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Or neither. Well, isn’t this a useless post?

I am referring to the Global Corruption Barometer released by Transparency International a couple of weeks ago, which I covered at my other blog. For the most part, there were no surprises; the only really strange figures came from Taiwan, where 36% of people claimed to have paid a bribe in the past year. Otherwise, the results largely cut to popular perceptions and stereotypes of corruption in various countries.

The really bad thing is that this time round there was no bribery incidence data for Russia, not to mention eleven other countries – and China wasn’t included in the survey at all. I investigated this further, and was told that Russia’s results along with those of the eleven other countries didn’t pass Transparency International’s validity and reliability tests.

Enquiring further, I got the following answers from the GCB research team:

(1) Why didn’t Russia’s incidence of bribery data (as well as several other major countries like Brazil, France, and Germany) pass TI’s validity and reliability tests for inclusion?

Now in its 8th edition, we have several years of past data on these questions and have data from other surveys which ask similar questions of people’s experience with bribery. We can therefore use this data to identify where the results for a particular country are volatile over time and across surveys and therefore less reliable as a data point for that country. For 12 countries including Russia, the data gathered in this years GCB for the bribery question can be identified as an outlier when compared with other available data and was therefore excluded from the final report

(2) Would it be possible to get access to Russia’s bribery data anyway, with the caveat that those figures would have a lower degree of reliability and should not therefore be counted as part of Transparency’s official records?

I am afraid not. We take the findings of this survey very seriously as a reflection of people’s views and experiences of corruption. Given the importance of this data and how it can be used to inform the fight against corruption, we will not making available data that does not pass our validity and reliability tests.

Would it be possible for you to at least indicate whether Russia’s outlier this year was above or below the trend? It would at least give me some sense of comparative perspective should Russian polling agencies come out with their own bribery polls this year.

As we do not have confidence in the reliability of the data I can not provide further information on this to you.

Well, I tried. But the results for this year must remain a total blank. You are free to speculate whether there could have been any political motivations to that.

For my part, I will just say that this is a real shame since at this rate the next time we’ll get data for Russia from the GCB – assuming its data passes their validity and reliability filters next time round – will be in 2015.

So for now DR readers will have to be satisfied with a bribery incidence graph that only stretches to 2012. Let us hope that Russian pollsters move in to fill the gap left by the GCB sooner rather later.

UPDATE: Thanks to Fedia Kriukov (for digging up the article) and Moscow Exile (for translating it): A Crisis of Zombification: How Transparency International failed on The Russia Corruption Rating.

Please read it. The author, Andrey Kamenetsky, pretty much conclusively demonstrates that the reason Transparency International didn’t include Russia’s bribery incidence data in their 2013 report was because it was lower than expected.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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It is now a staple of “common wisdom” to such an extent that there is little point in digging up specific news items. Bound up in red tape and crushed by the weight of state regulations, the argument goes, the Russian economy is doomed to years of renewed Brezhnevite stagnation – with the government increasing repressions and anti-Western rhetoric to divert attention away from its failure to raise living standards.

But is this actually a valid viewpoint? Russia’s rate of GDP growth has plummeted relative to 2010, when it was emerging out of a deep recession. In 2010 and 2011, it was typically at around 4% to 5%; by Q1 2013, it was just 1.6%.

russia-gdp-growth-to-2013

Now yes, that looks pretty bad – even though its far from being an outright recession (aka two consecutive quarters of negative growth, crudely defined). But one could credibly make the argument that a middle-income economy that still has much room for productivity increases, like Russia, should be growing considerably faster. But while that is true enough, it should nonetheless be pointed out that to the extent that Russia is in stagnation – so is the entire world, bar China.

global-gdp-growth-to-2013

See the similarities between the two graphs? Now imagine China were removed from the second one. In that case, they would virtually be mirrors of each other. Or how about simply comparing Russia’s growth rate to comparable CEE countries that are widely considered to be much “freer” and less corrupt:

russia-cee-gdp-growth-2010-2013-compared

The rather banal reality is that Russia is far from alone in experiencing a big slowdown among its middle-income peers: Especially in comparison to many of the Central-East European countries, some of which are in outright recession, but also fellow BRICS members Brazil and South Africa – not to mention Mexico, South Korea, Turkey, Argentina, and most other emerging markets – which have likewise seen slowdowns to the low single digits in the past few months or year.

As such, the question isn’t so much “Why is the Russian economy stagnating?” but more like “Why are pretty much all developed countries and emerging markets, except China, stagnating if not in outright recession?”

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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My latest for VoR/US-Russia Experts panel:

I think we have to make a distinction here between “soft” soft power and “hard” soft power.

The US’ “soft” soft power is, of course, overwhelming. By “soft” soft power, I mean its accumulated cultural capital: The popularity of the English language, Hollywood, the Ivy League, Apple and American Pie, and so forth. If this were a Civilization game, the Americans would be maxing out the “culture” meter. There is no feasible way for Russia to ever overtake the US in this respect, if only because its limited population constrains the ultimate scope of its civilization (China is another matter).

What is of greater interest, and CAN be influenced relatively cheaply, is “hard” soft power. By “hard” soft power, I mean the ability to harness support for a sovereign internal and foreign policy line. “Hard” soft power is promoted by media and cultural organizations catering to foreign audiences, and can be measured by indicators such as a country’s international approval rating, which the BBC World Service measures every year. This rating can, in turn, affect diplomatic influence, investment attractiveness, and promulgate a general sense of moral vindication among the citizenry.

Lavishing resources into raising international approval ratings – that is, building up “hard” soft power – can produce vast returns on investment. There are several ways this can be done:

(1) Avoiding embarrassing situations so far as possible, and responding to them in a timely and comprehensive way AS SOON AS they arise. The entire Magnitsky debacle is a case study in how NOT to manage a genuine screw-up followed up by an oligarchic PR attack. Khodorkovsky is an earlier example. The ECHR eventually concluded that the case was NOT politically motivated, but so far as everyone and their dog is concerned the Menatep bandits are martyrs for democracy. The scope of the PR failure here is astounding. But the Russian government just doesn’t seem to care, leaving the heavy lifting to bloggers (!) like PoliTrash.

(2) Countering negative “hard” soft power. As one of the few countries to pursue a truly sovereign foreign policy – China is another example; so is Venezuela and Iran – it is not surprising that Russia would come under intensive information attack. One need do little more than recall Western coverage of the 2008 South Ossetian War, in which the victim was literally presented as the aggressor. Even institutions like the EU were later forced to acknowledge the truth, but no matter – the first week of coverage permanently implanted the perception it was big bad Russia that attacked plucky democratic Georgia, and neocons continue to push the lie even though a 5 minute perusal of Wikipedia would totally discredit it.

Information attacks are an inescapable price of sovereignty. However, the effects of such attacks can be minimized by establishing a special office that could coordinate the writing of press complaints to combat factually wrong and/or defamatory coverage; working with non-Western countries to reduce Western dominance in various international financial and regulatory bodies; promoting the integration of the Russian media space into the global media space, first and foremost via the Internet; creating and popularizing alternate, more objective indices of freedom and corruption than the politicized Transparency International and Freedom House ratings.

(3) Building up the keystone institutions of “hard” soft power. Every self-respecting country needs a channel or two to promote its views abroad (The BBC, France 24, RFERL/Voice of America, CNBC, Al Jazeera) and Russia, through RT, RIA, the Voice of Russia, and RBTH, performs solidly in this respect. But other aspects need touching up. For instance, the main vector of Russian cultural influence abroad is Rossotrudnichestvo, which no foreigner can even pronounce properly; compare and contrast with the British Council, the Goethe-Institut, or the Confucius Academies. It definitely has to step up its game here: Rebrand (Pushkin Schools?), and expand.

“Hard” soft power is fairly easy to increase with targeted investments (unlike “soft” soft power), and it is comparatively very cheap (unlike “hard” military-industrial power). There are no Great Power wars on the horizon, which makes the vast spending on military modernization rather questionable; while the task of building up “soft” soft power isn’t a matter of years, but of decades or even centuries. In contrast, “hard” soft power can be maximized relatively cheaply and quickly. Although Russia is much better in this respect than it was even a decade ago, there are still many low-hanging fruits left to picked.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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One of the most reliable indicators of influence is access to cars. They are the standard symbol of affluence and middle-class status the world over. They are also far more understandable at the everyday level than things like the PPP GDP per capita, or the number of burgers your national McWage will buy.

Following on my last post, which focused on production, let’s now examine another indicator: The number of cars bought in any given year per 1,000 people.

auto-sales-russia-cee

As we can see from the graph above, Russians (22/1,000 as of 2012) are now buying more new cars per person than any other Central-East European country. Now, this is NOT to say that they are richer than the Czechs (18/1,000), or even the Poles (9/1,000) and Estonians (18/1,000). The latter countries’ markets are already substantially saturated and close to Western levels of auto ownership, while Russia still has some catching up to do; furthermore, they don’t have tariffs on imported second-hand cars, whereas Russia’s are quite substantial. It is also probably true that on average Czechs buy higher quality and more expensive cars than Russians. Nonetheless, the difference between Russia and countries like post-crisis Latvia (7/1,000) and Hungary (7/1,000) are now so wide that it’s hard to argue that the latter are still substantially more prosperous.

auto-sales-russia-and-other-countries

The difference is of a similar magnitude to today’s Greece (6/1,000), in the wake of its economic depression – and has also gained on other countries that were part of developed Europe but hard-hit by the crisis like Spain (17/1,000), Portugal (11/1,000), Ireland (20/1,000), and Italy (26/1,000). In a very real sense, the fact that ordinary Russians can now more readily afford relatively big-ticket items like automobiles than citizens of some countries long considered to be past of the developed world is quite a momentous affair. In fact, not only are they being overtaken by Russia, but by Brazilians (20/1,000) and the Chinese (14/1,000) too, even if the last BRICS member India (3/1,000) continues to be mediocre. That said, there is still a very considerable gap between Russia and the truly front-tier countries like Germany (41/1,000) and the US (47/1,000).

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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One common trope about the Russian economy is that it has virtually no manufacturing to speak of and lives off “oil rents” that can collapse any day.

Whiles there is a small nugget of truth to this assertion, but by and large it is simply false. It is true that a great chunk of Russian exports do accrue to hydrocarbons and metals, because that is its comparative advantage in trade. That said, there are plenty of Russian products on the domestic market. The automobile industry is a good and representative example of this because they it’s a stalwart of many national economies and there exist reliable and easily accessible statistics on it.

Car Production Car Sales Autos self-sufficiency
Czech Rep. 1,178,938 193,795 608%
Mexico 3,001,974 987,747 304%
South Korea 4,557,738 1,530,585 298%
Poland 647,803 328,532 197%
Japan 9,942,711 5,369,721 185%
Germany 5,649,269 3,394,002 166%
Turkey 1,072,339 817,620 131%
China 19,271,808 19,306,435 100%
Argentina 764,495 832,026 92%
Brazil 3,342,617 3,802,071 88%
South Africa 539,424 623,921 86%
France 1,967,765 2,331,731 84%
Russia 2,231,737 3,141,551 71%
USA 10,328,884 14,785,936 70%
UK 1,576,945 2,333,763 68%
Sweden 162,814 326,441 50%
Italy 671,768 1,534,889 44%
Ukraine 76,281 263,604 29%
Australia 209,730 1,112,132 19%

As such, I decided to compile a representative list of countries, with data on production and sales for 2012 drawn from OICA, in order of the ratio of their auto production to new auto sales – that is, their degree of self-sufficiency in cars.As we can see above, while Russia is perhaps rather lower than average, its domestic auto manufacturing industry nonetheless manages to satiate 71% of demand for new cars.

This is quite comparable to France, the US, and the UK, and is vastly higher than a similarly resource-dependent rich country, Australia. Quite a lot of other resource-heavy countries like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Norway don’t produce cars at all. Mexico is a huge exception, but the reason for that is that it borders the US and the US has outsourced quite a lot of its auto industry south of the border to take advantage of lower labor costs – a situation analogous to the Germans’ outsourcing of car production to Spain in the 1980′s, and Central-East European countries like the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland in the 2000′s.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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In the wake of Russia’s Internet penetration breaking the 50% mark (now – 55%) and overtaking Germany in total number of users last year, we now have news that Russian overtook German as its second most popular language. It is used on 5.9% of all the world’s websites. It is projected that Russia will maintain this position for a few years. Also .ru has become the world’s most popular country-level domain.

internet-most-popular-languages

This is quite a remarkable achievement considering Russia’s limited number of Internet users relative to the much more populous Spanish and Chinese speaking worlds (even if Internet penetration in the latter regions is a bit lower). I wonder why that could be the case? One theory is that Latin Americans simply don’t read much, while creating websites in China may be trickier than in the West because of greater controls over the Internet. (Also hanzi are much more space-economical than alphabet-based writing systems, so what might take a few pages in English may only require one page in Chinese; that is another possible explanation). That would also explain why the world’s less than 100 million native German speakers are also far ahead of those far more numerous nationalities. Alternatively, maybe there’s simply more spam blogs or pages hosting copied content in Russian.

Here is a trends graph. As of March 27 (the date of this article), Russian has clearly at 5.9% edged past German which is now at 5.7%.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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It’s no real secret that many Russians have a positive impression of Stalin; it was 49% in February 2013, insignificantly down from 53% in 2003. (This is not a view that I share). There are probably a few big reasons for this: (1) The mistaken notion that without him Russia would have remained in the age of plows, not rockets; (2) The relatively low corruption and perceived social justice in that time; (3) His role in securing victory in WW2, the latter of which carried away far, far more Russian lives than Stalinist repressions; (4) Last but not least, the liberal-promoted defamation of Stalin and associated efforts to equalize the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany; this is deeply repugnant to the majority of Russians – especially as while the majority did have someone die or go MIA in their families during 1941-45, many fewer had relatives sent to the Gulag for political crimes let alone shot – and as such there was a regrettable but entirely understandable angry reaction to such slanders in the 2000s.

What it is almost certainly not, however, is part and parcel of some “neo-Soviet revanchism” that seeks to forcibly reincorporate former territories into Russia (Russian nationalism today is primarily of the contemporary European kind that seeks to limit immigration in its moderate form, and expel ethnic minorities in its radical form). It’s certainly not because of some Putin imposed blackout on discussions of Stalin’s crimes; only retards who read neocon media would believe that. Nor is it something that is specific to Russians and the long-abused meme of their “yearning for a strong hand“. Because according to Levada polls, pro-Stalin sentiment in “democratic Georgia” is actually substantially higher than in Russia.

Russia Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia
Positive emotions 28 21 30 49
Negative emotions 23 37 35 19
+/- Ratio 1.2 0.57 0.86 2.6
Indifferent emotions 50 43 36 33

The table above shows the sum of positive emotions (adulation, respect, sympathy), negative emotions (dislike, fear, repugnance, hatred), and indifferent emotions (don’t know who was Stalin – 1% in Russia, 4% in Georgia, a remarkable 20% in Azerbaijan, refuse to answer) towards Stalin. Georgians have by far the most positive opinions towards him in net terms, and are also the least indifferent to him; while pro-Stalinists slightly outnumber anti-Stalinists in Russia, it also has the highest percentage of people who are indifferent to him.

georgians-russians-approve-stalin

“Stalin was a wise leader, who brought the USSR to greatness and prosperity” – 47% of Russians agree, 38% disagree; 69% of Georgians agree, 16% disagree.

georgians-russians-stalin-tyrant

“Stalin was a cruel and inhumane tyrant, guilty of the annihilation of millions of innocent people” – 66% of Russians agree, 20% disagree; 51% of Georgians agree, 26% disagree.

russians-georgians-strong-hand

The strong hand theory: “Our people could never cope without a leader of Stalin’s calibre, who would come and restore order” – 30% of Russians agree, 52% disagree; 29% of Georgians agree, 47% disagree.

russians-georgians-want-to-live-under-stalin

“Would you personally like to live and work under a national leader like Stalin?” – 18% of Russians want to, 67% don’t; 27% of Georgians want to, 60% don’t.

russians-georgians-repressions-justified

“Are the losses sustained by the Soviet peoples under Stalin justified by the great aims and results that were achieved in a short time period?” – 25% of Russians agree, 60% disagree; 28% of Georgians agree, 45% disagree.

ukrainians-on-stalin

Finally, a poll on how Ukrainians view Stalin: “Stalin was a great leader.” Not directly comparable with the polls in Russia and the Caucasus countries, but still, if you believe that Stalin was unequivocal ruin and evil, you are unlikely to say that he was a “great leader”; at the least, a positive answer implies some level of ambiguity. And as we can see a majority of Ukrainians in the east and south view him positively. Even from those from the center, who suffered most from the collectivization famines, more say he was a great leader than not. The only part of the country which definitely says he was not a “great leader” is the far west but of course it too has its own historical cockroaches.

Of course I have to stress that I don’t condemn Georgians for loving Stalin; the aim of this post is just to clear up some misconceptions that idiot Westerners have about how Russian Stalinophilia is somehow “exceptional” in the post-Soviet context and worthy of endless harping in the media. If I was a Georgian I too would probably love a countryman who administratively expanded the borders of Sakartvelo and subjugated those one hundred million Russkies up north under his heel. But it does also show the hilarious hypocrisy of Saakashvili who used to rant on about how Georgians are inherently more democratic-minded and historically responsible than Russians.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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My latest for the US-Russia Experts Panel and VoR.

In this latest Panel, Vlad Sobell asks us supposed Russia “experts” whether Freedom House’s “alarmist stance” towards Russia is justified. Well, what do YOU think? I don’t think you need to be an expert to answer this; it’s an elementary issue of common sense and face validity. Consider the following:

Freedom House gives Russia a 5.5/7 on its “freedom” score, in which 7 is totalitarianism (e.g. North Korea) and 1 is complete freedom (e.g. the post-NDAA US).

This would make Putin’s Russia about as “unfree” as the following polities, as we learn from Freedom House:

  • The United Arab Emirates, a “federation of seven absolute dynastic monarchs whose appointees make all legislative and executive decisions”… where there are “no political parties” and court rulings are “subject to review by the political leadership” (quoting Daniel Treisman and Freedom House itself);
  • Bahrain, which recently shot up a ton of Shia demonstrators, and indefinitely arrested doctors for having the temerity to follow the Hippocratic oath and treat wounded protesters;
  • Any of the 1980’s “death-squad democracies” of Central America, in which tens of thousands of Communist sympathizers or just democracy supporters were forcibly disappeared;
  • The Argentinian junta, which “disappeared” tens of thousands of undesirables, some of whom were dropped from planes over the Atlantic Ocean;
  • Yemen, which lives under a strict interpretation of sharia law and where the sole candidate to the Presidency was elected with 100% of the vote in 2012 (which Hillary Clinton described as “another important step forward in their democratic transition process”).

Putin’s Russia is also, we are to believe, a lot more repressive than these polities:

  • South Korea in the 1980’s, a military dictatorship which carried out a massacre in Gwangju on the same scale as that of Tiananmen Square, for which China would be endlessly condemned;
  • Turkey, which bans YouTube from time to time, and today carries the dubious distinction of hosting more imprisoned journalists – 49 of them, according to the CPJ – than any other country, including Syria, Iran, and China. (Russia imprisons none).
  • Mexico under the PRI, which falsified elections throughout the years of its dominance to at least the same extent as United Russia.
  • Singapore, whose parliament makes the Duma look like a vibrant multiparty democracy and uses libel law to sue political opponents into bankruptcy. (In the meantime, Nemtsov is free to continue writing his screeds about Putin’s yachts and Swiss bank accounts).
  • Kuwait, where women only got the vote in 2005.

I’d say it’s pretty obvious that Freedom House has a definite bias which looks something like this: +1 points for being friendly with the West, -1 if not, and -2 if you also happen to have oil, and are thus in special urgent need of a color revolution. Then again, some call me a Kremlin troll, so you might be wiser to trust an organization that was until recently chaired by a former director of the CIA, an avowed neocon given to ranting about Russia’s backsliding into “fascism” among other things. If that’s the case you’re probably also the type who believes Iraq was 45 minutes away from launching WMD’s and that Islamist terrorists “hate us for our freedom.”

PS. If you want a reasonably accurate and well-researched political freedoms rating, check out the Polity IV series. Unfortunately, while it’s a thousand times better than Freedom House, it’s also about a thousand times less well-known.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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As I write the book, I create a lot of graphs. Here is one of them.

russia-automobile-production

So in manufacturing terms, as far as cars are concerned, the “deindustrialization” era is decidedly over.

Of course it’s also important to note that in 1985 they were producing this whereas today they are producing this as well as various foreign brands. Plus for every two cars produced and sold in Russia today, one is imported, for total yearly sales of 2.9 million in 2012 (about the same as in Brazil – 3.6 million, Germany – 3.3 million, and India – 2.7 million).

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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It’s not just the gopniks who are withering away; so are racist skinheads. According to the SOVA Center – an NGO which is about as anti-Kremlin as it gets, so no point in speculating that it cooks the figures for PR purposes – racist attacks in Russia have plummeted from their peak levels in 2007-2008, back when newspapers carried headlines such as “Moscow foreign students told to stay in as racist attacks rise over Hitler’s birthday.” (h/t Maksim for pointing it out to me)

racist-attacks-russia-sova

This is, of course, unquestionably a good thing. Obviously so for for non-White foreigners or immigrants, and likewise so for Russia in general. Whatever one’s views on the cost-to-benefit ratio of mass immigration, it’s hopefully clear to all that arbitrary violence shouldn’t be part of the discussion.

Of course even 18 racially motivated murders is a lot, as the annual average for the US is about 2 in recent years (the US has twice the population but half the background homicide rate). But it’s a lot better than the peak of 109 reached in 2008.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Continuing from my previous post (which focused mostly on trends), this one focuses exclusively on international comparisons as per the results of Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer survey of 2010-11. The graphs represent affirmative answers to the question of whether the respondent had paid a bribe in the past 12 months to each of 9 institutions if he had come into contact with them.

Is Russia the most corrupt of the BRICs?

This is the conventional wisdom, both as per the widely cited CPI as well as numerous pundits. Is it correct? Well, going by the best possibly objective measure of corruption – asking people whether they (or a member of their household) paid bribes in the past year – no, it isn’t. The honor goes to India. China is modestly less corrupt than Russia, while Brazil is basically a First World country in this respect.

brics-corruption-chart-institutions

Is Russia especially corrupt by Central-East European standards?

No, it isn’t. While it’s certainly more corrupt than average, that particular honor has to go to Azerbaijan. The Ukraine is systemically more corrupt than Russia, with a higher percentage of respondents reporting bribing all nine institutions. Even Lithuania is, on average, more corrupt than Russia. (So much for the pro-Western democracy automatically leading to cleanliness and transparency thesis).

cee-corruption-institutions

On the other hand, for the sake of honesty and consistency, one has to acknowledge that Saakashvili’s campaign against corruption in Georgia was a genuine and astoundingly successful achievement. In fact, if these polls are perfectly accurate, Georgia now has less “everyday” corruption than the US!

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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My latest for the US-Russia.org Expert Discussion Panel. Also as usual it appears at Voice of Russia. The version printed here is a slightly longer one:

There are already a lot of opinions on the topic of Russian corruption, and I see no pressing need to add more to that morass. I do however think it will be useful to ground the scale and trajectory of Russian corruption in quantifiable facts and statistics.

There are three major ways of measuring corruption: (1) Subjective assessments; (2) Objective assessments; and (3) Opinion polls.

The most famous subjective assessment is Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Russia might go up and down this index across the years, as per the businesspeople and “experts” it queries, but overall it remains consistently stuck somewhere in between Honduras and Equatorial Guinea. Bearing in mind that they also believe Italy is more corrupt than Saudi Arabia – a country that is owned by its royal family even in name – one must ask to what extent this PERCEPTIONS index reflects actual corruption in any particular country, as opposed to the generosity of the expat packages it offers and its friendliness to the international business community. Is it a complete coincidence that Russia’s already low CPI score started plummeting to new depths about the exact same time it jailed Khodorkovsky?

russia-corruption-subjective

(1) CPI = Corruption Perceptions Index.
(2) WBGI = World Bank Governance Indicators.

Russia does much better on assessments that include precise methodologies for calculating scores, i.e. a particular anti-corruption law either exists – or it doesn’t. On the Global Integrity Index, it scores 71/100, which is comparable to many other middle-income countries like Lithuania (74), Hungary (73), and Mexico (68). On the Open Budget Index, which measures fiscal transparency, Russia improved drastically from 47/100 in 2006 to 74/1000 by 2012, and is now ahead of all the other BRICs, all of East-Central Europe barring the Czech Republic, and even ahead of Germany.

Likewise, widespread tropes of shady siloviki appropriating all the proceeds from the Russian oil industry – typically accompanied by terms such as “Muscovite patrimonialism” or “rent-seeking clans” by those seeking to project an aura of learnedness – to the contrary, Russia is second only to Brazil and Norway in the transparency of its oil and gas accounts, as measured by the Revenue Watch Index.

Now all of this is not, of course, to say that the Germans steal more from their budget than the Russians; that would be ridiculous. These indices try to tally laws that promote integrity and institutional transparency, not corruption per se. It does however mean that Russia releases more information about its budget than a wide array of other middle-income and even developed countries, which – all else being equal – should make any thefts and shady dealings easier to detect. For instance, Navalny’s work to expose corrupt state tenders is hailed in the press – and rightly so! – but had not the kleptocratic Kremlin made those tenders publicly accessible on the Internet, his activities wouldn’t have even been possible in the first place! If Russia truly were the “mafia state” it is frequently painted as by the Western chattering classes, why on earth would it want to shine more light onto its own rotten essence by steadily increasing its integrity and transparency indicators?

russia-corruption-objective

(1) OBI = Open Budget Indicators.
(2) GII = Global Integrity Index.
(3) RW = Revenue Watch Index.

The final method of measuring corruption is both the most direct and democratic – asking ordinary Russians how often they experience it in their everyday lives, as opposed to the musings of ivory tower “experts” and limousine expats. Unfortunately, opinion polls on the matter – most of which come from Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer, the Levada Center, and FOM (The Foundation for Public Opinion) – are too irregular and differently worded to confidently discern any decadal trend. On average, as we can see from the graph below, about 20%-25% of Russians tend to say they or their families have experienced corruption in the past year or two.

russia-incidence-of-bribery

(1) GCB = Global Corruption Barometer (“In the past 12 months, have you or anyone living in your household paid a bribe in any form?”)
(2) Levada – “Did you have to pay a bribe anywhere in the past 12 months?”
(3) FOM 1 – “In the past year or two, have you personally met any state servant who asked or expected an unofficial payment or service from you for doing his/her work?”
(4) FOM 2 – “Have you ever given a bribe to a state official or not?”

In the most comprehensive international survey, that of Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer, some 26% of Russians said they or a member of their household paid a bribe in the past year. This is directly analogous to countries like Hungary (24%), Romania (31%), and Mexico (33%) – and not far below the worst-performing “old European” country, Greece (18%). This is, of course, nothing to write home about; but neither is this comparable to India (54%), let alone aforementioned Honduras or Equatorial Guinea. Bear this in mind the next time you read some opinion columnist pontificating about Russia as “Zaire with permafrost” or “Nigeria with snow” (for the record, more than 60% of the respondents from those two countries said they or a member of their household paid a bribe in the past year).

If ordinary corruption is difficult to quantify, it is doubly so for elite corruption. And rumors about Putin’s $40 billion dollar Swiss bank accounts – especially if they are sourced from his political opponents like Stanislav Belkovsky and Boris Nemtsov – aren’t going to get us very far. We need concrete sums and figures – say, the total of $100 million or so that appears to have been stolen in the recent Oboronservis scandals. This is an order of magnitude or so higher than the largest corruption scandals in developed Western countries, but on the other hand, it’s unfortunately quite typical of major corruption scandals in places like China, India, and Latin America. (The overall sums are smaller in truly deprived regions of the world because there is far less to steal in the first place).

Case in point. In a Twitter argument about whether it was better to live in Russia or India, the Swedish diplomat Mats Staffansson wrote to me, “India has enormous poverty but has one big advantage. A functioning noncorrupt legal system. Good British heritage… Corruption in India is definitely a problem but on a much smaller scale than in Russia.” In response, I challenged him to find a single Russian corruption case from the past decade that is remotely comparable to the theft of food worth $14.5 billion in India that was supposed to have been sold at subsidized prices to the poor – and the poor in India are really poor, as half of India’s children are chronically malnourished – but was instead looted by “corrupt politicians and their criminal syndicates.”

I am still waiting for an answer from him

As for Vlad Sobell’s question of whether corruption in Russia can ever becom e “the exception rather than the rule”… Well, where precisely is this threshold? Corruption is part of a continuum, not a set of discrete states. I will venture to say that with the correct incentives and cultural propaganda, it is certainly plausible for Russia to reduce its levels of corruption from the levels of Romania or Mexico today… to the somewhat better levels of Italy or Poland. I do not know if improvements beyond that are possible. Whether it was due to Protestantism, or the out-breeding fertility patterns specific to family life within the Hajnal Line (which according to some theories promoted altruism), the peoples of north-west Europe seem to have reached a level of very low corruption that has been equaled by very few other societies. In Russia’s case, just converging with Mediterranean and Visegrad corruption norms would be an adequate achievement.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Here it is in Russian: Вверх-вниз по рейтингу свободы. This translation here is of a longer version at my Russian language blog.

A version of it also appears on Voice of Russia: Press freedom – on both sides of the Information Curtain.

press-freedom-voice-of-russia

Thanks to Alexei Pankin (who is a regular at Komsomolskaya) for making it happen – and for the title!, and to Alexander Mercouris for proving a couple of ideas and nice turns of phrase.

Up and down the freedom index

Recently the French human rights organization Reporters Without Borders unveiled new press freedom ratings, which showed Russia sinking to 148th place globally. This finding is consistent with the yearly ratings of the American organization Freedom House, which deems the Russian media to be “not free.” In contrast, Western countries, as we might expect, are the world’s freest and most democratic and ahead of everyone else.

Does this correlate to reality? As a regular reader of the mass media from both sides of the Information Curtain, I have long been under the strong impression that the Western public intelligentsia – including the creators of all these ratings – often consider that the only “free” and “independent” media outlets in Russia are those which support their own ideas and prejudices. At the same time, those Russian media outlets that take a pro-Kremlin or even neutral position are inevitably painted as Kremlin stooges – disregarding that the majority of the Russian mass media audience approve of Putin.

(By the way, those approval ratings are created by polling ordinary Russians, whereas the ratings of organizations such as Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders are compiled using opaque methodologies by anonymous “experts.”)

As evidence of their position, their argue that Russia apparently has no freedom of speech, and that the “bloody regime” crushes the voices of “democratic journalists.” Yes, these things sometimes happen. For instance, after the Presidential elections, Kommersant Vlast printed a photograph of a election ballot saying, “Putin, go fuck yourself.” The paper’s editors cheekily captioned it thus: “Correctly filled out ballot, ruled spoiled.” The paper’s owner Alisher Usmanov quickly fired them.

Harsh? Maybe, but there is a wealth of similar examples in the West. For insulting Romney, accidentally caught on open mic, the journalist David Chalian was fired from Yahoo News. One can compile an entire list of journalists who were fired for criticizing the state of Israel: Sunni Khalid, Helen Thomas, Octavia Nasr, etc. Likewise there is another substantial list of journalists fired for attending Occupy Wall Street protests. The most famous journalist-whistleblower in the world, Julian Assange, today lives in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London to avoid arrest the moment he walks out onto the street.

Regardless of all this, “professors of democracy” continue to harangue us with the idea that the Russian media are controlled and toe the Kremlin line. These claims would seem absurd to any Russian who cares to leaf through the pages of Vedomosti, Novaya Gazeta, Echo of Moscow, or an array of other publications. If you wish to find a glaring example of mass media parroting a single narrative, one need look no further than Western coverage of the 2008 war in South Ossetia. In that fairytale, evil Russian orcs cravenly attacked flourishing, democratic Georgia, ushering in all kinds of savagery and destruction in their wake. At the same time, the American news channel FOX interrupted its interview with an Ossetian-American schoolgirl, at the time resident in Tskhinvali, when it became clear that her account did not square with Washington’s party line. The Polish journalist Wiktor Bater was fired after he started saying “politically incorrect” facts about the Georgian bombing of Tskhinvali and Saakashvili’s lies. Needless to say, these episodes did not in the slightest impact the press freedom ratings of either the US or Poland.

This is not to idealize the state of Russian press freedoms, which has a huge number of its own problems. For instance, writing about Putin’s private life (but not his policies!) is something of a taboo in Russia, just as is criticism of Israel in the US. And the situation as regards unsolved murders of journalists is far worse than in the West, albeit in statistical terms it is comparable to or even better than in many widely acknowledged democracies such as Brazil, Mexico, India, Colombia, and Turkey.

That said, there are some things Russia can be “proud” of. American “dissidents” such as Hearst Newspapers journalist Helen Thomas and former professor Normal Finkelstein are not only fired, but also put on blacklists which complicate their chances of finding another job and getting access to high-ranking officials. Meanwhile, in stupid and naive Russia, the American journalist Masha Gessen can publish a book about Putin titled “The Man Without a Face” and get a personal interview with the Russian President as a reward. She is then free to repay his consideration by practically calling him an idiot in an account of their meeting in the journal Bolshoi Gorod – and to then go on to head the Russian service of Radio Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, headquartered minutes away from the walls of the Kremlin.

So in some sense Russia still has many, many steps still to climb up the stairs of the press freedom ratings…

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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One of the standard memes about Russia’s demographic trajectory was the “Russian Cross.” While at the literal level it described the shape of the country’s birth rate and death rate trajectories, a major reason why it entered the discourse was surely because it also evoked the foreboding of the grave.

russian-cross

But this period now appears to have come to a definitive end. Russia’s population ceased falling around at about 2009; in the past year, it has increased by over 400,000 thanks to net immigration.

Meanwhile, against all general expectations, the birth rates and death rates have essentially equalized. Whereas in 2011 natural decrease was still at a substantial 131,000, preliminary figures indicate that it has subsided to a mere 2,573 for this year. It could just as easily turn positive once the figures are revised. For all intents and purposes, the “Russian Cross” has become the “Russian Hexagon.”

russian-hexagon

This is a momentous landmark in many ways.

(1) More than anything else, Russia’s demographic crisis during the past two decades has been advanced as a quintessential element of its decline. Phrases such as the aforementioned “Russian cross”, the “demographic death spiral”, and “”the dying bear” proliferated in respectable journals and books. Until a few years ago, some entirely serious demographic projections had Russia’s population falling to as low as 130 million by 2015. This “deathbed demography” imagery was in turn exploited by many journalists to implicit condemn the rottenness of the Russian state in general and Putin in particular. Will they now rush to trumpet Russia’s demographic recovery, which was only possible through directed state intervention to improve the population’s health, cut down on the alcohol epidemic, and provide generous benefits for families with second children? For some reason I suspect the amount of ink that will be spilt on this will be but a tiny, minuscule fraction of that used to herald Russia’s demographic apocalypse. They will predictably move on to other failures and inadequacies – both real or perceived.

(2) For many years there has existed the notion among some demographers that once a society’s total fertility falls to a “lowest-low” level, there can be no return. It was theorized that the social values of childlessness and small families would spread, and that the resultant rapid aging would make it impossible for young families to have many children anyway. Russia’s total fertility rate fell to a record low of 1.16 children per woman in 1999, but rose above 1.30 in 2006, reached 1.61 in 2011, and rose further to an estimated 1.70 in 2012. It is thus so far the biggest and most important exception to this “lowest-low fertility trap hypothesis.” In reality, what was actually happening was that many Russian women were postponing the formation of families – a process common to most nations that reach a certain level of development. This in turn laid the foundations for the mini-baby boom that were are now seeing.

(3) There was likewise widespread pessimism that Russia’s life expectancy would ever significantly improve for the better. In the best case, it was assumed it would creep upwards, reaching 70 years or so in another few decades. However, the experience of other regions with Russia’s mortality profile, such as North Karelia in the 1980′s or the Baltic states in the 2000′s – very high death rates among middle aged men who drank too much – suggested that rapid improvements are possible with the right mix of policy interventions. This has happened. Russia’s life expectancy in 2012 was about 71 years, still nothing to write home about; however, it was higher than it ever was in the USSR, where it reached a peak of 70.0 years at the height of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign in 1987, and equal to Estonia’s in 2002, Hungary’s in 1998, and Finland’s in 1973. If it were now to follow in Estonia’s mortality trajectory – and this is not an unreasonable supposition, considering Russia is now passing the tough anti-alcohol and anti-smoking taxes and regulations typical of developed countries – it would be on track to reach a life expectancy of 75 years by 2020 (Putin’s goal of 2018 is however probably too optimistic).

russia-deaths-from-external-causes

In particular, it should be noted that the worst types of deaths – those from external causes – have been cut down the most radically. Though they only account for a small proportion of total deaths, they tend to happen at earlier ages and thus have a significant impact on the workforce and overall life expectancy out of proportion to their actual prevalence. A calculation from 2005 showed that the effect of a 40% decline in deaths from external causes would be as good as a 20% decline in deaths from all circulatory diseases at extending male life expectancy. This has been achieved; as of 2012 it was at 125/100,000, down from an average of about 250/100,000 during the “demographic crisis” period but still far, far short of the 40/100,000 rates more typical of developed countries with no alcoholism epidemics. But as I’ve said before and will say again, while Russia’s “hypermortality” crisis isn’t anywhere near as severe as it once was, it is nothing to write home about; a great deal remains to be done. But the trend-lines are pointing firmly down, and the economic crisis of 2009 had zero effect on the underlying processes. This is extremely encouraging, as it implies that Russia has now become a “normal country” in which improvements in health and mortality steadily advance regardless of economic fluctuations.

I have anticipated many of these developments, and indeed, ventured forth with projections of my own. Here are some predictions made on the basis of my research and analysis from 2008:

  1. Russia will see positive population growth starting from 2010 at the latest. CHECK.
  2. Natural population increase will occur starting from 2013 at the latest. CHECK.
  3. Russia’s total life expectancy will exceed 68 years by 2010 and reach 75 years by 2020. Looks increasingly LIKELY.

There is no need for false modesty. I put my neck on the line and came out best against most of the established expert opinion.

But this is no time to rest on laurels and reminsce on past glories. The 2010 Census is out. Demographic data up till 2012 is available. It’s been a long four years since I wrote that model. It is high time to update it. I’ve been planning to do that for my book anyway, but now that I think about it, why not publish a paper at the same time? I have long been a fan of open access anyway, especially as regards academia.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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I really did think it was getting better there under Joshu Yaffa, certainly it’s not typical of him to write such vitriolic but more importantly factually inaccurate articles. Let’s hope the world’s sleaziest magazine was getting one of their old-timers to file for him that day, instead of representing the start of a new descent into Lucasian raving.

As usual, I will ignore the emotive and hyperbolic language which starts from the get go with the title “Herod’s Law“. Though I would note from the outset that The Economist would never in a million years use similar terms to describe, say, the child victims of the US drone wars. That is because its main function is to serve as a mouthpiece of the Western ruling class.

So here is the list of its lapses in journalistic integrity:

(1) Citing only anti-Kremlin figures: Alexei Venediktov (of Echo of Moscow), an opposition deputy, and an organization headed by Kudrin. No honest attempt is made to question the (57% of) Russians who support the law.

(2) Extremely and almost certainly willfully misleading usage of statistics:

Over the past 20 years American families adopted 60,000 Russian children with 19 recorded deaths among them. Adoption in Russia is relatively rare. Even so, in the same period 1,500 adopted children died in Russian families.

Thanks to Charles Clover, the 1,500 figure very likely originated from a release by the Public Chamber of the RF that argued against the idea that foreign adoption is dangerous. But the Economist did not see it fit to give the full quote (my bold for emphasis):

According to data from Russian experts, in the past 20 years US citizens adopted nearly 60,000 Russian children; during this period, 19 children died by the fault of their adopted parents. In the same period, in the families of Russian citizen adopters, there died nearly 1,500 children.

See what they did there? Needless to say, the numbers of children dying by the “fault of their adopted parents” vs. the numbers who just died (by other murderers; by house fires, traffic accidents, medical complications, etc) are IN NO WAY COMPARABLE! And yet the Economist misleading treats them as the same.

In addition, it is subtly implied that per capita risk may be even greater than the impression generated by the absolute numbers. In reality as I already pointed out adoptions by Russians with the exception of two years have always exceeded foreign adoptions (of which Americans account for one third):

What’s more, the 19 recorded cases mentioned may well be – indeed, are quite likely to be – underestimates, because tracking mechanisms for Russian adoptees in the US are poorly developed (indeed, this was one of the main issues of contention between Russia and the US on adoptions).

(3) Internal contradictions: This is literally one of the most hilarious, keep-your-head-in-a-vise texts I’ve read this week:

Having acquired considerable wealth and freedom of movement, Mr Putin’s elite is growing increasingly tired of his rule. Whereas before he offered wealth and impunity in exchange for loyalty, he now demands that they take sides in the Magnitsky case, a sacrifice that could yet jeopardise their position in the West. Instead of uniting the elite behind him, this could turn more people against him.

So “more people” (57% of whom, BTW, support the Dima Yakovlev Law) are going to turn away from Putin… because his actions threaten the yachts and villas of “Putin’s elite” in the West??

The reaction would be just the opposite because that “elite” is loathed and despised, whereas Putin has overwhelming popular approval. Only a moment’s thought would reveal the absurdity of The Economist’s statement, however I suppose there is no time for reflection when there is a propaganda hit piece to be written.

(4) Edit – this is a new addition. This is the photograph the Economist uses to demonstrate this “Herod’s Law.”

It is captioned “One of the victims of a shameful law.” Thing is, however, that there is a WAITING LIST for adopting children under the age of 3 by Russian citizens. As such using this photo of a toddler to illustrate the piece together with the caption is nothing more than blatant and cynical emotional manipulation.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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1. For Russian orphans life is much more dangerous in Russia than in America. Let’s agree to disregard the hidden subtext which implies that any country ought to give over its orphans to foreign nationals should it be ranked safer for children. Let’s first examine if the claim that Russia is 39 times more dangerous for adoptees than the US is even true.

This number most prominently featured in a March 2012 article at the liberal website Ttolk, perhaps (probably?) it originated there. It then spread to the rest of the Internet via Yulia “Pinochet” Latynina at the Moscow Times

According to official government statistics, a child adopted by Russian parents is 39 times more likely to die than one adopted by parents in the West.

… and Victor Davidoff at the St. Petersburg Times.

It is also well-known that the chances a child will die after being adopted by a family in Russia are almost 40 times higher than if adopted by a family in the West.

While it’s no great secret that Western countries are safer than Russia, the differential struck me as absurdly high. Especially when I checked mortality rates, according to which on average Russian children have approximately twice the risk of death as do their American counterparts (or the same as the US in 1980). This is pretty much as to be expected, as Russian healthcare despite intensive modernization in the past decade still lags developed country standards.

So we have a paradox: While Russian children are on average are “only” 2x as likely to die as American ones, adoptees in particular are supposedly 39x more at risk. The differential between the two groups is simply too high to be credible.

Thankfully one gelievna had already done most of the work. Here is what the article in Ttolk wrote:

Already for several years semi-official documents cite the following number: Since 1991 to 2006, i.e. over 15 years, there died 1,220 children who had been adopted by Russian citizens. Of them 12 were killed by their own adopters.

During this same period, from 1991 to 2006, there died 18 Russian children in adopting families in the West. Knowing the number of adoptees there and in Russia (92,000 and 158,000, respectively) we can calculate the relative danger of adoption in these two worlds. It turns out that there is one dead child per 5,103 foreign families, whereas in Russian families this ratio is at one dead child to every 130 families. This means that adoptees in Russian families are in 39 times more danger than in foreign ones.

Well isn’t that shocking? Surely a humanitarian intervention is called for to rescue Russia’s children and place them in American homes. The only problem is that the 1,220 figure doesn’t refer to deaths at all. Here is what the original source, a 2005 report, actually said:

In 2005, the Ministry of Education and Science gathered preliminary statistics for the past 5 years on cases of death and incidences of ill treatment of orphans, adopted by Russians or taken into guardianship or a foster family, according to which:

Out of 1220 children, 12 died by the fault of the adopters and guardians;

Out of 116 children, whose health was for various causes subjected to heavy harm, 23 suffered by the fault of the adopters and guardians

So the article at Ttolk is basically comparing apples and oranges, i.e. the numbers of Russian adoptees who died in foreign countries vs. the numbers of Russian adoptees that were ill treated in Russia. Of course the latter figure is always going to be much, much higher.

What concrete findings we have (assuming the rest of the article is accurate) is that 18 Russian adoptees died in foreign countries (of those we know! there is no systemic tracking) during 1991-2006 vs. 12 Russian adoptees died by the fault of their foster parents specifically during 1999-2004 or so.

So while an exact comparison remains elusive we can know be fairly certain that in fact the risk of murder is broadly similar for a Russian adoptee in both Russia and the US. Basically it is (thankfully) extremely rare in both countries. I would also point out that this is far from a “Russophile” or “Russian chauvinist” conclusion, knowing that a lot of Russians harp on about the supposedly everyday shooting rampages in schools all over America. In reality this is just the usual anti-guns hysteria mixed in with Americanophobia, American schools are actually extremely safe with only 1-1.5% of all violent deaths of children occurring on school premises in any single year. (Even a very “catastrophic” event like the Newtown shooting would only raise this by about one percentage point).

This whole episode strongly reminds me of similar cases in the past when some wild figure was misquoted, spread in Russian liberal circles, and then transferred to the West. E.g. an imaginary spike of abortions in the wake of the economic crisis. Or the wild exaggeration of Russian emigration figures.

2. It was a cynical and pre-planned ploy to “punish” the US for the Magnitsky Act. Mercouris has already very elegantly demonstrated why this is the wrong way to look at it so one can do worse than quote him in extenso:

“I gather the Federation Council has now voted unanimously to support the adoption ban. This is a direct result of the campaign against it.

The adoption ban looks to me like an emotional response not just to the Magnitsky law but also to the way in which the original Dima Yakovlev law was first formulated. This very wisely limited sanctions to US officials who have violated the human rights of Russians. By doing so Russia has avoided the ridiculous situation created by the Magnitsky law by not extending its jurisdiction to US citizens whose actions have nothing to do with Russia. Understandably enough someone decided to name the law after Dima Yakovlev, who is not a Russian whose rights were violated but who as a child makes the ideal poster boy for this sort of law. However by naming the law after Dima Yakovlev the whole subject of the mistreatment of Russian children in the US was opened up and someone (Putin?, Russia’s Children’s Ombudsman?, someone within United Russia?) in what was surely an emotional response decided to tack on an adoption ban to the original Dima Yakovlev law. That this was not pre planned is shown by the fact that the Russian Foreign Ministry was until recently busy negotiating the agreement with the State Department to protect Russian children that I discussed previously. I gather this agreement was reached as recently as last month i.e. November not September as I said in my previous comment. It is scarcely likely that the Russian government negotiated an agreement it planned to cancel, which shows that the adoption ban must have been an emotional afterthought.

Since the adoption ban was almost certainly an emotional afterthought that almost certainly had not been properly thought through the best way to defeat it would have been to try to reason the Russian parliament and government and Russian public opinion out of it. The point could have been made that adoption is a private matter, that the number of Russian children abused by their US adoptive parents is microscopically small, that it is unfair on other intended US adopted parents to discriminate against them because of the bad behavior of a very few bad US adoptive parents and that the problems involving Russian children with the US authorities and with the US courts have hopefully been addressed by the agreement with the US State Department, which should be given a chance to work. It could also have been pointed out that the adoption ban sits uneasily with the rest of the Dima Yakovlev law, which is intended to hit out at US officials who violate the rights of Russian citizens and not at innocent US citizens who want to adopt Russian children.

All of these arguments have been lost by the hysterical and hyperbolic reaction to the adoption ban. Thus critics of the law have accused Russian legislators of cynically acting contrary to the interests of children, which unnecessarily offends those Russian legislators who may genuinely have thought that by supporting the adoption ban they were trying to protect Russian children. They have also all but said that Russia is incapable of looking after its own orphaned children, which must offend patriotically minded people generally. They have even come close to insinuating that Russian children are better off being brought up in the US than in Russia, which must offend patriotically minded people even more. For its part the US has behaved equally crassly by using the Magnitsky law to threaten Russian legislators in a matter that has nothing to do with either human rights or with Magnitsky and by apparently saying that the adoption ban violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is doubtful but which is also crass if it is true as I have heard that unlike Russia the US is one of the two or three countries which have not ratified it.

The totally predictable result is that the adoption ban has not only been overwhelmingly supported by the parliament and is now certain to become law but Russian public opinion has consolidated behind it.”

3. The law meets fierce population opposition within Russia. Here is what the Guardian writes:

But inside Russia the bill has been criticised by opposition figures as “cannibalistic”, with a petition against the act being signed by more than 100,000 people.

The Western media has spread the idea there is huge grassroots opposition to the Dima Yakovlev law. In addition there has been coverage of a petition floating around the White House to place Duma deputies who voted for the adoptions ban to be placed on the Magnitsky list as “human rights abusers” and denied entry to the US.

This image is however almost entirely false.

Laurie Penny hints at it in the Guardian:

Not all the adopted children thrived, as the populations “back home” are painfully aware. In 2008 Dima Yakovlev, a Russian toddler adopted by Americans, died after being left in a sweltering car for hours. His adopted parents were found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Russia’s new bill is named after Dima Yakovlev.

Max Fisher in the Washington Post spells it out clearly:

As it turns out, the ban on American adoptions is remarkably popular in Russia. A new Russian survey finds that 56 percent support the ban and 21 percent oppose, a ratio of almost three-to-one. The support seems to stem from a belief that American families are dangerous, cruel, and at times violent to their adoptive Russian children.

Here is the link to the FOM poll. What’s especially noticeable is that a majority of all major social groups support it: 44% of Prokhorov voters; 50% of young people; 48% of people with a higher education; etc.

If one believes that only the scum of the earth like Putin could write the Dima Yakovlev Law, then it would be incongruent not to extend the hatred towards ordinary Russians. La Russophobe is one of the few who gets points for consistency.

4. The Russian government was very enthusiastic about the Dima Yakovlev Law. No, it wasn’t. As Mercouris wrote above, it basically torpedoed months of negotiations with the Americans for Russian officials to get more information about the status of Russian orphans in the US. That is presumably why FM Lavrov was against it as were at least two other Ministers. It was the Duma taking the initiative.

In a further irony, I found an article at the Communist Party website that criticized United Russia for not supporting a similar law back in 2010.

NOTE: The following points are taken pretty much directly from the very разоблачительная article “Orphans Q&A” by gloriaputina.

5. Russia has an inordinately huge number of orphans. The number is 654,355 as of end-2011, however the vast majority are so-called “social orphans” (their parents have been found incapable of parenting). Furthermore, even if a social orphan is adopted, he still remains in the social orphan category. The analogous figure for the US is 3 MILLION.

Ironically, as argued by the blogger, there is an inverse correlation between the rate of orphans and children’s safety. Basically when the state makes children into orphans, the numbers of deaths of children falls (presumably because they are taken away from violent and/or abusive parents). Now yes of course this is not positively good, sometimes there are ridiculous cases, but in Russia at least he is correct in that there is a correlation: As the numbers of parents who had children taken away climbed from 31,000 in 1995 to 53,000 in 2000 and 74,000 in 2008, overall child mortality has plummeted throughout the period (although of course other factors like better healthcare and less alcohol consumption would also play major roles).

Very few Russians abandon their children. They account for 1% of the total number of orphans, vs. 4% both of whose parents died, and 95% “social orphans”.

6. Russians don’t adopt, if there are no kind Americans to take up some of the slack, Russian orphans will be condemned to slow death in state orphanages.

It’s not so much a matter of Russians and Americans not adopting as few people anywhere being interested in adopting children over the age of three. Here is a graph.

In the above graph green represents adoption by Russian citizens, blue by foreign citizens, in 2009. In state orphanages, 90% of children are older than 11 years; 70-80% are older than 14 years. There is a waiting list for adopting children under the age of 3.

7. The majority of Russian orphans have to live in orphanages. Wrong, and this apparently has never been the case.

The yellow bars represent children who are transferred to foster parents (which I think is distinct from “adopted” as in the US), the blue bars represent the numbers of children who are housed in state institutions at any one year. The ratio between the two is steadily increasing and converging to the typical Western model, in which almost all children are taken in by foster parents.

7. Russians only adopt healthy children, while only kind foreigners take those with disabilities. Again, wrong.

30% of the children in the federal database are children with some registered physical disability; the vast majority of them are living with families, only 5% of their numbers live in child institutions.

Now since 1995 about 10% of Russian children adopted by both foreigners in general and Americans in particular were registered as having a disability. In 2011, the US adopted 44 children with disabilities, whereas Russians adopted 188 children with disabilities. In 2009-2011 more than 20,000 orphaned (0-6 age range) children left Russia, whereas as of January 2012, the waiting list for them in Russia was 12,900 long.

8. Russia is alone in being a nasty country that (now) bans American adoptions of children.

Guatemala

Romania

In any case adoptions from Russia had been dropping rapidly since 2004 anyway, constituting less than 1,000 by 2011.

There are in fact quite a number of countries that make foreign adoptions very difficult stopping short of outright bans including many in the ECE area. Russia’s ban is the only one the Western media decides to politicize however (although in fairness it’s a two way street given the absurd association on Russia’s part to portray it as a response to the Magnitsky Act).

9. I think that the Dima Yakovlev Law is a good idea. No, I don’t, I’m just clearing up major misconceptions in this post. While there may be valid grounds to much more stringently regulate foreign adoptions (e.g. ensuring all Russians wishing to adopt have the chance to, and ensure children don’t fall into the hands of pimps/organ traders/etc), the decision to only target Americans and to present it as a response to the Magnitsky Act is crude and idiotic, and just one of the many examples of the Russian government shooting itself in the foot PR-wise.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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At least if you take Michael Bohm’s arguments in his latest Moscow Times missive on how Russia Is Turning Into Iran to its logical conclusion.

Look, I’m not a fan of blasphemy laws. The First Amendment is a wonderful thing and something that makes the US truly great… even exceptional, to an extent. Although it should be noted that there are limits even in the US: Some quite appropriate in my opinion, others ridiculous such as the taboo on boobs on TV.

Still, if Russia’s moves to criminalize blasphemy brings it “another step closer to becoming like Iran and other Muslim theocracies”, then we have to admit that the likes of Germany, Poland, Israel, and Ireland are already long there – and contrary to what Bohm claims, it doesn’t seem that any of those countries have ended up in “chronic economic stagnation, decline and high poverty rates.”

Just look at the Wikipedia article. About half the Western world has blasphemy laws on the books. In Germany, a man was sentenced to one year in prison (suspended) in 2006 for insulting Islam. In Poland, the singer Doda was fined 5,000 złoty for the fairly innocuous comment, made well outside church, that the Bible was written by “people who drank too much wine and smoked herbal cigarettes.”

Also back in 2006 in Germany, a Berlin man was imprisoned for 9 months for disrupting a church service – but unlike the case with Pussy Riot, nobody nominated the poor bloke for the Sakharov Peace Prize. Nor did The Guardian hire a German journalist to write an oped about how Germany was becoming a “Protestant Iran” (as did Oleg Kashin).

Yet no Western commentator thinks to compare those countries to Islamic societies where apostasy is punishable by death and mobs demand the deaths of 12 year old girls who (supposedly) burn the Koran. And quite rightly so. Regardless of one’s view on the precisely where the boundaries between free speech and protecting religious feelings and social order are, it is intuitively obvious there are stark and clear lines separating today’s Christian civilization from a large chunk of the Dar al-Islam.

Russia on the other hand has yet to even sign the blasphemy bills into law, but shills like Michael Bohm are already rushing in to bracket it in with Iran. If this isn’t double standards then I really don’t know what is.

PS. I am not even going to comment on Bohm’s bizarre and absolutely illiterate musings regarding GDP.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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One of the most common arguments made to explain why Russians don’t finally overthrow the evil Putin in a bloody bunt is that they are brainwashed by the regime’s TV propaganda stations.

This isn’t actually very accurate at all. Russian TV isn’t any more propagandistic than in the West, and on some issues, less so; but that is for another time.

The more relevant issue that is presupposes that there few Russians have means of accessing the “free information on the Internet, which even Western propagandists acknowledge is not controlled in Russia. But today this is no longer actual, as revealed by this history of polls on Internet penetration from FOM.

As you can see, Internet penetration in Russia as of Spring 2012 went over the 50% mark. Those people can read all the Navalny, Snob and Echo of Moscow they want to.

Of those 51%, a much larger proportion access the Internet daily as opposed to the several years ago.

Internet penetration is at basically developed country levels of 70% in Moscow and St.-Petersburg, and in Med-like 50%’s in other urban areas.

The most “connected” regions lead only by 2-3 years.

Finally, a graph of Russia Internet penetration compared to developed countries (Germany, the US, Italy, Greece); BRIC’s; and Ukraine. A few interesting observations can be made:

(1) Internet penetration in Russia increased at very rapid rates throughout the 2000′s.

(2) They have now almost caught up with those of Greece and Portugal, and lag Italy by just 2-3 years. The US and Germany however both reached Russia’s current Internet penetration rates a decade earlier.

(3) Ukraine has the same Internet penetration rate in 2011, at 31%, as did Russia’s rural areas in the same type period – or Russia as a whole in 2009.

(4) Not related to Russia as such, but pertaining to one of the themes over at AKarlin, China is head and shoulders above India.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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One of the main theses of this blog is that in many respects, Russia is far more similar to the the “West” (and vice versa) than various democratists would have you believe.

Case in point (h/t Jon Hellevig):

When GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney visited an Ohio coal mine this month to promote jobs in the coal industry, workers who appeared with him at the rally lost pay because their mine was shut down. The Pepper Pike company that owns the Century Mine told workers that attending the Aug. 14 Romney event would be both mandatory and unpaid, a top company official said Monday morning in a West Virginia radio interview. … Moore told Blomquist that managers “communicated to our workforce that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend.”

“Mandatory” but “no one was forced to attend.” Hmm… how does that work?

This episode of Ohio coal workers pressured to attend a Romney rally does in fact neatly parallel anecdotally numerous cases in the run-up to the Russian elections. I even accept that these cases are far more prevalent in Russia, though the reasons for this are structural. Whereas single industry towns with singular political allegiances – e.g., coal towns, for whom Romney is far preferable to Obama – are the exception rather than the rule in the US, there are hundreds of such “monograds” in Russia. These monograds tend to have authoritarian political cultures at the local level.

But its not like you never stumble across analogues to them in the West.

(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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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.