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John Laughland and the “French Spring.”

Posted by democratist on April 27, 2013

27th April 2013,

Democratist has been out of the loop for a while, working on other projects, but we simply had to write a few lines of comment on an outstandingly crass piece of FSB disinfo masquerading as “journalism”, because it demonstrates so much about how isolated the Russian government finds itself with regard to human rights and democracy these days.

The offending article, “Why France’s gay Marriage debate has started to look like a revolution.” is written by John Laughland, “Director of Studies” at the most-ironic-name-we-could-think-of Institution of Democracy and Co-Operation in Paris. Apparently, the IDC was set up by Russian NGOs and private businesses to expose “double standards” by the West with regard to Human Rights and democracy.

The truth is, of course that genuinely independent Russian NGOs and private businesses have little interest in this kind of whataboutism.

But guess who does?

Anyway, the essence of this idiotic article is that France’s legalization of gay marriage is about to result in a revolution bringing down the government.

Say what?

Yes indeed. According to Mr. Laughland;

“Revolutions are often sparked by an unexpected shock to an already weakened regime. As commentators in France remark not only on the crisis engulfing François Hollande’s government but also on the apparent death-rattle of the country’s entire political system, it could be that his flagship policy of legalising gay marriage — or rather, the gigantic public reaction against it, unique in Europe — will be the last straw that breaks the Fifth -Republic’s back.”

So there you go folks: Some of you may have thought that there was no historical precedent for this kind of thing; that there has never been a case anywhere in the world where an established democracy was overthrown by revolution; that while many people in France may disagree with gay marriage. they will continue to respect their democratic political system and restrict themselves to peaceful protest.

But you’re wrong! Oh so wrong! In fact they’re massing in the streets in their millions, and anyone who says that perhaps the numbers were a little less (or even a lot less) has clearly been taken into by the lies of those queer-loving French coppers, because;

“Credible accusations surfaced in Le Figaro on Monday night that the film taken from police helicopters on 24 March and released by the prefecture has been manipulated to reduce the apparent numbers of demonstrators.”

Ah I see. It’s all a conspiracy… again.

Laughland blathers on;

“Had the mobilisation in Paris taken place in Tahrir Square, the world’s media would be unanimous that a ‘French spring’ was about to sweep away an outdated power structure… By the same token, had the Moscow security forces tear-gassed children and mothers…the worldwide moral policemen on CNN would be frantically firing their rhetorical revolvers. Such repression would be interpreted as a sign that the regime was desperate. Indeed, had the Ukrainian police removed the ‘tent village’ which formed in central Kiev at the time of the Orange Revolution in 2004 — as the Paris police bundled more than 60 anti-gay marriage campers into detention on the night of 14 April — then one suspects that Nato tanks would have rolled over the Dnieper to their rescue.”

Now we seem to be getting to the crux of the matter. “You would have sent in the tanks if it was us.” Says paranoid Moscow’s none-too-subtle mouth-piece. “How dare you criticise our rigged elections, our repressive anti-gay laws, our attempts to imprison any well-known critic of the regime on trumped-up charges through our shambolic non-independent court system. Shame on you!”

Point is, France doesn’t have “an out-dated power structure.” Its a democratic country, and you can demonstrate all you want, and vote for anyone you like, even a bonkers Trotskyite like Jean-Luc Melichon, or an idiot fascist like Marine Le Pen; and your vote will actually count, unlike (say) the Russian 2011 parliamentary elections.

And so it is very clear, of the two, whose system is outdated, and where “spring” is due next.

Posted in Arab Spring, Conspiracy Theory, Electoral Fraud, Russia Propaganda | 2 Comments »

Putin’s Third Term: Towards Instability?

Posted by democratist on April 24, 2012

April 24th 2012,

Democratist has sometimes been accused of being “theoretical.” We do not deny this charge. For us, using “theory” means the ability to generalize rational insight from experience.  Although not without limitation, any attempt to explain (and by extension change) the world without some kind of rational framework will amount to little, and incautious abandonment leaves one vulnerable to a variety of intellectual hucksters (post-modernists, nationalists, religious dogmatists, conspiracy theorists…).

In terms of International Relations, the most fruitful theoretical tools Democratist has encountered are those drawn from historical-sociology. Part of the reason for this blog is to apply insights drawn from that tradition to the contemporary world.

This explains the repeated importance we have placed on the revolutions of Arab Spring. For us, 2011 was a year of global historical significance - like 1789, 1848, 1917 or 1989/1991. As with those other historically conjunctural years, 2011 combined elements that are central to our view of the world; social conflicts, mass movements and (democratic) revolution. However, the events of 2011 also involved an additional aspect that we have not yet covered in any detail, but which is a cornerstone of our approach, and of particular relevance to the political trajectory of the countries of the CIS; the idea of international society as “homogeneity.”

What do we mean by “international society” and “homogeneity”?

Within the academic study of International relations over the last 40 years, there have been three main perspectives on what constitutes “international society”. These are;

i) It consists of relations between states (governments). Obvious examples include diplomacy and war.

ii) It consists of non-state links of economy, political association, culture and ideology (a favourite of “globalization” theorists).

iii) It consists of a set of ideological values shared by different societies and promoted by inter-state competition, producing international “homogeneity”.

While the first two perspectives are certainly essential to any understanding of international relations, and are regularly covered in the mainstream media, it is the third which comes from the historical-sociological tradition, and on which we focus here.

The basic idea of homogeneity is simple: As a result of international pressures, states are compelled through competition with one another over the long-term, to resemble each other more and more in their internal arrangements. Developments at the international level have an impact on the ideological legitimacy and stability of states domestically: Political and social change within countries have always been to some extent, and are now increasingly the result of external processes.

In Rethinking International Relations (1994), Fred Halliday uses this perspective to explain the end of the Cold War, or as he puts it, “…why a specific political and socio-economic system, one that was in broad terms equal to its rival in military terms, should have collapsed as it did, rapidly and unequivocally, and in the absence of significant international military conflict.”

Halliday argues that communism was successful, not only in the second world war, but in subsequent arms races and third world strategic competition. However, it was at the socio-economic level that the USSR came to be seen as a comparative failure, unable to match its Western competitors: By the 1980′s the domestic record of communism, as compared with its main capitalist alternatives, became a central dimension of Cold War rivalry, resulting in the Gorbachev’s attempts at reform, and the ultimate collapse of a unreformable system.

The key point is that it was an ideologically influenced change of direction by the leadership which brought about the USSR’s demise. Communism could easily have dragged on for another decade or two, but the leadership became convinced that the Soviet system was unable to catch up with the west, especially in terms of economic output and innovation. The subsequent opening of the USSR to foreign influences after 1988 as part of glasnost acted to alert the broader public to these problems, highlighting contrasts in living standards, which led to increased calls for change.

This brings us to the question of the extent that states have responded to international pressure to homogenize since 1991. For Democratist, it is clear that the idea of the democratic “good life” transmitted by popular culture, the media and, above all the internet, has become much more powerful over the last twenty years. Indeed, so powerful is this image, that leaders of many authoritarian countries have come to expend considerable resources in countering it with domestic and international propaganda (e.g. RT, Press TV etc).

International pressure for homogenization has therefore increased, with democracy taking on a far greater role as a factor for domestic legitimization and stability. The Arab Spring was witness to the growth of pressure for reform building due to a number of factors, but not least the example of comparatively politically and economically successful democratic countries. However, the regimes of the middle East proved resistant to reform, and therefore lost popular legitimacy and finally faced revolution.

Similar pressures have also manifested themselves in the former Soviet Union, with revolutions sparked off by rigged elections in a number of countries. However, in contemporary Russia, democratizing pressure remains weak as result the chaos and national humiliation of the 1990′s. This is commonly blamed on “dermokratiya,” while it was in fact actually more the result of the collapse of the command economy and massive corruption. And yet, as described in Masha Gessen’s The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (Granta Publications, 2012), the Russian government has shown no serious willingness to reform over the last decade, and the untreated corruption of the 1990′s has in fact worsened.

It therefore seems unlikely that the government will embark on meaningful reform over the coming years, whilst homogenizing pressure for change will grow: As the Russian middle class gains in political confidence it will begin to demand the representation it is afforded in other countries, spurred on by technological change.

And while the possibility of a gradual transition to a more representative political system remains, the probability of a political crisis over the longer term if this does not materialize is growing.

Posted in Arab Spring, Colour Revolution, Democratization, Historical Sociology of International Relations (HSIR), Russia 2012 Elections, Russia Propaganda | 6 Comments »

Russian Autocracy and the Future of the Arab Spring.

Posted by democratist on March 12, 2012

12th March 2012,

It hardly comes as a great surprise that the Arab Spring should have proved unpopular with the current Russian government and its representatives in the media. The great fear is that before too long the same fate awaits the Putin regime as that suffered by the rulers of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Closer to home, recent examples of so-called “colour-revolutions” include Georgia (2003) Ukraine (2004), Kyrgyzstan (2005) and Moldova (2009).

In the Russian case this fear seems somewhat exaggerated for the time being since the government remains popular, especially in the provinces, but nevertheless the obsession is rather telling. Since Russia Today is essentially a more or less unmediated reflection of the world-view of its Kremlin paymasters, it is again unsurprising that the channel should seek to highlight the post-revolutionary problems that have occurred in the middle East since December 2010.

Recent negative trends here have included an election of questionable usefulness and validity in Yemen, and growing regional divisions and repressive Islamist measures apparently to be taken against women in Libya. Time after time, the message drawn from this by the representatives of autocracy is clear; these people were far better off under the strong-men; safer and freer.

In one sense, this is, of course true. Hundreds of Egyptians have died since the revolution, about 10,000 people have died in Syria (so far), and several times that number died in Libya during the civil war there. Islamism is indeed in the rise, as the elections in Egypt and developments in Libya have demonstrated. So it is quite legitimate to ask whether it was all worth it?

There are several answers to this question. The first is ask whether another, more peaceful alternative was ever available? Would it not have been better for the people of the region to have been more patient? Wouldn’t the Mubarak, Gaddafi, Al-Assad and other regimes have been willing to reform of their own accord eventually? This seems unlikely; Gaddafi was in power for 42 years, Mubarak for more than thirty. The revolutions that have taken place in these countries provide clear evidence that the people’s patience had long been exhausted. Historically, we would do well to remember that the internal peace and democracy of contemporary western states act to obscure the bitter and violent struggles in the past which eventually brought the new order into being; the English Civil War; the American war of independence; the French revolution; the fascist and nazi periods in Italy and Germany. Indeed, Marxists have argued that there is no such thing as a peaceful path to modernity: Social movements are brought into inevitable conflict by the development of capitalism.

The second point to make here is that, although Islamism is certainly on the rise in the region, and represents a socially conservative agenda, its success does not necessarily represent a return to despotism, or anti-westernism in foreign policy. As professor Fawaz Gerges of the LSE noted in a public lecture given on 13th February, there are several historical-sociological trends we need to take into account in our analysis of the likely future developments stemming from the Arab Spring.

Firstly, in the Arab world most mainstream Islamists (in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and Syria) have renounced violence since the late 1960′s/early 1970′s, and have not only renounced it, but have laboured hard to join the political process in their societies, despite severe repression. For many Arab Islamists the Iranian revolutionary model is seen as having failed to offer a workable alternative to western secularism: The construction of theocracy in Iran since 1979 has motivated them to think in alternative terms to the Iranian goal of the construction of an “islamic state”, and rather to aim about the creation of a “civil state” [i.e a one which, while not secular, has many democratic elements, including free and fair elections, which might serve as a peaceful arbiter for at least some of the "conflicts of modernity" mentioned above].

Secondly, since the 1950′s, there has also been a generational shift within Islamism in almost every Arab country towards pragmatism. This new generation of pragmatists is less obsessed with identity politics that their predecessors. This is not to suggest that ultra-conservatives are not still powerful among Islamists. However, they have been in decline for many years.

Nonetheless, the possibility of a shift to the right remains: There is almost 100 years of bitterness to contend with. And so, if we are looking for an immediate shift to a Swiss-style democracy (as a number of autocratically minded commentators seem to have assumed should have already taken place), we are wasting our time: Whether these developments take place will only be evident over the longer term. This said, there are several important historical-social trends evident which suggest the Arab Spring will not descend into the despotic anti-western fiasco of the Putinist imagination.

Additionally, it seems unlikely that Arab Islamists are about to take reckless decisions on foreign policy: Islamists in Libya embraced NATO intervention, and many are calling on the US to take action in Syria: A change is taking place in the way Islamists view the west, and of western intervention.

Equally, Russia’s influence in the region has waned over the past 18 months through its support for Gaddafi and Assad.

And if the countries of the Arab Spring do indeed eventually settle down into a pattern or more or less democratic “civil” statehood over the coming decade, this will act as yet another indicator of the backwardness of the autocratic model, and as yet another signal that the writing is on the wall for the Putin regime.

For a theoretical overview see; http://democratist.wordpress.com/2011/03/28/great-arab-spring/

Posted in Arab Spring, Democratization, Egyptian Revolution, Revolutions, Russia Propaganda | 7 Comments »

Bunga Bunga! Russia Today lends an old friend a hand.

Posted by democratist on April 15, 2011

15th April 2011,

A wonderfully bonkers piece of dezinformatsiya on RT this morning (“Silvio and I are closer together than ever” – Berlusconi’s Russian flame”), that seems to owe more to the News of the World, or Channel Four’s 1990′s comedy “documentary” Eurotrash than what one might normally expect of the average international news channel.

The main point of this “exclusive interview” with Berlusconi’s, “reported Russian flame” Raisa Skorkina is that, in Ms. Skorkina’s opinion, allegations that Berlusconi paid for sex with an underage prostitute (the trial began on April 6th, but was adjourned) must be false because he is “simply too attractive” to resort to such “desperate measures”.

Quotes from Ms Skorkina, fashionably attired in a pink suit and white bandage-like bandanna (which gives the unfortunate impression that she may have recently suffered a severe blow to the head) include the following gems;

“Silvio and I are closer together than ever. Earlier, we were together like this [holds hands to heart], but now are much, much closer together!” 

“I can’t even explain what I felt inside when I met him, he gave me goosebumps, when I saw him, because he’s a very handsome man. It was love at first sight. He’s such a gentleman. 100% percent man in every sense!” [covers face to hide girlish blushes].

“For me he’s always been like a “guardian angel”, as he puts it himself. In my heart, my feelings for him sparkle, and he knows it. This is going to stay for ever. You should understand that, even if I fall in love or marry, my husband might resent it, but Silvio will stay in my heart forever. [Smiles and licks lips] I’m going to cry now.”  

And who could be behind this clearly unfair “media campaign” against Il Cavaliere?

“It’s the communists! Of course it’s them, who else would benefit? They want to get rid of him as fast as possible, by any means…I don’t know, they might even bring something from the Moon and say that Berlusconi did something there.”

While the allegations against Berlusconi remain of the sublunary variety for the time being, we at Democratist have certainly also been moved to tears by Ms. Skorkina’s story of her “romance” with the Italian premier.

And it is surely entirely coincidental that Skorkina has been implicated as a central participant in the Berlusconi “harem” (and may have acted to procure other women), or that Berlusconi is known to be personally close to Vladimir Putin, or that wikileaked State Department cables describe Berlusconi as acting as a “mouthpiece” for Moscow in Europe over the past few years, and suggest that he may have been “profiting personally and handsomely” from secret deals with the Russian prime minister.

And doubtless, none of this could possibly have affected the decision of the “editorially independent” (although 100% state-owned) Russia Today to run this story.

Posted in Russia and the EU, Russia Propaganda, Russia Today, Russian Corruption, Russian Foreign Policy, wikileaks | Leave a Comment »

Ekaterina Zatuliveter and the Neglect of Public Opinion.

Posted by democratist on March 24, 2011

March 24th 2011,

This morning Democratist has been enjoying yet another prize example of media manipulation, disinformation and obfuscation, courtesy of the (curiously) increasingly amateurish Russia Today (“Neglecting Public Opinion is a Privilege of the West“)

Given permission from the relevant judge, the Kremlin’s English-language mouthpiece has taken to employing Ekaterina Zatuliveter (Mike Hancock’s former parliamentary researcher, currently on bail after being arrested on charges of espionage last December) as a “contributor.” 

And naturally, the chosen subject for  Zatuliveter’s  journalistic debut is that mainstay of Soviet-era propaganda; Western hypocrisy – as expressed through the pretext of support for the anti-war movement.

In halting, accented English, the lissome Ms. Zatuliveter gives it her best shot, reading out the following (which we reproduce in full);

“This Saturday, London might experience the biggest protest in its history. Bigger even than the anti-war coalition march in 2003. Up until now the [inaudible] political activist groups have not been very well-organized, but they have finally decided to gather everybody who has been badly effected by the actions of the coalition government. With 35-45% of British people opposing intervention in Libya, it seems that on Saturday those intervention protestors will not be lost in the crowd. I will not expect [sic] the government to rush into doing everything straight away, it rarely happens in practice, but those protests are simply a part of a democratic system. However, there is a paradox in here; when non-Western countries experience protests, and their governments do nothing about it, western countries immediately accuse those governments in being undemocratic, but when western countries do the same, they ignore opinion of people [sic] in their country. [Inaudible very short sentence]. The polls show that public opinion in the UK regarding intervention in Libya, is not mirrored by MPs in the house of commons, with only 13 of them voting against the military intervention this vote was taken on Monday, two days after the UK had started bombing Libya. This was a rare moment in the House of Commons, when Labour literally occupied seats next to Tories and the Lib-dems, vacating the opposition side of the chamber to the people of Britain.”

Where to start with the unravelling of this inelegant, unwieldy macédoine of quarter-truth?

Apart from the obvious questions about Zatuliever’s impartiality/objectivity, and why the “independent” Russia Today has seen fit to employ her as a commentator (thumbing their noses at the British establishment, whilst in fact unwittingly highlighting the UK’s liberal bail conditions and commitment to freedom of speech – even for suspected spies) Democratist sees Zatuliever’s first journalistic effort as raising the following main points;

The first is that the piece appears to have been edited to focus more on Western military action in Libya than originally intended; a quick check of the Stop the War Coalition’s Website reveals that this weekend’s demonstration is not principally intended to be about Libya, but rather that, “Stop the War will be marching with CND in an antiwar and peace contingent on the 26th March TUC anti-cuts demonstration.” – i.e. Stop the War and CND will be tagging along on a larger TUC demonstration focused on spending cuts.  This explains some of Zatuliever’s otherwise more opaque comments (“intervention protestors will not be lost in the crowd” etc). But this information is not contained in the piece as broadcast – which misleadingly implies that the entire demonstration is in opposition to Western military action in Libya.

Second, the original YouGov opinion Poll (upon which we assume Zatuliever/RT are basing their figures – and we have to assume this, because the data provided in the piece are not attributed) was taken between 20th-21st March, and is poorly worded in terms of the question it posed (“Do you think Britain, France, the US and other countries are right or wrong to take military action in Libya?”) because it did not differentiate between the imposition of a no fly zone, and a full ground invasion, or between action that had been mandated by the UN, or not: Further work is therefore required before British public opinion on this issue can be satisfactorily established. But the figures cited seem to support the idea that military action is unpopular, and that a big anti-war demonstration due to take place this weekend in London as a result of that, and they seem to imply that British MPs don’t really care about, or represent the opinions of their constituents (just like the Duma!) - so why let something as trifling as accuracy get in the way of a good story?

Let us finally then examine the core question of Western hypocrisy. Zatuliveter’s  report suggests that the UK government is ignoring popular anti-war demonstrations at home, while accusing non-Western countries as being “non-democratic” when these experience supposedly comparable demonstrations. But we have already established that i) this weekend’s “anti-war” demonstration may well turn out to be for the most part something quite different from what is implied by RT, ii) British public opinion has not yet been fully established on the subject of military action in Libya, and that therefore iii) the question of the extent to which British MPs represent their constituents on this issue remains open. It is however, certainly correct to say that the UK government is accusing Libya of being undemocratic (to say the least), and has helped to enforce the UN no fly zone. But then again (the very real considerations of geopolitics and oil aside), that might be to an extent because the regime in Tripoli used its airforce to repeatedly strafe and bomb its own population over much of the past month: The Libyan government response was not (as Zatuliveter implies) to “do nothing about it” when they experienced protests, but rather to kill large numbers of their own people.

Perhaps if President Medvedev (partly in reaction to events in the middle East over the past few months) was not quite so concerned about the long-term reaction of his own population, he would have had the guts to veto UN Security Council Resolution 1973, and say in public what Prime Minister Putin did effectively say; that the West has no right to interfere in the affairs of repressive regimes such as Libya (or Russia for that matter). But in fact, as Medvedev (but not Putin) seems to understand, it looks increasingly that taking public opinion for granted is a privilege that not even the Russian elite will be able to maintain for that much longer, despite the best efforts of Russia Today’s domestic homologues.

Posted in Democratization, Human Rights, Libyan Revolution, Russia Propaganda, Russia Today, Russian Espionage | 2 Comments »

Dimitry Medvedev and the Autonomous Power of Lies.

Posted by democratist on February 27, 2011

27th February 2011,

Democratist was not especially surprised to hear President Medvedev’s comments in Vladikavkaz last week suggesting that outside forces are plotting a revolution against Russia.

The idea that the US is plotting to unseat the current Russian government (or its allies) in order to get its hands on Russian oil has been making the rounds in the Russian domestic media since at least the 2003 “Rose Revolution” in Georgia, and gained intensity after the “Orange Revolution” in late 2004 (indeed, a great deal of such propaganda was promoted domestically within Ukraine at the time as part of Yanukovich’s unsuccessful election campaign; Democratist remembers reading Russian-language articles accusing Yukashenko’s American-born wife of being a “CIA Colonel”). The trend has seen a major renaissance since the recent revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the middle East.

These conspiracy theories continue to circulate despite (or more likely because of) the fact that democracy promotion is has been an openly admitted, and highly successful aspect of US foreign policy for many decades, and has been pursued quite openly by organizations such as NDI and Radio Free Europe, and through international organizations such as the OSCE (of which Russia is a member-state, and as such has agreed to abide by democratic norms such as the holding of free and fair elections by signing the 1990 Copenhagen document).

The rationale behind the promotion of the “Colour Revolution” conspiracy theories (whose central defining motif is to ascribe an unwarranted role in these revolutions to the CIA, George Soros, the Bilderburg group and so on, and to play down the role of popular sentiment and mobilization in the countries concerned) is an unwillingness to accept the appeal of democratic governance for people in autocratic states generally, and of the applicability of the democratic model to Russia specifically. The need for the continued promotion of such a view of the world is dictated by the Russian elite’s unwillingness relax their grip on power, or allow themselves to be put to the test of a fair election (regardless of how popular the opinion polls may claim they are).

So what is the historical background to such conspiracy theories (in the Russian context) and who how do they circulate and gain currency?

As David Aaronovitch recounts in some detail in his excellent Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory has Shaped Modern History (2009), the various incarnations of the Russian secret service have had a lengthy record of both creating and promoting conspiracy theory to influence the world view of the Russian people for their own political ends.

A good early 20th Century example (which we have mentioned before) is the so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion; a forged document supposedly describing how senior representatives of the Jewish community were plotting to achieve world domination, which was in fact cooked-up by the Okhrana (secret police) in the early 1900′s as a weapon to bolster tsarist autocracy against reformism (many reformist politicians were Jews). The Protocols later became a favorite of Hitler’s, and were added to the secondary-school curriculum in Germany in the 1930′s, eventually making a contribution to the genocidal mentality that led to the holocaust.

Another example of the NKVD’s (as it was by then called) handiwork can be seen in the Moscow “show trials” of the late 1930′s. At these trials a number of senior Communists were coerced into implicating themselves in a complex series of conspiracies apparently intended to derail Soviet industrialization and overthrow Stalin in favour of the exiled Leon Trotsky. Needless to say (as was later admitted) no such plots ever existed; they were invented by the NKVD in order to consolidate Stalin’s grip on power, provide excuses for the numerous shortcomings of the first 5-year plan, and (significantly) to pander to Stalin’s own deep personal paranoia. As Robert Conquest has described in The Great Terror (1968/1991), many millions died in the subsequent purges.

Other historical examples of the KGB promoting conspiracy theories, both domestically and abroad (e.g. in relation to the Kennedy assassination) abound. Those interested can read The Mitrokhin Archive (1999) for more details.

In contemporary terms, as Democratist has noted before, a considerable proportion of the work of Russia Today seems to be aimed at the promotion of similarly exculpatory or self-serving mythologizing such as the work of Daniel Estulin. Conspiracy theory continues to play an important role within the Russian propaganda pantheon, and has been a central element in official attempts to propagandize the “Colour Revolutions,” and now more recent events in the middle East .

For Democratist, the continuing potential danger of state-promoted conspiracy theory is obvious. As we see in Voodoo Histories they have been a contributory element in at least two of the greatest atrocities of the twentieth century and (combined with the official promotion of Russian nationalism) continue to be an important tool available to the nomenklatura for the control and pacification of their own people, and the sowing of confusion and division abroad.

But the greatest danger of the state promotion of conspiracy theories in this way is that (as we appear to be witnessing in Medvedev’s recent speech) eventually the elite will almost inevitably come to believe in their own lies: Going back to The Mitrokhin Archive, Christopher Andrew notes that many among the KGB senior ranks still fully believed in the existence of Zionist/capitalist plots into the 1960′s and 1970′s. Separately, Andrew recounts how the KGB sought to play to the Kremlin’s (illusory) fears of western invasion in their intelligence reporting in the early 1980′s. This resulted in tensions over the 1983 NATO Able Archer ’83 exercise that may well have brought the possibility of nuclear war closer than it had been at any time since 1962.

Posted in Russia - US Relations, Russia Propaganda, Russia Today | 2 Comments »

Anna Chapman and United Russia: Inevitable Bedfellows.

Posted by democratist on February 23, 2011

23rd February 2011,

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, United Russia has selected Anna Chapman as a candidate for the Volgograd region for the Duma elections.

Who would have guessed that Chapman would have had such a future in front of her, given that she failed so spectacularly in her first career as an SVR “illegal”?

Well Democratist for one.

Chapman is fast becoming a symbol of everything that’s rotten about the political system in contemporary Russia; a place where sub-saharan levels of corruption (and electoral fraud) mean that media success and political careers can be built on family connections, rather than on any kind of ability.

In Chapman’s case these are the very best sort of connections available; those that link directly to the SVR and to Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin. As Andrew Osborn pointed out in an article in The Telegraph just after Chapman was expelled from the US last July, her father Vasily Kushchenko is almost certainly a veteran KGB/SVR man of long-standing, and a good friend of Sergei Ivanov (with whom he worked in Kenya back in the Soviet period).

For those who do not know about Ivanov, he was Minister of Defence between 2001-2007, and has served since then as Deputy Prime Minister. Ivanov (just like erstwhile Gazprom Chairman Dimitry Medvedev) almost certainly owes his career since 2000 to his relationship with Putin (who Ivanov has known since he met him at a KGB training institute in Saint Petersburg the mid 1970′s).

Since Kushenko is apparently another good friend of Ivanov’s, and the Russian media (such as REN-TV) has become little more than an appendage to the state bureaucracy, it is hardly a surprise that Chapman managed to get fast-tracked onto a  media career within a few weeks of her return from the US, and has now got herself onto the United Russia ticket.  

Her candidacy is further evidence that, just as Mikhail Gorbachev stated in a news conference he gave on Monday, United Russia has become a “bad copy” of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; a ruling party/rubber stamp largely stocked with the appointees of those who really wield power.

Posted in Elections, Russia Propaganda, Russian Espionage | Leave a Comment »

Russia Today: No Alternative.

Posted by democratist on February 9, 2011

9th February 2011,

Democratist doesn’t like to be seen as constantly harping on about Russia Today; there is more to far criticise about the current Russian government than the Kremlin’s English language mouth-piece.

But the truth of the matter is that we enjoy explaining how they skew so many of their stories at the behest of their Kremlin paymasters because;

i) Taking RT’s own advice, Democratist likes to “Question More,” (a lot more).

ii) Since RT is funded by the Russian state to the tune of at least $50 million dollars per year (whereas we are run on a “budget” currently mainly composed of cups of tea and chocolate biscuits), it is clear we enjoy a challenge. 

iii) RT provides an easy target for us, because with a little effort it is usually possible to work out the interests and logic that lie behind their output on any given day, with the added bonus that, because RT reproduces the government line so faithfully, and is generally devoid of editorial independence, it unwittingly sheds considerable light on Russian domestic or (more often) foreign policy: You can usually work out what the Russian government is thinking by working back from an RT story.

And despite its posturing as an “alternative” to the mainstream western media, and related anti-Americanism, Russia Today not a sincere “alternative” to anything, but rather a vehicle for expressing propaganda on behalf of an authoritarian state, which has little concern for democracy or human rights beyond what is politically expedient at the time.

Examples of this hypocrisy are legion; Democratist especially enjoys the way RT’s wall-to-wall condemnations of western militarism (documentaries about US war crimes in Korea, Vietnam etc) are regularly interspersed advertisements for is own military hardware. An example (from this morning) has the excited presenter expounding the virtues of a new Russian attack helicopter; (“They say this 30mm cannon can pierce through armour, but obviously it’s not the only weapon this aircraft can be equipped with; anti tank missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, bombs – all of them installed on the wings here, make this aircraft a real predator in the skies!”).

Very alternative.

Posted in Russia Foreign Policy, Russia Propaganda, Russia Today | 1 Comment »

Egypt: US versus Russian foreign policy.

Posted by democratist on February 4, 2011

4th February 2010,

Over the past week or so Democratist has once again been bemused by how faithfully and obviously Russia Today provides an almost direct representation of Russian government policy on any given issue, at any given time, despite it’s stated claim to editorial independence and posturing as left-wing “alternative” to the mainstream media, especially in the US. While RFE/RL or CNN may sometimes reveal a pro-American bias (and Fox News remains as dreadful as ever), nothing beats the “straight from the Ministry of Information” feel of so much of RT’s reporting. 

A week after the clearly one-sided use of Wikileaks reports to argue that the revolution in Egypt was being directed by the CIA, RT’s latest position alternates between yet another barrage of faux outrage at the shortcomings of American Empire (what right does the US have to interfere in Egyptian affairs, after having supported Mubarak for so long?) combined with an undercurrent which reveals the Russian MFA’s true intentions; an eye to profiting from the West’s potential alienation from autocratic regimes in the region (one of RT’s correspondents today commented that Obama’s calls for a rapid transition of power in Egypt was a message “to friends and foes alike, when the going gets tough, don’t call on us”).

In this regard, Democratist has found RT’s recent interviews with journalists and anti-American peace campaigners critical of US financial support and weapons sales to Egypt rather unconvincing, given that since 1991, the Russians have, just like the Americans (but without the United States’ enduring relationship with the regime, or its deep pockets) been happy to “do business” with Mubarak, and agreed to sell the Egyptians a nuclear energy package worth $2 billion back in 2008, in addition to selling weapons to Syria and Iran.

From our perspective, it would be fairer to point out that, while both the US and USSR/Russia engaged in realpolitik and interference in the internal affairs of third countries in the Middle East and elsewhere during the Cold War, and have both continued to do so to differing extents subsequently (e.g. in Ukraine and Georgia in the Russian case, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere for the US), the Russians have remained wedded to an unswervingly nationalist and realist outlook (attempting to topple regimes they didn’t like or bolster those they did, happy to deal with anyone as long as it supports their national interests), whereas the United States has, in addition to its morally questionable but strategically driven realist maneuvering, also consistently defined a separate liberal, democratizing ethical role for itself, including in the middle East.

Has the US been hypocritical? Certainly this is true to an extent; the US may be more likely to play up human rights abuses by opponents than allies (Iran or Syria versus Saudi Arabia or Turkey). In the case of Iraq, the neo-conservative interpretation of liberal interventionism (“freedom at the barrel of a gun”) has resulted in disaster. And in the current Egyptian case, it seems likely that State Department officials are working with elements of the old regime to make sure that things don’t change too quickly (whilst probably also seeking to bring together oppositionists to help govern the country in the interim before an election).

Nonetheless, as the Wikileaks cables  (which RT did so much to publicise last week) demonstrate, the US has also worked behind the scenes to gradually foster democratization in autocratic allies such as Egypt. This is because as Michael McFaul has observed, it recognizes the long-term security advantages that stem from enduring alliances with other democratic countries that similar agreements with autocrats cannot provide. These include sustainability (how long the relationship lasts), consistency (the threat of internal instability), and cost. The latter two problems are apparent in the Egyptian case.

However, in relation to Russia’s own foreign policy, realpolitik continues to dominate almost completely. Apart from their willingness to sell regional autocrats both weaponry and reactors, the Russian attitude towards democracy and human rights can be gauged by (taking an example closer to home) their actions during last December’s elections in Belarus, before which they provided media and financial backing to the opposition, only to cut a deal with Lukashenko at the last-minute, and then have President Medvedev describe it as an “internal matter,” when 600 people (including 7 of the 9 opposition candidates) were arrested for protesting the subsequent widespread electoral fraud.

Posted in CIS Media, Egyptian Revolution, Revolutions, Russia Propaganda, Russian Foreign Policy | 1 Comment »

The Egyptian Revolution and the Precariousness of Modern Autocracy.

Posted by democratist on January 29, 2011

29th January 2011,

Some of the less perceptive among Democratist’s readers might be forgiven for believing that the US has been caught off-guard by the revolt in Egypt, and that events there have been given much of their impetus by the example of the similar uprising in Tunisia a couple of weeks ago.

Certainly that is the impression one might have garnered from the lack of US government public statements on the subject until yesterday, and an evident unwillingness to abandon long-time ally Hosni Mubarak in Obama’s statement late last night, despite it becoming increasingly apparent that the writing is on the wall.

But if you thought that the Americans had been caught short, you’d be wrong, because in fact it was the CIA that planned and has directed the uprising in Egypt all along - at least according to Russia Today.

Since late last night, RT has been claiming that recently released Wikileaks cables reveal that the US has been plotting to overthrow Mubarak for “at least three years” and that they, “show Washington had been secretly backing leading figures behind the uprising.”

Curiously, RT does not include a link to these documents on their website, so Democratist decided to have a look for ourselves…

It turns out that the extent of the “US plotting” (according to the Telegraph article that broke the story) was that the US Embassy in Cairo helped a young dissident attend a  summit for activists in New York in December 2008, while working to keep his identity secret from Egyptian state police.

A couple of days after his return, when this individual claimed that Egyptian opposition forces were drawing up a plan for a transition to a parliamentary democracy, US Ambassador Scobey (unsurprisingly) questioned whether such an “unrealistic” plot could work, or ever even existed.

Scobey’s reaction (like Obama’s statement yesterday) and the wealth of other Wikileaks documents that repeatedly underscore  the deep and enduring political and military relationship between the US and the Mubarak regime over the last 30 years suggest a rather different story to that put forward by Russia Today; one where the US has attempted to balance the realpolitik support of an important if nasty autocratic ally with a comparatively limited liberal policy of help for moderate oppositionists. Subsequently, it is apparent that the Americans did not expect their democratization projects to have any significant impact over the short-term, and have been caught largely unprepared by the recent rioting.

So why has RT suddenly decided that what is happening in Egypt is a CIA-backed coup?

The answer is simple; just as in Georgia and Ukraine, from the perspective of the nomenklatura, any major popular democratic uprising has to be presented to the Russian people (and by extension the world at large) as part of an “American plot”, because what has to be avoided at all costs is the idea that people might actually be able to think for themselves.

As long as it’s all the CIA’s fault, that’s OK. But if people in other countries can overthrow oppressive regimes, then the Russians might slowly wake up to the idea that they might one day do the same thing – and that would never do.

Russia Today’s position reveals the precariousness of modern autocracy; the Egyptian revolt highlights that, while the last few years may have been witness to some democratic reversals in the CIS (Ukraine, Belarus), on the global scale, the last two centuries (and especially the last sixty years) demonstrate the growing potency of the democratic ideal, and the erosion of autocracy as a legitimate form of governance, even in the most unexpected places, and despite the United States perceived hypocrisy on this issue.

Over the long-term the nomenklatura has much to fear from this trend, and it is therefore unsurprising their apologists make every effort to explain it away as renewed Western imperialism. In turn, the US and EU have much to gain; but only if they make clear through their actions as well as words that, in addition to the necessary realist policies, they are willing to recognize and support the democratic aspirations of people throughout the region, and indeed the world wherever possible.

Posted in Belarus, Egyptian Revolution, Orange Revolution, Russia Propaganda, Russia Today, wikileaks | 12 Comments »

 
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