I was talking to some colleagues yesterday about RFE/RL’s recent interview with Kremlin-connected political consultant Gleb Pavlovsky. There are a lot of great tidbits in this interview and we’ve been talking about it a lot lately.
One of the things that caught my eye was when our correspondent asked him about the criticism of opposition groups to the inclusion of first deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov in a joint U.S.-Russian working group on civil society (that commission is holding its first meeting in Washington today and RT has an interview with him about its agenda and plans). Pavlovsky acted as if he hadn’t understood the question, saying that all the “opposition” groups supported Surkov. Apparently, nowadays, the word “opposition” only applies to the controlled, faux-opposition parties represented in the Duma (that is, allowed by the Kremlin to participate in elections and win seats – the Communists, A Just Russia, and the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia).
Using masterful circular reasoning, Pavlovsky said all the groups and figures that have been systematically, intentionally, and undemocratically marginalized by the authorities (using their control over the media, legislatures, election commissions, the courts, and so on) are now “too marginal” to be considered in any way significant. Pavlovsky’s comments are a good illustration of what seems to be a concerted effort to co-opt the word “opposition” in Russia to denote a handful of parties that as often as not votes with the Kremlin’s United Russia party and that have clearly tacitly or explicitly agreed to keep their “opposition” tendency within clear boundaries.
But I digress. The part of the Pavlovsky interview that we were discussing yesterday was his comments about Surkov’s supposed power and influence. Our correspondent described Surkov in his question as “the architect of the deconstruction of an open society in Russia.” And Pavlovsky was quick to correct him:
The architect of the system in Russia is Putin, not Surkov – that has to be understood clearly. Surkov is a high-level bureaucrat…. People who work in the administration are simply implementers, implementers of directives that they receive from above.
We were discussing the extent to which this could possibly be true, given the size and complexity of a country like Russia. If people as close to the ultimate leadership in Russia as Surkov are to be dismissed as mere “implementers,” then we must be talking of essentially a monarchy – and a very primitive monarchy at that, we joked. (Pavlovsky, evidently, hasn't changed much from the guy whose Effective Politics Foundation was handing out T-shirts in late 1999 with the slogan "Putin Is Our Everything.")
So the word monarchy was still rattling around in my head this morning when I read a story about a court case in Oryol. In that case, National Bolshevik activist Mikhail Deyev faces charges of participating in an extremist organization and “arousing hatred and enmity, or dishonoring a person or group of people on the basis of nationality or social standing.” Prosecutors are seeking a four-year prison term for Deyev.
A local state body called the Kursk Laboratory of Judicial Expertise was asked to make a ruling on a flyer that Deyev was caught distributing, and its finding is posted here (click on the images to enlarge). That flyer bore the slogans “Down with autocracy and hereditary monarchy!” and “Join the ranks of the free people of Russia!” The Kursk experts determined that the reference to “autocracy” and “hereditary monarchy” must refer to the current authorities of Russia and so the flyer represented a call for the violent overthrow of the government. The experts decided it was a “violent” call because the slogans were accompanied by a picture of “masked people with rolled up sleeves, sticks in their hands, exclusively males.”
The experts also took exception to the National Bolsheviks’ implication that only people fighting against autocracy are “free people.” “The general sense of this flyer,” the experts wrote, “is a call to unite and join the ranks of the ‘natsbolov,’ who are characterized exclusively as ‘free people of Russia’ (the rest aren’t free!!!).” The outraged exclamation marks are delightful.
Anyway, Deyev is now reasonably speculating whether the experts’ equation of the reference to “hereditary monarchy” to the current government of Russia isn’t somehow revealing. Fellow activist Georgy Sarkisyan wrote on LiveJournal: "I understand it this way: autocracy -- that's Vova [Putin], hereditary monarchy -- Dima [Medvedev]. Jeez. I suddenly feel like singing 'God Save The Tsar'."
Maybe we were too quick to downplay Pavlovsky’s remarks. At any rate, it is a thorny freedom-of-speech issue that RT might want to look into after it finishes venting its outrage that some of its ads were recently refused at U.S. and British airports.