New 'War and Peace' Plays Up Russia's Glorious Past
The Russian-Italian co-production, which was filmed in six countries, appears to be the latest product of a mounting national interest in Russia's rich cultural legacy and in making it available to a wider domestic audience.
"I think it's partly a desire to return to the classics and to reinterpret them," says arts critic Viktor Sonkin. "It's also partly commercially driven, because I think the kind of plots provided by the classics are still among the best that you see in current movies or TV series."
In recent years, Russia has seen a spate of television productions of classic novels, including Fyodor Dostoevsky's "The Idiot," Boris Pasternak's "Dr. Zhivago," and Mikhail Bulgakov's "Master and Margarita."
But political observers say there is more to this week's screening of "War and Peace" than commercialism and entertainment. Masha Lipman, an analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center, says it was probably no coincidence that Tolstoy's classic was aired on prime-time television less than a month before the December 2 parliamentary elections.
"There are all sorts of things on television these days that have to do with the campaign, with creating a sense of strong state, a glorious past, and the like," says Lipman. "Of course television is used by the Kremlin, since federal television channels are controlled, to create an appropriate mood for the Russian public prior to the election, and you may suggest that 'War and Peace' is one element of it."
Russians are heading into State Duma polls that look likely to be dominated by Unified Russia. The pro-Kremlin party will have President Vladimir Putin, who enjoys wide popularity, at the top of its candidates list. It is expected to win at least 70 percent of the vote.
Critics say state controls on the three main television networks mean the vote will not be free and fair. There have already been accusations that rival parties are not being given enough broadcast time. But some observers say the Kremlin's manipulation of the airways is more sophisticated.
Working With History
Last year, President Putin was accused of being behind an order for school history texts to be rewritten. The new books portray the Soviet leader Josef Stalin as a great statesman and gloss over the system of state terror, labor camps, and forced starvation that he used to advance his aims.
Now it's being suggested that the historical background to "War and Peace" -- the Russian army's victory over Napoleon's troops in 1815 -- fits well with Putin’s drive to portray today's Russia as a great power.
"This is an undisputed victory of the Russian people; this is the undisputed masterpiece of Russian literature," Lipman says. Manipulating history is nothing new, she adds -- but in Russia this manipulation is being monopolized.
"If we had political competition and each party could pick its own bits and pieces of Russian history to endorse its message to the nation, I think this would be OK," Lipman says. "What makes it look not OK is that it is only the Kremlin that may use a media outlet such as federal television, which is several networks with basically 100 percent outreach to pursue its political goals."
The Soft-Power Foundations Of Putin's Russia
On October 18, Putin told journalists that Russia's political system will need to remain "under manual control" for the next 15 to 20 years. This statement confirms the already considerable evidence that Putin and the siloviki -- a loose group of people with ties to the state-security organs or the military -- plan to expand their brand of authoritarian, state-dominated capitalism at home, while remaining on a possible collision course with Western democracies abroad.
However, it is important to recognize that the silovik network in Putin's Russia does not have the level of control -- either in terms of quantity or quality -- that the Soviet-era KGB enjoyed. For one thing, they are divided among themselves into competing clans with clashing political and economic interests. Also, there are other forces in modern Russia that have influence and must be taken into account, including business, the bureaucracy, the military, and the Russian Orthodox Church.
Moreover, despite its glaring democracy deficit, Russia remains an open market economy with millions of people traveling abroad each year and -- despite some attempts to control it -- unfettered access to the Internet. Although the Kremlin controls the mass media, Russians still have access to foreign media in foreign languages and to international broadcasting in Russian and other languages of the Russian Federation.
Finally, the siloviki have had to form alliances of a sort in order to cement their power. They have allied with the huge class of government bureaucrats in the form of the so-called party of power, Unified Russia. In order to maintain their domination of the bureaucracy, the siloviki use the tried-and-true method of selective repression and intimidation. In just the last few months, governors, mayors, and other high-ranking regional officials in no fewer than 49 regions have found themselves under arrest or investigation. Such probes occasionally reach federal officials as well.
The ruling siloviki have also allied themselves with a few market-oriented liberals who have been willing to toe the Kremlin's line, as well as with a select group of obedient major business owners. Among the Kremlin-friendly liberals, it is worth naming Atomic Energy Agency head Sergei Kiriyenko, who was one of the founders of the market-oriented Union of Rightist Forces political party. Kiriyenko has developed an ambitious $46 billion program to expand nuclear power and build dozens of new reactors in Russia and abroad, and he seems set to head a new state megacorporation that will control the entire nuclear sector, both civilian and military. It is also worth mentioning Leonid Melamed, a close associate of another pro-Kremlin liberal, Unified Energy Systems head Anatoly Chubais. In September, Melamed was tapped to head Rosnanotekh, a new state-owned high-technology megacorporation with $10 billion in start-up capital. The best-known liberal in this group is Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, who also chairs the advisory board of the Alrosa state diamond trader.
These liberals seem to have no objection to working in Russia's evolving system of state-driven capitalism, where property is controlled by those who have political power rather than vice versa.
Finally, the siloviki paradoxically benefit from criminal activity. By some estimates, up to 30 percent of the economy is controlled by organized crime, and Russian crime bosses spend much of their illegal capital on bribes to law-enforcement officials for legal, tactical, and administrative support. Even Putin confessed, in 2006, "our law-enforcement organs are completely corrupt."
With the aid of these alliances and by manipulating the other forces within modern Russia, Putin's siloviki have managed to gain control of the country and even achieve a measure of popular support. They have been assisted in this by the enormous wealth coming in because of high global energy prices, wealth that has enabled them to implement populist measures and raise living standards.
'Quiet Cultural Counterrevolution'
But the real secret of the siloviki is their massive and skillful use of "soft power." Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci noted that ruling classes secure their power over the governed not only through coercion, but also by manufacturing their consent by establishing "cultural hegemony" over the national consciousness. Over the last decade, the siloviki in Putin's Russia have provided a textbook example of the practical implementation of this idea, which has recently gained popularity in the country.
Over the last decade, the siloviki waged a "quiet cultural counterrevolution" with tremendous effect. They worked to systematically devalue and compromise liberal values, standards, and institutions -- values that had massive public support in the early 1990s. The main tools of this counterrevolution were the state-controlled national television networks, pro-Kremlin intellectuals, the Russian Orthodox Church, and pseudo-independent public groups and youth organizations.
At the same time, the Russian airwaves have been filled with hundreds of films, serials, documentaries, and news reports about how the chekisty (a word formed from the acronym for the original Soviet secret police that is used to describe people tied to the former KGB or other security organs) past and present are fighting against "enemies of Russia" and exposing the plots of Western intelligence services. Much of this material is of Soviet vintage, but a large and growing percentage was produced under Putin.
Mimicking the KGB, the Federal Security Service (FSB) in 2006 established its own national awards for works in the visual arts, cinema, literature, and journalism "creating with great artistry a positive image of the state-security officer." As for books, works extolling the KGB and its successor organizations clearly dominate over those that deal with the crimes of the communist era or the KGB. In recent years, some of Russia's energy revenues have been used to finance a growing number of new films in this genre as well.
The results of these efforts are clear in changing public attitudes and contribute to the popularity of Putin himself and his silovik administration. Today's youth, born after the fall of communism, realize that becoming a chekist is a prestigious and profitable career path. There were reportedly 10 applicants for every slot this fall at the FSB's main training academy.
KGB, Church Find Common Ground
One of the siloviki's most effective allies in this cultural counterrevolution has been the Russian Orthodox Church. During the Soviet period, the Orthodox Church and other religious groups were under the KGB's direct control. As Feliks Dzerzhinsky, founder of the original Soviet secret police wrote: "Leave the church to the chekisty. Only they, with their specific chekist methods, can control the clerics and undermine the church from within." That decision began the strange cohabitation of the church and the KGB, with the security agency using the church's authority to influence believers at home and abroad and the KGB using church foreign dioceses as fronts for operations abroad.
After Boris Yeltsin came to power, there was some discussion of exposing the clergymen who cooperated with the KGB, but that effort never got off the ground and was quickly shelved.
In Putin's Russia, the church plays a major ideological role. Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who is the head of external relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, is a close Putin loyalist. In a nationally televised sermon in 2005, Kirill said the reformers of the 1990s did not understand "that reform does not mean Westernization." A year later, the 10th World Congress of Russian People, an event organized by the Moscow Patriarchate, adopted a conception of a uniquely Russian vision of democracy and human rights, an idea that became a central tenet of the Kremlin's ideology of sovereign democracy. Speaking at the congress, Kirill said there are higher values than liberty and democracy and that the church rejects the idea that "human rights prevail over the interests of society." Patriarch Aleksy II repeated these ideas in October when he spoke from the pulpit of Notre Dame in Paris during his first-ever visit to a Catholic country.
Perhaps the biggest achievement of the church in the Putin era has been its unification with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which was marked in Moscow in May. Putin personally played an active role in the reconciliation talks between the churches, which split during the Russian civil war of 1918-23.
Another significant achievement was the church's successful lobbying to create a new national holiday, People's Unity Day, which has been marked on November 4 for the last three years and replaces the old communist holiday of November 7, the anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution. Before 1917, November 4 was a church holiday honoring the icon the Kazan Mother of God, which is a symbol of the end of the so-called Time of Troubles in 1612. That year, Russians liberated Moscow from Polish occupation and in 1613 a Land Assembly (Zemsky sobor) chose Mikhail Romanov as tsar and created the dynasty that would rule the country until 1917.
With resonance for Russia today, the new holiday celebrates the triumph of national unity over internal dissent and foreign intervention. The initiated, however, also know that the holiday has another significance: on almost the same day, November 2, 1721, the Senate proclaimed Peter the Great an emperor and transformed the country into the Russian Empire. That event came after Peter's victory over Sweden in the Northern War, when Russia took control of the area that is now the Baltic states and Finland.
The siloviki and the Russian Orthodox Church are natural allies in the drive to build a state-dominated, authoritarian capitalist system based on traditional Russian values. The siloviki are using the authority of the church to restore more and more elements of the country's 1,000-year monarchist tradition, to which many prominent siloviki have expressed unconcealed sympathy. One recent chekist manifesto, "Project Russia," quoted the revered 19th-century cleric St. Ioann of Kronstadt as saying, "Hell is a democracy; heaven is a kingdom."
More Kazakh Media Silenced As High-Stakes Feud Continues
Four opposition weeklies that planned to republish a recent RFE/RL interview with Rakhat Aliev have been rejected by their publishing houses and did not go to print today, amid veiled official threats.
"All newspapers that have recently published either interviews or the flurry of information given out by the former son-in-law, or any comments, have seen tough pressure," says Rozlana Taukina, the head of the Kazakh nongovernmental group Journalists in Trouble.
In a telephone interview with RFE/RL's Kazakh Service on October 26, Aliev appeared to accuse his former father-in-law, President Nursultan Nazarbaev, of ordering the execution-style killing of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev and two aides in 2006.
Less than a week later, on November 1, Almaty city prosecutors announced that Aliev will be tried in absentia on charges of involvement in abductions, financial wrongdoing, and abuse of official powers.
Aliev is among the most senior defections ever from the inner circle of Kazakhstan's tight-knit ruling class. The opposition, mindful of Aliev's years of dedicated service to the autocratic Nazarbaev, has kept Aliev at arm's length since his fall from official grace. But they and presidential allies clearly recognize that he has been privy to the inner workings of a secretive Kazakh government.
The recent maelstrom could also affect Kazakhstan's bid to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2009, which still hangs in the balance. OSCE foreign ministers are due to meet in Spain later this month to vote on the bid.
Suddenly, Problems Arise
Problems for the Russian-language independent weekly "Svoboda slova" began on October 29, when its publishing house, Speed Master Print, refused to print the November 2 issue.
"Svoboda slova" Editor in Chief Gulzhan Ergalieva says she then turned unsuccessfully to several other printing houses but "they all refused" the job for "various reasons." She says the next day, October 30, brought two visits to "Svoboda slova" from the financial authorities. "They told us that they received a tip that we had violated tax legislation by hiding some funds and not meeting our tax obligations to the state treasury," she says.
Similar events were occurring at two other publications, "Respublika" and "Vzglyad." The publishing house for the Kazakh-language opposition weekly "Taszhargan" also turned away that paper, which was visited by fire-safety officers.
An officer with the Kazakh financial authorities who was contacted by RFE/RL's Almaty correspondent said she had no information about any of the cases.
Galina Dyrdina, a deputy editor at "Respublika," thinks the troubles stem from the weekly's plans to print coverage of what has been dubbed "Rakhat-gate." "Someone is afraid that Rakhat [Aliev] could publish -- particularly through our newspaper -- information about who is really behind the killing of Altynbek Sarsenbaev," Dyrdina says.
Sarsenbaev, his driver, and a bodyguard were shot dead outside Almaty in February 2006. Fellow members of the opposition continue to allege top-level involvement in the killings despite a trial this year that resulted in the conviction of mid-level security and other officials for those deaths.
Hushing Up Embarrassing Revelations
That's where estranged son-in-law Aliev comes in. A former deputy chairman of the National Security Committee who later served as ambassador to the OSCE and Vienna, Aliev told RFE/RL that the order for Sarsenbaev's killing came from Austria while President Nazarbaev was there on holiday.
In a move criticized by international media watchdogs, Kazakh authorities blocked several opposition websites in late October, citing mostly technical reasons.
Independent journalists and rights activists called the move political censorship, coming as it did after the websites posted wiretapped phone conversations purportedly among senior officials, implicating them in serious wrongdoing. All the downed websites had recently run stories on apparent government attempts to silence Aliev. They all also linked the closures to the posting of the transcripts, some of which include apparent references to Aliev.
Journalists in Trouble's Taukina alleges that the heads of several newspapers were summoned to the Interior Ministry some two weeks ago, where they received instructions from the Interior and Culture and Information ministries "not to publish information that comes from the Kazakh president's former son-in-law."
President Nazarbaev has not been shy about his ambitions of making Kazakhstan, which sits on large fossil-fuel and uranium deposits, a regional powerhouse in Central Asia.
But "Respublika's" Dyrdina says the current official pressure on independent newspapers tarnishes the international image of a country that is trying hard to prove its democratic credentials.
The U.S.-based nongovernmental group Freedom House in its draft freedom-of-the-press report for 2007 describes Kazakhstan as "not free" and notes that "the authorities allow limited press freedom but safeguard the existing power structure against dangers that truly independent media might pose."
(RFE/RL Kazakh Service Director Merkhat Sharipzhan and correspondent Maryam Beysenkyzy contributed to this report from Prague and Almaty.)
Friends Cry Foul As Kyrgyz Authorities Link Slain Journalist To Islamists
Alisher Saipov, an ethnic Uzbek whose reports frequently criticized the authorities in neighboring Uzbekistan, was gunned down in southern Kyrgyzstan on October 24.
Friends have accused Uzbek intelligence of masterminding the murder, and it is unclear what bearing purported ties to outlawed groups would have on an investigation to find Saipov's killer or killers.
Long List Of Accusations
The Interior Ministry said Saipov met with and "regularly" received money from the leader of the militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and that he had "close ties" to the banned Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir.
"It was established that Alisher Saipov had close ties to many people," said Bakyt Seitov, a ministry spokesman. "One of them was the leader of an Uzbek opposition party, Muhammad Solih. [Others are] leaders of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a religious extremist group banned in our country, and also Tohir Yuldosh, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, with whom [Saipov] had close ties."
The ministry said evidence gathered from Saipov's office included books by Solih -- who is also a prominent poet -- leaflets of Solih's Erk party, and Hizb ut-Tahrir pamphlets and books.
The Kyrgyz authorities also accused Saipov of abetting the escape to Kazakhstan of Qobil Parpiev -- a fugitive identified by Uzbek authorities as a leader in the 2005 unrest in the city of Andijon that prompted a deadly crackdown by security forces.
They also alleged that Saipov had ties to Rashod Kamalov, whose father, the prominent Islamic cleric Muhammadrafiq Kamalov -- also known as Rafiq Qori Kamoluddin -- was killed by Kyrgyz police in 2006 and subsequently accused of ties to banned Islamists.
Spokesman Seitov also said three bullet casings at the scene of Saipov's murder matched others found in the past, and that the perpetrators were already identified and being sought.
IMU Link Rejected
A former IMU member whom Saipov interviewed several times rejected talk of any ties between Saipov and the IMU's leader.
"I have known Alisher since 2005. We met two or three times," the man told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on condition of anonymity. "But he did not have any contacts with Tohir Yuldosh. He never received financial or any other assistance from Yuldosh. He never met [Yuldosh] and never interviewed him."
As for the "close ties" to the exiled critic of Uzbekistan's ruling elite, Erk party leader Solih says he met Saipov several times. He acknowledges that party members had given Saipov leaflets that urged strongman Uzbek President Islam Karimov to leave office after the upcoming election in December.
"It should be true. We have distributed those leaflets in Uzbekistan. Some of them were given to Alisher for distribution among Uzbeks in Osh," Solih said. "We first published the appeal, 'Your Term Is Over! Leave!' in our newspaper last month. The appeal does not have any criminal connotation; it rather reflected the demand of many people that Karimov's presidential term is over and he must leave office. It is our right to express this demand."
Many have questioned the Interior Ministry's motive in announcing its initial findings in the case. They include a blunt assessment today by one of Kyrgyzstan's ruling parties.
Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev's Social Democratic Party suggested that the Interior Ministry had caved in to pressure from Uzbek authorities.
Adil Turdukulov, a member of the party's political council, warned that "good neighborly relations" should not prevent an "unbiased" investigation into Saipov's killing. Turdukulov said the Interior Ministry's press release was "full of biased and politically motivated interpretations," and added that it was based solely on information that was well known to special services long before the journalist's murder.
Turdukulov called on law enforcement to stop "manipulating the findings and misleading the population" and bring the killer or killers to justice.
Friends and colleagues suspect that Saipov was killed in response to his numerous articles criticizing Uzbekistan's ruling administration and a popularity that extended beyond Kyrgzystan to neighboring Uzbekistan.
Saipov was an editor of the "Siyosat" (Politics) newspaper, and a Voice of America correspondent and contributor to RFE/RL.
The journalist, a native of the heavily Uzbek-populated region of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan, had told acquaintances that he thought he was being followed by Uzbek secret service agents.
Oleg Panfilov, who heads the Moscow-based nongovernmental Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said he thinks Saipov's murder and the actions of Kyrgyz law enforcement are politically motivated. Panfilov told the independent website ferghana.ru on October 30 that the Interior Ministry's announcement about an ongoing investigation was "unprofessional" and suggested that it might have been a concession to Uzbek authorities.
Daniil Kislov, a former colleague of Saipov's who runs ferghana.ru from Moscow, accused the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry of "deliberately trying to blacken our friend's name." Kislov dismissed allegations that Saipov received money from Islamists, and he wrote that Saipov regarded IMU leader Yuldosh as a "scumbag."
The European Union today condemned Saipov's killing and credited him with making an important contribution to the promotion of human rights. Brussels called for Kyrgyz authorities to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation into the murder and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Saipov's killing has also been condemned by international rights groups and by UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura.
In Uzbekistan, state-controlled media has carried numerous reports targeting Saipov in recent months, describing him as an "enemy of the Uzbek nation" who was trying to destablize that country.
Ferghana.ru reported on October 26 that articles on the Saipov shooting on several Uzbekistan-based, Russian-language websites were mysteriously rendered inaccessible.
Uzbek state-run regional television aired a 20-minute program on October 29 that said Saipov served "some evil forces" and was "controlled from abroad."
It is a charge reminiscent of those made against instigators of the public unrest and demonstration that preceded the killing of hundreds of unarmed protesters in eastern Uzbekistan in 2005.
A man identified as political scientist Obidxon Mamatov at Uzbekistan's Namangan State University said that "Saipov worked for Radio Liberty, Voice of America, and the fergana.ru website, in addition to keeping in contact with several other organizations." The man goes on to say that Saipov "met with Uzbek refugees in Iran and Turkey and did other things, too." Mamatov accused those "forces" of trying to manufacture conflict between Uzbekistan and the rest of the world.
(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondents Shukhrat Babajanov and Khurmat Babadjanov, and RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service correspondent Shairbek Mukarramov contributed to this report from Prague and Bishkek)