Ben Judah cached version 12/02/2019 16:22:37 en Immigrant hunters, paedophile safaris and drug addict cowboys <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; float: right;" src="" alt="" width="160" />Late Putinism – immigrant hunters, paedophile safaris and drug addict cowboys; in 2013, Russia has had no shortage of vigilante groups willing and able to take the law into their own hands. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p>2013 was a disappointing year for democrats in Russia. The protest movement that had had so many hopes pinned on it in December 2011, had ceased to exist as a serious force by its second anniversary. </p> <p>2013 was a disappointing year for democrats in Russia. The protest movement that had had so many hopes pinned on it in December 2011, had ceased to exist as a serious force by its second anniversary. </p> <p>The ebbing protest tide left behind far less wash than expected. True, Mr. Navalny had grown in stature throughout his Kremlin-orchestrated trial; and his Kremlin-permitted mayoral run had turned him from an activist into a politician. But with the long years now opening up until the next parliamentary election in 2016 , Navalny no longer seems able to influence events, only to wait. </p><h2>Celebrity protesters</h2> <blockquote><p>Those around Navalny on the political stage in December 2011 were no longer there in 2013</p></blockquote> <p>Depressingly, those around Navalny on the political stage in December 2011 were no longer there in 2013. Oleg Kashin, for example: the &lsquo;voice of a generation&rsquo; was now in Geneva morosely attending EU think-tank conferences where the &lsquo;experts&rsquo; were only interested in the vaguest platitudes about Russia, expressed solely for their strategy reports.</p><p>Or Leonid Parfyonov: the most eloquent speaker of the early anti-Putin protests was nowhere to be seen; politically that is, for he was now concentrating on his TV work. Not to mention Ksenia Sobchak: the scandalous-cool of the opposition having dimmed, her intense interest in it had fast diminished. &nbsp; </p><p>Protests in frequency and number are down. In the circles that spawned them, depression, alcohol consumption and talk of emigration is up. The last quarter of 2013 saw such a recession in activism that the authorities felt comfortable enough to release Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who, like a true hero, applied for, and been granted, a visa to Switzerland. </p><p>In Moscow, celebrity resistance then, is dwindling. But it would be a dangerous mistake to think that resistance, activism and street politics is dying; quite the reverse. </p><h2>The rise of the vigilantes</h2> <p>Russia is witnessing the rise of the vigilantes. This is, of course, not the same as democratic activism, but the anger is coming from a similar place; that is the complete failure of a corrupt police force to fight corruption, sexual abuse and illegal migration across Russia. </p><blockquote><p>The vigilantes in Moscow in 2013 were nationalists, with a grievance</p></blockquote> <p>The vigilantes in Moscow in 2013 were nationalists, with a grievance. The capital is a housing catastrophe. a booming city importing huge quantities of migrants &ndash; millions of ethnic Russians coming in from the hinterland, and immigrants travelling from Central Asia and the Caucasus. The crunch in housing stock means that new arrivals from places like Tambov find themselves cramped in the same dilapidated neighbourhoods as those from Tashkent. </p><p>This is only the first fuse of ethnic tension. Russian society is notoriously atomised. This means that when an ethnic Russian thug finds himself fighting in a market with Caucasians or Central Asians over a drugs patch or a woman, he only has two or three friends &ndash; rarely more than one brother &ndash; to call to his defence. Russia&rsquo;s immigrants, however, come mostly from some of the most clannish parts of the world; and can quickly call on massive &lsquo;reinforcements.&rsquo; This is why nationalist and vigilante groups have become so prevalent. </p><p>Skinhead gangs have been around for years, but nationalist vigilantes started operating in Moscow only in 2010. The difference being that they have begun using Russian law, not hysterical racism, as a basis for their intimidation campaign. </p><h2>&lsquo;Bright Rus&rsquo; and the &lsquo;Shield of Moscow&rsquo;</h2><p><iframe width="460" height="345" src="//" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><br /><span class="image-caption" style="font-size: 10px; font-style: italic; line-height: 1.5;">These young men are immigrant hunting. Such nationalist vigilante groups have been operating in Moscow only since 2010 . Video:</span></p> <p>Two groups in particular led the charge: named &lsquo;Bright Rus&rsquo; and the &lsquo;Shield of Moscow.&rsquo; they make nightly raids on the basements of high-rise apartment blocks across the capital, to chase out Central Asians illegally housed there by corrupt officials. </p><p>Not only were these groups intensely popular with locals &ndash; how else could they reclaim their basements &ndash; but they played a role in inciting the <a href="">race riots</a> that struck the poor Moscow suburb of Biryulyovo, in October 2013. This outbreak of rioting and ethnic clashes was called a &lsquo;pogrom&rsquo; by the Russian media. More than 1,200 immigrants were detained, after thousands of ethnic Russians rioted and clashed with police. It is unlikely to be the last the mega-city will see. </p><h2>&lsquo;Slasher&rsquo;</h2> <p>These were not the only vigilantes to make Russian prime time TV in 2013. This was also the year of Maksim Martsinkevich, better known by his nationalist moniker &ndash;&nbsp; &lsquo;Slasher.&rsquo;</p><p><img src="" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption" style="font-size: 10px; font-style: italic; line-height: 13.63636302947998px;">Maksim Martsinkevich, aka 'Slasher, is the founder of &lsquo;Occupy Paedophilia&rsquo;, a group which made a business out of entrapping 'paedophiles' and posting videos of them being humiliated and beaten online. Photo:</span></p><p>This one-time neo-Nazi thug gained national fame with his &lsquo;Occupy Paedophilia&rsquo; group, which entrapped men into scenes of horrific humiliation and beatings that were then posted online. Martsinkevich marketed these entrapments online, so that the curious could pay to join the &lsquo;Paedophile Safari.&rsquo; The events proved so popular he raised the price to $30 a ticket.&nbsp;</p><p>&lsquo;Slasher&rsquo; secured airtime with Ren-TV. His growing popularity and concomitant increasing violence finally got to the point where even Russian officials felt the need to charge him with extremism, in December 2013. He has now fled Russia, for Thailand, yet more than 5,500 have signed an online petition protesting his innocence. </p><blockquote><p>The vast majority of his supporters, however, are not fascists</p></blockquote> <p>This man is an out and proud homophobe, who, before he pours urine on the heads of the &lsquo;paedophiles,&rsquo; likes to draw Stars of David on his victims; and he makes no secret of his sympathy for Nazi ideology. The vast majority of his supporters, however, are not fascists; Martsinkevich has tapped into genuine public anger at the way in which a few bribes to the police can close down investigations into well-connected perpetrators of sexual abuse. </p><h2>The Kremlin &lsquo;Young Anti-Drugs Special Forces&rsquo;</h2><p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="//" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><br /><span class="image-caption" style="font-size: 10px; font-style: italic; line-height: 1.5;">The 'Young Anti-Drugs Special Forces' - MAS - is a Moscow-based vigilante group that hunts down and punishes drug dealers. In this video a suspected drug dealer is assaulted, painted and feathered, and then tied to a pole with duct tape. Video:</span></p> <p>Martsinkevich is only one end of the vigilante spectrum. There are also the Kremlin&rsquo;s own vigilantes, the &lsquo;Young Anti-Drugs Special Forces.&rsquo; This is an offshoot of the Kremlin-supported youth group &lsquo;Young Russia.&rsquo; Known by its Russian acronym of MAS, the Moscow vigilante group has been hunting down street pushers and dealers. </p><p>The thrill for the public comes from the online videos that MAS posts online &ndash; savage beatings, dousing dealers in paint, smashing up their cars, even tarring and feathering. These clips are shocking, but MAS videos have met with widespread public approval, and admiring TV coverage. MAS claims to have around two dozen Moscow activists, and to have conducted over three hundred raids this year alone. </p><h2>&lsquo;The City Without Drugs&rsquo; </h2> <p>The most successful vigilante group of 2013, however, does not operate in Moscow, but in the Urals. &lsquo;The City Without Drugs&rsquo; is led by the charismatic and complex politician Yevgeny Roizman; and for over ten years his vigilante group has battled drug pushers and heroin addicts in the Ekaterinburg area. </p><p>Today, the group operates five &lsquo;centres&rsquo; resembling private detention camps, in the countryside; and claims to have &lsquo;cured&rsquo; 6,500 junkies, and helped detain 3,500 dealers. It has also spread, with affiliates operating in Moscow, Ufa, Angarsk, Perm and Nizhny-Tagil. </p><blockquote><p>The group is wildly popular in the Urals&hellip; Its critics say that they have tortured dealers on the graves of deceased addicts</p></blockquote> <p>The group is wildly popular in the Urals. Locals see it as the only organisation tackling the drugs plague, without asking for bribes. Its critics say that they have tortured dealers on the graves of deceased addicts, and that the centres are violent and abusive. One inmate died in 2012; and Roizman&rsquo;s men have frequently faced trial for suspicious deaths. </p><blockquote><p>Roizman claims that his centres are not as crude as they once were &ndash; addicts are no longer handcuffed to beds.</p></blockquote> <p>Roizman claims that his centres are not as crude as they once were &ndash; addicts are no longer handcuffed to beds&hellip;, but the &lsquo;City Without Drugs&rsquo; continues to administer a medically unsound &lsquo;cold turkey&rsquo; treatment, which leaves addicts in excruciating pain. </p><p>Roizman has operated not only as a vigilante, but also as a canny political animal. He has served in the Duma, and operated under the protection of Mikhail Prokhorov, the Kremlin-friendly oligarch.</p><p><img src="" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">'The City Without Drugs', led by&nbsp;politician Yevgeny Roizman,&nbsp;adopts a 'cold tukey' approach to the treatment of drug users and dealers. In the past the group has been criticised for its inhumane treatment of 'patients' but it is wildly popular among locals in the Urals. Photo:</span></p><p>Roizman began 2013 on the wrong side of the local authorities, with court cases targeting his family, but ended it skillfully by <a href="">winning</a> the mayoral election in Ekaterinburg, taking almost a third of the vote. In support of his plans to run the city his way, he then sought tacit endorsement from <a href="">Vyacheslav Volodin</a>, the Kremlin&rsquo;s <em>eminence grise</em> behind its domestic policy, The Kremlin now refers to Roizman as a model for cooperation with the opposition. </p><p>The Mayor&rsquo;s role is mostly ceremonial in Ekaterinburg, but Roizman has successfully demonstrated his popularity; and even his capability to be a national politician. His raw charisma and Urals credibility hints that, should the vigilante wave grow in the years to come, he could be a serious contender for a government role post-Putin.&nbsp; </p><blockquote><p>Immigrant hunters, paedophile safaris and drug addict cowboys; this is why Russia in 2013 has been the year of the vigilantes</p></blockquote> <h2>Late Putinism</h2> <p>Immigrant hunters, paedophile safaris and drug addict cowboys; this is why Russia in 2013 has been the year of the vigilantes, not the celebrity protesters better known in the West. Tapping into public outrage against police failings, mixed with nationalist rhetoric and online publicity, the vigilantes are an ominous new feature of late Putinism; and one likely to grow stronger still in 2014. </p><p>&nbsp;</p> <fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-loginov/russias-paedophile-hunters">Russia&#039;s paedophile hunters</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> oD Russia oD Russia Ben Judah The Russian Year 2013 Russia Politics NGOs Justice Human rights Cultural politics Fri, 03 Jan 2014 02:50:10 +0000 Ben Judah 78161 at 'Dreams of freedom? They undermine the fortitude of prisoners' <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="float: right;" src="" alt="" width="160" />Today, 25th October, marks the tenth anniversary of the arrest of Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky, now&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5;">Russia's most famous political prisoner. A short while ago,&nbsp;</span><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5;">Ben Judah wrote to him asking about the circumstances of his imprisonment, and how that experience has changed him. This is what he said.&nbsp;</span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="160" height="160" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p><span>&nbsp;</span><span>Nobody in our country has any doubt that &ldquo;approval&rdquo; for my arrest came directly from Vladimir Putin, although neither Mr Ustinov [Prosecutor General] who, with his deputy, confirmed the order to bring charges against me nor Mr Patrushev [Head of FSB] who formally allowed the FSB&rsquo;s special forces to &ldquo;bring in a witness&rdquo; (my status at the moment of arrest) are admitting that they did receive such &ldquo;approval.&rdquo; Kasyanov [Prime Minister], on the other hand, provided a detailed and interesting account.&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="p1">But the initiator of everything that happened &ndash; and today this can be said with a high degree of certainty &ndash; was Mr <a href="">Igor Sechin</a>, who knows his &ldquo;patron&rdquo; very well indeed; and was able to successfully manipulate him and a significant part of his retinue. &nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>Most likely it was a case of &ldquo;playing chicken&rdquo;</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">It is impossible to say precisely which of the arguments that was being advanced by Sechin through various people ended up being the decisive one for Putin. Most likely it was a case of &ldquo;playing chicken.&rdquo; I was made out to be a dangerous political adversary, and, what is more, as representing the interests of Americans.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">That I regard Americans as kindred spirits is something I told Putin myself. There were quite a few of them working at YUKOS, along with Germans and French.&nbsp; Putin, as head of state, was receiving regular, detailed information directly from me about the negotiations with Exxon and Chevron; and through Roman Abramovich, my then business partner.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>Lovers of conspiracy theories easily accepted the idea of a large-scale conspiracy</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">Lovers of conspiracy theories easily accepted the idea of a large-scale conspiracy, citing the financial assistance I was giving to opposition parties; the &nbsp;activities of the &ldquo;Open &nbsp;Russia&rdquo; foundation; my widely discussed calls for the need to get away from a super-Presidential political model&nbsp; to a parliamentary one; and my call to reject systemic corruption, which has today become one of the foundations of the regime; and so on.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">There were also the fabricated reports about &ldquo;secret negotiations&rdquo; with Dick Cheney [US Vice President] and Condoleezza Rice [US Secretary of State]. Misrepresenting informal public encounters as &ldquo;Conspiracies&rdquo; is a favourite practice of the security services, &nbsp;although &nbsp;the &nbsp;real topic of those conversations was perfectly well known to anyone who took the trouble to find out. But the misinformation strategy of &nbsp;&ldquo;secret &nbsp;information&rdquo; gleaned from &nbsp;&ldquo;sources &nbsp;familiar &nbsp;with&hellip;&rdquo; &nbsp;worked splendidly: over time, a huge quantity of other, completely implausible myths, intended for mass public consumption, also appeared.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>Such a well-run company was a very tempting dish for certain people in his retinue</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">It is difficult to say whether Putin was being truthful when he declared, at the end of 2003, that the destruction of YUKOS had not been planned, but, at any rate, there is no doubt that such a well-run company was a very tempting dish for certain people in his retinue. Most likely, for that same Sechin who regarded it as an important way to strengthen his own position &ldquo;at &nbsp;court.&rdquo; Here too were the financial resources for greasing the wheels &ndash; people, pet projects, an opportunity for having additional influence with regional leaders; and, of course, material gain, which allowed one to live much better than a civil servant. However, the main thing for Sechin was the weakening of the democratic wing of the President&rsquo;s retinue, with&nbsp;a simultaneous strengthening of the role of repressive mechanisms in the general running of the country. Thus it was that Sechin is the one who became the principal beneficiary of the changes that took place as the result &nbsp;of &nbsp;the YUKOS trial.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>Of course, my position differs from that of the majority of prisoners</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">Of the nine years of my detention, I have spent more than six years in the special blocs reserved for particularly dangerous criminals, of jails in Moscow and Chita. About a year and a half was spent in a camp on the Russian-Chinese border; and the last year and a half in the bogs of Karelia, this time not far from the Russian-Finnish border.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Of course, my position differs from that of the majority of prisoners, who are not under such constant and strict control, although my jailers do not tire of repeating to me that I am housed &ldquo;under the usual conditions.&rdquo; Where I am concerned, they do try, at least formally, to abide by the law. If this proves impossible, they change the law retroactively. That is what happened when, contrary to the penal code at the time, they sent me off not to the nearest prison camp, but six and a half thousand kilometres from my home.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p2">The right to be released on parole before the end of one&rsquo;s term or to be placed under less strict conditions &ldquo;do &nbsp;not &nbsp;apply&rdquo; to &nbsp;me. As to the rest, I am &ldquo;like everybody else:&rdquo; the same black uniform, the same family visitation rights once every three months without prison bars; a food parcel every two months; the same food in the local cafeteria, prepared for the most part from tinned goods; the same work six days a week at the local factory; , the same bunk in a barrack for twenty people.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p2"><strong><em>How have I changed over these nine years?</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">How have I changed over these nine years? It is difficult to talk about oneself; after all, to notice the ways in which one&rsquo;s own self has changed is hardest of all. Some might say they&nbsp;are significant, others consider them to be only superficial. For certain, I have more or less learned how to set out my thoughts and emotions on paper; and not just instructions. I have learned how to take longer to think things over, how to seek new, more profound meanings; and how not to react right away to external irritations. It seems to me that I have begun to understand people better and to accept their &ldquo;differences&rdquo; more calmly.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Of course, there is much that I have lost, especially in the professional sense, as an entrepreneur.&nbsp; Incidentally, I am not planning to return to business. But, more than anything, the personal losses have been monstrous. Chief among them is the relationship with my family and my children. I would not wish jail on anybody.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">What has inspired me most of all in my time behind bars is the people &ndash; my former colleagues, partners, some of them personal acquaintances and some not &ndash; who fell into the grindstone of the system; and yet there was not a single traitor among them, not a single person who decided to buy personal peace by bearing false witness.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>There were those who were afraid to tell the truth</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">There were those who were afraid to tell the truth. There were not many like that,but there were some.&nbsp; I can understand them, it is hard to forswear your own personal safety for the sake of someone else.&nbsp; But nobody told lies; and yet they were being pressed hard &ndash; dozens of people went through arduous interrogations.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">If we speak of the most painful aggravation, then that is the close acquaintance I have made with our &nbsp;&ldquo;law-enforcement-and-judicial&rdquo; system. In all my forty years, as it then seemed to me, I had not been a na&iuml;ve person; I could imagine the capabilities of &nbsp;&ldquo;telephone&rdquo; and &ldquo;corrupt&rdquo; &nbsp;&ldquo;justice.&rdquo; I had no doubts whatsoever that they could hold me in jail for several years, without any evidence, that they could create some sort of nasty frame-up, falsify a crime or evidence, but it never even entered my head that you could absolutely brazenly, in an open trial, before the eyes of an astounded public, sentence a person to a prison term without bothering yourself with any of the niceties like evidence or presumption of innocence.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><img src="" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">"When armed men entered my plane, if anything I felt a sense of calm.&nbsp; At last the energy-sapping wait was over, and certainty had appeared.". Pic (c) Ekaterina Belyakovskaya</p> <p class="p1">Then, in the second trial, having spit upon the first, to draw the opposite conclusion!&nbsp; In the first, they were saying that taxes on the income from the sale of oil that had been produced had not been paid in full, although they did agree that everybody else was acting in the same way, and that the tax inspectorate knew all about it. Moreover, the legislation of that period allowed one to do just that.&nbsp; In the second, they saild that all of the oil produced had been stolen!&nbsp; But, if this were so, then taxes could not have been levied at all &ndash; there was nothing to levy them on!&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>&ldquo;We are just bit players, we received orders from above&rdquo;&nbsp;</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">Meanwhile, in parallel with all this, over at the ECHR [European Court of Human Rights] they were again talking about taxes, saying that &ldquo;nothing was stolen!&rdquo; I remember asking the investigators: &ldquo;Why so deliberately ignore not just the law, but even plain common sense?&nbsp; Their only answer was &ldquo;We are just bit players, we received orders from above.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">At first, I simply could not believe that such a thing was possible. Then I understood &ndash; this is the usual practice. There are many cases like this where everything hinges on whether or not there is an order from above.&nbsp; In such a situation, a trial is nothing but appearances.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">When armed men entered my plane, if anything I felt a sense of calm.&nbsp; At last the energy-sapping wait was over, and certainty had appeared. Although, formally, this was not an &nbsp;arrest, &nbsp;but merely &nbsp;&ldquo;bringing &nbsp;a &nbsp;witness &nbsp;to &nbsp;the &nbsp;investigator,&rdquo; escorted by the special forces of the FSB. &nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>They simply played out a brief and badly staged theatrical performance</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">The actual arrest took place later, in the Basmanny Court, where I first looked into the craven, roguish eyes of a bureaucrat dressed up in the robes of a judge. By law, the prosecutors were supposed to be proving that the charges had merit; and that my being at large might prejudice the investigation. Of course, none of this took place, nor indeed was it required. They simply played out a brief and badly staged theatrical performance. I was in shock.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Neither the first nor the second verdict had much of an impact on me.&nbsp; I knew what was coming. I had been told already at the end of 2003 that Putin had willed that they give me eight years, although, at first, I did not believe this. The second time, they reported half a year before the start of the second trial the fact that they had changed their minds, and had decided to add on another six or seven years. Nobody particularly conceals anything over here.&nbsp; Perhaps they are not capable, or, perhaps, they do it for psychological effect.&nbsp; But it is a fact &ndash; I was prepared: I was thinking only about my loved ones.&nbsp; I was looking at my mother, at my wife; I was endeavouring to catch their gaze and to hold it, to convey my own composure.&nbsp; It seemed to me that this was important to them.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>I do not dream of getting back YUKOS</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">I do not dream of getting back YUKOS. Even if such a thing were possible, this would not interest me. In a profoundly personal sense, the company was nothing more than a way to show to myself and those around me that I had the ability to resolve large economic and production tasks.&nbsp; I think I showed that I could do it. To repeat is boring. Looking ahead, I will be resolving new tasks, in a new way.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">At the same time, however, the state must compensate the losses of the shareholders, especially the minority shareholders. Myself, I have not been a YUKOS shareholder since 2004. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">What needs to happen in Russia, for me to be released?&nbsp; It is enough to restore the independence of the judiciary in our country.&nbsp; It began to be restored in Russia in the 90s, but this attempt lasted only a few years.&nbsp; I am afraid that under the current political regime this is impossible. A controlled judiciary is one of the cornerstones of the system created by Putin.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">I consider it useless to analyse palace undercurrents and the manoeuvres of power, even though they do impact directly on my own fate. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">I would not say that I recall the past too often.&nbsp; My mind lives in the future, in upcoming events and encounters. At the same time, those around me are constantly returning me to the events of days past. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Many are particularly interested in 19th February 2003, when I gave a report on corruption at a meeting with Putin.&nbsp; It is specifically that day that people usually reckon as marking the starting point of the events that brought me here. Fortunately, or unfortunately, a full video report about that address of mine is accessible online to everybody; little is therefore left to the imagination.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>Dreams of freedom undermine the fortitude of prisoners</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">Freedom? It is universally known that dreams of freedom undermine the fortitude of prisoners. I am thinking now about my personal future exclusively as it applies to the realities of being in jail; and here my plans are very concrete: in the main, they are connected with the writing of new articles and letters.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">People talk about my future release as being a &ldquo;Mandela&rdquo; moment; today, without a doubt, this is not so. Our society has not yet accumulated such a potential for protest that would allow one pebble to start an avalanche. But time moves on, the country is changing, and it is impossible now to predict what might become a sufficient impetus for &nbsp;drastic changes in several years&rsquo; time.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">About one thing there is no doubt: it is impossible to speak of democratic change without the release of political prisoners.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">My personal ambitions today lie in the intellectual sphere: the ability to accumulate ideas, to pick out the more worthy ones among them, to transform them into normative acts and practical plans &ndash; that is the skill that I would like to develop in the future, to the extent that it will depend on me.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>For certain, I had illusions and erroneous impressions about the essence of the Putin regime</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">Mistakes? For certain, I had illusions and erroneous impressions about the essence of the Putin regime, about capitalism, and about my country, but I had cast many of them aside long before the arrest. For example, the crisis of 1998, when I had to come face-to-face with the devastating social consequences of bad economic &nbsp;decisions; and &nbsp;the &nbsp;state&rsquo;s inability to carry out its function as a force for good, forced me to take a completely different look at neo-liberalism.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">It was precisely then that I understood how modern-day society has to be structured much more complexly than simply as &ldquo;a free &nbsp;market&rdquo; of &ldquo;private property,&rdquo;with the state acting only as a night watchman.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">That understanding led me into civic activity, pushed me to create&nbsp;&ldquo;Open Russia,&rdquo; the &ldquo;New Civilisation Initiative&rdquo;&nbsp;that led me to actively participate in the drafting of new laws; and developed my belief in the need to strengthen parliamentarianism.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">My impression of the Putin regime changed substantially in 2001, after the routing of NTV. I knew quite a few of the people there, I helped them out as I could, and I was practically an eyewitness observer of what happened when the only federal TV channel independent of the state was annihilated under the guise of a corporate conflict.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>Allowing corruption to flourish is a deliberate method for managing the bureaucracy of state</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">That well-known meeting with Putin on 19 February 2003 made me understand that allowing corruption to flourish is a deliberate method for managing the bureaucracy of state. While in jail I have seen how the law-enforcement agencies and the courts become mindless puppets as soon as they get a &ldquo;signal from above; &rdquo; and how their loyalty is maintained with the levers of corruption &ndash; irresponsibility, raiderism, and common everyday extortion.&nbsp; It is a vile spectacle.</p> <p class="p1">My impression of Russia has not particularly changed in jail. Actually, I did not have any particular illusions before, either: a huge backwoods country with a very divided and weak society, and an atomised population where the majority feel themselves not as citizens but as serfs of&nbsp;various kinds of &ldquo;bosses.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Of the things that need to happen, I have only the feeling of my own personal responsibility for what is happening, which weighs very heavily on me.&nbsp; The responsibility of a person who could and can change something; and this means I must at least try.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The older I get, the more frightening it becomes to face the Creator.&nbsp; I believe more and more that He gave us strength, and He will hold us to account for how we had thoughtlessly wasted it on secondary things. Someone who does not believe in God has it easier in this sense, perhaps. &nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><img src=",%20Moscow,%20Russia.jpeg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">"Putin&nbsp;inherited &nbsp;the leadership of an anarchic army on the march, with a straggling baggage train. He called a halt, drew up the baggage train, planned for a bivouac life; and got rid of the combat commanders and headquarters staff, replacing them with quartermasters and foot soldiers who had been serving the rear. By and large, the objective of the march has been forgotten, and the bivouac has become a camp, which is gradually turning &nbsp;into a &nbsp;prison camp. "</p> <p class="p1">The people who came out on Bolotnaya Square elicited pride in me for my fellow countrymen.&nbsp; These are not serfs, but citizens, ready to take their own fate in their own hands. The opposition has so far not been able to become a real political and organising core. This is normal. People need time for self-education.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>Any authoritarianism in our country quickly and inevitably turns to shit</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">It is extremely important that the ideology of the opposition force that is forming, become the ideology of a modern-day democracy, and &nbsp;not merely a &nbsp;&ldquo;better form&rdquo; of authoritarianism. Any authoritarianism in our country quickly and inevitably turns to shit. The country is too big and too varied to be able to move on a uniform path towards a single unitary goal.&nbsp; You either get lots of blood and an unattainable goal, like communism, or the anything-goes lawlessness of unsupervised &ldquo;vice-regents.&rdquo; But always a terrible crisis after the autocrat is gone &ndash; this is the recurring pattern of Russian history. In that sense, my attitude toward Alexey Navalny and other possible leaders of the protest movement depends on their choice of government.</p> <p class="p1">What needs to happen? The powers of the president must be balanced out by a strong parliament; there must be an independent judiciary; local self-administration; oversight of state institutions. Any other approach is unacceptable. In the main, I am of the view held by many that young people should make the decisions about the future of the country.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>It appears that Putin is insufficiently wise or bold to become a leader of change</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">The mistake that Putin made that is frightening for our country is the fact that he made a choice in favour of a paternalistic political model, having cut off the young shoots of self-reliance then developing in Russian society. Like a multitude of other potentates from world history, he turned out to be sufficiently intelligent to impose his formal primacy on the country, making use of the passive majority and &nbsp;the traditional &nbsp;method of &nbsp;&ldquo;divide &nbsp;and &nbsp;rule.&rdquo; But&nbsp;it appears that he is insufficiently wise or bold to become a leader of change, to support the modernising minority, in order to create a self-sustaining institutional mechanism of modern-day state power.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>He inherited from Yeltsin the leadership of an anarchic army on the march</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">If we use an army analogy, of a type that Putin so favours, he inherited from Yeltsin the leadership of an anarchic army on the march, with a straggling baggage train. He called a halt, drew up the baggage train, planned for a bivouac life; and got rid of the combat commanders and headquarters staff, replacing them with quartermasters and foot soldiers who had been serving the rear. By and large, the objective of the march has been forgotten, and the bivouac has become a camp, which is gradually turning &nbsp;into &nbsp;a &nbsp;prison camp.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Now, however, the supplies that have been brought in are running out, people are getting fed up with sitting in the middle of the road, the leader is getting old, the soldiers in the rear are thieving, and the quartermasters have gotten out of control, while the world outside looks upon what is happening with ever greater dread and bewilderment. So much time has been lost.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>Putin is evidently not going to change and not going to leave</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">Changes are inevitable, only it seems that Putin is no longer capable of taking charge of them. Is it worth my, or anybody else, telling him about this during a face-to-face encounter?&nbsp; I think not. He could take charge of the march if he wanted, but he won&rsquo;t. Now, all that&nbsp;is left to say to him is: &ldquo;Vladimir Vladimirovich, we understand that you wanted to do good for the country, and only the court of history will say how it turned out for you. But the country needs changes. Don&rsquo;t hinder the new generation of politicians, the modernising class.&nbsp; Either help the changes or leave in peace.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p> <span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="160" height="160" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p class="p1">Alas, Putin is evidently not going to change and not going to leave; and this means we can only look forward to a continuation of the stagnation, and a serious crisis when it ends; perhaps fatal for Russia, and certainly very sad for us and our neighbours.</p><p class="p1">&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">&nbsp;</p> oD Russia oD Russia Ben Judah Mikhail Khodorkovsky The hydra of Russian justice Khodorkovsky Politics Justice Internal Human rights History Fri, 25 Oct 2013 05:06:57 +0000 Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Ben Judah 76284 at A day with the Eurocrats <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="float: right;" src="" alt="" width="160" />What do Brussels’ diplomats really think about Russia? Do they know what to ‘do’ with Russia? Ben Judah stepped inside the plate glass fishbowl of the European External Action Service to find out. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Brussels. Framed by gigantic sheets of blue plate glass, Roma are rattling change in old tin cans. One tries to sing, another limps on a metallic crutch, but they are hurried along.&nbsp; The curved glass sheets of the Commission building catch the light; not transparent but reflex tinted &ndash; leaving the EU symbolically opaque.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>They call this area Charlemagne, after the first Holy Roman Emperor, uniter of France and Germany. Underneath, there are metro tunnels; during working hours, they are filled with bureaucrats, many rolling a suitcase right off the Eurostar. Outside EU working hours, the majority of passengers are either Turkish or Congolese. There are no effective ticket barriers. Nobody bothers with fares. Cheerful music tinkers over the dingy platforms, and you start remembering scenes from <em>A Clockwork Orange</em>. Maintenance has been hit or miss it seems since the 1970s.</p><p>Entering the HQ of the EEAS (the European External Action Service) &ndash; the diplomatic corps of the twenty-seven, soon to be twenty-eight, members of the EU &ndash; is to step into one of these fishbowls of power. Unlike the roundabout outside, here, monastic quiet reigns. The HQ is built around a circular courtyard, and dotted along the glass walkway are posters signalling the EU&rsquo;s diplomatic achievements: grateful Palestinians smiling at a eurocrat; happy African leaders posing with the outgoing chief of the EEAS &ndash; Baroness Catherine Ashton, a former chair of Hertfordshire Health Authority. </p> <p><em><span class="pullquote-right">Eurocrats have not marshalled Europe&rsquo;s massive resources. </span></em></p> <p>The EEAS was founded with a mission &ndash; to give Europe&rsquo;s diplomats the influence that should come from a geopolitical area with a GDP larger than both China and the USA. But for all that wealth, Brussels has proved less than equal to the might of Washington; and the EEAS no match for the State Department.&nbsp; </p> <p>The eurocrats have disappointed despite their massive resources. Europe has the second biggest defence budget after the Americans, and is the planet&rsquo;s number one aid donor. Neither is there any shortage of diplomats: Europe as a whole has no less than 57,000 of them; India has a mere 600 diplomats.</p> <p>Europe so wants to be powerful diplomatically. This is why the EEAS had money thrown its way &ndash; over &pound;500m for 2013. This sounds like a lot, but it is still less than North London&rsquo;s Camden council. &nbsp;They say the way of working out how useful an organisation is, involves imagining what would happen if it did not exist. I think about this in the EEAS lift. Obliterating Camden council would certainly reduce North London to anarchy &ndash; unburied dead, collapsing schools, imploding hospitals and un-policed streets. But, as the scratched metal doors open at the 3rd floor, I am unsure what really would be different without the EEAS. </p> <p>The shortage of eurocratic influence is especially keenly felt in Russia. Which is why the EEAS is doing everything it can to work out what is going wrong: with policy sessions, discussions, briefings and expert seminars. </p> <p>They have even invited me.</p><p><strong><img src="" alt="" width="460" /><br /></strong></p><p><span><span class="image-caption"><strong>Catherine Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs meets with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Not for want of resources, the EEAS is some way off matching the diplomatic muscle of the State Dept. Photo: EEAS</strong></span></span></p> <p>The seminar with the Brussels&rsquo; diplomatic corps takes place in room DL752, only I can&rsquo;t find it. Pacing around and around the round corridors I look for somebody to ask, but there is nobody. The numberless curved cubicles are all empty, and they all have the same map of the EU-27.&nbsp; Downstairs, there were lots of people milling around. Upstairs is so quiet you can hear the humming of hundreds of hard drives. At last, I spot an immaculate, grey, eurocrat.&nbsp; </p> <p>&ldquo;Sorry, where is DL752?&rdquo; </p> <p>He seems annoyed at this interruption &ndash; shakes his head and fingers the gold cufflink on his shirtsleeve.</p> <p>&ldquo;Ask my secretary,&rdquo; he grunts. He is Austrian, or maybe Hungarian. I don&rsquo;t know. Room DL752 is empty when I arrive.</p><p><span class="pullquote-right">Talking to EU diplomats is surprisingly emotional.... Eurocrats adopt a disappointed tone of voice [about Russia], like a stepfather lamenting the failings of a potentially gifted, and yet errant, adopted daughter.</span></p> <p>The EU sees the world through these cubicles and conference rooms. And this is the floor it uses to see Russia; a country the eurocrats find rather annoying.</p> <p>Firstly, Russia is always blocking the &lsquo;good&rsquo; things that the EU would like to do &ndash; Georgia, Ukraine, Syria&hellip;.&nbsp; Secondly, Russia makes the eurocrats feel particularly helpless when it thinks of the organisations that it would like to help, and can&rsquo;t &ndash; embattled NGOs and the liberal opposition. Thirdly, Russia unsettles the eurocrats when they think of the sinews of Putinist corruption spreading cancer-like into the EU; and then there is all that Russian cash they apparently find so hard to resist. </p> <p>Talking to EU diplomats is surprisingly emotional. This is because Russia is often talked about as if it is a person. When talking about Russia, eurocrats adopt a disappointed tone of voice, like a stepfather lamenting the failings of a potentially gifted, and yet errant, adopted daughter.</p> <p>Within the EU, Russia is a long-standing family disappointment. Russia brings up exhaustion and offence. It is not part of the new exotica, like the &ldquo;China challenge,&rdquo; or the tantalizing quagmires of the Middle East. With Russia there is enough intimacy to breed exasperation, even resentment. </p> <p>Eurocrats get very exercised about Russia: I was joined in room DL752 by another Russia specialist who asks them to write down what words first come to mind when they think of the country; the wipe-board is scrawled over with red pen:&nbsp; &ldquo;disappointment&rdquo; &ldquo;fear,&rdquo; &ldquo;angst&rdquo; &ldquo;surprise.&rdquo; Add to that: &ldquo;Putin,&rdquo; &ldquo;Gulag,&rdquo; &ldquo;corruption,&rdquo; &ldquo;vodka,&rdquo; &ldquo;oligarchs,&rdquo;&nbsp; &ldquo;gas&hellip;.&rdquo; </p><h2>Eurocratic impotence </h2><p>The EEAS endlessly discusses its own impotence &ndash; its inability to interfere, influence, or impact Russian domestic politics. The EU is not a state; and the EEAS is not the European equivalent of the US State Department. Policies have to be agreed by the twenty-seven member states before they can get involved. Eurocrats have many masters: &ldquo;But Spain would say no; but Germany would veto.&rdquo; This effectively cuts out any possibility for radical action. EEAS officials repeat a mantra &mdash; despite the trappings of a foreign ministry, they are not one. </p> <p>Nevertheless, perhaps the EU is wrong to be so self-critical; why is that? Because one of the lessons of the fading Moscow protest movement is that the general EU posture towards Russia seemed to be working.</p><p> </p><p>The big vision &ndash; dating back to the 1990s, and adopted almost by default &ndash; went something like this: make it easy for Russians to travel to the EU, promote trade, engagement, dialogue and access wherever you can; and hope that over time a new Russian middle class emerges that demands Russia look more like the Europe they have come to know as tourists. </p> <p>The smaller vision was to invest in civil society &ndash; scatter political seed capital, and fund the training and development of NGOs, invested with the aim of building the institutions Russia needs to be more like Europe, such as election monitoring, human rights, civil society; and then, wait.&nbsp; </p> <p><span class="pullquote-right">The Moscow protest movement may have fizzled out, but what it symbolised has not. Never had so many Russians been more European.</span></p><p><span>&nbsp;</span>In many ways, Russian society has proved that the long wait was worth it. The Moscow protest movement may have fizzled out, but what it symbolised has not. There are now millions of Russians who want to have a say in their society. The NGOs the Eurocrats were supporting &ndash; like the election monitors at GOLOS &ndash; suddenly found that there were Russians willing to join them. In short, never had so many Russians been more European.</p> <h2>Lost authority</h2> <p>In room DL752 the policy session is nearing lunch. Eurocrats glance at watches or flick open their phones. This is how policies are made: low-level discussion, and lessons learnt one at a time. I am giving a power point presentation on the need to respond to Mr Putin&rsquo;s crackdown, with more human rights activism. </p> <p>There is disquiet in Brussels that the old model of simply engaging with Russia &ndash; sponsoring NGOs, and trading in the hope that reform will follow &ndash; is no longer working. Engagement seems to have become counter-productive. Sponsoring NGOs has now been effectively outlawed in Russia, with the &ldquo;Foreign Agents&rdquo; law that imposes heavy fines, and demands paralysing paperwork from any body accepting EU funds. Trade, as an engine of reform, also seems to be an open question: a burgeoning business class might be increasingly loath to challenge Putin.</p> <p>The EEAS is aware of this, but it is not their most serious dilemma, which is that the moral authority of the EU is slipping. Russian power is increasingly undermining the integrity of European institutions, exposing them to the charge of moral weakness.&nbsp; </p> <p>Chief amongst these is the Council of Europe, hitherto, the guardian of the European Convention on Human Rights. It recently voted <em>against</em> a report by its own rapporteur, criticising Azerbaijan for imprisoning political prisoners, when the evidence strongly suggested that Putin&rsquo;s ally in Baku has silenced the Council of Europe with &ldquo;caviar diplomacy.&rdquo;&nbsp; </p> <p>When EU officials dismiss corruption in the once hallowed halls of the Council of Europe, as not as being an issue of the first rank, they are wrong. Europe&rsquo;s power over Russia through the centuries has rested on the foundations of democracy and the ideals of material and social progress. If it were to lose that then the EU would really begin to taste irrelevance. </p> <p>Europe is doing nothing to fight a growing impression in Russia &ndash; a view shared by opposition leader Alexey Navalny&nbsp; &ndash; that Europe is feigning outrage about Russia&rsquo;s failings, when, in fact, it is keen to do nothing to stop trillions of stolen roubles continuing to flood the continent. </p> <p>Russians too should be worried, about Europe losing its appetite for thinking Russia is deserving of all this effort at promoting reform. Russian elites are quick to snap about being &ldquo;lectured&rdquo; by Brussels, yet they would be mistaken in assuming that Europe&rsquo;s commitment to Russian civil society is guaranteed forevermore.</p> <p>After my presentation, a eurocrat puts his hand up:</p> <p>&ldquo;Mr Judah, you say that many in Russia increasingly think Europe is actually bleeding Russia dry, feigning outrage while at the same time our elites count the Russian money coming in. And that unless we stop this, Russia is at risk of imploding. I ask you why should we not leave Russia, simply, to die?&rdquo;</p> <p>I was a little lost for words. &ldquo;It wouldn&rsquo;t be right&hellip;. It wouldn&rsquo;t be right.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-sergunin/eu-and-russia-eastern-partnership-muddling-on">EU and Russia: an Eastern Partnership Muddling on?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/dan-smith/rescue-eu%E2%80%99s-external-action-service-from-european-commission">Rescue the EU’s External Action Service from the European Commission</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/rilka-dragneva-kataryna-wolczuk/russia-eu-and-ecu-co-existence-or-rivalry">Russia, EU and ECU: co-existence or rivalry?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/agnia-grigas/can-eu-face-russia-down-over-energy-policy">Can EU face Russia down over energy policy?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> oD Russia Can Europe make it? oD Russia Russia Ben Judah Foreign Sat, 29 Jun 2013 10:01:18 +0000 Ben Judah 73643 at Why Russia is not losing Siberia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="p1"><img style="float: right;" src="" alt="" width="160" />The Yellow Peril was a feature of life in Soviet times and the demographics on either side of the Russia-China border do little to convince the fearful that Siberia will not be colonised by the Chinese. This is unlikely, says Ben Judah, who has travelled in the region</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="p1">To understand a country&rsquo;s nightmares, read its novels. </p><p class="p1"><span>Here is one of Russia's: It is the year 2028 and the monarchy has at last been restored. The nation's future is holy, medieval and backward, walled off behind a Great Wall &ndash; and in its Secret Chancellery the agents of the blessed Sovereign are investigating an act of illegal occultism that is maddening them.&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="p1">Sixteen months before, six members of the anti-Russian sect &lsquo;Ardent Light&rsquo; had been detained in Moscow. The cultists' crime was to have drawn a map of Russia on to a white cow, before killing, carving up the animal, and carrying each chunk and joint to a different corner of the imperium to feed&hellip; <em>foreigners</em>.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Three old Estonians smacked their lips after eating the animal's frozen head in the slums around Pskov; its hooves were rolled into little meat balls and fed to Belorussian farm hands in Roslavl; its chest was turned into borscht for eighteen Ukrainian ferrymen; its flank was used to fill the dumplings the Chinese settlers of Barnaul wolf down to keep themselves going; whilst Japanese colonists in the Far East were the ones that ate its whole hind legs. The Secret Chancellery has forced these anti-Russian heretics into confessions. But they are unnerved, troubled even. They cannot find the animal&rsquo;s entrails &ndash; its guts.&nbsp;</p><p>All these are scenes from Vladimir Sorokin&rsquo;s grotesque satire <em><a href="">Sugar Kremlin</a></em><span>, a world where Putin&rsquo;s rule has given way to the worst of all Russian futures: a feudal one, where Siberia is colonized by Asiatics and the Chinese dominate commerce even in Moscow. Its holy Sovereign, in an empire where everything worth having is made in China, from the cars his horse guards drive to hallucinogenic drugs his court consumes, has chosen to educate his children in Mandarin. To the reader in our own world this subservience to China is meant to be as terrifying as neo-feudalism, because in the form of millions of migrants somehow flooding Siberia, it represents the one truly existential threat to the Russian state still imaginable&hellip; other than the half-forgotten terror of nuclear weapons. &nbsp;</span></p> <h2><strong>The fears of 2008&nbsp;</strong></h2> <p class="p1">The financial crisis saw one dominant hysteria replaced by another another. Out went a narrative about failed states, rogue states and nuclear equipped Jihadists; in its place came the fear of a rising China, apparently set to dominate the world with its crushing GDP figures and endless pits of cheap labour. In the West, the response was huge amounts of money poured into think-tank programmes unpacking Beijing politics. US Republicans started to feature China in their attack ads. You could see it in the names of some of the books that were selling, e.g. <em><a href="">When China Rules the World</a></em>.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><span>In Russia, 2008 rekindled the fears of the early 1990s. There was increasing talk of civil unrest destabilizing the state, and there was creeping talk about Chinese &lsquo;migrant invasions.&rsquo; This was fused to new century paranoia that an un-modernized Russia could end up completely dependent on a triumphant Beijing as in Sorokin&rsquo;s ghastly vision. This was redolent of the 1990s &lsquo;yellow peril&rsquo; that opened with the border in Asia.&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="p1">The military in particular started making statements. The chief of Russia&rsquo;s ground forces, Lieutenant General Sergey Skokov, warned that, in the future, &lsquo;if we talk about the east, it could be a million-man army with traditional approaches to the conduct of combat operations.&rsquo; The head of the Russian navy, Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, also went public with his concerns. In the Artic, he warned, there was a growing danger &lsquo;due to the penetration of host states advancing their interests very intensively, in every possible way, in particular China.&rsquo;&nbsp; It was so pervasive that even then-&lsquo;President&rsquo; Dmitry Medvedev warned that unless Russia developed the Far East it could &lsquo;lose everything.&rsquo;&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Russian think-tankers seemed the most distressed of all. The most influential foreign affairs writers in the country, including Fyodor Lukyanov and Sergey Karaganov, warned in the Valdai Club paper <em><a href="">Towards an Alliance of Europe</a></em> that unless the EU and Russia joined forces to form a pole in world affairs they were doomed to irrelevance in the coming age of &lsquo;US-China bipolarity.&rsquo;&nbsp; Sergey Karaganov, who has advised Yeltsin, Medvedev and Putin, darkly prophesized that &lsquo;Russia&rsquo;s regions east of the Urals and, above all, its Far East are being transformed into a raw material appendage of rising China.&rsquo; Serious publications like <em>Expert </em>ran sensationalist claims that millions of Chinese were already living in Russia. A few tabloids started shrieking the Chinese were in fact living in huge camps in the forest, in taiga so dense the FSB couldn&rsquo;t find them &ndash; laying the groundwork for their &lsquo;takeover.&rsquo;&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><img src="" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Writer Vladimir Sorokin reads from Sugar Kremlin (published 2008). Sorokin's satire imagines a nightmarish future for Russia, with an un-modernized motherland ending up entirely dependent on a triumphant Chinese superpower. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p2">This triggered a wave of Sinophobia and Sinomania in the Russian elite. Tibetan remedies and Asian cures became ever more fashionable, Putin&rsquo;s daughter was said to be fluent in Chinese, even Korean, and no foreign policy grandee was worth his salt if he hadn&rsquo;t been at least twice to Beijing by 2010. As I researched my forthcoming book round Moscow, it seemed everyone who was anyone in the Russian commentariat wanted to talk about China, from Medvedev associate Igor Yurgens to the one-time Kremlin spin-doctor Gleb Pavlovsky. An embarrassing number of them claimed to have gained some &lsquo;enlightenment&rsquo; into Chinese &lsquo;grand strategy&rsquo; from reading Confucius&rsquo;s <em>Analects</em>. And when the interior of the office of the Vladislav Surkov himself was finally photographed, the &lsquo;grey cardinal&rsquo; too had some Chinese characters prominently positioned in one of his display cabinet: the brushstrokes read &lsquo;Sovereign Democracy.&rsquo;&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p class="p2">'One number stuck with me most of all. The population of the Russian Far East is 6.5m, whilst that of the three Chinese border regions is over 100m. I couldn&rsquo;t help but imagine this border like a Dutch dyke holding off the sea.'</p></blockquote> <p class="p1">Like most think-tankers, I only started travelling to China in 2008. When I first arrived in humid Shanghai and looked at the glass towers of Pudong that seemed to spring up like mushrooms overnight &ndash; at first I saw reflections of the decline of the West. From those first few meetings, the numbers stuck with me most of all: a billion plus consumers, trillions of Yuan, millions of scientists, double digits growth in GDP.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">But one number stuck with me most of all. The population of the Russian Far East is 6.5m, whilst that of the three Chinese border regions is over 100m. I couldn&rsquo;t help but imagine this border like a Dutch dyke holding off the sea. Especially after wandering round the history museum on Tiananmen Square and seeing the maps of imperial China covering where Khabarovsk and Vladivostok now sit. Was a dysfunctional, corrupt Russia losing Siberia? A lot of people in Moscow shrugged this was perhaps inevitable. Was it actually happening? Not a lot of people seemed to know for sure. So, I had to go there.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <h2>The facts on the ground&nbsp;</h2> <p class="p1"><a href=";SubjectID=1934birobidzhan&amp;Year=1934">Birobidzhan</a> was supposed to be Soviet homeland for the Jews. That obviously failed. But as I researched where to focus my trip, the legendary Chinese settlement of Siberian Birobidzhan kept coming up. It was the Russian province with the highest percentage of Chinese settlement, having leased out 14 per cent of its arable land to Asian farmers. It was together with Khabarovsk region the province that has leased over 7,500 square kilometres for Chinese agriculture. I decided to go &ndash; and find out if this area the size of New Jersey was the beginning of the &lsquo;loss of Siberia&rsquo; or in the grand scheme of things not very much of Siberia at all.&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p class="p1"><span>'What is so surprising is there</span>&nbsp;are quite simply very few Chinese in the cities of the<span>&nbsp;</span><span>Russian Far East</span><span>. There are no large &lsquo;China-towns&rsquo; and local officials and locals say the numbers have been falling for years.'</span></p></blockquote><p class="p1">Experts in both Moscow and Beijing agree there are around 500,000 Chinese in Russia and that most of them live in the capital and St. Petersburg. What is so surprising travelling in the Russian Far East, is that this actually appears to be the case. There are quite simply very few Chinese in the cities of Birobidzhan, Khabarovsk and Vladivostok. There are no large &lsquo;China-towns&rsquo; and local officials and locals say the numbers have been falling for years.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">At first glance in Birobidzhan there appear to be more Jews than Chinese&nbsp; i.e. virtually none in the poor and sinister city where the streets are named after Yiddish poets and official buildings are capped with rusting Hebrew lettering. Locals mock the fears of those in Moscow. The number of Chinese peddlers has been falling for years, as Chinese wholesalers put them out of business.&nbsp; Even in the market the Chinese were absent. &lsquo;Why would rich people like the Chinese work in a market?&rsquo; asked one confused Kyrgyz crockery vendor when I asked where they were hiding, &lsquo;The Chinese are the big bosses that do the wholesaling or own the stalls.&nbsp; They don&rsquo;t get their hands dirty.&rsquo;&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><span>The real striking migration flow was like elsewhere in Russia &ndash; Muslims from the Caucasus and Central Asia. In Birobidzhan, as in Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, there are large numbers of Azeri immigrants, followed by huge amounts of dirt poor Tajiks, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. They far outnumber any Chinese in these cities.&nbsp; The most powerful families in Birobidzhan were Azeri immigrants that seemed to have sewn up local politics, food processing, the taxi business and even the local prosecutor&rsquo;s office. &nbsp;</span></p> <p class="p1">According to the local interior ministry in Birobidzhan, there were only 2,000 Chinese in the region and the number was falling. The Ministry's rugged, scar-faced officials explained to me that<span>&nbsp;ever since the mid-2000s, bigger investment in salaries and better techniques had effectively sealed the border. They swore to me it was impossible not to be harassed as a foreigner in Birobidzhan: I believed them &ndash; the only way I had got to interview them was due to them briefly detaining me for &lsquo;suspicious&rsquo; behaviour. &nbsp;</span></p><blockquote><p class="p1">"Life has improved in China and there are now better opportunities there. I&rsquo;m going back. China got richer, but Russia got nowhere."</p><p class="p1">Chinese settler-farmer 'Andrei'</p></blockquote> <p class="p1">To find the Chinese themselves I had to drive for hours through the marshy wastelands to south of Birobidzhan all the way to the border. I passed through ramshackle and decrepit Russian villages. It was as if a plague had been there. Everyone seemed ill, old or an alcoholic. Everything appeared broken, used-up, kaput.&nbsp; Those who lived there, scraped through, living off their pensions and selling berries and mushrooms on the side of the road. </p><p class="p1"><span>Locals claimed no Slavs tilled the land any more.&nbsp;</span><span>Yet independent Chinese settler-farmers had since the mid-2000s also practically gone extinct. The only one who I found (&lsquo;Andrei&rsquo;) in this unhappy outback told me had reached the end of the line. &lsquo;It&rsquo;s simply too hard here,&rsquo; he said in his hut. &lsquo;Life has improved in China and there are now better opportunities there. I&rsquo;m going back. China got richer, but Russia got nowhere.&rsquo; The only people he employed were half-illiterate Russian girls from the village. &lsquo;Chinese workers are too expensive. There are better jobs in China,&rsquo; he moaned.&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="p1">In the far south of Birobidzhan there is some evidence of Chinese land leasing as almost all the fields are electric green from soya and tilled by Chinese migrants. Yet these are not settlers but contract workers living in barracks with no desire to remain in Russia. Instead of working long-term for remittances, they usually do two-three stints in a barracks to save up to start their own business in China and then never come back. They are forbidden to move freely by the companies and frightened of stabbings, hostile drunks and pretty much all Russians.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The director of one of these Chinese agricultural companies operating in southern Birobidzhan explained to me that he was finding it increasingly difficult to recruit enough workers to come to Russia. He estimated there were barely 6,000 in the region and the numbers were falling. &lsquo;To be honest life in China is better than it is in Russia these days,&rsquo; he explained. &lsquo;As Chinese wages rise, I am going to start having a serious problem getting these people to come to Russia.&rsquo;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">This labour shortage, he said, was his biggest fear, quite the opposite of the &lsquo;Yellow Peril&rsquo; in Moscow, that assumes empty places inevitably suck in millions of migrants.&nbsp;</p> <h2>China&rsquo;s demographic crisis</h2> <p class="p1">As I drove to Khabarovsk, an unimaginable number of insects from the marshes swatting on the windscreen &ndash; through the supposed &lsquo;densest&rsquo; patch of Chinese famers &ndash; the evidence was scant and the few I met told the same story. It wasn&rsquo;t really happening. Over the next few days as I drove halfway to Vladivostok the farmsteads disappeared altogether. The colonization of Siberia that had so unnerved me was a living myth. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Put simply, Russia&rsquo;s nightmares about China do not match up to the demographic realities of its neighbour, let alone its migrants&rsquo; desires. Studies suggest that Russia is their fifth or sixth choice, usually for those who have failed to make it in the biggest coastal cities. Russia is reported as a violent, dangerous place with predatory police. This is why there are already more Chinese in Africa than its half-empty neighbour.&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p class="p1">'Russia&rsquo;s nightmares about China do not match up to the demographic realities of its neighbour, let alone its migrants&rsquo; desires. Studies suggest that Russia is their fifth or sixth choice, usually for those who have failed to make it in the biggest coastal cities<span>.'&nbsp;</span></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">But, above all, Russia is not losing Siberia to Chinese migrants because the People&rsquo;s Republic itself has its own demographic crisis. This no longer a country of a billion land-hungry peasants desperate to go anywhere, even Siberia. In fact the legacy of the one child policy and the rise in wages as the economy booms has produced an acute labour shortage inside China. The working age population as a percentage of the total began to fall in 2011 as the country moved away from the demographic &lsquo;sweet spot.&rsquo; According to one study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, there are over 10m unfilled jobs in the coastal cities. The Manufacturers Association of Hong Kong has reported that 90% are struggling to hire as many workers as they need and are on average 14% short. This is why it is becoming so difficult to get Chinese to come to their few farming bridgeheads in Siberia.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><img src="" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">A Chinese migrant worker picks tomatoes at the&nbsp;Saglasy greenhouse complex in Chelyabinsk, Western Siberia. Some evidence suggests that&nbsp;far from increasing exponentially,&nbsp;<span>Chinese migration may be much reduced, with increased wages and inhospitable locals encouraging many potential migrants to stay put. Picture: (c) Ria Novosti /&nbsp;Aleksandr Kondratuk</span></p><p class="p1">These are the first contractions of China&rsquo;s coming demographic crunch: its total fertility rate is already below Russia, leaving it as the lower end of world rankings, and the UN has projected that, given current trends, its population will sink below 1 billion again by the end of this century. Starting around 2020 China is going to age faster than any society in the history in the world. By 2025 the age of meaningful Chinese labour export will be over and the one child policy generation will be &lsquo;precious commodities&rsquo; at home. Eventually, Beijing will need to turn to massive immigration itself or risk grey stagnation. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Even the danger conjured up by Sergey Karaganov, that of Russia turning into a &lsquo;raw material appendage&rsquo; of a richer China does not fit the facts. A raft of laws to prevent this have been brought into place: banning foreigners buying land in the Russian Far East, further tightening of migrant regulation and billions of dollars invested by Moscow into regenerating Vladivostok around the 2012 APEC Summit.&nbsp; Local businessmen in Vladivostok complain they want more Chinese investment and that government &lsquo;protection&rsquo; is keeping it out. People in this city laugh when you ask them about &lsquo;migrant invasions&rsquo; or &lsquo;Beijing buying up Siberia.&rsquo;&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p class="p1">'Why do so many in the Russian Far East say they still fear a Chinese future? They [actually] fear the fragility of the Russian state.'</p></blockquote> <p class="p2">Rather than being a &lsquo;raw material appendage&rsquo; of China, almost all Siberian oil, gas and mining resources are controlled by Russian oligarchs of state companies. There are Chinese-owned mines and oil investment, but in the grand scheme of things they are relatively small compared to those of Western states in Russia. There are plans afoot to further centralize this in a proposed gigantic State Corporation for Siberia and the Far East.&nbsp; Dubbed the &lsquo;Far Eastern Republic&rsquo;, this would be given preferential access to resources across this vast region and have the right to allot mining licences itself &ndash; over the head of regional authorities. It will be answerable only to the Kremlin.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">So why, knowing all this, do so many in the Russian Far East say they still fear a Chinese future, one way or another?&nbsp; Because they fear the fragility of the Russian state, but this has nothing to do with long-term trends, or even, really, China.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <div> <p>ADDITIONAL READING </p> <p>FICTION</p> <p>Vladimir Sorokin - Day of the Oprichnik </p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p>MIGRATION</p> <p>Harley Balzer and Maria Repnikova - Chinese Migration to Russia Missed Oppurtunities </p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p>CHINESE VIEW </p> <p>Bobo Lo - How The Chinese See Russia </p> <p><a href=";id=6379">;id=6379</a></p> <p>IMPACT ON THE WEST</p> <p>Anatol Lieven - US-Russia Relations and the Rise of China </p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p>RUSSIAN FEARS </p> <p>Sergey Karaganov - Russia's Asian Strategy </p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p>RUSSIAN DEBATE</p> <p>Dmitry Trenin and Vitaly Tsygichko - What is China to Russia: Comrade or Master?</p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p>RUSSIAN OPTIMISM</p> <p>Dmitry Trenin - True Partners? How Russia And China See Each Other </p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p>EUROPEAN ANALYSIS</p> <p>Ben Judah, Jana Kobzova and Nicu Popescu - Dealing With A Post-BRIC Russia </p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p>CHINESE DEBATES </p> <p>Mark Leonard (Ed.) - China 3.0</p> <p><a href=""></a></p></div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/pavel-salin/fable-of-eagle-dragon-and-bear">The fable of the eagle, the dragon and the bear</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-gabuyev/rise-and-fall-of-china-watching-in-russia">The rise and fall of China-watching in Russia</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Ben Judah Russia-China Siberia Politics Foreign Economy Fri, 25 Jan 2013 15:33:03 +0000 Ben Judah 70512 at Russia-China relations: fantasies and reality <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="float: right;" src="" alt="" width="160" />Is Russia in control of its relationship with the world's emerging superpower? Ben Judah introduces a new series on openDemocracy Russia.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="p1">China is Russia’s indispensable nightmare. Indispensable because the emerging superpower is Moscow’s biggest trading partner, its future as a raw materials, oil and gas exporter and essential to Putin’s ambition to play the balancer, the king-maker even, in the UN Security Council and world’s affairs. But China is also a Russian nightmare – only China could conquer Siberia, with migrants, corruption and venal local acquiescence should Putin’s grip ever falter. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <h3><strong>Russia’s Chinese nightmares&nbsp;</strong></h3> <p class="p1">Russia-China relations are the stuff of fantasies and paranoia, which reflect the deepest held views about world affairs of those that expound them. They are what the West chooses to conjure up when they want to frighten Russia. Here is an example:</p> <p class="image-left"><em>‘Not all of them yet realize that, whatever quarrels they have with Warsaw or Washington, these will soon pale beside the existential challenge they face along Russia's eastern and southern borders.’</em></p> <p class="p1">These are not the threats of an armchair general but the Polish foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, the great white hope of the EU, <a href="">writing</a> in <em>The</em> <em>Economist.&nbsp;</em> Chinese nightmares are also what the Russian foreign policy establishment stirs up to try and frighten the Kremlin into modernizing and investing diplomatic capital into East Asian visits and embassies. Listen to this <a href="">terrified appeal</a> from Sergey Karaganov, who has advised Yeltsin, Putin and Medvedev about the wider world:&nbsp;</p> <p class="p5"><em>‘But, if current trends persist, Russia east of the Urals, and later the entire country, will become an appendage of China – a warehouse of resources, and then an economic and political vassal. No “aggressive” or unfriendly effort by China will be needed; Russia will be subdued by default.’</em></p> <p class="p1">This kind of fear-mongering is not restricted to politicians or the politically minded. A recent <em>New York Times</em> <a href="">special report</a> announced that the borders of the Russian state are sooner or later, likely to be redrawn by a demographic tidal wave:</p> <p class="p6"><em>‘Russia’s greatest geopolitical fear is fed by a very plausible scenario — China, populous and resource-hungry, taking over large chunks of Siberia, part of Russia’s failing and emptying East. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese have already crossed the border at the Amur River and set up trading settlements, intermarrying with Russians and Siberia’s native nomadic minorities.’&nbsp;<span>&nbsp;</span></em></p> <h3><strong>Russia’s Chinese facts&nbsp;</strong></h3> <p class="p1">You could almost joke – ‘Tell me what you think about the future of the Sino-Russian relationship and I will tell you what you think about the future of Russia.’&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Is Moscow a successful, sovereign raw-material exporter to the world?&nbsp; Is it in control of its dialogue with Beijing and has it secured its borders against corruption and migration?&nbsp; Is Russia a dystopian blend of Asiatic settlement in the Far East, with neo-Tsarist propaganda and little better than Central Asian bureaucracy at the centre? Then Moscow rules an illusion of empire, which has ended up completely dependent on Beijing.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">This is why we have decided to begin 2013 with this special series on <em>Russia-China Relations: Fantasies and Realities</em>. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Our first theme is the fantasies and facts behind Russian foreign policy towards Beijing. Alexander Gabuyev, Moscow’s leading young writer on China, examines how Russian sinology has been in collapse and decay since the fall of the USSR, leading to a rise in ignorance, fear-mongering and bad policy choices by the Kremlin.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">Our second theme is the reality of the Russian Far East. In the summer of 2012 I spent several weeks travelling through the remote regions most settled by Chinese migrants, such as Birobidzhan, Khabarovsk and Primorye, for my forthcoming <a href=";qid=1358102844&amp;sr=8-1">book</a> <em>‘Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In And Out Of Love With Vladimir Putin’</em>.&nbsp; I draw on this experience to argue Russia is not losing Siberia. To look at what the politics of Putin’s Far East really are, Russia’s leading reportage writer Olesya Gerasimenko shows how surprisingly un-Asian, but shockingly hostile to Moscow the region has become.</p> <p class="p1"><span>Opening up each power’s world-view, we present the foreign policy dreams of leading Russian and Chinese specialists. Pavel Salin, a frequent commentator in Russia’s leading journal </span><a href=""><em>Russia In Global Affairs</em></a><em>,</em><em> </em><span>argues that Moscow has taken fright at an impending Chinese world order and need to recalibrate its position in world affairs, especially towards the United States. The view from China is presented by Liu Jun from the country’s hub of Russia studies at </span><a href="">East China Normal University</a><span> in Shanghai. He lays out what China’s new leadership wants from Russia and why the USA’s return to Asia means that Moscow and Beijing might have to draw closer. Zooming in from the contours of geo-politics, Raffaello Pantucci and Li Lifan from the </span><a href="">Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences</a><span> draw on their recent travels in Central Asia to explain what growing Chinese and Russian competition means for Kyrgyzstan.&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="p1">Our final theme is the view from the West. Laying out some of their latest research and new essay collection <a href=""><em>China 3.0</em></a>&nbsp; and digging into Chinese intellectual debates, Jonas Parello Plesner and Thomas Koenig from the <a href="">European Council on Foreign Relations</a> explain the roles increasingly allocated to Russia<strong>&nbsp;</strong> in new foreign policy thinking, showing how ideas of a formal alliance with Russia have gained some ground now the US is seen to be trying to contain China in East Asia. They also examine whether such ideas of trying to cooperate more with Russia are gaining ground in the West while Beijing eclipses Moscow in the imagination of the foreign policy elite as the competing command centre in global politics.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The aim of our series is to enable OpenDemocracy readers to see Russia-China relations clearly for what they are and what they mean: a not so dramatic reality in the Russian Far East and grand dreamtimes in both countries about the world order itself.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <div style="width:140px; overflow:scroll;"> <p>ADDITIONAL READING </p> <p>FICTION</p> <p>Vladimir Sorokin - Day of the Oprichnik </p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p>MIGRATION</p> <p>Harley Balzer and Maria Repnikova - Chinese Migration to Russia Missed Oppurtunities </p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p>CHINESE VIEW </p> <p>Bobo Lo - How The Chinese See Russia </p> <p><a href=";id=6379">;id=6379</a></p> <p>IMPACT ON THE WEST</p> <p>Anatol Lieven - US-Russia Relations and the Rise of China </p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p>RUSSIAN FEARS </p> <p>Sergey Karaganov - Russia's Asian Strategy </p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p>RUSSIAN DEBATE</p> <p>Dmitry Trenin and Vitaly Tsygichko - What is China to Russia: Comrade or Master?</p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p>RUSSIAN OPTIMISM</p> <p>Dmitry Trenin - True Partners? How Russia And China See Each Other </p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p>EUROPEAN ANALYSIS</p> <p>Ben Judah, Jana Kobzova and Nicu Popescu - Dealing With A Post-BRIC Russia </p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p>CHINESE DEBATES </p> <p>Mark Leonard (Ed.) - China 3.0</p> <p><a href=""></a></p></div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/russia/article/china-v-russia-communist-mask-v-democratic-hat">China v Russia: communist mask v democratic hat</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/russia-china-axis-of-convenience">Russia-China: Axis of Convenience</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-borogan/runet-russia-on-chinese-road">RuNet: Russia on the Chinese road?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/china-and-russia-strengthen-ties-at-beijing-summit">China and Russia strengthen ties at Beijing summit</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Ben Judah Russia-China Politics Foreign Mon, 21 Jan 2013 09:41:14 +0000 Ben Judah 70469 at Has the Russian opposition lost its way? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="float: right;" src=" " alt="" width="160" />From the euphoria of last winter, reality has bitten Russia's opposition. President Putin is resurgent, popular interest in politics is waning and doubts are emerging about the self-styled leader of the protests, Alexei Navalny. Ben Judah wonders if there is an easy way back for Russia's opposition.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>If the Russian opposition ever comes to power, one of its shrines will surely be the bullying, ferro-concrete statue of the Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky on Triumphalnaya Square. This is where for years, the opposition gathered on the 31st of every month,&nbsp;to protest the violation of the 31st article of the Russian constitution – which guarantees freedom of assembly.</p><p>In December 2011, for a few dizzying weeks Muscovites dared to begin to imagine life without Putin. Would the KGB (now FSB) Lubyanka headquarters be turned into a museum of the crimes of the secret police?&nbsp; What, on earth, would the country look like? Would Triumphalnaya Square be renamed Triumph of the Opposition square? This winter that future seems very far away. “Renovations,” to stop anyone from gathering there, has thrown huge grills up. In the center of Moscow, it looks as if Mayakovsky is imprisoned. And the mood in the opposition feels closer to the first line of his suicide note.</p><p><em>And so they say –<br />“The incident dissolved”<br />The love boat smashed up<br />On the dreary routine.</em></p><h3><strong>Navalny’s Bad Year</strong></h3><p>Alexey Navalny has been the face and driving force of the new opposition that came together during the spontaneous December 2011 – 2012 winter protests. He was so popular at the time that even conservatives, such as the philosopher Boris Mezhuev at Moscow State University remarked, “that winter, there was not one man in Moscow who would not raise a glass of vodka to him.”</p><blockquote><p>'At the start of 2012 there was huge Moscow optimism that the golden boy Navalny had a political Midas touch. Yet his latest round of projects has not really worked out so well.'</p></blockquote><p>Yet, since Putin’s return to the Presidency in March, the hopes for change with which he was associated have gradually darkened into pessimism. This has been accompanied by a souring of the mood towards him amongst the Moscow elites. Accusations of being a provocateur - of lacking direction, of being too soft, of being too nationalistic, of being too vapid, of being too cowardly - are the talking points of the messed-up media, hipster and opposition scene. Sober observers like Sergey Aleksashenko at the Higher School of Economics, former deputy governor of the Central Bank, warned me this would happen during the peak of the protests. Said Aleksashenko, “Navalny is being loaded with a lot of hopes that he is going to struggle to live up to.” This warning is now coming true.</p><p>Navalny’s rise has been based on the phenomenal success of two projects: his anticorruption website Rospil that crowd-sourced information about graft in government contracts; and his propaganda campaign smearing United Russia as the “party of crooks and thieves.” By busting corrupt officials Rospil saved the Russian budget over $1,301,000,000 and the “party of crooks and thieves” went viral, with polls showing over 70% of Russians know his slogan. There has never before been a propaganda blow against Putin quite like it.</p><p>At the start of 2012 there was huge Moscow optimism that the golden boy had a political Midas touch. Yet his latest round of projects has not really worked out so well. The much trumpeted “Good Machine of Truth” that was supposed to be a cutting-edge propaganda machine complete with an app has not really taken off. The app is nowhere to be seen and the “Machine” fared poorly when sent into action. It turned out to be only Facebook groups, angry mass-mails and websites with posters to download. It has been mocked as Navalny’s – “Bad Machine of Spam.” This has mixed with disappointment with regional elections. Navalny threw his weight behind his ally the environmental activist Evgenia Chirikova, even sending his employee Vladislav Naganov to run her campaign. The government did everything it could to push down their result, but it was clear she still would have lost anyway.</p><p>The next big stumbling block has been funding. The authorities blocked the launch of the “Navalnycard” that would have donated 1% of all transactions to his cause. Hopes to get fifty supporters to publically donate to Navalny failed to materialize. They only achieved sixteen and many of them suffered financial or professionally as a result. Chief amongst them was the minor oligarch Alexander Lebedev. His business interests have come under attack and he is facing a possible jail term for “hooliganism,” due to a TV brawl last year. The tycoon insists his support for Navalny is the real reason. With no breakthrough on the money team, Navalny admit things are tight and they lack the resources to expand. The trouble is expectations are so high they are starting to disappoint even if they lack the resources to deliver anything anywhere near close to what is expected of them. &nbsp;</p><p>The “People’s Alliance,” a prospective Navalny party founded and run by his own team, has not yet inspired confidence. It aims to be the “party that chooses Europe as a civilisation” and the “party of the middle class.” But it is seen as only the party of Navalny. Yet he is not yet a member and has said he does not intend to be one. Some of his aides involved in the project say he will join later, others say he sees no reason to, and some say that the leader will once the registration is complete. The Moscow elite hears these contradictory answers and they inspire no confidence. “The party name is just terrible,” sniped a leading Facebook activist, “you can’t call a party the People’s Alliance. It is just so unoriginal. It shows no taste.”</p><p>His biggest project and the biggest disappointment has been the opposition Coordination Council. There was great hope, spread by Navalny, that not everyone had been able to come to Moscow for the protests and as many as 500,000 might participate in the online vote nationwide. Despite breaking the 100,000 mark in registrations, only just over 82,000 voted. “We hoped for more,” admits Leonid Volkov, a key organiser behind the vote. Other specialist closely involved, such as the IT guru Anton Nossik shares his view – “It was a disappointment,” he sighs.&nbsp;</p><p>Voting numbers are one thing – the actual first meetings of the Coordination Council have disappointed more. Those elected seemed to cement the gap between the opposition and the rest of the country – cementing this with an official body. Real representation from the regions is absent and the chamber is dominated by Moscow “party opposition” activists. Chairing meetings, Navalny has allowed fringe people with a slim chance to win national elections in Russia this century, such as Max Katz the Russian-Israeli poker champion turned champion of cycle paths to lord over the proceedings.</p><p>Critics such as Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister, who runs an opposition faction not involved in the coordination council, scent his coming weakness – “Navalny is increasingly resembling the politics of fantasy pursued by Kasparov in 2004 when he set up his alternative parliament. It’s the politics of delusion all over again.”</p><p>Even to supportive observers, on the editorial teams of some of the countries most influential and support papers, the very people who have told me they dream of a Navalny presidency – the Coordination Council looks like a joke.&nbsp;<a href=";fb_action_types=og.likes&amp;fb_source=other_multiline&amp;action_object_map=%7B%2210151232197054570%22%3A279069458881236%7D&amp;action_type_map=%7B%2210151232197054570%22%3A%22og.likes%22%7D&amp;action_ref_map=%5B%5D">One particularly apt criticism</a>&nbsp;is that it looks like “a Moscow social club,” which is “preaching to the choir.” And to make matters worse the authorities have openly been pushing a criminal case against Navalny for embezzlement, that could possibly see him jailed. This has truly been Navalny’s bad year.</p><h3><strong>Can Navalny Bounce Back?</strong></h3><p>Navalny should not take his position as the preeminent leader of the opposition for granted. “He’s not the leader,” says Leonid Parfyonov the hugely respected TV superstar, “he is just very popular. That’s different.”&nbsp;</p><p>When I last spoke to Navalny himself in the summer he did not think he had made any mistakes over the winter protest movement. “Everything was spontaneous,” he said. But he had a clear idea what he was preparing for. “What I am waiting for, what everyone is waiting for, what I am hoping for is the event that triggers this discontent into protests. It could be a child being down by an official’s car or it could be a collapse of the oil price. But it will come. The system is fragile. We will have to be ready.” This analysis – this fear of the “event” is shared throughout Moscow. Even Kremlin types share this analysis that a sudden event could turn the tables for the opposition. Navalny has indeed radically improved the opposition’s overall position, including with the derided Coordination Council, since December 2011.</p><p>Yet there is still disappointment. Navalny’s brilliant director of the Fund for the Fight against corruption Vladimir Ashurkov believes that this disappointment is a factor of wildly exaggerated optimism turning into wildly exaggerated pessimism.</p><p>“When we started he was just one man on his own. First we turned him into a public figure. Then we turned him into a political leader. Then we created highly successful projects. Then we led a protest movement. Then we created this coordination council. Things are moving in the right direction. We have two certain trends here.&nbsp; Rise in support of the opposition and the decline in support for the government. Sooner or later, those steady lines will cross. Then they will go exponentially in either direction.”</p><p>Navalny and Ashurkov are persuasive. This disappointment with Navalny is not necessarily his fault. He achievements are still remarkable and he has used 2012 to ensure he is without a doubt, the undisputed face of the opposition. He is not about to fizzle out but is sure to continue playing a key role in Russian politics. His&nbsp;<a href="">latest online project</a>&nbsp;dealing with utility bills has got off to a great start with thousands having registered complaints.</p><p>After an incredible, dizzying rise, this man is now facing the normal ups and downs of a political career. It was inevitable. But unfortunately for Navalny people associate him with a breathless moment on December 24th&nbsp;2011 when he screamed, “we are enough people to seize the Kremlin and the White House right now, but we won’t as we are peaceful people, but sooner or later we will take back what is rightfully ours.” He ended his speech promising 500,000 people at the next rally. It never happened. Putin is back in the Kremlin. He is going to have to reckon with that fact. &nbsp;</p><p><em>Ben Judah’s forthcoming book “Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In And Out Of Love With Vladimir Putin” will be published by Yale University Press in May 2013. Thumbnail photo of Alexei Navalny (c) Ria Novosti / Andrei Stenin</em></p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Civil society International politics Ben Judah Whistles and tears: Russia's year of elections Politics Navalny Internal Tue, 27 Nov 2012 17:56:44 +0000 Ben Judah 69592 at Same Putin, different Russia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="" alt="" width="160" align="right" />Putin could theoretically remain in power until 2024. But his plans could be undermined by the change in generations: with male life expectancy at just 59, society will soon be un-Soviet. Most people will have grown up in a completely different age and will not be content to be stuck with post-Soviet dinosaurs and their system, says Ben Judah</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Putin has returned, but to a different Russia. The Russia of 1999 was petrified by <a href="">the &lsquo;apartment bombings,&rsquo;</a> 40% of the population had descended into poverty, travel was common on a Soviet passport and there were almost 150,000 car-jackings a year. That is now history. Putin&rsquo;s promise of more order than democracy was welcomed, and 70% said so in poll. The Putin that raised a plastic glass of vodka in Chechnya with the troops, but put it down until the job was done, was welcomed by another Russia.</p> <p class="image-left"><img src="" alt="Bombings" width="400" /></p><p class="image-left"><span class="image-caption">Putin won the 1999 presidential election on a promise <br />of peace and order to voters terrified by a series of <br />explosions in apartment blocks</span></p><p>Putin has not changed his politics: a post-Soviet deal of order over democracy, with a Soviet succession more secretive that a papal conclave. Yet Russians have changed and want different things. The country is less frightened, wounded and keen on his &lsquo;firm hand.&rsquo;</p><p>Russia is less interested in imperial nostalgia or significant imperial expansion. Russian nationalists call for the North Caucasus to be cut out of Russia not kept there, for a migrantless &lsquo;Russia for Russians&rsquo; not a new Soviet Union. Now less than half think democracy comes second to order. The middle class has emerged, as up to 40% of Moscow and 20% of the nation. Ten million Russians are tourists, 50% are now uncensored online with the print media recovering its nerve. There are more active blogs in Russia than there are Syrians.</p><p>Civil society is still very small but starting to kick (if only a bit). In 2010 Putin lost some narrative to an activist for the first time when the charismatic opposition blogger-cum-lawyer <a href="od-russia/mikhail-loginov/navalny-effect">Alexei Navalny</a> rebranded his party &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; in large swathes of the intelligentsia as&nbsp; &ldquo;the party of crooks and thieves.&rdquo; The children of perestroika &ndash; who cannot remember Communism &ndash; have just entered the workforce.</p> <blockquote><p><em>"Putin has not changed his politics: a post-Soviet deal of order over democracy, with a Soviet succession more secretive that a papal conclave. Yet Russians have changed and want different things."</em></p></blockquote> <p>These changes are the positive legacies of the economic boom during Putin&rsquo;s first presidency, but political Putinism has not caught up with society. Politics is defined by a governance crisis. Russia is now ranked as corrupt as Papua New Guinea, infrastructure is crumbling, the number of transport crashes on Soviet stock is rising, the government admits less than half of orders are implemented and the Kremlin has to practise &ldquo;manual control&rdquo; &ndash; the leaders must inspect to ensure anything is completed. This is why talk of a Russian resurgence has been replaced by stagnation, with photos of Putin&rsquo;s face cropped to Brezhnev trending online. The fact that economic data show not stagnation, but low debts and a respectable 4% growth rate, underlines that this is a political perception.</p> <p class="image-right"><img src="" alt="She2" width="400" /></p><p class="image-right"><span class="image-caption">Russia's new middle class enjoys foreign travel and <br />dreams of immigration</span></p><p>This is why talk of &lsquo;Brezhnevization&rsquo; is in the air. As many as 22% of the population want to emigrate, or 57% of the professionals crucial for modernization.&nbsp; As many as 1.25m may have done so in recent years. The very rich are grumpy and placing their money in Europe, as capital flight estimated at 35 billion <strong>USD (2011)</strong>&nbsp;suggests. The lack of social goods and safe assets grates with them. The very poor are angry at the uncontrolled migration of as many as 15 million from the Caucasus and Central Asia. The lack of social goods, clean cops and secure borders, is pushing them into an alarming flirtation with ultra-nationalism and fight-clubs. The middle class is fickle and hard to discern: but over half the population feel corruption is worse than in 1990s. The image of Putin is morphing from oligarch-slayer to oligarch.&nbsp;</p><p>Russians have begun to grumble. As the news of Putin 3.0 broke, influential advisors tweeted their displeasure, prominent think-tankers wrote negative op-eds, an oligarch blogged disapprovingly, a few drunks heckled in central Moscow and the most read national tabloid wrote an unenthused leader. This is the reception to Putin&rsquo;s return.</p><p><img src="" alt="Putin_Brezhnev" width="400" /></p><p><span class="image-caption">Putin could rule for longer than Brezhnev and many Russians fear another&nbsp; 'period of stagnation'<br /></span></p><p>Considering he is eligible to rule under his amended constitution until 2024, Putin has ensured both a crisis of legitimacy and stability. Russian society is becoming un-Soviet, but lumped with a post-Soviet regime with a Soviet succession. However, a Russian &lsquo;Tahrir&rsquo; is unlikely. Whereas Arabs are overwhelmingly young, idealistic and socially cohesive, Russia is deeply divided by class, profoundly cynical and increasingly old. Russia would not be the first country, or its first time, to live with an unloved leader for a generation, as long as the economy ticks over.</p><blockquote><p><em>"What could bring a collision between an un-Soviet society and a post-Soviet regime? &ldquo;When the oil runs out, our President will die,&rdquo; sang the Russian <a href="">rock band DDT</a>." </em></p></blockquote> <p>What could bring a collision between an un-Soviet society and a post-Soviet regime? &ldquo;When the oil runs out, our President will die,&rdquo; sang the Russian <a href="">rock band DDT</a>.&nbsp;That&rsquo;s one variant. To quote Ivan Krastev: &ldquo;Putin has built a system where he controls everything apart from the only thing that matters: the price of oil.&rdquo; If we avoid a depression in Europe and a hard-landing in China, the system could muddle through. To be taken with a plate of salt, most market analysts predict a decade of $110-130 oil prices.</p><p>There is another uncompromising but less dramatic variant. Putin will be felled by the coming generational transition. Most Russian bureaucrats, workers and voters are a Soviet demographic bedrock of regime support, slowly eroding &ndash; and male life expectancy is just 59. The generation of the &lsquo;80s that made the 1991 revolution are cynical; the generation that came of age in the &lsquo;90s is burnt-out. Young Russians, unscarred by Soviet Union or collapse, could shrug Putin off. Another song could be: &ldquo;The President will die when the pensioners die.&rdquo;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">Ben Judah in other publications<br /><br /><a href=" ">- What does Putin 3.0 mean for Russia and the EU? (ECFR)</a></p> <p class="p2"><a href="// ">- Immigrant Russia: A crisis of demogaphy or ethnicity? (ECFR / Prospect)</a></p> <p class="p2"><a href=" ">- Siberia: In Search of the Gulag (Standpoint)</a></p> <p class="p2"><a href=" ">- Bishkek: Bloodsoaked Revolution (Standpoint)</a>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kirill-rogov/putinmedvedev-be-careful-what-you-wish-for%E2%80%A6">Putin/Medvedev: be careful what you wish for…</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexei-levinson/tandem-hope-against-hope-dashed">The tandem: hope against hope dashed!</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrei-piontkovsky/putative-president-for-russia-in-for-life">A Putative president for Russia, in for life...</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitri-travin/return-of-street-fighter">The return of the street fighter</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mumin-shakirov/who-was-mister-putin-interview-with-boris-nemtsov">Who was Mister Putin? An Interview with Boris Nemtsov</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/globalization-institutions_government/putin_4025.jsp">Vladimir Putin, &quot;Soviet man&quot; who missed class</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/the-wheels-have-come-off-the-putin-model">The wheels have come off the Putin model</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/grigorii-golosov/putin-medvedev-russias-managed-drama">Putin-Medvedev: Russia&#039;s managed drama</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/russia-theme/the-end-of-russia">The end of Russia?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Democracy and government russia & eurasia russia Ben Judah Whistles and tears: Russia's year of elections The succession Politics Fri, 07 Oct 2011 07:36:36 +0000 Ben Judah 61876 at Ben Judah <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ben Judah </div> </div> </div> <p><span>Ben Judah is the author of&nbsp;</span><em><a href="">Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In And Out Of Love With Vladimir Putin</a></em><span>&nbsp;published by Yale University Press.&nbsp;</span></p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Article license:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> Ben Judah Wed, 31 Mar 2010 10:02:48 +0000 Ben Judah 53444 at Kyrgyzstan: a political retreat <p> Kurmanbek Bakiyev was once hailed as a democrat, ascending to the presidency of this central Asia <a href="">republic</a> during the &quot;tulip revolution&quot; of 2005. Without natural resources such as oil or gas to fuel an over-powerful executive and a secular post-Soviet society in the capital Bishkek, it was hoped that <a href="">Kyrgyzstan</a> could offer a progressive alternative to the neighbouring authoritarian regimes that surround it. But following a fraudulent presidential <a href="">election</a> on 23 July 2009 and a growing pattern of arbitrary arrests and draconian control laws, Kyrgyzstan is sliding backwards.  </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new">Ben Judah is a journalist who is currently based in Moscow. He is international <a href="">correspondent</a> with ISN Security Watch, part of the International Relations and Security Network (Zurich). His work has also been published in the online versions of the <em>New Republic</em> and the <em>Economist</em>, and in <em><a href="">Standpoint</a></em></span> </p> <p> <a href="">Bakyt Beshimov</a> is a member of the Kyrgyz parliament and deputy chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Party. He was the campaign chief to the leading contestant to the presidency, Almazbek Atambayev. He is not optimistic about the future. &quot;Kyrgyzstan became an authoritarian country as soon as Bakiyev started implementing a policy of liquidating liberties in 2006. Bakiyev then rolled back the democratic gains of the past fifteen years. We are now more than authoritarian state. We are entering despotism. Kyrgyzstan was once an island of democracy in central Asia but that has now sunk to the bottom of the ocean.&quot;<em>  </em>  </p> <p> The rock that Kyrgyz <a href="">democracy</a> has foundered on has been Bakiyev&#39;s geopolitical success in playing off both Russia and the United States. In February 2009, Kyrgyzstan took a massive aid package from Moscow in return for <a href="">closing</a> down the United States base at Manas, a critical link in the supply-chain to Afghanistan - then in July reopened it (as a &quot;transit centre&quot;) in return for a higher rent. Russia has responded by deciding to open a further base in the country, again at the cost of greater support for Bakiyev. This has muted international criticism and emboldened the government.   </p> <p> Opposition supporters believe that the US has betrayed its democratic principles in exchange for access to Manas. Even at night the <a href="">scale</a> of the operation there is intimidating. Alongside the few Soviet-era planes servicing Manas international airport, dozens of hulking unmarked US aircraft land every few hours. Sergei, who works at the airport, believes that this presence comes at a cost. &quot;Look at the size of it...Obama only cares about that...not our democracy...they help Bakiyev more than a thousand policeman by needing this place.&quot;   </p> <p> <strong>A creeping embrace </strong>  </p> <p> Since the 23 July <a href="">election</a>, activists have been <a href="">arrested</a> and journalists driven from the country. Diana is a young human-rights campaigner. On 25 July she was arrested when trying to hold a vigil for protestors in Iran. &quot;We were holding a peaceful gathering for those being persecuted in Iran when the police arrived. They were very aggressive. They barked at us ‘so why have you come down to the streets?&#39; I was then arrested and taken immediately to the police station. We were fined on the spot for breaking Bakiyev&#39;s laws.&quot; She is nervous that next time she may be imprisoned.   </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new">Also on Kyrgyzstan in<strong> openDemocracy:</strong> <br /> <br /> Mary Dejevsky, &quot;<a href="/globalization-institutions_government/article_2394.jsp">Kyrgyzstan questions</a>&quot; (30 March 2005) <br /> <br /> Yasar Sari &amp; Sureyya Yigit, &quot;<a href="/globalization-institutions_government/article_2404.jsp">Kyrgyzstan: revolution or not?&quot;</a> (4 April 2005) <br /> <br /> David Coombes, &quot;<a href="/democracy-protest/Kyrgyzstan_2601.jsp">A different kind of revolution in Kyrgyzstan</a>&quot; (14 June 2005) </span> </p> <p> In early July the independent Almaz Tashiyev was severely beaten by eight police officers. This shrill critic of the government died following surgery. In early August, Syrgak Abdyldaev, a prominent journalist, <a href="">fled</a> Kyrgyzstan for safety reasons with his wife. He had receiving death threats. Bakiyev&#39;s government passed a repressive media law in 2008, part of a process that has in recent years seen his son Maxim Bakiyev, construct a web of influence and control over national television. Shamaral Machiyev, chairman of the Bishkek branch of the International Court of Arbitration explained the deteriorating situation: &quot;Over the past year we have seen a dramatic rise in the number of attacks on journalists. We have called repeatedly for actions to protect reporters and permit them to work safely. But it is still too early to say after the elections as to whether or not the situation will continue to degenerate.&quot;<em>       </em>  </p> <p> Saltanat Baetova is a lawyer linked to the opposition. &quot;It is clear to me that Bakiyev and his clan has been planning to implement this harsh rule for years. In September 2008 they passed the ‘Law for Peaceful Meetings and Demonstrations&#39;, and a succession of special-laws and by-laws has strictly limited freedom of assembly. There is only one place in Bishkek were we are allowed to rally and that is right at the very edge of the city. There no one can see you.&quot; She is disappointed by the lack of opposition effectiveness since the elections, and believes the political degeneration is set to continue.   </p> <p> Tolekan Ismailova is the director of the Human Rights Centre - Citizens against Corruption (<a href="">CAC</a>). She believes that the government murdered her husband. &quot;He was a leading critic of the state and when he fell ill... he was given the wrong medication in extremely suspicious circumstances that point directly to the government. It was murder.&quot; She dries her eyes and continues. &quot;I am certain that they will try and kill me. My security situation is extremely precarious.&quot; She was <a href="">arrested</a> and temporarily detained when protesting against the election results on 25 July.   </p> <p> &quot;I used to travel to Uzbekistan and be shocked by what I saw there...but it&#39;s fast becoming like that here. Once the summer holidays are over we are going to see a rash of anti-NGO laws. They want thing to be just as they are in Putin&#39;s Russia.&quot; Ismailova is dismissive of the opposition that attempted to face down Bakiyev at the polls. &quot;The opposition are not effective and contain many of the same old corrupt elements. These people are not for the most part sincere defenders of the rights of man.&quot;   </p> <p> <strong>Backwards in Bishkek </strong>  </p> <p> The members of Kyrgyzstan&#39;s anti-government intelligentsia now live amid suspicion. Mars Sariyev is a prominent independent political analyst. At mid-point in our interview, he noticed somebody listening into the conversation. &quot;Sorry...I think we should move to another never know here...with the informers.&quot;   </p> <p> He believes that Kyrgyz society is degenerating. &quot;In fact if you look behind the political labels of the government and the opposition you will see that both are clientele networks based on tribal clans. Kyrgyz history has for most of the past century been an oscillation of power between northern and southern clans, and now power is primarily in the hands of Bakiyev&#39;s Ichkerlik group. The opposition is primarily from the Utuz-Uul group, though both have links and allies across the country. I am concerned that we are seeing society becoming increasingly tribalised, breaking up the nation. We could be drifting towards the kind of social make-up, if not the violence, one sees in northern Afghanistan. And there is nothing more dangerous than tribal politics.&quot;   </p> <p> Since <a href="/globalization-institutions_government/article_2404.jsp">2005</a>, Bakiyev&#39;s family have carved up national wealth amongst themselves. With security forces in the hands of his brother Janys Bakiyev and media orchestrated by his eldest son Maxim, rumours circulate amongst Bishkek&#39;s <a href="">reporters</a> and academics that tensions between the two will determine the coming course of politics. But the outskirts of the city tell a different story. Here unemployed young men are turning old, without the money even to start a family.   </p> <p> Timur has recently started going to the mosque. &quot;Democracy has failed here...and like a ghost in the machine the dictatorship is back...we need order but virtue above all...we need more Islam.&quot; The Islamist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir is growing in Kyrgyzstan. There have been <a href=";div=6314">arrests</a> of Islamic radicals and a security-operation that involved the storming of a small refuge for supposed Taliban volunteers in Kosh-Korgon; both have raised alarm that the same social conditions that breed terrorism elsewhere might be emerging in rural Kyrgyzstan. Bakyt Beshimov despondently agrees. &quot;There are two grand political projects that I perceive competing for the central Asian future, that of secularised modernity and that of Islamism. As the government moves to isolate and box in the secular opposition it is paving the way for a far more dangerous Islamist force to take our place.&quot;<em> </em>  </p> democracy & power asia & pacific russia & eurasia politics of protest Ben Judah Creative Commons normal email Tue, 25 Aug 2009 15:54:21 +0000 Ben Judah 48539 at