Sunday, February 26, 2017

Rumors and Lines Played the Role of Social Media in 1917

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 26 – If one had been reading Russian newspapers in the first weeks of 1917, there would have been little indication that the country was on the brink of a revolutionary explosion; but if one had been listening to the rumors spread among people waiting in line for bread, one would have had no doubt that the Romanov dynasty was living through its last days.

            Indeed, Svobodnaya press commentator Georgy Yans argues, these lines and the rumors spread along them were “’the social networks’ of that time” and “the catalyst of the February revolution,” an insight that says a great deal about Russia a century ago and perhaps even more about Russia and other countries today (

            “Few supposed that the demand for bread would lead to revolution,” he writes. “The paradox consisted in the fact that an important component part of social protest which in the end led to the overthrow of Nicholas Romanov consisted of rumors” spread like wildfire as people waited in lines.

            “’The social networks’ of that time were the unending lines. There was sufficient supply [of food] in Petrograd, but the authorities weren’t able to take into consideration the factor of rumors.”  And they didn’t recognize that shortages were being created because people believed that there were shortages and were buying up more than they needed.

            One Russian historian has written, Yans continues, that  “the significance of rumors at that period was great also because” residents, as they came to rely on rumors rather than the news media, underwent” a definite kind of psychological change.”  And that led them to behave differently than they had up to then.

            Having become a crowd rather than a group of residents, the historian adds, the people of Petrograd began to manifest “a collective unconsciousness” and to engage in “mass pogroms” and thefts from stores, apartments and state institutions. And they were aided and abetted in this by criminals recently released from prison.

            Very rapidly, “these processes began to take on an irreversible character and prompted Aleksandr Kerensky to ask the people of Petrograd “What are we? Free citizens or revolting slaves?” Were they citizens or slaves? Yans asks now a century later. It didn’t really matter because “de facto the Russian autocracy had ceased to exist.”

            What remained was to give this de jure form.

Russia’s Failure to Crack Down on Cruelty to Animals Opens Way to Cruelty to People, Eidman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 26 – Leo Tolstoy famously observed that “a society which treats animals badly will always be poor and criminal.”  Two events this month and the reaction of Russians to them suggest that Russia is just such a society and that the mistreatment of animals both reflects and leads to more mistreatment of human beings, Igor Eidman says.

            On February 10, Russian media reported that a woman in the Altai had thrown her child into the snow where he was saved only by a homeless dog who kept him warm until others could rescue him, and then on February 19, Daghestanis began killing dogs in massive numbers after a rapist and murderer used dogs to hide his crime (

                With regard to the first, the Russian commentator says, what was striking is that media outlets focused only on the mother and not on the hero dog who apparently “remains on the streets, homeless and unneeded by anyone. Where she is today, no one can say,” yet another indication that in today’s Russia no action no matter how sad or horrific will surprise anyone.

            With regard to the second, Eidman continues, it has become obvious that the Daghestani police and the Daghestani population was all too willing to accept the version of events that dogs and not a man had killed the young girl. Residents thus went on a killing spree against homeless animals.

            Comparing these two cases, he says, shows that “in Daghestan a blood libel turned out to be sufficient to awaken people and lead them to kill innocent dogs,” and that in the Altai, despite evidence of the heroism of the dog, “no one was found who would provide a home for even this one dog.”

            How easy in Russia it turns out to be to organize mass murders (“in this case, ‘only’ of dogs”) and “how difficult to awaken in them mercy” for a homeless dog “who saved a child from certain death!”

            Tragically, these are only two cases of animal cruelty in a country where every year there are hundreds of thousands of them.  A few awake the sympathies of some and the animals are saved from death; but all too often, Eidman says, they end in disaster and no one or at least not Russian officials seems to care.

            Animal rights activists have long sought the adoption of a federal law that would protect dogs, cats and other animals from mistreatment and death, “justly pointing out that if those who are cruel to animals remain unpunished, [they likely] will not stop at the murder of animals” but will move on to human beings.”

            But there seems little chance of such a manifestation of mercy in a country where people are “zombified” by television into thinking that killing people in Ukraine or in Syria is the right and proper thing to do, Eidman says.  Given that, the future not only of the dogs and cats of Russia but of the Russian people is anything but promising.

Putin’s Russia Pursuing ‘Survival by Paradox,’ Shevtsova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 26 – Putin’s Russia is “a unique case” in which a country is surviving by paradox, Brookings Institution analyst Liliya Shevtsova says, “converting weakness into strength, tactics into strategy, exceptions into rules, defeats into victory and a civilizational enemy into a resource for survival.”

            In an essay in The American Interest that has now been translated into Russian by Kyiv’s Novoye vremya, she says that the Kremlin while it is still uncertain about what Donald Trump will do is “hoping for the appearance of [still more] new life-saving paradoxes” for itself (

                It is possible, she suggests, that Trump will “widen the space for maneuver of the Russian system of personified power; but sooner or later the Americans will begin to create problems for Moscow” because the Russian system is predicated on the West behaving the way it did before Trump rather than in the way it may do so in the future.

            “The post-communist Russian system has demonstrated a rare capacity for recovery under conditions of an extended period of decline (yet another paradox),” Shevtsova continues. It has done so by “continuing its own life” by taking advantage of what the liberal civilization of the West has offered.

            Earlier in Soviet times, Moscow opposed the liberal world, then after 1991 it imitated its standards and now it is doing both at one and the same time. It has been able to do so because the West wanted to have a partnership with Russia and was all too often satisfied by Moscow’s efforts to suggest that it “respects Western values” when in fact it doesn’t.

            The post-modern world with its “eclectic relativism, double standards, the collapsing borders between law and illegality, truth and lies, peace and war, principles and pragmatism,” Shevtsova says, “is the ideal milieu for the flourishing of such a system as the Russian one today.”

            It allows Putin’s Russia to be at one and the same time a partner of Western governments, a participant inside Western countries, and an enemy of the West both internationally and by blocking Western influence on Russian society. Because Putin is “more post-modern” than any Western leader, he had remarkable success until the Crimean Anschluss.

            After 2004, Moscow became ever more assertive but this “didn’t change anything” because “the Western community as before wanted to see in Moscow a partner rather than an enemy, hoping that cooperation would neutralize” what Putin was saying and doing – “even after Putin’s 2007 Munich speech.”

            Barack Obama’s attempt at “a reset” confirmed “the readiness of the West” to continue to seek good relations regardless of the growing authoritarianism in Russia and even its aggression against Georgia.  But Moscow overreached: its Anschluss of Crimea effectively “destroyed this ideal formula for co-existence.”

            “The West was forced to react (although unwillingly) and apply the tactic of containment. Russia in response began its anti-Western mobilization,” Shevtsova says.  The arrangements that had worked so well for Moscow “came to an end” because the Russian regime felt it had no choice but to challenge them and had a good chance to succeed anyway.

            On the one hand, she writes, “the Kremlin couldn’t allow Ukraine to run to the West because this would undermine its status as a great power and would be viewed as a manifestation of weakness.” And on the other, “the Kremlin sought to avoid a confrontation with the West” even then.

            Had it limited its actions to the seizure of Crimea, Shevtsova says, Moscow might very well have gotten its way.  But its launch of the war in the Donbass made that Russian victory impossible and opened the way to a world which Moscow didn’t want and had no good way to survive in.

            “Russia wasn’t prepared for a new Cold War or more a multi-polar world order, despite Kremlin calls for this.  The Russian political class, used to the benefits of globalization and consumerism in the Western manner did not want that the world, in the absence of American primacy, would move toward a Darwinian struggle for survival.”

            “The events of 2015-2016 showed that the Kremlin as before is passionately trying to resume a dialogue with America,” Shevtsova say, “although on this occasion, it is seeking to occupy a more significant place at the table.”  Trump, whose election Putin supported, seems quite prepared to allow that.

            And if that happens, it will represent yet another paradox, albeit one that the Brookings analyst does not mention in this essay.