Russian president Vladimir Putin has been immortalised by his followers with this bust portraying him as a Roman emperor
Intellectuals pointed me to books on Berlin in the 1920s and the concept of “
ressentiment,’’ a philosophical term that describes a simmering resentment and sense of victimization arising out of envy of a perceived enemy. It often has its roots in a culture’s feeling of impotence. In Berlin in the early 20th century, it helped explain the rise of German fascism. In Russia in August, it seemed to have many targets: Ukraine, gay people, European dairy products and above all the United States.
…Anti-Americanism is more potent now because it is stirred up and in many ways sponsored by the state, an effort that Russians, despite their hard-bitten cynicism, seem surprisingly susceptible to. Independent voices are all but gone from Russian television, and most channels now march to the same, slickly produced beat. Virtually any domestic problem, from the ruble’s decline to pensioners’ losing subsidies on public transport, is cast as a geopolitical standoff between Russia and America, and political unrest anywhere is portrayed as having an American State Department official lurking behind it..
Putin’s Disunited Nation MAY 20, 2015 · BY MICHAEL
KHODARKOVSKY · IN COMMENTARY
From The International New York Times-
During those tense days in early March when Vladimir Putin disappeared from public view, the Russian president issued only one official statement: He instructed his prime minister to prepare a blueprint for a new federal agency that would work toward “consolidating the unity of the multi-ethnic nation of the Russian Federation.”
The move passed relatively unnoticed, but it raises provocative questions. Why suddenly create a new arm of government when funding for other departments is being frozen or cut? And why did the choice to lead the agency fall upon Igor Barinov, a member of Parliament and a retired colonel of the Federal Security Service with experience in special operations in Chechnya and counterterrorism?
For Putin’s Kremlin, religious and ethnic diversity remains a troubling security concern. The new federal agency is charged with solving one of the major challenges of the Putin era: how to mold a unified Russia from such a vastly diverse population while Putin pursues his neo-imperial ambition to recoup large swathes of the old Soviet Union.
One possible reason for choosing Barinov is fallout from the assassination of the Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, on Feb. 27. Many people suspect that the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, widely believed to be behind other high-profile killings, set the hit in motion in another show of loyalty to Putin. If this is so, he may have gone too far. Putin, who has counted upon Kadyrov to keep the lid on his restive region, may now consider him a loose cannon. Barinov might be the best man to keep him under control.
More likely, however, the new agency was born out of the growing realization that the country is far less unified than the name of Putin’s party, United Russia, suggests. The fragmentation of Russia, with its multiple ethnic, regional and religious identities, is seen by the Kremlin as a growing threat.
Demographic trends fuel these worries. In the Russian Federation today, 78% of the people are ethnic Russians and the rest comprise over 190 minorities, most of them eager to preserve their distinct identities and the territorial integrity of their autonomous republics and districts. Moscow’s efforts to encourage higher birth rates among ethnic Russians have done little. By mid-century, the population of Russia is projected to fall to 120 million from 142 million today, a staggering drop. Some studies predict it will have a Muslim majority. Though this prospect may seem distant, it lies at the core of Russia’s identity and Moscow’s policies.
The issue of national identity has preoccupied intellectuals and government officials since the early 19th century. Is Russia a nation-state, a colonial empire, a multinational union? And who, exactly, is Russian?
The first post-Soviet government, under Boris Yeltsin, attempted to resolve these delicate questions by reserving the term “Russian” (Russkii) only for ethnic Russians, while both non-Russians and Russians became known as “Rossiane,” a word that implied an overarching national identity for all the citizens of the Russian Federation.
Yet this fine distinction meant little to most minorities. Yeltsin famously told non-Russians to “take as much autonomy as you can swallow.” And they did, vehemently promoting their own languages, history and culture. In some places, such as the Republic of Tatarstan, non-Russians secured an unprecedented degree of autonomy from Moscow peacefully, while in Chechnya the quest for independence led to two wars.
Putin reversed Yeltsin’s policy and trimmed the autonomy of the non-Russian republics and districts. Censorship and self-censorship came back. Regional histories, which in the 1990s emphasized the brutality of Russian conquest, reverted to the old Soviet canard of “voluntary” submission to Moscow’s benign rule. The Kremlin has generously funded celebrations marking the supposed centuries-old friendship of Russian and various non-Russian peoples.
But propaganda won’t make problems go away. Among the federation’s non-Russians, Muslims are the largest group, approximately 17% of the total population. They present a formidable challenge to the Kremlin in several ways.
The most restless and violent region is the North Caucasus, where Muslim peoples reside in ethnic enclaves and are poorly integrated into the country, even though they are totally reliant on financial subsides from Moscow. In many ways, Chechnya is practically an independent Islamic republic where Shariah law is widespread. Some neighboring republics have only a semblance of belonging to the federal structure.
Moscow exercises slightly better control over the mid-Volga region, where a large Muslim population is also showing signs of discontent. Since the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014, nearly 300,000 Crimean Tatars are now counted among Russia’s Muslims. But they remain staunchly loyal to Ukraine and resist accepting Russian passports. Moscow is persecuting their leaders but is keenly aware of their unspoken solidarity with other Russian Muslims.
Meanwhile, the greatest challenge lies within Moscow, where more than two million Muslims, mostly migrant workers, reside. It may well be Russia’s best kept secret that Moscow is the city with the largest Muslim population in Europe. Relegated to the outskirts of Moscow and suffering from the chronic shortage of mosques, the city’s Muslims have been for years subjected to stereotyping and violence. As the economy declines, so does Russian patience with large Kremlin subsidies to the non-Russian regions, and tolerance of the “foreign” population in the capital.
Several geopolitical ideas justifying ultra-nationalism have merged to form the backbone of the Kremlin’s chauvinist ideology. One is “Eurasianism,” which places Russia in opposition to Europe and justifies Moscow’s claims to the former parts of Russian and Soviet empires in both continents. Another concept, known as “the Russian World,” asserts Moscow’s concern for and authority over Russian-speaking populations regardless of their nationality. Proponents of both theories have supported expansion in former Soviet territories.
Late last year, the Russian Orthodox Church officially declared that only members of the church can be considered Russian and that the Russian world is a distinct civilization based on Holy Rus – Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Putin now declares that Russians and Ukrainians are one people.
So what is Russia today? The current occupants of the Kremlin have found their own cynical answer: It is a traditional autocracy in democratic garb, a promoter of virulent ethnic nationalism under the guise of restoring Russian dignity, and blatant old-world expansionism couched as a defense against trumped-up external threats.
(Michael Khodarkovsky is a professor of history at Loyola University Chicago and author of “Bitter Choices: Loyalty and Betrayal in the Russian Conquest of the North Caucasus.”)
Supporters of the Russian Communist Party carry a model of a missile with the words “Privately to Obama” written on it. Anti-U.S. sentiments in Russia are at record highs, far worse than any time since Stalin. (Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters)
The years of perceived humiliations have “led to anti-Americanism at the grass-roots level, which did not exist before,” said Vladimir Pozner, a journalist who for decades was a prominent voice of the Soviet Union in the United States. More recently, he has to explain the United States inside Russia. “We don’t like the Americans, and it’s because they’re pushy, they think they’re unique and they have had no regard for anyone else.”
“Starting from about 1989, we completely reoriented toward the West. We looked at them as a future paradise. We expected that once we had done all that they demanded, we’d dance for them and they would finally hug and kiss us and we would merge in ecstasy,” said Evgeny Tarlo, a member of Russia’s upper house of parliament, on a Russian talk show last year. Instead, he said, the West has been trying to destroy Russia.
…The anti-Americanism makes it harder for American culture to make inroads through its traditional means — soft-power routes such as movies, music and education. Last year, Russian policymakers ended a decades-old high school exchange program that offered their nation’s best and brightest the chance to spend semesters at U.S. schools. Few Western artists now perform on Russian soil.
Western diplomats also say privately that they find themselves frozen out of speaking engagements and other opportunities to explain their countries’ positions to Russian audiences. And Russians who work for local outposts of Western companies say their friends and neighbors increasingly question their patriotism.
Russians Rage Against America
Enduring Sanctions, Anger Turns to Hate: Racist Names for Obama and Putin Disses Coca-Cola
By Mikhail Klikushin | 12/29/14 1:17pm
ST. PETERSBURG—Relations between Russia and the US have sunk to new lows. President Putin, shown here hosting President Obama last September, has even expressed his disdain for Coca-Cola(Photo by Ramil Sitdikov/Host Photo Agency via Getty Images)
If you talk to a Russian about the international political situation, sooner or later you will be informed that there is a country in North America that you’ve never heard of. Its name is ‘Pindosia,’ ‘Pindostan’ or, more officially, ‘United States of Pindostan,’ and you will be told that one part of it, called Alaska, used to belong to Russia. Part of the word—‘stan’—stands for underdeveloped state, as in ‘ Pakistan,’ ‘Kazakhstan,’ or ‘Uzbekistan.’ The citizens of this country in plural form are called ‘pindoses,’ in singular—‘pindos.’
There are more than 316 million ‘pindoses’ in ‘Pindostan.’
Today, this country has a black President, and the Russians have a nickname for him too. He is called Maximka—after a character from a popular Soviet movie, made in 1952, which told the story of a black boy saved by the Russian sailors from the cruelty of the vicious American slave-traders who were terribly abusing him and calling him just that—“Boy.” In the film, the saved boy was fed well by the Russian crew, given the name Maximka, and became one of their own in the end.
But by the modern-day Russian legend, Maximka, unfortunately, has grown up into an ungrateful Russophobe.
One can assume that the reader by now has a clue what this country is.
The word ‘pindos’ in Russian is highly offensive, and defines a helpless creature that is a product of a very bad educational system, one who can survive in this world only with the help of various gadgets. The origin of the word is unknown, and the philologists are fighting to establish it. The most popular explanation states that this word was invented by Russian peacekeepers in Serbia with the purpose of describing a NATO soldier, who was seen by them as a strange, clumsy figure with his 90 lbs. of bulletproof vest, weapons, radios, flashlights and so on.
From afar, he looked very strange to the Russian eye—like a penguin.
The Russians have had their favorite, most-hated pindoses. One of them, the constant laughingstock in the media, used to be the US Ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul. He was a huge fan of Twitter and if judged by the number of his tweets, spent more time on his gadget than actually doing his job. After more than two years of service there, upon his departure, he received only two words in Russian—via Twitter—from the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs: “Goodbye Mikhail.”
Today his place has been taken by the spokesperson for the US Department of State, Jen Psaki. She has an anti-fan club of haters who consider her not to be very bright—they even invented their own anti-IQ unit called 1 Psaki. One who has 3 Psakis has a brain of a clam. The term ‘psaking’ in Russian political newspeak means to know nothing about the subject while saying something banal and politically correct. She is so popular that when she injured her foot and came in front of the cameras with the cast on, all major Russian TV channels and newspapers reported the event.
Another hated ‘pindos’ is Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), famous in Russia for his periodic tweets to ‘Dear Vlad.’ In 2011, for example, Mr. McCain tweeted Putin, “Dear Vlad, The #ArabSpring is coming to a neighborhood near you.” Usually reserved and purposefully polite while talking about his ‘partners from over the Big Pool’ (Big Pool being the Atlantic Ocean ), this time Mr. Putin shot back, saying that Mr. McCain “has a lot of blood of peaceful civilians on his hands. He must relish and can’t live without the disgusting, repulsive scenes of the killing of Gadhafi.” “Mr. McCain was captured in Vietnam and they kept him not just in prison, but in a pit for several years,” Mr. Putin added. “Anyone [in his place] would have had his roof moved over.” The last three words in Russian slang mean “suddenly to become insane.”
Today, according to the respected Moscow ‘Levada Center,’ which measures political sentiment in Russian society, 74% of Russians have negative feelings towards the USA. It hasn’t always been like this; in the 1990s, 80% had positive attitude toward America.
Currently, 76% of Russians hate Obama personally and only a meager 2% like him. In 2009 only 12% of Russians had extremely negative feelings towards Obama.
These are the maximum peaks of anti-American feelings in Russia in years but the sociologists believe they could go even higher in the near future.
Anti-American sentiment has been growing slowly in Russia since the war in former Yugoslavia. But the sharp recent increase happened as a result of the US-led sanctions that were imposed on Russia after the ‘Russian annexation of Crimea.’ For example, just last week Visa and MasterCard completely stopped their operations in Crimea, leaving more than 2 million people there without access to their money. 75% of Russians do not believe that their country is responsible for the events in Ukraine. On the contrary, they blame the US.
When the sanctions began, many Russian businesses responded by putting up ‘Obama Is Sanctioned Here’ signs on their doors and windows.
However today they went much farther.
The owners of the Moscow supermarket “Electronics on Presnya” are using American flag doormats so the customers could wipe their dirty feet off, according to the British tabloid Daily Mail. “Customers have been filmed wiping their feet on the fabled stars and stripes as they enter and exit stores across Moscow, as struggling retailers take a hopeless swipe at their Cold War adversaries,” reports the newspaper. According to the Moskovky Komsomolets Moscow newspaper, the nation’s business owners decided to put the US flag under the Russians’ feet because of the strained relations between the two countries. “New doormats with the American flag were put at every exit so that America would not think that she is allowed to everything,” they say. “From one perspective, of course it is a flag, but from the other, because of this entire situation in the world, regular folks are suffering. All the electronics we import, mostly from China and buy for dollars. We have to work directly so the US would have no chance to manipulate the prices.” (The Russian ruble lost about 50% of its value because of the economic sanctions by the western countries and a fall in the oil price.)
By the words of the shopping center’s attorney Konstantin Trapaidze, the doormats with the American flag do not break any Russian law. “It is very probable that the doormats have a decorative character. Yes, people are walking on them but nobody prohibited this. They produce not only doormats with the flag on them but also furniture upholstery. The breaking of the law would be when someone would start burning such a doormat or real flag demonstratively, or tear it up.”
Major Russian TV channel Vesti
eagerly reported that fact. They also added that some Moscow stores were selling the toilet paper with American flag imprinted on it. The pricetag was $1 per roll.
A number of Russian politicians have been working very hard to keep the flames of rage burning. Last week, the Speaker of the Russian Parliament, Sergei Naryshkin, raised the issue of starting an international investigation of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings by the US in 1945, as a ‘crime against humanity’ has no time limit. He wanted nothing less than a new Nuremberg trial with the US at the criminal’s bench.
Vladimir Putin, from his side, during his most recent press conference, used the occasion to show his negative attitude toward one of America ’s most popular products. Answering a question about Russian drink Kvass, he said, “I don’t know how harmful Coca-Cola is, but a lot of specialists say that it is, especially for children. I don’t want to offend Coca-Cola, but we have our own national non-alcoholic beverages, and we shall help them to win our stores’ shelves.”
He could have chosen another brand as an example of an unhealthy soda, since there is no shortage of different drinks in Russia’s stores. But to no one’s surprise, the Russian President chose for his attack the very symbol of Pindostan.
Russian newspapers are giddily depicting the new trend of “American flag floor mats” seen at Russian businesses. (screencap: politobzor.net/)
Russians don’t trust the Internet — and it’s making the country worse
Large majorities of Russians have negative feelings toward anti-government online content.
By Erik C. Nisbet and Sarah Mikati February 18
Russians, who largely support censoring foreign news sites, make themselves more susceptible to state propaganda. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov, File)
President Vladimir Putin of Russia may fear that the Internet is a CIA project; unfortunately, he is not alone.
According to our recently released study about how the Russian public views the Internet, his views are widely shared by large portions of the Russian public.
In fact, our research concludes, the Russian public’s distrust of Western sources and dissident information on the Internet creates a “perceptual filter” that bolsters Putin’s foreign and domestic policies.
A deep distrust of the Internet – domestic and foreign
Based on a survey of 1,600 individuals, almost half of all Russians believe that information on the Internet should be be censored. Likewise, two out of five Russians distrust foreign media and nearly half of Russians believe foreign news Web sites need to be censored.
These attitudes are partly driven by the fact that 42 percent of Russians believe the Internet is being used by foreign countries against Russia. In contrast, Central Russian TV news, heavily dominated and controlled by the Russian government, is a primary source of information for 84 percent of Russians and trusted by 90 percent of all Russians. Put together these attitudes about a malicious foreign influence over the Internet and perceived threats to political stability from domestic anti-government blogs and Web sites and you have a toxic mix.
Large majorities of Russians have negative feelings toward anti-government online content. These feelings translate into significant portions of the public supporting censorship: of social network groups that organize anti-government protests (46 percent); of online videos by the dissident rock band Pussy Riot (45 percent) and of bloggers that call for regime change (43 percent). Based on these perceived external and internal threats, it should not be a surprise that the Federal Russian Security Service is the organization most trusted as the regulator of the Internet.
A deliberate government campaign
The prevalence of these perceptions amongst the Russian public is no accident.
For some time, the Russian government has been weaving two complementary narratives. The first is that foreign countries use their technological dominance over the Internet to pursue economic, political, and military objectives in Russia. The second is that home-grown online activists and “extremists” use the Internet to destabilize Russia’s political system.
These narratives have provided the justification for a range of regulatory initiatives by the Russian government over the last two years.
Popular (which is officially defined as 3,000 daily readers or more) blogs and sites have to be officially registered. All sites and social media platforms have to physically store six months of user data inside Russia. Since November 2012, a blacklist law allows the Russian government to filter and block any sites or social media deemed to contain offensive material. A foreign media ownership law that took effect in October 2014 led CNN International, for example, to cease broadcasting inside Russia.
All this can be seen as a larger project by the Russian government to further tighten control over the flow of news and information. Previously, the Internet had been less censored and more pluralistic than the government-dominated mass media. This meant Russians had access to a wider range of views and information than was available in Russian TV news and newspapers. The new focus on Internet regulation and foreign broadcasting will allow the Putin regime greater control over the Russian public’s access to information, regardless of whether it stems from within or outside Russia.
What’s more, the Russian public’s support for government regulation provides an extra “psychological firewall” against alternative sources of information. And this firewall — being based on belief — is particularly difficult to circumvent.
Russia is not alone
Russia is not the only illiberal democracy increasing control over domestic and foreign online content while attempting to convince its citizens of the threat posed by a free and open Internet.
The Turkish government, for example, has followed a similar path in recent years with its attempts to block anti-government online and social media content. The recently elected Turkish president went so far as to call social media “the worst menace to society.”
In both the Russian and Turkish cases, Internet censorship and information control help the regimes’ efforts to build and maintain public support, or at least passive acceptance, for their foreign policy objectives. The Turkish government has attempted to block information about its possible support of Islamic extremists fighting the Assad regime inside Syria.
In Russia, government domination of the news cycle has been instrumental in driving the sky-high approval ratings of Putin (in the mid to high 80s) since the annexation of Crimea and conflict in eastern Ukraine, even as the Russian economy has gone into freefall.
The Russian public has very different views about the situation in Ukraine from the Western public. Even though the Russian government has denied the formal involvement of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, the Russian media’s depictions of the Ukrainian government as ultra-nationalist, fascist, Western puppets has led 55 percent of Russians to feel positively about the Russian volunteers fighting with Ukrainian separatists. In fact, 45 percent of Russians support the idea of Russian military troops joining the fight.
The Internet and US foreign policy
Promoting media and Internet freedom – and, with it, public understanding and demand for these freedoms – should be considered among key American foreign policy priorities as suggested by former Secretary State Hillary Clinton back in 2010. As we see with Russia, autocratic-leaning governments may use increased Internet regulation and propaganda against dissident voices as a means to close the remaining cracks in the information bubbles surrounding their citizens.
Once hardened, these information bubbles allow governments to build further support for their illiberal regimes and to pursue their foreign policy objectives without the democratic accountability that can prevent unprovoked international conflict — as Russia has been doing in Ukraine over the past year.