarchism with a human face.”

            What the present-day “’engineers of political souls’ did not expect” was how the Russian people would react to a portrayal of a tsar (or in this case future tsar) as a human being because in the very archaic world that the Putin regime has promoted, Russians want their rulers to be not human but more than human.

            As a result, yet another “clever plan of the rulers to stupefy the population” failed, and it failed because Poklonskaya spoke to what the popular masses wanted and believed rather than what the Kremlin hoped they would want and believe. The regime has thus put itself in a difficult position.

What remains to be seen is whether it will lead to the formation of genuinely competing groups, as Andreyeva’s article did, and threaten those behind “Mathilda” as much as the Soviet chemistry teacher’s did those behind perestroika.