Wednesday, January 18, 2017

‘Trust Doesn’t Arise Overnight, But It Can Disappear Just That Quickly,’ Estonia’s Imbi Paju Warns



Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – The trust that underlies the culture of any country and its ties with another is something that cannot be created in an instant; but the twentieth century has shown that it can be destroyed just that quickly, the reason behind current fears over talk about a new division of the world, according to Imbi Paju.

            Paju, an author and filmmaker who has explored the issues memory and forgetting in such works as Memories Denied, Fear Was Behind Everything: How Estonia Lost Its History and How to Get It Back, and Sisters Across the Gulf of Finland: Watching the Pain of Others, makes that argument in a new essay (news.err.ee/v/9a0d6a3d-7ea3-43d1-baf7-c3a6bae79416).

            Today, the media are full of stories that Putin and Trump will divide up the world into spheres of influence, something that inevitably frightens those like the Balts who have been victims of such divisions in the past. And there is also the sense that now “money and the power associated with it will begin to determine everything.”

            Paju continues: “It may become the case that anyone from the West can go become adviser to some undemocratic leader and lobby to become a shareholder in the dividing up of the world. There are enough examples in history of how immoral, bribed individuals are capable of doing anything for money.”

            Given this, she says, the question with which Sigmund Freud wrestled his entire life is once again at the center of discussions: can culture, in the broadest sense of shared knowledge and a social conscience, save the world? Or is it fated to be suppressed again by the powerful and the wealthy.

            Tragically, she notes, “humanistic studies are being driven out of European universities, slowly and quietly, so that we don’t even realize how the world is becoming more black and white. No need to think too much! There is no need for books and reflection to lead people to philosophical wisdom.”
“In 1940, Estonia was occupied and Soviet forces began stripping Estonians of their Western mentality and memory by destroying books. Freud’s works were hacked to pieces as well. A total of approximately 26 million works was destroyed. During the great deportations of 1949, as people were deported to Siberia, the last personal libraries were burned in ovens.”
                Not surprisingly,  many collaborated because “conformity is a survival strategy,” but to become widespread, Paju argues, the ground must be prepared by grinding culture down “with terror” and fear. “Trust does not develop overnight, but it can disappear overnight, as those who have lived through occupations, violent regimes and wars can attest.”

            Russia too has been a victim of the same thing. Before World War I and the 1917 revolutions, “Russia’s cultural figures, scholars and doctors who felt at ease in the capitals of Europe and soaked up ideas there were excellent cultural mediators …the world belonged to everyone. Everyone went where they pleased … even a passport wasn’t necessary.

            But Bolshevik and Nazi totalitarianism destroyed that common culture, leading Freud to conclude at the end of his life that culture couldn’t block the appetitive and destructive urges of the masses and his friend Stefan Zweig to recognize that these masses were being drawn to the centers of power and that neglect and indifference to culture also kills.

            Are we capable of using culture to “keep a lid on humanity’s drive toward destruction”? That is again the central question of our time. As some have pointed out, “books are incapable of preventing war,” and as others have noted, the shibboleths and networks of the divided world of the Cold War are returning. Does this reflect “a death wish” on the part of people?

            Today, the Estonian author says, we must ask ourselves: “can we manage with the help of culture to keep our base instincts in check?” That is no easy task as the banality of evil Hannah Arendt spoke of “hasn’t gone anywhere” and Julia Kristeva’s observation that cultures wrongly developed can not only die but kill.

            Paju concludes that despite this, she very much hopes that “with the help of culture,” the world “can avoid a great dividing up of the world.” But for that to happen, all of us need not only a deep knowledge of culture but the courage to organize its support and to speak truth to power in its defense.



Heads of Regions and Republics Kremlin Finds Wanting May Lose Their Territories as Well as Their Positions, Experts Say



Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – Confronted by a new “revolt of the governors,” Vladimir Putin may soon launch a counter-attack, experts say, removing those who he judges “ineffective” for whatever reason and then amalgamating their regions or republics with neighboring regions led by ostensibly “more effective” rulers, who may be less than thrilled by such new burdens.

            According to the Khakas Republic news portal, “in the next two years, the administrative map of the Russian Federation may be changed,” with the leaders of some being ousted and their regions or republics combined with stronger neighbors. Among the first is likely to be Khakasia, which would be folded into Krasnoyarsk Kray (19rus.info/index.php/vlast-i-politika/item/60917-ostatsya-v-zhivykh-perezhivet-li-glava-khakasii-volnu-regionalnogo-sliyaniya).

            It cites the conclusions of a study prepared by specialists on Russian regions that just appeared on the Club of Regions portal (club-rf.ru/theme/450). They suggested that Putin may use the current economic crisis to eliminate from four to as many as 20 of the federal subjects of the Russian Federation.

            “The process of optimizing expenses on the administrative apparatus,” that report said, “will be accompanied by a cadre bloodbath: the weaker governors will literally find the ground pulled out from under them.”

            Kaluga governor Anatoly Artamonov argued last week that Moscow’s budgetary policies, by reducing the number of donor regions, was driving this process. No federal subject now wants to remain a donor and thus has reason to hide its successes or not pursue new ones (rg.ru/2017/01/11/artamonov-k-sokrashcheniiu-chisla-regionov-donorov-vedet-biudzhetnaia-politika.html).

            (Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov not only has complained out this Moscow policy but has led a revolt of donor regions and republics against its continuation (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/01/economic-crisis-may-force-moscow-to.html and  windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/01/revolt-of-governors-so-large-at-gaidar.html).)

            The new wave of regional amalgamation, the Club of Regions experts say, is likely to begin first in the capitals with the cities and the surrounding regions being combined.  But then, they say, it is likely to be extended to Tyumen which will become a single federal subject rather than a matryoshka one with the Khanty-Mansiisk and Yamalo-Nenets districts within it.

            Later, they continue, this process will lead to the unification of Chelyabinsk oblast with Sverdlovsk oblast into a kray, the combination of the Khakas republic with Krasnoyarsk, the unification of the Altay republic with the Altay Kray, and the absorption into Khabarovsk Kray of both the Amur Oblast and the Jewish Autonomous District.

            The governors who would lose their jobs and lose their territories not surprisingly are very much opposed, the experts continue, but so too are some of those who would gain territory. In many cases, they say, they would be given more responsibilities without the resources needed to carry them out.

            If all this happens, it would make the restart of Putin’s efforts a decade ago to reduce the number of federal subjects, some of which have proved successful but some of which have been failures and remain deeply unpopular with those who were absorbed, especially in the two Buryat districts which were never given the help Moscow promised.


Three Signs Russian Military and Its Political Bosses are in Trouble



Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – The Kremlin-controlled media and often echoing it Western outlets paint a picture of Russia as a burgeoning military power, with its forces totally prepared to carry out any order the Putin regime gives them. But three stories this week suggest not only that this picture is incomplete but that it may be dangerously false.

            The first of these is perhaps the most serious.  As all political philosophers from Machiavelli on have pointed out, one of the first tasks of a ruler is to ensure that his forces are well-paid not only so that they will not be tempted to revolt against him but also so they will be ready to do his bidding in the future.

            Over the past several years, there has been a drumbeat of stories about military bases where the power was shut off because Moscow hadn’t paid the bill and about soldiers not getting adequate food or even being paid on time because the center hadn’t managed to perform that most basic of functions.

            But now Moscow, at a time of budget stringency, has taken a step that could lead to real problems. It is demanding that officers and soldiers who served in “hot spots” like Abkhazia in the 1990s return the supplemental combat pay they received for their service (mk.ru/social/2017/01/16/rossiyskikh-voennykh-obyazali-vernut-milliony-za-sluzhbu-v-goryachey-tochke.html).

            The roughly 3,000 military personnel involved are “in shock” about this decision, “Moskovsky komsomolets” reports. They’ve long ago spent the money they were paid, believe that they earned it, and have filed an appeal with the Russian Supreme Court to try to force the Russian government to reverse its order.

            Obviously, the soldiers long ago spent the money they were given and don’t have it to give back to the state. But their plight, serious as it is, pales to that of a government which makes promises to its soldiers and then reneges, something other military personnel who may be asked to do other things will certainly be taking note of.

            The second of these stories is potentially just as serious. In order to boost its military presence in the Black Sea, Moscow has forced commanders there to accept and commission ships that have not gone through the normal trials that could have been expected to identify and lead to the correction of problems (svpressa.ru/war21/article/164455/).

            That doesn’t mean that these ships are not capable of performing most of their tasks, but it does mean that they are far more likely to suffer breakdowns and be able to fulfill any orders they are given. And it means that these untested vessels should not be counted as part of some new “super” Russian fleet as Moscow and some in the West routinely do.

            And the third of these stories, a more humorous one, is noteworthy primarily because it comes on the heels of what the Kremlin-controlled media has been celebrating as a great breakthrough for its fleet and for the prospects of the Northern Sea Route, the successful transit over that route of ships at the end of December.

            After making what everyone calls “an historic Arctic voyage,” Russia’s icebreakers have gotten stuck in the ice in the East Siberian Sea. They are being supplied by helicopter, and officials say that the situation “is not critical” (siberiantimes.com/other/others/news/n0847-icebreakers-make-historic-arctic-voyage-then-get-stuck-in-frozen-sea-on-return-journey/).

            But this event too like the others is a reminder that what looks strong in the Russian case as a result of Potemkin Village-style operations may not be as powerful as the Kremlin needs them to be to achieve its ends or as many, as a result of its propaganda effort, in fact believe them to be.