Thursday, April 27, 2017

Russian Long-Haul Drivers Strike Still Strong on Day 30



Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 27 – Government-controlled media in Moscow continue to ignore the long-haul drivers’ strike on its 30th day, and regional outlets report variously that some trucker encampments are growing while others are declining in size. But activists say that those who have left have simply gone home rather than returned to work (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/301751/ and kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/301763/).

            Among the developments of the strike today were the following:

·         An inter-regional movement, Freedom of Movement, was set up in Kazan to coordinate the fight against the Plato fee system (idelreal.org/a/28454836.html).

·         Volgograd residents declared their support for the strike (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/301813/).

·         Novgorod Veliki drivers come out in force to show their strike will continue (news.novgorod.ru/news/156375/).

·         Strikers in Oryol increase in number (istoki.tv/news/people/v-orle-proydet-ocherednoy-miting-dalnoboyshchikov-/).

·         Astrakhan legislature asks Duma to take control of the Plato system (pnp.ru/politics/regiony-prosyat-parlamentskogo-kontrolya-za-platonom.html).

·         Kurgan officials meet to negotiate with strikers (znak.com/2017-04-27/kurganskie_dalnoboychiki_posle_protesta_protiv_platona_vyshli_na_kontakt_s_vlastyu).

·         Chelaybinsk judge rules against government that had charged a striking driver with violating various laws (chelyabinsk.74.ru/text/newsline/292438472466432.html?full=3).


·         Daghestani drivers announced that they will stage a demonstration tomorrow to protest the failure of the authorities there to take them seriously (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/301763/).

·         Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov sought to play car drivers against truck drivers by suggesting the latter must pay for all the damage their trucks do to highways and that the Plato system is an effective way to do that (chernovik.net/content/lenta-novostey/glava-dagestana-ushcherb-nanosimyy-dalnoboyshchikami-dorogam-dolzhen).   

Russia Must Decentralize or It Will Stagnate and then Disappear, Pastukhov Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 27 – The new Russian revolution, Vladimir Pastukhov says, is today “only a question of time” but will provide “a final answer to the question as to whether Russia will disappear altogether” or will prove capable of “transforming what is now the last colonial Empire into a Russian constitutional state.”

            That will require moving in a direction that nearly all Russian leaders and most Russians as well fear, a radical decentralization of the political system that will “weaken the government’s power,” the St. Antony’s historian argues. But “in reality, this is [the country’s] only salvation” (republic.ru/posts/82329).

                Thus, the coming Russian revolution must be very different than its earlier ones if Russia is to survive, Pastukhov argues.  “The Russian (Bolshevik) revolution by rights stands in one rank with such outstanding revolutions as the French and the American in that the world after it always was never the same as it had been.”

            But the Russian revolution, he continues, “unlike the other great revolutions,” changed the trajectory of the rest of the world more than it changed Russia’s own.  As Petr Chaadayev had predicted, Russia was fated to provide some important lesson to the world but not to learn from it itself.

            The challenge for Russia now is not to get rid of this or that regime – that is a fairly easy and almost inevitable process, Pastukhov argues – but rather to overcome the autocratic social arrangements which have continued from imperial Russia through the Soviet Union into the Russian Federation now and which have no completely exhausted themselves.

            Russian autocracy has its roots in the challenge of ruling over an enormously large territory. To overcome that approach, he suggests, requires either than Russia become much smaller, something few Russians want, or that it become federalized and polycentric so that power is dispersed.

            This form of rule kept Russia together: indeed, without it, Russia almost certainly would not have the borders it has today.  If it were possible for such an arrangement to continue, then things would not be so critical. But now autocracy has outlasted its purposes: it cannot fulfill its mission and thus must be replaced.

            Russia faces problems not only because of the size of its territory but because of the diversity of the regions and the peoples living on them.  And historically, regimes in Russia have responded by “hyper-centralization,” and oppositions have begun by demanding decentralization only to insist on centralization to carry their programs out.

            Compounding these Russian problems is that Russia, in sharp contrast to Europe, has seen state power combine with the religious authorities, leading political leaders to insist on the sacredness of power itself and to use force to defend it.  That makes it harder for them and for the population to challenge autocracy.

            The only way to escape the dead end that Russia faces as a result is to pursue “the deep federalization” of the country, Pastukhov says.  If that doesn’t happen, autocracy will be reborn regardless of the names the rulers choose to use.  Moscow must not be the only center anymore: there must be “up to 20” powerful regional center. In short, Russia must become a federation.

            “Federalism is what people always talk about in Russia but which has never existed in it.” And therefore, it must be created “’from zero’ if [Russia] wants to be preserved as a single and sovereignt state in its current borders beyond the first half of the 21st century,” according to the Russian historian.

            “For very many people both in Russia and abroad, this dilemma – disintegration or federalism – appears either invented or inappropriate or incorrectly formulated,” Pastukhov suggests. But “the question about a federation is the key question on the answer to which depends not only the future of the Russian state project.”

            If Russia rejects that path, then it condemns itself to an eternal cycle in which autocracy will keep coming back.  Russia must have genuine federalism, a system which has nothing in common with the Soviet or post-communist variants. And because that task is so enormous, it is unlikely to be solved in one leap but rather take a series of steps.

            It is a good thing that the founding fathers of the post-communist Russian constitution at least called the country a federation because there exists in society “a latent anti-federal consensus” which includes not only the regime, the nationalist opposition, but also liberals as well.

            Indeed, Pastukhov says, “while in the best case acknowledging federalism in words, an enormous number of people consider it some kind of Soviet survival like Lenin’s mausoleum on Moscow’ Red Square – something that would be good to do away with but that, as long as Soviet veterans are alive, it is better not to touch.”

            What Russians must recognize is that federalism is like the division of powers in general and that despite what many think, neither of these things weaken the state but in fact are necessary for its strengthening because both have the effect of shortening the bureaucratic “chains” that undercut the decisions of the people and government the longer they are.

            Pastukhov suggests that Russia should have an asymmetric federation at least to begin with, one that will have 20 to 30 federal states that will be full-fledged subjects of the federation from the beginning and federal “lands” that will be administered from the center until they are ready to make the transition to states.

            “The new subjects,” he suggests, “should be created around several of the largest megalopolises, which must become the centers of economic growth and at het same time the administrative centers of the states.” They should not be based on ethnicity, Pastukhov says, and Russia should entirely dispense with the Soviet tradition of “solving the nationality question” by drawing state borders within the country.
           
            Achieving that set of arrangements will not be easy and it will not happen quickly, the historian concludes; but only if Russians recognize that no revolution will really be a great one will take place among them until federalism is achieved does the country and its nation have a chance to escape autocracy and have a future.

Demolition of Khrushchoby Now a Chilling Echo of 1999 Apartment Bombings



Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 27 – Vladimir Putin ensured his rise to power by orchestrating the blowing up of apartment buildings in Moscow and restarting Russia’s war against Chechnya.  But he may have set in train his fall from power by supporting Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin’s plan to demolish the aging five-storey apartment buildings known as “khrushchoby.”

            That is because the second action eerily echoes the first in two ways. On the one hand, it represents an attack on the rights of Russians by their own government that only the most horrific but self-confident dictators would take and thus offends more than just those who are immediately affected, as some are pointing out (echo.msk.ru/blog/varlamov_i/1970254-echo/).

            And on the other, both the bombings in 1999 and the demolition of apartment blocks now highlight the extent to which the Kremlin and its allies will do everything they can to defend themselves and their allies in the Russian “elite” even as they show no respect at all for ordinary Russians, their rights, and even their lives.

            One of the most horrifying aspects of the 1999 explosions and perhaps the clearest evidence of Putin’s culpability was that a survey of local newspapers in Moscow at that time found no obituaries for those who had died in the bombings, something that suggests the buildings were targeted because those who killed were not politically significant to Putin.

            Now, the RBC news agency reports that the Moscow city authorities say they won’t be tearing down khrushchoby in three city districts populated by the elites and their extended families, a limitation implying a similar calculation by the authoriteis to the one they made in 1999 (rbc.ru/society/20/04/2017/58f88cfb9a79477b1b148d51  and echo.msk.ru/news/1970824-echo.html).

            After blowing up the apartments in 1999, Putin moved quickly to blame the Chechens and to restart the war, actions that precluded much discussion about what he had done, all of the evidence including the failed effort in Ryazan captured on television footage pointing to him notwithstanding. 

            But now, after 17 years in power, Putin can’t blame the khrushchoby destruction on outside forces, his preferred tactic to deflect attention from what he is doing.  Instead, according to Moscow commentators, he is supporting an action which offends not just the immediate victims but also all Russians.

            That is because he is striking at the right of Russians to own their own homes, a right that Russians increasingly value as one of the most positive achievements from the demolition of the USSR and thus offending far more than the tens of thousands of Muscovites and likely others who will be “deported” from their homes now (echo.msk.ru/blog/varlamov_i/1970254-echo/).

            Indeed, as Moscow political analyst Yekaterina Schulmann puts it, “property for our contemporary is a sacred thing, a super value which it is better not to touch” and that an attack on it like the one Putin has launched could lead to “democracy via demolition” (echo.msk.ru/blog/schulmann_video/1970522-echo/).