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Russia Report: August 27, 2003

27 August 2003, Volume 3, Number 34
By Jeffrey Brooks

Steven Marks, "How Russia Shaped the Modern World: From Art to Anti-Semitism, Ballet to Bolshevism" (Princeton University Press, 2003);

Anne Applebaum, "GULAG: A History" (Doubleday, 2003);

William Taubman, "Khrushchev: The Man and His Era" (Norton, 2003);

Yale Richmond, "Cultural Exchange and the Cold War: Raising the Iron Curtain" (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003).

Scrutinizing Russia's particularism relative to the West is a constant and recurrent project among historians. Not unlike the assigned role at the Seder, the question why is Russia different derives from an active curiosity, sometimes but not always from the younger generation. In historical inquiry, unlike at the Seder, the answer is not scripted, and varying approaches provide important insights into the scope and boundaries of Russia's uniqueness within Western civilization. These four works intersect in their examination of Russian particularism and its later Soviet manifestation, although each covers a wider terrain as well. Steven Marks emphasizes the Russian rejection of liberal democracy and the institutions of the market. Anne Applebaum chronicles the fratricidal ferocity of the Gulag. William Taubman introduces Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev as a creation fully of his Soviet time and place, and a misfit outside it. Yale Richmond attributes the most recent phase of separateness to the barriers inherent in the communist restrictions on travel and exchange of information.

Marks offers two lines of argument. On the one hand, he describes Russia as a font of anti-Western politics and, on the other, as an inspiration to enemies of liberal democracy elsewhere. Tsarist Russia, he argues, was "the main origination point for world terrorism." Fedor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy are its sappers. "[Dostoevsky] inflated the Slavophile sense of Russian uniqueness into a strident and hostile anti-Western credo." "Tolstoy's entire body of writing reeks of contempt for Western capitalism, materialism, parliamentary democracy, law, and constitutionalism." Anti-Semitism and aesthetic modernism swell the illiberal revolt. "The paranoid demonization of the Jews by members of the Russian government and elite saturated the mass press," he writes. As for modernism, it runs from Sergei Diaghilev's "messianic expectations about Russian culture" to the abstractionists' utopian urge "to see the fractures of society overcome." Chapters on "the dream of communism" and "new forms of dictatorship" close the circle. Yet aggregation has a price. One might, if so inclined, discover similarly curious American nationalistic pronouncements in the Puritans' "mission into the wilderness," in Henry Ford's anti-Semitic ranting, and even in current developments.

Marks need not have told so one-sided a story -- and not only about literature and the arts. In the case of anti-Semitism, a more nuanced discussion might have worked better. Russia had no monopoly on anti-Semitism. Indeed, the Russian variety before World War I was probably less virulent than the Austrian or German strains. Russia's most popular newspaper, "Gazeta kopeika," was Jewish-owned. Russian popular fiction contained little anti-Semitism, and when politician Peter Struve voiced anti-Semitic views, Pavel Milyukov and other Kadet leaders broke off personal relations with him. Marks shows how Russian culture appealed to enemies of a "good" Europe. His coverage of the foreign reception of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Russian drama and dance is fascinating. Yet was Russia really such an exotic entity unto itself, engendering pathology abroad? Perhaps Russia simply joined pan-European trends such as anti-Semitism, state worship, and antibourgeois politics. In any case, non-European enemies of liberal democracy soon also found inspiration closer to home.

Taubman has written a wonderful book, more detailed and livelier than anything on the subject available to date. Khrushchev appears in all his ambiguity, relentlessly careening along his career, outdoing rivals in satisfying Josef Stalin, suppressing doubts about his own bloody deeds, and struggling above all to overcome the shortcomings of education and polish that diminished him in his own eyes. Taubman is excellent on Khrushchev's tangled family life, his management of Ukraine, the "Thaw" and the intelligentsia, his trip to America, and his role in Cold War dramas such as the U-2 affair and the Cuban missile crisis. The picture is unforgettable. The subject comes alive in his baggy suits and his efforts to make himself presentable. His suspiciousness and jealousy of rivals are all too apparent. How could such a man rule Russia? There is no easy answer.

What Taubman does not explain, however, is whether Khrushchev made a difference. He shows Khrushchev's role in de-Stalinization, but is unclear whether it would have happened without him. More important is the Cold War. The transition to Khrushchev lasted a couple of years. Immediately after Stalin's death, Georgii Malenkov and Lavrentii Beria seemed intent on making a deal with the West, downsizing the arms race, and legitimating themselves by satisfying Soviet consumers. Did Khrushchev nip a possible turnabout in the bud because he was more of an ideologue than the others? Taubman does not say. Yet he portrays Khrushchev's rivals as men who largely shared his orientation. If they were indistinguishable in this regard, then perhaps Boris Yeltsin's and Vladimir Putin's shortcomings reveal the staying power of Soviet political culture.

Applebaum also inspires readers to think about contemporary Russia if only because she writes of Russia's most illiberal aspect. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn described the prisons and camps as a culture, a place, and an experience. She presents them also as a series of linked stories that continue to unfold to this day. She communicates the excitement of new discoveries and oral accounts, some of which she has solicited. She begins by asking why tourists who would never don a swastika blithely pin on Soviet insignias. She wrote the book, she explains, to dispel this ignorance. And she might well accomplish that task. This is the account for our times. It will be used in classrooms and read by all who wish to know what happened. She shows the Gulag's importance for Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, Stalin, and for their successors, who limited its scope. The book is organized chronologically and topically. There are chapters on the camp system's origins, the 1930s, and World War II and afterward. She also discusses specific camps and projects, describes the prisoners' descent into the maelstrom, and characterizes the dramatis personae -- managers, guards, prisoners, and families. The chapters on the "Thaw," the dissidents, and the "smashing of statues" are particularly illuminating.

Communism's passing in Russia sparked no commissions of truth and reconciliation, trials, or punishments. Victims are dying off without receiving apologies or meaningful compensation. Russians' examination of their victimization, culpability, resilience, and resignation is missing from today's public discourse. Where one would expect accusations, denials, and condemnations, there is silence. Even Jews, elsewhere energetic in demanding an accounting, are quiet. Perhaps the subject is too raw. Among the reasons, Applebaum suggests, are nostalgia for lost grandeur, widespread culpability in the crimes, fear, and the power of post-Soviet rulers, many of whom worked in the repressive apparatus. The consequences, she argues, are considerable. "To put it bluntly," she writes, "if scoundrels of the old regime go unpunished, good will in no way have been seen to triumph over evil."

She also stresses the importance of our own memory. Knowledge of the evil done by our great antagonist is central to our identity. She complains, "Already we are forgetting what it was that mobilized us, what inspired us, what held the civilization of 'the West' together for so long: we are forgetting what it was that we were fighting against." She might have added that we define ourselves by our enemies. Perhaps our focus on Nazi rather than Soviet atrocities reveals wariness both about our victory and about our current international role.

Richmond recounts a story that ended without ending. He traces Soviet-American cultural interchange, including formal exchanges of scholars and scientists, institutions such as Moscow think tanks, and phenomena from the Moscow Youth Festival to commercial pop music. He demonstrates that at almost every step Soviet authorities demanded concrete benefits before agreeing to openness of any sort. He quotes Soviet Americaologist Georgii Arbatov, a proponent of exchanges, complaining in1969: "Underlying U.S. policy is the so-called 'erosion' of our social system" and identified that as the "chief obstacle to interaction." Yet many actors breached the barriers of the Cold War, including book publishers, journalists, tourists, students, scholars, and scientists in both countries. Richmond portrays a long cycle of engagement, driven by U.S. policy, cautiously permitted by Soviet authorities, but never entirely dependant on either government. He concludes optimistically that despite disappointments with the post-Soviet transition, public and private exchanges continue to bring the two countries together. Thus he offers a lesson in dealing with societies we consider objectionable. This book will also be useful in classes. Yet in casting such exchanges as the chief cause of the Soviet collapse, Richmond tends perhaps to reinforce the idea of Russian exceptionalism also underlying the other books.

Each of the four authors explores a chilling feature of Russia's modern history -- the pan-European revolt against modernity, an unstable ruler in the nuclear age, mass persecution, and self-imposed anti-Westernism. A decade ago, "civil society" dominated historical discourse on Russia and convergence with the West was at the top of historians' agendas. Civil society does not appear in the indexes of these books, although some of the subject matter would seem to merit its inclusion. Perhaps the murkiness of Russia's transition has encouraged historians to ask once again why this country is different from all other countries.

Jeffrey Brooks is a professor of history at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and is the author of "Thank You, Comrade Stalin!" (2000) and "When Russia Learned to Read" (2003, 1985).

When reports first circulated around mid-August that the unpopular Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais would occupy the number three slot on the Union of Rightist Forces's (SPS) party list, it seemed possible that it might have been an attempt at political payback or a piece of dirty public relations planted to discredit SPS in the eyes of voters. After all, Yabloko deputy faction leader Sergei Mitrokhin claimed in early August that Chubais had allocated $5 million for the purpose of discrediting Yabloko. But the reports about Chubais turned out not to be a hoax, and the publicly reviled EES chairman will be featured prominently near the top of the SPS party list.

At the same time, Yabloko -- at the national and regional levels -- continues to blame SPS for the emergence of the Yabloko Without Yavlinskii movement. Grigorii Yavlinskii is the leader of Yabloko. In Novosibirsk, members of Yabloko's regional council found out that picket organizers for SPS and Yabloko Without Yavlinskii both recently sought permission from the mayor's office to hold rallies at the same place and the same time, Regnum reported on 20 August. Regional council members also reportedly learned that a letter published in "Sovetskaya Sibir," signed by the Novosibirsk faculty of the Moscow State Linguistics University and protesting alleged efforts by Yabloko headquarters to interfere in their affairs, was a fake. When contacted, faculty members said they knew nothing about the letter or the issue, while editors of the newspaper said they received the letter by electronic mail but didn't know who wrote it.

In addition, another member of Yabloko's Novosibirsk branch, Sergei Araslanov, said he was contacted by Moscow-based representatives of Yabloko Without Yavlinskii. They allegedly suggested that he head their local branch in Novosibirsk and offered him a five-figure sum to finance his campaign for a State Duma seat. And they allegedly offered to forward the money to him directly.

On 21 August, Leonid Gozman, a member of the board of directors for EES and chairman of SPS's creative council, held a press conference in Moscow and declared that he is considering a lawsuit against Mitrokhin for his accusations against SPS. Gozman insisted, "EES has nothing to do with the problems that Yabloko, a party that has our respect, is facing."

This week, "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly" asked David White, a lecturer on Russian Politics at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Birmingham, U.K., and a specialist on Russian party politics, to comment on the ongoing controversy. (JAC)

RFE/RL: I am most interested in whether or not this Yabloko Without Yavlinskii movement is indeed a dirty trick perpetrated by SPS or whether SPS perhaps simply exploited an existing fissure within Yabloko and is perhaps providing the new group with funding or organizational support? Or does SPS really have nothing at all to do with it? Also, could you give us some background for the current conflict?

David White: The present conflict between Yabloko and SPS has its roots in Yabloko's refusal of an offer of an alliance with SPS back in January (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 13 March 2003). [SPS leader Boris] Nemtsov proposed that Yavlinskii be the sole presidential candidate representing both parties and could take second place, behind Nemtsov, on the party's list [for the Duma elections]. According to some reports, even an additional offer to banish Chubais -- Yavlinskii's bete noire -- from SPS failed to persuade the Yabloko leader to enter into an alliance. "Vedomosti" reported on 27 January 2003 that [oil company] Yukos was behind efforts to bring the parties together. However, after Yavlinskii's decision, Yukos co-owner Leonid Nevzlin stated that if the two parties weren't going to get together, then they should at least agree to stop the PR war in the media and seek votes "not at the expense of each other but at the expense of non-democratic parties."

However, the fact that both parties continue to hover around the 5 percent mark in opinion polls meant it was inevitable that interparty conflict would continue. Yabloko's rating has been the more consistent, while SPS's has been on more of a downward trend.

Since then, Yabloko has twice been the victim of "black PR" or dirty tricks. In April, Yabloko's website was brought down by virus-generated spam. There was no suggestion from Yabloko that this had anything to do with SPS. In May, a number of billboards and stickers were seen in Moscow linking Yabloko with the Communist Party. Each bore the slogan "My vmeste!" [We are together!] and portrayed images of apples together with the hammer and sickle. Stickers on the metro showed Zyuganov with his arm around Yavlinskii. Deputy Yabloko Chairman and State Duma Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin charged on Yabloko's website: "We cannot rule out that structures close to SPS are trying to aggravate the situation and provoke an information war between Yabloko and SPS." Mitrokhin linked this campaign to a series of articles discrediting Yabloko that had begun to appear in the regional press at that time.

The emergence of the Yabloko Without Yavlinskii movement in August was also seen by Yabloko as emanating from SPS. That this should emerge in St. Petersburg, the "black PR capital" of Russia, is interesting. There was a great deal of campaign skullduggery in St. Petersburg during the 1999 campaign. In one instance, calling cards bearing the Yabloko logo and the heading "Program of humanitarian aid to poor and homeless citizens" were circulated. Recipients were promised handouts at offices belonging to Yabloko members. At the time, it was suggested that this might have been an action by supporters of former Yabloko founding member, Yurii Boldyrev.

The leader of the Yabloko Without Yavlinskii initiative is one Igor Morozov. He was not a member of Yabloko and had no associations with the party. Once again, Yabloko leaders were quick to point to SPS as being behind the campaign. Mitrokhin -- increasingly the public face of Yabloko -- was inclined to think that "the head of EES, Anatolii Chubais personally ordered this campaign." The imminent gubernatorial elections [in St. Petersburg] probably have much to do with the timing of the anti-Yavlinskii campaign.

So, was SPS behind this and the "We are together" campaigns? My guess would be that this is quite possible although clearly at a covert, unofficial level. Are they trying to exploit existing divisions in Yabloko? There are divisions, as much between the Duma faction and the party on the ground as between the party and its leader. My own feeling is that since the departure of [State Duma Deputy] Vyacheslav Igrunov and also [State Duma Deputy] Yelena Mizulina in 2001, the party is probably less divided. Igrunov was seen by many as a disruptive influence in the party and was held responsible for Yabloko's weak electoral performance in 1999. Igrunov was in charge of the campaign, but organizing isn't his strong point. I have seen no evidence that SPS may be providing [Yabloko Without Yavlinskii] with financial or other support, and indeed things have gone quiet since the story broke early in August -- but perhaps everyone is on holiday. If this is an attempt to create divisions in Yabloko, then I would have to say it's a particularly crude one. If Chubais were really behind it, wouldn't it have been a rather more persuasive, professional, and competent campaign?

RFE/RL: Would fewer votes for Yabloko necessarily translate into more votes for SPS?

White: I would argue no. Although many argue that essentially the two parties share a common electorate, I would strongly disagree. Yabloko is a social-liberal party, [and] SPS an economic-liberal party. Furthermore, Yabloko's supporters are more "social" than "liberal." Yavlinskii might not like it, but I believe that a large proportion of Yabloko members and most Yabloko voters see Yabloko as essentially a social-democratic party. Many Yabloko voters would, I think, be more inclined to vote for the Communists or even [leftist Duma Deputy Sergei] Glazev's [bloc] than SPS. There is a deep loathing within Yabloko of Chubais and what he represents. The idea of adding Yabloko's 5 percent to SPS's 5 percent to make 10 percent is not realistic -- it might make 4 percent. Just as Yabloko supporters might vote for the Communists before SPS, so SPS voters might choose Unified Russia before Yabloko.

The idea of Yabloko Without Yavlinskii is not entirely far-fetched. There is far less loyalty among Yabloko members in the regions to Yavlinskii than there is in Moscow. Certainly this is true of St. Petersburg -- although Yabloko in St. Petersburg has historically been quite independent, existing as the separate regional party until 2001. However, I feel that for most members and voters, Yavlinskii and Yabloko are inextricably linked.

RFE/RL: Would a merger with SPS necessarily be more likely without Yavlinskii on the scene?

White: I guess the key actors here are important. Remove Yavlinskii, Chubais, [former acting Prime Minister Yegor] Gaidar, and [former State Property Committee head Alfred] Kokh and maybe Nemtsov and [State Duma Deputy Speaker Irina] Khakamada could get on reasonably well with [State Duma Deputy Vladimir] Lukin, [Yabloko Deputy Chairman Sergei] Ivanenko, and Mitrokhin. However, I have to say that I haven't spoken to many Yabloko members who think a merger is possible -- with or without Yavlinskii -- because of ideological and policy reasons. I think that if Yavlinskii were to disappear from the scene for whatever reason, Yabloko would continue, possibly under Sergei Mitrokhin -- Yabloko's bright star -- rather than under Ivanenko. Even without Yavlinskii, the party would, I feel, resist a merger with SPS.

ARRESTED: Police in Athens arrested former oligarch and media tycoon Vladimir Gusinskii at the airport on 21 August. He will be held until a decision about his possible extradition to Russia to face charges of massive fraud can be made.

DECEASED: Sakhalin Oblast Governor Igor Farkhutdinov and several members of the oblast government were killed on 20 August when their Mi-8 helicopter crashed in southern Kamchatka.

OUT: Mikhail Delyagin, an economic adviser to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, has left his post, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 August. He will reportedly head an independent research center funded by Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor and oligarch Roman Abramovich and aluminum titan Oleg Deripaska

29 August: Auction will take place for the 23.35 percent stake in Peterburg television now owned by Leningrad Oblast

29-31 August: President Vladimir Putin will vacation in Italy

30 August: Liberal Russia party will hold a congress in Moscow

31 August: Second round of presidential election in Karachai-Cherkessia will be held

September: President Vladimir Putin will address a UN General Assembly session in New York and will visit the presidential retreat Camp David in the United States for talks with U.S. President George W. Bush

September: Second Russian-U.S. Energy Summit will take place in Moscow

September: Saudi Arabian Prince Abdullah will visit Russia

2 September: Sakhalin Oblast's legislature will set the new date for gubernatorial elections to replace the late Governor Igor Farkutdinov

6 September: State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev's Party of Russia's Rebirth will hold a congress in Moscow

6-7 September: Yabloko party will hold a congress in Moscow

7 September: Sverdlovsk, Novgorod, and Omsk oblasts will hold gubernatorial elections

7 September: Murmansk will hold mayoral election

7 September: Moscow-based exhibition of Federal Security Service archival materials relating to the 1922 expulsion of the intelligentsia will close

8 September: Union of Rightist Forces will hold congress in Moscow

8-9 September: Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov will visit Hungary

9 September: State Duma's fall session opens

10 September: Special party congress of the Communist Party of Russia to be held

Second half of September: CIS summit in Yalta

14 September: Volgograd will hold mayoral elections

14 September: The left-patriotic bloc lead by State Duma deputies Sergei Glazev and Dmitrii Rogozin will hold its founding congress

17 September: Deadline for regional election commissions to be formed for the State Duma elections

19 September: Mikhail Gorbachev's Social-Democratic Party of Russia will hold a party congress in Moscow

19 September: First reading of the 2004 budget will be held in the State Duma

21 September: St. Petersburg and the Leningrad and Tomsk oblasts will hold gubernatorial elections

22 September: Registration begins for candidates in the 7 December State Duma elections

23 September: The first European-Pacific Ocean Conference will take place in Vladivostok devoted to improving dialogue among intellectuals in European countries and the Pacific region

24 September: Federation Council will hold its opening session after summer recess

29 September-3 October: The Third World Conference on Climate Change will take place in Moscow

30 September-2 October: The Second All-Russian Sociological Congress will take place at Moscow State University

October: Second Civic Forum will be held, according to presidential Human Rights Commission Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova

1 October: Thirty-three percent salary hike for budget-sector workers will go into effect, pending the passage of legislation being revised by a conciliation commission

1 October: Monthly minimum wage to be raised to 600 rubles ($19.80), according to Federation Council Sergei Mironov

October: President Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will meet in Yekaterinburg

5 October: Presidential election to be held in Chechnya

6 October: British court to consider Russia's request to extradite tycoon Boris Berezovskii

9 October: The commission for administrative reforms chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Boris Aleshin will submit its proposals to the government, according to "Izvestiya" on 14 August

23-26 October: First anniversary of the Moscow theater hostage crisis

25-26 October: Russian Forum on the development of civil society will be held in Nizhnii Novgorod

26 October: Repeat mayoral elections will be held in Norilsk

29 October: 85th anniversary of the founding of the Komsomol

5 November: President Putin will visit Italy for the EU-Russia summit in Rome

7 November: Campaign for the State Duma elections officially begins

19 November: Deadline for investigators working on the case against Yukos security official Aleksei Pichugin

20 November: Five-year anniversary of the death of State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova

7 December: Bashkortostan will hold a presidential election

7 December: Novosibirsk will hold a gubernatorial election

7 December: Moscow will hold a mayoral election

7 December: State Duma elections will be held