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Totalitarian culture is apolitical

A few words on such terms as "politics," "public life," "political participation," as well as "the fate of your nation" are in order here. The meaning of these terms underwent considerable changes between 1988 and 1992. During the Soviet era, "politics" meant something official and imposed from above on a common citizen. It included obligatory meetings and officially sanctioned demonstrations declaring unanimous support for the government, plus the Young Communist League's pseudo-popular initiatives. In the early glasnost era that fell between 1987 and 1988, public consciousness was agitated and politicized. This was especially apparent among the young people and the so-called "60's generation" -- dissident intellectuals whose formative years coincided with the Khrushchev thaw. Political clubs and seminars sprang up throughout the country, with the participants making daring (by the standards of the time) speeches and proposing novel political schemes. The circle of people united into these groups was fairly narrow, but their influence was growing rapidly, spurred in part by the liberal press. This liberal "club culture" operated with the approval of Communist party reformers, who tried to stir the debates towards "constructive channels" and keep reforms within the basic framework of the Soviet system of government. Later on, mass political movements would begin to gather force, bringing in their wake semi-open elections and ethnic conflicts. The political process could no longer be controlled from one center, yet it did not acquire stable features of a multi-party system. With the Communist party exiting center stage after August '91, the political vacuum ensued, and it has not been filled since. After all, the CPSU was not a political but a state monopoly structure; the absence of viable political institutions and organizations simply became more apparent since the Communist party's sudden collapse. Totalitarian societies tend to confer the "political" status on each and every problem facing the nation, yet they remain profoundly apolitical -- not just because the masses of people are politically disenfranchised, but because no real political interests are allowed to crystallize and acquire a stable organizational form. Where everything is declared to be political, especially every initiative undertaken by the extant powers, nothing qualifies as a genuinely political event. Politics, state, constitution, election -- all these phenomena are robbed of their political content, while public and private life, as well as ideology and economics, are radically conflated.

Levada Political Culture

As the public began to lose its interest in political debunking and in stories about the Stalinist excesses, the new stage of Russia 's political transformation commenced. This third stage, which dated back to the early 1992, placed on the agenda another question well known to the Russian reform-minded intellectuals: "What is to be done?" The answer was sought not so much in digging out new enemies and plotting new revolutions as in freeing prices from state control, encouraging private enterprise, and granting more autonomy to regional authorities. The liberal policies pursued at this stage tended to be idealistic, impractical, and sometimes downright irrational. Liberalism and state reforms clearly parted company. Meanwhile, the populace shunned ideology and gave the sacramental formula "What is to be done" a pragmatic reading, doing what it could to muddle through everyday life. Such a turn of events was particularly painful for an authoritarian society. Ever since Russia embarked on the course of modernization some 150 years ago, it relied exclusively on authoritarian means to move the country forward. Perestroika and post-perestroika reformers acted in the same tradition, seeking to impose reforms from above. By the end of 1992, support for political institutions and leaders hit a new low. Spurred by the ex-liberal scandal-mongering oppositional press, public consciousness turned against all politicians and reforms. Perestroika intellectuals grew increasingly angry, aggressive, and divisive. No national leader or political group seemed capable of commanding authority and providing moral guidance. But then again, the state resources for ramming social reforms down society's throat were exhausted -- the fact that political leaders had a hard time to digest.

Russia-Ukraine War: Romania Fears It May Be Next on Putin's Hit List - Bloomberg

As for European allies coming to the rescue, Romanians do not trust France and Germany at all. French President Emmanuel Macron, it is thought, will sacrifice any principle for the sake of making France a middleman between Russia and Ukraine. As for the Germans, they have already built two Nord Stream pipelines for Russian gas. “And what gets built, eventually gets used,” a local analyst told me. It was a refrain I heard from others: When winter comes, and Germany and other parts of Europe suffer heating shortages, that’s when European resolve against Russia will erode.

Russia’s Genocide Handbook – Mgrublian Center for Human Rights

As I have been saying since the war began, “denazification” in official Russian usage just means the destruction of the Ukrainian state and nation.  A “Nazi,” as the genocide manual explains, is simply a human being who self-identifies as Ukrainian.  According to the handbook, the establishment of a Ukrainian state thirty years ago was the “nazification of Ukraine.”  Indeed “any attempt to build such a state” has to be a “Nazi” act.  Ukrainians are “Nazis” because they fail to accept “the necessity that the people support Russia.”  Ukrainians should suffer for believing that they exist as a separate people; only this can lead to the “redemption of guilt.”

An apology to our readers - The Cosmopolitan Globalist

The miserable, needless human tragedy engulfing Ukraine matters in its own right. It should matter to any sentient human even if American national security interests weren’t at play. But American national security interests—the security of the whole “rules based international order”—are very much at play, and Putin proposes to destroy that order, which will, ultimately, destroy everything.

An Epic Train Trip on the Trans-Siberian Railroad Changed My Life - Bloomberg

The conductor, who spoke no English, didn’t seem worried; every day, he lounged shirtless at the car’s entrance, cigarette in hand. Nearby, a sign said “No Smoking” in Russian and English. At last, a European passenger confronted the conductor, miming her dissatisfaction and pointing angrily at the sign. The conductor’s response was also silent: He went inside his berth, produced a screwdriver, and removed the sign from the wall.

The terrifying depths of Donald Trump's ignorance, in a single quote -

“Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan,” Trump began. “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is, it was a tough fight. And literally they went bankrupt; they went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot of these places you’re reading about now are no longer part of Russia, because of Afghanistan.”

The Soviet Children's Books That Broke the Rules of Propaganda - Atlas Obscura

In the early years of the Soviet Union, authors and illustrators invigorated by the revolutionary spirit reimagined children’s literature, and set to work at the centuries-old task of shaping young minds through simple stories and vivid pictures. In one iconic poster, Lenin has his arms outstretched, imploring the country to “Give Us the New Children’s Book.” Baba Yaga, demons, kings, and queens were out, and planes, parades, and farming were in. These new children’s books leaned on abstract, avant-garde images and are easily identified—just like the iconic Soviet posters—as the products of a particular place, time, and ideology.

Vladimir Putin uses speech to herald end of US hegemony | Financial Times

“Empires often think they can make some little mistakes . . . because they’re so powerful,” he said. “But when the number of these mistakes keeps growing, it reaches a level they cannot sustain.” “A country can get the sense from impunity that you can do anything,” he told an audience at a ski resort close to the southern city of Sochi. “This is the result of the monopoly from a unipolar world . . . Luckily this monopoly is disappearing. It’s almost done.”

Russia’s only Gulag memorial is redesigned to celebrate the Gulag — Meduza

Viktor Shmyrov, the director of the nonprofit that until recently managed Perm-36, told the BBC that the museum is being maintained, but its public presentation is getting a complete overhaul. “Now it’s a museum about the camp system, but not about political prisoners. There’s nothing said about the repressions or about Stalin,” Shmyrov said.

100 years after the October revolution, the neo-Bolsheviks come from the right - The Washington Post

His extremism was precisely what persuaded the German government, then at war with Russia, to help Lenin carry out his plans. “We must now definitely try to create the utmost chaos in Russia,” one German official advised. “We must secretly do all that we can to aggravate the differences between the moderate and the extreme parties . . . since we are interested in the victory of the latter.” The kaiser personally approved of the idea; his generals hoped it would lead the Russian state to collapse and withdraw from the war. And so the German government promised Lenin funding, put him and 30 other Bolsheviks — among them his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya , as well as his mistress, Inessa Armand — onto a train, and sent them to revolutionary Petrograd.

These are the Facebook posts Russia used to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign – ThinkProgress

Because where pro-Trump and anti-Clinton material have dominated the accounts that have thus far come to light, a key theme emerges throughout: The Russian operations also targeted the cultural schisms and tensions coursing through the U.S., muddying messages and exacerbating tensions to the point of nearly breaking.

“It gets people killed”: Osip Mandelstam and the perils of writing poetry under Stalin

Nadezhda Mandelstam – the poet’s wife and invaluable support throughout his, and their, many years of persecution and exile – wrote in her powerful memoir of both the poet and the era, Hope Against Hope, about the many instances when, confronted with the desperation of their situation, they had asked each other if this was the moment when they, too, could no longer bear to go forward. The final occasion was to be the last night they spent in their Moscow apartment before being banished, without means of providing for themselves, to a succession of rural towns situated beyond a hundred-kilometre perimeter of all major cities. She awoke to find Mandelstam standing at the open window. “Isn’t it time?” he said. “Let’s do it while we’re still together.” “Not yet,” she replied. Mandelstam didn’t argue but she later reflected, “If we had been able to foresee all the alternatives, we would not have missed that last chance of a ‘normal’ death offered by the open window of our apartment in Furmanov Street.” Opting, in that moment, for a little more life changed nothing and Mandelstam soon found himself being moved inexorably towards Stalin’s endgame in the camps.

When Nigel Farage met Julian Assange | Politics | The Guardian

A highly placed contact with links to US intelligence told the Observer: “When the heat is turned up and all electronic communication, you have to assume, is being intensely monitored, then those are the times when intelligence communication falls back on human couriers. Where you have individuals passing information in ways and places that cannot be monitored.” When asked about the meeting in the embassy, Farage said: “I never discuss where I go or who I see.” In October, Roger Stone, a Republican strategist whose links to Russia are currently under investigation by the FBI, told a local CBS reporter about “a back-channel communication with Assange, because we have a good mutual friend … that friend travels back and forth from the United States to London and we talk”. Asked directly by the Observer if Nigel Farage was that friend, his spokesman said: “Definitely not.”

Dostoyevsky and Russia's soul

Dostoevsky, who traveled widely in Europe but was suspicious of it, despised passionately the revolutionaries and their desired revolution. He spent the 1860s and 1870s obsessing over Russia’s looming confrontation with itself. His four most important works (Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Devils, and The Brothers Karamazov) are not simply novels, but rather dystopian warnings about what would happen if Russia did not return to its pre-Petrine origins.

DailyKos: "Donald Trump was bailed out of bankruptcy by Russia crime bosses"

“You could say I was their exclusive broker,” he told Ria. “Then, in 2007-2008, dozens of Russians bought apartments in Trump properties in the US.” He later told ABC television that the Trump Organisation had received “hundreds of millions of dollars” through deals with Russian businessmen.

Garry Kasparov on why Vladimir Putin hates chess.

Putin, as with every dictator, hates chess because chess is a strategic game which is 100 percent transparent. I know what are available resources for me and what kind of resources could be mobilized by my opponent. Of course, I don’t know what my opponent thinks about strategy and tactics, but at least I know what kind of resources available to you cause damage to me. Dictators hate transparency and Putin feels much more comfortable playing a game that I would rather call geopolitical poker. In poker, you know, you can win having a very weak hand, provided you have enough cash to raise the stakes—and also, if you have a strong nerve, to bluff. Putin kept bluffing. He could see his geopolitical opponents—the leaders of the free world—folding cards, one after another. For me, the crucial moment where Putin decided that he could do whatever was Obama’s decision not to enforce the infamous red line in Syria.

Autocracy: Rules for Survival

One of the falsehoods in the Clinton speech was the implied equivalency between civil resistance and insurgency. This is an autocrat’s favorite con, the explanation for the violent suppression of peaceful protests the world over.

Trump in hock to Putin and his comrades

Trump's financial empire is heavily leveraged and has a deep reliance on capital infusions from oligarchs and other sources of wealth aligned with Putin.

More perverse laundering in Russia

“Let’s say an F.S.B. officer commits a murder somewhere,” Soldatov said. “The police on the scene are required to call the F.S.B.’s internal-security department, which will dispatch its own officer to the scene—not to investigate the crime or take the guy into custody but to show up with a resignation letter that’s backdated by a day, and force the suspect to sign, so that as of the time he allegedly committed a crime he’s no longer an F.S.B. officer.”

Russia's reverse money laundering

Essentially, obnal is a way for a business to take a portion of cash off the books. The shadow economy’s demand for obnal is likely tens of billions of dollars a year—driven by the incentive to avoid high taxes on business operations and profits, and the need to pay bribes and kickbacks. Maxim Osadchiy, the head of the analytical department at Moscow’s C.F.B. bank, explained the underlying logic of obnal: “Normally, money laundering is about making dirty money clean. But this market, you could say, takes clean money and makes it dirty.” The basic idea is that a firm, operating officially and legally, purchases some service—it could be consulting advice, or roof cleaning—from a company that exists only on paper and doesn’t, in fact, deliver anything. The firm transfers money to a bank, ostensibly to process the transaction for this service, and the money returns as obnal, minus a fee.

Is the birth of Novorossiya the death of Central Europe?

In the past few days, Russian troops bearing the flag of a previously unknown country, Novorossiya, have marched across the border of southeastern Ukraine. The Russian Academy of Sciences recently announced it will publish a history of Novorossiya this autumn, presumably tracing its origins back to Catherine the Great. Various maps of Novorossiya are said to be circulating in Moscow. Some include Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk, cities that are still hundreds of miles away from the fighting. Some place Novorossiya along the coast, so that it connects Russia to Crimea and eventually to Transnistria, the Russian-occupied province of Moldova. […] Russian soldiers will have to create this state — how many of them depends upon how hard Ukraine fights, and who helps them — but eventually Russia will need more than soldiers to hold this territory. […]A few days ago, Alexander Dugin, an extreme nationalist whose views have helped shape those of the Russian president, issued an extraordinary statement. “Ukraine must be cleansed of idiots,” he wrote — and then called for the “genocide” of the “race of bastards.”

Among the Alconauts « LRB blog

The Kremlin has ordered a million bottles of European wine so far this year, a 26 per cent rise on the same period last year. Could they be putting together a stash before imposing sanctions? It isn’t hard to imagine the Kremlin blocking European booze and lauding the patriotic qualities of Crimean and Krasnodar reds. Most of them are terrible but the other week in Moscow I drank my first pretty good Southern Russian white. It had been created with the help of French experts, who spent years on the job. If the wine wars begin in earnest, the West will have to ban vintners and oenologists from working in Russia.

What Putin giveth...

Mr. Yevtushenkov has now joined a list that includes not only Putin critics like the exiled former oil executive Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, who spent 10 years in prison before being freed by Mr. Putin, and Aleksei A. Navalny, […]They also include others who, like Mr. Yevtushenkov, once expected that outward loyalty and close ties to the Kremlin afforded them a measure of protection.A prominent businessman who knows Mr. Yevtushenkov said that Mr. Putin had eroded the very notion of property rights in Russia, even for those who displayed fealty. He said that Mr. Putin himself had described private ownership of strategic industries with the Russian word to roost. “A chicken can exercise ownership of eggs, and it can get fed while it’s sitting on the egg,” he said, “but it’s not really their egg.”

Common knowledge

Discussion between two prison inmates:    – What are you in for? – I created a comic strip, where I wrote that our president is a moron. – So, what article of the criminal code did they use to convict you: for slander or for extremism? – Neither of those. It was for the disclosure of state secrets!

Driver's education

"This week the Russian government gave all 44 of its Olympic medalists a new Mercedes. When asked what happened to the athletes who didn't medal, Putin said, 'Do not open trunk.'" –Jimmy Fallon