Archive for April, 2009

24
Apr
09

Breaking News: Russian propaganda outbreak in the UK!!!

bear-cartoon_1390024cJust a short post to mention that the british newspaper The Telegraph has reprinted yesterday a Moscow Times article entitled: What the West thinks of Russia is not necessarily true.

Don’t know why but it sounds familiar to me. Please read it below:

Poor, authoritarian and submissive?

If we can’t refute popular impressions of Russia and Russians, let’s try to explain their origins and how they reflect reality.Everyone is poor in Russia. Yes, there is a huge income difference between the top and bottom 10pc. In 2008, income at the top 10pc was 16 times higher than the bottom 10pc. In Moscow it was 40-50 times higher.

Some people think social polarisation between rich and poor is linked to taxation, citing the US, where disparity in levels of pre-tax income is also considerable but evened out by taxation. Russia has a flat rate income tax: 13pc. Moreover, the habit of conscientiously paying taxes started taking root only recently. Historically, the concept of “no taxation without representation” was unknown, because Russians didn’t know what representation meant.

A significant difference in incomes makes society unstable, because it gives rise to indifference in some sectors and a hatred of wealth in others. In America, the American Dream and people’s confidence in their potential compensate for income inequalities. In Europe, higher incomes compensate for inequality of opportunity. Russia is more like Latin America.

If you compare us with the West, Russian democracy is not the same: too much is decided at federal or regional level. But we mustn’t forget that for centuries Russians have associated the power of the country with the power of the state. Russians have grown accustomed to measuring their country’s power in terms of victories. Russian victories came in times of strong rule – from Peter the Great to Stalin. Its people are afraid of weak rule because the believe weakness leads to chaos, and that means injustice and even greater poverty and lawlessness.

“Grassroots” power has effectively never existed in Russia, particularly in the political sphere. There’s an old saying: “We’ll wait till the squire comes, and he’ll sort it all out.”

The Russian philosopher Nikolay Berdyayev wrote: “The Russian loves Russia, but he’s not used to feeling accountable to Russia.”

Are Putin’s approval ratings artificial? Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Centre, a leading sociological centre, explained this in the Novyye Izvestiya newspaper:

“Russians are always afraid of poverty. This is the ‘genetic’ fear of a poor society. People’s aspirations are all linked to two aims: to escape a situation of chronic need and to make sure their children are healthy and prosperous. This is what they measure everything by, including political events.“

The country has never lived so well [in recent years], and people believed it would stay like that for ever, or at least would not get worse. Moreover, there’s one important aspect of our national psychology or culture that is underestimated – our willingness to passively put up with things.”

And although the percentage of Russians who believe the country is going in the right direction has fallen from 54pc in Oc-tober to 43pc in January, Putin avoided a similar fate. His approval rating rose from 80 to 83pc since the war with Georgia; President Medvedev’s is also up, from 70 to 73pc.

“Criticism doesn’t stick,” says Gudkov. People, he adds, still believe in Putin. “Their dissatisfaction is directed towards the middle-level bureaucrats… People’s trust in Putin isn’t based on his practical actions: it’s more complex in nature. Putin’s high rating is made up of hopes… the role he plays is symbolic, not practical.”

  • Svetlana Babayeva is RIA Novosti US bureau chief, Washington

Don’t be afraid of the bear’s hug

Foreigners quite often see Russia as a bear. It was used in cartoons and articles at least since the 19th century, and related alike to tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia.

And the connection is correct. The bear, like the biggest country in the world, is a huge animal that weighs 100-700 kilos. And if you squint your eyes the right way, Russia’s geographical shape on the map is quite similar to a bear’s silhouette.

During the Soviet era, the bear was most often drawn in the Western press facing west, with the head being made up of Soviet republics. Nowadays with the new shape of Russia the bear usually faces its rear end towards Europe and its head toward the Far East.

A bear was the symbol of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and the image of “Mishka” floating away into the sky after the games will never be forgotten.The roots of the bear connected to Russia go deep. The first time this image was linked Russia was in the 16th century when bears were depicted as shield-bearers on the Muscovy Company emblem (an English company founded in 1596). There was no political colouring, just the attribute of mysterious Muscovites.

In the 18th century, this image appeared in politics and represented a monstrous and aggressive creature from the east. In the heat of trade competition between Russia and Great Britain, the latter aimed to impose a negative image of Russia on the world arena.

Among the most significant political caricatures there were titles such as “The Russian Bear and her invincible rider encountering the British Legion” and “From Russian gears good Lord deliver me…” This usually shy animal was somehow depicted as cruel and ruthless.The perception of the bear is entirely dif-ferent in Russia. After the Olympics it was taken up as the symbol of the dominant United Russia Party.

We should remember that the bear is not naturally aggressive. In fact, its diet is three quarters vegetable and fruit. Still, brown bears may attack young deer, moose and caribou, but their prime choice is fish. They hibernate for six months, are lazy and prefer eating honey to hunting.

Thus, the most intimidating thing about bears is their size. Surprisingly, these big creatures do not usually attack first, unless they feel their cubs are threatened. Like the noble lion of the jungle, the bear is often regarded as king of the forest.

All of the above is true of Russia as well. There is no aggressive bear here. The negative perception of Russia is imposed on the West at every opportunity. A bear is often used in the media to describe Russia, but rarely favourably. Recently, Jaak Aaviksoo, Estonian Minister of Defence, commenting on the Russian-Georgian conflict, said that Russian bear behaviour had deteriorated.

Do you think “deteriorated behaviour” is Russia’s question? It is more likely the answer. Punch in “Russian bear” into your in-ternet search engine and negative articles will pop up. But Russia isn’t a hunter, it prefers a “vegetarian diet”; and it rarely kills people unless provoked. A brutal and clumsy animal has a different face.

The ties between Russia and bear allego-ry are close, but there is more. Ironically, Russia’s current president has a “bear surname”. In Russian, “bear” is medved – and President Dmitry Anatolyevich’s surname is Medvedev (genitive of “medved”).

Now Russians can nod their heads in agreement when foreigners ask: “Are there bears on Red Square?”

  • Daria Chernyshova is a commentator for The Moscow News
Advertisements
17
Apr
09

The Siloviki faction: they are everywhere!!!

071031_putin_01In a recent post, I wrote about Hawks and doves within the Kremlin and many thought (as I expected) I was talking about the so-called Siloviki/financiers struggle.

Well, I wasn’t… Because I just don’t believe in this Siloviki faction you hear about whenever you read about Russian politics.

What is exactly this Siloviki faction anyway? For western journalists it is something like a sect or at least a secret order built on the ashes of the infamous KGB and which plans to take over Russia.

I”m not too much into conspiracy theories and I tend not to believe in globalizing theories. Let me explain.

According to many “observers”, the Siloviki faction gathers people close to Putin former FSB agents and/or people from St-Petersburg. Basically anyone who has ever met Putin!!!

I don’t buy it. Can we then talk about a “Chicago clique” behind Obama? I mean, is there something more common for a leader than to hire counselors he knows, with whom he has a common background.

Does it make a faction out of them? An unbreakable link? A common vision and objectives? Does it prevennt personal ambition?

But there’s more when you talk about the Siloviki. The alleged members of this faction would be ploting to take over Russia. Come on! In which circles close to government don’t you see people taking advantage of their situation. Corruption and embezzlement does not only exist in Putin’s Russia.

So, Putin has brought with him a bunch of hardcore nationalists, but is he himself anything else than a hardcore nationalist.

I think this all Siloviki fantasy is the silliest journalistic invention around Putin and his ambition for Russia. He does not need any secret faction to implement his politics. Unfortunately???

02
Apr
09

Boris berezovsky: rise and fall of a first generation oligarch (part 2)

I admit I was being a bit provocative publishing a Russia Today report in my last week post. For those of you who think (and eventually told me) I have sold my soul to the Kremlin, I just want to make my point clear.

Berezovsky -as Khodorkovsky as a matter of fact- claims he is the sole democrat in Russia and that he is being prosecuted for his liberal positions.

We all know this is not true. Prosecutions against him are for the least shady and highly political, but have nothing to do with a struggle for liberty and democracy.

Berezovsky was a ruthless and ambitious businessman who thought that because he helped Putin being elected would be at the very heart of Russian power.

He was wrong, did not accept it and thought he was strong enough to test Putin. He lost the battle, end of the story.

Russia Today report was indeed biased, but not that much more than other reports we see on Russia lately. I wanted to promote it because I thought that at least, it was a good way to bring another point of view within the debate…