Streetwise Professor

November 11, 2009

Read Mossy’s Comment

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:44 am

Commentor Mossy–a resident of Russia–has provided an excellent comment on the Brittleness post.  The description of the current situation in Russia captures the atmospherics of a pre-revolutionary situation, which s/he compares to the (pre-revolutionary) situation in the 1980s.

Thanks, Mossy.

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  1. Mossy, let’s cut to the bone here, the rot in Russia isn’t going to reverse until the masses wake up from their collective coma and have a different vision of themselves as something more than serfs or party animals collecting western stuff like cheap and easy prostitutes. Who’s to blame for Russia’s rot, well, when the good people of Russia do simple things like civil disobedience as in showing up above the Kremlin prescribed numbers for an opposition rally or a murdered journalist’s funeral I’ll give them some sympathy.

    Any population as willfully ignorant(Stalin wasn’t their benefactor or national hero), risk averse, apolitical and apathetic deserves the government it gets. Putin will live on into the stagnation without much more than a whimper in my opinion.

    Color me sceptical, but, Russians never fail to disappoint the freedom loving democratically minded. Im reality Russia is radioactive for good reason.

    And, no offense, Mossy, but, where were you at any of the opposition rallies or tributes to murdered journalists if you live in Moscow? Just asking.

    Comment by onecent — November 11, 2009 @ 11:20 pm

  2. If this opposition didn’t exist, the Kremlin would have to invent it. The black armband history propaganda machine is running out of steam. People are getting around to the fact that Stalin ranks up there with Ivan, Peter and Catherine.

    Comment by So? — November 12, 2009 @ 2:33 am

  3. Oh, dear. How quickly this gets boring. All we need is for someone to shout What about… (insert Western atrocity) and then we’d have the full range of what passes for online discussion about Russia these days.

    Well, yeah, onecent, it probably would be good if more Russians were politically and socially active, although I don’t think mass demonstrations are the only way to effect change. But why are you so snide? This is the first time in – I was going to say “a generation,” but really, it’s the first time ever, in all recorded history, that so many Russians have access to the basic stuff of life. If you lived without toilet paper and cheese and vegetables and meat and shoes and decent coats and just about everything else for 40 years, you’d probably go a little wild at the mall, too. Besides, because people do own stuff now – and not only yoghurt and cell phones, but apartments and cars and land and dachas – they have something to lose. They pay attention to the cases of “improperly registered land” or apartments the owners “didn’t have the right” to buy. People are afraid that they’ll lose their jobs, or that their kids’ lives will be ruined. The intimidation has been very effective. People also don’t see anyone they respect as a leader (that campaign has been effective, too). And they don’t believe it will make a difference anyway (ditto).

    I don’t agree with people – here and there – who insist that Russians are genetically incapable of political activism. They were 20 years ago. They took to the streets by the millions; they stood in long lines to vote. Why then and not now? Because then they saw it was making a difference, because there were politicians they admired and trusted, because it wasn’t dangerous. Even now, when non-cash benefits were switched to much smaller payments of cash, there were dozens of pensioner demonstrations. When a driver was unfairly sentenced to a jail term after governor Evdokimov was killed in a car accident, there were spontaneous rallies all over the country. People are doing a good job of making sure someone is punished after the death of another governor, who was killed while illegally hunting an endangered species of sheep from a helicopter. And you don’t read much about it, but apartment-house residents have gotten quite effective in stopping illegal building and evictions.

    And then the whole process of chiselling away at freedoms was done cleverly. At first it was small things. A “democratic” newspaper was shut down. A TV station switched hands. In America would people take to the streets if Mother Jones was closed down or if ABC started sounding like Fox? By the time they got to the big things, they were also making the punishment for dissent terrifyingly clear.

    Yes, I wish more people would take the trouble to find out what’s going on and do something about it. Yes, I’m driven mad by the easy acceptance of lies. Yes, if everyone who is discontented did something – wrote their deputy, signed petitions, showed up at rallies, voted in every election, sent telegrams to the Kremlin – it would be a different situation. But I’m sorry: If you’re living in a nice warm house, with a job you won’t lose after you attend a rally, without fear that your teenager will end up in jail on a trumped up drug charge if you sign a petition – you don’t have the right to sneer at people who aren’t willing to make the sacrifices that you don’t have to make. If you have made those sacrifices, then I take off my hat to you.

    Comment by mossy — November 12, 2009 @ 6:29 am

  4. Mossy–Collective action is always difficult to achieve in any event. You describe part of the panoply by which the Russian state atomizes society and makes collective action even more difficult. You observed first-hand the events surrounding the demise of the USSR, and those who rule Russia today did too. They are determined to avoid a recurrence of those events, and are employing every means at their disposal to do so. They have found, probably to their astonishment, that the elevation of the standard of living of the populace makes that easier. When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose; but when you’ve got a little something, and you remember having nothing . . . . That’s probably why the monotowns are so scary for the authorities, because the desperation there makes them quite different from, say, Moscow.

    The instances of successful activism that you describe have the common characteristic that the individuals involved have a large, direct, personal stake in the matter (e.g., pensions, illegal eviction). The free rider/collective action/prisoner’s dilemma problem is much more acute when less personal, more broadly political issues are involved (e.g., closing or co-opting of a media outlet).

    Thanks again for your thoughtful input. And I agree that the rhetorical memes in these discussions can become tiresome in the extreme. “Whatabout?” and “We’re not the worst!” (e.g., every criticism of Russia being answered by a comparison with Ukraine) are the most annoyingly common.

    Keep up the good work’-)

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 12, 2009 @ 7:47 am

  5. But not the “annoyingly common” suggestion that Ukraine is more normal/democratic than Russia?

    Russia shows diversity, with a number of observers seeing this as a sign of a weak country on the brink of a melt down.

    “Activism” should ideally include seeking self improvement, without readily accepting the not so accurate and inconsistent standards of others.

    Comment by Avenger — November 12, 2009 @ 7:59 am

  6. Avenger–

    You certainly don’t hear that from me. I’ve repeatedly described Ukraine as dysfunctional, and analogized its political menage a trois to the 3 way final gunfight scene (between Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef) in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

    I will say of Ukraine, though, that (a) it doesn’t has imperialist pretensions/delusions of grandeur, and (b) is not constantly attempting to impose its dominance on its neighbors. I much prefer a dysfunctional nation that wallows in its own misery than one that schemes to inflict its dysfunctions on others.

    And spare me about self-improvement. That has to be the most unintentionally funny thing I’ve read in weeks.

    The rest of your comment is, to be honest, hardly comprehensible.

    BTW–what are you avenging? Or do you just have the hots for Diana Rigg;-)

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 12, 2009 @ 1:21 pm

  7. Avenger = Mike Averko

    Comment by peter — November 12, 2009 @ 3:35 pm

  8. Professor, out of curiosity, what’s your take on the pro-Israeli advocates who regularly bring up comparitive points about the actions of others? Seeking a reasonably consistent analytical measurement isn’t such a bad thing IMO.

    Ukraine’s borders were formed in a way generous to Ukrainian nationalists. Hence, they don’t have much room for legitimate complaint.

    In post-Soviet times, I don’t liken Russia’s counterattacxk against Georgia as being overly imperial in use of force when compared to Yugoslavia (1999) and Iraq (2003).

    On your last point, I’m a fan of some of the television and cinema from the 1960s and 70s.

    Comment by Avenger — November 12, 2009 @ 5:34 pm

  9. “Peter” = a stupid scumbag.

    Comment by bo — November 22, 2009 @ 3:31 pm

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