Debates on politics and culture
NZ No. 39 is mostly devoted to civil society, new and old political and social movements, and state-society relations. The immediate context for these debates is provided by the Russian president’s recent all-out criticism of NGOs, seen by many as prompting a new crackdown on organized civic activity, and by the abolition of most non-monetary social benefits in Russia as of 1 January 2005.
The Liberal Heritage presents an article by German political scientist Claus Leggewie on Trans-national movements and the question of democracy. Leggewie analyses the different challenges to traditional notions of democratic representation and legitimacy posed by the emergence of supra-national decision-making bodies on the one hand, and NGOs and social movements on the other hand. In order to overcome the new legitimacy gap, Leggewie proposes to turn over some political decisions to bodies that would be answerable to trans-national sectoral constituencies rather than traditional territorial entities such as nation-states. Beside our usual editorial introduction, this section also features three comments on Leggewie by Russian authors. Sergei Lukashevsky, director of the Demos human rights think tank, argues that in the Russian context, most NGO’s activities are sufficiently legitimated by international agreements that Russia has ratified, notwithstanding recent campaigns by a number of Russian intellectuals to discredit the very notion of human rights and general human values. However, Lukashevsky concedes that Russian NGOs need to articulate their causes better than they have so far, and find new channels of communication with society at large. Political scientist Boris Mezhuev thinks that implementing Leggewie’s proposals for democratizing trans-national politics would create more problems than it could solve. According to Mezhuev, the reason why West European intellectuals such as Leggewie are turning away from more traditional political models such as egalitarian federalist subsidiarity is that they are looking for ways to protect European influence in the face of the US model of nation-building and the Asian demographic challenge. Valery Tishkov, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology and former nationalities minister, proposes an Anthropology of NGOs in which he casts a critical glance on the very notions of ▒movement’ and ▒non-governmental organization’. Using mainly examples from ethnopolitics and so-called national movements, Tishkov argues that ▒movements’ are often ex post rationalizations of the pronouncements of isolated intellectuals, while NGOs are sometimes created in order to pursue government aims by other means, and especially as vehicles of a Western quasi-colonialism that is potentially harmful to existing modes of civic organization prevalent in non-Western countries.
In Morals and Mores, Alexei Tokarev looks at the media as part of civil society. Based on his recent experience as organizer of a contest where TV programmes from all over the country were evaluated for grammatical correctness as well as ▒resonance’ with viewers, he shares a number of observations on Russian media’s problems with interactivity. Tokarev argues that the linguistic poverty of most Russian TV programmes is partly due to the fact that they decline to engage in a real dialogue with society, preferring to treat viewers as passive recipients of their message.
The Culture of Politics section features a short article by Jordanian sociologist Fares Breizat entitled What Counts as Terrorism? The View on the Arab Street, which we publish in Russian translation in order to introduce a public debate on terrorism sponsored by the OpenDemocracy web site.
Alexei Levinson’s Sociological Notes introduce our next topic. Levinson reports new opinion poll data that documents the rise of xenophobia in Russia, and argues that those who encourage the new search for internal and external enemies for the sake of the consolidation of society will find that they will harvest only fear and apathy, but not the energy required for any kind of national mobilization.
Topic 1 deals with The Left and Nationalism. Our authors, most of whom share left-wing views of some sort, report on the debates about nationalism among the Left in different countries, and analyse the lure of anti-Semitic, xenophobic and other nationalistic ideas to leftists of various persuasions. Ute Weinmann and Vlad Tupikin discuss The Left and Nationalism in Russia, concluding that virtually all Russian organizations generally considered leftist are actually crypto- (or not so crypto-) nationalists. The main explanation advanced by Weinmann and Tupikin is that the Soviet Union was an aggressively imperialistic rather than socialist state, and so xenophobic, anti-Western and nationalist-expansionist ideas became ready rallying points for the newly forming anti-Yeltsin opposition movement in the early 1990s which has continued to spawn new offshoots, especially through the left-right synthesis embodied in the National Bolshevik Party. Foreign Policy editor Mark Strauss discusses Antiglobalism’s Jewish Problem, analyzing the reasons for the pervasiveness of anti-Semitic rhetoric among many anti-globalisation protesters worldwide. Washington/DC-based historian Joshua Humphreys reports on The Agonizing of the American Left over such questions as patriotism, religious values, and foreign interventionism in the aftermath of the recent presidential election, and reviews responses by authors and activists from within the Democratic Party and the radical Left. Finally, Daniel Kulla offers his perspective on left-wing debates about national identity, Germany’s new status as a great power, and attitudes to Israel and the Jews. In particular, Kulla discusses the so-called ▒anti-German’ strand of radical leftist thought (Redemptive Schisms: On Recent Tendencies Among the German Radical Left).
Yevgeny Saburov’s Humane Economics column is devoted to the ways in which the literary canon taught at school shapes pupils’ attitudes to life and introduces them to economic principles. He argues that studying early 20th century modernist literature would be a good antidote to the patronizing effect of the heroic 19th century classics.
Topic 2 offers a fresh look at the Russian or Soviet tradition of paternalism. Yelena Bogdanova demonstrates that Soviet official discourse about state-citizen relations, rather than acknowledging people’s rights to social or legal protection, was permeated by the notion of zabota, meaning care or concern. This term could equally be applied to people, things, and processes, creating hierarchies and forcing people to ▒care for’ everyone but themselves (The Soviet Tradition of Legal Protection, or Expecting Care). Lev Levinson debunks The Myth of Paternalism: he contends that Soviet citizens did not expect gratuitous welfare but rightly believed they had a claim to state benefits in return for their labour. Levinson argues that while the Soviet state did not live up to its obligations, the Russian Federation has also made a mockery of the social guarantees enshrined in its constitution.
The Politics of Culture rubric deals with the recent Russian blockbuster, Night Watch. Cinema critic Dmitry Komm and historian Nikolai Mitrokhin discuss the social significance of the film’s success. Komm argues that contemporary Russian mass cinema is striving to produce a unifying national myth with neo-pagan aspects that bears an uncanny resemblance to the symbolism of Nazi Germany. Mitrokhin interprets the movie as an allegory of Russian politics, and especially of the career of Anatoly Chubais, a once-radical reformer who now prefers talk about imperialism to concern for democracy.
Topic 3 looks at two examples of officially endorsed music in the 1970s and 80s. Yan Levchenko writes about pop rock bands who benefited from the regime’s cautious concessions to young people’s thirst for rock music, though the fame of underground rockers eclipsed theirs by the late 80s (The Roar of the Cosmodrome in the Communication Channel). Nikita Braginsky traces The Path of Power: The Rise and Fall of the Great Children’s Choir. Through a ▒biography’ of the USSR’s main official children’s choir, Braginsky illuminates many aspects of Soviet politics and society in the Brezhnev era, such as the rejuvenation of the Lenin cult, encouraged to counterbalance the aging of the political leadership.
Our New Institutions section presents the Youth Centre for Human Rights, devoted to combating ignorance about human rights among teachers and school children.
After a particularly detailed Journals Review covering periodicals in political and social studies, we publish an exchange between two experts on Russian Orthodoxy, Anastasia Mitrofanova and Nikolai Mitrokhin, about the latter’s critical review of the former’s book, included in our previous issue.
The New Books section features a detailed survey of the recent international literature on Russian civil society by Belfast-based social scientist Diana Schmidt, as well as reviews of books on topics ranging from the history of Russian liberalism to Islam in contemporary Dagestan.