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So we hear from the blog that is not a blog that The Winds of Winter isn’t going to be finished before HBO launches its sixth season this April and decidedly outpaces events in the books.

This should not have come as a surprise and here is the graph – so far as I can tell originally posted last year on /r/dataisbeautiful – that demonstrates why:

page-counts-of-popular-book-series

Accoring to the graph, the anticipated date of The Winds of Winter was 2017. So getting it finished by the beginning of 2016 was always going to be a longshot. It is however the case that Books 4-5 were marked by an artificial delay due to timeline consistency problems, so we can still be reasonably optimistic for delivery sometime this year. (If I had to make a New Year-style prediction on it I would say 60%; and 80% by 2017).

You don’t any particularly convoluted (Great Forks) or pessimistic (he lost interest) theories to explain why this is happening.

First, the books George R. R. Martin writes are BIG. The original A Game of Thrones is also the shortest at 704 pages, the latest A Dance with Dragons is 1056 pages in the mass paperbacks. It is also worth mentioning that both The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring are projected to be 1,500 pages in length, or more than 50% bigger than the average ASOIAF novel to date.

Second, they are extremely complex from a narrative perspective, made all the more so by writing each chapter from the perspective of individual characters. Balancing timelines must be a nightmare, especially since GRRM is a “discovery writer” who doesn’t tend to plan his books in detail beforehand. But he does have a high regard for consistency which forces him into a lot of revision and rewriting. It is clear that this started taking a toll from the third book onwards. But it appears that this is something that afflicts the vast majority of fantasy series, including much simpler ones like J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter (which incidentally moved forwards barely any quicker nonetheless!). The only big exception I can think of is Brandon “Robot” Sanderson. But then again even he has for the most part only stuck to trilogies to date.

page-counts-of-popular-book-series-2 Comparisons to Robert Jordan, such as the recent by Razib Khan, are premature. From the time of his “inflection point” by Book 6-7, not only did the pace but also the quality of his writing started degrading fast as plot was replaced by endless skirt smoothing and braid pulling and female on female BDSM until Branson Sanderson came along to put The Wheel of Time out of its misery. To be sure, GRRM’s plot has also slowed down drastically. But crucially, it was not replaced by any decline in worldbuilding and characterization; I for one enjoyed Tyrion’s odyssey in Essos, and the depiction of Cersei in A Feast for Crows as an evil female is on a level that I frankly cannot recall being matched in any other work of fantasy. In contrast, due to Robert Jordan’s mediocre characterization skills, The Wheel of Time without a plot was but an empty husk.

Moreover, whereas it was clear by mid-series in The Wheel of Time that the plot was going nowhere, things in the past two books have been clearly arranged to enable a whole range of climaxes to happen in Winds of Winters in quick succession, from the fantasy version of Battle of the Ice in which Stannis the Mannis will show up Show!Stannis for the preposterous imposter he really is, to the Second Battle of Mereen and the Return of the Queen.

There are two additional concerns that I will also take the opportunity to address now.

The Show will Overtake the Books

Like it or not but realists have always viewed this as being a near inevitability.

But for all intents and purposes these are now two separate works. As GRRM himself said (and I agree), the butterflies have become dragons as of Season 5.

MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW

I am not a “bookfag” by any means. I even think the show got some things better. Having Arya interact with Tywin. Letting Cat continue to RIP. The Faith Militant. Others it got a lot worse, such as the absurd Dorne adventure, not to mention the cucking of Stannis.

stannis-the-cuck

For better or worse, these are now two very significantly separate narrative streams and the potential for cross-genre spoilage is now very limited.

GRRM Will Never Finish the Books

Many people question whether GRRM is capable of finishing the books from a… let’s just say demographic perspective. “He is getting old.” “He’s fat.”

Naturally, GRRM doesn’t much appreciate that:

I find that question pretty offensive, frankly, when people start speculating about my death and my health. So fuck you to those people.

But it’s a legitimate enough issue, especially considering what happened with Robert Jordan, so it’s something worth addressing in a serious way if only to lay the less informed (and at times nastier) speculation at rest.

George R.R. Martin is currently 67 years old.

Let us look at the actuarial tables.

As of 2013, the chance of death at this age for US males ov er the course of a year is 1.7%. Thus, giving him the benefit of the doubt on his drive and enthusiasm (and as I showed above there is no reason not to), it is almost certain he will live to finish The Winds of Winter.

According to the graph, we can expect to see a A Dream of Spring by 2023, by which time he will be approaching 75 years. That gives an 82% chance of seeing it published. Assuming to a more pessimistic 2025 date, it drops to 76%. Still much more likely than not.

Regrettably, some people suffer through a period of debilitating illness before their death, which makes productive work impossible. (Known as the “healthy life expectancy” concept). Even assuming one that lasts 5 years before death – for Robert Jordan it was a single year – that still leaves a 66% chance of completion.

There are of course some additional aspects to consider – to what extent can we treat him as an average American man?

  • The most obvious negative thing is his obesity, which is negatively correlated with life expectancy.
  • On the other hand, he is obviously highly intelligent. This is correlated positively with LE.
  • He is not a low-income White, the big group for whom demographic outcomes have been in stagnation in the US since 1990. I am assuming he is not addicted to painkiller prescriptions and his now extraordinary wealth will enable him to afford the most advanced medical treatments should the need arise.

All things considered, I suspect the latter two factors more than cancel out the first. It also needs to be borne in mind that medical technology continues to improve so (all else equal) GRRM should benefit from that, although truly radical breakthroughs are very unlikely to come by within his remaining lifespan.

Incidentally, this is all the more reason to support transhumanism and radical life extension, so that we don’t have to worry (and deny worrying) about such issues.

 
• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: Culture, Fantasy, Literature 
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According to a recent n=150,000 global survey by Gallup and S&P, there is an astounding lack of financial literacy in the world.

To gauge financial literacy, they asked a series of four questions on basic financial concepts such as risk diversification, inflation, simple interest, and compound interest. They were very simple and typically only had 2-3 possible answers. Here is the most “difficult” question:

Suppose you had 100 US dollars in a savings account and the bank adds 10 percent per year to the account. How much money would you have in the account after five years if you did not remove any money from the account?

The possible answers were:

[more than 150 dollars; exactly 150 dollars; less than 150 dollars; don’t know;
refused to answer]

Demonstrating understanding in three out of the four areas qualified you as financially literate. Only a third of the world’s population reached that threshold, rising to a modest 53% in the advanced OECD countries.

global-financial-literacy-world-map

One surprising pattern is that there was very little variation in financial literacy between low-income and middle-income countries; there was only a sustained increase once countries began to exceed the $12,000 GDP per capita mark. Presumably, that is approximately the point when people start doing things like getting credit cards and taking out mortgages, so they are forced to come to grips with concepts like compound interest whether they like it or not. But there are plenty of both negative outliers (e.g. Japan, Korea, Italy, Portugal), as well as a few positive ones (e.g. Bhutan, Myanmar, Botswana).

economic-development-and-financial-literacy

Curiously, the correlation between financial literacy and cognitive ability appears to be surprisingly low. In other words, basic financial literacy has a low g loading.

There is a relationship to be sure, but exceptions abound, even in the rich country list. High IQ Japan, Korea, and China do a lot worse than one might expect. Botswana and South Africa do much better than what their national IQ levels might imply; in fact, South Africa is the highest-scoring of the BRICS countries.

g7-vs-brics-financial-literacy

Although conventional coverage of the national differences in financial literacy highlighted in this report by mainstream journalists like Leonid Bershidsky predictably focus on things like education levels and exposure to financial services, the really big explanatatory factor seems to be religious/cultural.

On the global scale, the Protestant world comprise nine of the world’s top 10 most financially literate countries, and an amazing 17 of the world’s top 25 – which is also a convenient threshold representing 50%+ financial literacy. (By which point the stock of both developed world Protestant countries pretty much ends). The world’s offshore bank, Switzerland, is a relatively disappointing 15th.

9 of the top 10 countries are within the Hajnal line of Europe, or are their descendants; and 17 of the top 25.

Predictably, the non-Protestant exception in the top 10 is Israel. The Jews can sure count their shekels.

Another correlation that seems to exist is with time preference. Countries where people displayed a willingness to wait to get a greater sum of money in one month’s time, as opposed to getting a smaller sum right now (inflation-adjusted), also tended to perform much better on financial literacy metrics.

The Catholics and Orthodox Christians tended to do a lot worse, even though as we know IQ differences between them and the Protestant world are fairly minor. Likewise with the Confucian civilization.

This suggests that Protestant populations have tended to culturally evolve (or gene-culturally evolve) an “intuitive” understanding of finance like things, while the rest of the world pretty much has to figure it out from zero. More intelligent populations with financial experience, such as the Japanese, tend to be relatively better at it (43% financially literate); less intelligent populations without much financial experience, such as the Indians and Iranians, do much worse at it (<25% financially literate).

Still, there remain some curious cases nonetheless. How does dirt poor and only 60% literate Bhutan manage to take 20th place, with 54% financial literacy? Myanmar also does surprisingly well for a country of its socio-economic and hisorical profile, taking up the 24th slot. Both are Buddhist, but otherwise, Buddhists do not appear to perform especially well; Cambodia is one of the worst, while Thailand is middling between Myanmar and Cambodia. Nor does it appear to have anything to do with the particular sect of Buddhism: Bhutan follows Vajrayana Buddhism, while Myanmar follows Theravada.

Financial Literacy 2015 via S&P/Gallup

# Country % Financial Literacy
1 Norway 71.3%
2 Denmark 71.3%
3 Sweden 71.2%
4 Israel 68.4%
5 Canada 68.3%
6 United Kingdom 67.1%
7 Netherlands 66.1%
8 Germany 65.7%
9 Australia 63.7%
10 Finland 62.9%
11 New Zealand 61.5%
12 Singapore 59.4%
13 Czech Republic 58.4%
14 United States 57.4%
15 Switzerland 57.1%
16 Belgium 55.3%
17 Ireland 55.1%
18 Estonia 54.4%
19 Hungary 54.2%
20 Bhutan 53.7%
21 Luxembourg 53.2%
22 Austria 53.0%
23 Botswana 52.2%
24 Myanmar 51.8%
25 France 51.7%
26 Spain 49.1%
27 Latvia 48.3%
28 Montenegro 48.2%
29 Slovak Republic 48.1%
30 Greece 45.0%
31 Uruguay 44.8%
32 Tunisia 44.7%
33 Lebanon 44.4%
34 Malta 44.2%
35 Croatia 44.1%
36 Slovenia 44.0%
37 Kuwait 43.5%
38 Japan 43.0%
39 Hong Kong SAR, China 42.7%
40 Poland 42.4%
41 South Africa 41.7%
42 Turkmenistan 41.1%
43 Mongolia 40.7%
44 Chile 40.7%
45 Zimbabwe 40.6%
46 Zambia 40.4%
47 Tanzania 40.3%
48 Ukraine 40.0%
49 Kazakhstan 39.7%
50 Senegal 39.7%
51 Bahrain 39.5%
52 Lithuania 38.7%
53 Mauritius 38.7%
54 United Arab Emirates 38.3%
55 Russian Federation 38.1%
56 Kenya 38.0%
57 Serbia 38.0%
58 Togo 38.0%
59 Madagascar 37.7%
60 Cameroon 37.7%
61 Belarus 37.5%
62 Benin 37.0%
63 Italy 36.9%
64 Taiwan, China 36.9%
65 Azerbaijan 36.3%
66 Malaysia 35.7%
67 Sri Lanka 35.4%
68 Dominican Republic 35.4%
69 Costa Rica 35.1%
70 Malawi 35.1%
71 Gabon 34.8%
72 Bulgaria 34.7%
73 Côte d’Ivoire 34.7%
74 Brazil 34.7%
75 Cyprus 34.6%
76 Uganda 34.2%
77 Korea, Rep. 33.4%
78 Mali 33.4%
79 Mauritania 33.3%
80 Algeria 33.0%
81 Jamaica 32.9%
82 Burkina Faso 32.8%
83 Belize 32.6%
84 Colombia 32.2%
85 Indonesia 32.2%
86 Puerto Rico 32.2%
87 Ethiopia 32.1%
88 Congo, Dem. Rep. 31.9%
89 Mexico 31.6%
90 Ghana 31.5%
91 Niger 31.5%
92 Saudi Arabia 31.3%
93 Congo, Rep. 31.0%
94 Guinea 30.4%
95 Ecuador 30.3%
96 Georgia 29.7%
97 China 28.1%
98 China 28.1%
99 Argentina 28.0%
100 Peru 27.6%
101 Egypt, Arab Rep. 27.5%
102 Thailand 27.4%
103 Moldova 27.4%
104 Bosnia and Herzegovina 27.2%
105 Iraq 27.2%
106 Namibia 26.7%
107 Panama 26.5%
108 Pakistan 26.3%
109 Chad 26.2%
110 Nigeria 26.1%
111 Portugal 26.0%
112 Rwanda 25.8%
113 Guatemala 25.7%
114 Venezuela, RB 25.1%
115 Philippines 25.0%
116 West Bank and Gaza 24.6%
117 Burundi 24.4%
118 Vietnam 24.4%
119 Bolivia 24.4%
120 Turkey 23.6%
121 India 23.6%
122 Jordan 23.6%
123 Honduras 22.9%
124 Romania 21.7%
125 Macedonia, FYR 21.5%
126 Uzbekistan 21.4%
127 El Salvador 21.1%
128 Sierra Leone 21.0%
129 Sudan 20.7%
130 Iran, Islamic Rep. 20.5%
131 Kosovo 19.9%
132 Nicaragua 19.8%
133 Bangladesh 19.2%
134 Kyrgyz Republic 18.9%
135 Cambodia 18.4%
136 Nepal 18.3%
137 Armenia 18.2%
138 Haiti 17.9%
139 Tajikistan 16.9%
140 Angola 15.3%
141 Somalia 15.2%
142 Afghanistan 14.1%
143 Albania 13.8%
144 Yemen, Rep. 13.3%
 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Culture, Finance, Literacy, Protestantism 
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I had great fun observing the fallout over Depardieu’s “defection” to Russia. The reason for the apostrophes is of course because it had nothing to do with it. It was Depardieu trolling Hollande and the French “Socialists”, and Putin trolling Westerners and his own homegrown “democratic journalists.” (Or maybe not? In any case, I for one have a difficult time comprehending why anyone would care so much.) This trolling was both entertaining and successful, because it elicited so, so much beautiful rage and loathing from all our favorite quarters.

The Western press

Predictable enough, coverage of this on the right-wing sites like the Wall Street Journal was schizophrenic. After all the writers and readers have to decide on who they hate more: Socialist France or Putin’s Russia? Of course the faux-left/neoliberal press like Le Monde and The Guardian had no such problems. They went stark raving apoplectic:

Gérard Depardieu isn’t enough to change Russia’s image by our good friend Andrew Ryvkin: “The actor may be taking Russian citizenship, but convincing citizens life is better than in the west is a difficult PR exercise” – I hardly think that was ever the point.

Gérard Depardieu joins very small club of adoptive Russian citizens, by Howard Amos: “Few foreigners seek Russian citizenship and even fewer are granted it, with the tide generally going in the opposite direction.” Ah, the (completely discredited) Sixth Wave of Emigration trope. What makes this especially funny is that 300k-400k Brits leave Britain every year, whereas the equivalent figure for Russia (with more than 2x the population) is slightly above 100,000 this year.

But best of all was the Guardian’s caption competition to the above photo. Here are some of the Guardian picks:

Après moi le beluga…?

Gerard announces the closure of several Parisian Boulangeries.

The hilarity of this is that the Guardian is a major mouthpiece for “fat acceptance”; indeed, it is not atypical for its contributors to write inanities like this: “While obese is a medical term, fat is the language of the bully. It’s not a word doctors should use.”

While I certainly have no problem with making fun of fat apologists and their enablers, but what’s hilarious is that the Guardian CiF is notoriously censorious and would have surely deleted those comments had they been directed at anyone the Guardian likes for violating its “community standards.”

Western democratic journalists

Unfortunately even many otherwise reasonable people were ridiculously outraged.

https://twitter.com/theivanovreport/status/286916844370161665

https://twitter.com/theivanovreport/status/287202688507195393

Mark Adomanis started out well:

https://twitter.com/MarkAdomanis/status/286972111665377280

But then he too went weird.

As the details of his newly minted Russian citizenship Depardieu has (justifiably!) been roundly condemned by right, left, center, and everywhere in between.

https://twitter.com/MarkAdomanis/status/288338539287044096

Quite a change from this in 2010, no?: “All of the US-run freedom indices aren’t merely slanted (that’s to be expected) but usually also have some truly weird crap thrown in the mix.” ;)

Russian liberals

Via politrash, who noted that writing this much have torn the democratic journalist in question (Gleb Razdolnov) to pieces: Please Answer, Depardieu!… (Open Letter)

A must-read for anyone interested in Russian liberal psychology. Go to your Google Translate.

And Depardieu knows all the correct things to say to troll and wind them up even further.

In a class of its own: Julia Ioffe

Gerard Depardieu’s Russian Citizenship Is a Passport to a Westerner’s Playground for TNR.

Days earlier, Putin, by presidential fiat, had extended Russian citizenship to Depardieu, who recently declared that he would abandon his native France, allegedly because of high taxes: Russia’s flat 13 percent tax rate looked a lot better than Francois Hollande’s now defunct proposal to raise taxes to 75 percent for those making over 1 million euros.

Minor point, perhaps, but NOT defunct.

The inaugural trip to Mordovia, observers noted, was a strange choice given what the republic is generally known for: penal colonies. The Mordovian economy subsists almost entirely on these alone; roads are merely strings connecting the colonies, some of which date back to Stalin. Most visitors to Mordovia are likely to see not yodeling singers in colorful frocks, but a depressed region where the free population seems split into two camps: the prison guards, and the day drinkers.

I have no doubt that Depardieu didn’t see and will not see this side of Mordovia, nor will he have met with the region’s most famous inmate, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, of the band Pussy Riot.

The state of Oklahoma, generally known for the Trail of Tears. Southern Poland, generally known for Auschwitz. Nanking, generally known for its rape. Any others you can think of?

Nor will Depardieu see Russia as it exists for 99.9 percent of his now fellow countrymen. As Putin’s pet, he will be shielded from the collapsing infrastructure and a ramshackle poverty inexplicable for a country that pumps more oil than Saudi Arabia. He will never have to go to a poorly trained, overworked, and underpaid Russian doctor who would likely misdiagnose him anyway. He will never get caught in the teeth of the corrupt justice system; he won’t be extorted for bribes, whether or not he runs afoul of the law.

So specifically Russian. But the best is yet to come:

Of course, this can be said of any wealthy Russian, or any celebrity anywhere in the world. The difference here is the orientalism of such Western men—and they are always, always men—who decamp to Russia and praise the place for its freedom and simplicity. The women, they say, are more beautiful and better (read: more sparsely) dressed, more deferential to men (especially men with money), and always aim to please, sexually.

Because ugly, badly dressed, rude, frigid, and – incidentally – worse paid relative to men is a far superior lifestyle?

Without examining why Russian women might be like this, Western expats use these qualities as evidence for a quietly long-held view that feminism is the crude weapon of the ugly Western woman.

Well…

The whirl-a-gig unpredictability of the place rarely stops being fun because it’s never entirely real. In these men’s eyes, it is not lawlessness; it is freedom from annoying rules.

In my years living in Moscow, I have come across many such Western men. In Moscow, their wealth gives them the kind of reality-bending leverage that it couldn’t in New York, London, or Paris. In Moscow, their wealth—and, in Depardieu’s case, fame—made them brilliant and sexually attractive, especially to the leggy, barely legal girls from the provinces; in those Western cities, their money merely made them rich.

Okay, I think she’s basically confirmed my theory from an older post:

One thing that really stands out is that it is female Jews who dislike Russia more than anything, at least among Western journalists. As this post has already pushed well beyond all respectable limits of political correctness, I might as well go the full nine yards and outline my theory of why that is the case. In my view, the reasons are ultimately psycho-sexual. Male Jews nowadays have it good in Russia, with many Slavic girls attracted to their wealth, intelligence and impeccable charm (if not their looks). But the position of Jewesses is the inverse. They find it hard to compete with those same Slavic chicks who tend to be both hotter and much more feminine than them; nor, like Jewish guys, can they compensate with intelligence, since it is considered far less important for women. This state of affairs leads to sexual frustration and permanent singledom (pump and dump affairs don’t count of course), which in turn gives rise to the angry radical feminism and lesbianism that oozes out of this piece by Anna Nemtsova bemoaning Russia’s “useless bachelors”. Such attitudes further increase male aversion to them, thus reinforcing their vicious cycle of singledom. And the resulting frustration indelibly seeps into their work…

Basically in Russia, Ioffe is surrounded by massively superior competition to what she’d find in her hometown, massively diminishing her relative attractiveness and male attention/commitment. This is understandably hard on the ego. In that respect, Washington DC is the polar opposite of what she’d have found in Russia.

So, no wonder that Ioffe has been so angry during her time in Russia and bugged out of the place much sooner rather than later. Why else would she spend so much column space ruing the far superior sexual choice available to expats in Russia?

I mean there’s nothing wrong with her disliking Russia for that, it’s a perfectly understandable and natural reaction. People are drawn to places where they enjoy more attention, respect, and sexual market value. That is why it is “always” male expats that enjoy the place as she points out. Whereas an American female journalist might hook up with some Latino lothario in Brazil, in Moscow she’d have to settle for beetroot-stained runts in vests and tracksuit pants.

But at least the foreign expats she is so so evidently butthurt about are, by her own admission, honest about their motivations. They want to keep 75%-13%=62% of their money, not have their cars periodically torched by “youths”, and have the freedom to look over a girl without going to jail for it.

Update: Ioffe’s reply to this post

Ouch this must have struck a nerve with her!

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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There’s tons of criticism that Russia no longer has a “national idea.”

The sentiment comes from almost everyone: Nationalists, liberasts, Communists, foreign critics, Russian “experts” with far too much time on their hands, and even some otherwise astute observers.

I don’t disagree with the thesis, but do ask: Why is that such a bad thing?

Grand narratives and universal theories tend to be poor at describing the world as it really is, and not infrequently lead to large-scale mistakes and suffering when pursued with excess zeal. The USSR is a classic example of a country with a “national idea.” So was the US under the neocons.

Even when they don’t lead to stupid outcomes they are almost inevitably farcical when promoted by politicos, under virtually any political system. Instead of inspiring, the only thing “universal” about them is that everyone mocks them. Suffice to mention “The Big Society” (Tories, UK); “sovereign democracy” (Surkov, Russia); “harmonious society” (the Chinese Communist Party).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5c3BrylMLc]

Putin himself put it best, in response the question, “When will Russia get an idea for which one can live for and create for?” He said, “Galina Dmitrievna, – for our children, our grandchildren, for our Motherland, Russia, it always was, is, and will be worth living for and creating for. What else is there? However we might try to come up with a national idea, it has to be said directly: There is nothing closer to someone than his family, his close ones, and his own country.”

Alternatively, the joke website Lurkmore too has a good article on the concept.

National ideas suck. Putin emphasizes pretty mundane things like conservatism, patriotism, pragmatism, and a growing GDP and I for one am more than satisfied with that.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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A PR disaster: Five views on Pussy Riot’s war.

Go, read. Comment there if possible.

Just a couple more notes:

  • Since I submitted the article, commentator peter made one of the most convincing arguments against the validity of the sentence against Pussy Riot. I suppose this will be raised in PR’s appeal.
  • Just to clarify, as I said in the piece above, I do not think consider 2 years to be a fair sentence. I’d have given them 50-100 hours of community service. I agree with Kononenko here.
  • But the law’s the law in Russia as elsewhere. On that note, see this story (h/t Jon Hellevig) in which it is said that three German PR supporters who disturbed a service in Cologne cathedral may be liable for imprisonment of up to 3 years.

Other non-MSM line coverage of the PR not mentioned in my Al Jazeera case includes this, this, this, this, this, this.

There is also an active discussion of my Al Jazeera piece at reddit (h/t Sam Bollier).

PS. Also apparently the second link I threw in about Iran(ian universities banning women) isn’t as straightforward as that. h/t Fatima Manji

Addendum 8/24: There have been a number of reactions to this article at AJ, Reddit, Twitter, and other platforms, and it is good to see that a majority of them have been positive even if they picked over some details. I don’t disagree with that. This is a culture war and as such there are going to be vehement disagreements; besides, it’s not exactly like I’m in the “hardline” camp that wants to lock em up and throw away the key either.

That said, a few reactions have been strongly negative, and I want to draw attention to them. Not because I think they’re correct (duh) nor because of my narcissism (at least not primarily so) but because in my opinion they very considerably illuminate the mind frames of Russian liberals and Western journalists in Russia.

Exhibit one: Miriam Elder, Western democratic journalist.

[tweet https://twitter.com/MiriamElder/status/238888198997164033]

Do not see what relevance this has to anything. But as I told her if she dislikes the fact that much, she already knows how to remedy it: Go tittle-tattle to The Guardian.

Exhibit two: Tomas Hirst, Western democratic journalist.

[tweet https://twitter.com/tomashirst/status/238891570135461889]

Aka I don’t like what AK says ban him from the MSM wah wah wah. How very democratic.

Exhibit three: Konstantin von Eggert, Russian democratic journalist.

[tweet https://twitter.com/kvoneggert/status/238939875745873923]

So if you don’t have a higher degree, you’re not allowed to comment. In my experience, people who place a lot of emphasis on someone’s educational credentials tend to be incredibly vapid. Most of this commentary seems to be about praising NATO and smearing Assange.

Eggert, BTW, in his very person also puts the lie to any notion that the Russian media is substantially controlled by the Kremlin, seeing as he regularly writes for state news agency RIA Novosti and newspaper Kommersant.

[tweet https://twitter.com/kvoneggert/status/238941886746857472]

Also as above unlike many “democratic journalists” he is quite explicit about his double standards. That is quite rare though not unheard of.

Exhibit four: Andrey Kovalev, editor of Inosmi and a liberal with principles.

[tweet https://twitter.com/AnatolyKarlin/status/239090147843506176]

That I can respect. Though I don’t really agree with the “undemocratic” aspect. I consider myself very democratic (which is not synonymous with “liberal”).

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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One of the things that most annoys me about Western coverage of St.-Petersburg’s law against homosexual propaganda to minors, the case against Pussy Riot, etc., is how it is almost always presented as a show-down between “liberated” and “creative” Russians and the macho dictator Putin.

In reality, of course, it’s a culture war – and as a result the majority is on the conservative side of the spectrum and the government merely accedes to this fact. This is the case with Pussy Riot. It is also the case with the anti-homosexual laws. According to the polls, which no Western journalist cares about for all his feigned concern for the opinions of “ordinary Russians”, 14% of Russians support homosexual marriages, 84% oppose; 8% want to allow gay parades, 82% are against. Three quarters consider homosexuality to be a deviancy, a disease, or a mental illness.

A honorable exception to this rule is Sam Bollier, whose recent piece for Al Jazeera I highly recommend: Madonna to sing out on ‘gay propaganda’ law.

Yet whatever their own ideological leanings Western journalists pay no mind whatsoever to these elementary realities. Liberal Guardianistas believe that most Russians think just like them when they are oddballs even in Britain. One might think Conservatives might have a more nuanced view, but that is not the case. As noted by Kononenko, they pass off the prosecution of Pussy Riot as a political punishment for their song “Holy Mother of God, chase Putin out!”; whereas as meticulously documented by Alex Mercouris there is nothing tying Putin to the case (indeed one wonders why Putin would wish to involve himself at all with those freaks with colored bags over their heads) and the prosecution is for a hooligan act that is in contravention of Russian laws that are not dissimilar from laws in numerous European countries*.

I don’t agree with all its arguments, but another very good article I came across recently was Robert Kaplan’s STRATFOR piece Putin’s Geopolitical Logic.

Regrettably, it’s behind a paywall, but its well worth quoting in extenso:

Tyrants who kill millions or at least hundreds of thousands are well known to history and are consequently seen as impersonal forces of nature, like hurricanes or tornadoes. But the dislike of Putin is quite personal**. He is not a mass murderer, but he gets under the skin of Western elites in ways that mass murderers do not.

Even Syria’s notorious dictator, Bashar al Assad, is always nattily dressed in a suit and tie. Not so Putin, who sometimes wears a leather jacket and occasionally rides bare-chested on a horse. Putin flaunts the mores and conventions of the global elite. A black belt in judo, he affects the appearance of a manly bully in a world where high culture is increasingly cosmopolitan and feminine. …

In fact, it is Putin’s very rational foreign policy that truly insults Western elites. These elites, whether liberal internationalists or neoconservatives, are intent on Progress — in the magisterial uppercase sense of the word. … Putin is no warmonger. For when all sides are looking out for their own interests, they comprehend the interests of their adversaries, and therein lies compromise. It’s often when the national interest is equated with a moral absolute that conflict tends to become violent, because in that case your adversary is judged to be immoral, and thus compromise becomes harder to achieve.

To be sure, it is the West that has played the warmonger in Iraq, Libya and Syria — in terms of rhetoric, if not always in terms of action. And while the West’s goals may have certainly been laudatory in some cases, they have also been at times self-righteous and destabilizing. …

The West considers Putin’s hostility to regime change in Libya and Syria immoral. But what I think secretly enrages Western elites is that they themselves know that Putin’s hostility is not immoral at all: It is amoral, or morally indifferent. An immoral foreign policy can be easily attacked as such. But an amoral policy — a policy rationally based on geopolitics, on geographically-based self-interest, that is — is a greater threat to Western elites because it is an assertion that the world has actually changed less than they thought following the toppling of the Berlin Wall. It is an assertion that fundamental opposition to what the West wants is not necessarily evil or even necessarily wrong.

Exactly. This is Putin Derangement Syndrome in a nutshell.

* Of course, before all the trolls pile in, that is not to argue that such laws are correct in principle – be they on the books in Russia or in Western Europe. In the US, for instance, the First Amendment pretty much guarantees that a case like Pussy Riot would never reach the courts. Nonetheless, for all that I am pretty sure that quite a lot of the people foaming at the mouth at Pussy Riot’s treatment were quite happy to see Emma West imprisoned for 21 weeks for holding a racist rant in a tram.

** Indeed, the only other major personage who arouses quite the same level of visceral hatred in your standard Western journalist be (s)he liberal or conservative is Julian Assange. I have long come to the conclusion that deeply psychosexual (feminist / beta male orbiter) reasons underlie both the hatred of Putin and Assange.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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In my nearly 20 years experience as a Russian living in the West, I have found that almost all my fellows can be reduced to five basic types: 1) The White Russian; 2) The Sovok Jew; 3) The Egghead Emigre; 4) Natasha Gold-Digger; 5) Putin’s Expat.

My background and qualifications to write on this topic? My dad is an academic who moved to the UK with his family in 1994, i.e. an Egghead Emigre. Later on, I moved to California. Much of the Russian community in the Bay Area (though not Sacramento!) are in fact Russian Jews, who are culturally distinct from Russians, albeit the boundaries are blurred and there’s lots of intermingling though Russian cultural events. Topping off the cake, I have some White Russian ancestors, and am familiar with many of them as well as more recent expats via my hobby of Russia punditry.

I hope this guide will entertain American and Russian (and Jewish) readers interested in what happens when their cultures interact and fuse, as well as those very Russian Americans who will doubtless see traces of themselves in at least one of the five main archetypes.

***

Arrived in: 1917-1920′s, 1945
Social origins: Clerks, Tsarist officials, aristocrats, White Army officers, philosophers.
Culturally related to: Earlier Orthodox Slavic migrants from the Russian Empire who came from 1880-1914, though White Russians proper are more sophisticated than them as they tended to be high class whereas former were peasants.
Political sympathies (US): Moderate conservatism
Political sympathies (Russia): Putin, Prokhorov

No, I’m not talking about Jeff Lebowski’s favorite cocktail. The White Russians (or “White emigres”) are the officers, officials, and intellectuals who fled their country after the Russian Revolution. Prominent examples included Zworykin (TV), Sikorsky (helicopters), and Nabokov (writer). They did not necessarily come to the US straight away: Many came via the great European cities, like Berlin, or Paris, where in the 1920′s, old White Army officers sat around dinghy bars, drowning their sorrows in drink and spending what remained of their money on cockroach racing. Some took more roundabout ways. One girl I know originated from Russian exiles in Harbin, Manchuria (mother’s side) and Brazil (father’s side) who met up and stayed in the US.

White Russians tend to be well-assimilated into US society, and many of the younger generations no longer speak Russian. However, many of them retain a positive affinity with traditional Russian culture – even if it tends to the gauzy and superficial, an attitude that transitions into “kvas patriotism” when taken to an extreme (kind of like Plastic Paddies). The quintessential White Russian comes from an upper-middle class family, holds moderately conservative views, and goes to the occasional Orthodox service and Russian cultural event featuring zakuski, vodka, and traditional singing and dancing.

To the extent they have detailed opinions on Russian politics, they tend to respect Putin, seeing him as a conservative restorer. Needless to say, they never support the Communists – though the antipathy does not extent to Red Army victories or space race triumphs, of which they are proud. Solzhenitsyn is their spiritual figurehead. Many however are partial to liberal forces such as Yabloko and Prokhorov; especially those who are no longer Russophones, and have to rely on Western coverage of Russia. A few kvas patriots go well beyond the call of duty to their Motherland, “telling it like it is on Trans-Dniester” and exposing “court appointed Russia friendlys.”

***

Arrived in: 1970′s-early 1990′s
Culturally related to: The early wave of Jewish emigration from Tsarist Russia, which included Ayn Rand.
Social origins: Normal Jewish families, with smattering of colorful dissidents and black marketeers/organized crime; also many pretend Jews.
Political sympathies (US): Republicans, neocons, libertarianism
Political sympathies (Russia): Prokhorov, Russian liberals

The Sovok Jew is a very complex figure. At home with American capitalism, he nonetheless continues to strongly identify with Soviet mannerisms (but don’t tell that to his face).

The modern Russian diaspora began in the 1970′s, when many Soviet Jews began to leave for Israel and the US. It accelerated in the late 1980′s, when the Soviet government eased emigration controls (prior to that the US had sanctioned the USSR for limiting Jewish emigration with the Jackson-Vanik amendment; bizarrely, it remains in effect to this day).

Leveraging their intelligence and entrepreneurial talent, many became very rich in the IT (California) and finance (East Coast) sectors. The ultimate example is, of course, Google founder Sergey Brin, who once opined that Russia is “Nigeria with snow.” He is the rule, not the exception. Most Sovok Jews have very poor impressions of Russia, and like to tell funny anecdotes about ethnic Russians’ stupidity and incompetence:

Ivan: What if we have to fight China? They have more than a billion people!
Pyotr: We’ll win with quality over quantity, just like the Jews with the Arabs.
Ivan: But do we have enough Jews?

The above joke courtesy of a Silicon Valley bigwig. He must have assumed I’m Jewish, given my surname. (Reality: I’m not a Jew culturally, though I’ve calculated I’m about 10% Ashkenazi Jewish at the genetic level).

Two further important points must be made. First, while they’re very successful on average, far from all Soviet Jews made the American dream: While many are millionaires, the vast majority still consists of shop assistants, office plankton, and the driving instructor I hired for a refresher lesson prior to my California driving exam. The less successful they are in America, the fonder their recollections of Soviet life. Their biggest enclave, Brighton Beach (“Little Odessa”), used to be a dump; and was the original spawning ground of the so-called “Russian Mafia” abroad, as popularized by Yuri Orlov, the gunrunner antihero from Lord of War.

Second, despite that many famous Soviet dissidents were Jewish (e.g. Brodsky, Dovlatov, – and satirized by the fictional e-persona Lev Sharansky), not to mention their appreciation for capitalism, most Russian Jews regard the USSR in a far more positive light than Russia itself. (Of course, there are exceptions, e.g. Lozansky, and I believe the DR commentator Lazy Glossophiliac). This might sound surprising at first, but one needs to bear in mind that Jews did very well in the early USSR: As Jewish Russian-American author Yuri Slezkine argues in The Jewish Century, the three major homelands of the Jews in the 20th century were the US, Israel, and the USSR, while the traditional Russia of icons and cockroaches was not a homeland, but a pogrom-land.

Furthermore, the USSR’s early philo-Semitism reversed from later Stalinism on, with rhetoric about “rootless cosmopolitanism” and “anti-Zionism” even as the US became highly pro-Israel. In a neat ideological reversal, Soviet Jews in America whose parents had sung Communism’s praises turned to libertarianism and neoconservatism, and in the 2000′s, most became hardcore anti-Putinists.

A controversial assertion, perhaps… But one need only drop a few names: Anne Applebaum (Putin stole my wallet), Miriam Elder (Putin stole my drycleaning ticket), Julia Ioffe (I hate objectivity), Masha Gessen (Putin has no face), Anna Nemtsova (Russian dudes suck)*… Or recall the blood-curdling and frankly threatening responses I got from one Irina Worthey (“Ira Birman”) when trolling a pro-Khodorkovsky Facebook group with inconvenient questions about his actual democratic credentials. Or consider that Prokhorov got 90% of the votes at Palo Alto.

Yet while they harbor little love for Russia, Jewish Russian-Americans continue to speak Russian among themselves, play durak and eat borscht, and recite Radio Yerevan jokes. They remain stuck in the Soviet attitudes and tastes that they brought with them to American shores; arguably, far more so than ethnic Russians (who have co-evolved with post-Soviet Russia). But as the USSR is dead, this Soviet identity has no future; the children of Sovok Jews tend to undergo complete Americanization.

***

Arrived in: 1990′s
Social origins: Academia.
Political sympathies (US): No real pattern.
Political sympathies (Russia): Communists, liberals; but increasingly, some have learned to stop worrying and love Putin.

The third major group are the Egghead Emigres – those Russians, who left during the 1990′s “brain drain”, when the Russian state lost its ability to even pay salaries regularly. There are Jews among them (e.g. Andre Geim, recent winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics), as well as other nationalities, but most of them are ethnic Russians. They cluster around university towns; if there’s a campus, chances are there are a few Russians around. As an in-joke among them goes: “What’s an American university?”, “It’s a place where Russian physicists lecture to Chinese students.”

Though one would think that these Russian academics are entrepreneurial go-getters – after all, they were willing to gamble on a new life abroad, right? – most are actually risk-averse and ultimately limited in their horizons. They are highly intelligent, but their ineptness at office politics limits their chances for promotion – as in companies, so within universities – where far less accomplished but socially savvier native bosses leech off their work. While they are now almost uniformly well-off, the Egghead Emigre lacks the Sovok Jew’s entrepreneurial drive, and as such there are very few truly rich among them. But on second thought this ain’t that surprising. Academia is a very safe environment (in terms of employment) and guarantees a reliable cash flow and career progression but it won’t make you a millionaire. The truly entrepreneurial Soviet academics have long since abandoned academia and made big bucks in the business world.

Many Egghead Emigres seem to be stuck in the 1990′s when it comes to their perceptions of Russia, with which they have very bad associations; after all, they ended up leaving the country back then. They feel genuinely betrayed by the Russian state – which for a time didn’t even pay them their salaries – and at the same time, many also became big fans of their adopted countries. I suspect this is in large part born of their need to justify their own emigration to themselves. After all, many of them still have Sovok mindsets, in which emigration and betrayal are near synonyms; but is it still betrayal to betray a country that betrayed you?

Consequently, some even view any “defense” of Russia, no matter how justified, as a personal attack on themselves and respond ferociously. Furthermore, and logically, the more successful they are in the West, the more anti-Russian they tend to be; whereas many of the least successful Egghead Emigres have already gone back to Russia.

Their views on the Soviet Union are mixed: While most admire it for its educational system, they also criticize it for its politicized idiocies and censorship. Nonetheless, their overall impression of the USSR is far higher than that of Russia; at least in the former, they were paid salaries and socially respected.

There’s also a generational aspect. Whereas the migrant “fathers” tended to indulge in Russia-bashing (out of a genuine sense of betrayal; overcompensating need to justify their emigration; etc), and embraced all aspects of Westernization with the fanaticism of the new convert, the effect of emigration was sometimes quite different on their “sons”. A few followed in the footsteps of the “fathers”; some (perhaps most) are largely indifferent to Russia, and have blended into the socio-cultural mainstream of Anglo-Saxon society; and others appreciate Russia to an extent that the “fathers” find puzzling, annoying, or even intolerable.

As you may have deduced, the Egghead Emigre shares many similarities with the Sovok Jew. Nonetheless, many of them still retain a few patriotic vestiges; and politically, they are considerably to the left, with social democratic, socialist, and even Communist leanings being common (whereas Sovok Jews are right-leaning, ironically, unlike purely American Jews who tend to be more leftist). Though not many are still much interested in Russian politics, those who are typically vote for Prokhorov/Yabloko or the Communist Party. That said, it should be noted that in recent years, opinion about the old homeland has improved, especially as Russia recovered under Putin, and once again started paying researchers decent salaries and courting the Egghead Emigres with generous packages on condition they return. But thus far very few of them have taken up those offers.

***

Arrived in: From early 1990′s
Social origins: Ordinary families
Political sympathies (US): Year 0: Adventurous, naive, wants marriage to nice American guy; Year 2: Wants American betaboy’s nice money
Political sympathies (Russia): ?

Natasha Gold-Digger is the most (in)famous type of Russian American, her image having thoroughly permeated pop culture (e.g. films such as The Russian Bride, Marina Lewycka’s A Short History of Tractors in Ukraine). In practice however, Natasha isn’t only the rarest of the five major types of Russian American; frequently, she is not actually Russian, but Ukrainian or Moldovan.

A common delusion that feeds the “mail order brides” industry is that Russian women are less feminist than their over-entitled Western counterparts, eternally thankful for the opportunity to escape poor, barbaric Russia with its alcoholic Beastmen, and hotter to boot. Sounds like a good deal, no?

But while traditional gender roles are indeed far more prevalent in Russia than in the US or Britain, this does not extend into family relations – Russia’s divorce rate is over 50%, which is only slightly lower than in the US. Furthermore, the type of American man who actually orders a bride online is typically someone who does not have the social skills to compete for America’s admittedly much narrower pool of non-obese women. These Russian brides – strong and adventurous almost by definition, as per their choice to emigrate – don’t respect, let alone supplicate, to these Yankee betaboys.

The customer doesn’t get what he thought he signed up for, as his Russian wife gets her residency papers, empties his bank account, wins alimony for any children they had together, and dumps him to ride the alpha cock carousel. The embittered husbands then go on to vent their resentments to anyone who would listen and many who would not. But they have only their own loser selves to blame.

***

Arrived in: 2000′s
Social origins: Students, businesspeople, rich elites, yuppies
Culturally related to: The expats of all political persuasions who whirled about Europe in the time of Tsarism
Political sympathies (US): Democrat, anti-war, Ron Paul
Political sympathies (Russia): All over – Putin, Prokhorov, Communists

They might not support Putin – though many do. Take the student at Stanford University, son of a senior manager at a Russian tech company; or the Russian financier working working in New York – more likely than not, both would vote for Prokhorov, and maybe even participate in a picket of the Russian Embassy as part of a protest for free elections or the freeing of Pussy Riot. But in a sense they are all Putin’s children, as is the Russian middle class from whence it comes; a middle class that only began to develop beyond a narrow circle of oligarchs during the 2000′s.

In this sense, Russia has become a “normal country”, as this class of global expats – typically consisting of young, upwardly mobile and ambitious people – is common to all developed countries; and just as in Russia, they too tend to have specific political preferences (the US – Democrats; France – Sarkozy/UMP). And unlike previous waves of emigration, which encompassed all the four types of Russian American that I already covered, most of “Putin’s expats” will eventually go back once they finish their course of study or gain work experience in a Western country.

Paradoxically, spending a lot of time in the West does not make these expats significantly more liberal or anti-Putin; even the reverse, if anything. On closer analysis this is not surprising. Even when in Russia, they already have access to what Western “free journalists” write about their country – if not in the English-language original, then translation websites like Inosmi. When spending time in the West, many realize their own country isn’t that bad in comparison; and that typical American perceptions of Russia tend to be irredeemably skewed (“Is it always cold in Russia?”, “Do you drink vodka everyday?”, “What do you think about your dictator Putin?”). Consequently, even someone who may be relatively liberal in Russia not infrequently ends up defending many aspects of Russian politics and society that he otherwise hates when in the West.

In the future, Sovok Jews will almost all Americanize, as will a majority of Egghead Emigres and their progeny. Those Russian-Americans who survive as distinct social communities will be primarily the White Russians (largely through the Orthodox Church), as well as increasing numbers of Putin’s Expats who will continue traipsing across America and the globe even after their namesake retreats into history. And if Russia becomes a developed country, it is easy to imagine that more Russian Americans will become Putin’s Expats… or even, just Russians.

***

russian-american-poll

***

* One thing that really stands out is that it is female Jews who dislike Russia more than anything, at least among Western journalists. As this post has already pushed well beyond all respectable limits of political correctness, I might as well go the full nine yards and outline my theory of why that is the case. In my view, the reasons are ultimately psycho-sexual. Male Jews nowadays have it good in Russia, with many Slavic girls attracted to their wealth, intelligence and impeccable charm (if not their looks). But the position of Jewesses is the inverse. They find it hard to compete with those same Slavic chicks who tend to be both hotter and much more feminine than them; nor, like Jewish guys, can they compensate with intelligence, since it is considered far less important for women. This state of affairs leads to sexual frustration and permanent singledom (pump and dump affairs don’t count of course), which in turn gives rise to the angry radical feminism and lesbianism that oozes out of this piece by Anna Nemtsova bemoaning Russia’s “useless bachelors”. Such attitudes further increase male aversion to them, thus reinforcing their vicious cycle of singledom. And the resulting frustration indelibly seeps into their work…

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Russia has a long and proud drinking culture; according to the chronicle of its founding, the main reason it chose Christianity over Islam was the latter’s prohibition of booze. Vodka has been distilled there since at least the 12th century. As of the time of writing, it is the world’s largest spirits market by volume – 2.4 billion liters in 2009, according to the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), of which more than 80% accrues to domestic vodka brands. Whiskey’s share is only 0.5%; but it is growing at explosive rates, and whiskey now account for two thirds of all spirits imports. Indigenous distilleries are sprouting up and conditions appear favorable for this growth to continue.

In the Soviet period, the only spirits available to most citizens were vodka and cognac from the Caucasus – a point illustrated by Erkin Tuzmukhamedov, one of Russia’s leading sommeliers and author of whiskey books, who got his first taste of Scotch by taking sips on the sly from the bottles his diplomat father brought home from abroad. This changed with the opening up of markets in the early 1990’s. Whiskey consumption has seen tremendous growth; the SWA says exports to Russia have risen from £5m to £31m in the past decade.

Though starting from a low base in comparison with the biggest Scotch markets, such as the US’ £499m, growth is expected to remain double-digit well into the future for three main reasons. First, rising incomes means Russians can afford to develop more refined tastes. Second, the growing segment of female drinkers favors spirits that can be sipped. Third, the government plans to quadruple the currently low excise duties on spirits by 2014, thus narrowing the cost differential between vodkas and whiskeys. All this implies growth for blends, which dominate the Russian whiskey market – for a time, Tuzmukhamedov was Dewar’s chief promoter in Russia – and very strong growth for single malts.

Reactions to inquiries about indigenous Russian producers was dismissive, their current presence being described as “fairly negligible.” There are some distilleries that have laid down their own malts, but are currently maturing and won’t be ready for years. One example is Viski Kizlyarskoe, a Daghestan-based brand that in 2008 laid down test run trials of all major types of whiskey – malt, grain, and blended – and is building a $7m distillery.

Praskoveysky distillery

Praskoveysky distillery

Another is the Praskoveysky distillery based in Stavropol, which has been producing wine and cognac since 1898. In 2008, it expanded into whiskey, starting up production in oak barrels on Irish technology. The factory manager, Boris Pakhunov, claims that it has a better nose than the Jameson that inspired his brand, and the honey tones are sharper.

The first samples from both are coming to market just now, and once in mass production prices are expected to range 300 to 400 rubles ($11-15) – an economy class alternative to vodka and the most popular imported brands in this category, such as White Horse or Famous Grouse.

Later, in May 2010, the Urzhum spirits distillery announced the launch of its own line, headed by “Officer’s Club.” Another increasingly popular approach is to just import whiskeys from abroad and bottle one’s own blends, as done by the Kaliningrad-based distiller Alliance 1892 in February of this year. It’s product, “Seven Yards”, went on sale this May, costing $18 per bottle.

So it’s a beginning of sorts, if not an overly impressive one thus far. Nonetheless, as whiskey’s following grows, this could change. According to Tuzmukhamedov, there are whiskey appreciation societies in the biggest cities like Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Yekaterinburg: “I’ve met ordinary guys who save their money to go on holiday to Islay – that’s not affectation, that’s appreciation of the drink.” He should know, as he runs Dewar’s new whiskey academy in Moscow, whose one month courses have become very popular with restaurateurs.

Whither now? Tuzmukhamedov is very skeptical that whiskey will ever displace vodka as Russia’s national drink, because vodka has the weight of tradition behind it and goes much better with the staples of the Russian diet. Though there is a lot of room for growth remaining, he expects it to eventually level off. Russian whiskeys are likely to become more prevalent on the Russian market, and some may even be exported. There is an antecedent for this in Baltika beer, which began brewing in 1990 on foreign techniques and can now be found in Western supermarkets.

That said, there is still a long way to go. According to Tamerlan Paragulgov, the director of an alcohol standards agency, many of the fledgling Russian whiskey makers still have fairly obsolete marketing standards; case in point, the Praskoveysky winery and cognac distillery is still run in a leisurely and paternalistic fashion as a Soviet-style enterprise. Another problem, according to Tuzmukhamedov, is that it is very hard for a small producer like Praskoveysky to establish itself in competition against the big names.

The experiments of today’s Russian whiskey producers may garner interest among whiskey circles in Russia, but they will have to get more serious about marketing and raising capital if their products are to break out into the wider market.

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(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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This is a summary of opinion polls conducted by the Levada-Center, Russia’s Gallup, since February 2009, and continues on from the first post. Along with the original post Lovely Levada, this series constitutes a unique English-language reference for social trends under late Putinism as expressed by the Russian people themselves, rather than the limousine liberals, pro-Western ideologues, and Kremlin flunkies who claim to speak for them. Unless stated otherwise, all opinion poll data refers to 2009.

2009, Dec 28: Around 60% of Russians are against the building of a sleek 400-meter skyscraper, the Okhta Center, in central St.-Petersburg, while only 21% are for. Myself, I’m of two minds about it. Though I like skyscrapers, I don’t want to see any public money going to Gazprom ego-building.

Dec 24: The Western tradition of celebrating Christmas on December 25th is not catching on in Russia, with only 4% of Russians saying they will do so this year.

1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Yes 13 12 17 16 18 18 19 16 6 4 6 6 4

Nor are perceptions of the reform era getting any better. In 2009, only 29% of the population considers the post-1992 period to have been good for the country, whereas 49% disagree. Furthermore, only 23% feel they personally benefited from those reforms, while 50% disagree. However, a majority feel, nonetheless, that some kind of “perestroika” was necessary to reform the Soviet regime.

Today, the majority of the population – 51% – would like to see more state involvement in the economy and social protections, though only 15% would like a return to the Soviet model (down from 20-30% before 2006), and an even smaller 10% favor a course of reducing government and focusing on creating on more opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Summing up 2009, although Russians considered the year to be worse than 2007 or 2008, there is no evidence the economic crisis had an inordinate effect on their subjective perceptions of success.

Year Summary 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Successful 36 37 42 47 51 42 47 49 52 46 43
Not Successful 51 51 38 37 34 37 34 29 28 32 37
N/A 14 12 20 16 15 21 19 22 20 22 20

Dec 21: There remains a strong nostalgia for the Soviet past, or what I like to call an “imagined past of a bright socialist future”. Around 60% of Russians still regret its collapse, so no wonder it is returning to its future.

Regret? 1992 1994 2000 2002 2004 2006 2007 2008 2009
Yes 66 66 75 68 67 61 55 60 60
No 23 19 19 25 26 32 36 30 28
N/A 11 15 6 7 7 7 9 10 12

Furthermore, the majority believe that Soviet collapse was not inevitable (a viewpoint backed by some theoretical work).

Inevitable? 1998 2001 2004 2006 2007 2008 2009
Yes 24 29 24 27 30 30 28
Could have been avoided 58 58 65 59 56 55 57
N/A 18 13 11 14 14 15 15

Proposed remedies for the future include closer, voluntary ties between the post-Soviet republics (27%), a Eurasian EU-like confederation (22%), a neo-USSR (16%), independent coexistence amongst the former Soviet republics (14%), and the continuation of the CIS in its current state (13%).

Dec 17: Putin and Medvedev continue dominating the political scene, and retain very high approval ratings. On the question of “tandemocracy”, 55% believe Medvedev is merely continuing Putin’s policies, and 48% believe power is shared equally between Medvedev and Putin (while 30% believe Putin is the more powerful player pulling the strings).

Dec 16: A stuffy, but insightful, and non-Kremlin-friendly, essay by Lev Gudkov, Levada’s founder, on The Nature of Putinism (in Russian).

Dec 15: Attitudes towards the West remain in a deep rut, its conduct during the South Ossetian War having left an irreparable cleft. Regarding the US, despite the election of Obama, Russia’s attitudes towards the US are today about as favorable as in November 1999, after the NATO bombing of Serbia (however, the depth of the animosity should not be exaggerated; for real anti-Americanism, one can do little better than stroll through the “Arab street” in the Middle East”).

Attitudes towards the EU are also on a long-term secular decline, though the slope is much less steep than for the US.

Attitudes towards Georgia remain highly negative, which is not surprising given the Georgian President Saakashvili’s deepening megalomania. Equally not surprising is that Belarus under Bat’ka remains far more popular than Ukraine, as demonstrated in this comedic song about “cutting off Ukraine’s gas“.

Dec 7: A majority of Russians support, to some extent, the slogan “Russia for Russians!“, though there hasn’t been any major upward trend in the past decade. So the theme about the uniquely prevalent nature of Russian racism should not be overplayed.

“Russia for Russians”? Aug.98 Nov.01 Aug.03 Dec.04 Jun.05 Nov.06 Aug.07 Oct.08 Nov.09
Yes – it’s about time we implemented this! 15 16 21 16 19 15 14 15 18
It would be a good idea to implement this within reasonable bounds 31 42 32 37 39 35 41 42 36
No – this is real fascism! 32 20 18 25 23 26 27 25 32
I’m not that interested 10 11 7 12 9 12 11 12 9
Haven’t thought on this 5 6 14 5 7 8 -* - -
N/A 7 5 8 4 3 4 7 6 5

Also, 61% believe the state should check unrestrained migration into Russia, and 35% do not feel too comfortable about the influx of foreign laborers from the “Near Abroad”. Neither of these have seen major changes in the past decade.

Nov 26: Very detailed historical information on approval ratings for Russia’s political forces – as of November 2009, President Medvedev had 74%, PM Putin had 79%, and the government had 50%. The economic crisis made nary a dent.

Furthermore, more Russians than not think Russia is moving in the right direction – again despite the crisis. This should all give pose to those who say that Putin’s popularity and Russia’s recent turn towards greater self-confidence was based exclusively on high oil prices and economic growth.

Nov 25: 63% of Russians think the situation in the North Caucasus is tense, but 64% believe it will remain stable during the next year. On the 15th anniversary of the First Chechen War, 43% think the Russian government was correct in its use of force to bring it to heel, whereas 11% believe it should have been granted full independence.

Nov 20: Russia extends its moratorium on the death penalty, despite that most Russians support it.

Death Penalty Feb.00 Feb.02 Mar.06 Apr.07 Jun.09
Should be resumed on early-1990′s levels 54 49 43 39 37
The current state of affairs (moratorium) should be preserved 15 12 23 19 20
Death penalty should be completely abolished 12 12 12 19 14
Death penalty should be expanded 10 19 8 14 16
N/A 10 8 14 10 13

What is the main point of the death penalty for Russians?

Why death penalty? Jul.07
Only as an extreme measure for punishing irredeemable felons 27
To deter others from committing crimes 18
Lawful measure for punishing especially severe crimes 18
To cleanse society of irredeemable criminals 10
Exacting vengeance on the criminal is justice 10
I don’t see any valid justification for the death penalty 7
To heal society and restore moral values 4
Other 6

However, for some classes of crimes support for the death penalty is significantly higher than when the question is asked in a more general way.

Death penalty for… Jul.07
Serial murder? 71
Child rape? 65
Premeditated killing? 48
Selling of drugs? 39
Terrorism, preparation for revolution? 32
Corruption? 16
Treason & espionage in peacetime? 13
Armed robbery? 11
Attempted murder of head of state? 9
Death penalty is always unacceptable 8
Other 1
N/A 4

Some 47% of Russians would feel personally safer if they reintroduced the death penalty, whereas 39% disagree.

Nov 18: Perceptions of subjective wealth have improved in Russia over the past decade, along with salaries and pensions. Today, far more shopping is done in big stores and supermarkets than a decade ago, whereas buying stuff on the streets is rarer. Again, not surprising given its economic growth.

Quality of life? Dec.99 Nov.09
Well-off 6 24
Middle-class 46 62
Barely make ends meet 35 10
Poor 10 3
Very poor 3 >1

Below is a more detailed breakdown.

Which group do you belong to? 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Barely make ends meet – not even enough money for food. 22 19 15 18 15 12 14 9 10
Can buy food, but getting clothes is a problem. 44 42 45 41 37 35 33 27 30
Can buy the basics like food and clothes, but durable consumer goods (TV, refrigerator) present more of a problem. 27 32 31 31 37 40 37 48 48
Can easily get durable consumer goods, but truly expensive things are less accessible. 7 7 8 9 10 13 15 15 12
Can make really expensive purchases like apartments, dachas, etc, without problem. <1 <1 1 <1 1 <1 1 1 <1

Nov 6: Russia’s attitudes on the 20-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – 63% are positive, and only 11% are negative.

Nov 5: The Russia-Ukraine relation in detail, at the level of peoples rather than governments.

What should Russia-Ukraine relations resemble? Russia Ukraine
Jan. 09 Jun. 09 Jan. 09 Jun. 09 Oct. 09
As is usual for states – closed borders, tariffs, visas 29 25 8 10 11
Independent but friendly states, characterized by open borders without visas or tariffs. 51 55 68 65 67
Russia and Ukraine should unite into a single state. 12 14 23 23 19
N/A 8 6 1 2 3

What do Russians think about Ukraine, and Ukrainians about Russia?

What do you think? Russians about Ukraine Ukrainians about Russians
Mar.08 Jan.09 Jun.09 Sep. 09 Apr. 08 Feb.09 Jun.09 Oct.09
Good / very good 55 29 33 46 88 91 93 91
Bad / very bad 33 62 55 44 7 5 4 6
N/A 12 9 11 10 5 4 3 3

However, given the choice most Ukrainians would prefer (re-)integration into Eurasia than Westernization. Only 17% of Ukrainians would have voted to join NATO in October 2009, whereas 63% were against. Furthermore, 55% of Ukrainians prefer a union with Russia and Belarus, compared to 24% who would prefer accession to the European Union.

EU or Union of Russia & Belarus? Ukrainians
certainly EU 12
sooner EU 12
sooner Russia & Belarus 30
certainly Russia & Belarus 25
N/A 21

This is one of the main reasons why it is likely that some kind of Eurasian Empire – be it an EU-like confederation or neo-Soviet Union – will be slowly but surely resurrected in the near future (as is indeed already happening).

Nov 5: What is your opinion on the October Revolution for Russia’s peoples?

1990 1997 2004 2005 2009
Opened a new era in Russian history. 23 23 30 26 28
Gave a push towards social and economic development. 26 26 27 31 29
It put a brake on development. 18 19 16 16 16
It became a catastrophe. 12 16 14 15 10
N/A 21 16 13 12 17

Oct 29: Only 4% of Russians celebrate Halloween.

Oct 27: Most Russians believe Putin represents the interests of the siloviks (27%), middle class (24%), oligarchs (22%), simple folks (21%), and his close friends (18%).

Oct 23: 71% of Russians believe they need a serious opposition party, while 47% believe that no such parties currently exist (38% disagree).

Oct 15: Russians on democracy – a series of very detailed and telling graphs.

33% believe Russia has some kind of democracy, another 33% think its democracy has not yet become firmly grounded, while 20% believe it is regressing. As of June 2009, some 57% believed Russia needs democracy, while 26% disagreed – these figures are changed from 66% and 21% respectively in June 2005.

According to the polls below, it seems that Russians have recently come to truly believe in “sovereign democracy“.

As of 2006, around 63% of Russians are basically “statists” – they believe the state should care about all its citizens and guarantee a fitting standard of living, whereas only 25% subscribe to the classical liberal position that the state should limit itself to setting and enforcing the “rules of the game”, and an even smaller 4% take the neoliberal view that government should minimize its involvement in its citizens’ economic affairs. These figures are changed from 71%, 19%, and 6% respectively, in 2001.

Most Russians support a strong, centralized Presidency, and in contrast to the late Soviet period, support for what could be called “authoritarianism” has risen.

The share of Russians believing that Russia’s rulers only look out for their “material wellbeing and career”, which once hovered at 50-60%, has since 2007 fallen to 20-30% – nearly equalizing with those thinking it is a “strong team of politicians, leading the country along the right road”. This is yet another illustration of Russia’s recent, quasi-spiritual transition from “poshlost” to “sobornost”.

At the same time, the number of Russians considering themselves to be “free” in their society has increased under the Putin years. In 1990, 38% of Russians felt society had too little freedom, 30% enough freedom, and 17% too much freedom; in 1997, these figures were 20%, 32%, and 34%; in 2008, they were 18%, 55%, and 20%, all respectively. Ironically, the (perceived) decline in liberalism since 1998 has been accompanied by greater democratization, in that the state has moved closer to the “people’s will”.

Only a tiny minority of Russians, 2-3%, – interestingly, the same percentage that voices approval for Russian “liberals” like Kasparov and Illarionov – have ever regarded Western-style democracy as a necessary “savior” of Russia – many have the practical attitude that it has many useful things to offer (45% in 2008), or that it is not suitable for Russia (30%) or outright dangerous (12%).

All in all, this is all in stark contrast to the Western media theme that Putin, the tyrant, is forcefully re-submerging an unwilling populace back into its totalitarian past. See Armageddon, Putvedev is Russia’s White Rider, and Russia’s Sisyphean Loop for detailed discussions of these phenomena and trends.

Oct 9: Russia’s opinions on the US BMD program (ballistic missile defense). Whereas only 8% think the European installations are being built to defend against Iran, some 69% of Russians believe that it is to ensure its military superiority over Russia, pressure Russia geopolitically, or defend against Russian nuclear attacks.

Regarding America’s plans to postpone the European BMD sites, some 41% think it is a temporary concession, 16% think it’s just a move in a geopolitical “trade” between Russia and the US – while only 21% consider it a “victory” of Russia. The vast majority of Russians believe that the US will continue with its ABM program.

In other words, Russians are cynical about US intentions – and almost certainly correct to be so.

Oct 1: Russians have a great deal of skepticism towards the 1993 bombing of the Duma in Moscow – they perceive it as being evidence of purely inter-elite struggles, a sign of national decline, etc. Some 81% of Russians say both were wrong, both were right, or N/A.

Sept 8: After a peak in 2002, TV viewership is on a slow decline in Russia, especially amongst the young who have the Internet. However, it remains extremely prevalent, with 86% watching it daily or almost daily.

Sept 4: A slim majority of Russians do not consider Stalin to be a “state criminal”, or mostly responsible for the repressions of the 1930′s-50′s. Around half consider the USSR had some resemblances to Nazi Germany, whereas another half disagree. This illustrates the highly binaried view of Russian society towards Stalin – the despotic Messiah who led and ruled them like the God of the Old Testament.

Whereas 55% of Russians think it important to improve relations with Japan, especially in the sphere of hi-tech, most of them (82%) are against doing this by handing over the southern Kurils.

Sept 3: Around 70% of Russians support 1) the teaching of subjects at elementary schools in non-Russian languages and 2) the teaching of the controversial course “The Foundations of Orthodox Culture”.

Aug 31: A majority of Russians continue going out to pick mushrooms at least once per year.

Aug 26: The best Russian films of the last decade: The 9th Company, The Barber of Siberia, Admiral, Island, Twelve, Taras Bulba, Night Watch, The Turkish Gambit, The Irony of Fate 2, Brother, Love – Carrot, Bastards.

The 63% of Russians expecting a “second wave” of the economic crisis during autumn 2009 were wrong.

Aug 24: In July 2009, some 34% of Russians supported the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (the August 23, 1939 non-aggression treaty between Nazi Germany and the USSR), 23% condemned it, and 44% didn’t really know or care. Attitudes towards it seem to correlate with those towards Stalin.

Aug 17: Russians are thoroughly disillusioned with the events of the August “Putsch” of 1991, in whose aftermath the USSR collapsed – 42% think it was nothing more than an intra-elite struggle for power, 33% consider it a tragic event with ruinous consequences for the country and people, and just 9% believe it to have been a victory of democracy over the Communist Party.

Aug 7: The increasing penetration of electronic devices in Russia. Do you have a cell phone?

Jan.01 Jan.02 Jan.03 Jan.04 Jan.05 Jan.06 Jan.07 Jan.08 Jan.09 Jul.09
Yes 2 5 9 19 32 45 58 71 78 78
No 98 95 91 81 68 55 42 29 22 22

Do you use a personal computer? (yes if once a month or more; no if less than once per month).

Jan.01 Jan.02 Jan.03 Jan.04 Jan.05 Jan.06 Jan.07 Jan.08 Jan.09 Jul.09
Yes 4 6 6 7 13 13 16 23 30 31
No 96 94 94 93 87 87 84 77 70 69

The latest Levada figures show that 25% of Russians use email.

Jul 27: On the 10-year anniversary of Putin’s power, Russians credit him most with: increasing life quality, salaries, and pensions (22%); economic development (17%); raising optimism about the country’s future (9%); restoration of order and political stability (8%); and the strengthening of Russia’s international standing (5%).

Jul 20: Contrary to some opinions, around 67% of Muscovites approved of the closure of the Cherkizovsky market (20% disapproved).

Jul 1: Putin is most popular in Russia, India, China, and Ukraine; and unpopular in the West and “moderate” Islamic nations.

Jun 30: Some 45% of Russians are opposed to selling Iran nuclear and missile technologies, while 29% don’t mind. As for North Korea’s nuclear program, 70% of Russians prefer to curtail it via diplomatic negotiation or sanctions.

On the occasion of Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow, 57% of Russians thought relations hadn’t improved from the Bush-era nadir, and 55% are against cuts in their nuclear arsenal (bearing in mind that Washington is working on ABM).

Jun 25: Though only 5% of Russians tried drugs and 18% know of friends or relatives who tried drugs, almost all – 97% – consider it to be a serious problem in Russia. Another 65% believe that trying a drug just once may have the potential to create an addiction. (However, Russia’s drug laws are surprisingly liberal, given the conservative attitudes described above).

Jun 19: Why were Soviet losses during the Great Patriotic War significantly higher than Germany’s?

1991 2001 2006 2009
The suddenness of the invasion 21 35 31 35
Stalin’s administration didn’t care for losses 33 22 26 21
German military and technological superiority 16 19 18 19
Weakness and incompetence of Soviet command 12 11 11 10
Nazi cruelty 5 8 9 9
N/A 13 5 5 7

Jun 10: Russia’s friends and enemies – countries scoring more than 30% are highlighted. Friends: Belarus, Kazakhstan, China, Germany, Armenia, India, Cuba, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, France, Tajikistan, Bulgaria, Venezuela, Italy. Enemies: Georgia, USA, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Germany, Japan, Israel, China, Romania.

May 18: Russians’ opinions about the Unified State Exam.

May 5: 63% of Russians celebrate Victory in the Great Patriotic War, and the same percentage think the USSR could have won the war without Allied help (27% disagree).

Apr 29: Another 57% celebrate May 1st, the labor holiday.

Apr 17: The 2008-09 economic crisis had a far smaller effect on Russians’ wellbeing than the 1998-99 crisis. While the percentage of the population barely making ends meet went up from 29% in July 1998 to 40% in December 1998, this figure remained stable at around 10% throughout the recent crisis.

The main shift occurred amongst Russia’s “consumer class” (the ones who buy cars, PC’s, etc), whose percentage of the population tumbled by a quarter from 19% to 14%, and perhaps explains the reason for its large drop in GDP for 2009. The silver lining is that this implies inequality has decreased during the crisis.

Mar 30: Opinions are highly split regarding conscription and the Army. 47% of Russians would like to retain mandatory military service, whereas 43% would prefer a full transition to a contract army.

Jan.00 Jul.00 Jan.02 Feb.05 Oct.05 Feb.06 Feb.07 Feb.08 Mar.09
Conscription 30 34 27 31 39 32 41 45 47
Contract army 63 58 64 62 52 62 54 48 43
N/A 8 8 9 8 9 6 5 7 9

If someone in your army was obligated to perform mandatory military service, would you rather they served, or searched for ways to avoid it?

Prefer him to serve in Army 50
Prefer him to try to avoid service in the Army 35
N/A 15

Rather surprising, perhaps, considering the Russian Army’s reputation for hazing (dedovschina). However, its severity may have declined in the past few years, what with the shortening of the term of service from 2 years to 1 year by 2008 – this automatically removed the “grandfathers” from the barracks (conscripts doing their last half-year of service), who tended to be responsible for the worst abuses. Add in the increase in patriotic propaganda and the start of efforts to repress hazing, and this may explain the recent social “rehabilitation” of military service.

Mar 3: More military questions and answers. Does Russia face a military threat from other countries?

2000 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Yes 48 42 47 37 44 40 49 52 50
No 45 42 45 55 44 51 43 38 41
N/A 8 16 8 8 12 9 8 10 9

Is the Russian Army currently capable of defending the nation in the case of a real war threat from other countries?

2000 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Yes 60 56 55 60 52 62 65 73 73
No 31 30 38 32 38 28 27 17 17
N/A 9 14 7 8 10 10 8 10 10

Hope you enjoyed browsing through these! ;)

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Sean recently suggested Russianists study the history of smell in Russia. I have an even better idea: a history of sex in Russia, or rather my translation of the tabloid article Сексуальные традиции на Руси (Russian Sexual Traditions). It’s historically and culturally inaccurate in more than a few places, but will hopefully make for a light relief from Sublime Oblivion‘s usual repertoire of the meaning of life and (alleged) “academic rationalizations of murder” – and perhaps even provoke a serious discussion of sexuality in history.

Introduction

Hollywood’s rules of sex, the amatory emancipation of Western Europe, and yes the exotic Kama Sutra – these are a few samples of the love life which today’s Russian couples cautiously carry off to bed.

At one time, in a nation with new-found freedom, and including – sexual freedom, all we heard was: Indian Kama Sutra, French love, Swedish family… Is it really the case that Russia never had any sexual traditions of its own?

But it did! Every people has traditions, including sexual ones. Yet on the one hand, in the East there was great respect for written sources, hence we got the ancient Indian tracts on intimacy in their virgin form; on the other hand, since Western advertising is so much better than in Russia, many of us imagine that we are doing nothing more in bed than copying the Europeans.

And Russian historians are in no great hurry to defend doctoral dissertations on the topic of fornication in old Russia – partly because during the first decades of the Romanov dynasty, many priceless annals from the old times were destroyed due to various political reasons. So we are forced to reconstruct much of the history and traditions of the Slavic peoples, including their intimate relations, using “circumstantial evidence” – through foreign eyewitness accounts.

Ancient Bacchanals

Byzantine historians considered the Slavs to be a branch of the Huns. Procopius of Caesarea described our ancestors to be men of great height, big weight, and enormous physical strength, with golden-red complexions. Already in the 6th century it is known that most Slavs were fair-haired. By then patriarchal relations and polygamy (usually from two to four wives) predominated in old Russia. That said, wives were not considered as their husbands’ chattel in any of the Slavic tribes. Furthermore, “unloved” wives had the right to officially swap husbands without shame. And if they found a young, dashing cavalier who “offered them his heart”, promising to make her his “first” wife, the young Slavic maiden would change spouses.

Another Byzantine historian of the 6th century, Maurikios the Strategist, was struck by the Slavs’ favored way of copulation – amidst water: on lakes or river shallows, or even on a flowing river. He was particularly astonished at Slavic youths’ indulgence in group sex on the festive days before betrothal and marriage – nobody cared for their virginity.

For a long time, until as late as the 12th century, our ancestors associated sexuality with festivals, laughter, singing and musical accompaniments. One of these old Slavic festivals, in honor of the goddess of love Lada, later became Ivan Kupala Day. It is hard even to imagine the sheer degree of sexual abandon in honor of Lada, if one considers what Orthodox monks wrote about the rather more respectable festival of Ivan Kupala as late as the 17th century: “And hereupon is a great falling of husbands and adolescents on the women, and swaying of maidens; and in such spirit is there also the riotous defilement of the married women”.

The concept of a “loose woman” [bludnitsa] appeared around about the 7th century, and only signified that the girl was searching (‘wandering’) for a husband. At the end of the 8th century, when the Slavic shamans were given the hard task of defloration – that is, taking the virginity of any brides who hadn’t yet managed to lose theirs in the “girl baths” on the day before the marriage – the concept of “loose woman” changed. People started defining all women who lost their virginity under this term. From the 12th to the 17th century, unmarried women in intimate relations and widows receiving men to their homes were considered “loose women”. Only in the 18th century, thanks to the Church’s persistent efforts, did the word “loose woman” become a swear word (but not one of abuse, as the Church would have wanted). Accordingly, the level of sinfulness became subdivided linguistically and in jurisdictional practice. Blud, meant a relationship with an unmarried woman, whereas adultery [prelyubodejstwo] – meant a relationship with a married one. Prostitutes were called “shameless wenches” [sramnye devki].

Another “brand” feature of old Slavic intimate relations was the lack of zoophile or homosexual traditions, as well as a categorical aversion on the part of the men to making their carnal triumphs an object of general discussion (bragging about one’s successes with the ladies was common amongst ancient Indian heroes, and amongst Western European knights).

Sexual Taboos

The initiator of the struggle for old Russia’s “moral integrity” was probably… Princess Olga. In 953, she issued the first edict relating to the sex-wedding theme that we know of, stipulating monetary or material compensation if it was discovered that the bride was not a virgin.

However, it was only in 967 that Prince Svyatoslav came round to forbidding the shamans from taking the brides’ virginity, stating that henceforth, defloration would be the direct responsibility and pride of the husband. Svyatoslav also tried to ban dances during the “dispensable times” of the year, that is, the days when there were no all-Russian festivals. The fact of the matter is that amongst many of the world’s people, including amongst the Slavs, dances were considered to be an erotic indulgence – during the jumping and capering intimate places were revealed, that were usually covered by skirts, capes, or sweaters. But the sexual reformers clearly exceeded their mandate. The people protested and the decree had to be cancelled.

Satanic Temptations

The Russian Orthodox Church played the greatest role in curbing “Satanic temptations” in old Russia, starting its activities in earnest during the 12th century.

The shamans were liquidated as a class. Midwife wise women were proclaimed to be “God-defying witches”, to be subjected to annihilation. Even preventing conception by consuming herbal brews came to be treated as homicide.

The Tatar-Mongol yoke did not prevent Orthodoxy from beginning the struggle against bathing traditions, such as the girl baths (the day before the wedding) and the wedding baths (a shared spousal bath after the marriage). They were replaced by a mandatory and separate washing down of both spouses after indulgence in the “sin of intercourse”. Even sex between husband and wife came to be considered sinful, the exception being intercourse for reproduction.

The Church forbade women from “wearing make-up and colorings, for one’s grace lies not in beauty of the flesh”. Frequent fasting periods and fasting days (Wednesday and Friday) left married couples a window of opportunity lasting only fifty days in a year for legal sex. Furthermore, only one act of copulation was allowed per day – even on wedding days!

There was a ban on the “standing” position – since it was hard to become pregnant from this position, it was considered to be, “not for procreation, but merely to satiate weakness”, i.e. for pleasure. Those who performed sexual acts in the water were declared sorcerers and witches. Christian norms allowed a woman only one position during intercourse – face to face, lying still underneath the man. It was forbidden to kiss each other’s bodies. The Church held that a “good wife” had to be asexual, viewing sexual relations with distaste.

Newly-married youths who performed the old Slavic wedding rite to mark their loss of virginity, which involved grabbing a chicken’s legs and tearing it in half, were punished harshly. This custom was condemned as “demonic”.

During confession, everyone was expected to recount their intimate affairs. The priests were directed to ask many questions of their laity on this topic, a typical example being: “Didst thou insert thy mouth or fingers on thee-nearest, unto places uncalled-for and where thou dost not to?”

Boobies in Russia

The Russian people did not react well to the priests’ sermons. They developed a rich slang vocabulary to express their emotions in a world full of clerical bans. Just a mere six or seven linguistic roots yielded such a panoply of curses, that to this day could not be imagined of all the world’s other languages. These swear-words were used to compose ditties, tales, sayings, and proverbs. They were thrown around in quick quarrels, and in jokes, and in everyday conversations.

As for the Church’s bans on sexual indulgences, by the 18th century there was a common saying: sin – is when the legs go up; and once they are dropped – the Lord forgives.

The people’s reaction to the “role of the breast in Russia” is particularly interesting. The Church in its time mocked and ridiculed big female busts, to the extent that icons portrayed loose women as having hideous faces and big breasts. The men however reacted to this in a singular way – they tried to marry portly women, with size seven-eight breasts. And the girls themselves used many tricks to make their breasts bigger.

One of the recipes has come down to this day, which was used in the villages of Central Russia by girls with breasts smaller than size four. Three spoons of female breast milk, a spoon of honey, a spoon of vegetable oil, and a mug of peppermint broth. They used to say that the bust would grow instantly as a result.

I would also like to venture that the source of the strange relationship between the man and his mother-in-law could be found in the 16th century. In those days fathers wanted to marry off their daughters as early as possible, when they reached twelve or thirteen years of age. In the first night of the wedding, the girl’s caring mother would go to the bed of the bridegroom to safeguard her daughter from a possibly fatal outcome. She would continue protecting her young daughters’ health by sleeping with both her husband and her son-in-law for the next two or three years. These relations became the norm to such an extent that even the Church partially relented. Though ordinary adulterers were typically punished by up to ten years of hard labor, and sex outside marriage was punished by ten to fifteen years of daily repentance in church, the penalty for adultery between a man and his mother-in-law was a maximum of five years of repentance (which involved the sinner going to church daily, standing on their knees, and making the cross and bowing for two hours straight, beseeching forgiveness from God).

Demonic Orgy

According to the ethnographer Nikolai Galkovsky, our country reached its “sexual peak” in the 16th century – “the common folk were mired in depravity, and the nobles excelled in unnatural forms of this sin, with the acquiescence, if not the active participation, of the Church itself”.

There was intercourse not only in the taverns, but at times even on the streets. The most prominent brothels were to be found in the public baths, which in those days were mixed sex. Weddings typically lasted two to three days, and by the second day it was impossible to find anyone who was still sober. Few of the guests left without having had sexual experiences with three or four representatives of the opposite sex.

Things were even cooler at the classier gatherings. Their weddings lasted an entire week. As a rule, the oprichniks – Ivan the Terrible’s armed, black-cowled priesthood – were the heart and soul of the party. They were also the main culprits responsible for the spread of Sodom’s sin into Russia (homosexuality). Ever more deviants flocked to the monasteries. Things got so out of hand that the head of the Russian Church, Metropolitan Zosima, was observed engaging in bestiality even in the 15th century.

Grandest of all were the royal weddings, which went on for a whole two weeks. The only thing people were afraid of there was the evil eye. For instance, the third wife of Ivan the Terrible, Martha Sobakin, died two weeks after the wedding. Everyone was convinced that it was because of the evil eye. Of course, no-one had measured how much she had drunk and what she had eaten during this period, or whether she had suffered from syphilis. Speaking of which, according to the authoritative Russian historian Nikolai Kostomarov, syphilis was brought to Russia by foreigners at the start of the 16th century, and by the end of that century it had begun to affect Russians as badly as cholera or plague.

The Woman’s Arrival

The decisive struggle against Russia’s falling into sin was initiated by a woman. It’s well-known that Catherine the Great issued the decree on the formation of the first settlement in Alaska in 1784. But very few know that in that same year, she banned the mixed-sex use of public baths, ordering them to set up partitions between men and women.

However, from that same period we can date the appearance of cabinets and crannies within the baths for romantic trysts. And which continues to thrive to our days…

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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This is a list of common Russophobe myths about Russia and its people, and the successor to a March 2008 post on a similar theme. Please be sure to check the supporting notes at the bottom before dismissing this as neo-Soviet propaganda. Also partially available en français & на русском thanks to Alexandre Latsa’s translation.

1

MYTH: Life has only improved for a few oligarchs, while the poor and everyone outside Moscow remain impoverished.

REALITY: During Putin’s Presidency, poverty rates more than halved and wages nearly tripled, fueling an on-going consumption boom shared across all regions and social groups.

2

MYTH: Russia is in a demographic death spiral that has gotten worse under Putin and which will soon sink its economy.

REALITY: The birth rate has increased, the death rate has fallen and mortality from murder, suicide and alcohol poisoning has plummeted. Projections of Russia’s future dependency ratios are no worse than for China or the G7.

3

MYTH: Putin abused human rights, personally murdered 200 journalists and returned Russia to its totalitarian past.

REALITY: Too bad that only 3% of Russians agree, despite having easy access to such views via the press, cable TV and the Internet. The number of journalists killed under Putin (17) is less than under Yeltsin (30), and only five of them can be definitively linked to their professional work. Elections have been mostly free and fair.

4

MYTH: Russia’s economy is one big oil bubble, and the severity of Russia’s recession in 2009 confirms this.

REALITY: The extractive industries contributed a negligible amount to Russia’s real GDP growth during the Putin Presidency and the big collapse in output at the end of 2008 was mostly due to Western banks cutting off the credit flows on which many Russian companies had unwisely come to rely upon during the boom years. Russia exports few manufactured goods because its comparative advantage lies in resource extraction.

5

MYTH: Heroic Americans with their British sidekicks won World War Two, while the Russians just threw billions of soldiers without rifles in front of German machine guns and raped every last Prussian wench when they finally arrived in Berlin.

The vast majority of German soldiers were killed, taken POW or otherwise incapacitated on the Eastern front. The Soviet to Axis loss ratio was 1.3:1 and the USSR outproduced Germany in every weapons system throughout the war. The number of alleged rape victims is vastly inflated for propagandistic purposes, and in any case does not come close to the scale of German barbarism which resulted in the deaths of fifteen to twenty million Soviet citizens.

This popular myth appeared because self-serving former Wehrmacht officers wanted to rehabilitate the German Army after World War Two and their goals were shared by American policy-makers in the strained atmosphere of the Cold War.

6

MYTH: Russia brutally invaded Georgia, a beacon of freedom and democracy in the Eurasian darkness.

REALITY: Hours after President Saakashvili promised friendship to the Ossetian people, his forces were invading South Ossetia and raining down indiscriminate rocket fire on sleeping Tskhinvali. Russia’s retaliation was a just and proportionate response to the murder of its citizens and UN-mandated peace-keepers.

The beating of opposition protesters and the shutdown of anti-regime TV networks are serious blemishes on Georgian democracy.

7

MYTH: Russian liberals are altruistic campaigners for justice and the true voice of the oppressed Russian people.

REALITY: The Russian “liberals” (or liberasts, as they are often called) get low single-digit approval ratings from the Russian population, which is not at all surprising given their reputation for mendacious hypocrisy, Bolshevik-like rhetoric and dogmatic support for the West regardless of Russia’s national interests.

8

MYTH: Russians are sexists and xenophobic racists who hate the West.

REALITY: Russian women live longer and are better educated than men, enjoy full abortion rights and participate extensively in the economy. Few Russians are predisposed against the US and there are far fewer anti-Semitic incidents in Russia than in France, Germany and the UK.

9

MYTH: Russia is an aggressive state which is hated by its neighbors.

REALITY: Unlike some superpowers, the Russia Federation has yet to invade another country unprovoked. Most of its neighbors view Russia favorably and a plurality of Ukrainians would be happy to join it.

10

MYTH: The barbarous state of Muscovy arose in the sixteenth century when Ivan the Terrible climbed out of the trees.

REALITY: The more than 1000-year old civilization of Kievan Rus’ was literate, affluent, governed by a legal code that abhorred cruel and unusual punishments (including the death penalty) and accorded women extensive property and inheritance rights.

11

MYTH: Russia is soon going to see a sub-Saharan scaled AIDS epidemic, causing mortality rates to soar and plunging its demography into utter oblivion.

REALITY: These “pessimistic” models rely on assumptions that HIV transmission patterns in Russia will be similar to those prevailing in Africa. This is patently ridiculous given even a cursory acquaintance with differences in their host populations and epidemic dynamics.

The percentage of pregnant women testing HIV positive reached a plateau in 2002 and tended down ever since. Furthermore, since few Russians are malnourished they have greater immune resistance than Africans. Unlike the case in sub-Saharan Africa, in Russia medical equipment tends to be sterilized and having many sexual partners is socially unacceptable.

12

MYTH: Russians are a pack of uncultured illiterates.

REALITY: Russia leads the world in literacy, level of tertiary attainment and the quality of its mathematicians and programmers. It possesses a world-class literary, musical and artistic heritage and to claim otherwise is in fact to admit oneself ignorant and uncultured.

13

MYTH: A nation with European birth rates and African death rates cannot have a future.

REALITY: Sure it can. The post-Soviet collapse in fertility rates was a result of childbirth postponement caused by the transition shock, not a fundamental values shift, and as such can be expected to reverse itself in the next decade. Meanwhile, Russia’s “hypermortality” primarily affects older Russian men who do not directly contribute to population reproduction.

14

MYTH: Russia has fallen to Tsarist levels of inequality and is plagued by endemic, African-level corruption. Both of these have become much worse under Putin.

REALITY: Russia’s level of income inequality and of corruption is average by world standards. Under Putin, they have registered a slight deterioration and slight improvement, respectively.

15

MYTH: Chechnya’s heroic freedom fighters deserve their independence and will soon get it, Insha’Allah!

REALITY: When they had de facto independence, the Chechens created a criminalized, Wahhabi state, practiced ethnic cleansing against local Russians and launched armed raids against border regions. Much as the Russophobes and jihadists may wish otherwise, it is difficult to see how Chechnya could repeat this considering that the region is stabilized, reconstruction is in full swing and the war officially ended in 2009.

16

MYTH: All Soviet space programs were developed by German prisoners of war, who are still kept in labor camps in Siberia.

REALITY: Sorry, but wrong country. All German leading hi-tech professionals, including rocket scientists, surrendered to the Americans and many worked on their space program.

17

MYTH: The Western media is accurate and objective in representing Putin as a ranting autocrat and Medvedev’s puppeteer.

REALITY: Putin is frequently mistranslated, quoted out of context and censored by the Western press in its efforts to portray him as a neo-Soviet fascist overlord. The tandem’s relationship is based on cooperation and they share a longterm goal of transforming Russia into a liberal, affluent society.

18

MYTH: Chinese settlers are taking over the rapidly depopulating Russian Far East and the region is under increasing threat from the People’s Liberation Army.

REALITY: A few hundreds of thousands of Chinese seasonal labor migrants pose no demographic threat to the more than five million Russians in the region. Even if China abandons its traditional focus on south-east Asia and the unthinkable happens, a Chinese conventional attack on Russia will be repelled by tactical nuclear weapons.

19

MYTH: Russia’s industrial base is hollowed out and obsolete, and the stationary bandits who rule it have no interest in making long-term investments into areas like hi-tech. As such, it is doomed to remain a resource appendage of the West.

REALITY: Russia has seen healthy manufacturing expansion aided by a weakened ruble, the creation of special economic zones and a robust industrial policy geared towards gradual import substitution. State funding for education, nanotechnology and other hi-tech ventures has soared in recent years.

20

MYTH: The Soviet Union was doomed to collapse because of its internal contradictions and dependence on oil exports.

REALITY: Theoretical work shows that the Soviet system was fundamentally stable, albeit stagnant. Output collapse was precipitated by Gorbachev’s abandonment of central planning in the absence of evolved market mechanisms, which simply led to ruinous insider plunder and political crisis.

21

MYTH: Russia has proven itself uncooperative and untrustworthy as a Western partner.

REALITY: Bearing in mind the USA’s record of broken promises and undisguised aggression towards Russia coupled with arrogant dismissal of Russian protestations (as seen on Kosovo, NATO expansion, Georgia’s aggression, missile defense, color revolutions, Jackson-Vanik, etc), perhaps the question of just who is uncooperative and untrustworthy should be reconsidered.

22

MYTH: Russia’s youth is liberal and pro-Western, and will soon kick Putin and his KGB goons out of the Kremlin.

REALITY: The most pro-American section of the Russian population are the middle-aged. Russian children and youth are at least as skeptical as their grandparents, despite that – and because – they are the most sophisticated and globally-minded age group.

23

MYTH: New schoolbooks aim to rehabilitate Stalin, steeping the next generation of Russians in the glories of sovereign democracy.

REALITY: The controversial textbook in question had a very limited print run and is in any case one of a huge number of other permitted textbooks. Nor does it leave out Stalin’s repressions and liquidation of entire social classes. Its main “sin” is that it also dares to point out Stalin’s positive achievements and refuses to unequivocally condemn him in the belabored, moralizing way commonly expected of such textbooks.

24

MYTH: Ethnic Russians invent grievances about how they are being discriminated against in Estonia and Latvia,

REALITY: Many human rights organizations have documented that the Russophone minority in Estonia is subject to severe language and citizenship laws. This results in the disenfranchisement of around a quarter of their populations and discrimination against Russophones in employment and education. SS veterans proudly march through the streets of Riga while anti-fascist conferences and protests are brutally broken up.

25

MYTH: Ten million Ukrainians died from the organized famine-genocide of 1932-33, which Russia continues to deny. Understandably most Ukrainians yearn to break free from Russia’s baleful orbit.

REALITY: The famine was caused by the misguided collectivization campaign and aggravated by poor harvests. Though there were around two million excess deaths in Ukraine, overall losses in the Soviet Union were twice as high because South Russia, the Volga region and Kazakhstan were also badly affected. Russia’s position is that the famine was directed against the kulaks (the social class) and not Ukraine (the nation), which is an academically valid point of view; Ukraine on the other hand illiberally criminalizes “Holodomor denial”.

The hardline position on Russia and the Holodomor is exclusively pursued by the discredited Orange elites. In stark contrast, the vast majority of Ukrainians like Russia and Putin would probably win if he could run for the Ukrainian Presidency.

26

MYTH: Russia’s military technology is obsolete, its doctrines are outdated and its armed forces are increasingly decrepit. It will get crushed if it goes to war with China or NATO.

REALITY: Russia is developing fifth-generation capabilities in fighters, surveillance, electronic warfare, information warfare and precision weapons. Upgrading old Soviet platforms with modern electronic technology multiplies their effectiveness. It has major strengths in asymmetric counters like air defense, anti-ship cruise missiles and submarines. Russia retains its Soviet-era military-industrial complex, massive mobilization capacity and huge nuclear forces.

27

MYTH: Stalin killed 62 million innocent souls, making him a far worse tyrant than Hitler.

REALITY: During the entire 1921-53 period, some 4.1mn people were condemned for counter-revolutionary activities, of them 0.8mn to death and 1.1mn of whom died in camps and prisons. After adding the 3.5-5.0mn excess deaths from the collectivization famines, it is hard to see how Stalin could have been responsible for more than ten million deaths at the absolute maximum. Figures in the tens of millions have no basis in physical evidence or demographic plausibility.

Even in just the occupied territories of the USSR, there were there were 13.7mn deaths due to Nazi reprisals, labor requisitioning and famine. Even excluding the vast war casualties, the deaths of about 20mn Slav civilians, 6mn Jews, 3-4mn Soviet POWs and up to a million Roma can be attributed to the Nazis during the far shorter period 1941-45. If Nazi plans had come to fruition, then all the Slavs of eastern Europe would have been exterminated, helotized or driven into Siberian exile. As such, it is hard to see how the latter could be construed as being worse except by the most diehard Russophobes and fascists.

28

MYTH: Putin instigated a vicious clampdown on judicial independence and assaulted Russian civil society with restrictive NGO laws.

REALITY: Under the Putin administration the number of plaintiffs seeking redress through Russian courts increased sixfold and acquittal rates soared from 0.8% to 10%, mainly thanks to the introduction of jury trials, and claimants win 71% of cases against the state. There is now a system of free legal aid, more privacy protections and increased accountability.

The infamous NGO laws merely required the registration of all NGOs, simplified the registration process and extended their rights against bureaucratic interference.

29

MYTH: People have been saying Russia will be great in the future for nearly a thousand years. And every year, Russia keeps getting worse.

REALITY: Popular perceptions of Russians were always bifurcated in the West between optimistic and pessimistic viewpoints, with little room for nuance. However, Russia tends to perform best soon after Russophobe rhetoric reaches its peak and it has indeed improved by almost all meaningful metrics since the late 1990′s.

30

MYTH: Because of the above, Russia is doomed to continued stagnation culminating in collapse and disintegration.

REALITY: Only in your dreams…and in the Economist‘s, which predicted fifteen of the past zero Russian collapses.

It is far more likely that its impressive human capital, macroeconomic rationalism and energy windfalls stand Russia in good stead for convergence to First World living standards by the 2020′s.

31

MYTH: Khodorkovsky was a progressive entrepreneur who is being prosecuted by the evil siloviks for pursuing transparency and democracy. Even if he did steal state assets in the 1990′s, every other oligarch was doing the same so this is selective political persecution.

REALITY: Khodorkovsky transgressed against Putin’s early deal with the oligarchs to leave their ill-gotten fortunes alone in return for halting their meddling in the country’s politics. He bribed Duma members and tried to stack it with his own people in an effort to lower his taxes, which he was already evading on a massive scale. He subverted Russia’s security by insisting on his own pipeline route to the east, maintaining close contacts with Washington neocons and trying to merge his oil company YUKOS with Exxon. There is strong evidence that Khodorkovsky’s employees murdered those who got in his way.

32

MYTH: Yeltsin was a heroic democrat and hero of the people.

REALITY: He might have posed on a tank after checking the hardline Communist coup in 1991, but just two years later those same tanks were bombarding a Duma which dared object to his corrupt privatizations and assault on social welfare. He prosecuted a criminally incompetent war in Chechnya, used administrative resources to win the 1996 elections and surrounded himself with nepotistic cronies. Despite this – or more likely because of this – he was praised and supported by the West.

33

MYTH: Russia uses energy blackmail to intimidate its neighbors and exploits its energy clout to project political influence.

REALITY: It has full rights to charge its neighbors whatever it pleases for its gas, so this is not blackmail. The second part is true enough, but ignores that this is common to all Great Powers – as demonstrated by Western control of international trade and finance organizations and energy imperialism like the Iraq War.

34

MYTH: The Russian Empire was a backward despotism populated by illiterate peasants.

REALITY: Not really a myth, but this perception was becoming increasingly dated during the last years of Tsarism. By 1913 Russia had near universal primary schooling enrollment, a (rapidly growing) literacy rate of 41% and the fastest industrial growth rate in Europe.

35

MYTH: Russia is ruled by the neo-Tsarist Slavophile Soviet-nostalgic Eurasianist ultra-nationalist Orthodox-theocrat quasi-fascist statist Stalinist corporatist gangsta-capitalist Putin

REALITY: And perhaps the fact that he has so many ideologies ascribed to him actually means that he is extremely pragmatic, rational and post-ideological.

36

MYTH: Russia will become an Islamic Caliphate by 2050.

REALITY: Ethnic Russians still account for 80% of the Federation’s population, and since the fertility rates of all major Muslim ethnic groups have declined to below replacement-level rates it is certain that Russians will retain a firm majority into the foreseeable future. And even if Russians and Tatars magically swap demographic places, almost nothing will change because vodka has long since dissolved away the Koran in Russia.

37

MYTH: Stalin wrecked the Red Army by purging all its officers, did not anticipate his buddy Hitler’s attack and blundered by concentrating his forces on the Soviet borders instead of conducting defense in depth. This resulted in the huge casualty disparities between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army in 1941.

REALITY: Though the purges were detrimental to the Red Army, the main reason it experienced officer shortages was its massive expansion from 1.2mn to 5.0mn men during 1938-41. Stalin fully anticipated an eventual German attack, but Soviet intelligence was far from unambiguous about its timing.

Defense in depth at the strategic level would have led to defeat in detail and catastrophe; the policy of mounting constant diversionary attacks on the German flanks, though costly, distorted the shape and sapped the strength of Barbarossa. This ultimately saved Moscow and averted total defeat in 1941.

Though heavily skewed, Red Army loss ratios in 1941 were no worse than those of the Poles or the French when pitted against the Wehrmacht.

38

MYTH: By teaming up with Nazi Germany in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Russians were just as culpable for the outbreak of World War Two as the Germans.

REALITY: Munich. The USSR had been pressing for an alliance with the Western democracies to contain Hitler as early as the 1930′s, but they repeatedly sold it down the river – most notably by betraying Czechoslovakia in 1938, which was partitioned between Germany, Hungary and Poland soon after.

Realizing the West was most interested in having Germany and the USSR duke it out between them, Stalin stalled for time by cautiously cooperating with Hitler while rapidly building up Soviet military-industrial potential.

39

MYTH: Unlike Germany’s reconciliation with its Nazi past, Russia has never apologized for its Soviet past.

REALITY: Why should modern Russians apologize for policies pursued by the small clique that ruled them a long time ago, and many of whom were non-Russians to boot?

No European state has made much effort to fully account for its imperial legacies; the main feature of German exceptionalism was that you were supposed to confine your genocides to colored peoples in hot, sticky places, and in any case a) the Nazi regime was not morally comparable to the Soviet Union and b) even so the only reason Germany apologized so much was because it was occupied. Turkey criminalizes affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, Japan brushes off complaints about its brutal conduct in China during the Second World War and the Baltic states whitewash their involvement in the Holocaust.

Speaking of whom, apologies imply acceptance of responsibility and unleash demands for reparations… Latvia has already set up a commission to calculate a bill for “Soviet-era losses” to present to Russia, which ironically had to be disbanded recently because of the economic crisis.

And yet despite all this, Russia did apologize profusely under Yeltsin. The main difference under Putin is that he dares to chart a more objective course on historical truth, acknowledging past wrongs but refusing to one-sidedly smear Russia’s proud Soviet legacy, unlike his alcoholic predecessor in the Kremlin.

40

MYTH: The difference between a “russophobe” and a “russophile” is that while both “love” Russia, they define “love” differently: the “russophile” does everything he can to destroy the country, while the “russophobe” does everything he can to save it from destruction.

REALITY: The difference between a “Russophobe” and a “Russophile” is that while both “love” Russia, they define “love” differently: The “Russophobe” does everything she can to smear and condemn the country and those who defend it from within her own blinkered frames of reference, while the “Russophile” does everything she can to understand Russia on its own terms.

41

MYTH: Berezovsky is a heroic crusader for democracy.

REALITY: General Lebel said of him, “Berezovsky is the apotheosis of sleaziness on the state level: this representative of the small clique in power is not satisfied with stealing–he wants everybody to see that he is stealing with complete impunity”. He died in a plane crash.

The journalist Paul Khlebnikov christened him, “Godfather of the Kremlin”. He was gunned down on the streets of Moscow.

Berezovsky was involved in multiple scams during the 1990′s and there are strong links tying him to several unresolved murders in the 1990′s. With friends like these, the Russophobes need no enemies.

42

MYTH: The FSB goon Lugovoi assassinated the heroic dissident Litvinenko in the heart of London using ultra-rare polonium only produced in a few reactor cores in Russia. Putin’s refusal to extradite Lugovoi makes him complicit in nuclear terrorism.

REALITY: There are many, many things that don’t fit in this kitschy feel-good (for Westerners) account. Usual claims to the contrary, plutonium is not that rare and is usually a major byproduct in early nuclear weapons development programs. Nonetheless, it would have been much more convenient, easy and reliable to kill him with a gun or knife.

There is also evidence that Litvinenko was in prolonged contact with polonium before the fatal ingestion. One of his associates, the shady Italian, Scaramella, became contaminated before meeting Lugovoi or Kovtun, the two main suspects. Hence only Litvinenko could have contaminated him. (Scaramella was later imprisoned in Italy for attempting to plant incriminating evidence on a suspected nuclear-component smuggler). Russian requests for actual evidence as to the guilt of Lugovoi were stonewalled by the British, who nonetheless arrogantly insisted on extradition in contravention of the Russian Constitution.

Litvinenko could have been an MI6 pawn tasked with investigating a nuclear smuggling ring. Or he could have been complicit himself, either for profit or to incriminate certain Russians. There are many possible interpretations and the James Bond-like version of evil FSB spies silencing dissent abroad expertly spun by Berezovsky and his acolyte Goldfarb is far from the most likely one.

43

MYTH: Human rights abuses and authoritarian trends in Russia are transmitted top down from the Kremlin.

REALITY: If anything, Putin is more liberal than 70% of the Russian population. Russia is a post-totalitarian society with many features of the old order still hanging around in institutions like the police, the penal system and the bureaucracy. It is fully capable of evolving its own brand of democracy, but that requires time and a measure of political consolidation.

44

MYTH: Russia is Mordor.

REALITY: Scratch a Russophobe, and you find a talentless fantasy writer. Sorry to disappoint you folks, but there aren’t billions of orcs beneath the Ural Mountains preparing the final phase of their assault on the West. Not as far as I know, anyway.

45

MYTH: Rising up against the crony pro-Moscow Communists who rigged the elections in Moldova, masses of heroic young democrats tried to Tweet their their nation back into the light of Western iCivilization.

REALITY: The Communists enjoy a broad level of support across all age groups, run a fully democratic country and always steered a course between Moscow and the West. Of their biggest electoral opponents, one was a pro-Romanian nationalist and admirer of fascist dictator Antonescu, and the other had a reputation as the biggest thief in Moldova. The unruly protesters were an unholy mix of Romanian nationalists, common hooligans, and liberast provocateurs with shadowy connections to Atlanticist “pro-democracy” outfits.

46

MYTH: The Kremlin supports Hamas and aids Iran in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

REALITY: Putin has never met with Hamas and Foreign Minister Lavrov made it clear they would be treated as “undeveloped teenagers” until they recognize Israel. Russia’s relations with Iran are complex – on the one hand, it strongly opposes nuclear enrichment on Iranian soil and refuses to rule out economic sanctions. On the other hand, Iran’s gas reserves pose a substantial long-term threat to Russian energy influence in Europe and it is in Russia’s interests to keep tensions between Iran and the West high.

47

MYTH: A radar and ten interceptor missiles in central Europe will have absolutely no chance of stopping Russia’s huge nuclear arsenal, so it’s just using the issue as a bargaining chip to further its imperial ambitions.

REALITY: Should the US acquires the capability to decapitate Russia’s leadership and destroy its decaying nuclear arsenal in a first strike, then even a small ABM system could mop up any Russian retaliation. Furthermore, once the basic Air Defense Ground Environment is built up, massively expanding the system becomes much cheaper. Though this is a paranoid way of looking at things, only the paranoid survive. Especially in the military.

48

MYTH: Nations that have embraced the West like Georgia and Ukraine are much more economically dynamic than Russia, which proves the bankruptcy of the Kremlin’s economic model.

REALITY: Since Georgia and Ukraine are much poorer than Russia and collapsed farther after the dissolution of the USSR, they are supposed to have higher growth rates. But they actually don’t. Ukraine’s growth rate of 7% was similar to Russia’s during the boom years from 2000-2008 and its year on year GDP collapsed by a stunning 20%+ in Q1 2009. Though Georgia’s growth rate of 9-10% under Saakashvili’s market fundamentalism was substantially higher, it started from a much lower base and was accompanied by rising social iniquity, deindustrialization and the removal of the social safety net.

49

MYTH: Since most Russians are lazy, irresponsible and submissive sovok sheeple, they will remain backwards and under the thumbs of Kremlin thugs for a long time to come.

REALITY: Ushering in the new era of legality, markets and social activism is the so-called Putin generation, which has vastly differing values from those of older generations – initiative, boldness, hierarchy, individualism, cosmopolitanism and patriotism. Furthermore, many Soviet-era values like love for the Motherland, confidence in tomorrow, community spirit, social justice, courage, tolerance and skepticism remain highly respectable.

50

MYTH: Russians are extremely pessimistic, unhappy and spiritually doomed. A people who don’t believe in a better tomorrow can’t have one.

REALITY: After a long period of disillusionment, at the end of 2006 more people began to believe Russia was moving in a positive than in a negative direction, and from early 2008 more people felt confident in tomorrow than not. Though the economic crisis dented confidence, social morale is still far higher than during the Time of Troubles in the 1990′s.

Notes:

1. According to Rosstat, from 2000-2007 poverty rates have more than halved (from 30% to 14%). In real terms during 2000-2007, pensions have grown by a factor of 2.3 and wages by a factor of 2.6 (while the Gini index of inequality has remained roughly steady). A consumption boom has seen soaring automobile ownership, greater average living spaces and cell phone and Internet penetration by 2008 exceed 100% and reach 28%, respectively.

2. From 2000-2008 per thousand people, the birth rate has increased from 8.7 to 12.1, while the death rate has fallen from 15.3 to 14.8 – thus, natural population growth has improved from -6.6 to -2.6. Similarly, infant mortality has tumbled from 15.3/1000 to 8.5/1000. (In fact, increased migration meant the total population fall in 2008 was just -0.09%, i.e., virtually flat and not substantially different from Japan, Germany or just about any central-east European nation). During the same period, mortality from alcohol poisonings, suicide and murder has nearly halved.

However, all of this misses the point that in economics what matters isn’t the population or its growth rate per se, but the dynamics of the working age population as a percentage of the whole population – in this respect, Russia’s projected decline is no more severe than that in the the G7 or China (see pg.8 of this Goldman Sachs report). Fiscal problems will occur only if a) the old-age dependency ratio is high and b) old age social security systems are too generous or improperly structured. Russia’s old-age ratio is not projected to get excessively high even by 2050, while the World Bank believes long-term fiscal sustainability will be assured if the primary non-oil budget deficit remains below 4.7% of GDP.

For more on Russia’s demography, please see my articles Rite of Spring: Russia Fertility Trends and Through the Looking Glass at Russia’s Demography.

3. The Western notion that Putin has strangled Russia’s nascent democracy is not one shared by the silent Russian majority. 64% of Russians think Putin has had a positive influence on democracy and human rights, while only 3% think it was ‘very negative’ (see recent BBC World Service poll and Fedia Kriukov’s excellent commentary on it). The data on journalists is taken from the Committee to Protect Journalists‘ database and Fedia Kriukov’s audit of it. See also Nicolai Petro in Russia through the looking glass and Russian democracy: a reply to Mischa Gabowitsch.

No election watch-dog has been able to point out anything other than vacuous allegations that I’m aware of. For instance, on the topic of the 2008 Presidential elections, please consult the response of independent Russian election monitor GOLOS (here):

GOLOS Association observed that the Election Day was held in a relatively quiet atmosphere in contrast to the State Duma election day. Such large-scale violations observed then as campaigning next to polling stations, transporting of voters, intimidation of voters and others were practically non-existent. Polling stations were better prepared and the voting process was better organized. At the majority of polling stations voters’ lists were properly bound, there were fewer representatives of administration at inside polling stations. In general the process of opening of the polling stations went well without any major incidents.

4. To take 2007 as an example, Russia’s economy grew by 8.1%, driven by construction (16.4%), retail (12.0%), finance (10.4%) and manufacturing (7.9%) and weighted down by the extractive industries (a meager 0.3%) (source). This pattern has held since 2005, and even in the 2000-2004 period only a third of growth was due to increasing hydrocarbons production according to Rudiger Ahrend of the OECD. See also the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (which unfortunately the Economist itself ignores) Russia’s booming economy, which illustrates the bankruptcy of several conceptions about Russia’s economy, including a) its hydrocarbons dependence and b) supposed stagnation in investment and manufacturing. Continuing increases in oil prices during 2003-2008 masked volume growth in non-hydrocarbons exports. Before the crisis, Russia had a healthy current account surplus, 600bn $ in foreign currency reserves and healthy budget surpluses intended to break even at 65$ / barrel oil.

For an insight into the vital importance of Western intermediation towards funneling credit into the Russian economy and its problems stemming from lacking an indigenous financial system, check my The Importance of Self-Sufficiency.

During the fat years, Russia bought up foreign currency reserves (e.g. T-Bills, US state-guaranteed mortgage securities, etc) to prevent an excessive ruble strengthening, which would have hurt manufacturers and exporters. However, this starved the local market of capital, thus forcing the domestic corporate sector to access foreign debt finance – therefore the rapid rise in official reserves were matched by a corresponding rise in private indebtedness, albeit the latter proceeded at a slower pace and allowed Russia to remain a large net creditor nation. This was a conservative and pricey choice, since the interest on the borrowing was substantially greater than the yields on Russia’s sovereign assets, thus forcing Russia Inc. to pay a ‘very substantial “spread” between the yield on its assets and the cost of the private debt in return for this foreign intermediation’. In light of the global credit crunch, it ended up providing only an ‘illusory degree of security’ for a ‘hefty price’. This is because now the Russian corporate system faced a triple whammy as credit availability dried up, existing creditors demanded repayments and and the commodity prices on which their balance sheets depended plummeted.

5. This can actually be said to encompass four myths, which I comprehensively refuted in The Poisonous Myths of the Eastern Front. I will quote summaries; please see the post for supporting notes:

MYTH I: Heroic Americans with their British sidekicks won World War Two, while the Russian campaign was a sideshow.

REALITY: Although Western Lend-Lease and strategic bombing was highly useful, the reality is that the vast majority of German soldiers and airmen fought and died on the Eastern Front throughout the war.

MYTH II: The Russians just threw billions of soldiers without rifles in front of German machine guns.

REALITY: The vast majority of German soldiers were killed, taken POW or otherwise incapacitated on the Eastern front. T he Soviet to Axis loss ratio was 1.3:1 and the USSR outproduced Germany in every weapons system throughout the war. [For comprehensive stats on the matter, check out Colonel-General G. F. Krivosheev's authoritative book Soviet casualties and combat losses in the twentieth century; another good source / summary is Sergei Fedosov's article поБеда или Победа: как мы воевали].

MYTH III: Though the Wehrmacht fought with honor and dignity on the Eastern Front, the Russians killed all the German POW’s and raped and looted east Germany when they conquered it.

REALITY: The Great Patriotic War was an absolute war that was more brutal than anything seen in the West by orders of magnitude throughout its entire length. The hundreds of thousands German civilian and POW deaths at Soviet hands, though tragic, pale besides the up to 15-20mn Soviet civilian dead and the 60% mortality ratio of Soviet POW’s in German camps. Set against these numbers, the Red Army rapes in east Germany seem almost irrelevant. [See Fedia Kriukov's refutating comment about the validity of "megarape" estimates attributed to the Red Army].

MYTH IV: The mainstream Western narrative on the Eastern Front during the Second World War was formed by academic historians and is fundamentally fair and objective.

REALITY: The exigencies of the Cold War, coupled with traditional US anti-Communism, meant that many Americans sympathized with the German narrative of the war. In particular, the Wehrmacht officers talked, networked and wrote about how the German military was not complicit in Nazi war crimes so as to cement West Germany (not to mention their own careers) into the Western alliance on equal terms. The complexities and compromises of military involvement in genocide in the East was whitewashed into a kitschy image of the German soldier as a patriot braving the odds to defend family and Heimat from the Bolshevik hordes. The US military and politicians were just fine with this, because they faced an ideological struggle and possible land war with the Soviet Union. Though there is serious and reasonably objective Western academic work on the Eastern Front, popular culture is still dominated by German memoirs and a-historical romanticizers.

6. There is a wealth of evidence for the position that Georgia initiated the 2008 Ossetia War. For a summary, see Spiegel‘s A Shattered Dream in Georgia: EU Probe Creates Burden for Saakashvili: Other key articles include my The Western Media, Craven Shills for their Neocon Masters; How to Screp up a War Story by Mark Ames; and this BBC documentary about the evidence of Georgian atrocies – What really happened in South Ossetia?

There are many articles even in the Western media covering Saakashvili’s strong-arm tactics against the opposition, though the difficult issue of Western complicity (through silence) in it – especially when contrasted against the howls and cries whenever an unsanctioned protest in Russia is broken up – is rarely raised. Because it would reveal the moral bankruptcy behind the West’s support for Saakashvili, of course.

Read Russia’s Limousine Liberals (Anatol Lieven) and Why Russian Liberals Lose (Nicolai Petro).

8. For abortion laws, see Wikipedia. For other stats, see the WEF Gender Gap Index 2007 Russia section, according to which women are better educated, healthier and constitute 38% of decision-makers and 64% of professional workers. (Admittedly, the political subsection isn’t as good, though it should be noted that since the last Duma elections, the percentage of women in parliament has increased from 10% to 14% and two women have entered the Russian Cabinet). Only 8% of Russians view Americans very negatively (an attitude not shared by most people in Latin America and the Middle East). In 2006, a typical year, there were 136 violent anti-Semitic incidents in the UK, 97 in France, 74 in Canada, 38 in Germany and 34 in the Ukraine, compared to just 30 in Russia (according to the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism).

9. 81% of Ukrainians, 78% of Bulgars, 59% of Slovaks and 54% of Chinese view Russia favorably (in each country, that’s more than those who view the US in a positive light). These opinion polls are from the 47-nation PEW survey Global Unease with Major Powers. (Ok, admittedly the same cannot be said for Poles and the Czechs). Some 54% of Ukrainians are positive about joining the Union of Russia and Belarus, while only 24% are negative (see this poll). More Ukrainians would prefer to join the Union of Russian & Belarus (43%) than the European Union (30%) (see Levada poll here), and this is still the case as of 2009 – see Would the real Ukraine please stand up?

A Ukrainian public opinion study recently published by the Kiev-based Research and Branding polling institute found that top Russian politicians, including Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, enjoy sky-high public approval ratings—much more impressive than those of their Ukrainian counterparts. Moreover, the number of Ukrainians who want a union state with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan is greater than the number of those rooting to join the European Union.

According to Gallup polls in recent years, all the former Soviet countries except Armenia and Georgia massively approve of the Russian leadership and in all post Soviet nations except Azerbaijan pluralities want at least an economic union. Though some might quibble with the assertion that Russia has not invaded any sovereign states in the post-Cold War period, citing Georgia. This is unfair and disingenuous – please see Myth #6.

10. Read the Kievan Rus’ wiki and consult its sources for confirmation and more information. Just to pre-empt any confrontations, I am aware that some Ukrainian nationalists consider the history of Rus’ to be exclusively theirs, dating the emergence of the Russian state to the late medieval expansion of Muscovy. This is a ridiculous viewpoint. Firstly, Kievan Rus’ also covered modern-day Belarus and most of European Russia west of the Volga. Secondly, even Muscovy can trace its ancestry from the principality of Vladimir-Suzdal’, which was nearly as old as Kiev or Novgorod.

11. See my article Myth of the Russian AIDS Apocalypse:

In 2007 [Russian government anti-AIDS crusader] Pokrovsky believed that there were “as many as 1.3mn” people infected with AIDS, very far from the multi-million rates he was predicting just five years ago, and not a catastrophic increase from “expert estimates” of 0.8mn in 2000. [Comprehensive] Russian government data shows that the percentage of pregnant women testing HIV positive reached a plateau in 2002 and tended down ever since. The models used by Eberstadt and co. are themselves critically flawed, because according to the international research program Knowledge for Action in HIV/AIDS in Russia, they assume that “the epidemic would be essentially heterosexual in nature and follow trends observed in sub-Saharan Africa”, which is “not borne out by current surveillance data from Russia”. (They are also not borne out by the slightest acquaintance with comparative development and sociology. Few Russians are malnourished and hence have greater immune resistance, their medical equipment tends to be sterilized and it is socially unacceptable for them to have many partners or engage in anal sex; all this cannot be said for sub-Saharan Africans).

12. Russia has universal literacy (see World Bank). Statistics on the percentage of the population with tertiary education from the OECD. In PIRLS 2006 (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study), Russia came first in the world on the average combined reading literacy score. In mathematics, 17% of all Fields Medal winners (and 36% since the RF came into existence) have been Russian/Soviet nationals (see Wikipedia). Programming prowess is indicated by articles such as these (The next Silicon Valley: Siberia) and reflected in things like Maths Olympiad and programming competition results.

13. See, in particular, the short intro Through the Looking Glass into Russia’s Demography.

…First, fertility expectations today are little different from those of the late Soviet era, when the TFR was still relatively healthy. According to numerous surveys since the early 1990’s, Russians consistently say they want to have an average of 2.5 children. This is broadly similar to respondents from the British Isles, France and Scandinavia, who have relatively good TFR’s of around 1.7-2.1. This suggests Russia’s post-Soviet fertility collapse was caused by “transition shock” rather than a “values realignment” to middle-European norms, where people only want 1.7-1.8 children.

Second, a major problem with the TFR is that it ignores the effects of birth timing. A more accurate measure of long-term fertility is the average birth sequence (ABS), which gives the mean order of all newborn children. If in one fine year all women in a previously childless country decide to give birth for some reason, the TFR will soar to an absurdly high level but the ABS will equal exactly one. In Russia the ABS remained steady at 1.6 children per woman from 1992-2006, little changed from Soviet times, even though the TFR plummeted well below this number. This indicates that many women were postponing children until they settled into careers and improved their material wellbeing – a hypothesis attested to by the rising age of mothers at childbirth since 1993. Though this may be a false positive if many women remain childless, the 2002 Census indicated that only 6-7% of women did not have any children by the end of their reproductive years. This indicates that childlessness is not in vogue and worries about widespread sterility are overblown.

Third, a new confident conservatism has recently taken hold in Russian society. After two decades of disillusionment, at the end of 2006 consistently more Russians began to believe the nation was moving in a positive than in a negative direction. It is likely no coincidence that it the TFR began to consistently rise just then – from 1.3 in 2006 to about 1.5 in 2008, though generous new child benefits helped.

High mortality rates only have a direct impact on replacement-level TFR when significant numbers of women die before or during childbearing age, as in Third World countries. Russia’s infant mortality rate of 8.5 / 1000 in 2008 is close to developed-country levels and not statistically significant. Though tragic and unnecessary, its “hypermortality” crisis mainly affects older men and as such has negligible direct effects on fertility.

For a more in-depth explorations of these issues, consult my Rite of Spring: Russia’s Fertility Trends (recommended by Thomas PM Barnett), Russia’s Demographic Resilience (what the economic crisis means for Russia’s demography) and Faces of the Future (my own models of future Russian demography).

14. Russia’s income Gini coefficient (a standard measure of income inequality) of around 41.3 as of 2007 is high only by the standards of socialist European countries. It is lower than in the US, China and the vast majority of developing countries. It has remained almost completely constant from 1994-2003, and by projection, to 2007 (see HDR05 RF: Rusia in 2015, p.33). Only 17% of Russians paid a bribe to obtain a service in 2007 (see Transparency International’s GCB) – putting them into the same quintile as Bulgaria, Turkey and the Czech Republic, i.e. slap bang in the middle of world corruption rather than at the end. Even according to the World Bank (control of corruption 16.5 in 2000; 24.3 in 2006) and Transparency International (CPI of 2.1 in 2000; 2.3 in 2007), which crucially rely on foreign perceptions of corruption in Russia, transparency has slightly improved under Putin. I have already discussed issues of inequality and corruption (in particular the problem with CPI) here and here. To quote A Normal Country (Andrei Shleifer & Daniel Treisman, Foreign Affairs, Mar/Apr 2004) in extenso:

Yet what about sources less dependent on the perception of outsiders? In the summer of 1999, the World Bank and the EBRD conducted a survey of business managers in 22 postcommunist countries. Respondents were asked to estimate the share of annual revenues that “firms like theirs” typically devoted to unofficial payments to public officials “in order to get things done.” Such payments might be made, the questionnaire added, to facilitate connection to public utilities, to obtain licenses or permits, to improve relations with tax collectors, or in relation to customs or imports. Respondents were also asked to what extent the sale of parliamentary laws, presidential decrees, or court decisions had directly affected their businesses, in the hope of measuring the extent to which policymakers were co-opted by business.

On both the “burden of bribery” and “state capture” dimensions, Russia ranked right in the middle of its postcommunist peers. On average, Russian firms reportedly paid 2.8 percent of revenues on bribes, less than in Ukraine and Uzbekistan, and far less than in Azerbaijan (5.7 percent) and Kyrgyzstan (5.3 percent). The percentage who said it was “sometimes,” “frequently,” “mostly,” or “always” necessary for their firms to make extra, unofficial payments to public officials in order to influence the content of new laws, decrees, or regulations was also about average: 9 percent, compared to 24 percent in Azerbaijan, 14 percent in Latvia and Lithuania, and 2 percent in Belarus and Uzbekistan. In both cases, Russian responses were very close to what one would predict given Russia’s relative level of economic development.

How does corruption in Russia affect individuals? The UN conducts a cross-national survey of crime victims. Between 1996 and 2000, it asked urban residents in a number of countries the following question: “In some countries, there is a problem of corruption among government or public officials. During [the last year] has any government official, for instance a customs officer, a police officer or inspector in your country asked you, or expected you, to pay a bribe for his service?” The percentage of positive responses in Russia was about average for the developing and middle-income countries surveyed. Some 17 percent of Russians said they had been asked for or had been expected to pay bribes in the preceding year, fewer than in Argentina, Brazil, Lithuania, or Romania. Again, Russia’s relative position was almost exactly what one would expect given its per capita income.

15. See the Chechnya section from my old article What we Believe.

Re-allegations of “Russian genocide”. Note that from 1989 to 1994, the 250,000 ethnic Russians living in the two Chechen regions of the River Terek were reduced to just 20,000, i.e. they were ethnically cleansed from the area under the kind attentions of “free Chechnya”. Meanwhile, from 1989 to 2002, according to the census results of those respective years, the Chechen population in the Russian Federation increased by 42% from 957,000 to 1,360,000. If this is an anti-Chechen genocide, then it must have been the most incompetent in history.

16. See Brother Karamazov’s comment from the original Top 10 Russophobe Myths post:

All German leading hi-tech professionals, including rocket scientists, surrendered to Americans. Many of them were working in the USA; for some time as half-prisoners, e.g. Wernher von Brown’s team. Wernher von Brown was placed in charge of American space programmes in the end of 50s in order to close the gap with the soviets. He successfully completed the task by landing Americans on the Moon. In contrast, soviet space research was lead by ethnic Russian Sergei Korolev. Boris Raushenbakh, the highest ranked ethnic German in the soviet rocket program, was born to an ethnic German family settled in Russia well before the revolution. He grown up and was educated entirely in the USSR. He was imprisoned in a soviet labour camp in the very beginning of his professional career during the war alongside with many other ethnic Germans who lived in the USSR, similar to the detention of ethnic Japanese in the USA.

17. See The Unfathomable Depths of Western Hypocrisy and Is CNN Getting Kicked Out of Russia? by Yasha Levine for the full story of CNN’s odious censorship of its Putin interview. Basically, it transformed his coherently argued points about the historical origins of the Georgian-Ossetian antagonism, the justice of Russian intervention and inconvenient questions about US involvement in the affair, to seem like a crazy rant about global neocon conspiracies and embargoes on dead chickens (in contrast Saakashvili got regular 5-10 min slots at CNN, unedited).

Another good example is the famous Putin speech from 2008 stating that, “крушение Советского Союза было “крупнейшей геополитической катастрофой века” , which translates as “the greatest geopolitical disaster of the century”. True enough. But now for the all-vital context: Putin was acknowledging the fact that there was some good in the USSR (e.g. values of fairness, idealism, etc), and that its collapse was brought about in corrupt and incompetent ways that ended up making the whole thing catastrophic for many folks (as confirmed by a myriad of socio-economic statistics). Yet during that 2005 speech he also stressed that “the development of Russia as a free and democratic state to be our main political and ideological goal”, and praised the steps taken towards that even amidst the chaos and disintegration of the Yeltsin era. So this is hardly the ravings of a Russian chauvinist dead-set on resurrecting the Soviet empire. Another example – the (in)famous Munich speech in 2007, in which his (rather measured and rational) criticism of US military unilateralism was reinterpreted to sheer absurdity by the neocons.

Re-Putin and Medvedev, their old relationship is one of Putin the mentor and Medvedev the protege. As such it is not surprising that it is generally still Putin who takes the international limelight, but this will presumably change as Medvedev finds his own feet – much as Putin remained in the shadow of the oligarchs in the first few years of his Presidency. More sources about the dynamics at the heart of the Putin circle include The Great Transformation: How the Putin Plan altered Russian Society and The Medevedev Moment by Nicolai Petro and Eric Kraus’ critique of ideas that Medvedev is a stooge / threat to Putin.

So in conclusion, it pays to be extremely wary of Western media reports on anything Putin, or Russian officials in general, say.

18. See my Myth of the Yellow Peril.

19. Russia saw a vigorous manufacturing revival during the 2000′s, with soaring domestic production of consumer goods substituting those previously imported. The ruble was kept artificially weakened, special economic zones were created and foreign firms carrying out assembly work in Russia were given incentives to draw their supplies from domestic producers. Automobile production rose from 1.2mn in 2000 to 1.8mn in 2008 (OICA), the company Power Machines (Силовые машины) is one of the world’s leading producers of turbines and the country has successfully joined in supplying the regional jet market with the Sukhoi SuperJet.

Though it is undeniable that there is still a large degree of unproductive rent-seeking and corruption in the Russian economy (that it has its share of “stationary bandits”, to use Mancur Olson’s terminology), it is folly to deny the obvious progress in manufacturing production made and the improvements in the business climate that made it possible. After all, unlike the “roving bandits” of the 1990′s, their stationary counterparts actually have incentives to improve their assets and profit from them, instead of stripping them down and making with the proceeds to Miami Beach or Londongrad. Furthermore, as proved by successful emerging markets like South Korea such economic policies can indeed work (see Putvedev is Russia’s White Rider). Finally, if there’s one thing that the economic crisis revealed is that Westerners should not be so complacent about the absence of rent-seeking and corrupt parasites in their own economies.

To gauge the seriousness with which Russia is pursuing an innovation economy, check out Russia’s Nanotechnology crash program and this forum thread about Russian nanotechnology investments, developments, etc. Though one can argue this is a waste of state resources, the historical evidence suggests that some level of state support is necessary for incubating successful hi-tech industries. This is especially the case in Russia which has traditionally pursued state-backed modernization programs.

20.See Are command economies unstable? Why did the Soviet economy collapse? by Mark Harrison.

21. Just a few examples would include: NATO broke its early guarantees disavowing eastern expansion in return for German reunification; criminally attacked and dismembered Serbia on false pretenses of genocide without listening to Russian concerns; encouraged enmity against Russia throughout the post-Soviet space; possibly allowed Georgia to go ahead with its criminal assault on South Ossetia; unilateral abrogation of the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty in 2002; financial and moral support for color revolutions throughout the post-Soviet space; pushing a Russophobic agenda from the highest political levels; pushing Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, despite the fact that Georgia has outstanding territorial claims and most Ukrainians are firmly opposed to joining NATO, the retainment of the Jackson-Vanik amendment penalizing trade with Russia despite the fact that it is no longer a Soviet Union which restricts Jewish emigration, the blocking of WTO entry, etc, etc, etc…

That said Russia can certainly cooperate with Washington in an atmosphere of mutual respect, e.g. work towards containing nuclear proliferation, combating terrorism in Central Asia (Moscow recently allowed transport of goods, including military goods, across its territory to support military efforts in Afghanistan).

22. The social group most disillusioned with the West are young Muscovite university-educated men. Susan Richards in Russians don’t much like the West:

The obvious response to these findings is that attitudes will change over time, as people get richer. But this study appears not to bear out these hopes. For where you might have expected young Russians to like the West more than their parents, in fact, the opposite is true. The youngest respondents (20-year-olds) showed the same degree of dislike of the US as their grandparents, while the 35-45 year olds were less hostile to the US.

This is not, however, because of Putinist brainwashing – contrary to what one might believe. Nicolai Petro in Russia’s New Cyberwarriors:

…unlike their elders who were uncomfortable dealing with the outside world, today’s young Russians are not about to let insulting stereotypes about their lives and their values pass totally unchallenged. To earn their respect, one has to give it.

Until recently, Russians rarely ever saw what was said about them in the Western media. When they did, language barriers and scarcity of internet access meant they had no way to respond in a timely manner, and to set the record straight.

But now that a quarter of the population has regular internet access, they can read what is being written about their country in real time on Russian translation sites, and they are finding out, as Daniel Thorniley, Senior Vice President of the Economist Group recently put it, that it is “95 percent rubbish” (true, he was talking about business–an area where the coverage is still relatively favorable).

For the first time in history, the global reach of the internet is allowing large numbers of Russians (and others within the former Soviet Union) to talk to the West directly, rather than only through the filter provided by visiting journalists and pundits. This means the free pass given by Russians to those who write about them, something that most of us here have long taken for granted, is rapidly coming to an end. We already see the first signs of the new era in the blistering comments from outraged Russian readers that now appear regularly on the web sites of major British newspapers…

There attitudes are becoming prevalent even amongst Russian schoolchildren, but unfortunately the West has no-one but themselves to blame (see #21).

23. See my translation of the controversial chapter in question The Case of the “Stalinist” Textbook, as well as a summary of my arguments about the textbook and the Western media’s malevolent approach to it in Manipulating Russia’s Manipulation of History.

24. According to the Amnesty International report Estonia: Linguistic Minorities – Discrimination must end, Russophones who arrived after Estonia’s incorporation into the USSR, and their children, were denied citizenship except upon the completion of strict language proficiency exams. This is unrealistic for the many older folks who arrived in the 1950′s- 1960′s and helped build up the Estonian industrial economy, who have now been discarded as worthless detritus. They are unable to vote in national or European elections. Unemployment is two to three times higher amongst Russophones than ethnic Estonians, and many of the former have left to find work in other countries of the EU or returned to Russia. All public sector jobs and the vast majority of non-manual private sector jobs, even in almost completely Russian cities like Narva, require certificates of language proficiency in Estonian. There is a lot of petty discrimination against Russians on the part of ethnic Estonian nationalists. The ominously-named outfit the “Language Inspectorate” goes about making unannounced visits to workplaces to check up language skills and fine employers and fire workers who do not show the requisite Estonian-language abilities. The Polity IV project has given Estonia a democracy score of 6/10, making it only marginally democratic by their definition. The LSE study Discrimination against the Russophone Minority in Estonia and Latvia characterizes the two Baltic states as “ethnic democracies” who place “extensive policy regimes of discrimination” based on restrictions on Russophones under three policy pillars – citizenship, language, and participation. This is despite the fact that the vast majority of Baltic Russians, perhaps naively in terms of their own interests, supported the independence of their newly-adopted nation, not knowing that it would refuse to reciprocate the favor.

Nicolai Petro in Russian rights and Estonian wrongs:

…The government’s discriminatory policies have included: the passage of laws requiring that all political meetings and private businesses be conducted by “fluent” speakers of Estonian, the removal of the popularly elected mayor of the town of Sillamae for not speaking Estonian well enough, the prosecution of elected officials in the town of Narva under hate-crimes statutes for taking part in a World War II memorial service under the slogan “Narva is against fascism!” and the abrupt cancellation of all 25 Russian television channels by cable operators in the capital, Tallinn (watched by a quarter of city’s population).

In the early ’90s it was deemed more important to encourage the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Later, in the mid-’90s, during the debates over expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, it was said that security concerns should be paramount. At the turn of the century, European Union expansion was given precedence. At each turn, non-native residents were assured by Western leaders that Estonia’s inclusion in these organizations would soon take care of all their problems. Instead, however, Estonian leaders have taken approval of membership in Western organizations as proof that they can safely ignore the civil rights of their non-native minority…

Given this history, it is scarcely surprising that minority sensitivities registered so little with the government that a monument to the fallen of World War II was dismantled nearly on the eve of Victory Day, the one holiday universally revered by former Soviet citizens of all nationalities.

…How can anyone take human rights seriously if Western politicians scream bloody murder at the detention of a few score demonstrators in Moscow, but then try to sweep the arrest of more than 1,000 and the injury of several hundred in Estonia quietly under the rug .

These issues came to the fore when the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dismantled, resulting in vigorous Russophone protests against discrimination that were brutally crushed. To add insult to injury, Russia was also baselessly accused of conducting “cyberterrorism” against Estonia and a NATO cyberwar center is being built in that country.

Latvia also prosecutes “economic saboteurs” who suggest it may have to devalue its currency.

25. Serious estimates of Ukrainian deaths range from 3.0-3.5mn (Stanislav Kulchytsky), who is championed by those claiming it as genocide (thus 3.5mn is the absolute upper limited). A more modern estimate is 2.2mn (Jacques Vallin). Declassified Soviet statistics indicate excess deaths in Ukraine from 1932-33 numbered 1.5mn, out of 3.2mn deaths across the whole Soviet Union – though they have problems of reliability. The statistical distribution of famine’s victims among the ethnicities closely reflects the ethnic distribution of the rural population of Ukraine. Though Ukraine was undeniable one of the regions most affected, areas like Southern Russia, the Volga region and Kazakhstan also suffered greatly. As such, there is no grounds for calling this a Russian-chauvinist organized famine-genocide against Ukrainians (especially since Russians were even not that prominent amongst the Soviet leadership, e.g. Stalin and Beria were both Georgians).

In 2008, Russia condemned the Soviet regime’s “disregard for the lives of people in the attainment of economic and political goals”, along with “any attempts to revive totalitarian regimes that disregard the rights and lives of citizens in former Soviet states.” yet stated that “there is no historic evidence that the famine was organized on ethnic grounds.” This is a valid position to take that is not at odds with academic views on the subject; on the other hand, Ukraine’s criminalization of “Holodomor denial” by ” a fine of 100 to 300 untaxed minimum salaries, or imprisonment of up to two years” – pushed through the Rada by a slender-thin majority in 2006 – is extremely anti-historical and ideological in nature.

In reality the Holodomor was caused by willful negligence, poor climatic conditions and an ideological fervor against kulaks in the midst of the collectivization campaign which aimed to produce a food surplus to fund industrialization. That said, it was overall ineffective since it was followed up by a halving of livestock numbers, losses of the most experienced farmers and a 66% fall in grain exports in 1933-34 from 1931-32, which kind of defeated its purpose of increasing foreign currency earnings to fund industrialization (though it was partially made up by increasing electrification and mechanization by the late 1930’s).

As for the alleged Ukrainian dislike of Russia, please see Myth #9.

26. New Russian versions of Integrated Air Defense Systems are able to counter all aircraft in the US fleet except the F-22 Raptor and B-2 heavy bomber, which are reliant on prohibitively expensive stealth features, and are highly mobile and survivable; in any case, even they will become increasingly vulnerable. Russia is rapidly developing / stealing / implementing stealth technologies, resulting in that upgraded Russian fourth-generation fighters:

the notion that contemporary production Russian fighters are inferior in technology, performance and overall capability to their US/EU peers is largely not correct, and predicated on assumptions about Russian technological capabilities which ceased to be true a decade or more ago.

On the high seas, US aircraft carriers – the bedrock of US maritime supremacy – are under increasing threat from new developments in supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, silent diesel submarines armed with supercavitating torpedoes, UAVs / drones, and modernized fourth-generation fighters like Flankers. Not only can Russia manufacture and use these things itself, but it can also sell them on to unfriendly nations like Iran. In the long run this may spell the end to global US military hegemony.

It is true that Russia is hobbled by a lack of a professional, motivated army, organizational inefficiencies and the lack of great power projection capabilities. Nonetheless, it is in the middle of major military reforms that aim to address these problems by decreasing the numbers of officers in the ranks, moving to a brigade rather than divisional system and instituting a state of permanent readiness amongst its military units.

Russia continues to have one of the world’s two greatest nuclear arsenals and fully independent military-industrial complexes (along with the US). Should there be severe international tensions, it can return to the permanent war mobilization footing of the USSR, for it retains a “dormant structurally militarized potential” (Russia in the 21st Century: The Prodigal Superpower, Steven Rosefielde). Though no-one will win, it will destroy its enemies at least as thoroughly as it is destroyed itself in the case of a nuclear war.

27. Archival evidence here. Note also that a) not all sentences were carried out due to the system’s inefficiency and b) the death rate in the Gulag labor camps never exceeded 10% a year except in the dearth years of 1934 and 1943-44 – so in total out of the c.3.3mn imprisoned, around 1.1mn or a third died.

As for the scale of Hitler’s democide, consult Myth III in The Poisonous Myths of the Eastern Front.

28. See Russia through the looking glass and The Great Transformation: How the Putin Plan altered Russian Societ y by Nicolai Petro. Note that the high conviction rates are not unique to Russia: Japan is infamous for forced confessions and 99%+ conviction rates. As for the NGO laws, see Russia through the looking glass (Nicolai Petro):

For example, registration can no longer be denied on the whim of local officials; and without one of four specific reasons, registration has to be granted within thirty days. The proposal also limits review of NCO activities to once a year, and stipulates that any administrative actions have to be done under court supervision. The much-touted issue of the closing of foreign organisations is a red herring, since the proposed legislation specifically deprives bureaucrats of the ability to act on their own in this regard.

29. A few quotes to illustrate the point.

At present, all we see is chaos, struggle, economic collapse, ethnic disintegration – just as the observers of 1918 did. How could they have foreseen then that a decade or so later the USSR would have begun to produce chemicals, aircraft, trucks, tanks, and machine tools and be growing faster than any other industrialized society? By extension, how could Western admirers of Stalin’s centralized economy in the 1930’s know that the very system contained the seeds of its own collapse? [ Preparing for the Twenty First Century, Ch. 11, ‘The Erstwhile USSR and its Crumbled Empire’, pp. 249, Paul Kennedy (1993) ]

And from John Scott in Behind the Urals, who spent a few years living and working in the USSR during the 1930′s:

In talking with people in France and America I was impressed by the interest in the Soviet Union and the widespread misinformation about Russia and all things Russian. Everyone I met was opinionated [aren't we all lol!]. The Communists and their sympathizers held Russia up as a panacea…Other people were steeped in Eugene Lyons’ stories and would not concede the possibility that Russia had produced anything during recent years except chaos, suffering and disorder. They dismissed the industrial and material successes of the Russians with an angry wave of the hand. Any economist or businessman should have been able to see that the tripling of pig-iron production within a decade was a serious achievement, and would necessarily have far-reaching effects on the balance of economic and therefore military power in Europe.

30. Re-The Economist, from Press Review: Press Review: The Economist’s Three Stooges by Kirill Pankratov:

Of course, its Russian coverage is far from the only of magazine’s bloopers. The list is long. There’s the famous March 1999 cover story predicting an “endless era of cheap oil,” which appeared the same week that oil prices began their steady ascent from the lowest point in a quarter century. Perfect timing! Then there were The Economist’s strident editorials in favor of Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

First up is Edward Lucas, the Moscow correspondent who in the annual glossy “The World in 1999″ issue, issued this prediction for Russia, at once gloating and apocalyptic:

“1999 will be the year of Russia’s disintegration… Trade between Russia’s regions will plunge at least until they hit on a stable, trusted currency in which to do business. That is hardly likely to be the rouble, and the planned coupons and currencies which some regions have been planning look equally unattractive substitutes… foreign invasion, albeit of a peaceful and benevolent kind, is exactly what Russia’s regions should want… The probable decline in Russia’s wealth in 1999 will be around 10%… expect yet another bleak and miserable year”.

For why I am bullish on continuing high growth in the future, see my own article Kremlin Dreams sometimes come true and Goldman Sachs thinks that Russia is the only member of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, China, India) with the potential to reach Western levels of GDP per capita in the foreseeable future.

31. Lots of sources on this on the Internet. Re-murders, I’d mention Former YUKOS Security Chief Gets 20 Years for Murder. Also from Russia Blog in 10 Western Media Stereotypes About Russia: How Truthful Are They?

YUKOS was practicing tax evasion on a massive, multi- billion-dollar scale. A deeper investigation is now underway, and Khodorkovsky’s aides face charges of murder and attempted murder in the process of conducting company business. They were also charged with unlawful business practices, such as tax evasion, fraud and money laundering. In addition, Israeli lawyers are working with Russian prosecutors to extradite Khodorkovsky’s former partner Leonid Nevzlin, as many political circles in Israel find his presence harmful to their country’s image. Israeli lawyers are investigating allegations that Nevzlin fraudulently obtained his Israeli citizenship in 2003 after Russian prosecutors indicted Mikhail Khodorkovsky. In March 2005, Alexei Pichugin, the former chief of security for YUKOS, was sentenced to prison time for multiple counts of murder. Many oligarchs do face prosecution, but not because of their political beliefs; rather, they face punishment for actual crimes they have committed

32. E.g. see Remembering Yeltsin for a hard look at Yeltsin’s real, anti-Russian character. He won the 1996 elections despite losing a war and having approval ratings in the single-digits, which were immediately endorsed by Western election observers like OSCE. See Who Killed The OSCE? by Alexander Zaitchik and Mark Ames.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another way is that the recent Russia-OSCE door-slamming episode is the inevitable outcome of years of cynical Western manipulation of an organization that once held enormous promise and impeccable credentials, but is now with good reason considered a propaganda tool for the West.

If that last sentence sounds like the paranoid rant of a Putin-era silovik revanchist, then think again. It’s the view held by none other than the man who headed the OSCE’s 1996 election mission in Russia, Michael Meadowcroft. “The West let Russia down, and it’s a shame,” said Meadowcroft, a former British MP and veteran of 48 election-monitoring missions to 35 countries.

In a recent telephone interview with The eXile, Meadowcroft explained how he was pressured by OSCE and EU authorities to ignore serious irregularities in Boris Yeltsin’s heavily manipulated 1996 election victory, and how EU officials suppressed a report about the Russian media’s near-total subservience to pro-Yeltsin forces.

“Up to the last minute I was being pressured by [the OSCE higher-ups in] Warsaw to change what I wanted to say,” said Meadowcroft. “In terms of what the OSCE was prepared to say publicly about the election, they were very opposed to any suggestion that the election had been manipulated.” In fact, he says, the OSCE and the West had made its mind up about how wonderfully free and fair Boris Yeltsin’s election was before voting even started.

Though it is true that Putin also probably abuses administrative resources to win elections – though the extent and scale are small and should not be exaggerated, as I point out in Lying Liars and their Lies and More Reflections on Election Fraud, a) OSCE and the West now condemns him for this because Putin is not their stooge and b) it doesn’t matter nearly as much because Putin has the overwhelming support of the people and would win in any case.

33. Yes, Russia uses (at times underhanded) means to tie up world energy sources and uses its energy clout to exert economic and political pressure. But the US and all other Great Powers do the exact same thing, in ways ranging from the Iraq War to support of economically-subordinate theocratic or authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia to the Chiquita Banana case. Note that the counter-refutation to the Iraq War as energy imperialism thesis – that US companies did not particularly benefit from new contracts – doesn’t really hold water, because the whole point was to unlock Iraq’s oil supplies into the world market and to establish a firm military presence in the critical (for energy) Middle East region.

34. Re-education, see National Literacy Campaigns (By Robert F. Arnove, Harvey J. Graff). Re-industry, the fast rate of late Tsarist growth is pretty well known to economic historians.

35. Western treatment of Russia signifies an erosion of reason (Vlad Sobell) – argues that Western views on the “post-totalitarian” society of Russia have ossified since the end of the Cold War and are no longer able to recognize that it has embarked on its own path to liberal democracy.

Or as noted by Gregor in Deformable Mirror,

What type of political ideology privatises land, nationalises petroleum, introduces a flat tax, uses soldiers to verify tax accounts, enforces protectionism, celebrates diversity, celebrates patriotism, celebrates science, introduces state protection for the National Church, supports the NATO war in Afghanistan, opposes the war in Iraq, is strongly democratic but largely authoritarian, takes power from an atheist, alcoholic Communist apparatchik and leaves it in the hands of a devout, prissy lawyer? For want of a better word we could call it ‘reactionary’… or maybe Putinism? This somehow highlights one of the oddest paradoxes about British Russophobia. Putin is only called a ‘reactionary’ because British ‘intellectual’ culture has frozen to such an extent that we have no real word for his ideology.

Hence commentators like John Dimbleby resort to calling Russia a “totalitarian regime in thrall to a Tsar who’s creating the new Facist empire”.

36. Consult the Myth of Dhimmitude part of my Rite of Spring: Russia Fertility Trends article.

37. See this post and comments at Fedia Kriukov’s blog.

Re-army purges, there are revisionist arguments that they did not have a major effect in absolute terms, e.g. from this book review (although it is true they contributed to greater rigidity in military thought prior to the war, which would have been damaging – that said, its effects should not be overstated):

Stalin’s Reluctant Soldiers makes two fundamental points about the history of the Red Army, as well as several important observations. The first fundamental point is that the impact of the political terror of the 1937-38 was, in absolute and relative terms, less than it is generally taken to have been. A number of newly uncovered sources, notably General E.A. Shchadenko’s report of May 1940, make it possible to conclude that net losses of officers and commissars (taking into account reinstatements) was some 23 000. Reese also reassesses the size of the total officer corps, making it 150 000 in 1937. Previous historians have estimated higher losses and assumed a much smaller officer corps, and Reese convincingly shows a smaller percentage loss.

The second fundamental point is related to the first. The basic reason why the Red Army fought so badly in 1941. Reese argues, was not the purges. What really mattered was the army’s incohesiveness, which resulted from shortcomings across the interwar years, but especially the too rapid expansion in the late 1930s. The crucial weaknesses of the Red Army were inadequately trained junior officers and poor platoon-level organization. Both weaknesses were accentuated by a lack of career NCOs. This general point is developed especially well by Reese in an archivally based case study of the Kiev military district.

Re-unanticipated attack of Hitler. Stalin did not dismiss intelligence reports. Note that Soviet intelligence did not unambiguously predict the German attack – there were many contradictory reports and sophisticated German disinformation. He was understandably cautious about trusting British sources given their past duplicity and latent interest in drawing the USSR into the war. Second, Stalin finally erred on the side of caution and authorized the forward deployment of the second operational echelon around June 17, which however did not reach their destinations when the war broke out. “Moreover, on June 21 Stalin signed a directive (which later came to be known as Directive No 1) authorizing all formations deployed along the border to take up defensive positions (in effect, partially implement covering plans). Unfortunately, when the war started, this directive was still stuck being decrypted somewhere at the MD and army level.”

Re-defense in depth. It’s a somewhat overused cliche nowadays.

First, we need to look at what it is exactly. At the tactical level, it means creating a cluster of strong-points separated by gaps filled with mines, dragon’s teeth, and other obstacles, such that enemy would be channeled into assaults on the strong-points one by one. But the Red Army of 1941 was too unwieldy and unprepared for this, and the question of why? should be directed more towards the military establishment than to Stalin.

And not only for them, but to the militaries of all countries. No rifle formation of the time, the Wehrmacht included, had the ability to repulse a single Panzer division concentrated on a narrow front. It would inevitably be sliced up and the (slow) remnants enveloped and destroyed by mobile enemy forces (i.e. the ones which spearheaded Barbarossa – though it is true as you say that the bulk of the German army was relatively immobile, it was still much more so than the Soviet in 1941 and its mobile elements were extremely well trained with plenty of RL experience).

This was the major bane of Soviet forces which was only significantly reversed in Kursk, two years into the war, when the Soviet Army reached a level of competence and organization an order of magnitude higher than was the case in 1941. (it should be noted also that it was only after 1943 that Axis-Soviet losses on the Eastern Front equalized).

But if you’re talking of the operational level (which is a question that relates more directly to Stalin’s role), “defense in depth” is utterly bankrupt since the depth to the defense can only be provided at the tactical level, and trying this on the operational scale implies splitting up your divisions and suffering defeat in detail.

“Against such an army, trading space, defending in depth, was the appropriate method. Eventually the Soviets learned this, and implemented it at Kursk in 1943.”

And from above, we see it would have led to utter disaster in 1941 and it is to their credit that the Soviet military leadership recognized this (unlike all prior German opponents). Thus they instead pursued an “active defense” based on constant initiative-seizing counterattacks, which although predictably a failure on the tactical levels distorted the shape and flow of Barbarossa by forcing the Germans to reinforce their flanks at the cost of their points – and was a much better idea than simply throwing rifle division after division against armored spears that would just effortlessly slice through them.

At the time, encirclements were inevitable because the German Panzer divisions were quicker than Soviet rifle divisions, and stopping them was hopeless (no country had managed that before, and it was not until 1943 that the Soviets first managed to contain a German armored assault). The idea rather was to launch constant counter-offensives to blunt and divert the overall German attack, which though a failure at tactical and operational levels succeeded at the strategic level.

“Stalin effectively did the same thing by massing near the border. It was necessary to trade space for time. Space was what the USSR had in abundance.’

On this point, I would repeat the above point that a) intelligence was highly contradictory about German intentions, especially since the latter mounted a well-planned disinformation campaign, and b) most fortifications near the border were in the stage of construction – again, because the Soviet leadership genuinely believed that Hitler was not ready to attack until 1942 at the earliest (and more likely the mid-1940’s) and c) you can’t really say they were that massed at the border, when the earliest really big encirclements took place in Minsk / Kiev (places which are gateways to the Soviet heartlands and really needed to be defended for strategic and political reasons).

I would also note that even with constant Soviet counter-attacks and diversions, the Germans still managed to reach the gates of Moscow, and again got uncomfortably close to cutting off the Caucasus oil supply in 1942. Russia’s has a lot of space but it’s not infinite.

38. See here at Sergei Fedosov’s site for a full account of the diplomatic events in the run-up to World War Two.

Specifically re-Munich and the sincerity of Soviet intentions to coordinate with the Western Allies to contain and if necessary fight Germany over Czechoslovakia (all quoted from commentator rkka here):

To start with, Soviet intentions to militarily aid Czechoslovakia are indicated by the delivery of Soviet-built combat aircraft in August and September 1938 through Romanian airspace, Soviet willingness to set aside the issue of Bessarabia in discussion of Soviet forces transiting Romania in the event of a German attack on Czechlslovakia, the mobilization of 10 Tank and 60 Rifle Divisions in the fall of 1938, and the diplomatic note to the Polish government warning that hostile Polish action against Czechoslovakia would void the Polish-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. The Czech leader Benes makes it clear that Soviet support was unstinting:

“In September, 1938, therefore, we were left in military, as well as political, isolation with the Soviet Union to prepare our defense against a Nazi attack. We were also well aware not only of our own moral, political, and military prepardness, but also had a general picture of the condition of Western Europe; as well as of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, in regard to these matters.

At that moment indeed Europe was in every respect ripe to accept without a fight the orders of the Berchtesgaden corporal. When Czechoslovakia vigorously resisted his dictation in the September negotiations with our German citizens, we first of all recieved a joint note from the British and French governments on September 19th, 1938, insisting that we should accept without amendment the draft of a capitulation based essentially on an agreement reached by Hitler and Chamberlain at Berchtesgaden on September 15th. When we refused, there arrived from France and Great Britain on September 21st an ultimatum accompanied by emphatic personal interventions in Prague during the night on the part of the Ministers of both countries and repeated later in writing. We were informed that if we did not accept their plan for the cession of the so-called Sudeten regions, they would leave us to our fate, which, they said, we had brought upon ourselves. They explained that they certainly would not go to war with Germany just ‘to keep the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia’. I felt very keenly the fact that there were at that time so few in France and Great Britain who understood that something much more serious was at stake for Europe than the retention of the so-called Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia.

The measure of this fearful European development was now full, precipitating Europe into ruin. Through three dreadful years I had watched the whole tragedy unfolding, knowing to the full what was at stake. We had resisted desperately with all our strength. And then, from Munich, during the night of September 30th our State and Nation recieved the stunning blow: Without our participation and in spite of the mobilization of our whole Army, the Munich Agreement – fatal for Europe and the whole world – was concluded and signed by the four Great Powers – and then was forced upon us.”

Dr. Eduard Benes “Memoirs”, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1954, pgs 42 – 43.

“I do not intend to examine here in detail the policy of the Soviet Union from Munich to the beginning of the Soviet-German war. I will mention only the necessary facts. Even today it is still a delicate question. The events preceeding Munich and between Munich and the Soviet Union’s entry into World War II have been used, and in a certain sense, misused, against Soviet policy both before and after Munich. I will only repeat that before Munich the Soviet Union was prepared to fulfill its treaty with France and with Czechoslovakia in the case of a German attack.”

Benes, pg 131.

39. No European state has made much effort to fully account for its imperial legacies; the main feature of German exceptionalism was that you were supposed to confine you genocides to colored peoples in hot, sticky places (e.g. the Belgians in the Congo, the “Victorian Holocausts” under the British Raj, the Irish Potato Famine which was no different from the Holodomor except that the ideology that it was conducted under was laissez-faire capitalism…)

The Baltic states whitewash their involvement in the Holocaust, Turkey criminalizes affirmation of the Armenian Genocide and Japan brushes off complaints about its brutal conduct in China during the Second World War. The only reason Germany apologized was because it was occupied, and in any case the Nazi regime was not morally comparable to the Soviet Union. And apologies imply acceptance of responsibility and demands for reparations…Latvia had already set up a commission to calculate a bill for “Soviet-era losses” to present to Russia, which ironically had to be disbanded because of the economic crisis.

One example of Russia’s apologies: “When President Yeltsin visited the Czech Republic in 1993 he was not speaking just for himself, he was speaking for the Russian Federation and for the Russian people. Today, not only do we respect all agreements signed previously – we also share all the evaluations that were made at the beginning of the 1990s…I must tell you with absolute frankness – we do not, of course, bear any legal responsibility. But the moral responsibility is there, of course.”

For Russian attitudes to their history under Putin, I recommend my article Manipulating Russia’s Manipulation of History and Airbrushing History by Patrick Armstrong.

40. See my Responses to common Russophobe arguments for an insight into the sheer intellectual bankruptcy of the Russophobe worldview.

41. See the seminal Forbes article Godfather of the Kremlin (Paul Khlebnikov) or read the book of the same name.

42. The Specter that haunts the Death of Litvinenko (Edward Jay Epstein) and The Alexander Litvinenko Story Revisited (David Habakkuk) are vital primers on the very murky circumstances of his death.

Before the extradition dispute, Russian investigators, in theory, could have questioned relevant witnesses in London. Their proposed roster of witnesses suggested that Russian interest extended to the Russian expatriate community in Britain, or “Londongrad,” as it is now called. The Litvinenko case provided the Russians with the opportunity for a fishing expedition, since Litvinenko had at the time of his death worked with many of Russia’s enemies, including Mr. Berezovsky; his foundation head, Mr. Goldfarb, who dispensed money to a web of anti-Putin websites; his Chechen ally Akhmed Zakayev, who headed a commission investigating Russian war crimes in Chechnya (for which Litvinenko acted as an investigator), and former owners of the expropriated oil giant Yukos, who were battling in the courts to regain control of billions of dollars in its off-shore bank accounts.

The Russian investigation could also have veered into Litvinenko’s activities in the shadowy world of security consultants, including his dealings with the two security companies in Mr. Berezovsky’s building, Erinys International and Titon International, and his involvement with Mr. Scaramella in an attempt to plant incriminating evidence on a suspected nuclear-component smuggler — a plot for which Mr. Scaramella was jailed after his phone conversations with Litvinenko were intercepted by the Italian national police.

The Russians had asked for more information about radiation traces at the offices of these companies, and Mr. Lugovoi had said that at one of these companies, Erinys, he had been offered large sums of money to provide compromising information about Russian officials. Mr. Kovtun, who also attended that meeting, backs up Mr. Lugovoi’s story. Such charges had the potential for embarrassing not only the security companies that had employed Litvinenko and employed former Scotland Yard and British intelligence officers, but the British government, since it had provided Litvinenko with a passport under the alias “Edwin Redwald Carter” to travel to parts of the former Soviet Union.

The British extradition gambit ended the Russian investigation in Londongrad. It also discredited Mr. Lugovoi’s account by naming him as a murder suspect. In terms of a public relations tactic, it resulted in a brilliant success by putting the blame on Russian stonewalling for the failure to solve the mystery. What it obscured is the elephant-in-the-room that haunts the case: the fact that a crucial component for building an early-stage nuke was smuggled into London in 2006. Was it brought in merely as a murder weapon or as part of a transaction on the international arms market?

There is little, if any, possibility, that this question will be answered in the present stalemate. The Russian prosecutor-general has declared that the British case is baseless; Mr. Lugovoi, elected to the Russian Parliament in December 2007, now has immunity from prosecution, and Mr. Scaramella, under house arrest in Naples, has been silenced. The press, for its part, remains largely fixated on a revenge murder theory that corresponds more closely to the SMERSH villain in James Bond movies than to the reality of the case of the smuggled Polonium-210.

After considering all the evidence, my hypothesis is that Litvinenko came in contact with a Polonium-210 smuggling operation and was, either wittingly or unwittingly, exposed to it. Litvinenko had been a person of interest to the intelligence services of many countries, including Britain’s MI-6, Russia’s FSB, America’s CIA (which rejected his offer to defect in 2000), and Italy’s SISMI, which was monitoring his phone conversations.

His murky operations, whatever their purpose, involved his seeking contacts in one of the most lawless areas in the former Soviet Union, the Pankisi Gorge, which had become a center for arms smuggling. He had also dealt with people accused of everything from money laundering to trafficking in nuclear components. These activities may have brought him, or his associates, in contact with a sample of Polonium-210, which then, either by accident or by design, contaminated and killed him.

To unlock the mystery, Britain must make available its secret evidence, including the autopsy report, the comprehensive list of places in which radiation was detected, and the surveillance reports of Litvinenko and his associates. If Britain considers it too sensitive for public release, it should be turned over to an international commission of inquiry. The stakes are too high here to leave unresolved the mystery of the smuggled Polonium-210.

43. Re-the first sentence. This is one rare thing on which Khodorkovsky and I are in perfect concord. See Putin’s political reforms need not be viewed as anti-democratic by Vlad Sobell and Nicolai Petro’s work on the subject for more.

44. This last myth is a bit tongue in cheek, although on the topic of Mordor I’ve actually managed to find a Russophobe who makes the comparison explicitly.

But as time since 1991 passed and the two countries drifted in their development further and further away from each other, the city was increasingly attached to Estonia because of the dark presence of its evil twin, Russian Ivangorod (right). …

Crossing the river bridge into Ivangorod makes those numbers quickly grow in flesh and obtain form in miriad of differences, which set Russia apart from Europe, starting with sickening public toilets and ending with the hopelessness in the people’s eyes.This is why looking again at the crude limestone fortress almost invisible at night with only the howling of wild beasts giving away the presence of life on the other side of the vast body of water I can’t help it but recollect the following verse:

…to bring them all and in darkness bind… in the land of Mordor, where the shadows lie.

I have a feeling that this attitude could be just one of several things uniting myself and many decent Narva inhabitants. And this feeling is good.

And then there’s this gem (or rather, a Ring) from dear old Ed Lucas, who explicitly compares Russia to Mordor, Putin to Sauron and the his silovik henchmen to the Orcs.

But as the skies darken once again over the European continent (or Middle Earth if you prefer) , the temptation to find analogies in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is overwhelming. Mordor is clearly the Russian Federation, ruled by the demonic overlord Sauron (Putin). His email address, to give a contemporary note, might be sauron@gov.morder.me (the suffix is for Middle Earth). The threat from Mordor—symbolised by the Ring—is the combination of dirty money and authoritarian political thinking.

And Sauron’s henchmen the Orcs are clearly the murderous goons of the old KGB. The new twist—the Uruk-Hai, is the mutation of the old Soviet intelligence service with organised crime and big business. Sauron’s allies—the Nazgul—are the Siloviki, the sinister chieftains of the Kremlin’s authoritarian capitalist system. Like the Nazgul, we seldom see their faces.

…Picking out the cast on the bad side runs the risk an encounter with England’s ferocious libel laws. It is not too hard, however, to see candidates to be Wormtongue, the slimy propagandist for Mordor who weakens the will of the King of Rohan, Theoden. His kingdom could be almost any country in Europe, but had better be Germany. And it is easy to think who might count as Germany’s foremost expert on Russia and a biographer of Sauron. Saruman is more difficult still—a hero of past wars who has switched sides to disastrous effect. He could be any one of the top West European leaders who have so disastrously forgotten the lessons of the Cold War and have been seduced by Mordor’s dirty money

45. Read my article Twitter Terror in Moldova for insight into just how convuluted, murky and “virtual” the events in Moldova really were.

46. Re-Hamas, see 10 Western Media Stereotypes About Russia: How Truthful Are They? from Russia Blog. Re-Iran, see The Medvedev Doctrine and American Strategy from Stratfor. The US potentially faces a trade-off between “a hegemonic threat from Eurasia and instability and a terror threat from the Islamic world”, and the keys to these threats are Russia and Iran, respectively. It is in Russia’s interests for the US to keep focused on the Middle East, so as to give itself a freer hand in Eurasia – and inflaming relations between Iran and the West is an excellent way to do it.

47. See the classic Foreign Affairs article The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy (Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press).

Re-Russian ICBMs would be launched over the North Pole, so central Europe wouldn’t play a role argument. Not really, because the US has radar installations at Thule, Greenland, and has substantial numbers of ground based interceptor missiles at Fort Greely, Alaska. It also has rapidly increasing sea-based ABM capabilities. This is not to say that the US has plans to launch a debilitating first strike on Russia or other strategic competitors, but ABM is certainly a destabilizing force in world security and risks unleashing an arms race in which countries like Russia are forced to upgrade the penetration capabilities of their nuclear delivery systems.

48.The nations of the former USSR are still very much economically integrated with Russia, meaning that they are subject to Russia’s cycles; furthermore, almost all of them are significantly poorer so they should grow faster because of their greater potential for economic convergence.

See the Georgian Economy under Saakashvili, which asserts that much of Georgia’s growth was one-off based on state asset sale and government lay-offs, which were accompanied by accelerating deindustrialization, continued emigration and poverty, the destruction of all remaining safety nets and the pressure put by the government on independent businesses to provide “voluntary contributions” in return for not bankrupting them under prosecutions for corruption.

Stats on growth rates taken from IMF.

49. Ushering in the new era of legality, markets and social activism is the so-called Putin generation, which has vastly differing values from those of older generations – initiative, boldness, hierarchy, individualism and Westernized patriotism (consult Economic Modernization and System of Values by Evgeny Yasin for an interesting study that shows that the values of the new Russia differ much more from traditionalist / Tsarist and Soviet values, which are surprisingly similar).

Also as I once pointed out, there are plenty of good sovok attributes…and even some of the bad ones aren’t actually all that bad upon closer examination.

50. I’ve aggregated Levada’s measures of Russia’s social mood since the late 1990′s here. My letter to the Moscow Times cites recent opinion polls, again from Levada, to disprove the contention that morale during this crisis has collapsed back to 1990′s / pre-”oil boom” levels.

The notion that Putin has strangled Russia’s nascent democracy is an exclusively Western one. 64% of Russians think Putin has had a positive influence on democracy and human rights, while only 3% think it was ‘very negative’ (see recent BBC World Service poll and fedia’s excellent commentary on it). For more information, please consult this blog’s stated position on HR in Russia and my appearance on Al-Jazeera. The data on journalists is taken from the Committee to Protect Journalists‘ database and fedia’s audit of it. Finally, on the topic of the election, no election watch-dog has been able to point out anything other than vacuous allegations that I’m aware of. For instance, on the topic of the 2008 Presidential elections, please consult my blog post on it (including the Western media’s shameless manipulation of the response to the Moscow protests) and the response of independent Russian election monitor GOLOS (here):

GOLOS Association observed that the Election Day was held in a relatively quiet atmosphere in contrast to the State Duma election day. Such large-scale violations observed then as campaigning next to polling stations, transporting of voters, intimidation of voters and others were practically non-existent. Polling stations were better prepared and the voting process was better organized. At the majority of polling stations voters’ lists were properly bound, there were fewer representatives of administration at inside polling stations. In general the process of opening of the polling stations went well without any major incidents.

PS. After publishing this, I noticed that rather appropriately this post is the 100th in the Da Russophile blog. So perhaps I should have done 100 myths, but I only have so much time and patience! ;)

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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This April, Michael Bohm, editor at the Moscow Times, published the article New Kremlin Dreamers, which questioned Russia’s stated intention of becoming an advanced industrial nation by 2020. I wasn’t much impressed by its pessimistic assertions – for instance, regarding Russia’s hopes of becoming the world’s fifth largest economy by 2020, he falls into the frequent Kremlinologist fallacy of applying standard GDP growth rates to nominal GDP (as opposed to purchasing-power parity GDP, which corrects for exchange rate fluctuations). He similarly passes over that countries in the process of economic catch-up typically grow much faster than the leader nations, because they have greater returns to investment. Soon after Yevgeny Kiselyov wrote Dreaming of Modernization and Innovation on a similar theme.

I disagree with them on two fundamental points. First, I don’t share in their pessimism and I believe that on purely objective factors, Russia – and much of the rest of East-Central Europe for that matter – is well set to converge to Western living standards by 2020 (which will by then probably be stagnating in light of peak oil and intensifying competition for energy resources from other emerging-markets). This is a point I made a long time back in Towards a New Russian Century? and Education as the Elixir of Growth. Second, even if that were not the case there is still a lot to be said of the power and utility of positive, optimistic thinking – ambition is no sin in my eyes, and in the case of government a moral duty to their citizens. Hence this rebuttal. ;)

Two recent articles in the Moscow Times took issue with the “Kremlin dreamers” for their rose-tinted views of Russia’s destiny, alleging that the main goals of “Strategy 2020”, like becoming the world’s fifth largest economy or doubling GDP per capita, are nothing more than utopian pipe-dreams. Yet an objective look at key current trends – in educational attainment, economic growth, resource depletion and climate change – suggests that these “fairy tales” have the potential to become reality.

First, Russia’s educational profile resembles that of a First World country, unlike most of its emerging-market competitors. Around 70% of Russians go into higher education, compared with just 20-25% of Brazilians or Chinese. The quality of its primary education is substantially higher than in developing nations, as attested to by the results of international student assessments like PISA or TIMSS. For instance, in the 2006 PISA science assessment, only 15.2% of Brazilians possessed skills beyond those needed for purely linear problem-solving, compared with 47.6% of Russian and 51.3% of American students. A country needs to have sizable cadres of skilled workers to move into added-value manufacturing or complex services. Brainier nations will also assimilate technology more easily and thus their economic “rate of convergence” to developed-world status will be that much faster. In this respect, Russia and east-central Europe are in a different league from East Asia, let alone Latin America or the Middle East.

Second, while there’s no denying Russia is plagued by corruption, to suggest it is endemic like in a failed state, as suggested by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, is ludicrous – and would frankly be obvious to anyone who has visited both Russia and some of its neighbors on the list. Its problem is that it’s a survey of outsider businesspeople and their subjective perception of the situation, which differs markedly from the experiences of ordinary people. When asked, only 17% of Russians admitted to paying a bribe to obtain a service in 2007, according to TI’s Global Corruption Barometer – putting them in the same quintile as Turkey or the Czech Republics, i.e. slap bang in the middle of world corruption, not the end. The effects of corruption must also be set in context against a panoply of other, equally important growth factors. Goldman Sachs compiled an index called the Growth Environment Score, which aggregates a wide range of stats on macroeconomic, institutional, educational and technological conditions to assess a nation’s potential for economic “catch-up”. In 2007, Russia came in at 66th out of 181 countries, tied with China and ahead of Brazil and India.

Third, to fulfill one of the main goals of “Strategy 2020” – to become the world’s fifth largest economy, all Russia has to do is surpass Germany in purchasing-power parity GDP. Since according to the IMF Russia’s GDP was 2.26bn $ and Germany’s was 2.91bn $ in 2008, this can be achieved merely by maintaining an average growth rate of 2% points higher than Germany to 2020 – which seems entirely feasible considering that from 1999-2008 this difference was more than 4%. Doubling the GDP per capita over the next 11 years is trickier and requires continuing the average 1999-2008 growth rate of 6%. Though complicated by the current economic crisis, coming close is still entirely possible.

Fourth, Russia’s economy is not overly dependent on natural resource exports – they have stagnated since 2003 and the bulk of growth came from retail, construction and manufacturing. They are however crucial to replenishing government coffers, allowing the Kremlin to spend lavishly on things like military modernization, infrastructure expansion and prospective sunrise industries like nanotechnology – thus turbo-charging its plans for an “innovation economy”. (Granted, some is wasted like the 1bn $ project on the bridge to Russki Island, i.e. to nowhere). Fortunately for Russia, there’s no reason to believe oil prices will remain low. Even now, in the depth of the biggest global economic crisis since the Great Depression, prices never fell below $40 a barrel and have now rebounded to over $60. With oil production close to or already past its peak and Chinese voraciousness unquenched, a second oil price spike is only a few years away.

Finally, according to researcher Trausti Valsson, further in the future global warming will unfreeze remote energy resources in the Far North to exploitation, open up the Arctic to shipping, bolster Russian crop yields and increase the carrying capacity of Siberia and the Far North. Russia could literally end up on top of the world.

Wells may have ridiculed Lenin as a “Kremlin dreamer” in 1920, yet precisely a decade or so later the Soviet Union began to produce aircraft, tanks, trucks, machine tools and chemicals, boasting growth rates far higher than that of any other industrial nation. And though the USSR did set over-ambitious goals for the Five Year Plans, the achievements were impressive nonetheless.

By 2020, Russia will experience increasing problems due to adverse demographic trends, slowing growth due to (paradoxically) successful “catch-up”, and perhaps waning European demand for its natural gas and dissatisfaction with an increasingly atrophied and unresponsive descendant of the “Putin system”. As such, far from being a fairy tale, the “Kremlin dream” is a strategy for maintaining Russia’s geopolitical relevance well into a troubled 21st century.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Ever since the publication of Filippov’s (in)famous textbook A History of Russia 1945-2006 in 2007, the state of Russian history teaching drew a fair degree of negative commentary in the West, some of it reasonably lucid, most of it superficial or hysterical. What the latter have in common is that they almost invariably haven’t read the actual, controversial chapter in question (Debates about Stalin’s Role in History), let alone the textbook itself, and as such can do little more than spout inane rhetoric about the imminent “rehabilitation” of Stalinism. As such I thought it fitting to do what the pundits should have done long ago, but couldn’t be bothered to – actually translate the chapter in question so that Anglophone readers could make up their own minds. Now that I’ve done so (scroll below), and bearing in mind the recent furor over Medvedev’s commission to battle the falsification of Russian history, I would like to make several comments of my own:

First, it is flat-out wrong to say that this textbook is the new standard of history teaching in Russia. It is just one of dozens of merely “approved” history textbooks (whereas the vast majority of Russian schools use a few “recommended” texts), has had only a very limited print run and was being trialled in only a few schools in four Russian regions as of the 2008-2009 academic year. Nor is it true that it received approval from the Presidential administration – in 2007 when it came out, Putin’s aide Dzhokhan Pollyeva criticized it for unprofessionalism (and I quite agree with her – the text is turgid and belabors its points using questionable examples). The most controversial authors, Filippov and Danilin (the latter of whom wrote the chapter on sovereign democracy), were not present at the meeting when Putin aired his views on how Russia was unfairly castigated for its history by professors and Westerners whose heads were filled with “porridge”.

Second, the book’s major sin is one of presentation – not omission. Dark chapters in Russia’s history like collectivization, the Gulag and political repressions are covered in both this chapter, and the preceding ones on Stalin’s postwar rule. As such, it is either dishonest or ignorant to focus on out-of-context sound bites like how Stalin was an “effective manager” or the “greatest Soviet leader”. The main issue the more serious critics have with it, is that instead of issuing blanket condemnations, it seeks to “rationalize” Stalin’s decisions within the as Filippov himself replies to this charge, “I was always annoyed by the belabored moralizing foisted on us in Soviet textbooks. I wanted to avoid this. And it seems I’ve over-succeeded in this, seeing as folks are now accusing me of amorality. I really wanted to avoid phrases like, “and this is the lesson we must take from this episode”, and it seems I may have tried too hard”. Though its inherent patriotic bias and you-can’t-be-neutral-on-a-moving-train-like approach is undeniable (in this respect, Filippov actually jumped Putin’s gun), it constantly urges its readers to make their own conclusions – an attitude far less Stalinist than that of some of his liberast and Western critics. Also, as Sean Guillory pointed out, many of its eyebrow-raising claims can act as good springboards for class discussion.

Third, contrary to Western claims, the fact of the matter is that history is politicized everywhere – and I’m not even talking of Japan’s reluctance to acknowledge its war crimes in the “East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere”, or Turkey’s de facto criminalization of Armenian genocide affirmation. Closer to home, as argued in Patrick Armstrong’s essay Airbrushing History, the Visegrad nations, Ukraine and the Baltics are busy rewriting their histories to create national victimization myths based on Russian occupation – while airbrushing prominent local Communist collaborators and anti-Semitism out of their rosy, kitschy paintings of the past. An example is Latvia calculating a bill of Soviet-incurred losses to present to Russia, while eliding over the contribution of the Latvian Rifles and non-Russian internationalists to the establishment of Communism in Russia; or Ukraine’s criminalization of denying the genocidal nature of the Holodomor, a risible view in light of the fact half its casualties were in non-Ukrainian black earth regions. Even in Western nations there is a strong prevailing belief in the absolute validity of their historical missions that frequently diminishes their less positive manifestations (though it is true that they are modulated by anti-colonialist, Marxist and postmodern views on the part of some of their intelligentsia, they do not present an existential spiritual threat as in Russia).

Since every country needs a national belief to flourish, this (limited) “patriotic reaction” in Russia to fifteen years of liberal indoctrination on the part of Western-funded ideologues, that seeks to deny it an honorable history, foist feelings of guilt on its people and invalidate its geopolitical interests, is completely understandable and to be expected. Despite being a murderous maniac, Stalin did industrialize the country and played an important role in securing Victory in the Great Patriotic War (and thereby saved Europe’s Slavs from extermination and slavery). Contrary to anti-Stalin ideologues, even on purely objective grounds choosing which of these to emphasize is an immensely difficult undertaking in moral terms. Yes, it would be nice if history were to be left to the historians everywhere, but it’s not. The Western-liberals have staked out their position – unambiguous condemnation of Stalinism, while relaying its achievements to the margins, and arrogantly insisting that Russians toe their line, while consigning to oblivion the (more positive) memories and attitudes of their grandparents to Soviet power. In a sense, Russia’s choice was thus forced – narrowed down to participation in the info-war, or spiritual suicide. For better or worse, it has embarked on the former with the mass support of its population.

TRANSLATION: Alexander Filippov on ‘Debates about Stalin’s Role’ in A New History of Russia 1945-2006

(http://www.prosv.ru/umk/istoriya/index.html; accessed May 25, 2009)

Information for reflection: Debates about Stalin’s Role in history

Iosif Vissarianovich Stalin (Jughashvili) remains one of the most polarizing figures in the politics and history of our country; it is difficult to find another personality in Russian history who is subjected to so many contradictory interpretations, both during his rule and after. For some, he is the hero and orchestrator of Victory in the Great Patriotic War; to others, he is the embodiment of evil itself.

One of the most famous views on the historical significance of Stalin was held by Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War Two, a man hardly known for his pro-Stalin sentiments: “Stalin came to Russia with a wooden plough and left in it possession of nuclear weapons”. The other point of view is represented by Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko, the son of a major participant in the 1917 Revolution and Civil War who was repressed under Stalin: “bloody tyrant”.

During Stalin’s life the first view predominated; after his death the second became conventional wisdom, primarily because of revelations about Stalin’s organizational role in the political repressions of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Evaluating Stalin’s historical significance requires looking at him in a wider historical context, beyond just the chronological framework of the Soviet period. This approach reveals many similarities between Stalin’s policies and those of preceding Russian sovereigns.

Analysis of the historical evolution of the Russian state over the past 500 years through three different forms of statehood – Muscovite Tsarism (15th-17th centuries), the Russian Empire (18th century to the start of the 20th century) and the Soviet Union – reveals a certain continuity in political characteristics, albeit with significant changes in external form. The similarities between these states could be explained by the historical constancy of the political-organizational principles on which they were built.

The guiding light of these principles was concentration of authority in one center and strict centralization of the administrative system. The power of Russia’s paramount leader was traditionally absolutist, drawing in all resources and subordinating all political forces to itself.

Adverse conditions for the development of the Russian state required the concentration of resources, including executive, in one center and their centralized distribution in key sectors. As such, people capable of forcing through such centralizations repeatedly came to power. However, it’s necessary to note that these centralizations were inevitably accompanied by distortions, the most important of which was the transformation of the real need for strong authority into a habit for its own sake, and to such an extent as to be beyond all necessity. This interpretation holds equally for the reigns of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great and Iosif Stalin. Even during the 19th century, the famous Russian thinker Konstantin Kavelin remarked, “Peter’s Tsarism was the continuation of Ivan’s Tsarism”. Stalin saw himself as the heir to his Tsarist forebears on the Russian throne; he knew Russian history well and respected the aforementioned men, regarding them as his teachers and consciously using their ‘historical recipes’.

It is thus erroneous to restrict our search for the causes of power centralization to the characters of Russia’s rulers (though this does not mean we should ignore the influence of their personalities on the formation and function of their states) and to explain the stability of Russian political traditions exclusively in terms of the personal and psychological idiosyncrasies of the Russian princes, Emperors and Secretary-Generals. Or as the famous philosopher Blaise Pascal put it, “Cleopatra’s nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed”.

One interesting perspective on Stalin’s policies comes from the famous Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin, a convinced opponent of the USSR’s historical continuity from imperial Russia: “The Soviet Union is not Russia…not one achievement of the Soviet state…qualifies as an achievement of the Russian people,” Ilyin wrote. A hard-line opponent of Communism, Ilyin supported the rebirth of the Russian Empire, which he believed possible on the fulfillment of three conditions: Orthodoxy, monarchy and a unitary state guaranteeing the unconditional equality of all peoples within the Empire. Paradoxically this is exactly what Stalin created. He resurrected the monarchy under the guise of his cult of personality. He strengthened belief – not in God, but in a new, red faith: Communism in the early Soviet period became a new religion with its own symbols and martyrs. And it was he, Stalin, who in opposition to the Leninist concept of the right of nations to self-determination instead created a state close to the unitary ideal.

A significant factor behind the strictly centralized nature of the econo-political administrative system during the Soviet period was the already obvious inevitability of a big war with Germany in the 1930’s, the war itself, and the accelerated pace of postwar reconstruction. It is this that defined the forced rates of antebellum industrialization and economic resurgence in the postwar period. No wonder foreign observers labeled the 1930’s as a ‘race against time’. The concept of accelerated modernization amidst a deficit of historical time was voiced by Stalin in February 1931: “We are 50 to 100 years behind the advanced countries. Either we make good the difference in ten years or they crush us”. Events in summer 1941 would confirm his prescience.

The ‘race against time’ in connection with the threat of war not only meant a time deficit as regards carrying through industrialization, but also exacerbated the problem of inadequate existing means of modernization – for that required an exceptionally high share of the national economy be devoted to both capital investment and military spending. Regardless, according to the then People’s Commissar of Finance, Arseny Zverev, even during the Great Patriotic War the USSR continued accumulating gold reserves, refusing to sell a single gram. All this implies that just as with Peter the Great at the beginning of the 18th century, the state forced development, through the total mobilization of everything at its disposal, while simultaneously shouldering huge military expenditures and refraining from foreign loans.

Not only was the savings rate extremely high, but so was the pressure on labor and the exploitation of human resources, which were impelled to remain in a state of permanent mobilization.

How things were…

Every director of an enterprise had a package with five wax seals. That in turn was enclosed in another sealed package. This was the so-called ‘mobilization package’. The director was only allowed to open it up during a state of emergency. And inside, there were instructions for what to do in the case of war… These packages detailed where to make your new base: some were to be sent off to the Volga, some to the Urals, some beyond the Urals, as well as who would be producing what during the war,” – remembers A.F. Sergeev, the son of the famous Bolshevik, F. A. Sergeev (Artem). His mother, E. L. Seergeva, a director of a textile factory, had such a packet from as early as 1937.

There is political and historical evidence that when faced with serious threats even ‘soft’ and ‘flexible’ political systems will, as a rule, evolve towards a harsher form of political organization, including towards the restriction of the rights of citizens vis-à-vis the state, just as happened, for instance, in the US after the events of September 11th, 2001.

Therefore, this analysis of external and internal factors allows us to ascertain that the Soviet period saw a recurrence of an older state of affairs that cropped up frequently in Russian history – the necessity of survival and development while in the situation of a ‘besieged fortress’ (threat of foreign invasion coupled with temporal and means-of-development deficits). In these conditions the formation of a harsh, militarized political system emerged as a solution to extreme problems and extreme circumstances, and this system itself was but a modification of those which existed under Muscovite Tsarism and the Russian Empire.

This allowed the renowned Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev to tie up the sources and spirit of Russian Communism with the Russian national idea. In his 1937 book The Origin of Russian Communism, Berdyaev wrote that instead of “the Third Rome, Russia managed to bring about the Third International, on which were imprinted many of the features of the Third Rome… The Third International is not an International, but the Russian national idea”. Therefore the Soviet state represents a transformation of the “ideas of Ivan the Terrible, a new form of the old hypertrophied state of Russian history…Russian Communism is more traditional than people usually think, and is nothing more than a transformation and distortion of the old Russian messianic idea”.

This view was shared by many thinkers in the Russian diaspora. The philosopher Georgy Fedotov, characterizing the rise of the Soviet system, wrote about the similarity of the Soviet and Petrine states, “…the new Russian regime in many ways takes us back” to the 18th century, and viewed the transfer of the capital from Petrograd to Moscow and the government’s relocation to Moscow as a “symbolic act”.

At this point it would be fitting to quote the poets:

What really changed? Just signs and symbols,

Same storms sweep all our myriad paths:

The commissars succumb to fell autocracy,

And fires of revolution consume the Tsarist heart.

– Maximilian Voloshin

Lenin has the spirit of an Old Believer,

Proclaims decrees with abbatial gravitas,

As if the causes of our ruin and collapse

He seeks within the “Pomorian Answers”.

- Nikolai Kluyev

Of course Stalin’s personal qualities informed the intense drama and stresses of the Soviet period. Contemporary accounts and later psychological investigations show that the defining feature of Stalin’s personality was his black and white worldview (which explains his perception of the people around him as either friends and enemies), a perception that he was in a permanently hostile environment, cruelty, and a drive to dominate.

However, the influence of Stalin’s psychological idiosyncrasies was most likely of secondary importance relative to the role of objective factors. Carrying through a program of accelerated modernization required a certain system of power and the creation of an administrative apparatus up to the task. In many ways these reasons explain the scale and spirit of Stalin’s ‘revolution from above’. In their recognition of the Stalinist revolution, authors as different as Leon Trotsky and Georgy Fedotov, or the American political scientists Stephen Cohen and Robert Tucker, were at one despite approaching this subject from highly divergent positions. They noted that though the first decade of Stalinist transformations had historical precedents and roots in Leninist Bolshevism, it was “not its continuation to a predetermined outcome, but a revolution with its own specific features and dynamic”.

In many ways this revolution substantially repeated the political experience of the Petrine reforms. One of the main goals of Peter the Great, together with the development of domestic industry, the Army and Navy, and the attainment of recognized imperial status, was to draw members from all social groups into state service, including the hereditary nobility (i.e. securing ouniversal social obligations before the state), and the maintenance of meritocratic criteria in the formation of the new administrative system.

The realization of universal social obligations before the state in the Soviet period is evidenced, for example, by the fact that not only the offspring of simple families directly participated in military operations during the Great Patriotic War, but also those whom we today would call the ‘golden youth’. Many of them who went off to the front never came back. Stalin’s eldest son Jacob Jughashvili, Mikhail Frunze’s son Timur, one of Anastas Mikoyan’s sons Vladimir, Kliment Voroshilov’s nephew Nikolai Scherbakov died on the battlefields of the Great Patriotic War, just like many other sons of high-placed functionaries. “Many families then living on Rublyovka had funerals,” A. F. Sergeev writes.

As for the measures of control undertaken in relation to the ruling nomenclature, their aim was to mobilize the administrative apparatus so as to guarantee its effectiveness both during the industrialization process and during postwar economic reconstruction. This problem was partially resolved through political repressions, which not only used normal citizens for mobilization, but also the bureaucratic elites.

A good example of elite mobilization can be found in the memoirs of Nikolai Baibakov, Forty Years in Government. In 1942, during his spell as Deputy People’s Commissar of the Oil Industry, he received orders from Stalin instructing him to leave for the North Caucasus, to be ready to blow up Soviet oil installations if the Soviet armies failed to stand fast. Stalin’s framing of the problem is remarkable – he said, “We have to do everything to make sure Germans don’t get a drop of our oil…So I warn you, if you leave the Germans even a single ton of oil, we will shoot you. But if you destroy the oil installations, but the Germans don’t come and we end up without fuel, we will also shoot you…”

The drive to squeeze out maximum effectiveness from the administrative apparatus is further evidenced by the fact that the upper and middle levels of the bureaucracy were one of the groups subjected to repressions.

Practically all members and candidates for membership of the Politburo, selected after the XVII Party Congress, suffered to some extent in the ‘Great Purge’ of the late 1930’s. That the strike was carried out against the nucleus of the Bolshevik Party – the old Leninist vanguard, is confirmed by a multitude of historical sources: “The first to be destroyed were the old Bolsheviks of Lenin’s generation,” Khrushchev recalled. According to the writer Yevgenia Ginzburg, who spent many years in prison, membership of the Communist Party was a “burdening condition”, a point of view that by 1937 had “already firmly seeped into everyone’s consciousness”. Ginzburg’s prison neighbor, the young post-graduate student Ira, firmly insisted on her lack of affiliations, which she thought gave her a colossal advantage relative to Party members.

The political repressions of the postwar era had a similar character. Those swept up in the ‘Leningrad Affair’ at the end of the 1940’s included Second Secretary of the All-Union Communist (Bolshevik) Party and Chairman of Gosplan Aleksei Kuznetsov, Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR Nikolai Voznesensky, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the RSFSR Mikhail Rodionov; ministers, secretaries of big Party organizations, other influential managers. There were almost 2,000 victims of the ‘Leningrad Affair’, many of whom were shot. Domestic and international research confirms that the foremost victim of the 1930-1950’s repressions was indeed the ruling class.

How things were…

The historian Roy Medvedev wrote on the following point: “It’s no secret that in the 1940’s many feared promotion to high government posts. Itjustseemeddangerous. Of course…nobody was safe from the Terror during the Stalin years, and it was particularly the upper echelons of the Party apparatus who were subjected to the harshest purges…It was obvious even to the majority of non-Party folks, who in those years slept much better at night than the Communists, that the ‘Great Terror’ was for the most part directed against the Party itself”.

We should also note it was Khruschev’s report to the XX Party Congress which laid the foundations for the interpretation of the Great Terror as an exclusively Stalin-inspired phenomenon, due to his cruelty, arbitrariness, intolerance of other opinions, and so on. Meanwhile, the famous poet David Samoylov wrote: “One would have to be a complete indeterminist to believe that the strengthening of Stalin’s power was the sole historical purpose of 1937, that with the sole force of his ambition, vanity, harshness, he could turn history where he wanted, to individually will through the monstrous happenings of that year”.

Contemporary researchers tend to see rational causes behind the use of violence to ensure the effectiveness of the ruling class, as a means of social mobilization for the fulfillment of impossible tasks. Stalin followed the logic of Peter I: demand the impossible from your subordinates, to get the maximum possible. It was no accident that physical health and the ability to handle high workloads was one of the key things required of People’s Commissars. According to Nikolai Baibakov, prior to his appointment as head of the oil industry, Stalin told him of his requirements of People’s Commissars, the most important of which were – a “bull’s nerves”, optimism and physical health.

The result of Stalin’s purges was the formation of a new administrative class, adequate to the tasks of modernization in conditions of resource deficits – unconditionally loyal to Soviet power and irreproachable in their executive discipline. This was achieved through a tariff-qualification system (a descendant of the Petrine Table of Ranks), which offered significantly differentiated labor compensation levels corresponding to differences in qualifications.

Georgy Fedotov wrote about the importance Stalin staked on quality: “Stalin’s real support came from that class, which calls itself ‘distinguished persons’. They are those who made their careers by their own talent, energy or lack of scruples, rising to the crest of the revolutionary wave. Party membership and past achievements now mean little; personal usefulness coupled with political reliability is all important. This new ruling class is populated with the crème de la crème of the Party, weeded out for their unscrupulousness, commanders of the Red Army, the best engineers, scientists and artists of the country. The Stakhanovite movement aims to draw into this new aristocracy the upper layers of the worker and peasant masses, to declass them, to seduce their most energetic and vigorous with high salaries and place them on a pedestal inaccessible to their former comrades. Stalin tentatively, instinctively repeats Stolypin’s bet on the strong. But since it is no longer private, but state business that is the new arena of competition, Stalin creates a new service class, a class subsumed to the people, thus reliving even the more remote experience of the Muscovite state. Life experience showed him the weak side of serf socialism – the lack of personal, egoistic incentives to work. Stalin searches for socialist stimuli for competition, corresponding to bourgeois profits. He finds them in a monstrously differentiated compensation scale, in material inequality, in personal ambition, in orders and distinctions of merit – ultimately, in the elements of a new class system. The word ‘distinguished persons’ is already a whole class program by itself”.

We can find an example of this set-up for support of the ‘strong’ in the memoirs of Andrei Gromyko, who managed Soviet foreign policy over the course of several postwar decades. Gromyko remembered how he, a commoner from a Gomel village and a graduate of a Minsk agricultural institute and post-graduate study in Moscow, came to work in the USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

How things were…

I never got an ‘understanding’ hand from anyone in the capital; I achieved everything on my own. They harp on about how I was Molotov’s protégé. Sure, I was, since he nominated me for diplomatic work. Itwouldbestupidtodenythat. But it’s important to understand why it was me, along with a few other people, whom the commission picked. Remembering that interview, I am of the firm opinion that it was not my social origin that played the decisive role, but my answer to the question: “What were the last books you read in the English language?” After I casually replied, “Rich Man, Poor Man”, I felt, that they would take me in.

Thus in this fashion, similar to how Chancellor Bismarck through ‘blood and iron’ consolidated the German lands into a united state in the 19th century, Stalin harshly and mercilessly reinforced the Soviet state. He viewed the strengthening of the state, which encompassed the strengthening of its military-industrial potential, as one of the principles of his politics. This attitude is indirectly evidenced in the memoirs of his daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, who wrote about how her father, looking over her dress and frowning, always asked her the question: “Is it foreign what you have on?” – and lightened up, when she answered, “No, it’s ours, domestic make”.

One of the most prominent manifestations of the highly-centralized nature of Stalin’s power became his cult of personality. The German writer Lion Feuchtwanger, visiting Moscow in 1937, was struck by the ubiquity of Stalin’s portraits. That said, according to both L. Feuchtwanger, and S. Alliluyeva, these displays of reverence irritated Stalin.

How things were…

Father couldn’t bear the view of the crowds, applauding him and shouting, Urrah!” – his face warped from annoyance… “They just open their traps and holler, like idiots!” he said angrily… When I have to…read and hear, that during his life my father considered himself as something like God, – I find it weird, that people who knew him well could insist on this,” wrote Svetlana Alliluyeva.

And indeed, at the start it is likely Stalin’s relation to his cult was shaped by utilitarian concerns, in that he viewed this mass support as a useful asset in the political struggle. “Bear in mind…that the Russian people spent centuries under a Tsar. The Russian people – they’re Tsarist. The Russians, Russian folks, they’ve gotten used to there being one person in charge,” he said. However, as is well known, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There are many examples in Russian history of how degraded a personality could become given a long enough spell at the reins of power. This is partially evidenced by the biographies of rulers even as distinguished as Peter I or Catherine II. Though initially irritated by his cult, in time Stalin became accustomed to it. The Leader’s closest comrade-in-arms, Vyacheslav Molotov, admitted that although at first Stalin battled his own cult, he eventually came to like it: “He was very reserved in the first years, and then…it all got to him”.

We can judge how Stalin remained in people’s memories by consulting a Public Opinion Foundation poll from February 2006: Everything considered, do you think Stalin played a positive or negative role in Russia’s history?

In conclusion, it’s obvious why views on Stalin’s historical role are so contradictory. On the one side, he is regarded as the most successful Soviet leader. It was during his rule that the country expanded its territory, reaching the borders of the former Russian Empire (and sometimes exceeding them), achieved Victory in the greatest of wars – the Great Patriotic War, accomplished industrialization of the economy and brought forth a cultural revolution, as a result of which the percentage of people with higher education soared and the country acquired the world’s best education system. The USSR entered the league of advanced states in the sphere of scientific progress and eliminated almost all unemployment.

But Stalin’s rule had another side. His successes – and they are acknowledged by many of the Leader’s opponents – were achieved through the ruthless exploitation of the population. During Stalin’s rule the country went through several waves of large-scale repressions. The initiator and theorist behind this ‘heightened class struggle’ was Stalin himself. Entire social classes like the landed peasantry, the urban petit-bourgeoisie, the priesthood and the old intelligentsia were liquidated. Furthermore, on occasion many people completely loyal to power suffered from the harsh laws. It is not even worth going into the safety of life during the Stalin years. Quality of life remained low, especially in the villages. All this did not promote the strengthening of the country’s moral climate.

This is the most controversial chapter of the most controversial history textbook in Russia, which critics have accused of trying to rehabilitate Stalinism and justify Russia’s (alleged) drift into authoritarianism. Read and decide for yourself. It should be noted that, to date, it is just one of dozens of “approved” history textbooks (whereas the vast majority of Russian schools use a few “recommended” texts) and has had only a very limited print run.

His other big idea is the concept of “conscience of law” (правосознание), which is a key theme of Medvedev’s thinking.

“новую, красную веру” – lit, “new, red faith”. In Russia, “red” also has connotations of beauty (красота)

керженский дух” – lit, “spirit of a Kerzhak”; refers to a tributory of the Volga traditionally settled by Old Believers, dissenters from mainstream Orthodoxy.

Поморские ответы” – lit., “Pomorian Answers”, a key Old Believer religious text from 1723.

“золотой молодежью” – lit., “golden youth”, referring to the gilded youth / frequently pampered children of the elite.

“знатными людьми”

“мохнатой руки” – lit., “furry arm”, signifying a friendly, helping hand offering to pull you up to higher places.

An oft-quoted phrase typically taken out of context to condemn this textbook.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Since the last time I covered Levada‘s opinion polls was a whopping half a year back, I reckon its time to make an update on what Russians are thinking since then. A comprehensive kind of post, like what I did in Lovely Levada (check it out, if you haven’t already!) and hopefully a good resource for Russia-watchers of all stripes. Russophobes will find some good material here too :). I’ll start from the most recent and presumably relevant ones, and work my way down to where we left off last July, trying to select polls that are non-repetitive and interesting. Please note that there is a Part II since the original post was too long to post.

2009, Feb 13: Two opinion polls on wellbeing and consumer expectations. The Crisis and Social Feelings has lots of different graphs of consumer confidence plummeting down towards the end of 2008, as everywhere else in the world. People are postponing consumption; preferences are shifting from the Euro to the $, but the ruble remains surprisingly strong; and worryingly, 41% think the economy will not start recovering for more than a year compared to 27% who think otherwise (my own bet is half a year to a year, as I wrote in previous posts).

The second poll is the Crisis and problems in consumer credit. It has an interesting chart of how people’s feelings about buying expensive things on loans changed from 2001 to 2009. Not surprisingly they collapsed recently, which is one of the main reasons that car sales, of instance, have fallen off a cliff. What I find more interesting is that the height of debt mania was during the mid-2000′s. Meanwhile, attitudes worsened during the past two years, when the worst excesses of Russian corporate binging on cheap foreign credit took place.

Dynamics of positive and negative feelings towards buying expensive stuff on debt. Debt-averse | Debt junkies.

Dynamics of positive and negative feelings towards buying expensive stuff on debt. Debt-averse | Debt junkies.

The number of Russians buying electronics, furniture, cars and real estate on credit grew rapidly in recent years, from 26% in 2003 to 38% in 2008 and was more prevalent amongst younger generations (unsurprisingly). There is confirmation that the consumer wellbeing of Russians definitely improved. From 2001 to 2008 the percentage of the population having difficulties buying enough food more than halved from 21% to 9%, while those that could be classed genuinely middle-class by Western standards (those who have enough money for necessities and reasonably priced consumer durables) increased from 7% to 18%, stats on ownership of consumer durables by household wealth and lots of data on the opinions of who with unpaid debts.

Feb 11: I came across a recent British poll on the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, which indicated a whopping 51% of Britons believed in “intelligent design”. With the exception of old people (> 55 years), the younger people were the stronger was their rejection of evolution. (Although a caveat is that the evolution denialists were more concentrated around London and the West Midlands, so I suspect concentrations of Muslims would have played a role too). No wonder the Flynn effect of increasing IQ over time is stagnating since the last few decades in advanced countries.

Results from Russia were no better, sadly. Only 20% subscribe to the Darwinian theory of evolution; 13% believe that God created man, and 43% believe it was both (i.e. presumably intelligent design). 49% believe humanity was created by God and 26% consider it descended from the apes.

Feb 9: Things worsening on the labor front. From October to December the number of people or their family members being withheld salaries rose from 10% to 30% of respondents, those having salaries cut rose from 6% to 29% and experiencing layoffs rising from 7% to 30%.

Surveys from 2001 to 2009 of how many people have cell phones…

янв.01

янв.02

янв.03

янв.04

янв.05

янв.06

янв.07

янв.08

янв.09

Yes

2

5

9

19

32

45

58

71

78

No

98

95

91

81

68

55

42

29

22

…and access to a computer.

янв.01

янв.02

янв.03

янв.04

янв.05

янв.06

янв.07

янв.08

янв.09

Yes

4

6

9

10

14

17

20

28

33

No

96

94

91

90

86

83

80

72

67

About 35% of Russians now use a computer at least once a week, up from 12% in 2001. Internet penetration in January 2009 was at 24% if users are defined as those who use it at least once per week, up from just 3% in 2001.

Finally, a poll on human rights. Russians tend to value social rights like access to free education, medical pensions and old age social security (68%); right to life (58%); and right to a well-paid job for one’s specialization (51%). More traditional Western rights like property (33%), freedom of speech (28%), freedom of religion (15%) and electing representatives to the government (13%) aren’t as relatively popular. Contrary to popular belief, this is not unique to Russia and a similar pattern is prevalent throughout Eastern Europe, including the likes of Poland or Ukraine. This is because they went through times of social hardship and realize that abstract Western notions of freedom mean little when there’s no bread.

Jan 30:Graphs on historic relations towards the US, the EU, Ukraine and Georgia.

Russian approval towards the US dips sharply whenever they have an acute foreign policy conflict, as in 1999 (bombing of Serbia), 2003 (Iraq invasion) and 2008 (Georgia intervention). There is also a secular stagnation that saw the US going from being regarded in a very positive light in Putin’s early days to neutral-negative territory. The dynamics in US views of Russia have been very similar. Let’s hope that the 34% of Russians who think relations will improve under Obama are correct.

The EU has had historically higher approval ratings than the US and has always remained in net positive territory. It has declined in the past eight years, but at a slower pace than the US until it dipped very sharply during the Ossetian War.

Initially good views of Ukraine started declining after the Orange Revolution, dipping sharply in the wake of hostile rhetoric during the Ossetian War and going into negative territory for the first time in history. Relations continue deteriorating due to the gas crisis.

Georgia was never viewed positively and net approval turned negative in 2005. Not surprisingly it plummeted to -58% during the war and stayed low since.

Jan 29: mention an international survey of the morality of national foreign policies from World Public Opinion. Interesting, almost as many Ukrainians believe in the morality of Russian foreign policy as Russians themselves; Western nations give it uniformly very low marks.

Jan 27: 27% support tariffs on foreign cars and 46% oppose them. On the topic of the Gaza War, the Americans/US/Bush/NATO/The West were blamed by 31%, Islamists/Arabs by 15%, Israel/Jews by 12%, oil companies by 2% and Iran by 1%. Some 12% support the Palestinians, 10% support the Israelis and the rest are neutral or don’t care. 56% believe terrorists should be killed, while 24% support negotiations. 17% support the Israeli operation against Hamas and 47% are opposed. The vast majority think Russia should either try to foster peace between the warring parties or stay out altogether.

Jan 22: Leader approval ratings and state of the nation. More people are starting to think the country is on the wrong track, but not at a fast rate (morale is still much higher than it was for almost the entire period 1996-2006). As of January 2009, Medvedev’s approval was at 75% and Putin’s at 83%, virtually unchanged from the last nine years. Therefore talk of popular uprisings is clearly premature.

Net approval ratings of Putin and Medvedev.

Net approval ratings of Putin and Medvedev.

Jan 12: The most significant events of 2008 were the death of Patriarch Alexei II (41%), the South Ossetian War (39%), election of Medvedev (39%), the financial/economic crisis (38%), the Beijing Games (21%), reduction of conscription to twelve months (20%), Russian recognition of Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence (18%) and Russian footballing successes (15%). (I skipped a few). I think the most significant events were the economic crisis and the Ossetian War from the list, in that order.

 

2008, Dec 24: More evidence that talk of popular uprising is premature. As of December, 66% of Russians believed the likelihood of mass protests against falling living standards or for defense of rights was unlikely in their town or region; only 20% said they were ready to man the barricades. These figures are totally unchanged from previous years. Russians on the fall of the USSR and the future of the CIS. As of 2008, 60% regret the fall of the Soviet Union; 55% think it could have been avoided. These figures have remained remarkedly steady since 1992. The future of the CIS is viewed in a negative light, with only 19% expecting further integration and 25% awaiting intensifying conflict or dissolution. On the topic of what they want to develop on the post-Soviet space…

Варианты ответа

2001

2002

2003

2006

2007

2008

Greater union based on mutually voluntary decisions

32

27

24

23

23

28

Restoration of the USSR in its old form

23

21

25

18

16

13

Greater union on the EU model

15

19

17

19

23

22

Keeping the CIS in its current form

13

12

13

17

12

14

Independence of all republics

12

12

11

12

17

14

No comment

5

9

10

11

9

9

Dec 11: On unemployment, 47% think its unacceptable. Dec 8: On industrial action / strikes,

Варианты ответа

1989

2001

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

Striking is the only way to get one’s demands fulfilled

17

13

14

15

14

15

12

Strikes are a normal way of resolving new problems

12

13

19

20

20

21

16

Strikes are an extreme measure, but sometimes necessary

44

30

29

34

30

33

29

Strikes don’t accomplish anything

5

33

29

23

23

17

30

Strikes must not be allowed in our country

14

5

4

3

3

6

5

No comment

8

6

5

5

10

8

8

Dec 5: Reading in Russia: Trends and Problems, a Levada report for the government that you can download.

Nov 27: Reacting to the election of an African-American, Russians expressed amazement (16%), satisfaction (15%), delight (15%), annoyance (2%), indignation (1%) and envy (<1%). 58% weren’t emotionally affected.

Nov 20: According to World Public Opinion on attitudes towards government responsibilities, 77% of Russians think the government should guarantee food for all which is somewhat lower than international norms (the vast majority says this in all countries). 68% of Russians believe the government is doing an inadequate job in providing food, compared with 80% in Ukraine and Argentina, 47% in the US, 56% in France and 12% in Germany. Interestingly the figure is only 37% in India, which still suffers from widespread malnutrition.

Nov 18: Interethnic tensions. Some 11% of Russians regularly sense hostility from other ethnicities, while 58% never do – this figure has remained roughly unchanged since 2002, despite the big inflows of immigrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia and the very well publicized rise in racist murders. However, 39% believe that large-scale, violent conflicts are possible in Russia, and 20% think it possible in their own region. However, these are down from 49% and 24%, respectively, in 2002.

Nov 11: Russian views of US leaders. Of the last four Presidents, 28% thought relations were best with Bill Clinton (28%), Reagan, Bush I and Bush II got around 10% each. 39% thought the Democrats were better for Russia-US relations, 11% preferred Republicans. Obama (27%) was much more popular than McCain (15%).

Oct 31: Russians are by and large indifferent to the YUKOS case.

Oct 23: Attitudes towards the financial crisis. As of October, 72% of people had no savings and 21% did, little changed from 2002. Some 35% thought that housing was the best asset class, compared with 8% for gold, 12% for cash, 25% for Sberbank and 4% for commercial banks / stocks. These figures also remained static over history. Below are detailed stats on historical currency preferences…

июл.02

июл.03

дек.03

июл.04

дек.04

июл.05

фев.06

июл.06

фев.07

июл.07

мар.08

17-20 окт.08

Ruble

29

29

46

38

39

35

40

50

50

49

41

52

$

33

27

13

17

11

23

15

8

7

5

4

4

Euro

18

25

25

28

29

25

21

24

23

30

32

25

No comment

21

19

16

17

21

18

24

18

21

16

24

19

and on social wellbeing (PS: “enough money for basics, not consumer goods” is short-hand for “enough money for food / clothes, buying stuff like TV’s, fridges is a difficulty for us”, same with other categories).

окт.98

окт.99

окт.00

окт.01

окт.02

окт.03

окт.04

окт.05

окт.06

окт.07

17-20 окт.08

Can hardly make ends meet

36

36

23

21

17

17

15

14

12

10

9

Enough for food, not clothes

46

40

46

42

42

39

36

37

28

29

27

Enough for basics not goods

15

20

26

28

35

35

40

38

47

45

49

Enough for basics, goods

3

3

4

9

6

9

9

11

13

17

15

Can afford expensive things

<1

<1

<1

<1

<1

1

<1

<1

<1

<1

1

Since Russians are pessimistic – throughout this period the number of people claiming their financial position will get worse in the coming months was consistently higher than those seeing an improvements, in contrast to reality – it is more the trend that matters above. So quote that whenever a Russophobe claims that it is only the oligarchs living in Rublevka who’ve improved their lot in Russia under Putin.

Oct 14: As if well known, the police do not have a good reputation in Russia. According to a recent poll, only 21% of respondents believe they deserve trust, while 43% think they don’t fully deserve it and 28% believe they completely don’t deserve it. Geographically, by far the most negative responses are in cities of <500,000 people exception Moscow, where 14% of people think they deserve trust and 37% think that they wholly don’t deserve trust. In Moscow, the figures are 22% and 16%, respectively; 26% and 25% in smaller towns; and 18% and 28% in rural areas. The poorest have the least amount of respect for the police; apart from them, attitudes are similar across social classes. Interestingly, people with a higher education have much higher respect for the police (37% for and 20% against) than less educated Russians.

Above is a historical graph of a police approval index. If A = people who say the police deserve trust, B = not wholly deserving, and C = totally undeserving of trust, then the index is calculated by Index = A – 0.5B – C. As with many other indexes of social trust and confidence covered in Lovely Levada, it seems a strong trend to improvement began around about mid-2007.

 

Oct 7: 46% Russians have a close friend or relative living abroad, mostly in the post-Soviet space.

Sept 24: 67% of Russians believe Russia will qualify for the football World Cup in 2010, while a 13% league of fifth-columnists believes otherwise.

Sept 22: Attitudes on South Ossetia and Abkhazia. 56% support stationing troops in South Ossetia while 27% support withdrawal. 40% believe recognizing their independence will benefit Russia, 15% think it will harm Russia and 28% believe it won’t make a difference one way or the other. 46% support their immediate or eventual inclusion into the Russian Federation, while 25% counsel caution and 12% are against.

Sept 16: 15% of Russians believe they can speak another language fluently, including 26% of 18-24 year olds, 30% of people with higher educations and 35% of Muscovites. Older, less educated and more rural people have generally lower stats. The most cosmopolitan professions are the Armed Forced / Ministry of Internal Affairs / public prosecution service (46%), admin / management (33%), indepedent entrepreneur (33%) and students (30%); the most insular are ordinary workers (8%) and pensioners (7%). According to older polls, the most popular languages are English (44%), other Slavic (19%) and German (15%). Amongst young people who know one or more foreign languages, the most popular are English (80%), German (16%) and French (4%).

9/11: Attitudes towards the Beslan terrorist acts. 33% believe there authorities are covering up the truth and 50% think they’re only communicating part of the truth. 12% considered the operation to rescue the hostages successful, 51% satisfactory and 25% unsatisfactory. Majorities believe that in hostage situations the priority should be to save the hostages rather than destroy the terrorists and 55% believe the authorities did all they could to save the Beslan hostages.

They cite a report from World Public Opinion on international opinions about who masterminded 9/11. 57% of Russians think it was Islamic terrorists, 15% the American government, 2% Israel and 4% other Arab governments. These numbers are very similar to other European countries. Large numbers of Arab respondents attributed it to Israel.

Sept 9: There was overwhelming support for Russia’s recognition of South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence, with 80% being for and 10% against. However, 64% would support allowing the return of Georgian refugees to those regions and protecting them from pressure on the part of Ossetins and Abkhazins. 34% support leaving regular Russian soldiers in South Ossetia while 43% favor a peace-keeping contingent, while 11% urge for withdrawal and substitution for UN and EU peacekeepers. 66% support using budgetary funds to reconstruct destroyed Ossetian infrastructure and 27% are against. Only 1% expressed agreement and 4% understanding with the negative positions of Western powers on Russia’s intervention, while 20% experienced bewilderment, 22% anxiety and 39% indignation. A big majority think that current tensions with the West will subside soon enough (correctly, as it turned out).

This is a good one – do Russians want freedom? Since Russophobes love to carp on about this, I’ll reproduce the results in detail. The first table deals with the question of whether Russians think they have enough freedom. As you can see, 56% believe they have enough freedom; more people actually believe they have too much freedom than too little.

1990 Май

1997 Май

2007 Июль

2008 Июль

Too little freedom

38

20

12

18

Enough freedom

30

32

57

56

Too much freedom

16

34

24

20

No comment

16

14

7

6

Russophobes like to paint Russian men in particular as drunken beasts who enslave women and are particularly authoritarian, when in fact it is women who are (very slightly) more “authoritarian”. Nor are there great differences by age, education, wealth or place of residence. (Note: those that are poorly educated, poor and live in rural places and lost most from the end of the Soviet system tend to vote more on “too much freedom”, i.e. the freedom to steal national wealth, etc, as they perceive the situation).

Total

Sex

Age

Education

M

F

18-24

25-39

40-54

55+

Higher

Middle Specialist

Middle

Lower Middle

Too little freedom

18

20

16

20

18

18

16

18

22

17

14

Enough freedom

56

56

55

59

62

56

47

59

52

62

53

Too much freedom

20

19

21

15

12

20

30

15

21

18

23

No comment

7

5

8

5

7

7

7

8

6

3

10

Anyway, whenever you hear or read a Russian categorically stating that freedoms are dissipating or that poverty is soaring (well, admittedly the latter might be true for the last two or three months), note that she speaks only for herself and the c.10% of the population that are fifth-columnists, not the silent majority of Russians.

Social attitudes based on place of residence is a multi-issue poll organized according to where the respondents live. In September when this poll was held the ruble-$ exchange rate was 25:1, so 8k rubles was 320$, 16k rubles was 640$ and 22k rubles was 880$. (Note that to get a realistic comparison with the US you should double these figures to take relative puchasing power issues into account).

Family Monthly Income

Russia

Moscow

Cities >500k

Cities 100-500k

Small Towns

Villages

Low (< 8k rubles)

26

5

16

24

28

39

Lower-middle (8k-16k r)

29

7

27

29

38

29

Higher-middle (16k-22k r)

14

12

22

19

11

9

High (22k+ r)

18

59

24

17

11

9

No comment

13

18

12

12

12

15

Lots of other interesting results there too.

Sept 3: A poll on access to education. 36% of Russians would like to complete one university degree and 24% prefer a specialized school or college. Others would opt for just the elementary or basic school (5%), completed high school (10%), technical school (9%), two universities (7%) and graduate studies (2%). Younger people, men and Muscovites report having affordable access to more educational opportunities; overall accessibility slightly increased from 2003. Interestingly, the number of people who wanted themselves or their children or grandchildren to get educated in a foreign university dropped to 39%, from 52% in 1999; those who do not want this increased from 24% to 36%. Younger people, men and those living in bigger cities are more favorable to the idea of getting a foreign education.

Sept 1: One of those inane greatest people polls. All the usual suspects – Pushkin, Peter the Great, Stalin, Lenin, Putin, Gagarin, Lomonosov, etc, dominate.

Aug 26: Attitudes towards the Prague Spring forty years on.

Aug 25: This poll registers improvements in perceptions of accessibility to education, healthcare and good jobs. All show slight improvements in the past six years, but remain deeply unsatisfactory. Can you and your family members get access to quality healthcare?

Варианты ответа

2002г.

2003г.

2004г.

2005г.

2006г.

2007г

2008г

Yes / probably yes

25

26

25

23

28

24

30

No / probably not

73

72

72

76

70

72

66

No comment

2

2

3

1

2

4

4

Can you, your children, grandchildren, etc, get a good education?

Варианты ответа 2002г. 2003г. 2004г. 2005г. 2006г. 2007г 2008г
Yes / probably yes

37

32

37

32

42

39

42

No / probably not

59

64

60

63

53

56

53

No comment

4

4

3

5

5

5

5

Can inhabitants of your town or region get a good job according to their specialization?

Варианты ответа 2002г. 2003г. 2004г. 2005г. 2006г. 2007г 2008г
Yes / probably yes

19

21

16

14

18

20

24

No / probably not

74

75

78

82

77

75

69

No comment

7

4

6

4

5

5

7

Aug 7: Detailed survey of Russian food consumption habits by food category. Also includes a long historical record of what share of their salaries Russians spent on food since 1991. We can see that during most of the 1990′s, a majority spent almost all their money on food; since then, this has fallen to just 14%. So again, a further reason for ignoring Russophobes who insist life did not get better for just about everyone under Putin.

Варианты ответа

1991

1992

1994

1999

2001

2002

2004

2006

2007

2008

Less than half

6

3

3

5

4

6

11

17

19

18

About half

20

12

13

15

14

24

32

35

38

39

About two thirds

40

19

20

21

38

28

28

27

25

23

Almost everything

30

63

59

55

42

37

27

17

14

14

No comment

5

2

4

4

2

5

3

4

4

6

Russians have mixed views on whether their mass media are free; 12% think its completely free, 34% think its mostly free, 35% think its mostly controlled, and 10% believe its totally controlled by the government.

Aug 4: A very comprehensive survey (and results of some past surveys) on Russian smoking patterns.

Total

Sex

Age

Education

Men Women 18-24 года 25-39 года 40-54 года 55 лет и старше higher middle /spect. lower middle

smoking now

37

61

18

45

49

43

17

28

40

39

don’t smoke now, but smoked in the past

14

19

11

12

14

12

19

19

14

13

never smoked

47

19

71

43

36

44

64

53

45

47

no comment

1

1

1

1

2

1

1

1

1

1

A very high percentage of people continue to smoke (37%), including 61% amongst men. This is up from 35% in 2004 and the same as in 2007. Most disturbingly there does not appear to be any clear trend of improvement with younger ages. Amongst professions the highest incidence of smokers can be found amongst independent entrepreneurs (63%), the unemployed (60%) and workers and farmers (56%); the lowest are admin/managers (27%), Armed Forces / Internal Affairs / Prosecutor’s Service (30%), students (30%) and pensioners; the highest rate of former smokers is in the Armed Forces / Internal Affairs / Prosecutor’s Service (29%). Interestingly, the highest numbers of smokers are amongst the well-off financially and Muscovites.

July 31: Russians believe the country needs a few strong opposing parties. The number of people wanting one strong party dropped from 43% in 1999 to 32% in 2008, while those favoring two or three big parties rose from 35% to 45%. Some 46% believe there is an opposition to the regime, while 35% disagree (by opposition they mean parties like the Communists, Just Russia, Yabloko, etc, not Kasparov’s pack of clowns). 62% believe the country needs an opposition, while 21% disagree.

July 28: Mixed views of businesspeople, with 45% viewing their activities as useful for Russia and 38% as harmful.

July 18: What do Russians believe in?. Faith in all kinds of mystical things like signs and dreams and the evil eye increased since the end of the Soviet Union, turning Russia from an atheistic to a pagan-Christian nation (like much of western Europe). Or maybe they just became more comfortable with admitting it.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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The Western media has begun to whine about the Russian presidential elections five weeks in advance. Their beef is that Kasyanov was barred from running, ostensibly because above 5% of his required signatures were rigged, but actually to undercut the last independent candidate – Russia’s last and only hope of salvation from the ‘slippery slope to totalitarianism’ (according to Misha “Two Percent” Kasyanov, anyway).

Nonetheless, let’s apply some common sense. Kasyanov’s level of support is around 1% of the electorate, as even the BBC, grudgingly admits. This means around 1 million people. Are we supposed to believe, then, that below 5% of his supposed 2 million signatures were illegitimate? Or were they much higher than 5%, and much higher even than 13.36% (according to the Electoral Commission)? My opinion is that they simply only bothered discarding the most egregiously falsificated ones – enough to disqualify Kasyanov and reveal him for the corrupt, seditious fraud he is.

Perhaps Westerners may care to consider the reason ‘liberals’ lose in Russia has rather more to do with the liberals themselves rather than Stalin Reborn, aka Putin.

Then there’s the whining over Medvedev refusing to participate in TV debates. In my opinion, when you have an overwhelming lead in approval ratings (around 70-85%), relative to the two other main candidates (10-15%), there is little point in agreeing to debates – which are entirely voluntary affairs. In any case, it is questionable what kind of public good debating with an ultra-nationalist clown (Zhirinovsky), an unreformed Communist (Ziuganov) and a political minnow who makes Ralph Nader seem a celebrity (Bogdanov) is going to serve. As it stands, the other candidates are free to participate on two state-owned channels weekly, and air their grievances – which Ziuganov has been doing a lot of, showing up Western claims that crooks (Kasyanov), neocons (Kasparov) and fascists (Limonov) are the only “real independent” candidates for the claptrap they really are.

As I’ve said repeatedly, Saakashvili is in many ways a mirror image of Putin. From the methods by which he steals elections to renegade oligarch look-alike nemeses. Albeit he probably doesn’t travel as much – Putin managed to visit 64 countries in 190 foreign trips during his Presidency.

On the economic front, an article in JRL argues that Russia still has a great deal of under-utilized capacity in agriculture and forestry – unlike industrial output, they have yet to overtake their Soviet peaks. The state under Medvedev intends to invest in sectors where private business is unwilling to go due to their limited capital, amongst them aerospace, nanotechnology and agriculture. Nonetheless, a boom due to expansion in those sectors, contrary to the article’s assertions, is impossible, considering that agriculture made up just 4.6% of Russia’s GDP in 2007. The ruble is also to become free-floating within the next three years.

More on the theory that Russia will be an island of stability in the coming economic storm, due to its huge foreign currency reserves and isolation from the US. In other news, recent data shows that Russia’s economic growth in 2007, at 8.1%, was even faster than previously thought.

Russia is to stop renting radars abroad due to the unreliability of its “allies”. The Russian Air Force will receive new attack helicopters in 2009.

There are plans to create a national DNA bank.

Sean’s Russia Blog reports that Mercer Human Resource Consulting has ranked Russia’s capital as the most expensive city in the world for the second consecutive year. As is well known, however, that only really applies to Western expats with a fondness for 5-star hotels, lobster and high-class escorts.

India is to celebrate the Year of Russia in 2008, just as China celebrated it in 2007. Ah, the joys of soft power…

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Rally against Georgia poll result

Thousands of opposition supporters have taken to the streets in Georgia in protest at what they say were rigged presidential elections last weekend. Those gathered in the capital, Tbilisi, are demanding a second round of voting. Pro-Western leader Mikhail Saakashvili polled 53%, narrowly averting a run-off against his nearest rival, Levan Gachechiladze, who won 25% of the vote. Mr Saakashvili called the snap poll to resolve a crisis after suppressing anti-government rallies two months ago.

The BBC’s Neil Arun, who was at the rally, said much of the protesters’ anger was directed at Western observers who have said the polls were essentially democratic, although there were significant problems. The authorities have warned the demonstrators they will not tolerate any more civil unrest.

And time and time again, consistently, there surface allegations of fraud. This is not to say Georgia is a failure at democracy, but that there were serious problems in the conduct of these elections is in no doubt.


Georgia protesters give poll icy reception

Facing the demonstrators across the river was the Narikala fortress, established in the 4th Century AD and expanded in the 16th. Closer to the crowd, overlooking it from a hill, was the glass dome of Mr Saakashvili’s new presidential palace, lofty and unfinished.

“The courts are corrupt, the prisons are full. There is no justice, no democracy in this country,” said Nikusha, a man in his early 20s with his face half-hidden by a scarf. “He is selling off the country,” said another young man, Rati. “Sure, we need foreign investment but he is giving all our wealth away for nothing.” Nearby, a group of women waved posters of the main opposition presidential candidate, Levan Gachechiladze. “Saakashvili promised us democracy but he has given us a dictatorship,” said Nino, in her late 50s.

“Saakashvili is far from perfect but he’s the best man for this country right now,” says Giorgi, who works as a translator for foreign companies. “These opposition guys think democracy is like a tree-house you build over the weekend. But it takes years of strong leadership for it.”

He is widely credited with smashing the crime syndicates that once controlled Georgia and with cutting corruption in the police force. Some of the president’s backers say that while his opponents complain of authoritarianism, it is authority itself that they resent.

Meanwhile, Saakashvili follows a quintessentially Russian (Petrine) means of modernizing the country’s social institutions – by a regression into authoritarianism, which can paradoxically reinforce pre-existing reactionary tendencies. Everything said of Saakashvili above – praise and criticism – can be said of Putin too. Putin, though, gets most of the latter in the Western press, while Saakashvili is a darling. And so the Annals of Western Hypocrisy go on.

The BBC Russian story is bigger on facts. Saakashvili won 53.47%, followered by Gachechiladze (25.69) and Patarkatsishvili (7.10%). This was confirmed by the Electoral Commission by a narrow margin (7 to 6). Saakashvili is by law the President of Georgia and his position seems secure for now, despite the opposition’s impressive achievement of bringing 70,000 people out onto the streets in Tblisi. Nonetheless, revolutions are rarely made in poor weather, and the demonstrations were called off after record frosts in the Georgian capital.

Beer becomes the toast of Russia

Russians’ love of vodka shows no sign of abating but over the past few years soaring beer sales suggest old and young alike have turned their attention elsewhere. Beer consumption has risen from 20 litres per person a year to nearly 80 litres and while growth appears to be slowing that is from sky-high levels.

Against guidance growth of 5 per cent in 2005, and 3-5 per cent in the following two years, the beer market grew 6 per cent in 2005, 10 per cent in 2006 and 17 per cent in the first nine months of last year. Growth at BBH, the market leader in Russia with a 38 per cent share, has been even more explosive. The brewer saw sales rise 21 per cent in 2005 and 2006, and 33 per cent in the first three quarters of 2007.

That is a view echoed, perhaps not surprisingly, by John Nicholson, head of S&N’s international business and its senior executive in Russia. “This year Baltika is set to exceed Heineken as Europe’s most popular lager, while Russia will become the third-biggest beer market in the world,” he says. Zagvozdina also points out that while sales growth is slowing, the value of the market is rising fast as prices increase and consumers switch to more expensive beers.The Renaissance analyst says she believes the value of the market grew 21-23 per cent last year, and she expects growth of up to 14 per cent this year with at least a further four years of further “robust growth”.

Nicholson says: “Disposable income is rising at such a pace that consumers are trading up and there is a lifestyle change away from vodka. We launched Foster’s and Kronenbourg 18 months ago. Kronenbourg is the most expensive brand in the market but it has seen huge growth.” With the Western European markets going backwards in terms of sales volumes, the attraction of Russia, with its 140m inhabitants, is plain to see. With the neighbouring markets that BBH operates in, including Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, providing a similar population collectively, the attractions become compelling.

We can’t say we entirely approve of this development (it would be much better in terms of public health for Russia to develop as a wine-drinking country – it’s even got the potential to produce wine of its own, near its Black Sea coast), it illustrates Russians’ rapidly rising real incomes, which have been growing at more than 10% annually for the last decade. It’s not surprising, then, that beer consumption has increased so much, especially when you counter in the fact that Russian TV fills up with beer adverts after 9pm every day in the same way American TV is always full of ionised junk food. While DR prefers wine, champagne, we’ll settle for a nice cold bottle of Baltika over a KFC any day.

Is Pulp Fiction Russia’s Failure? – this article basically says that Russians are better at reading academically (Russian 4th-graders came first internationally in the PIRLS 2006 reading assessment) than reading to solve everyday problems (in the PISA 2006 Reading section Russians scored substantially below the international average).

Odnoklassniki: Russians Connect to Their Student Days – Russians can use the Internet to reconnect with their former school buddies.

Russian cruiser heads for the Mediterranean – part of Russia’s reassertion of its strength. This is linked to it building a naval base in Syria.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.