poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

December 28, 2011

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

Filed under: Politics: Russia — poemless @ 5:43 PM
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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.

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!

October 11, 2010

Odds & Ends: Like in a dream Edition

A bit of catching up.

Vova’s Girlz.

~ Kevin O’Flynn: “Wanted: Putin’s Girl.”

So, this is annoying:

A girl was needed, but no ordinary one. She had to be not too tall and not too short, not too young and not too old — which if you’re wondering, is apparently between 22 and 27 — and she had to have a Moscow propiska, or registration.

It sounds like many a Moscow or even St. Petersburg man’s dream. Her skin had to be pure — no mention of her heart — her brows not too heavy, her chins not too many. Slavic features, please, they asked. Good manners, a way with lifts, not too big on the hips.

A beautiful smile and kind, intelligence plus the ability to take a bullet to the chest if somebody takes a pot shot at the guy who looks almost tall — to you, possibly — by your side.

If asked to find an escort for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, it is unlikely that I would have stuck an ad up on a web site.

But that is what went buzzing around the Internet a week or so ago. The escort was needed for last Friday when Putin was set to visit the Arctic forum at the new Moscow State University building.

Her job was to escort him to the lift: Nails have to be short enough to be able to press the button; make some meaningless chitchat — “So when will Novaya Zemlya get its first Coffee House?” — and then fade away like a late morning dream.

She was not the only one, as the company in question was actually looking for three hostesses in total. Probably because there are always a lot of lifts at Arctic forums.

Your dress, the ad said, must be business-style: suit, skirt/trousers, blouse, high heels, “not vulgar but beautiful.”

The girls, who have already had their moment, were to be chosen in a “casting” close to the Universitet metro station.

Most specific was the height requirement: “Height, STRICTLY 160-165 (plus 2 to 3 centimeters is possible),” the ad said. “VVP has a height of 169 cm, not higher than him, that’s for sure.”

I didn’t even bother trying our for that one … you know, er, propiskaless and all. Maybe Kevin finds this kind of headhunting vulgar, but at least it is honest. In America, we invite all the highly qualified applicants, hire the pretty ones as intended all along, and send the rest consolation letters, if they are lucky.

Why isn’t Lyudmila helping with the elevators? If you want to send a pro-family, traditional-values demography-inspiring message to your people, why not have the wife at your side? Alas, perhaps she has joined a convent? There are not even elevators in convents, I don’t think. Not in the ones I’ve stayed at. Oh yes I did. Catholic school, baby. Anyway, here is the difference between me and Lyudia Putina: I can still entertain the idea that it’s just that he hasn’t met me.

~ … I don’t have much to add to the Great Calendar Debate, except to wonder if people even need wall calendars anymore. I buy them. Mine have themes like “365 Days in France” and “Warhol’s Shoes,” but only because Putin hasn’t out out his own beefcake calendar yet. However, between Outlook, Blackberry, Google and every other cyber organizing tool out there, why buy a wall calendar? Because it gives you something nice to look at when you realize your bills are due. Which, politics aside, is why depressing calendars don’t sell.

~ From Becky Cloonan, via Natalia Antonova:

Read This.

Elif Batuman is a name I’ve come across from time to time, thought I should remember, and always forgot. She is the author of The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. Which -based on nothing more than the title- has been immediately added to my reading list. But it’s her blog that has me reeling….

Kafka porn contest

Patient readers! I promised a Kafka contest, and here it is. In the course of researching my recent Kafka article, I was interested to learn about a 2008 Kafka pornography scandal, provoked by the publication of James Hawes’s Excavating Kafka (the US title of which, Why You Should Read Kafka before You Waste Your Life, makes me proud to be an American). As the Guardian put it:

At the focus of Hawes’ investigation are pictures he stumbled across in the British Library in London and the Bodleian in Oxford of the pornography to which Kafka subscribed while in his twenties. They include images of a hedgehog-style creature performing fellatio, golem-like male creatures grasping women’s breasts with their claw-like hands and a picture of a baby emerging from a sliced-open leg.

Myriad questions came to my mind. Whom or what was that hedgehog-style creature fellating? Was the Guardian being anti-Semitic when they called that breast-grasping creature a Golem? And who wants to see a baby coming out of someone’s leg? I consulted Google for answers and came across a terrifically helpful blog post which identifies and reproduces Aubrey Beardsley’s representation of a very angry-looking baby being removed from some guy’s leg (below), as per the description, in Lucian’s second-century proto-sci-fi hit True History, of how children are birthed on the Moon:\

Gratifying as this was, I was still really curious about that hedgehog and its unknown partner, which continued to elude my Googling skills for some time. One respected Kafka expert, to whom I broached the subject, basically counseled me to give up: “I think we can assume that the hedgehog was [performing these acts upon] another hedgehog, no? Isn’t that porn reportage protocol? You assume they’re of the same species, unless otherwise noted.” Well, Sir, that certainly isn’t my reportage protocol. And I’m glad it isn’t. Because, OK, don’t click on the link if you’re under 18 (believe me kiddo, it can wait), but I eventually found the picture, and, although I can’t tell you exactly what the soi-disant “hedgehog” is pleasuring, I can state with confidence that it is definitely not another soi-disant “hedgehog.”

As is often the case with Kafka, the more I learned, the more questions remained unanswered. What was that thing? Why was it behaving that way? Are such images “porn, pure and simple,” or are they, as Reiner Stach has suggested, mere “playful representations”?

Hoping to penetrate some of these mysteries, I addressed myself to valued reader and colleague Dimiter Kenarov, author of the Bulgarian bestselling poetry volume Апокрифни животни (Apocryphal Animals), the proceeds of which are diverted to the Sofia Zoo, where they have already financed a new swing for the monkeys. Kenarov suggested that the illustration represented some form of “apocryphal evolution,” but that, more significantly, one had perhaps stumbled upon “a whole new porn genre: Kafka Sex. There is money in here. For example, undressing a person only to find new and new layers of clothing underneath.”

I hereby decree this the first official entry in the My Life and Thoughts Kafka porn contest. Please send in your best ideas for this lucrative new genre, which may or may not eventually benefit in some way the monkeys in the Sofia Zoo.

Contest is over, and you’ve missed your chance to get some of her furniture. But a “first official entry” suggests there will be a second, official or otherwise. Anyway, this all somehow reminded me of that Edition 69 and the “The Devětsil ” literary movement. A bit after his time. But surrealist porn seems to be a theme with the Czechs…

~ Sheyngart recently showed up in the neighborhood. He did a great Q. and A., like he really wanted to be there, unlike Sasha Hemon. He’s quite funny. But not terribly serious. Which is too bad, because when he gets serious, great things come out. He was talking about how writers should take acting classes. I’d never thought about it, but it makes great sense. I’ve taken enough acting classes that I should now be prepared to write a novel. The crowd was a mix urban hipsters, Russian immigrants (a burly man rudely pushed past me to demand of the staff, “Vhat Time you Close?!”) and elderly Jews. Gary said he thought the Tea Party was better than Putin’s Russia. (Gary lives in NYC and doesn’t exactly have to worry about the Tea Party. I’ve not had any ancestors pogromed to death by Russians. We disagree.) He said he liked Pavel Pepperstein and Sorokin. He told a story about these old babushky who erected a giant toilet in central Moscow and were flushing Sorokin’s lurid books down it. You thought the story would end in grievance: so that’s the kind of thanks an artist gets in Putin’s oppressive Russia. He took a u-turn and remarked, “Russia’s the only country in the world that continues to care enough about novels to hold public protests against them.”

~ Adding to my blogroll: Lizok’s books.

~ I’ve about finished Rasskazy, and off the top of my head, the stories I liked most:

“THEY TALK” by Linor Goralik
“RUSSIAN HALLOWEEN” by Aleksander Bezzubtsev-Kondakov
“THE SEVENTH TOAST TO SNAILS” by Ekaterina Taratuta
“D.O.B.” by Aleksander Snegirev

Probably pure coincidence, but in this selection I’ve made, the women are writing experimental prose, and the men more traditional narratives. There is a lot of stuff in the book that, while very artistic and academic, does not seem to work very well. These did. I also wanted read twithout any political bias. One might argue that these are “Western” in their style, and condemnations of Russia in their content. They’re well written. And I am not sure I buy the idea that anything less than saccharine is an indictment, or the only good writers are Slavophiles.

And BG and Slava came to me in a dream…

~ c/o Oleg Kashin (who is spending WAY too much time on Twitter):

BG & Surkov! You know how in cheap beer commercials, there is always a set of hot twins the average Joe spies at a bar? (As if an average Joe drunk on Budweiser were more attractive to Scandanavian twins than the sober version of himself?) Anyway, If Budweiser were marketing to me, this would be the commercial. The third fellow is Andrei Makarevich. Meh. What was going on here? Political event at which musicians are kissing up? Or musical event at which poor Slava is kissing up? Anyway. So there is now some debate as to whether or not Boris has gone over to the dark side. Some people are like, hey, he’s just having a polite chat – who cares? They aren’t being helped by this, from Ekho Moskvy:

~ Борис Гребенщиков и Владимир Путин плавали по коммунальным квартирам России.

Известный музыкант Борис Гребенщиков в день рождения премьер-министра России Владимира Путина встретился с ним во сне. Об этом сам музыкант рассказал сегодня в эфире “Эха Петербурга”:

“Он мне снился сегодня. Мы с ним совершали вояж по России. По-моему, мы с ним плыли на катере сквозь квартиры коммунальные. Причём было дико красиво. Вероятно, вели разговоры. Я такого сна не помню просто в жизни своей! Я так ему благодарен! Какие силы работают на нашего президента… премьер-министра, что даже я вижу сны про него! Фантастика. Вот оккультизм настоящий”.

Alrighty then… Let’s keep in mind he smokes a lot of pot. But, is he being sarcastic, or sincere? Is it veiled criticism or harmless entertainment? It’s one thing to dream you’re sailing with Vova through communal apartments, another to issue a press release about it to your hippied-out followers. Hm. Fascinating indeed.

Bonus.

~ Finally, we have some pictures of the Soyuz capsule landing. For a while, I was not impressed. Looked like a piece of junk on a parachute. Then a piece of junk crashing to the dirt. Then an old piece of junk out in a field.

Then spacemen crawled out of it!!!! Wowee!

Soyuz TMA-18 Space Capsule Landing.

It’s really a metaphor for Russia, is it not? To the casual observer: junk. To the close observer: oudated junk. To the surveyor: junk surrounded by miles of nothing. But inside the junk are fascinating, adventurous, curious, educated and slightly insane people, doing astonishing things. And even the junk has stories to tell…

August 6, 2010

Odds & Ends: Civilization and its Discontents Edition

“To me, culture is, first and foremost, a matter of literature.” That’s what Dmitry “Collapse Gap” Orlov says. But what of those who are unable to read? Not because they are pathetic saps with the misfortune to be born in a country where the skill of literacy is only appreciated in as much as it gets Oprah to make you buy things, even if they are books. But because you are blind? Or something? For clear (or blurry, as it were) reasons, I have been contemplating the phenomenon of audio books. No. I couldn’t live like that. Celebrity culture has infiltrated every other aspect of entertainment. I don’t want to hear the voice of an Oscar winning actor when I am escaping into literature. But I do need to read. Otherwise I will be reduced to a person who only gets information from my circle of friends and family and neighbors and coworkers, the tv, or the radio. Like the rest of America. Next thing you know, I will be joining the Tea Party and having opinions about “American Idol.” I’d try to download podcasts (a word that already smacks of obsolescence) but would not know how to do that blind. I have no ear for music. What would I do to nourish my soul, inform my opinions, fill the space & time between crawling into bed and falling into slumber? I know what you are thinking. Uhm, get a mate?

It’s on my list of to-do’s. But right now I want to share with you some things I have been able to read, or read about, recently. Unfortunately, the gift of sight does not come without a price. Sometimes your eyes will fall upon words that make you truly wish you were blind. Then again, sometimes Dmitry Orlov is a genius.

I. (Oh, and I am preparing the ground for an imminent Russian invasion of America, btw.)

Moscow Diaries: “Hello, goodbye.”

True/Slant.com has finally died a proper death, but let it be known it held on to its quaint values of paying bloggers and discouraging comments until its last day, and did not give up the good fight before It Girl Julia Ioffe was able to present this bizarre and perplexing defense to her critics:

Because who really believes in the virgin peachiness of the Yeltsin era? Who really thinks Kasparov or his cohort are a realistic choice to lead Russia? And really — and this is a question for all the commenters who accuse me of subterfuge and of preparing the ground for an imminent American invasion of Russia — really who is rooting for Russia’s demise? Who? To be brutally honest: no one in the world give that much of a shit about Russia to actively want America to take over. Maybe you’ve heard about how insular and navel-gazing Americans are? And maybe apathy is a more apt definition of a “Russophobe,” but then it isn’t much of the toothy ogre you’re looking to beat your chest about and make you feel once again to be the fulcrum of world history, is it?

It’s no concern of mine whether she is raving mad foaming at the mouth with hatred for her native land (I go there sometimes too) or she is so cool and disinterested she can’t be bothered to form an opinion one way or another. But it is a concern of mine when people open the door and allow logic to escape while pontificating about US-Russia relations. In quick order, actual responses to her rhetorical questions:

1) A lot of those navel-gazing Americans, actually. 2) Kasparov or his cohort and anyone giving them money or a soapbox, one expects. 3) What’s stranger, that anyone could believe this young woman is preparing the ground for an American invasion of Russia, or that she could believe it necessary to use her last T/S post to defend against such an accusation? 4) “no one in the world give that much of a shit about Russia to actively want America to take over.” What does this sentence even mean? Giving a shit about a country => wanting America to take it over? I understand it to imply the opposite among people who are not Ahmed Chalabi. People want to take over places because they care about them? If you are accused of not liking Russia, you are probably being accused of not caring about Russia, not caring too much. No one in the world cares very much about Russia? As much as anyone in the world cares very much about any country, it seems to me that the risks involved in not caring about Russia make the alternative far more appealing. So at least a few of us do. Re: this “takeover,” are you talking military takeover or ideological or financial takeover? Are you referring to official takeover, or the use of money, power and public relations to achieve significant enough influence to ensure Russia acts in the interests of America before its own? … Clearly Julia Ioffe is no toothy ogre – she’s quite the beauty in fact, and probably harmless, given her naivety: apathy is not dangerous or cause for chest beating? Oh? Beneath Ioffe’s flippant remarks, it seems real concerns remain unaddressed.

What have we learned today, readers? You can fight fire with fire, and strawmen with strawmen, but I’d advise against fighting fire with straw…

… or fighting ideas with fire.

II. How hot is it in Moscow? What is 451°F in Celsius?

Some opposition activist took a lighter to Surkov’s book.

Coincidentally, the activist was arrested that very night for his involvement in a protest against the destruction of a local forest. Don’t tell him books come from trees.

Все произошло в пятницу вечером, когда Виталий Шушкевич отмечал свой день рождения в компании друзей и не только в районе станции метро «Китай-город». На праздник пришли также Мария Дрокова из кремлевского проекта «Наши» и Мария Сергеева — бывшая активистка «Молодой Гвардии», которая всем запомнилась призывом не ругать русские машины. Среди подарков имениннику была и зажигалка с книгой речей и статей господина Суркова. Несмотря на присутствие среди молодых людей комиссара «Наших», Виталий Шушкевич книгу сжег.


Image source: Live Journal user plucer.

So nice to see the young champions of democracy and civil rights holding a good old-fashioned book burning. That’s the spirit! Though I’m not sure we can really justify setting unnecessary fires in Russia’s current incendiary condition… Still, I’m sure that’s one less beach babe who will be turned into a Nashist zombie, carrying out Surkov’s wicked, wicked plan to modernize the country and replace conscription with an army of giant felt vegetables. Good work, Shushkevich.


Image source: Live Journal user brainw45h.


Image source: Idiot.fm.

Looks like Slava has taken his own advice, “Innovate, gentlemen!,” and is branching out into new methods for achieving creepiness.

Speaking of the Ministry of Ideology:

III. Art as Ammunition!

ARTicle: “Mightier than the Bayonet?”

One of my favorite topics is propaganda. It is often taken to mean the dissemination of misleading or biased or plainly untrue information, rather than the promotion of any agenda, be it noble or malicious. I think it is because we believe ourselves capable of real objectivity. Like the swing voters. Or Julia. As if taking no personal position on anything were more responsible than taking a firm but well-informed one. But of course no one is omniscient, and some things are worth fighting for. Some agendas are worth promoting. The AIC looks at the role of Soviet propaganda posters in the fight against the Nazis:

The word propaganda might initially sound pejorative. Propaganda has been historically perceived as a malevolent method of spreading false rumors. But might we also interpret propaganda as a means of providing a nation courage and willingness to fight in the face of immeasurable odds? Such was the task of the Soviet news agency (TASS) window-posters created in the Soviet Union during the Second World War—and such is the content of Windows on the War, a massive exhibition of these “propaganda” posters that will be mounted at the Art Institute next summer.

Propagandistic posters are usually focused on bolstering support on the home front and distanced from the reality of the battlefield. However, the makers of the TASS Windows had a different idea: to use their creative skills as ammunition in the fight against the Germans. Art became a weapon.

The poster above, number 1000, acts as a visual manifesto for the TASS studio. Above the picture is a quote by Vladimir Mayakovsky, the acclaimed Russian Futurist poet and founder of the ROSTA Windows—predecessors of TASS in the 1920s and the inspiration for the TASS Window project as a whole. The quote reads, in translation, “I want the pen to be equal to the bayonet”—a wish visually manifested in this image. We see Hitler being attacked by three bayonets, alongside a pencil and ink pen. In fact, if we follow Hitler’s gaze, he seems to be staring directly at the hands holding these two tools. The artists, writers, and poets of TASS, it would seem, have succeeded—they have “killed” the enemy’s spirit, while boosting the morale of Soviet citizens with this symbolic defeat. Finally, as Mayakovsky wished, the pen and pencil are on equal footing with the traditional weapons of war.

There was a bona fide sense that producing these TASS Windows was as important as being at the front. In the Soviet Union, the artists who created the posters became beloved cultural icons, as important as military generals. They received state medals and great renown for their work. To this day, surviving former Soviet citizens alive at the time of the TASS Windows can name the artists by heart—artists such as Sokolov-Skalya, Solov’ev, Shukhmin, and the Kukryniksy.

Surrounding the production of the TASS Windows are stories of passion, fervor, and intense labor. The artists would gather, regardless of abominable weather or the advancing enemy attack on Moscow, to create a new poster virtually every day of World War II. Not unlike the Red Army soldiers, the artists and writers labored in inhospitable conditions for the sake of the war effort. Because of the cultural importance of these posters and the iconic status of these artists and writers, heroic or wistful cultural myths came to surround the studio as time went on. According to some anecdotes, TASS posters were carried to the Front by the soldiers and were used to intimidate the enemy. Some TASS artists and writers were even driven to the Front itself so that they might absorb the details of war to imbue later drawings with veracity. The artists and writers of the TASS Windows truly felt their art to be one of the most powerful weapons against the Nazi invaders.

–Julia A., intern in the Department of Prints and Drawings

This post is from the “Countdown to TASS” series leading up to the exhibition of Soviet propaganda posters at the Art Institute of Chicago next year. I mention this because the exhibition will be part of the Soviet Experience arts festival, a “14-month-long showcase of works by artists who created under (and in response to) the Politburo of the Soviet Union” which will be held at numerous arts institutions throughout Chicago from 2010-2011. Hopefully if you are in town, you will have the opportunity to check it out.

IV. Russian Lit. 101.

A Good Treaty: “The Tale of How Aleksandr Pochkov Quarreled with Vladimir Vladimirovich”

I don’t know what it is about constituent services and Russia, but no combination of subjects makes a more ideal setting in which to employ the literary devices of the absurd and grotesque. Behold!

In which AGT translates an incredible display of pathos and mockery that is the following exchange between an angry blogger and the nation’s leader:

Do you know why we’re burning?

Because it’s all fucked. I’ll explain. I have a dacha in a village 153 km [95 miles] from Moscow, in the Tverskaia oblast’. This village is the sort of place where everyone lives nose-to-nose and shares common fences, or — like my neighbor and me — no fences at all. I’ve got nothing to hide from him and don’t need the fucking thing. And since he’s a local, he also looks after my house when I’m away, even mowing my lawn. After all, what’s good for his cows does no harm to my grass. The lawn grows back fast. But let’s get back to the fires.

In this village under those asshole communists, whom everyone shits on, there were three reservoirs for fighting fires [pozharnye prudy], an alarm bell hung (which was sounded in case of a fire), and miraculously there was even a fire truck. Now sure there was just one for three villages — but there was still a truck. And then came Mr. Democrat and his friends to fuck everything up. First they filled in the reservoirs and sold the land to developers. Next they divvied off the fire truck to God knows where (aliens probably snatched it), and they changed the alarm bell into a phone (fucking “modernization”). Only the piece of shit doesn’t work because they forgot to connect the line. There’s still a fireman, yes, but he’s got nothing left but a helmet and a coat (left over from those terrible communists). Here’s how he works: about fifteen years ago, a fire started in the neighboring village. They promptly sent us a messenger, and we ran back to help put it out. Our fireman got dressed in his uniform, grabbed two buckets, filled them with water and (this part is still a mystery to me) hopped on a bicycle, and came with us to put out the fire. It was laughter and sin together. Someone called [another] fire department, but they only arrived at the end of everything (five hours later) because they had to come from Tver’. Using everything within reach — sand, water, even spitting — we somehow managed to save all but one house.

Do I have any questions? [In response to the government soliciting citizens to write in.] Where are our tax dollars going? Why every year do we slip further and further toward a more primitive social order? Fuck the innovation center in Skolkovo if we don’t even have something as elementary as fire trucks! Why did there used to be people like the forest rangers, who warned people about fires and quickly conveyed the information to firefighters, so it wasn’t allowed to reach residences? I don’t want a telephone in the village — I want reservoirs for fighting fires and I want my alarm bell back. Give me back the fucking bell and dig me another reservoir, and I’ll fill it in and take care of it myself. If the regional authorities are game, just give me the space.

Understand me, Mr. Bureaucrat, Russia doesn’t need all your shitty genius ideas. Well before you, smart Russians — real men [muzhiki] — already figured this stuff out. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. It was invented a long time ago and it works just fine, as long as you keep your nose out of our business.* Stop charging me taxes, or just cut off my pension deductions. I’m not going to live to retirement age in this kind of life, anyway. With the [saved] money, I’ll buy a fire truck for three villages and sleep soundly, knowing nobody will take it away from my people, from my neighbors, because that bitch will be ours and we’d kill anyone who tried. If you deputies and distinguished officials piss on us because we actually give a shit about ourselves and our neighbors, then let us live the way we want, happily and in peace [schastlivo i khorosho].

[But] we don’t expect much from you. We all understand that your life principle is that everyone around you should need you. But you’re mistaken. It’s you who needs us — and in a big way. Believe me.

So give me back my alarm bell, you bitches, and shove your fucking phone up your asses.

I ask you to convey my letter to the Kalyazinskii Region authorities, in the Tverskaia oblast’.

Thank you in advance. ~top_lap

Dear honorable Internet user,

At the end of the workday today, inhaling (as did all of Moscow) the smoke of the forests burning outside the city, with great interest and pleasure did I learn of your assessment of the summer fires situation that’s befallen central Russia.

Fair’s fair, one ought to point out that Russia hasn’t had such high temperatures for over 140 years — not even under the communists, that is.

This at least partly vindicates the authorities, who — while certainly responsible for fighting natural disasters — are only for the first time encountering something of this size on such a scale.

However, in general, I agree with your comments.

You are, of course, a remarkably plainspoken and direct person. All the more power to you! [Prosto molodets]

And you are undoubtedly a man of letters. If you had made your living as a writer, you could be living — like Lenin’s favorite writer Gorky — in Capri.**

However, even there you wouldn’t feel yourself entirely safe, insomuch as both Europe and the U.S. face the same mass-scale natural disasters. Suffice it to recall how many forests burned in Europe last year or the year before.

Despite all our problems and troubles, I hope you and I both make it to retirement age.

All necessary funds for disaster management and other pressing issues have already been dispatched from the federal budget to reimburse victims.

If you provide your address, your governor will receive an alarm bell right away.

Sincerely,
Vladimir Putin

But what A Good Treaty, and shockingly, everyone who has written on the topic of this fantastic exchange, fails to mention, or even possibly be aware of, is that the entire correspondence was conducted not between the blogger and the Premier at all, but between their dogs!

A dreary world indeed, gentlemen…

V. Smackdown: Orlov and Jesus v. Hitler, Lenin, Calvin and yer teevees.

ClubOrlov: “Miserable Pursuits.”

This is one of the best little Orlov pieces I have read in a while. I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing. Here are some excerpts:

The Russian author Eduard Limonov wrote of his experiences with poverty in America. To his joy, he discovered that he could supplement his cash earnings with public assistance. But he also quickly discovered that he had to keep this joy well hidden when showing up to collect his free money. It is a curious fact that in America public assistance is only made available to the miserable and the downtrodden, not to those who are in need of some free money but are otherwise perfectly content. Although it is just as possible to be poor and happy in America as anywhere else, here one must make a choice: to avoid any number of unpleasant situations, one must be careful to hide either the fact that one is poor, or the fact that one is happy. If free public money is to be obtained, then only the latter choice remains.

It is another curious fact that vast numbers of Americans, both rich and poor, would regard Limonov’s behavior as nothing short of despicable: a foreign author living in America on public assistance while also earning cash! It seems reasonable that the rich should feel that way; if the poor can’t be made miserable, then what exactly is the point of being rich? But why should the poor particularly care? Another cultural peculiarity: what dismays them is not the misappropriation of public funds. Tell them about the billions wasted on useless military projects, and they will reply with a yawn that this is just business as usual. But tell them that somewhere some poor person is eating a free lunch, and they will instantly wax indignant. Amazingly, Americans are great believers in Lenin’s revolutionary dictum: “He who does not work, does not eat!” One of the rudest questions you might hear from an American is “What do you do for a living?” The only proper response is “Excuse me?” followed by a self-satisfied smirk and a stony silence. Then they assume that you are independently wealthy and grovel shamefully.

Most shockingly, there are many poor Americans who are too proud to accept public assistance in spite of their obvious need for it. Most Russians would regard such a stance as absurd: which part of “free money” don’t these poor idiots like—the fact that it’s money, or the fact that it’s free? Some Russians who are living in the US and, in trying to fit in to American society, have internalized a large dose of the local hypocrisy, might claim otherwise, but even they, in their less hypocritical moments, will concede that it is downright foolish to turn down free money. And rest assured, they will mop up every last penny of it. Mother Russia didn’t raise any dummies.

But let us not blame the victim. What causes these poor souls to leave money on the table is just this: they have been brainwashed. The mass media, most notably television and advertising, are managed by the well-to-do, and incessantly hammer home the message that hard work and self-sufficiency are virtuous while demonizing the idle and the poor. The same people who have been shipping American jobs to China and to India in order to enhance their profits want it to be generally understood that the resulting misery is entirely the fault of the miserable. And while the role of the pecuniary motive may be significant, let us not neglect to mention the important fact that producing mass misery is a high-priority objective in and of itself. [...]

And so, a poor but happy and carefree future may yet await a great many of us, both idle rich and idle poor—one happy though rather impoverished family. But in order to achieve that we would have to change the culture. Let it be known that free lunch is a very good thing indeed, no mater who’s eating it or why, and never mind that Lenin said that “He who does not work, does not eat.” And while we are at it, let’s also dispense with the hackneyed adage that “Work will set you free” (Arbeit Macht Frei) which the Nazis liked to set in wrought iron atop the gates of their concentration camps. Let us consign the communists and the fascists and the capitalists to the proverbial scrapheap of history! Let us instead gratuitously quote Jesus: “Behold the lilies of the field, how they grow. They labor not, neither spin. And yet for all that I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his royalty, was not arrayed like unto one of these… Therefore take no thought saying: What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or Wherewith shall we be clothed? … Care not therefore for the day following. For the day following shall care for itself. Each day’s trouble is sufficient for the same self day.” Amen.

The Limonov book in question is, It’s me, Eddie, and I think it is the most memorable work I have read by him, probably because it hit a lot of my American nerves. It is also this novel that features his astonishment at the “It’s not my problem” refrain commonly heard in America, which I mentioned in my piece on the hoarders. It’s Limonov, so it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I imagine that if you are reading this blog, you can handle this book, and so I think all of you should read it if you haven’t yet.

Note to Dmitry: It appears some miserable pursuits pay off:

VI. The Power of Negative Thinking.

USA Today: “Russians are less depressed than Americans.”

No word on if it’s anything to do with Americans reading USA Today

Despite what many social observers have described as a generally dark and brooding take on life, a new report suggests that Russians are actually less likely than Americans to be depressed.
In fact, researchers have uncovered indications that the Russian cultural tendency to dwell on the negative may ultimately insulate them from feelings of distress when engaged in self-reflection.

“Among Westerners, focusing on one’s negative feelings tends to impair well-being, but among Russians, that is not the case,” study co-author Igor Grossmann, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of Michigan, said in a university news release.

“Russians focus more on their negative feelings than Americans do,” Grossmann explained, “but they spontaneously distance themselves from their emotions to a greater extent than Americans, who tend to immerse themselves in their recalled experiences.”[...]

The Russians appeared to experience less distress than the Americans after retelling the experience, and placed blame less often on the person involved in the incident. The Russians were also able to immediately distance themselves from their recollections, even while discussing them — a skill linked to less distress and feelings of blame, the study authors noted.

Culture, concluded the authors, has an impact on the emotional and cognitive consequences of bad experiences.

What? You mean our culture which practically criminalizes and literally pathologizes normal human emotions like unhappiness actually makes us more distressed and ashamed?

Get. Out.

Alright, dear readers. I am now going to go ruminate on my unhappiness and misfortune in the hopes it staves off depression. Thanks for stopping by.

June 1, 2010

Odds & Ends: Spring Cleaning Edition

While I’ve not been writing about Russia (but instead cleaning, from top to bottom, in a fit of hoardophobia, every square inch of my apartment) a lot of stories have piled up in my bookmarks. Now I’m cleaning out those as well, before you show up one day to find me rotting under a heap of old news items.

THE POLITICAL DISH

~ David Hoffman, author of “The Dead Hand,” asserts that the Prime Minister does not have a nuclear suitcase.

I, author of, “poemless. the blog,” assert that David Hoffman is rather gullible if he believes that. But why on earth didn’t Vova change the law before he switched positions with Medvedev?

~ Russian Democracy: The Game Show!

Seriously. This looks like a scene from a Japanese game show. Whoever fails to cast enough votes for a quorum before the buzzer goes off will be doused with Ready Whip from a fire hose. Go team UR!

I wonder what is to stop the AWOL deputies from having their votes cast, say, against the Kremlin? The lackeys should do that, change the votes. How would the deputies defend themselves? “Prostite, esteemed Vladimir Vladimirovich, but the tool I paid to cast my vote while I was getting drunk pushed the wrong button.”

~ NFTEB on the topic of the vote:

“The law in question is President Medvedev’s pet project to lower the drink-drive limit; effectively reducing the amount of drinking you can do before legally driving to nil. This has created quite a furore. It turns out that Members of Parliament like to have a lunchtime tipple as much as the rest of us. Unlike in Britain, budget cuts won’t be soon forcing them to take platzkart from Krasnoyarsk when parliament is in session (or will they? That would be great). Furthermore, claims that drinking refreshing yet mildly alcoholic kvas or even eating black bread can be enough to push you over the limit have bolstered opposition to the law.

Some of my Russian friends claim that it has been scientifically proven that some people naturally have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood, even if they don’t drink. Naturally, I have had great fun winding them up about this. What was the alcohol level in the blood of the control group? “Are you sure you haven’t been drinking this morning Boris?” “Nyeeeet! Znachit, (hic) – it must be naturally occurring!” Russian scientists have proven a lot of things that my British brain has difficulty accepting.”

Russian scientists would probably find this proves a defect with British brains…

~ The now legendary VVP smackdown of DDT rocker Shevchuk.

Or, a master lesson in how to school your opponent. Looks like this is the new past-time over at Kremlin Inc. Below, Vladik responds to threats that businessmen are ready to flee Russia (“sitting on their suitcases”) by suggesting they should be a little more humble, telling them to unpack and make themselves at home.

~ Garbo, I mean, Surkov, Talks!

It’s not terribly humble of me, but Surkov can unpack and make himself at home here any time. What? It’s no more out of the realm of possibility than Ilya Yashin’s fantasy…

~ …in which Surkov would be thrown in prison for producing sextapes.

You know you want to believe him. Just as one day we will find Putin was indeed behind every journalist’s death in Russia between 1999 and 2029, we will find dear Slava was behind every filmed dissident orgy. It’s not terribly humble of me, but Surkov can … oh, never mind.

THE WORLD IN BRIEF

~ The U.S. ranks 42nd in child mortality, behind the United Arab Emirates, Cuba and Chile.

But we live in a democracy and that’s all that counts.

~ Amnesty International goes after Switzerland for their racism.

Oh, snap!

~ Jane Goodall goes after Switzerland for their materialism.

Double snap!

~ [T]here really is an urgent and perilous threat to Israel. It’s called “the Israeli government.”

No seriously, you guys are making Iran look like the sane ones.

BE AFRAID – VERY AFRAID.

~ Freedom of expression is not dead in Russia. … It is undead!

Apparently Vova isn’t worried about a zombie invasion tying up traffic to hospitals.

~ Chupacabra washes ashore in Canadia.

Even the Chupacabras hate American health care.

~ This is not an Onion story. Gulp.

“Not to be outdone, the owner of a religious museum near Lubbock claims that he has a stuffed chupacabra.
The Independent Creationist Association in Crosbyton is advertising: “See the real chupacabra. … Finally one has been caught.”

Curator Joe Taylor says he has always believed that man walked the earth with dinosaurs.

Now, he believes that both walked with the chupacabra.

“Sure, I believe that,” he said by phone from Crosbyton.

At his Mount Blanco Fossil Museum, he said, he spends a lot of time looking at animal bones.

“This isn’t the mythical chupacabra,” he acknowledged, adding seriously: “There’s two kinds.”

One was more intelligently designed than the other?

~ ” Frogs!”

What is more disturbing, a movie genre called “1970′s B-movie eco-horror” or the fact that it is so very timely in our age of global climate change? This film is like “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Wallstreet” rolled into one, but with scary close ups of frogs! Freaking Brilliant!

THE SOCIETY PAGES

~ Matt Taibbi is leaving True/Slant to devote more time to his Rolling Stone.

Good for him. True/Slant is perhaps the most user-annoying news outlet on the Internet.

~ Lyndon is seriously blogging again.

Just a word of advice: if you have been remiss in your blogging duties for an extended period of time, and then get at it again, please tell everyone! After a while we just stop checking your site, ya know…

~ Get Slavoj Žižek to Host SNL!

Though the collision of the meta and dialectical natures of such a stunt might result in something approximating a nuclear reaction, it would totally be worth it.

~ This Week In Facebook.

Vova writes a poem for his status update. Russia uploads Yanukovich wreath attack video.

WHAT TO READ

~ Orlov: “The Great Unreasoning.”

A reader sent me this. It’s a wonderful piece, pondering upon the whispers of cats, argument v. observation, the perverse role of opinion in political science, the diminishing returns of reason and … Merleau-Ponty.

~ Cohen: “An End to Silence: Uncensored Opinion in the Soviet Union, from Roy Medvedev’s Underground Magazine Political Diary.”

Found it lying on a shelf in the lib. You can’t go wrong with Stephen Cohen and Roy Medvedev, can you?

~ Shkolvsky: “Zoo, or Letters not about love.”

Josephina remarked that, “Russian literature is better than sex.” Russian literature is certainly like sex: When it’s bad, it’s mediocre but still better than most anything else you might have done instead, but when it is good, it blows your freaking mind. It’s a religious experience. Such was the case with “Zoo, or Letters not about love.” From Khlebnikov’s Menagerie, “Where the bats hang suspended, like the heart of a modern Russian,” to Remizov’s secret monkey society and everything in between: sermons disguised as heartache, literary theory disguised as poetry … well, if you are reading my blog you must read this slim tome of genius. It’s a new rule. Like, an initiation rite.

I promise she’ll be one of the best lovers you’ll ever take.

March 22, 2010

Surkov: Out Standing in His Field.

Filed under: Politics: Russia — poemless @ 1:27 PM
Tags:

While I’ve been curled up in a ball of stomach pain and obsessing about the health care bill in Congress -can the two be unrelated?- apparently all hell has broken loose in Russia.

Hundreds of people took part in the “Day of Wrath” (“wrath” even! brilliant!) participating in demonstrations across the country calling for Putin’s head on a platter. Or police reform. Or lower taxes. Or another issue that has filled them with wrath. Not sure, to be honest… Nor am I sure who the wrathful are. Democratic opposition or Commies or free marketers or something. Wrath is a big tent, it seems.

In other news, it has been reported that Chubais (architect of 90′s liberal economic reforms, which led to a ruble crash and widespread suffering) and Surkov (architect of numerous Putin doctrines and campaigns, which have led to increased authoritarianism) have banded together on behalf of Medvedev to form a new party -or simply take over another party like Just Russia, or Right Cause, no one really knows- which will address the [...drum roll...] economic disparity and sham democracy facing Russia under Putin. And Medvedev. Or something. This idea is like a fine wine. Take a moment to savor it; you won’t regret it.

Anyway, while I’m trying to separate the truth from rumour, propaganda, pipe dreams for people just f-ing with my mind for cheap thrills, here’s a dose of Surkov. He’s done another interview, this time on RT. With video! I know, it is magical. I asked RT for video interview of Surkov, et voila! WordPress, however, still won’t let me post the damned video. Which makes Russian state-run tv more open to suggestion than WordPress. Hm.

“We should learn to earn money with our brains” – Vladislav Surkov. Transcript and video from RT.

Slava, lookin’ all Mr. Burns:

An excerpt from the transcript:

Question: But why did you decide to build this town in an open field? Why did you decide to start everything from scratch?

VS: This is an issue for discussion. This decision has produced various reactions. We have excellent scientific centers, which were created in Soviet days in Siberia, near Moscow and in many other regions. Excellent experts and highly-qualified scientists work there. These centers have a very interesting and very qualified population. In fact, these are entire towns of mathematicians, scientists, etc. They have attained huge achievements. But, nevertheless, a decision has been made and it is not supposed to offend anybody.

We should understand what I have already said. Our task is to enter a new stage of civilization. Our task is not to carry out a European-style makeover in our Soviet home, but to build a new Russia with a new economy, and in order to do that it is sometimes very useful to find yourself in an open field. And I think that it is not accidental that Peter the First went into an open field because he understood that in the traditional tissue of Russian life he would do what he wanted at a much slower pace.

“Sometimes it is very useful to find yourself in an open field.”

I don’t know. Sounds pretty ominous to me. I mean, we’re not talking about farmers here. I think we all remember that last time the Russian government decided to put its great minds into open fields. Yikes.

In all seriousness…

Recently, someone quite well-informed and smart referred to Surkov as “a Goebbels of our time.” Let us take a deep breath, exhale, and look at the facts. Sure, he looks a little evil, like a vampire, especially when he clasps his hands together like that. And yes, he’s a political propagandist, the architect of the “Sovereign democracy” doctrine and has overseen some rather Machiavellian political campaigns. But Goebbels isn’t known to every soul on earth because he looked a little evil or was a political propagandist or architect of any old national doctrine no one took seriously or any old election campaign. He is known to every soul on earth because he was evil, he was a Nazi propagandist, the architect of Kristallnacht and oversaw a political campaign to annihilate the Jews. In what universe are unfair elections, exceptionalism and plain ol’ politicking on par with genocide? That’s really f-ed up. I mean, I can understand not liking the guy. Go for it. But until I see evidence that he’s constructing gas chambers instead of R&D institutes out in his open field, such assertions seem about as credible as those comparing Barack Obama to Stalin because he’s passed a damn health care bill.

After various exercises of logic and reason, part of me is convinced the rumour of Surkov’s involvement in a new Party of Medvedev is a sick joke. Or he’s in on this while simultaneously remaining involved in UR, all double agent-like, which I can weirdly, totally see. However, there is another, darker part of me who wants it to be true, despite my loyalty to Vova. Just to see how those who despise Surkov so viscerally react when he’s running the anti-Putin campaign. The man def. knows how to win an election. Hey, maybe he really is the devil. Out to reveal man’s true selfish nature… It’s all purely hypothetical, of course. But these are the kinds of things I actively fantasize about.

Which might explain why I have an ulcer…

February 17, 2010

Surkov: Consolidated power in Russia is a tool of modernization, or, “I believe in miracles…”

Filed under: Politics: Russia — poemless @ 3:18 PM
Tags:

…since you came along. You sexy thing…

Not content with “First Deputy Chief of Staff to the President,” “Grey Cardinal,” “Chief Ideologue (or, Propagandist),” “Co-Chair of the US-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission Civil Society Working Group,” or Nashi puppeteer, our lovely Vladislav has a new title under his belt: Deputy Chairman of the Commission on … establishing a Russian Silicon Valley. Or something. How many more trees will have to die before he is content with the length of his resume? And where on earth does he find the time? The real news here may be that Russia is cloning humans. I wonder if they could make an extra one for me…

Truth be told, I’m not in a huff about Medvedev’s recent modernization drive, unless getting their Olympic athletes’ act together is part of the program. But I am fascinated with Slava’s curious ability to say things that actually make sense, albeit in an irreverent fashion, and seeing those statements served up as evidence of Russia’s psychosis. Also, he doesn’t (or, did not used to) give many interviews. So I gratuitously seize upon them when they appear. Though given his recent PR blitz, I may need to scale back before this becomes some kind of “All Surkov, all the Time” joint. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… Anyway, earlier this week he gave a “now infamous” interview to Vedomosti about plans to create Russia’s version of Silicon Valley, miracles and democracy.

From: Kiev Post: Kremlin says tight control key to modernising economy.

MOSCOW, Feb 15 (Reuters) – The Kremlin’s top strategist on Feb. 15 said Russia must maintain tight political control if it is to successfully modernise its economy and compete with China and the United States.

Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, a key architect of Russia’s political system, rejected calls for political liberalisation to foster innovation.

“We have a school that teaches that political modernisation — by which is meant political debauchery, ‘anything goes’ — is the key to economic modernization,” Surkov told the Vedomosti business daily.

“There is a different concept, to which I hold, which considers the consolidated state as a transitional instrument, a tool for modernization,” he said. “Some call it authoritarian modernization. I do not care what it is called.”

He does not care what it is called. How hard is that, Obama? Why can’t you just not care if some call your healthcare reform bill “socialism?” Why waste your time with that? Your job is to fix what is broken, not try to personally win over everyone who calls you names.

From: Businessweek: Kremlin Aide Defends Russia’s Top-Down Modernization.

Feb. 15 (Bloomberg) — Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s political strategist, defended the system of state control he developed, saying Russia can only modernize if it has a strong central government.
“Consolidated power is the instrument of modernization,” Surkov said in an interview in Vedomosti today. “Some call it authoritarian modernization. I don’t care what they call it.”

Modernization is the new catchword of President Dmitry Medvedev, who wants Russia to kick its dependence on natural resources in favor of a high-tech economy. Surkov, the first deputy chief of staff in Medvedev’s administration, coined the concept of “sovereign democracy” to describe the system of centralized power he helped create during Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s presidency.[...]

“Raw resources companies dominate, and the people who got rich and super-rich made their fortune not from new ideas and technology, like Gates and Edison, but from dividing up the property amassed by the Soviet people,” Surkov said.[...]

The Institute of Contemporary Development, headed by Medvedev, published a report this month saying economic modernization depends on political reforms that will turn Russia into a U.S.-style democracy.

While Surkov allowed that centralization has reached its limits, he said Russia is already a democracy.

“If they criticize democracy in Russia, that means it exists,” he said. “If there are protests, that’s democracy. In totalitarian states there aren’t any demonstrations.”

Hey! He’s using my talking points!

Fom the original: Ведомости: «Чудо возможно», — Владислав Сурков, первый замруководителя администрации президента, зампредседателя комиссии по модернизации.

The first thing that struck me was the … call for submissions?

Пользуясь случаем, хочу пригласить читателей «Ведомостей» придумать название и спроектировать нашу Кремниевую долину методом краудсорсинга (сrowdsourcing), или, как говорили раньше, «народной стройки». Присылайте ваши идеи, планы, концепты на сайт газеты. Мы все их изучим. Лучшие в обобщенном виде лягут в основу проекта, который будет утверждаться на самом высоком уровне.

Translation po-Googleskii:

[I take this opportunity invite readers to "Vedomosti" to choose a name and design of our Silicon Valley by Crowdsourcing (srowdsourcing), or, as mentioned earlier, "traditional construction. Send us your ideas, plans, concepts of website of the newspaper. We all learn them. Best summarized form the basis for the project, which will be approved at the highest level.]

The rest of the article was a bit tedious until the last few paragraphs:

Мне кажется, главная задача демократического общества — беречь людей. Друг друга беречь. Не колошматить друг друга по поводу и без, а беречь. Минимизировать риски гибели людей. Я не говорю, что сейчас нужна сверхцентрализованная власть. Нужна консолидированная, которая контролирует ситуацию.

— Но разве этому мешает появление большего числа сильных партий?

— В Америке система двухпартийная. Вы ее упрекаете в недостаточном либерализме? Кто сказал, что партий должны быть много? В США был период, когда 40 лет подряд (с 1954 по 1994 г.) в палате представителей большинство удерживали демократы. Там нет демократии, нет развития?

— Но президент при этом был из другой партии…

— Пятьдесят лет в Японии у власти была одна партия — не было развития? Да так развивались, что нам и не снилось. А в 1990-х гг. мы не развивались. Да, кучка людей развивалась. И стала почти европейцами. А остальные? Остальных — их большинство! — пришлось вытаскивать из бедности в нулевые годы, тупо возмещая им убытки, которые они понесли в прошлом десятилетии. Или Швецию возьмите: 70 лет была одна партия у власти. В Швеции нет развития?

— То есть вы удовлетворены нынешними демократическими институтами в России?

— Нет конечно, никто не удовлетворен. Но я хочу также напомнить: безудержная критика демократических институтов — это естественный признак демократии. Это не я сказал, а один известный европейский политолог. Если критикуют демократию в России, значит, она есть. Если есть митинги протеста, значит, есть демократия. В тоталитарных государствах протестных акций не бывает. Да, мы нуждаемся в критике, понимаем, что система глуховата к критике, недостаточно восприимчива. Мне самому многое не нравится. Президент больше любой оппозиции делает для борьбы с коррупцией, отсталостью, для развития политической системы. Но говорить о том, что политическая система, существовавшая в 90-е при Борисе Ельцине, которого я уважаю, в администрации которого я, кстати, работал (придя туда, когда никто туда особенно не рвался), но говорить, что эта система больше соответствует задачам модернизации… Это такая ложь! Да Борис Николаевич и выдвинул-то Путина потому, что надо было остановить распад страны. Он же и сам видел, что система не работает. А теперь работает, хотя и скрипит иногда.

— Но, может, хотя бы сигнал дать, показать перспективу: сейчас модернизируем только экономику, но потом — допустим, через 20 лет — возьмемся и за политику.

— А это само собой. И не через 20, а немедленно. Но не резко. Оба послания президента реализуются в этой части. Со временем в России, как и везде, будут две доминирующие партии и еще несколько других — это я сказал много лет назад. При этом «Единая Россия» имеет все шансы снова победить и в 2011 г. Почему бы и нет? Это полезно для целей модернизации. Систему надо адаптировать к меняющемуся, усложняющемуся обществу. Но это не значит, что мы должны от системы отказываться. Ее надо сохранять. И не впускать то, что может ее разрушить. Эта система не отделена от народа, как кому-то кажется, она глубоко укоренена в социальной ткани. Тот, кто хочет разрушить ее, социально опасен. Критически важно сохранять политическую стабильность. Стабильность не значит застой, не значит остановка. Это инструмент развития. Из хаоса модернизация не получится. Не факт, что второй приступ распада Россия вообще переживет. Хотя точно так же не переживет она и отсутствие развития.

Trans:

[I think the main task of a democratic society - to take care of people. A friend of a friend to take care of. Do not clobber each other on occasion, and without, and cherish. Minimize the risk of death. I'm not saying that now need supercentralized power. Must unite, which controls the situation.

- But does this prevent the emergence of more powerful parties?

- In America, the two-party system. You blame her lack of liberalism? Who said that parties should be a lot? In the United States was a period when 40 consecutive years (1954 to 1994) in the House of Representatives, the majority held by Democrats. There is no democracy, no development?

- But while the president was from the other party ...

- Fifty years in Japan has been in power for one party - there was no development? Yes so developed, that we never dreamed. And in the 1990's. we have not developed. Yes, a handful of people developed. I was almost Europeans. And the others? The rest - most of them! - Had to pull out of poverty in the zero years, stupidly compensating for their losses which they suffered in the past decade. Or take Sweden: 70 years was one party in power. In Sweden, there is no development?

- So you are satisfied with the current democratic institutions in Russia?

- No, of course, no one is satisfied. But I also want to remind you: the unrestrained criticism of democratic institutions - is a natural feature of democracy. It is not, I said, but one prominent European politician. If you criticize democracy in Russia, so it is. If there are protests, then, is democracy. In totalitarian states protests do not happen. Yes, we need to criticism, understand that the system is deaf to criticism, not receptive. I am very much not like. President more than any opposition to making the fight against corruption, backwardness, for the development of the political system. But to say that the political system that existed in the 90's under Boris Yeltsin, whom I respect, the administration of which I, incidentally, worked (when he came there when no one in particular is not eager to go there), but to say that this system is more consistent with problems of modernization ... It's a lie! Yes, Boris Nikolayevich and put forward some of Putin because it was necessary to stop the disintegration of the country. He himself saw that the system is not working. And now works, although it creaks sometimes.

- But, maybe even give a signal to show the future: now only modernize the economy, but then - let's say, 20 years - take a look and for the policy.

- And that by itself. And not in 20, but immediately. But not dramatically. Both the President's message implemented in this part. Over time, in Russia, as elsewhere, are the two dominant parties and a few others - I said this many years ago. Thus, United Russia has all chances to win, and again in 2011, why not? This is useful for the purposes of modernization. The system must adapt to a changing, increasingly complex society. But this does not mean that we should abandon the system. It must be preserved. And do not let something that can destroy it. This system is not separated from the people, as someone thinks, it is deeply rooted in the social fabric. Anyone who wants to destroy her, socially dangerous. It is critical to maintain political stability. Stability does not mean stagnation, does not mean stop. This is a tool for development. From the chaos of modernization will not work. Not the fact that the second attack of the collapse of Russia in general survive. Although these did not survive it, and the lack of development.]

Makes sense to me…

I’ve been reading David Hoffman’s The Oligarchs and am coming to the realization that I have some kind of PTSD from living in Moscow in the 1990′s. I suspect I am not alone, and if you were an incredibly cynical type, you could draw the conclusion that people like Surkov are playing on those fears in order to garner more power for themselves. In fact – they probably are. But this – to me – does not negate the fact that these fears have some basis in reality, as the recent global economic meltdown as a result of reckless free-market economics illustrates. I am no economist, but I do ask myself the following: is it true that Russia is somehow exceptional, that there is something unique about the country that makes the laws of the free-market unable to work there? Or is it that those laws do not work anywhere without strict regulation, government “interference,” top-down control? So when people like this write thinks like this:

In a nutshell, Surkov is saying: “We’re Russian! We don’t know any better! Even though we’ve tried this same thing numerous times, and it’s failed every time, it’s what we do. And we’re going to do it again. Muscovites once, now, and forever.”

Surkov’s belief is that something innately Russian condemns its people to remain forever on the hamster wheel from hell (to reprise a metaphor). To justify this position, he has to present false choices and distorted pictures of the alternatives.

I am inclined to wonder, who is really on the hamster wheel from hell?

January 29, 2010

The Month in U.S.-Russia Relations and Russia(Male)Watching.

All kinds of things going on in the world of U.S.-Russia relations: meetings, agreements, meetings without agreements, agreements to meet again, Lavrov and Clinton making out in a London elevator… Ok I just made that last part up. But not this:

1) The Son of START may or may not be in the final stages of negotiation, almost 2 months after our decades long arms reduction treaty was allowed to expire un-renewed.

2) NATO and Russia are officially on speaking terms (which makes me feel like I’m writing about middle school students) for the first time since their falling out over Georgia.

3) Re-set Button brainchild, the Russian-US council on civil society, which up until now I assumed was mythological, is apparently holding its first official meeting in D.C. this week.

What does it all mean? It means, “We intend to make an effort to create a situation sometime in the future where we can try to work together, but we reserve the right to not get along if you insist on being so stubborn; we both know I’m better than you anyway.” Which is considered enough of a diplomatic coup in the Obama administration to earn mention in the State of the Union address. The President’s definition of accomplishment seems to be “we kinda sorta maybe (not really) tried to make something better and it hasn’t happened yet but it will eventually, so long as everyone just ignores our actions and only listens to our words or otherwise the magical spell we’re counting on to make this all work will be cursed and fail and it will be all YOUR fault. Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you!” [<--Shorter SOTU.]

Anyway, I picked the wrong week not to visit friends in D.C.

I. Mr. Surkov Goes to Washington.

He’s making a list and checking it twice; He’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.
Vladislav is coming to town… Vladislav is coming to town…

I can be naughty, or nice, whatever you prefer. I’m flexible…

(OMG: I image googled “Surkov McFaul” and a picture of my dead cat came up. It’s a haunting!)

Here is RT’s transcript of an Izvestia interview with the fine Mr. Surkov (what? no video, RT? you know looking at him is half the fun!): V.Surkov: “We do not intend to lecture one another.”

(No wonder there has been such stunning silence from the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission Civil Society working group. Aside from the fact that just saying “the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission Civil Society working group” is enough to make your mouth want to take a two week vacation and hardly lends itself to acronymn. The U.S. has illustrated that it only knows how to communicate with other countries through lecture or military force. These meetings must be epic awkward silences. Still, agreeing not to lecture one another is a remarkable step in right direction. Now let’s agree not bomb each other. Or save the children. Or something. Anything. Please.)

A Russian-US council on civil society that was created due to the initiative of the presidents of both countries will meet in the United States on January 27.

It will tackle issues left over from the Cold War, such as corruption, children’s rights, and stereotypes about Russia on the other side of the Atlantic.

The council will be co-chaired by Russian Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, who was interviewed by the Izvestia daily, ahead of his trip.

Q. Lately, the Russian-US presidential commission council, which you are co-chairing, is being talked about quite a lot. Could you outline the plans of the working group for the nearest future?

Vladislav Surkov: The working group will meet for the first time in Washington, DC, on January 27. A substantial amount of preparation has been done ahead of it, with both sides coordinating the objectives and directives of our sphere of action.

The United States proposed to include only state officials into the council. We did not object to the idea. On top of that, we proposed the inclusion of Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin; chair of the Civil Society Institution and Human Rights Council of the Russian Federation Ella Pamfilova; Presidential Ombudsman for Children’s Rights Pavel Astakhov; and several other persons who are not quite state officials. But since no equivalent posts exist in the US government, they were included in the delegation.

Q.Did you agree on the council’s agenda?

VS: The Russian side initiated the following topics: fighting corruption, migration – the issue of illegal immigration first of all – prisoners’ rights, and a crackdown on crimes against children.

The US side has offered to discuss negative myths and stereotypes, which still exist in relations between our countries. We tried to avoid, where possible, issues which we will most likely not be able to reach an agreement on. We will approach them gradually, as our mutual understanding deepens.

Q. And all of these five issues will be discussed during the visit to the United States?

VS: In Washington we will cover the issues fighting corruption, crimes against children and negative stereotypes only.

Q.What motivated the Russian side to choose its priorities for the discussion?

VS: All the issues approved are supported by explicit statistics, assessment criterions and, most importantly, all are significant for both Russia and the US We have plenty to talk about.

The problem of corruption, for example. Of course, in our respective countries, the problem has different roots. Nevertheless, major corruption scandals happen both in Russia and in the United States.

Another issue is immigration. Russia and the US are world leaders when it comes to the numbers of immigrants, both legal and illegal. Thus, the issue of migration is vital to both countries. The same could be said about the third matter of concern – the issue of prisoner conditions. Again, our countries continue to head the grim list of the countries with the largest number of the incarcerated.

Finally – a highly important problem – crimes against children. During the past several years the number of crimes committed against underage children in Russia has increased tenfold. The United States has extensive experience in combating this evil. That experience will be highly valuable for us, since Russia has a lot to accomplish in that respect.

Q: Will the Russian side pose any questions regarding the deaths of Russian children adopted by American parents?

VS: I would like to emphasize that we will not lecture each other on the issues covered during the meeting. This is not the point of the working group. We know that the United States is concerned over that issue and is working on solving the problem. As far as problems with adopted children are concerned – we, ourselves, have plenty of those in Russia.

Q: Some Russian human rights activists and several US congressmen have subjected you to criticism. Do you have anything to say on that matter?

VS: We hit some bumps during the preparations for the council. We are trading information with our American colleagues on those issues. Overall the process is flowing smoothly, and we have reached certain success already.

As far as my being scrutinized by some Russian human rights groups, as well as American congressmen, I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I think it is a small part of a larger mass of misconceptions, and those very negative stereotypes we will be discussing. I hope we will be able to dispel them during the course of our cooperation.

Q: Will there be a need to refine the activity of the council in the future?

VS: We would really like it if meetings of the working group took place not only in Russian and US capitals, but in other places, as well. We are going to hold meetings in various states and Russian regions. We must not turn into a commission which sits in their cabinets in Moscow and Washington discussing something in abstract terms.

Q: Various mass media report that the US will pose a question on equal cooperation of Russian and US civil organizations. Is there some sort of inequality between these organizations right now, any limitations in their cooperation?

VS: We do not see any inequality between Russian and American organizations, and we think there are no hurdles for a dialogue between them at the moment. Especially considering the fact that many Russian non-commercial organizations subside on grants they receive from the American government.

As far as your question goes, I will strictly stick to the agenda we agreed on, since I’m entitled to holding talks only within its framework. I would like to emphasize once again – these issues will be discussed only within the context of institutions of civil society.

The American side has demonstrated a very civil and good-natured approach to our cooperation. On our part, we will do everything in our power to make the working group a success.

I rather they be working together to tackle the issue of child trafficking than the issue of Lilia Shevtsova’s persecution complex. Hmm. Do you think it is a coincidence that she wrote that FP article on eve of this meeting? Pretty sneaky, sis. BTW, why does Misha have an op ed in the NYT this week? (For non-Russia watcher types who read this blog: Misha is Mikhail Khodorkovsky who is in prison in Siberia on charges of … tax evasion I think. A long time ago he was a Komsomol, then after the fall of Communism, he snatched up a bunch of stuff and became a powerful wealthy oligarch. Then Putin stole his assets and threw him in jail. The peasants rejoiced. The human rights camp flipped out. Surkov worked for Misha before getting a gig in the Kremlin and throwing his former boss in the gulag. Drama! Ok, let’s continue.) His article isn’t terribly interesting. But it is an excuse to post a gratuitous photo of our caged bird who sings for the New York Times.

Hi, Misha!

It seems our leaders are not as enamoured of dear Slava as they are of jailed Russian businessmen. Why doesn’t Surkov have an op-ed piece in the NYT? Get with the program! Seriously, someone in that Moscow fortress should hire me…

This is from Peter Lavelle who got it from JRL who printed it from Nezavisimaya Gazeta. It must be true.

From the JRL today

(Surkov is facing somekind of boycott in the US since being appointed
Russia’s civil soceity point man with the US) [<--I don't know if this is commentary from Peter, JRL or Nezavisimaya Gazeta...]

Nezavisimaya Gazeta
January 19, 2010
BETWEEN THE LINES
Russian and American delegations will meet to discuss matters of civil
society next week
Author: Alisa Vedenskaya

…..”Surkov and McFaul first met on October 12 when Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton was visiting Russia. McFaul told Surkov that
the reaction in the United States to his promotion to Civil Society
coordinator was somewhat equivocal. Surkov parred it by saying that
McFaul’s promotion had gone entirely unnoticed in
Russia because nobody knew him in this country.”

Oh, snap! I’m sure their meeting today went swimmingly… And it is not just Peter Lavelle and JRL and Nezavisimaya Gazeta spreading word of Surkov’s PR problem in D.C.

II. Party of No Hides Obama’s Re-Set Button.

From Moscow News Weekly: “Obama critics slam Kremlin aide.”

Whatever happened to “The enemy of my enemy is my friend?” Do the math, kids. And can someone explain to me how meeting with your foreign counterpart constitutes an endorsement of that person or their country? What is this, diplomacy for 3rd graders? Do they write these letters when we meet with the Chinese? Russia might have issues, but it’s hardly on par with Pakistan or North Korea or Sudan.

A key Russian-US working group co-led by Kremlin official Vladislav Surkov is under fire over human rights, as US Republicans call for President Barack Obama’s administration to boycott its first meeting in Washington this week.

Though the group aims to focus on issues like fighting corruption and child trafficking, 71 Republican members of Congress signed a letter to Obama expressing concern over Russia’s human rights record and urging that the US government “not participate in any such Working Group unless and until the Russian government has taken concrete, verifiable steps to address… shortcomings in its treatment of political and media freedoms.”

The letter, dated Dec. 11, also called for Surkov, President Dmitry Medvedev’s deputy chief of staff, to be replaced with “someone who has not been involved in establishing oppressive and undemocratic policies”, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Moscow News.

The group, created by Obama and Medvedev last July, is one of 16 tackling issues from trade to nuclear non-proliferation, but it is drawing additional attention because it is headed by Surkov. Dubbed the “grey cardinal” during Vladimir Putin’s administration, Surkov was largely responsible for formulating the “sovereign democracy” concept.

Russian human rights groups have criticised the appointment of Surkov to co-chair the commission, and now US Republicans are using that criticism as a way of attacking Obama.

Interruption: I don’t think Obama’s team chose Surkov to represent Russia. Idiots.

Surkov dismissed the Republicans’ criticisms in an interview with Izvestia, published on Jan. 22. “We do not plan to lecture each other,” Surkov said of the group’s members. “As for criticism against me from some human rights organisations and [members of the US Congress], everyone has a right to [their] opinion. This is a small part of a whole complex of prejudices and negative stereotypes.”
The letter came amid mounting Republican criticism of Obama, while last week the Democratic Party lost its 60-member filibuster-proof Senate majority after Massachusetts elected a Republican senator for the first time since 1972.

Republicans are using the letter simply as a way of putting domestic political pressure on Obama and don’t really have a worked-out Russia policy, said Nikolai Zlobin, an analyst at the Washington-based World Security Institute.

Zlobin said the letter would serve to rally members of Congress against Obama, adding that they were trying to use human rights ill as a bludgeon to get their way on issues such as nuclear non-proliferation and trade. “Whatever is said about Russia is not about their policy towards Russia per se, but towards their internal political interests,” Zlobin said.

Stop. Re-read that last part about trying to use human rights as a bludgeon to get their way on their own internal political interests.

Other NGO representatives invited to take part in the group said the Republicans’ call for a boycott was counterproductive.

Kirill Kabanov, head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, said it played into a “hysterical” policy towards Russia, and this “hysteria” was convenient for hawkish elements in Russia’s security services.

“To close opportunities for [dialogue] may benefit those parts of the Russian bureaucracy that don’t want any contact at all …because that would expose those who use international mechanisms of money laundering,” said Kabanov, a former Federal Security Service official.

“Corruption is an international problem because money is laundered abroad, and this [affects] American banks.”

Kabanov added: “We have things to say, and if they don’t give us this opportunity then we will find ourselves marginalised again.”

This is why I don’t entirely understand it when Russian intellectuals boycott meetings they are invited to by the Kremlin. Creeps me out.

But wait! There’s more! The Party of No wont stop there!

From the Moscow Times: “Reset in Danger of Being Set Back.”

Because ruining any chance for a healthcare reform bill were not enough to be proud of. (OMG how weird is it that the rhetoric surrounding healthcare reform now includes the phrase, “Bolshevik plot?” What century is this? What universe is this? Does this make the GOP Mensheviks?)

A year ago, when the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama initiated its “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations, two things were clear: First, the U.S. Congress, particularly the Senate, would have an outsized role to play in the process; and, second, the Democrats would likely have a fillibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, making the advancement of Obama’s major Russia policy overtures a bit easier than might otherwise be the case. A year later, the first proposition remains true, but Republican Scott Brown’s recent upset victory in the Massachusetts Senate race complicates the second since Democrats no longer have 60 seats in the Senate— the threshold that allows a party to pass legislation on a “fast track” by depriving the opposing party of its ability to filibuster. All of this means that there could be some turbulence in U.S.-Russian relations in 2010. [...]

Congress is a major factor on other Russia policy issues as well. Russian accession to the World Trade Organization is a case in point. Congressional action would be required to upgrade Russia, the largest economy not yet represented in the WTO, from the Cold War-era lows of the Jackson-Vanik amendment to establish normal trade relations, which are required to secure U.S. agreement to Russia’s accession to the WTO. Russian WTO accession seems to be on the Obama administration’s congressional to-do list in 2010, but in the current cold trade climate — Russia just banned U.S. poultry imports, valued at $800 million a year — the issue is going to be as contentious as ever. That may be why Russian officials have sent mixed signals as to whether Russia itself will pursue WTO accession aggressively.

Congressional approval would also be required for the United States to enter into a “123” agreement with Russia on civil nuclear cooperation. This important area that had progressed nicely during George W. Bush’s last year in office was put on ice after the eruption of the Russia-Georgia war.

As far as U.S.-Russian relations are concerned, 2010 is truly the “Year of Congress.” It appears less likely, however, that it is going to be the “Year of Results.”

If Scott Brown ends up responsible for obliterating any hope of improving our relationship with Russia, I better at least get a consolation prize of a Surkov Cosmo centerfold out of the deal.

III. Putin: Party Crasher, Porn Basher.

Speaking of buff. And porn.

Jesse a.k.a The Russia Monitor has posted this little gem of a news story: “The Putin One-Liner Strikes Again.”

I wasn’t even going to mention this but couldn’t resist. Last week, PM Putin showed up to the the Annual Meeting of the State Council to give a speech. Now, by “showed up,” I mean he literally showed up out of nowhere to make an unexpected appearance and an unscheduled speech. The guys over at Power Vertical dissected this move yesterday. Putin made his minutes in front of the mic count, however, by dropping another one of his hilarious, debate-ending one-liners (“Putinisms”). Putin’s grammatical knockout came in a response to rumors on the internets that the recent regional Duma elections were rigged. The PM, visibly angry, hunched his shoulders in disgust and said, “Well half of what’s on the internet is porno! Why quote the internet? If you have evidence take it to court.”

One possible explanation of Putin’s indiscriminate targeting of porno? In the past, online interest in Putin has been found to be negatively correlated with online interest in pornography.

Poor Vova, walking into meeting he wasn’t invited to to complain about more people watching porn than paying attention to him on the internet. Hey, what am I? Chopped liver? I would think you’d want an intelligent poltical activist type ally – like ME -paying attention to you instead of child molesters and depressed husbands. But if he’s really miffed about it, I know of a pretty easy solution to the problem of people who watch porn not watching Vova. Hello! Althletic body? Check. Ham in front of a camera? Check. Bendy girlfriend? Check. FSB who lkes to make sex tapes? Check. BFF Oscar-winning filmmaker? Check. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

He could totally pull it off:

And lastly, I present to you the prize for Best Headline for this week’s coveage of U.S.-Russia relations:

“How Many Polish Patriots Does It Take to Screw Up US – Russia Relations?”

Stay classy, Discovery Institute!

Ok, thanks for reading and have a lovely weekend!

November 25, 2009

A Veritable Cornucopia of Links.

For your holiday reading pleasure.

Articles:

Inside Higher Ed: Palintology. ~speculates on Sarah Palin’s favorite work of postmodern theory (Jean Baudrillard?) and employs the phrase “performative maverickiness.”

Jeffrey Feldman: “…Why People Like to Stuff People Like You into Ovens” ~explains how to deal with people spouting violent ideology. Starting with: Don’t be afraid.

Chicago Reader: A Kink in the Campaign. ~profiles the S&M master challenging a Chicago Machine candidate for office.

Natalia Antonova: Russia is a “criminal state”? Er… ~calls out Bill Browder for political posturing.

Laws:

Why has the United States not signed on to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child?

… or the Land Mine Ban Treaty?

Russia, meanwhile introduced a permanent ban on capital punishment, offered to reduce Co2 emissions between 20 percent and 25 percent below 1990s levels by 2010, (which appears to be more than the US is committing to), and has agreed not to fine Ukraine for the next few months, scrapping the tought talk for, ahem, cordial humour. Apparently Putin’s also planning Georgian reunification, too?

Random:

RIAN: Putin’s lost female tiger found. ~even Vova’s cats sometimes run off…

Der Spiegel: Girls for Gadhafi: Libyan Leader Hands out Korans to Hundreds of Italian Beauties. ~in which Brother Leader informs, “you believe that Jesus was crucified, but that didn’t happen. God took him to the heavens. They crucified some guy who looked like him.”

Lit:

Philip Roth is nominated for the “Bad sex in fiction” Award. ~need I say more?

OpenSpace.ru: Сурков признал авторство «Околоноля» ~Viktor Erofeev says Surkov confessed to authoring that gangsta-fiction book.

Recommends:

Tool: translate.google.com. You knew it could translate for you, but did you know it could do a translated search for you?

Blog: Izo.com. Fully of art, kitsch, gossip and NSFW brilliance.

Books: Platforme, by Houellebecq, and We, by Zamyatin. Nice uplifting holiday fare…

And on that note, have a happy Thanksgiving. In honor of which I present a Turkey Day Classic:

Eat up!

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