poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

June 9, 2013

It’s Pretty Fucking Good, Actually.

Behold! In which write a post appealling to my lefty activist, bibliophile and Russophile readers all at once! I don’t even know who the rest of you are or what you want from me.

A while back, before May came trampling through my life like Renfield on meth, Keith Gessen of n+1 (“Uh. Is this Masha’s brother?” I asked friends) contacted me to promote a book he had recently published. Or edited. Or translated. Or something. He wanted to send me a copy of Kirill Medvedev’s It’s No Good. I said OK. For future reference, you don’t need to ask. Just put your brilliant books in the mail addressed to me, ok people? (I’m talking to you Dalkey Archive.) Shit folks do without even asking first, and you want to politely inquire if I would mind a free copy of your Russian activist’s poetry book? What the hell is wrong with people…?

I read it, devoured it, as if it were the sweat off a lover’s neck in the throes of passion. I did not actually eat it. Although I am hungry… (Please contribute to my fundraising page! Before I am forced to eat my own books!) But at some point I realized I’d underlined, starred or scribbled, “Yes!!!” on each of the last five pages. So, mutilated forever if not devoured.

I suppose you’ll want me to tell you something about it, even though I know you can use Google. Author: Russian, male, about my age, about my political sensibilities, intelligent, poet, activist, I think he’s in a rock band. I’d date him. Book: Poems, manifestos, essays of the current state of the Russian intelligentsia and reflections upon ethical and aesthetic responsibility in this crazy world. I’d recommend it.

As a race, but specifically as Americans, and especially as Gen-Xers who went to poetry readings in coffee shops in our Midwestern college towns, we have collectively been exposed to criminal amounts of BAD POETRY. We need support groups. Fortunately, the Russian literary tradition has higher standards for the art form than Cafe Ennui. Comparing the two is like comparing the Mariinsky’s Swan Lake with your niece’s dance recital. The latter is supporting the arts, the former having your life changed by art. Kirill’s poems aren’t the kind you’ll read out of obligation to convince yourselves you are still capable of doing that kind of thing. You won’t think, “Oh my god, TMI. I am not your therapist,” or, “You like the mountains, we get it.” Nothing about these poems will make you think they were written in a workshop in upstate anywhere. I promise. Example:

“BIG RUBBER COCK”

I saw it every day on the way to school.
I know that’s not the best way
to start a poem,
but there’s nothing I can do about my memories,
I can’t take the rubber cock out of my mind and replace it
with, say, a New Year’s tree.
I saw big rubber cocks every day on the way to school—
you could do anything back then—
it was 1991—
and sometimes best friends
buddy-buddy, as the Americans say,
even gave them to each other
as presents
simultaneously
by coincidence,
and it wasn’t even a joke
it was natural
a downpayment on eternity
a symbol of one’s success and prowess
eternal prowess,
the authorities
couldn’t get a grip
on the situation,
they didn’t know what to do
about the rubber cocks,
the fairly large rubber cocks,
they hadn’t learned to concentrate them in one place,
these cocks were everywhere,
they weren’t even manufactured here,
they were imported from America,
which didn’t know their true value,
no one knew their value,
in fact no one knew the value of anything,
we all lived like poets—and a poetic fate smelling of resin
(the Russian resina means rubber, that is, synthetic resin,
but there is also in English rOsin, hard resin, kanifol in Russian,
but in English like a rose
it’s a coincidence—rubber rose amber resin rosin)
so this smelly sticky mixture
connected us through the centuries
everything spoken seen and lived
and you can hear the buzz of every murdered nerve ending
every glass of wine from eight years ago
could end up making you vomit
for a very long time—
the imagination is active,
as if a play is on the stage,
and the wine is poured,
your mind is working,
your cigarettes are burning,
your mind is relaxing,
your eyes are narrowing,
the tension is rising
the authorities are rats
but how many more times
will we say about our homeland
our innocent and gentle
if sometimes cruel but in the end beloved homeland:

THIS FUCKING COUNTRY.

I’m not a fan of shock value poems, which mostly seem admissions of having run out of interesting ideas or being only 14 years old. But this works because it’s the author and his whole country, not the reader, on the receiving end. Most of you kids are smart enough to get the 1991 double-entendre here, no? If not, go read Naomi Klein. After you finish this.

Another poem I quite liked for no important reason is about why children don’t fear death:

they think
they’re going to die
as absolutely different people;
I think they think
that by the time they’re old enough
to die
everything about them will have changed,
and so it’s as it this won’t be
them dying

And this, which sounds whiny until the last line that punches a small breath out of you:

here’s what I wanted to say:
sometimes the lack of human interaction can make a person
physically ill
but sometimes human interaction is even worse than that
and since all is not lost yet
since some people still believe in us
and because some still consider us the voice of our generation
(and because we are, in the end, still standing)
I would like once more to emphasize that:
we are lonely
very few people believe in us
we are reluctant to show our poems
to our parents, to our close friends, to our acquaintances
no one believes in us
after a good day at work
no one will go have a beer with us
no one will teach us loneliness

My one quibble with his poems is that many remind one more than a little bit of Ginsberg and Whitman, with his “voice of our generation” and “pleasant evening cities,” and his

COME COME TO ME
BEFORE AN UNSPEAKABLE FORCE
TEARS US FROM OUR WORLDS
AND REFUSES TO PUT US BACK AGAIN
BEFORE WE’VE BEEN PUSHED INTO THE GUTTERS
OF PATHS NO ONE USES

with his combination of brash, raw intensity, playful pornography and angelic posture. But Kirill Medvedev is an astute observer of his fellow humans and a skilled writer, so I won’t protest if he’s claiming his place in this tradition. After all, Ginsberg wrote in homage to Whitman, and no one’s complaining. Still, one wonders if there is anything new under the sun. I don’t know enough about poetry to say K.M. is not innovative, but I have read enough to say it feels familiar. Familiar, yes, but very engaging. There is streak of madness to his method. These are not lyrical verse intended to provoke quiet individual reflection, but often calls to arms, implicit or explicit, to put aside our books and reverie for a minute and go live out there in the messy, insane, unnecessarily horrible world which you and I and he are a part of whether we like it or not. He can protest in front of theaters all he wants (he did that, writes about it… and yes, all writing about activism is ultimately embarrassing) but there are “actions” in his poems, in their will to live.

Which is aesthetically and ideologically consistent with the second part of It’s No Good, a collection of essays on contemporary intellectual life and political responsibility and activism, permeated with palpable frustration, warning against complacency and intellectual traditions that have outlived their usefulness. We’ve all been there, amirite?

His essays read like journal entries, are terribly accessible and the book contains a glossary of names which was helpful even to me. Some of the essays get a bit niche, though should be of interest to those of us who think the inner-workings of the Russian intelligentsia make those of the FSB seem as transparent as cellophane, or who are still obsessed with Eddie Limonov. I will always be obsessed with Limonov. I suspect Eddie Limonov gave me a psychological STD or something. And that you will get it from reading this blog, and that is how insanity perpetuates its existence.

What was I saying? Oh. Psychological STDs aside, Kirill Medvedev’s writings on the contemporary political environment in Russia come complete with a diagnosis of what is killing the liberal reformers, progressives, lefties, etc., how they got sick, and what needs to be done to cure them and restore health to Russia’s avant-garde. And he does so in a really History 101 way that I think even those with little or no familiarity with Russian intellectual history will find comprehensible. Largely because the Cliff’s Notes version of his politics is, “Communism? Socialism? Dissidents? Liberasl? Look, it’s the 21st Century and things have changed and we have to live our own lives in a way that mean something and make sense RIGHT NOW.” There is even a risk that much of it may not be profound news to anyone who has been paying attention to Russia for the past 20+ years. But it will certainly be savoured with great hedonistic gratification by anyone who is bloody fucking sick of writing blog posts on those infuriating, incompetent Russian liberals.

On which he muses:

Please don’t talk to me about your “historical experience” of Soviet oppression: it’s not your experience, it’s the experience of Mayakovsky (a Bolshevik), of Shalamov (a Trotskyist), of Mandelstam (a Socialist Revolutionary), of others.

Aka, not you mewing contemporary neoliberals trying to co-opt the plights of dead leftists. He also argues that the success of far-right intellectuals such as Dugin come from the fact that their ideas feel radical and “alive”,

“… in sharp visceral contrast to the liberal paradigm, where anything dangerous or incomprehensible or even interesting either could not exist at all or could exist only formally, not as itself but rather as an example of the liberalism and tolerance of the liberals.”

Can I get an Amen? It’s No Good is a breath of fresh air for those of us who have been blogging about Russian politics and culture in response to the too oft neoconish newsmedia in America and Britain whose Cold War framing of events prompt us to wonder if they would not in fact be happier if gulags were brought back, as their world does not seem to make sense without them. WaPo or BBC experts routinely take generic, meaningless topics like “clash of civilizations” or “liberal opposition” and speak of them as if only through their specialized analysis may we ever hope to glean what It All Means, turning vague ideas into a niche specialization for which they may be handsomely rewarded. Kirill Medvedev dumps all that nonsense on its head, does the opposite, taking niche interests, the Russian intellectual infighting or something, and with a bit of common fucking sense (this, from a poet!), shows them to be symptomatic of the global system affecting us all.

Are we not all living under neoliberal economic systems? Are we not all struggling to square our own ethics and need for meaning with the system we rely on for food and shelter and basic security? Are we not all looking at our elections thinking, this is no longer working, at our commercials thinking, what on earth is this shit?

Why aren’t more people writing like this?

And I think this is precisely why I think my American leftist friends can appreciate this book as much (perhaps more than, I suspect) as those kids out in Bolotnaya Square. There is, in I suppose the true left tradition, a universal/international perspective to his writing, focusing on individuals and systems rather than nationalities.

“… it seems to me that no matter how the world looked in 1989 or 1991 – and I know it looked different from how it looks today – we can all now admit that the notion of post-industrial capitalism as the best of all possible worlds is hardly the most progressive notion available.

… Should we stop writing poems? Go crazy from guilt? No. No. We just need to transform our picture of the world a little, and we can begin by ceasing to talk nonsense about the clash of civilizations.

Because otherwise you become an appendage of a system that allows you to take up whatever you want, develop whatever styles, discourses, and poetics you want, on the condition that you do not interfere with politics, with real life. And your “grown-up” credo (and, clearly, a reasonable and obedient member of the contemporary neoliberal system is first and foremost a GROWN-UP, as opposed to all those idealists, pseudo-rebels, and dreamers, who aren’t) will go like this: I am a humble man, my business is putting together words. As for everyone else, I think they should do what they want. And my ability to think this way is based in part on a gigantic military, and low electricity prices, and plenty of oil.

And this does not strike me as an idea befitting the glory of liberalism, which was once a progressive and salvational force in human history; and it does not strike me as an argument for individuation. This is society as an armed camp, as colonizer, as exploiter. It is an indication that liberal concepts have entered a period of exhaustion, when their proponents often find themselves trampling their own norms in the most cynical and vicious ways possible.

Because there are no private people, and there are no two (or three, or four) clashing civilizations. There is a united space in which people exist. And between those people, as between poetics, are the most varied connections, be they hidden or obvious.”

Or,

“You cannot criticize the Putin regime without assessing your own place in it, whether as critic or artist. You cannot criticize an authoritarian Russian democracy without also assessing the role of the United States and its allies, without mentioning the worldwide division of labor, without recognizing the extent to which the situation here is a continuation of a worldwide process. It’s necessary to understand the extent to which your own consciousness determines your social existence, forces you to accept as obvious one or another set of perspectives. “There is no freedom from politics”: this is the banal truth that one must now grasp anew. Political passivity also participates in history; it too is responsible.”

It seems rare that we should have the opportunity to read such words from a Russian, in English, outside collections of pre-Stalin communist manifestos. How refreshing. I don’t even see enough Americans writing like this, let alone people in horrible Putinist Russia where there is no freedom of speech, ahem. Our choices, regardless what shitty regime we’re managing to survive under, are too often limited to mind-numbing apathy or hysterical fear-mongering. For all K.M.’S antics, his views are impressively thoughtful and constructive.

So, well, that’s the book.

I’m not done. Remember this? Lost in Translation. I have devoted no small amount of my already negligible energy to bitching about the lack of contemporary Russian literature in translation published in America. And in the meantime Writings From an Unbound Europe has shut its doors. So a round of applause for n+1 and Ugly Duckling Press for even making books like this available to the public. Now it is on us to show that an audience exists for such endeavors. And if there isn’t one, I’m mad enough to believe that it’s on me to create one. Nobody ever got any stupider for reading Russian poetry. Let me re-post this:


“Because there are no private people, and there are no two (or three, or four) clashing civilizations. There is a united space in which people exist. And between those people, as between poetics, are the most varied connections, be they hidden or obvious.”

There are 7 billion people on this planet having valuable experiences and insights, and many are writing about them, and many of those people are not writing in English, and you don’t know *all* the languages. It is not simply geography, religion, socio-economic position that inform our experience, and create barriers between us, but language. Translation may be less than ideal solution to crossing that barrier and opening communication; it’s a precarious bridge, but a bridge nonetheless. Rarely do we cross such a bridge when our lives don’t become richer with nuance and possibility.

Do you not want a life richer with nuance and possibility? Are you already dead? Ok, then. Support you local publisher of books in translation!

Kirill Medvedev: It’s No Good: poems / essays / actions
Translator: Keith Gessen
Translator: Mark Krotov
Translator: Cory Merrill
Translator: Bela Shayevich
Co-published with Ugly Duckling Presse
Eastern European Poets Series #30
ISBN 978-1-933254-94-4

December 28, 2011

PoemlesskayaPropaganda, or, No! Not the Sexy Chechen, Vova!

Filed under: Politics: Russia — poemless @ 5:43 PM
Tags: , , ,

A Drama in Four Acts. With commentary by Vladislav Surkov.

“Hey, poemless. Can you believe he had the balls to fire me like that?!!”
“Well, I mean, we are talking about Vladimir Putin …”
“You mentioned you had a position open. Talk to me. This modernisation gig is going to bore the living fuck out of me.”
“Yes, the position of love slave remains unfilled. Actually, there are many positions, but we can discuss them in detail later.”

Hey wasn’t this supposed to be a blog about Russia?!

Eh, well I got depressed and then dated this psychotic Russian cab driver and then got depressed again. Then someone got on my facebook and was all like, “Please post more interesting stuff re: the evolving dynamic in Russia.” And then my therapist was handwringing and probing about my not writing, which stresses me out even more, which is pretty fucking convenient for him, right? And then Putin went and fired the sexy Chechen.

And that, my dear friends, is where my writer’s block, or rather, writer’s too depressed to give a shit, draws the line!

What follows is neither propaganda (unless I get a check from Slava, which I could totally use, and I’m willing to change my blog name to “SurkovskayaPropaganda” for one) nor much insight re: the evolving dynamic in Russia. You know, those protests and such. No, I have no idea what it all means. But that won’t stop me from pontificating! And I hope to be marginally more effective than Surkov. Oh, it’s too tragic…

N.B. If you’re some hipster who has recently joined my audience and are wondering what the hell I am talking about: Vladislav Surkov. (Former as of yesterday) Presidential Advisor and so-called chief ideologue/propagandist/ Grey Cardinal of the Kremlin. Also the ruling party’s campaign guy. Also a goth band lyricist, Tupac fan, novelist, drama school dropout and sexiest man alive – except his hands are kinda like Mr. Burns’. Someone recently accused a Russian TV station of being “surkovskaya propaganda,” and it became an Internet meme. Whatever that is. Ask the kids. Anyway. Brilliant flipping hipster politico who just got a mad demotion is what the hell I am talking about.

If you’re some hipster who has recently joined my audience, here is the Cliff’s Notes your dog will understand version of what’s going down. If you are one of those pissy Russia watcher types, well Christ, thanks for sticking around my blog! Seriously!!! I’m like the prodigal freaking son around here…

The Stage is Set

Russia held some legislative elections. Because it’s a democratic country like that. Russia has sep., direct elections for President, unlike the US (electoral college) or some European countries where the majority party in the parliament gets the Executive branch de facto. The elections were as free as can be expected in any Western democracy. Which is to say, if you could gather enough support you could get on the ballot, and if you could get off your ass you could vote, except in those annoying instances when you couldn’t. Fair? There have been countless reports of mischief: ballot stuffing, votes disappearing, people voting numerous times, and pressure to cast one’s vote for a certain party (which is rather subjective and ultimately not the same as election rigging. Democracy requires balls, folks.) Observations of vote-rigging were concentrated in Moscow, where the liberal (free-market) opposition is strongest, and the Caucasus, where, at least in Chechnya, they’ve basically made a Faustian deal with Moscow in which they can have their own little kingdom in exchange for giving the Russian government no problems. That includes turning out the vote. GOTV! Any of this sound familiar to all y’all in Chicago? Yeah, so like that. How much fraud? Depends whom you ask. I’m in the, “Oh, I have no idea, so like 7%ish” camp.

ACT I.

I don’t know why, but the Russian people actually voted with some expectation that the election would be fair. That their vote would count. Specifically, their vote against the ruling party. From my woefully under informed but magnificently intelligent perspective, I’d say that this issue of expectations does in fact mark a true paradigm shift in Russian politics. (<–Pay attention, that is important.) This shift has occurred particularly among the younger, urban generation, who experienced firsthand neither the farce of elections under Soviet Rule, nor the chaos and suffering brought by the social upheavals of the 1990′s, nor the political malaise and cynicism brought on by the ideological pissing match that defined late 20th century geopolitics. They’ve known “stability” most of their lives, and now they want more. Idealism is back. And the kids think it’s cool. Celebrate. Or read Russian history. Your choice.

Slava Surkov provides commentary on the elections:

(You’re going to have to wait for Act II.)

ACT II.

After the ballots are counted, even when we presume the results are rigged, United Russia, the ruling party (which Putin himself won’t even be a card-carrying member of) does incredibly poorly! Their showing is still better than everyone else’s, overall, but quite short of their own modest goals. In previous elections, conventional wisdom has held that while machinations (i.e. “managed democracy”) were used to ensure an overwhelming majority, had elections been perfectly fair (a concept I’ve yet to see defined, btw), the ruling party would still have won a safe majority. Here we have a situation where the party has not only failed to win a fair fight, but has failed to win by cheating. They are guilty of both unpopularity and incompetence. (N.B. Conventional wisdom also dictates that support for the party is not synonymous with support for Putin, whose popularity remains marginally stronger than that of the party of Crooks and Thieves, as United Russia has been dubbed, and a characterization which Putin has in the past not exactly argued with.) Meanwhile the Commies and Just Russia (who are either social democrats or Kremlin stooges, depending on your preferred conspiracy theory, though it is theoretically possible to be both) did nicely. So did the wackadoodle nationalists. Free-market ideologues didn’t make the cut. I haven’t seen anything to suggest that had the elections been squeaky clean that pro-business liberals would have garnered enough votes to have any impact on policy making. In sum, the election results, whether you look at the official tally or the exit polls, do not, in fact, suggest a widespread desire for radical change, or a Russian Spring, if you will. Just for more checks and balances and accountability. As one protest slogan goes, “I didn’t vote for those bastards. I voted for the other bastards.”

Slava Surkov provides commentary on the elections:

”The system is working,” Mr. Surkov told Sergei Minayev.

“United Russia has maintained its dominance with much more modest popularity figures,” he noted. “Attempts to shake up the situation and interpret it in a negative and provocative key are doomed,” he said. “Everything is under control.”

United Russia’s commanding majority in the last parliament – which will be replaced by just over half the seats in the new one – was “abnormal,” Mr. Surkov said. United Russia got 49.7% of the vote Sunday, down from 65% in the last elections in 2007.

“For a party that turned out to be in power during a deep global economic crisis, this is a good result,” he said. “Add to that the painful but necessary reforms of the (Interior Ministry) and army, plus the forced increase in taxes on business needed to preserve social benefits, then one can say this is a very good result.”

“And if we don’t forget about how much (President Dmitry) Medvedev and United Russia did to develop democracy and political competition….opportunities for manipulation were decisively cut off – I repeat, this is an outstanding result,” he said.

Monday, Western election observers condemned the election as not fair or free and rife with manipulations. Mr. Surkov dismissed allegations as “disrespectful” of the voters. “Violations happen but they don’t have any impact on the results because there simply aren’t many of them.”

Mr. Surkov said two things are still missing in the Russian political system.

First, “a mass liberal party, or more precisely, a party for the annoyed urban communities.” He said those voters are already incorporated into the system, though they may not want to admit it – “through opposition media that belong, strange as it may seem, to the state or structures affiliated with it, the staffs or audiences of which they are a part.”

“That’s of course not enough…they should be given parliamentary representation,” he said.

Second, he said, “Among Russian politicians, there aren’t enough people who respect the second law of thermodynamics….In vulgar terms, it says that in closed systems, disorder grows,” he said.

“The (power) vertical responds to breakdowns even more vertically, simply, more primitively. That’s a mistaken method. It leads to a more closed system and thus to more chaos.”

“As a result, for the system to preserve itself and develop, it needs to be opened up. New players need to be allowed in,” he said.

“We can’t allow ourselves to wind up in the situation of ‘solus rex’ – the lonely king,” he said.

“The period of cleaning up and nursing the damaged political system of the 90s is over,” he said. “So the modernization of the political system started in recent years by Medvedev and Putin should be continued.”

From: WSJ: “Kremlin’s Ideologist Weighs In on Elections, Thermodynamics” by Gregory L. White.

ACT III.

Thousands of Russians take to the streets in mass protests. A most peculiar development, if one compares the level of dissatisfaction with the results with the fact that the ruling party arguably has lost their monopoly on the system. Why are people protesting so?

Well, for one, it’s fun. Unlike the coups in the Middle East or the riots in Europe, these are impressively peaceful and free demonstrations. Hipsters, overpriveledged types, scary fringe nationalists, youths – a good cross section of society. Have you ever gone to a demonstration? Good times. Rightly or not, they give one a feeling of empowerment and ignite a little flame in one’s gut, feeding a belief that dialogue between leaders and proles is truly possible. You get on tv and the authorities get scared. It’s a real egotrip! And how cathartic to go into a public square and just fucking vent. If you did it alone, people would call you a lunatic. But when you do it with hundreds and thousands of others, suddenly the media wants to know what you have to say. Suddenly you matter. Suddenly they can’t ignore you anymore. I quite like a good protest. It’s the most enjoyable part of democracy. It also requires the least amount of effort, sacrifice and responsibility, after voting. And when else can hipsters revel in the validation of thousands of others agreeing with them without losing their cred? I’ve never understood why more people don’t do it, frankly.

On a more serious note, Russians who are protesting are protesting an electoral process which they have deemed to be unfair. There are numerous accusations and observations of fraud and various demands of the protesters, ranging from the sensible (like investigations) to the barking mad (like eliminating the ballot threshold.) Some Americans have asked if the protests in Russia are similar to the OWS protests. Yes and no. Yes, in that people feel that those in power have rigged the system for their personal gain, and in that it’s incredibly adhoc and disorganized as a “movement.” So in the most basic way, yes. No, in that many, many of the protesters are pro-privatization and free-market liberals, and in that it’s more about the political system than the economic system. In the most significant way, no. Some have asked if they are like the Arab Spring. I don’t think so. I also don’t underestimate mob mentality, that it would benefit some unsavory but powerful types, or have any indication that this is what the protesters desire. Time stamped 2:13 pm, December 28, 2012.

Slava Surkov provides commentary on the protests:

The system has already changed. This is a fait accompli. Look at the results of the elections to the Duma, the protest on Bolotnaya, the discussion on the internet, Putin’s public forum on the 15th, the president’s address.. all that remains is to formalize these changes judicially (implementing a law on the direct elections of governors and about simplifying the registration of parties) and technically (supplying polling stations with web cameras, electronic voting machines, etc.)

I think that with a few of these decisions some influential people will try to slow the process, but they won’t stop it altogether. The fundamental structures of society have shifted, the social fabric has acquired a new character. We’re already in the future. And this future is restless. But one shouldn’t be scared. The turbulence, although strong, nonetheless is not catastrophic but a form of stability. Everything will be fine.

[...]

There are those who want to concert the protest into a colored revolution – this is correct. They are acting literally according to Sharpe’s books* and the newest revolutionary methods. So literally, in fact, that it’s already boring. I’d like to advise these people that they should deviate just a little from these instructions, to dream a little bit.
But these swindlers** don’t have anything to do with it. The fact is that the protests are completely real and natural. The best part of our society, or, rather, the most productive part demands respect.

People are saying that we exist, we have meaning, we are the people. One cannot arrogantly dismiss their opinions. And it is correct that these opinions are taken into account, that the authorities have had a benevolent reaction. It proposed that direct elections of governors will resume, and that party registration will be practically untrammeled…to yield to the reasonable remands of the active part of society – this is not a reluctant maneuver on the part of the authorities, it is their obligation and constitutional duty.

Of course it is possible to say that those who have gone out on the streets are only a minority. If this is the case, what a minority! And if you examine the ruling majority – in reality this is also a minority, only a somewhat larger. Our current democracy in the conditions of a complicated and fragmented society – this is in general a democracy of minorities. If you think strategically, listening to the minorities you will find among them tomorrows leaders.

And, of course, a crowd can advance unreasonable demands and can sometimes be lead by provocateurs. But as concerns the provocateurs – there is the law, there is the obligation of the state to defend the bases of the constitutional order.

And there then arises a question: what are we defending? Who wants to wants to preserve corruption and injustice? Who wants to defend a system that has become deaf, dumb, and blind? No one! Even those, who appear part of this system don’t want to. Because they don’t feel justified.

The moral standing, which the state possessed until recently, must be, even if only partially, returned. And all those plans, proposed by the president, in this vein are correct. Political institutions that are modern, open, honest, intelligible to people, that will fight for them, preserve them, and defend them.

The most important thing now is to realize all of these intentions. And it may be that at the next meeting there will be fewer people, that the chatter over the internet will cool down, and that it will seem to someone that nothing needs to be done, that everyone got worked up over nothing. That, once again, everything magically disappeared. And once again they will drag out, slow down, and set aside reforms until a better time, as has already happened, or simply dilute them. But we’ll hope for the best – God willing, the streets will calm down and the reforms will take place.

* Gene Sharp is the author of, among other books, “From Dictatorship to Democracy”

** Surkov here (deliberately) uses the exact same word that Navalny used in describing United Russia

From: Izvestia via Forbes: Vladislav Surkov on the Post-Election Protests: “The System has Already Changed” (Translation by Mark Adomanis.)

“As a professional political operative who just took a blow at his own ‘managed’ polls, and as someone who started out with Khodorkovsky and became the Kremlin’s right hand man, it’s neither surprising nor entirely stupid that he’s showing more flexibility here.” (<–What I said right before he was axed.)

ACT IV.

Putin axed Surkov, widely seen to be the “architect” of his political system. Or reassigned him. Normally this type of rearranging the furniture is looked upon with boredom and, except by the most eggheaded Kremlinologists, as a real bone toss. But this is no “I think that chair would look better by the window” rearranging. Putin put the fucking oven in the spare bathroom. Only history will tell if it was a genius or insane move. My immediate reactions:

~ Oh, Merry fucking Christmas to Michael McFaul.

~ Many articles have described Surkov’s move from Presidential Advisor to deputy Prime Minister overseeing Modernization (wtf?) as “leaving politics and entering government.” Leaving politics to enter government. In what universe is Russia actually located anyway? That doesn’t even make sense. I mean, not in the universe I inhabit. Is this a quantum physics thing? Though, if anyone could manage, ahem, that kind of maneuvering, Surkov could. Hell, it sounds like just the kind of thing he’d say, doesn’t it. Snake. Hot snake.

~ Look, I am really only shocked it did not happen sooner. I expected that shoe to drop the day after the elections. Not because of the protests. No. Putin’s not scared of the hipsters. Because the ruling party flopped and the current system is being vocally questioned. As its “architect,” Surkov has to answer for that. Putin’s never made sentimental decisions, and Surkov knows damn well politics is business. That said, Putin also values loyalty, and the move to Vice Deputy PM of Modernization or whatever the fuck he’ll being doing leaves a door open for recognizing Surkov’s loyalty should he prove it and should it not be political suicide for Putin to do so. (<– Saying shit like that earned me the blogger cred I squandered this year.)

~ Surkov never should have made that "Solus Rex" remark. You don't want to get on your boss's bad side. Especially if your boss is Vladimir Putin. And you just lost some elections.

~ Vova's done a lot of fearless stunts, but this is his most impressive to date. You don't want to get on the devil's bad side. Especially if he's your strategy man. And thousands are protesting outside your office.

~ Wait, I am soooo confused. Medvedev is still President for the moment, technically, and Putin is still technically PM, and Slava's been moved to Putin's sphere, oh, I give up…

~ I guess this frees him up to be my love slave.

Slava Surkov provides commentary on his demotion:

Asked by a journalist from Interfax on Tuesday why he was leaving, Mr. Surkov first answered, “Stabilization devours its own children.”

Then he laughed, and said he had overstayed the job and had requested a reassignment. Asked whether he would take a role in settling down the protests, Mr. Surkov said no.

“I am too odious for this brave new world,” he said. He then summed up his achievements at the reporter’s request.

“I was among the people who helped President Yeltsin realize a peaceful transfer of power,” he said. “I was among those who helped President Putin stabilize the political system. I was among those who helped President Medvedev liberalize it.” He added, “I hope I did not undermine my employers and my colleagues.”

From: NYT: “Architect of Russia’s Political System Under Putin Is Reassigned” by Ellen Barry.

Many are calling this an end of the Power Vertical (unfortunately I believe they are referring to the Kremlin’s strategy and not the wretched website.) It saddens me. One day people will wake up and realize they are all bastards, and if one must have bastards, bastards with intelligence, actual knowledge of and interest in political science and a healthy dose of sass and courage are the kinds of bastards you want. The truth is all democracies are managed. The hipsters just want their turn at managing it. Fair enough. Seriously, just do not even pick up that Russian history book! Pretend it doesn’t exist! … No, to be honest, it’s one thing I do truly love and admire about Russia. It is a politically fearless and resilient country. And there is no stopping today’s sons from becoming tomorrow’s fathers.

CODA.

Whoa! If you think that was heavy handed, I present to you Guy Faulconbridge’s write up, in full, just because I like the guy so much!

Reuters: “Putin ejects Kremlin ‘puppet master’ after protests” by Guy Faulconbridge.

MOSCOW Dec 27 (Reuters) – The architect of Vladimir Putin’s tightly controlled political system became one of its most senior victims on Tuesday when he was shunted out of the Kremlin in the wake of the biggest opposition protests of Putin’s 12-year rule.

The sacrifice of Vladislav Surkov, branded the Kremlin’s ‘puppet master’ by enemies and friends alike, is also a rare admission of failure for Russia’s ‘alpha dog’ leader: Surkov’s system was Putin’s system.

With irony worthy of Surkov’s cynical novels, the Kremlin’s 47-year-old political mastermind was shown grinning on state television when told by President Dmitry Medvedev that he would oversee modernisation as a deputy prime minister.

When asked why he was leaving the Kremlin, Surkov deliberately misquoted a slogan from the French Revolution, saying: “Stabilisation is eating up its children.”

Almost in passing, Surkov told Interfax news agency he would not be running domestic politics after nearly 13 years doing exactly that from the corridors of the Kremlin.

Why? “I am too notorious for the brave new world.”

His post will be taken by Putin’s chief of staff and Surkov’s arch enemy, Vyacheslav Volodin, a wealthy former lawyer who hails from Putin’s ruling United Russia party. Anton Vaino, a 39-year-old former diplomat, becomes Putin’s chief of staff.

By ejecting Surkov from the Kremlin just two months before the presidential election, Putin is betting that he can neutralise some of the anger against his rule by projecting the impression of a brave new world of political reform.

“What happened today is nothing more than shuffling people from one office into another,” Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia’s third richest man who demanded Surkov be sacked in September, said through a spokesman. “Little will change from these shifts.”

Though Surkov’s exit may not usher in a vast political change, it is the end of an era for one of Putin’s most powerful aides. And at Putin’s court, personalities count for everything.

PUTIN’S ARTIST

Described as Russia’s answer to France’s Cardinal Richelieu or a modern-day Machiavelli, Surkov was one of the creators of the system Putin crafted since he rose to power in 1999.

To admirers, “Slava” Surkov is the most flamboyant mind in Putin’s court: a writer of fiction who recited poets such as Allen Ginsberg but also strong enough to hold his own against the KGB spies and oligarchs in the infighting of the Kremlin.

To enemies, Surkov is a dangerous artist who used his brains to expand Putin’s power and whose intellectual snobbery made Russian citizens beads in a grand political experiment called “Vladimir Putin.”

Fond of black ties and sometimes unshaven, Surkov survived many turf wars but he could not survive the biggest protests of Putin’s rule or Putin’s need to find someone to blame for them.

As the manager of United Russia, the Kremlin’s point man on elections and ultimately the day-to-day manager of Putin’s political system, Surkov bore direct responsibility for the protests which have pitted Russia’s urban youth against Putin.

He did not answer requests for comment.

Brought into the Kremlin under Boris Yeltsin in 1999 to serve as an aide to then chief of staff Alexander Voloshin, Surkov helped ease the handover of power to Putin.

He then worked with Putin and then President Medvedev to consolidate power, repeatedly using the spectre of the chaotic 1990s to warn against swift change.

PUTIN’S SYSTEM

In practise, Surkov’s rule meant centralising power in Putin’s hands: Surkov moved regional decision-making to the Kremlin, struck down any attempt at autonomy and directed party politics.

Such was his power that Russia’s top party officials, journalists and cultural leaders would visit him in the Kremlin for ‘direction’ on how to present events to the public.

“He is considered one of the architects of the system,” Putin’s former finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, told Kommersant FM radio.

“Now this system is being revised. New organisers are needed with different views on the political system,” said Kudrin, who has offered to lead dialogue between the opposition and the authorities.

Signs of trouble for Surkov appeared in May when Volodin -the man who eventually took his job – helped Putin create a new movement, or popular front, that would compete with the United Russia party for Putin’s patronage.

Volodin, a dollar millionaire fond of ducking reporters questions with irony or personal needling, presented the popular front to Putin as a way to revive the ruling party.

Volodin’s stock rose after securing 65 percent of the vote for Putin’s party in Saratov, a region where he was born.

Then in September, the main scriptwriter of Russian politics became the focus of an intriguing unscripted conflict with Prokhorov – the whizz kid of Russian finance – over the fate of a minor opposition party which was crippled by the Kremlin.

“There is a puppet master in this country who long ago privatised the political system and has for a long time misinformed the leadership of the country,” Prokhorov, whose fortune Forbes put at $18 billion, said at the time.

“His name is Vladislav Yuryevich Surkov,” said Prokhorov, who demanded Putin sack Surkov. Putin had to personally calm down the two sides in the row, two sources said.

But after mass protests in major Russian cities against the parliamentary election and against Putin himself, Surkov’s analysis differed to that of his boss.

Putin has dismissed the protesters as chattering monkeys or a motley crew of leaderless opponents bent on sowing chaos, but Surkov gave a more refined view: he said they were among the best people in Russian society.

“You cannot simply swipe away their opinions in an arrogant way,” said Surkov, who will now have to move his portrait of Argentine-born revolutionary Che Guevara from his Kremlin office.

All you lousy journalists can write your silly Surkov hagiographies. I was doing that years ago, before it was even cool!

Maybe I should join that hipster revolution.

October 6, 2011

LQD: “Why the pessimism over Putin’s return?”

Fear not – I’m still paying attention to our Vova. While I’ve been making a pathetic effort to compose a response to the recent 2012 Russian election developments, those smart kids Katrina and Stephen have gone and written pretty much what I’ve been thinking, saving me much time and effort. As always, if anyone has a problem with my publishing this in total, they can get in touch. I’m erring on the side of widest distribution. Go buy a Wa Po after you read this or something.

Washington Post: “Why the pessimism over Putin’s return?” By Katrina vanden Heuvel and Stephen F. Cohen

We make no brief for Vladimir Putin as a democrat, but much of the U.S. commentary following the announcement that he will return to the Kremlin as president in 2012 is simplistic morality posing as political analysis.

A Sept. 28 New York Times editorial, for example, insisted that Putin, who “has made clear his disdain for democratic rights,” is casting out the “more liberal and Western-oriented” Dmitry Medvedev. According to a Sept. 26 Post editorial, “Vladimir Putin decided that he would like to be president again, and so he will be.”

But the complexities of Russian politics cannot be reduced to the whims of one man — however powerful he may be. As was clear from polemics in Russian newspapers before the Sept. 24 announcement, Putin’s return to the Kremlin is prompted in part by the preferences of Russia’s ruling class — top officials and the financial elite known as the oligarchy. As the leading pro-Medvedev advocate, Igor Yurgens, acknowledged, “influence groups” favoring Putin “turned out to be ­stronger.” In their eyes, and probably in Putin’s, the ever-tweeting Medvedev was never able to shed his image as an ineffectual political figure. In effect, Medvedev failed his four-year audition for a second term.

The Russian elite, including the Putin and Medvedev camps, seems to understand that the country’s economy urgently requires diversification away from its heavy dependence on oil and gas exports. The state must find other sources of revenue for its growing budget. As Putin warned recently, such reforms will require “bitter medicine,” including higher taxes on the business class, which has prospered grandly under a 13 percent flat tax while many Russians have fallen into poverty. The governing class, eyeing its own interests, wants the tougher and popular Putin to preside over these changes.

It may turn out, as some U.S. commentators have asserted, that Putin’s return is “bad news for the Russian people.” But opinion polls show that, after more than a decade of Putin’s leadership, a majority of Russians still do not associate him with the country’s “bad news.” The reason is clear to anyone who has followed Russia since the end of the Soviet Union: It was Putin who restored pensions, lifted wages and elevated living standards after the traumatic 1990s, when Boris Yeltsin’s policies impoverished the country.

And what about President Obama’s highly touted “reset”? The Russian expert at the Center for American Progress asserts that “Putin’s return next year will reverse all of these positive trends” and “is no good for the United States.” This may be so in the limited sense that the Obama administration unwisely based its reset primarily on Medvedev — while directing gratuitous insults at Putin, such as when Vice President Biden told groups of Russians during his visit to Moscow this year that Putin should not return to the presidency. But the larger assumption that Putin’s return will mean a further diminishing of Russia’s democratic prospects is based on the false premise that Yeltsin, like Medvedev today, was a liberal democrat.

But it was the U.S.-backed Yeltsin who used tanks in 1993 to destroy an elected parliament, thereby reversing the democratization of Russia that began under Mikhail Gorbachev, a reversal accelerated under Putin. And while Medvedev has spoken often in the idioms of Western-style liberalism, it was Medvedev who took personal credit for using military force against Georgia in 2008 and then increasing military spending so sharply that his widely admired finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, resigned last month. Moreover, if Putin is determined to pursue retrograde policies, why would he promise to appoint the “more liberal” Medvedev as prime minister — an office Putin empowered during the past four years?

Indeed, given the real alternatives, and not those that Americans might prefer, why the assumption that Putin’s return to the Kremlin will be bad for Western interests? For example, the New York Times reported Sept. 28 that Western bankers and corporations welcomed the announcement as “a net positive for foreign investors.” It’s also noteworthy that from 2000 to 2008, when Putin was president, he made more important concessions to Washington than Medvedev has during the past four years — giving the Bush administration critical support in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks; bowing to a new round of NATO expansion; swallowing the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; and agreeing to an expansion of Russian supply routes for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Those days of a yielding Putin, however, may be behind us. He said as early as 2002 that “the era of Russian geopolitical concessions [is] coming to an end.” What’s clear is that Putin’s future cooperation with Washington will depend on his understanding of Russia’s national interests and equally on Washington’s cooperation with Moscow, which, despite Obama’s heralded “reset,” has not yet involved any tangible American concessions.

Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor and publisher of the Nation and writes a weekly online column for The Post. Stephen F. Cohen is a professor of Russian studies at New York University and the author, most recently, of “Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives.”

What they said.

March 21, 2011

War

Filed under: Politics: Russia,Politics: U.S. — poemless @ 3:24 PM
Tags: , ,

I am extremely angry about the war with Libya. Perhaps I am a peacenik and am simply opposed to all war, but I am also worried about the state of my own country and wondering how on earth we can afford this when we, ostensibly, cannot afford to pay for the education, healthcare, retirement and enlightenment of our own citizens. I can be a selfish person too. The bombing breaks my heart, makes me so sick that after turning on, and immediately off, the CREEPTASTIC American news this morning, I did yoga. I usually never am able to do yoga in the morning, but I needed some type of psychic shower after about 5 minutes of CBS. I felt that rage bubbling up inside me, the same rage I felt about the Iraq war, same helplessness and frustration and moral disgust. It is true, I am morally disgusted by just about everything these days. I don’t know how much more I can handle, so I am making an effort not to pay close attention to what is going on, which would normally be impossible for a news fiend like myself, but depression-induced apathy appears to be an asset at the moment.

However, I have found a few articles of note. Articles my regular readers have probably already seen a dozen times, so no breaking news here. Just gobs of interestingness.

Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy has been hammering out one gem after another:

I. How Obama turned on a dime toward war.

Or, why the FUCK is President Obama acting on the advice of his notoriously bone-headed Russia advisor and not that of Congress or the Department of Defense when choosing whether or not to bomb Libya?

“This is the greatest opportunity to realign our interests and our values,” a senior administration official said at the meeting, telling the experts this sentence came from Obama himself. The president was referring to the broader change going on in the Middle East and the need to rebalance U.S. foreign policy toward a greater focus on democracy and human rights.

But Obama’s stance in Libya differs significantly from his strategy regarding the other Arab revolutions. In Egypt and Tunisia, Obama chose to rebalance the American stance gradually backing away from support for President Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and allowing the popular movements to run their course. In Yemen and Bahrain, where the uprisings have turned violent, Obama has not even uttered a word in support of armed intervention – instead pressing those regimes to embrace reform on their own. But in deciding to attack Libya, Obama has charted an entirely new strategy, relying on U.S. hard power and the use of force to influence the outcome of Arab events.

“In the case of Libya, they just threw out their playbook,” said Steve Clemons, the foreign policy chief at the New America Foundation. “The fact that Obama pivoted on a dime shows that the White House is flying without a strategy and that we have a reactive presidency right now and not a strategic one.”

Inside the administration, senior officials were lined up on both sides. Pushing for military intervention was a group of NSC staffers including Samantha Power, NSC senior director for multilateral engagement; Gayle Smith, NSC senior director for global development; and Mike McFaul, NSC senior director for Russia.

I am beginning to wonder if every bad foreign policy decision made by Obama might be traced back to Mike. Or is it just coincidence?

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also said on Thursday that the justification for the use of force was based on humanitarian grounds, and referred to the principle known as Responsibility to Protect (R2P), “a new international security and human rights norm to address the international community’s failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

“Resolution 1973 affirms, clearly and unequivocally, the international community’s determination to fulfill its responsibility to protect civilians from violence perpetrated upon them by their own government,” he said.

Inside the NSC, Power, Smith, and McFaul have been trying to figure out how the administration could implement R2P and what doing so would require of the White House going forward. Donilon and McDonough are charged with keeping America’s core national interests more in mind. Obama ultimately sided with Clinton and those pushing R2P — over the objections of Donilon and Gates.

II. Inside the White House-Congress meeting on Libya (also by Rogin)

President Barack Obama hosted 18 senior lawmakers at the White House on Friday afternoon to “consult” with them about the new plan to intervene in Libya, exactly 90 minutes before Obama announced that plan to the world and one day after his administration successfully pushed for authorization of military force at the United Nations.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) complained on Thursday that the administration had not properly consulted Congress before deciding to support military intervention in Libya, and called for a formal declaration of war by Congress before military action is taken. Inside the White House meeting, several lawmakers had questions about the mission but only Lugar outwardly expressed clear opposition to the intervention, one lawmaker inside the meeting told The Cable. [...]

Rogers, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, also told The Cable in an exclusive interview on Friday that the White House clearly emphasized the U.S. role would be limited.

“We are going to play a very supportive role. France and Great Britain and others are going to lead the way along with our Arab League allies; there may be four or five Arab countries participating,” he said.

Rogers said that the administration had been in contact with lawmakers and had kept him up to date, but the communications had been mostly one way.

“I wouldn’t call it consultation as much as laying it out,” he said.

Oh look, there is a Dick Lugar being sensible again. At this point if he ran for President I might even vote Republican. Not that I can see any discernible difference between the Democrats’ and Republicans’ foreign policy strategy. Or any strategy at all, to be honest.

This last article from the Moscow Times is in response to a question recently posed to me by an Inforum reader wanting to know why I liked that Prime Minister Putin fellow so damned much:

III. West in ‘Medieval Crusade’ in Libya, Putin Says

VOTKINSK, Udmurtia Republic – Prime Minister Vladimir Putin likened the call for armed intervention in Libya to the medieval crusades on Monday in the first major remarks from Russia since a Western coalition began airstrikes.

In some of his harshest criticism of the United States since President Barack Obama began a campaign to improve ties, Putin also compared the intervention to the George W. Bush-era invasion of Iraq and said it showed Russia is right to boost its military.

Putin, whose country opted not to block the UN resolution last week leading to the strikes, said that Moammar Gadhafi’s government was undemocratic but emphasized that did not justify military intervention.

“The resolution is defective and flawed. It allows everything,” Putin told workers at a ballistic missile factory in the city of Votkinsk. “It resembles medieval calls for crusades.”

Russia, a veto-wielding permanent UN Security Council member, abstained from the vote on Thursday in which the council authorized a no-fly zone over Libya and “all necessary measures” to protect civilians against Gadhafi’s forces.

“What troubles me is not the fact of military intervention itself — I am concerned by the ease with which decisions to use force are taken in international affairs,” Putin said. “This is becoming a persistent tendency in U.S. policy.

“During the Clinton era they bombed Belgrade, Bush sent forces into Afghanistan, then under an invented, false pretext they sent forces into Iraq, liquidated the entire Iraqi leadership — even children in Saddam Hussein’s family died.

“Now it is Libya’s turn, under the pretext of protecting the peaceful population,” Putin said. “But in bomb strikes it is precisely the civilian population that gets killed. Where is the logic and the conscience?” [...]

“The Libyan regime does not meet any of the criteria of a democratic state but that does not mean that someone is allowed to interfere in internal political conflicts to defend one of the sides,” Putin said.

U.S.-Russian relations have improved in the past two years under Obama’s “reset,” capped by the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty that took effect last month.

During that period, Putin toned down the anti-Western rhetoric he often employed as president.

Apparently Dima and Vova are in quite a little row about this now… You might say he’s simply covering his ass in reference to Chechnya. You might be right. But in this case acting in his self interest and being bloody right as hell in his assessment of the situation do not appear to be mutually exclusive possibilities. Medvedev may be trying to be a team player with the West, but the world will always need people unafraid to call it like they see it, even if it means losing friends, or rather, realizing that foreign policy has nothing to do with being friends. This isn’t middle school, people.

January 25, 2011

Odds and Ends: Throwing links overboard from the ship of bookmarks Edition.

Contents: Mercurial Surkov; Lenin’s gravediggers; “Top Thinkers,” revisited; The American Spite-Bloc; leaked photos and much, much more!

It’s like a document dump, except I practice safe sex.

I. Featured.

Dugin’s deconstruction of Surkov (and Surkov’s decomposition of Lenin.)

Александр Дугин: “Деконструкция Владислава Суркова.”

I was so taken with this article that I added Aleksandr Dugin as a facebook friend (he’s just just added Pig Latin to his languages.) Inspired by two essays Surkov has recently published in art magazines, Dugin… That’s right – Slava’s new hobbie is art criticism! What’s next? Such a Renaissance man! Anyway, Dugin is less interested in Slava’s artworld bona fides than his stubborn unwillingness to take a final position on anything. Dugin suggests the “mercurial” Surkov is the epitome of Russian society itself:

Парадоксы высокопоставленного археомодерниста

В значительной степени, Сурков и есть проявление того, что можно назвать археомодерном. В нем есть стремление уйти от архаики, но не порвать с ней окончательно. Встать на сторону модерна, но не признавать тех внутренних директив и определенности тех катастрофических разрушений бессознательного, на которых основан модерн. Он не хочет рвать связи до конца, но и укреплять их не собирается. В личности Суркова, как в магическом кристалле, отражается специфика всего нашего социально-политического развития. Органические протеизм, гибкость, амбивалентность, вечная двусмысленность, перетекание одного в другое с блокированием и одного, и другого, вероятно, и являются секретом влияния Суркова и устойчивости его позиции. Но одновременно это и диагноз, который мы, в общем-то, можем легко поставить нашему обществу в целом.

Пока мы будем пребывать в протеическом археомодерне, где не доминирует ни одна из сил, – ни модерн, ни традиционализм масс, ни невротическая паранойя элит, ни психотическая шизофрения народа, – одно не сможет одолеть другое. Элиты и массы смотрят друг на друга из своих боксерских углов и не способны выиграть ни матч, ни, тем более, кубок. Сурков – это рефери в битве элит и масс, государства и народа, «либерало-чубайсов» и архаических силовиков-рейдеров. Государство у нас, как говорил Пушкин, «единственный европеец». Сурков – европеец, но европеец, который, тем не менее, не то что не может, но и не хочет до конца избавляться от своих неевропейских, евразийских, русско-чеченских корней. Однако не стремится и укреплять их.

Отложенный выбор: с Богом или с чертом?

В этих двух текстах содержится ключ к пониманию не только самого Суркова, но и всей нашей политической системы. В них о «суверенной демократии» сказано гораздо больше, чем во всей болтовне обслуживающих власть экспертов, которые готовы подгонять под высшую установку все, что угодно, и поэтому нерелевантны.

В современной России все время возникает дуализм, четко очерченный Сурковым, между «юрким дьяволом» и «неподвижным Богом».

Лозунги «прогресса», «модернизации», «либерализма», «Запада», «демократии», «эффективности», «процветания» – все это, безусловно, от дьявола. Сурков это прекрасно понимает – в одной и той же фразе он сначала говорит, что не в этом дело, но потом добавляет, спохватываясь, что без этого нельзя (то есть именно в этом дело). Угрюмо изображение статического божества; оно спокойно, никуда не торопится, а на «модернизацию» и «демократию» посматривает со своих высот гневным оком. Сувереном в России является только Бог, Ветхий Деньми. И его рабы – смиренные простые русские люди – ведут отчаянную, почти безнадежную битву с «сынами века сего». Русские аполоннийцы.

Я думаю, что Сурков сам не определил, с кем он, с Богом или с чертом. Более того, меркуриальная природа категорически не способна выдержать такой жесткой проблематики.

С Богом или с чертом? Для меркурия, для трикстера, для культурного героя, как в североамериканских индейских мифах, не стоит такого выбора. И с Богом, и с чертом, и против Бога, и против черта. Это и есть то, что называется археомодерном, когда блокируется любая решимость, приводящая к определенности, резкому действию, а значит, к ассиметрии, конфликтам, угрозам, жестким и насильственным выводам. Археомодерн любыми способами и любой ценой, до истомы, до истошности, до истерики стремится эту решимость обойти. Я думаю, что пока Сурков является тем, кем он является, то есть, важнейшей фигурой в российском государстве, археомодерн будет доминировать и дальше. А наше общество не сможет сделать ни одного серьезного шага, ни в сторону модерна, ни в сторону архаики, ни в сторону Бога, ни в сторону черта, ни в сторону либерализма, ни в сторону консерватизма. Дело, конечно, не в Суркове, дело в состоянии народа, в состоянии русской истории, русской государственности, русского общества.

[English Translation c/o Google Here.]

I find it interesting that he brings up the “God or the Devil” matter. For some reason, Surkov has always reminded me of the passage in Demons in which Stavrogin asks Tikhon if it is possible to fear the Devil but not believe in God. It seems that if Surkov had any guiding political philosophy whatsoever, aside from keeping himself close to the man in charge, it might be described that way. Here are our Slava’s musings on Miro and Polissky:

Владислав Сурков: “Война и мир Хоана Миро.”
Владислав Сурков: “Полисский въезжает”.

And no, Natan Dubovitsky has not given up on the wikinovel Машинка и Велик, so there is still time to contribute. You know, at first I thought, all experimentalism aside, perhaps he’d just mixed up the basic concepts of authorship and democracy. Some kind of conceptual dyslexia. But now I see he’s intent on throwing them overboard from the ship of modernization.

Along with mushroomified corpse of Vladimir Ilyich:

GoodbyeLenin.ru

So the kids at United Russia want Lenin in the ground. Someone has suggested that Slava was behind this, given the mischievous URL. My initial reaction was, “What do they have to gain by pissing off the Commies?” Then, “Frankly I’m surprised they don’t just charge an exorbitant entrance fee to tourists. They could make a buck and revel in delicious irony at the same time – without destroying one of the great, not to mention weirdest, wonders of the world.” Then, Goodbye Lenin! was a great movie…” Then, I was reminded that the only form of progress Russia seems to know involves taking bulldozers to their personal past. I hate that. Anyway, if correct, this puts a dent in Dugie’s “archeomodern” theory. Or at least the archeo part of it…

I voted NO. I also think there should be a law against letting anyone under 25 weigh in on the destruction of historical treasures.

II. Required Reading.

We’re a sick world… We are a spiteful world. I believe our prefrontal cortex is diseased.

Financial Times: “Where have all the thinkers gone?”

(HT: Russia Monitor)

Progress! We have moved beyond asking why Russia has no great minds to asking why the world has no great minds! FT compares Foreign Policy’s annual list of Top Thinkers (see above link for in depth discussion) to one that may have been drawn up 150 years ago:

The 1861 rankings could have started with Charles Darwin and John Stuart Mill – On the Origin of Species and On Liberty were both published in 1859. Then you could include Karl Marx and Charles Dickens. And that was just the people living in and around London. In Russia, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were both at work, although neither had yet published their greatest novels.

Even if, like Foreign Policy, you have a preference for politicians, the contrast between the giants of yesteryear and the relative pygmies of today is alarming. In 1861 the list would have included Lincoln, Gladstone, Bismarck and Garibaldi. Their modern equivalents would be Mr Obama, Nick Clegg, Angela Merkel and Silvio Berlusconi.

Still, perhaps 1861 was a freak? So let us repeat the exercise, and go back to the year when the second world war broke out. A list of significant intellectuals alive in 1939 would have included Einstein, Keynes, TS Eliot, Picasso, Freud, Gandhi, Orwell, Churchill, Hayek, Sartre.

So why does the current crop of thinkers seem so unimpressive? Here are a few possible explanations.

A phantom copyright notice is spooking me when I try to paste more, so I suggest reading the rest at FT, unless you lack the means to penetrate the registration firewall. Their explanations for no Dostoyevsky caliber brainiacs these days range from lack of historical perspective on our own peers to the democratization and/or hyperspecialization of knowledge, from globalization (the great thinkers are in India – we just haven’t heard of them yet … except why assume there were not great thinkers in India centuries ago?) to …drumroll… we’re just not that smart anymore.

I would add that there are 6 times as many people than there were in 1861, and a much higher percentage of them are literate. The bar is set higher for getting noticed for your big brains. Also, TV has been invented. And watched. And, dare we say it, Late Capitalism has spread like a cancer throughout the world, devouring our little grey cells until the only functions we have left are those that make us money and get us laid. Not that 19th Century Europe was a glowing meritocracy, but intellectual pursuit for knowledge/art’s sake still had some panache.

Mark Ames: “Dead Souls: How Russians React to Terror.”

In this Vanity Fair article, Mark, relying largely on the rants of one Eddie Limonov, argues that Russian badassery in the face of terrrrists should set an example for the rest of the world. (I think the qualifier about in the face of terrorism is unnecessary…)

As appalling as it might seem, let’s remember what America’s far more sentimental reaction to 9/11 got us: two disastrous wars, tens of thousands of deaths, and the sorts of police-state measures once thought unimaginable. The difference may be more in our sentimentality than in our brutality.

This is a bit disingenuous. Though I envy Russian pragmatism, I do recall a few skirmishes in Chechnya, and the argument could be made that the war there is not yet over. And while the police-state measures here have indeed been unimaginable, the fact points to a lack of American imagination, not to a Russian civil utopia. The argument is based on the false premise that Russians are brutal and Americans are sentimental. From my observations, both cultures possess almost supernatural capacities for both brutality and sentimentality, we just disagree on the scenarios in which they are appropriate. We’re like each other’s Bizzarro Worlds.

Mark Ames: “We, The Spiteful.”

A much better, if far more controversial piece from Ames. I suppose now is as good a time as any to confess I’ve had the same epiphany from time to time. The only difference is that I hoped I was wrong and didn’t dare discuss it.

In the summer of 2004, I published an article in the New York Press that answered Thomas Frank’s question “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” The Bush-Kerry campaign was heating up, and it was clear to me that the American left was going to make the same mistake it’s been making for 30 years, and will continue making until it faces some unpleasant truths about the rank, farcical psychology that drives American voting habits. Why don’t they vote in their own economic interests? Why don’t voters vote rationally, the way we were taught in grade school civics classes? In a rational world, with rational voters voting in their rational economic interests, Bush—who dragged America into two lost wars before destroying the entire financial system—would’ve been forced to resign before the first primary and exiled to Saudi Arabia; rationally, rational voters would have elected anyone or anything, John Kerry or a coconut crab, over that fuck-up of fuck-ups, George W. Bush.

The answer came to me just I was just finishing my book Going Postal. Researching and writing that book was a real mind-fuck: spending all those isolated months sloshing through Middle American malice. I realized something obvious when I pulled back from all that research and looked at the Kerry-Bush race: malice and spite are as American as baseball and apple pie. But it’s never admitted into our romantic, naïve, sentimental understanding of who Americans really are, and what their lives are really like.

If the left wants to understand American voters, it needs to once and for all stop sentimentalizing them as inherently decent, well-meaning people being duped by a tiny cabal of evil oligarchs—because the awful truth is that they’re mean, spiteful jerks being duped by a tiny cabal of evil oligarchs. The left’s naïve, sentimental, middle-class view of “the people” blinds them to all of the malice and spite that is a major premise of Middle American life. It’s the same middle-class sentimentality that allowed the left to be duped into projecting candidate Obama into the great progressive messiah, despite the fact that Obama’s record offered little evidence besides skin pigment to support that hope. (For the record, I called out the left’s gullible Obamaphilia during the primary campaigns in early 2008—here in Alternet, and here in The eXile.)

[...]

Like the Grumpy Old Man character, Americans are miserable and we like it! We love it! Hallelujah!

Just as in 2004, today, in 2011, the left can’t make sense of it all. So the only way they can frame this contemporary American insanity is either by blaming it all on the oligarchs who exploit this latent spite, as if taking the oligarch funding out of the equation would solve it all…or, when getting too close to facing the awful possibility that maybe a lot of Americans are just contemptible jerks in dead-ender lives, the left retreats into the safe, comforting irony of Jon Stewart, where it’s stored away as just another zinger that requires no serious thought, no painful analysis.

Here is my article that tries to get the left to finally face the truth about American voters as they really are—to consider the possibility that maybe a huge bloc of American voters are worse than merely “irrational.” What if there’s not much to like about them at all? Or more importantly, why the hell do we need to like them; why is “likable” even a factor?

So go read the rest. Dark side of democracy indeed…

III. Links.

For you slackers. You know who you are.

“Kremlin Clans: The Sequel. Return of the Grey Cardinal.” In 3D. Wait, why is this not in 3D, Tolya? I thought all sequels were these days. Anyway, Sublime Oblivion has Surkov in Putin’s clan, and I can’t see Vova putting Lenin in a grave. So perhaps there is hope yet.

Awesome photos from someone allowed to hang out alone in Slava’s Kremlin office with a camera. If you needed any proof the Cold War were over. But it’s still rather thrilling, isn’t it? Mucking about in Kremlin inner sanctums… Where you’ll find fotos of Tupac, Obama, Che and a library that looks rather like the Slavic backlog in my department. Also, is that a Miro on his desk?

Less Awesome photos from someone probably not allowed to hang out in Putin’s palace with a camera but who did anyway. Nice upgrade, Vova. Lemme know if you need someone to test out that bathtub out for you.

LA Times: “Who is Ignatiy Vishnevetsky?” A Russian-Chicagoan handpicked by Roger Ebert to carry on his film critic legacy, is who.

Well, that should keep you occupied for a while.

As always, thanks for reading, and have a lovely week!

December 17, 2010

Slava Surkov: The Year in Quotes, or, “The hippies started it!”

In which the Kremlin’s “chief ideologist” weighs in on geniuses, rednecks and the current state of the novel. And much more. Hell, what does he not have an opinion on?

But first, we will begin with a random rant apropos of nothing!

I missed the annual VVP Q&A. I woke up and, rather than turning on the local horrorshow-weather report, I flipped over to RT. Because they’d be carrying the great Russian national chit chat. Right? Right?! RT used to serve a purpose, however quirky. Straight up Russian propaganda (and by this I don’t necessarily mean “lies”, just “the world as seen through the official eyes of the Kremlin…”), provincial oddities, and a snippet of American subculture. VVP yelling at some businessmen, people in Tomsk tattooing cats, Communist candidate for mayor in North Carolina. FABULOUS. Get yer freakshow on! Now, every time I turn it on, it’s some weirdly bitter, hostile and tongue-tied young girl in Washington D.C. talking about America’s impending doom. Like, an alien could turn on Russia Today, and not even know Russia existed. If RT does not exist to blast Putin’s TV chat extravaganza into the homes of Americans, WTF does it exist for? Anyway, I ended up watching some false outrage about the tax cuts. Americans don’t need Russian propaganda to hear about tax cuts. RT should be filling a void, not adding to the canned indignation and ill-informed people yelling over each other that has come to define the failure of American discourse. Newsflash: you can’t effectively present the argument that the US is a deplorable cesspool while joining us in the race to the bottom. FAIL. Who is in charge over there?

I just needed to get that off my chest. Now for something completely different!

That is, if you are not of the suspicion that as head propagandist Vladislav Surkov is partially to blame for the bizarre lack of quality Russian propaganda in America.

I. “Geniuses are always in the minority.”

This article, or rather, soundbites from it, has been making the rounds by people shocked and appalled that the evil genius Surkov has blamed the recent violence in Moscow on … give ya 3 guesses. Neo-Nazis? Soccer freaks? Nemtsov?


Lenta.ru: Сурков нашел “либеральные” корни в беспорядках на Манежной.

Before we get to that, though, let’s address the most important aspect of this article: He looks very tired, no? Out rioting all night, Slava? Oof! Get some sleep! Take a vacation to a spa and rid yourself of whatever toxins are threatening that beautiful mug. What, are you smoking 3 packs a day or something?

Ok, here’s the damning text of the article, c/o A Good Treaty. (Subject: “your hero in action”…)

“По его словам, либералы “упорно вводят в моду несанкционированные акции, а нацисты и жлобы этой моде следуют”.

“11-е происходит от 31-го”, – заявил Сурков, имея, по всей видимости, в виду акции оппозиции по последним числам месяцев с полным количеством дней на Триумфальной площади, проведение которых, как правило, не санкционируется властями Москвы. Также он напомнил, что перед погромом на Манежной площади был погром здания администрации города Химки. “Другие люди, а жлобство то же”, – сказал Сурков.”

[Google Translation Here.]

I suspect there may be something ethically questionable about conflating these groups. People holding illegal demonstrations in support of free speech, or democracy, or the free market, or Khodorkovsky, or forests full of woodland creatures or their right to get on tv, or whatever, is one thing. Racist soccer hooligans wailing on anything that moves, putting people in the hospital and bringing the public order to a halt is rather different. I mean, one is “good,” the other is “bad,” even if they were both jonesing for a fight and breaking the law. Don’t you think? Don’t you? Even more questionable is the suggestion that that the hippies started it. Ok “The hippies started it!” is a pretty awesome comeback in my book, for its sheer obnoxiousness alone. Frankly, I’m going to start using this phrase all the time, doing my best Fred Willard imitation. But what it carries in cache, it lacks in logic. Like rioters got the big idea from the liberal opposition? Psycho aimless Nazi youth sit at home watching Kasparov and aspire to be like him? Any insinuation that liberal groups actively encouraged or organized the riots seems the type of conspiracy theory more commonly found among the liberals themselves. But I don’t think that’s what Surkov is arguing. I think he’s saying the desire to stage demonstrations without permits is … viral. Which may in fact be true, but even so, it speaks to the poorly functioning immune system of the larger organism (the country itself) if a simple protest can bring it to its knees. But what is truly upsetting about Surkov’s little theory is the nonchalance with which it permits the nationalist extremist rioters to evade responsibility for committing violence against ethnic minorities. Which is the real atrocity here, not demonstrating without a fucking permit.

Anyway, here is the original article from which those soundbites were clipped:


Izvestia: Владислав Сурков: Гении всегда в меньшинстве.

Also, this picture has him looking much less ill, while still maintaining his signature ghostly pallor:

The quote about the liberal demonstrations was in response to a question about modernization and stagnation:

И: Мы часто и много говорили о модернизации политической системы. Но вот накануне послания Федеральному собранию президент в своем видеоблоге сказал о застое в политике. Откуда взялся этот застой? В чем его причины?

Сурков: Я уже сказал выше, что политсистема должна быть чуткой к меньшинству, поскольку меньшинство имеет часто и свои политические воззрения, и свое представление об общественном устройстве. Мне кажется, что политическая система должна быть такой, какой ее хочет видеть инженер. Она должна помогать и быть комфортной для творческой части общества, для его движущей части, к которой общество обязано относиться с уважением. И если мы не воспитаем в себе самих уважения к людям продвинутым, мы обречены.

Что касается развития политсистемы, часто спрашивают: что впереди – реформа политсистемы или экономики? Или давайте авторитарную модернизацию. Или анархию, а с модернизацией само как-нибудь сложится. Вот президент совсем недавно в интервью сказал, что нельзя противопоставлять эти вещи, что и политическую систему надо двигать вперед, и экономику надо двигать вперед. Другое дело – в какую сторону должна двигаться политическая система и какими темпами это надо делать.

Что касается пресловутого застоя, о котором так много говорилось, я бы хотел напомнить о комментарии пресс-службы к этому блогу: президент подвел в нем промежуточные итоги всех предпринятых шагов по изменению политической системы. Подвел итоги. Я бы хотел подчеркнуть это. Эта фраза, что появились симптомы застоя, относилась к определенному моменту прошлого и объясняла, почему президент счел необходимым провести те реформы, два этапа которых были реализованы на законодательном уровне за эти два года. Это же был блог, посвященный итогам двухлетнего развития политической системы, а не планам на будущее. Естественно, тут произошла ошибка в интерпретациях, и все стали изображать, что вот у нас, видите ли, сейчас застой в политике. Ясно, что часть людей это говорит сознательно, чтобы тем самым передергивать смысл и кричать о том, что необходимы радикальные, всесокрушающие какие-то меры, какая-то либеральная чрезвычайка. Это не так.

Конечно, президент не считает нашу политическую систему совершенной, не идеализирует ее. Он не раз говорил, что демократия наша только начинает развиваться. И, наверное, в отдельных ее звеньях до сих пор сохраняются симптомы застоя.

Но все-таки я просил бы здесь точно понимать смысл сказанных президентом слов. Президент исчерпывающе обрисовал свои нововведения. Они, я уверен, реально оживили политическую жизнь, и мы это видим сегодня и в риторике, и в том, что гораздо больше стало оппозиции на экранах. Геннадия Андреевича и Владимира Вольфовича мы видим куда чаще, чем в благословенные 90-е. Мы видим это в том числе и по результатам выборов, и на местах, и по тому, что стало меньше критики в плане каких-то нарушений. Это факт.

Я считаю, что мы движемся вперед. И в этом смысле никакого застоя нет. А что, опять нужна какая-то революция? Опять какой-то развал всего и вся? Чтобы у нас всегда и везде было 11 декабря на Манежной? Это ведь как бы “либеральная” публика упорно вводит в моду несанкционированные акции, а нацисты и жлобы этой моде следуют. 11-е происходит от 31-го. От, казалось бы, мелочи – совсем не мелочь. А еще до погрома на Манежной был погром в Химках, если кто забыл. Другие люди, а жлобство то же. Нет, ребята, так не пойдет.

На самом деле у президента есть очень четкий и понятный посыл в его статье “Россия, вперёд!”. Он сказал, что преобразования будут постепенными, но неуклонными. Вот это ключ к пониманию его стиля и философии. И к экономическим, и к политическим институтам надо относиться предельно аккуратно. Здесь идем полностью в духе европейской философии постепенных преобразований. А судьба революционеров и боевиков подробно описана в Уголовном кодексе. И об этом тоже говорил президент – о полицейской функции демократии. Так что митингуйте – но по закону.

Then:

И: Что вы можете сказать о событиях на Манежной?

Сурков: Беспорядки, ставящие под угрозу жизнь москвичей, и нападения на милицию нельзя оправдать. Ничем. Точно так же нельзя оправдать ничем убийство Егора. Те, кто его убил, должны сидеть в тюрьме. Так долго, чтобы мы в нашем городе их больше никогда не видели.

Этой осенью я встречался с представителями кавказской молодежи. Мы говорили откровенно, что во многих регионах России им бывает непросто жить. Но также и о том, что ведь и русским на Кавказе не всегда и не везде спокойно живется. Прибывающие с юга сюда должны понимать, что отношение к ним формируется в том числе и ими самими. Те, кто приезжает сюда работать, учиться, должны быть защищены, и государство несет здесь полную ответственность.

А те, кто пополняет ряды этнических преступных группировок и по нашим мальчишкам стреляет, – будут искореняться.

Мы наш город разным там новоявленным “дедам хасанам” и их последователям не отдадим. Москве и России нужен гражданский мир. Наша страна – общий дом для всех наших народов.

[Google Translation Here.]

Well, gosh, context is sometimes helpful. Maybe the dig at the liberals for trying to be revoliutionaries was political bone-throwing, but I fail to see how he’s winning the “Europe for Europeans!” support with this call for inclusion and calling them zhloby. And at this point I even question the assumption that the rioters are part of some crucial political base for the Kremlin. I mean, if they were loyal minions, they’d hardly be anointing Putin’s World Cup coup with actions that ensure every swarthy soccer fan on the planet will now be terrified to attend the event. Oh, and did we mention that the redneck neo-Nazis maybe don’t want bones thrown to them from a Chechen?

The rest of the article is a pretty decent read. Skolkovo, trying to justify courting foreign workers and paying them high wages (sure that just thrills the fascist youths to whom Surkov is ostensibly giving cover), BG is a genius. etc., etc. Check it out.

II. “In fact, I consider myself an unrecognized genius…”

While we’re on the topic of Slava and geniuses, let us recall one of the more entertaining Wikileaks cables. Yes, we learned that he has portraits of Tupak and Lennon in his office. (What do this gangbanger and this peacenik possibly have in common? That’s right. Drugs.) He listens to rap (which is sexy), reads American poetry (Whitman? Beats? Cool. Anything else? Doesn’t bode well for his writing career…) But perhaps the most enlightening bit of hearsay is captured in the gossip mongering of Kryshtanovskaya (who, impressively, has managed to turn gossip mongering into an akademic field!)

From Russian Reporter’s relay of the cable, «У него много масок»:

…Ольга Крыштановская, знающая Суркова с начала 90-х годов, в частном порядке 12 января рассказала нам, что уже тогда Сурков считал себя непризнанным гением. Возможно, таким самомнением объясняется подбор фотографий, украшающих его кабинет, – рэпер Тупак Шакур, Джон Леннон, Нильс Бор и Вернер Гейзенберг. В прошлом году он добавил к ним портрет президента Обамы, объяснив это тем, что Обама – «хороший американец», т.е. уважает Россию.

[Google Translation Here.]

Well, now we know why he thinks geniuses deserve special treatment.

III. “I did the dragon’s will untill you came.”

Wait! Did someone mention Surkov’s “writing career?” Behold! I present to you, Nathan Dubovitsky’s new novel! It’s pretty embarrasing, given the fine, fine reviews it recieved {{cough cough}}, but I haven’t even read Next to Zero yet. I cannot even say if he is a fine writer, I mean, if he writes … finely. Frankly I am just impressed that he writes at all. Such a renaissance man, our Surkov! Er, I mean, our Natan Dubovitsky! Well, perhaps we can’t be sure (honestly, we can’t even be sure what he’s up to when he takes full ownership of his words…) But I’m going to say it is him, because life is more interesting that way, and that’s why people believe things they have no proof of.


Russian Pioneer: МАШИНКА И ВЕЛИК, ИЛИ УПРОЩЕНИЕ ДУБЛИНА [gaga saga]

I will not repost the whole begining of the novel here, because, as a great man once said, “the problem with theory based art is that the theory is always better then the art.” And here we have a fabulous theory! From the Russky Pioneer editor, aka, Andrei Kolesnikov, aka The Real Andrei Kolesnikov:

Писатель Натан Дубовицкий, автор прошумевшего романа «Околоноля», пишет новый роман. Мы предлагаем вам его начало, позволяющее в полной мере оценить величие замысла культового писателя современности.

Я был поражен, когда автор, еще некоторое время тому назад просившийся на заслуженный отдых после первого романа, сначала по электронной почте подробнейшим образом описал содержание второго, а потом и написал первые его главы. По утверждению автора, процесс письма занял у него в общей сложности часов десять. Не верю! Писал, может, и десять. А выписывал потом еще сколько?! Понять, о чем я говорю, вы легко сможете, ознакомившись с этими главами, ибо чтение их займет у вас не десять часов, а равно в десять раз меньше.

И только тогда вы убедитесь, что г-н Дубовицкий очевидно растеткак писатель: рука мастера крепнет, метафора истекает поэтическим соком, мысль становится еще более витиеватой, и иногда с волнением думаешь о том, сможет ли автор поспеть за ней и вывести нас с вами из адского, или вернее райского лабиринта. Сможет!

Но самое главное: автор придумывает для читателя игру, можно сказать, возится с ним как с ребенком. И в результате мы с вами пишем в ближайших номерах «РП» первый в истории wiki-роман. Поздравляю.

Андрей Колесников, главный редактор журнала «Русский пионер»

And from Natan Dubovitsky, aka, Vladislav Surkov, aka Aslambek Dudayev:

Обращение к писателям

Писатели мои! что за скука читать романы! И что за наказание, что за напасть писать их! Вот бы не писать! Но как? если, как говорили Беня Крик и Алекс. Пушкин, рука сама тянется к перу. Тянется, впрочем, или не тянется, а времени на писанину все одно нет, а главное — лень. А самое главное — мысль обгоняет слово: весь уже сложен роман в голове, все удовольствие от его сложения автором уже получено, так что физическое написание превращается в несвежий пересказ, нетворческую рутинную канитель.

И, наконец, что еще и поглавнее самого главного — незадачливый подвижник, героически одолевший дремучие заросли лени, вырастающей в нашем климате выше крапивы и цен на нефть, дописавший таки свою книжищу, обнаруживает, что читать его буквы решительно некому. А ведь еще в прошлом веке Борхес предупреждал: читателей больше нет, есть одни только писатели. Потому что — все образованные стали, гордые, себе на уме. Никто не хочет знать свое место и смиренно внимать поэтам и прозаикам. Никто не хочет, чтобы какие-то незнакомые неопрятные люди жгли ему глаголом сердце или какую другую часть тела.

Если в прошлом человек с идеей был диковиной, вроде бабы с бородой, которую всей ярмаркой сбегались посмотреть и послушать, то в наши дни небольшие, удобные и дешевые, как зубные щетки, идеи есть у каждого брокера, блогера и корпоративного евангелиста. Обожествленная было в XIX — XX в.в. литература стала ныне делом простонародным, общедоступным наподобие поедания сибасов или вождения авто. Все умеют, все писатели.

Читают же писатели, как известно, только то, что пишут. Несвои же тексты, если заметят, просматривают по-писательски, то есть — с презрением, невнимательно и не до конца. Для того лишь, чтобы написать (или произнести) рецензию, краткую, невнимательную, презрительную. Чтобы потом читать (или повторять) уже только эту свою рецензию с наслаждением и уважением. И перечитывать (пересказывать) неоднократно с уважением неубывающим. И хвалить себя, обзываясь нежно айдапушкиным, айдасукинсыном.

Не вспомню, сам ли Борхес обнаружил перерождение массового читателя в массового же писателя или по обыкновению своему процитировал кого-то, но он, кажется, был первым гениальным литератором, даже не пытавшимся писать романы, а так прямо и сделавшим литературной классикой рецензирование книг, в том числе и несуществующих. То есть он научился судить о текстах, которые никогда не читал (по той причине, что и написаны они никогда не были). Отзыв, отклик, коммент, твит по поводу какого-либо произведения стали, таким образом, понемногу важнее самого произведения, а затем возможны сами по себе, без произведения, и теперь превратились в самодостаточный жанр новейшей литературы.

Итак, на смену обитавшему в ХХ веке читателю, человеку-с-книгой-в-метро, человеку-с-книгой-в-бухгалтерии, человеку-с-книгой-на-иконе, человеку-с-книгой-на-костре, человеку-с-книгой — в ХХI веке явился особенный, ни на что не похожий писатель нового типа, человек-без-книги, но готовый, кажется, в любую минуту всех изумить, написать какую угодно книгу по какому угодно случаю. Писатель этот высококультурен, а стало быть, ленив. Ненищ и оттого заносчив. Он чувствует в себе силу необъятную и написал бы сам не хуже любого (отчего и не читает ничего), но все недосуг.

Современный писатель водится, как и старинный читатель, и в бухгалтерии, и в метро, и, хвала демократии, в майбахе. Но на иконах и кострах не замечен. Тем и отличается.

Будучи одним из таких писателей, я обращаюсь ко всем таким писателям со следующим предложением.

(Взываю к вам через РПионер, первый зашагавший в ногу со временем журнал, у которого читателей почти столько же, сколько писателей.) Слушайте меня, писатели. Давайте вместе сделаем хороший роман.

Каждый из нас: 1) может писать книгу, но пишет твит и sms; 2) хочет прославиться, но не может выкроить в своем распорядке необходимые для этого пятнадцать минут; 3) страстный поклонник всего своего и желчный критик всего другого.

А ведь нас, таких, тьма. Если каждый пришлет хотя бы по sms на заданную тему и уделит общему делу по пять минут, то ведь это будет вещь потолще фауста гете и минимум полувек великой славы. И если каждый из нас, писателей, купит потом эту нашу вещь, то ведь это будут неслыханные тиражи. А если еще и прочитает, хотя бы не все, хотя бы свой фрагмент, то к нам не зарастет народная тропа.

Воодушевленный не то успехом, не то провалом, чем-то неопределенным, но очевидно бурным своего «Околоноля [gangsta fiction]», вознамерился я наговорить новое сочинение. На этот раз в жанре «gaga saga» под названием «Машинка и Велик». Или «Упрощение Дублина».

«Околоноля» был назван одним известным критиком «книгой о подонках и для подонков». Хотя, как мне казалось, я пытался рассказать про обычных людей. И даже про хороших. Видимо, не получилось. Будем считать «Упрощение…» второй попыткой сделать книгу о хороших (их еще иногда называют простыми и бедными) людях для хороших людей.

Приступив к осуществлению своего дерзкого замысла, я быстро обнаружил, что «не в силах рассуждать», что выдохся еще там, «около ноля», а здесь, на «машинке и велике», продвигаюсь очень медленно и едва ли справлюсь. По причинам, указанным в первом абзаце моего обращения.

Вспомнив, что многие очень вроде бы неглупые и даже известные люди выражали уверенность, что я не один человек, а сразу несколько, что «gangsta fiction» писался целой бригадой литературных таджиков, я подумал себе: почему бы нет! Почему бы в этот раз и вправду не попробовать? Сразу скажу, таджики взялись было, но отступились — мудрено!

Тогда я вспомнил о более прогрессивном методе — crowd sourcing, или, как раньше говорили, народная стройка. Обращаетесь через интернет или прессу к кому попало: помогите сделать убыточную ртутную шахту рентабельной, разработать новую вакцину от гриппа, изготовить soft для управления свинофермой, сетью звероферм, подготовить новый градостроительный кодекс… Тут же сбегается тридцать пять тысяч добровольцев — и готово дело!

Так, по крайней мере, утверждают пророки wikiвека. Давайте попробуем, правда ли. Напишем роман всей толпой, методом crowd writing.

Вот я выкладываю в РПионере начало романа, все, что смог пока сделать. Пусть этот текст будет открытой платформой, на которой каждый желающий волен построить любой сюжет. Вы можете отказаться от заданной в начале тональности, перетащить действие в иные сколь угодно отдаленные места, погрузить выведенных на сцену персонажей в автобус и столкнуть его чавкающим оползнем с дороги в пропасть.

Каждый может внести посильный вклад, сколько не жалко — реплику, диалог, описание природы, замечание, целый роман, целых два, три, четыре романа, сноску, стишок, твит, просто идею, подсказку… Все пойдет в дело.

Каждый соавтор будет назван при публикации. А то, что не вклеится в коллективный коллаж, будет издано приложением к будущей книге и явится неотъемлемой ее частию. Гонорар будет поделен по-братски между всеми писателями. Убытки же, если таковые обнаружатся, не волнуйтесь, возьму на себя я. Или Андрей Иваныч Колесников, что было бы даже и лучше.

Писатели! Толпы писателей! Делайте первый в России wikiроман, присоединяйтесь к хорошему делу.

Пишите роман по адресу: ruspioner@ruspioner.ru (с пометкой wikiроман).

Принимаются тексты любого объема, присланные до 1 октября 2010 г. и позже.

Ваш Натан Дубовицкий

P.S. Роман будет посвящен русской милиции и издан в ее поддержку. Кто не согласный, просьба не беспокоить.

I did the dragon’s will untill you came.

[Google Translation Here.]

No, you are still kind of doing it, but that’s ok. Kudos for the Yeats reference, though. Even if it somehow sounds more lurid when coming from you…

I hesitated to post this long introduction, as I’d seen another blog forced to take the copyrighted Russian Pioneer material down. So I posted it not only because I think it is interesting, but in the hopes Andrei Kolesnikov will contact me and ask me to take it down! Then I can be all like, “Andrei, first off, you have to get rid of that other journalist writing for Forbes under your name, and then fix the wikipedia page, ok? It’s driving me nuts. I am not taking this down until you get that mess sorted out. Sue me. I don’t have any money, but I’m absolutely willing to be your indentured servant. xoxoxo poemless.”

Anyway, here’s your chance to write part of Surkov’s? novel! Submit, heathens, Submit! Then let us ponder: Is he doing this out of laziness, or some sincere democratic sentiment? The surrealists used to play this kind of game, didn’t they? “Exquisite corpse.” So, he’s not exactly invented the “wikinovel.” … But what the fuck is a “gaga saga?”

And there you have it! Your year-end Slava Surkov Round-up!

Merry Christmas!

November 17, 2010

Return of VovaMania!

Filed under: Culture: Russia,Politics: Russia — poemless @ 7:01 PM
Tags:

It’s been a while since I’ve done a gratuitous Putin love fest post. Isn’t that strange? Nowadays people refer to my “nuanced and insightful” writing, but mostly I just started blogging so to post pictures of hot Russian men, Putin being King God Supreme Leader of that camp. What happened? Has our fair leader ceased to be the apple of poemless’s eye, fallen to the earth to slowly decay and be nibbled on by ravenous squirrels? Has our fickle blogger’s infatuation dimmed like a cold November afternoon? Er… no. No of course not. That would be madness. Maybe I’ve just matured – ever think about that? No, you’re right, that can’t be it. Maybe, what with the Reset and Obama and blah blah blah, wooing so-called dictators just doesn’t have the same subversive appeal. I always fantasized about totally scaring the hell out of John Ashcroft on the other end of whatever NSA feed was trolling my posts. I am both a neo-stalinist and a female with a libido … I am the AntiChrist, John! Eat it! Hahahaha. But now I am just one more person with a blog making cute comments about Vova’s latest wackadoodle photo-op. Sean says he’s jumped the shark. Now, I am not willing to rule out that VVP could, even will one day jump the shark. But when that day comes, it will involve an actual shark and the leader of Russia on water skis. A stunt that, had the Fonz not done so already, Putin probably would have invented. “Jumped the shark” my ass. He’s as popular as ever. Everyone and their mother has posted a picture of that puppy hug. Oh, except me! Here:

You know you just squealed with delight. I say, if Vova ever meets the man who could look at that and not get a little woozy with oxytocin, he will have met his match.

You wanna help name the dog? Knock yourself out. I think it was on NPR that I saw this referred to a “rare gesture toward democracy” or some nonsense… After last nights’ Dancing With The Stars, I am off democracy. What should we name this giant furball? How about “Maksim,” in honor of that hottie Palin’s Tea Party sabotaged. Or not. I’m inclined to follow the reasoning that if Putin’s pet were named after me, I could vicariously curl up in his lap for a kiss and tickle. Alas, he already has a dog named after me! He doesn’t seem too thrilled about it either, does he?

Ok, since we’re on the topic of Dr. Doolittle, someone’s gone and stolen the photos I have hanging my living room and posted them online:

The 24 Cutest Pictures Of Vladimir Putin With Animal.

Freaky. In more ways than one… I have always been partial to the horse kissy and the tiger present photos. But here’s one I had not seen before, a treat! (I know I said these were hanging in my apartment – it was for dramatic effect. I mean, you couldn’t possibly think… Oh.)

A small goat!

In some ways, he reminds me of my grandmother. She was nuts over animals. He had this gorgeous house, with a nice living and dining room, but she always sat in the kitchen, to watch the animals in the yard (whole entire extra tree-lined lot) outside. She bought us Ranger Rick subscriptions and would even cut out and mail us those little gratuitous animal pictures from the local paper (you know, that space reserved for no copy but a photo of a rabbit with the caption, “Spring arrives on Lincoln Avenue.”) Crazy. Especially since our family got the same newspaper. From whence this animalphilia? She was part Cherokee. She was also getting Alzheimer’s. Anyway, somehow I inherited this trait. God, I hope it is not a symptom of dementia. I have more faith and trust in people who are so comfortable with and able to navigate the animal kingdom. Those who have great “people skills” but are like idiots around anything not human scare the hell out of me. People who prefer the company of those species that have evolved differently from us, I really get. You can’t lie to animals. It doesn’t actually work. Oh, and can we address this notion of “people skills,” please? VVP gets a lot of heat for not having them so much, but if skills are what you use to get things done, then I think he has mad skillz. What’s up with this preference for fake nice that gives more points for not hurting anyone’s feelings than for reality checks? I’m not a fan.

Which brings me to the last point in today’s Putin love fest. Oh, sure, anyone can love a dog. I am pretty sure that is he baseline criteria for determining one’s classification as Homo sapiens. But, uhm, no one can love Vladimir Putin, right? What the hell is wrong with you, Poemless?! Moe Tkacik nails it in a divine piece:

Why The Media Hearts Oligarchs—So Much The Post Won’t Even Call Them “Oligarchs.”

Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl wonders in an op-ed today why Barack Obama isn’t rallying more enthusiastically behind Mikhail Khodorkovsky, otherwise known as Russia’s “latest moral champion.” Is it “because he is an entrepreneur and not a poet” and everyone knows how Obama loathes commerce? Or is it, he wonders, simply because Obama is scared of Vladimir Putin and his big scary black lab?[...]

But guys like Khodorkovsky were not dubbed “oligarchs” because of their “entrepreneurship”; they earned that designation because they reaped the preponderance of their billions in a three-year window of in ways that were flagrantly and epically criminal but since all the billionaires were doing it (and billionaires tend to make their own laws anyway) most of them got off with a sort of uneasy amnesty. Khodorkovsky was an exception for a variety of reasons, this is a pretty good summary, but at the end of the day Putin seems to draw his authority directly from his ability to make them pay taxes and, as last week’s wide-eyed Times magazine piece on New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov observed, keep them on their toes:

The oligarchs of Russia aren’t exactly paper tigers, but those who aren’t in jail or exile understand the precariousness of their position, the importance of keeping the favor of the Kremlin. Last February, Prokhorov was publicly criticized by Putin for neglecting to fulfill promised investments in an electricity-generating project in southern Russia. Prokhorov initially had the temerity to say the prime minister was misinformed, but then, on further review, conceded that yes, the prime minister, whom he first met in 1994 at a bank opening in St. Petersburg, where Putin was the deputy mayor, was correct. When Prokhorov was angling for the Nets, he got the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev to mention his plans to President Barack Obama, as if U.S. politicians perforce had some say in how billionaires deployed their capital.

LOL folks, imagine that: a leader with some modicum of authority over the way billionaires spend their money…when for going on thirteen years now no elected official in America has managed to figure out a way to control the way they spend ours?!

But what if Obama did something about that last part, against all the sloppy conventional wisdom its serially-discredited promulgators keep chucking into the Post op-ed section? It’s hard to think it would make it any harder to advance the cause of democracy before the likes of foes from Vladimir Putin to John Boehner all the way to all the tireless David Broder disciples across town at the Washington Post.
[Emph. mine.]

Oh, I know, Russia’s cup runneth over with Serious Problems, and I should not be so smug about Real People Suffering. I am not. I am just saying, assuming you are living in a giant megalomaniacal country with lots of nukes and a history of social experimentation, would you rather your leader adore animals and kick skeezy millionaire ass … or not? That’s all. If America really is all that much better, I invite all Russia’s journalists to move here to the land of the free, where we will let them live and they can enjoy whatever the hell is left of a society that has had its anima and animus systematically removed. The invitation remains open.

And thus ends the most recent installment of poemless’s VovaMania. For those of you who stubbornly refuse to come to your senses and join my cult, I present what has to be the finest piece of literature produced in the 21st century: Revelation 13: Is the Antichrist Russian President Putin? BRILLIANT! Seriously, I promise you will never have more fun reading anything. Ever.

Except for this blog, of course.

November 10, 2010

On the beating of Oleg Kashin

Filed under: Culture: Russia,Politics: Russia — poemless @ 6:26 PM
Tags: ,

So I suppose I should weigh in? I’d undoubtedly be the best Russia watcher on the planet if I ever bothered to watch, and the most brilliant blogger too, if I actually wrote anything. Which is discouraging in a way. I mean, maybe I should just not write, because what if I do, and it turns out to be so so? Better to let everyone just assume I am a genius, don’t you think?

I recently has something published at this Russian site, InoForum, and everyone thought I was nuts and no one understood a thing. They were going on about my Polish doctor… Also discouraging.

Ok, so I read on facebook or twitter about the attack that night. My first reaction was, “That Kashin? Why would anyone wanna kill Kashin?! Vladimir Putin, you are a horrible person! Sick!” Then, “maybe he owed someone money…” Then, “god, I feel terrible about hating him for spamming -I mean, really spamming- my twitter feed. After all, he has great taste in music; he must be a decent fellow, with just a whole lot of time on his hands, but how is that even possible? He’s prolific, everywhere. Maybe he had a twitter bot. I’m going to check his feed… OMG! Silence! … omg. he’s really been attacked. a real live human being. fuck. fuckfuckfuckfuck…”

There was a time I’d have something absolutely cynical to say about journalists being killed. I would write, maybe, that there is no way Putin’s people did this, because all it does is make him look bad, so probably it was someone else Anna had pissed off, someone maybe looking for revenge and even to frame the administration, who knows? Who knows? We didn’t witness our fallen reporter taking her final breath! And what really pisses me off is that the very people who complain about the lack of rule of law and the total joke parading around under the guise of a Russian justice system are the first to point the finger, make an accusation and demand a head on a platter when a journalist is harmed. Pah-Thetic. Apparently vigilantism is only bad when the official good guys are on the receiving end. “Well, c’mon, everything points to this horrible atrocity being the work of (insert party, politician, youth group here). They probably did it!” Last time I checked, my own judicial system, which is fouled but ostensibly one goo-goos in Russia desire to emulate, places the burden of proof on the prosecution, and requires a jury to find a person guilty beyond any reasonable doubt before the head and platter show gets underway. There is no “unless a perfectly good journalist has been offed, in which case you’re free to bust out the pitchforks” clause.

But now people actually read what I write, so I should be more responsible with my words. Which I’ve absolutely never been good at. Diplomacy is not my strong suit. Er, so, well, here are things that other people said. If they’re reasonable, great; if not, you can’t blame me.

From Sean:

On a final note, there will be those out there who will offer apologetics for Kashin’s beating. They’ll decry the obsession with emphasizing journalists as victims. They’ll hem and haw about how western reporters churn out the same narrative about media freedom in Russia. They’ll scream, ‘What about . . . !” They will certainly offer banal explanations for why Kashin’s skull was fractured and his fingers broken. Such acts of violence happen all the time to normal people, they’ll say, and no one pays attention to their plight? Blah, blah, blah . . .

“Blah, blah, blah . . .” I yelled at him for this. I mean, he was like 60 miles away, so he couldn’t hear me. But I yelled. Concern for the plight of normal people is HARDLY apologetics for Kashin’s beating. There’s nothing to prevent empathy for both, and no reason why one tragedy should prevent us from reflecting on others. Hell, this paragraph sounds like apologetics for violence against normal people! Also, I think it was directed at me since I’d just posted a comment on fb about no one protesting when non-journalists or non-businessmen are beaten or killed. I don’t even know if that is true. So, at this point everyone, including Sean, seemed to be writing out of emotion. Well, someone had just had their brains bashed in – a normal response, I imagine.

From Natalia:

In trying to come up with a proper response to this outrageous event, I looked to the blog of another Russian journalist – Alyona Solntseva. Solntseva wrote about how such violence is pretty much a “normal” part of our lives:

“Everyone one of us has several acquaintances who were beaten on the street. Sometimes – with the intent of a robbery. Sometimes just because – because someone else didn’t like them… Beatings are routine, a norm that exists within our lives. How do you fight THAT?”

I have no doubt that Oleg’s attackers targeted him because of his work. Right now, all over LiveJournal, users are posting and reposting links to his latest articles. The idea is as follows: Oh, they wanted to silence Oleg? We won’t let them. We’ll make his writing even more popular. And they won’t be able to get all of us.

Whoever the bastards who are “they” turn out to be, what’s clear to me is that Alyona Solntseva is right; this type of behaviour is the norm. When journalists are attacked, it serves to underscore the fact that *nobody* is safe.

Intimidation and violence are seen as an acceptable way to solve problems ranging from “I don’t like your face, dude” to “I don’t like that article you wrote, dude.” In saying this, of course, it is not my intention to write off what happened to Oleg as a nebulous “societal” problem and throw up my hands. This type of barbarism is present almost everywhere you look – but journalists in particular remain the canary in the coal mine. You know it’s bad when a prominent member of the press is savagely attacked, and none of us are certain that those responsible will necessarily be brought to justice.

This is what I’d liked to have said to Sean had I been able to stop abusing the keyboard long enough to collect my thoughts. Perhaps it is even better, not simply equating all beatings and violence, not engaging in the dreaded “whataboutism,” but acknowledging Sean’s concept of the social order precisely to shed light on Oleg’s beating as a reflection of it. Switching the focus from discrimination: “attacks against prominent journalists” to total lack thereof: “attacks against even prominent journalists.”

I know it will upset some, but I remain reticent to agree that “journalists ARE special. At least those who practice their craft with all the seriousness the profession demands. Journalists aren’t normal people.” Or rather that this makes their beatings and deaths any more intolerable. Yes, they are a crucial, the crucial ingredient in any recipe for democracy, and without them, civil society suffers. Unfortunately, mass murder isn’t required to get journalists to stop doing their jobs. Rupert Murdoch could just hire them. But I will not argue that civil society does not suffer when journalists are oppressed. Or killed. But civil society also suffers when women are oppressed. Or killed. And it seems the offense of being a sensible woman sometimes trumps that of being a journalist. Where are the demands that anyone who beats up a woman to scare her shitless so she’ll think twice next time, before saying/doing/looking into that, be hunted down and punished to the full extent of the law? Civil society suffers anytime the brutes in charge decide to teach the weak but willful a lesson. It is not simply politicians or businessmen who pose a threat to innocent people. Journalists should not have to fear for their lives simply because they are doing their job, simply because of what they say or simply because of what they know.

NO ONE SHOULD.

Here are a few more…

From Julia:

When I first met him, in the winter of 2006, to interview him about the politics of young Russians — his specialty — he struck me as a Kremlin apologist. Kommersant is Russia’s most prominent daily, a mainstream paper owned by Medvedev buddy and mining mogul Alisher Usmanov.

I was, of course, wrong about Kashin. He is not an apologist but is, in the best traditions of his generation, simply hard to categorize.

Hopefully Ms. Ioffe has used this tragedy as a learning experience and will not be so swift to judge and label people in the future. And if not, well, now we all know how to get on her good side. Gulp.

Wait, there’s more Julia!

Journalist Oleg Kashin lay in an artificial coma after a savage beating left everything that could possible be broken, broken.

What was Supreme Leader Vladimir Vladimirovich doing? Drag racing.

Makes Luzhkov’s summer getaway seem downright appropriate.

I am not sure how racecar driving fits in to the PM’s job description. (Russia’s just signed a contract with Formula 1, so I guess it is some kind of marketing silliness.) The only thing I am less sure of is how solving an attempted murder case fits in to the PM’s job description. In normal countries, according to Law and Order, in the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. I don’t know how Vova is able to squeeze these joyrides into his tight schedule, but not even Action Man himself has enough hours in the day to personally address every attempted murder in fair Russia. (I think I just found a way to lower the murder rate there.)

Moreover, if Putin took the reigns of this, no one in the universe would trust the result. Nor should they. If it is true that Kashin was investigating the Khimki deal, implicating Putin’s judo buddy (whatever that is code for), I dare say there would be a conflict of interest if he began muddling about in the case. What is Julia asking of Supreme Leader Vladimir Vladimirovich? Maybe she wants him to declare that from now on, anyone who harms a journalist will be personally fed to his tigers. Except she seems not to be a huge fan of his unilateral authoritarian crazy ass dictator ways. And that would be a crazy ass dictator thing to do. I must say, I have never understood the logic of those who criticize both Putin’s unilateral authoritarian crazy ass dictator ways and his absence whenever Medvedev, otherwise known as the democratically elected President of the Russian Federation, steps up to take on various issues. What is that about? I want to sit in on their psychoanalysis sessions!

And it doesn’t even merit reply, but equating Putin’s afternoon of racing after the beating of one citizen with Luzhkov’s fleeing the country while the city he was supposed to be running was choking to death, surrounded by fire, for weeks on end and something like 700 people were dying a day… is inane. It doesn’t even work rhetorically, since it immediately brings to mind the image of VVP’s stunt of putting out the damn wildfires himself.

So it is all good and well to trawl the internets and compose snarky replies, but do I have anything … constructive to add about the attack on Oleg Kashin? I suppose that, regardless who is responsible for the attack, United Russia, and really any government entity should completely, officially and unequivocally sever any ties to groups advocating violence against any Russian citizen. That can’t prevent anyone from employing the little hoodlums on the down low, but if we’re talking about kids, it’ll at least humiliate them. I’ve no idea what to do about monied interests offing their enemies. Back in the day it was all done with expensive guns and car bombs. Everyone told me it had gotten better. Everyone told me Moscow was no longer a war zone or a scene from a 1930′s Warner bros. gangster film. So that’s good. Yet somehow businessmen shooting holes in each other seems more civilized than random citizens having their skulls bashed in. Moscow, Russia, has a very high brutality threshold. I can’t help them with that. Probably making sure crime is properly investigated and criminals properly punished would be a step in the right direction, though. Giving every journalist a body guard seems a bandaid solution, and if the body guard is provided by the State, and maybe the State doesn’t like your work, well, that could be potentially very ineffective.

There are places in Chicago where everyone’s getting shot. It used to be bad guys shooting bad guys, but now it is just any random person. No one knows what to do. Because not even the rule of law can prevent people who feel they have nothing to lose from committing crimes. I realize the situation in Russia is not exactly comparable, but my point is that for all the chest beating about the rule of law, it only goes so far when you have a fundamental social failure on this scale. That fundamental social failure being when significant numbers of people have more incentive to destroy each other than not.

What about journalists? How can we prevent them from being beaten or killed? Seriously, I am going with the rising tide lifts all boats theory here: address the social norms. Until there is a better solution, I suppose journalists will have to comfort themselves with the knowledge that they must be doing something right if people find them credible enough to kill. Keep up the good work?

October 8, 2010

Rahm-A-Llama Ding Dong: Revenge of the Liberasts!

Filed under: Politics: Russia,Politics: U.S. — poemless @ 5:51 PM
Tags: , , ,

Sometimes I get the whole MSM frustration with Russia thinking it is as important as the rest of us. For example, no one cares very much who the next mayor of Moscow will be. But every wonk in the human species is drooling over the race for mayor (King, really, if we’re honest) of Chicago, or more specifically, Rahm Emanuel’s new toy. Which goes to show that Chicago is a more important city than Moscow. Otherwise that gorgeous egomaniac Slava Surkov would have quit Dima to be its new mayor. So much for Luzhkov being an autocrat; he got fired, and no one in the top job wants to replace him. Pah-thetic. Lame. Autocracy my ass.

Overcompensating? Eh?

I have to put some positive spin on this, find a silver lining. For some perspective on my opinion of Rahm as Da Mayor, let us revisit a post from April of this year:

Apparently Rahm Emanuel has nothing better to do than sit up at night scheming up new ways to piss me off. And to his credit, it seems to be the one thing he’s quite successful at. There was that time he ran someone against my friend in a primary, won the primary and lost the general. Actually, that’s the most tolerable part of that story… And then there was the time he showed up at Glen’s Diner, sat next to me, was waited on hand and foot while I waited an hour for my salad only to be informed they’d run out of salad dressing. Then there was the week I woke up to helicopters each morning because my neighbor had decided to take the position of Chief of Staff. And then there was the time he could barely even get his own party to support a watered down piece of crap masquerading as a healthcare reform bill.

But I’m less vocal about his D.C. failures. Because I want him to stay there. Democrats all over Chicago cheered when he took the White House gig. Because they love him and were happy for him? Oh hell no. Because it meant he was leaving! The poor citizens of my fair district were finally given the opportunity to have a decent Congressman when he left. Our whole neighborhood could not get an audience with Emanuel during the run up to the invasion of Iraq. My new Rep. came to my holiday party and brought a whole cheesecake. Just sayin’.

So I am thinking it’s ok if he’s wrecking national policy so long as he’s not here and I can eat a fucking salald in peace. And I get cheesecake.

It’s unfortunate I’ve already used the phrase, “Oh hell no.” It would have been a perfect response to this:

Obama aide Emanuel: I’d like to be mayor of Chicago.

Damn it! You are the chief advisor to the leader of the free world, but that’s not enough? Why won’t you just LEAVE ME ALONE! PLEASE… Insatiable freak.

Below are the reasons Emanuel would be a crap mayor of Chicago:

~ Chicago likes two kinds of mayors: dictators who rule with an iron fist, and progressive reformers. Emanuel is neither of these, as the recent healthcare debate illustrated. He could not even get his whole party on board, let alone one member of the opposition. Apparently they are not afraid of him. This would have been excusable were he presenting some radical socialist legislation that was ahead of the curve. But he never even entertained the possibility of a public option, let alone single payer healthcare. Fail. Fail. If you can’t even get a few Democrats to support a rather reasonable request, how are you going to get 3 million people to cream “How high?” when you shout, “Jump!” Not gonna happen.

~ Emanuel likes to wear finely tailored suits. That’s cool, if you are running for mayor of New York. I just can’t see our little rascal in a beige trench and fedora, the Mayor of Chicago uniform.

~ Chicago is not Ravenswood. Chicago is not all the cool little trendy neighborhoods and posh suites in mile high skyscrapers. It’s the inner city. There are poor people there. This man believed it beneath his station to communicate with and represent a rather well-off area while he was Congressman. What is he going to do if he has to communicate with and represent rather uneducated and smelly people? Who have no money to give him!!! But who need the snow removed like ASAP.

~ Uhm, we don’t want him to be Mayor. I’m not one of those trite progressives who won’t be happy until Ralph Nader is running the city. I like Mayor Daley. I admire him. Sure he’s corrupt, but you can tell he loves the city. Sure he’s divisive, but the man gets things done. Emanuel tells people to fuck off by calling them names and giving them the finger. Daley tells people to fuck off by bulldozing the airport he wants to turn into a park in the middle of the night. It’s the difference between a schoolyard bully and a leader.

~ Salad.

~ Cheesecake.

At the time I wrote that, I was innocently under the impression that Daley would be my mayor for life. The way your parents have to be your parents for life. You are stuck with them, they show you no respect, but they are not allowed to quit. At the time I wrote that, Rahm seeking to replace Daley just seemed like one more conceited outburst from that little twit, confirming my opinion that he was a conceited little twit. Ha! Well he surely did smack that smug little smile of my pretty face…

Why I Hate Rahm.

Let’s be clear. I do not hate Rahm. I only really know him as constituent who was ignored by him, a party ally who was sabotaged by him, a liberal activist who was referred to as a “fucking retard” by him and a neighbor who gets worse service than him at local restaurants. He could be a very decent human for all I know, when his path is not crossing mine. Pretty much anyone he’s ever crossed paths with thinks he’s a jerk? Ok. But he might have a really beautiful soul which reveals itself only when he is home alone. I like the idea of this.

And speaking of home, Rahm is so well loved that the people who are letting his house (since he was in DC, he might as well make a buck off his house in Chicago) won’t let him back in! They’ve signed a lease which runs until June of next year and are stealthily flexing their right to remain put. What’s so telling about this is that the landlords in this town can usually get away with murder. Having innocent people evicted is child’s play. Frankly, if you can’t accomplish that, you are probably not fit to be a landlord. But he wants to be the landlord of the WHOLE ENTIRE town? Wha? This is my fundamental problem with Rahm Emanuel: he probably has the balls to tell a saint to fuck off, but sticks and stones…, when it comes to action, he flees. He turned straight around and looked for a condo to rent. Lame. Should join Yuri’s pah-thetic club.

But…

Is this why I don’t want him to be Mayor? Seriously? Because he didn’t kill his tenants? Reality check time. Why do I not want him to be mayor? I am asking myself this, searching for a respectable answer. Why am I so fanatical with disgust for this man that I’ve even wondered if he was responsible for the “mysterious illness” that has put Riccardo Muti on a plane back to Italy. And frankly, until I see a video of Muti in Italy, I will be harboring darker suspicions. I’ve turned into a rabid paranoiac – and just to amuse myself. What the fuck is wrong with me?

Is it his tactics? I devote this blog to praising the intimidating strong-arm tactics and bizarre antics of people like Putin. Err… Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds! Yes it is! However, the idea that I deserve a more just system of representation than others is the hobgoblin of my big mind.

Is it his position on the issues? He’s a Democrat. A not very nice Democrat, but at this point I’m through with pansy dems mucking everything up. We’re probably on the same page on basic issues. Except for war and free-trade and Israel and other things mayors don’t actually have very much to do with. He’s not a gay-bashing witch preaching creationism and fighting for the rights of puppy-mill owners, which puts him a head of a significant number of American politicians. He’s a corporatist. Which I hate. But Daley was ready to privatize the entire city for a fast buck, and my only criticism was that he wasn’t very nice to anti-war protesters… I doubt many Communist party candidates will be on the ballot.

He’s well educated, cute, Jewish, a former ballerina even, and we obviously share an uncanny preference for the same schools to attend, places to eat out and streets to live on! I like that he curses. It’s as if he were my own successful Doppelganger!

A Liberast Confesses!

So many years ago it occurred to me that for all they crazy talk about how evil and corrupt and mediaslutty Putin is, those Latynina types surely do spend a whole lotta time writing about him. Let us call it an “idée fixe.” Or a fetish. They may be writing about one thing, but it is their own sick mind to which they expose their innocent readers. And more recently, after les affaires Luzhkov, Browder, Khodorkovsky yadda yadda yadda, it occurred to me (and every other sentient human) that these people only begin their obsession with moral obligation after they suffer some cruel rejection from the villain in question. Normally, wearing a nicely-tailored suit is about the very last thing I will criticise a man for. Normally, the possibility of an attractive, well-dressed ballet dancer in high political office is so, so\ … so hot, I can forgive cruelty and corruption. Maybe even murder.

Call a doctor! I’m sick! I’ve contracted a nasty case of Liberastitis Obnoxiosus. “Who does he think he is, that he can get away with these things?” “The people who support him are just mindless sheep, blinded by the siren song of his sparkly celebrity. Or fear him.” “He doesn’t even think he needs to play well with other. Hrrmph.” “And look at the trail of destruction that follows him wherever he goes. All of his accomplishments are actually failures, if you look close enough.” “It’s not the person, it’s the process!” (<–when you hear the last one, just run.)

They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. But somehow admitting that personal grudges and hypocrisy – the hallmarks of Liberastic critique – are polluting my beautiful mind is not inspiring me to clean up my act, even if I risk losing critical thinking skills, or worse, popular credibility. It's not simply the adrenaline of working on yet another a losing campaign, the high of entertaining for a moment the possibility of toppling a powerful public figure, or the creepy self-confidence that accompanies moral superiority on display. I genuinely, sincerely, honestly, authentically believe that only when and if Rahm Emanuel is served a slice of humble pie in the form of a reality check that the world does not serve at his pleasure, could he be a capable leader. Why?

Suddenly I am reminded of the 2008 U.S. presidential primaries. I harbored an angry, passionate dislike of Hillary Clinton for years, so strong it sometimes got me out of bed in the morning. But when Obama began stealing the hearts and minds of unsuspecting Americans, she was forced to work for that which she'd already claimed for herself. And she did. And hard. And I was impressed. Behind that grotesquely fake smile, there lurked an intelligent, qualified woman. And I was also worried that Obama had experience no real public humiliation or hard-fought defeats, and that might make him less than ideal. Like, when things got tough and people stopped loving him for his charm alone, he might flounder, and then really bad people might take advantage of the fact. Crazy, right? What was I thinking! So after years of devoted animosity toward her, I voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries. I know. She thinks VVP has no soul. It’s not terribly relevant to day-to-day Oval Office decisions.

I also used to not like Mayor Daley. I did in the beginning. There was even a photo of him on the mantle. But then I didn’t. Because I saw some cops threatening and pushing a young pregnant woman during an anti-war protest. Horrible. They were unnecessarily abusive and confrontational, when these yuppies and hippies and toddlers just wanted to show up and say “No blood for oil! Show me what democracy looks like!” Harmless. The cops? Not so much. Years passed. We forgot about the war. The protests ended. The train service improved. A lovely park sprung up in the middle of the city. Life was, if not perfect, certainly better. And anyway, Daley’s opposition were clowns who thought the most pressing problem in Chicago was the existence of foie gras on menus. Either they were wrong, and nuts, or right, and Daley had solved all our other problems. Best to shut up and enjoy the park.

Is Liberasty is like some virus you have all your life but only rears its symptomatic head during times of great stress? Yes, I am an emotionally wounded ideologue, but I am capable of having normal political alliances. Yes, it’s contagious (just look at the cynical young Americans who go to Moscow, attend a protest, and suddenly being writing passionately about civil rights!) – but so long as I alert you, you can take precautions. I don’t even remember when I contracted it. High school Amnesty International club? Some pervert along the way managed to convince me that marching down streets and wearing buttons and organizing very small groups of people who have lots of free time can make the world a better place. Probably how I got the idea that writing a blog could do the same. Madness. Brain fever.

Pah-thetic!

or,

The kind of ideals this sick-ass country was founded on!

And Now a Song of Unrelenting Determination and Unmitigated Ego!

Perhaps this a fundamental difference between our liberasts? In America, not only is it acceptable for citizens to demand their representatives to listen to, acknowledge and fulfill the wishes of individuals, no matter how personal, irrational, hysterical and selfish, it’s what we call “civic engagement.” We pride ourselves on this circus. We are participating in democracy! That means we have one! See?! See?! And it is fun. I must be honest – it is a ton of fun. Those Tea Party people pretend to be persecuted, but they’re clearly having a grand ol’ time. (More even than the oversexed liberals. Because liberals actually feel guilt when their actions cause the suffering of others.) We’re a nation of complainers and demanders and believe, deeply, in the primordial pit of our souls, that the government exists to serve us. Not “us”, the collective sum of individuals, but the interests of individuals themselves. Exists to serve me. This isn’t one camp in our system – it is our system.

When people try to replicate this in Russia, it seems offensive. Look at the Liberasts: they only care about themselves and their pet causes. Embarrassing. Why? The same every man for himself culture that breeds narcissists like Emanuel breeds narcissists like me. We’re two side of the same coin, both acting on the conviction that our power to change the world is only constrained by our own personal shortcomings. But is this the opposite side of the coin of … Putinism? Bases and Centrists, parties in power and their opposition, while rarely accomplishing much, and all capable of poor governance, do have a symbiotic relationship, forever correcting for the other (and the other always in need of correction.) I might be totally off the mark, but I don’t witness this same phenomenon in Russian politics. I’m not saying there is, or is not democracy, and with no agreed upon definition of “democracy,” I don’t care. Just that there’s more of a disconnect, something not so… organic, about the Liberal opposition. Less flexible, less able to laugh at themselves?

Or is this just another wrong-headed picture of Russia painted by American pundits?

Because I still haven’t quite figured out why I am so awesome for standing up to Mr. Emanuel, but Kasparov is just a tool.

October 1, 2010

A Tale of Two Mayors.

Filed under: Politics: Russia,Politics: U.S. — poemless @ 4:49 PM
Tags: ,

I’ve been loathe to weigh in on the axing of Luzhkov. I’m neither privy to insider information nor prone to political forecasting, which leaves me with little more than opinion, and frankly, I’m not even sure I have that. However, I am struck by the eerie parallels between my mayor and Moscow’s, and even more so by their radically different though strangely synchronized exits. I thought I might even be able to avoid writing about that when Julia Ioffe published an FP article entitled “Moscow’s Mayor Daley.” I was ready to thank her for the favor until I actually read it and found, er, nothing at all about Daley in it, actually. (Though it does contain this passage: “This, after all, is Putin’s style: Wait for the scandal to be forgotten, and then make your move, thereby avoiding the appearance that you caved to pressure. Luzhkov will not be fired … Luzhkov will step down…”) Good times. Anyway, back to the Wonder Twins, our exiting Mayors.

He ruled his city for two decades as if he were the king of a nation state, wielding unchecked power, conducting business through patronage and strong-arming, exhibiting a curious display of megalomania and populism. Since the average adult begins experiencing memory loss in their 20′s, no one clearly remembers when this man was not in charge. He loved this town and loved running it. His goofy smile was contagious. He had a signature oldschool look that said to the people, I might be a gangster, but I am a working class gangster. He was controversially outspoken, but his crazy talk was a reliable source of entertainment. As many an epigraph on his reign have noted, you may not have liked how he did things, but you admit that he got things done. He revitalized his decaying cityscape so that anyone complaining about traffic of the cost of living or police corruption were forced to add a coda: but look how much the city has changed in the past 10 years … oooh, so new and shiny, such an exciting place to live, so much better! Sure, holding a street protest, or being in the mere vicinity of one, might earn you a few bruises and a night in the slammer, but let’s face it, most of us don’t attend protests. And yes, his political party is notorious for corruption, scare tactics and ballot tampering. But does anyone doubt that he’d win if free and fair elections were held tomorrow?

I mean, “if free and fair elections were held a year ago?”

Richie and Yura, despite everything they’ve ever done for you, awoke this year to find themselves not as popular as they once were. Or their critics louder. Not that they are the kind of guys to let the opinions of others decide their fates. And few were willing to bet serious money they could not politically survive the recent turn of events. But why now? It’s not as if no one had noticed the corruption, inefficiencies or shady allocation of funds before. Why the sudden complaining, aloud? Complaining as if complaining about these men had ever accomplished anything? Was it the belt tightening of the global recession, the confidence brought by new young reform-minded Presidents, the growing inconvenience of car ownership? Bad weather? Something else mayors don’t actually have control over? A perfect storm? Who knows from which direction the winds were blowing, but everyone seemed to hear it…

Now we take a break from the parallels.

This summer, Mayor Daley held a press conference to announce he would not be seeking re-election.

This summer, Mayor Luzhkov vacationed abroad while his city suffocated in smoke, refused to return, eventually returned, people protested, the Kremlin suggested he think about resigning, maybe come up with the name of a replacement, he ignored them, they sent him on vacation to think about resigning, maybe come up with severance deal, he returned defiant. He was fired.

I might boast that my mayor is more humble than yours. However, being unaccountable to anyone, no one can fire mine for insubordination, so far as I am aware.

And we return to our parallels.

Shock. Yes, there had been murmurs, wishful thinking, fantasies and hysterical pundits who’d said it might happen, it could happen, it even would happen. But no one thought he’d actually do it. He being either Daley or Medvedev. Even the most vocal critics believed their mayor would take his final breath in office. It reminds me of the title of the book,Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More. Neither man had been grooming a protege to succeed him in office. Neither man gave any potential successor much time to prepare for the new job. Unlike other modern day autocrats, they were not interested in transitioning out of office. The chapter covering their respective reign in the history books would end with a full stop.

While it’s popular to bemoan the joke that is the democratic process associated with Russia or Chicago, I hear few people complain that they’ve been robbed of the chance to vote their leader out of office. While a new era begins, and reform and “real politics” seem at least more possible now than it did a few months ago, I don’t see many people dancing in the streets. I hear lots of talk about legacies. About looming criminal investigations. About architecture and city planning. And, as if we’d regressed into ancients who’d just witnessed a comet, I hear people, bewildered, ask what it all means, and keep their fingers crossed that everything continues to work. Like those ancients, we will find new leaders, good or bad. The earth will keep turning. And we’ll find new things to complain about, new people to blame, new things to build, new rules and regulations to pass and new people to undermine them. We’ll find new humans to turn into icons before finding new reasons to expose them as merely mortal.

I suspect it will be some time, however, before we find a new Daley or Luzhkov.

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