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The ABC’s of Government Intervention

By ATWadmin On April 26th, 2008 at 4:36 pm

Why is it a surprise that there is an international food shortage? When has government tinkering with free markets ever resulted in anything other than shortages, inefficiencies, higher prices and the like?

Wizbang says it best:

"The first thing I know about economics is that it does not take well to attempts to control it. Almost every single example I can think of where a government or other body has attempted to command the economy, it has worked out disastrously.

The current example of biofuels is just the latest. The government thought it would be a good idea to replace too-expensive gas with too-expensive food derivatives, and now we have food shortages in the US — something that hasn’t happened in a very long time, if ever.

It’s kind of like the time in the 90’s when the government thought it would be a good idea to "soak the rich" by taxing yacht sales. The rich just started buying and registering their yachts overseas, and the end result was the near-destruction of the American yacht industry, putting a lot of boat builders out of work — very few of whom were millionaires."  (my emphasis)

Take a Fun Quiz!

By ATWadmin On March 4th, 2008 at 3:21 am

Take this fun quiz! Guess which Collectivist said it!
(BTW: "Collectivist" is another word for "Progressive.")

From The People’s Cube. 

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They Never Went Away You Know

By ATWadmin On February 26th, 2008 at 3:48 pm

Via Mr Eugenides, Harriet Harman has been answering readers’ questions in the Independent:

Q: Fidel Castro: hero of the left, or dangerous authoritarian dictator?

Harman: Hero of the left – but time for Cuba to move on.

Via Tim Worstall, Rod Liddle catches Diane Abbott on the BBC:

That gurgling ball of self-satisfaction, Diane Abbott MP, pronounced on television last week that she thought Chairman Mao had done “more good than bad”.

Call them what you like – Leftists, socialists, commies – it’s all the same deep down, and no matter how low your opinion of them, they’ll always demonstrate that it wasn’t low enough.

When Will He Die?

By ATWadmin On February 19th, 2008 at 1:09 pm

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Heh!
SO THE BLOODY BUTCHER, Fidel Castro (the David who stood up to the Goliath of America, according to the BBC) has resigned as ‘President’ of Cuba. In a remarkable display of Left Wing democratic accountability, he handed power to his equally wealthy, corrupt and cruel brother. Given that this is a backward communist hellhole we’re talking about, he may have kicked the bucket weeks ago. It would be nice to think he was bumped off in a cruel and inhumane manner. Alas, we must assume he’s still alive and that probably he will escape justice for the murder of tens of thousands of innocents in this world. Let’s hope he’ll soon be paying for his wicked crimes in Hell.

Coincidentally, Craig David has recently returned from Cuba and was asked about it on the wireless:

INTERVIEWER: So you did some of your new album in Cuba?

CRAIG DAVID: I had lots of misconceptions about it being a communist country and all that. It’s true that they’re not as privy as we are with inventions, food and so on. But they make up for it with incredible dancing.

The Other Side Of Vladimir Paranoid

By ATWadmin On December 21st, 2007 at 5:45 am

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Putin, the Kremlin power struggle and the $40bn fortune

An unprecedented battle is taking place inside the Kremlin in advance of Vladimir Putin’s departure from office, the Guardian has learned, with claims that the president presides over a secret multibillion-dollar fortune.

Rival clans inside the Kremlin are embroiled in a struggle for the control of assets as Putin prepares to transfer power to his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, in May, well-placed political observers and other sources have revealed.

At stake are billions of dollars in assets belonging to Russian state-run corporations. Additionally, details of Putin’s own personal fortune, reportedly hidden in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, are being discussed for the first time.

The claims over the president’s assets surfaced last month when the Russian political expert Stanislav Belkovsky gave an interview to the German newspaper Die Welt. They have since been repeated in the Washington Post and the Moscow Times, with speculation over the fortune appearing on the internet.

Citing sources inside the president’s administration, Belkovsky claims that after eight years in power Putin has secretly accumulated more than $40bn (£20bn). The sum would make him Russia’s – and Europe’s – richest man.

In an interview with the Guardian, Belkovsky repeated his claims that Putin owns vast holdings in three Russian oil and gas companies, concealed behind a “non-transparent network of offshore trusts”.

Putin “effectively” controls 37% of the shares of Surgutneftegaz, an oil exploration company and Russia’s third biggest oil producer, worth $20bn, he says. He also owns 4.5% of Gazprom, and “at least 75%” of Gunvor, a mysterious Swiss-based oil trader, founded by Gennady Timchenko, a friend of the president’s, Belkovsky alleges.

Asked how much Putin was worth, Belkovsky said: “At least $40bn. Maximum we cannot know. I suspect there are some businesses I know nothing about.” He added: “It may be more. It may be much more.

“Putin’s name doesn’t appear on any shareholders’ register, of course. There is a non-transparent scheme of successive ownership of offshore companies and funds. The final point is in Zug [in Switzerland] and Liechtenstein. Vladimir Putin should be the beneficiary owner.”

Given the situation of Anna Politkovskaya, Luke Harding, Stanislav Belkovsky, Yulia Latynina and others had better develop a healthy sense of paranoia.

Read it all at The Guardian.

See also Why The Chekist Mindest Matters and Putin’s Russia.

H/T The JammieWearingFool

Also at JammieWearingFool

The Road To Democracy

By ATWadmin On December 6th, 2007 at 4:49 pm

No More ‘Troubles’ Under Putin

Russia has its own path to democracy, one that is determined by the country’s long history, President Vladimir Putin and his entourage frequently assert. To understand their vision of Russia’s future, one must pay attention to their use of the past and to the national myths they create and promote.

Russia is engaged in a political transition now that, even Kremlin insiders admit, is virtually a “crisis.” The celebration of People’s Unity Day on November 4 and the 90th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution on November 7 have brought to the forefront crises of the past and models for emerging from them. The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party and the state media have labored overtime in recent weeks to reduce these historical events to easily understood elements — chaos, disunity, internal and external enemies, violence, and famine — and to emphasize that Russia survived them only by rallying around a strong, authoritarian leader-for-life.

Historical Precedent

People’s Unity Day is a three-year-old holiday that marks the liberation in 1612 of Moscow from Polish occupation and the end of a decade and a half of discord known by the ominous Russian phrase “Smutnoye vremya,” the Time of Troubles. The “smuta,” or trouble, was set off when the royal line of Ivan the Terrible came to an end and the country’s political elites began a ruthless battle among themselves for power. The period was characterized by factional infighting, famine, and foreign occupation, nearly leading to the collapse of the Russian state. It came to an end only in 1613, when the nobility chose one of their own, Mikhail Romanov, at a Grand National Assembly, founding the dynasty that would rule Russia until 1917. Before the 17th century was out, Mikhail Romanov’s grandson, Peter the Great, was in power and the country that had been on its knees was on the verge of becoming a global power.

The new People’s Unity Day holiday has developed in two directions in its short history. On the one hand, it is a cause for annual semi-sanctioned “Russia-for-the-Russians” actions, events that serve to remind the public that the country’s unity is fragile and that violent confrontation is lurking close to the surface. On the other hand, the holiday is marked by widespread demonstrations in support of the Kremlin and the strong central government. The Unified Russia party has begun the practice of sending representatives into schools and other institutions to make sure that the horrors of the Time of Troubles remain vivid and the lessons of unity and authoritarianism are not forgotten.

[…]

In Praise Of The Iron Fist

The logic of the analogy between the Bolshevik Revolution and the Time of Troubles leads to the conclusion that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was the strong, authoritarian leader-for-life who pulled the country out of chaos and, through a far-sighted program of industrialization and collectivization, created a country that was capable of withstanding the onslaught of Nazi Germany and of competing in the Cold War for decades. The Kremlin, of course, is wary about direct praise of Stalin, largely because of how such statements are seen in the West. In addition, the means by which Stalin came to power — infighting, betrayal, show trials, and persecution — are clearly less savory than the image of the Grand National Assembly that elevated Mikhail Romanov on a wave of national unity.

However, Putin has made enough overtly pro-Stalin statements over the years to have lured away virtually all the Stalinists from the Communist Party. He has restored Stalin-era state symbols and has stated directly that the country has no need to feel guilty about its past. During Putin’s years in power, Stalin’s reputation has grown steadily, with more and more Russians stating that he played “a positive role” in Russian history. State television commentator Mikhail Leontyev wrote in “Profil” this month: “What Stalin inherited from the Bolsheviks as an object of state — in fact, imperial — restoration was an absolutely Asiatic formation that could only be managed by Asiatic methods — literally those of Genghis Khan. That is, by using ‘the masses’ as raw material, fuel for the historical process. There were no other means for managing that country, for saving it, for securing it in the midst of an aggressively oriented environment.”

[….]

Read it all at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Also at JammieWearingFool

Putin’s Russia

By ATWadmin On December 6th, 2007 at 12:03 am

As the sky above the Soviet Union Russia continues to turn gray as a result of the dictatorship institutions of progressive democracy under the control of Vladimir Paranoid, here’s a little something you’ll never read — much less see discussed — in the parallel universe known as the Leftisphere, home of the Kooky Kult of Koslam.

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Inside The Corporation: Russia’s Power Elite

In his mission to restore Russia’s pride and prestige, President Vladimir Putin has repackaged the Soviet national anthem, reinvented patriotic pro-Kremlin youth groups, and revived the cult of the suave KGB officer.

The ‘re-packaged’ Soviet national anthem is done in the same way another infamous anthem was ‘repackaged’ – ignore a stanza or two but, by all means, retain the goddam melody (audio file contains the infamous first stanza).

But despite bringing back these old archetypes, Putin isn’t interested in a Soviet restoration. This time around, Russia’s path to greatness lies in a modern authoritarian corporate state. Some Kremlin-watchers have even dubbed the country’s Putin-era ruling elite “Korporatsiya,” or “The Corporation.”

“I like using the term ‘Kremlin, Inc.,'” says Russia analyst Nikolas Gvosdev, a senior fellow at the Nixon Center. “I think there are a number of boardroom strategies that apply to how policy in Russia is developed.”

Since coming to power nearly eight years ago, Putin has carefully crafted an image of himself as the undisputed master of Russia’s political universe: a strong, stern, and solitary leader calling all the shots. His most recent moves — unexpectedly naming the heretofore unknown Viktor Zubkov as prime minister and announcing that he will lead the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia candidate list in December’s parliamentary elections — have only served to solidify this impression.

But in reality, Russia is run by a collective leadership — the Kremlin Corporation’s board of directors, so to speak. Putin is the front man and public face for an elite group of seasoned bureaucrats, most of whom are veterans of the KGB and hail from the president’s native St. Petersburg. Together, they run Russia and control the crown jewels of the country’s economy.

All key political decisions in Russia, including Putin’s most recent bombshells, are the result of deliberation and consensus among members of a tight-knit inner sanctum many analysts have dubbed “the collective Putin.”

“These are people who have been with Putin from the very beginning,” says Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of the Center for Elite Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology. “Together they thought up this model of the state and government that is in place now.”

The Inner Sanctum

Most Kremlin-watchers place four people with Putin at the epicenter of power: two deputy Kremlin chiefs of staff, Igor Sechin and Viktor Ivanov; First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov; and FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev.

All are KGB veterans, all are in their mid-50s, and all are St. Petersburg natives. Moreover, Kryshtanovskaya says, this group is ideologically “completely homogenous” and its members view strategy for Russia’s development “in exactly the same way.”

At the heart of that strategy is the establishment of an enduring political system — a centralized, authoritarian, vertically integrated and unitary executive that can manage a thorough and comprehensive modernization of Russia.

“They want an authoritarian modernization. They want a strong authoritarian state of the Soviet type without the Soviet idiocy,” says Kryshtanovskaya. “The idiotic Soviet economy and the idiotic Soviet ideology were minuses. All the rest they want to bring back and preserve: a state system without a separation of powers.”

If they succeed, the West and the world will be dealing with an even more undemocratic, assertive, and aggressive Russia for a long time to come.

Such a Russia would probably cease to even pretend to adhere to democratic norms at home, and would most likely abandon any facade of being a reliable partner of the West in international affairs. It would become more brazen about bullying neighbors, using their dependence on Russia’s energy resources as leverage. The Kremlin would continue to try to undermine democratic reform in places where it has taken hold on Russia’s borders, like Georgia and Ukraine, and strenuously oppose such liberalization elsewhere in the former Soviet space.

The Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Estonia, the Slovak Republic and Latvia come to mind.

But to establish their vision of modern superpower greatness, the “collective Putin” first must make sure they remain in power after the March 2008 presidential elections. And this means keeping the group cohesive, managing personal, political, and commercial conflicts among its members, and preventing any one faction in the ruling elite from becoming too powerful. For Putin, this means a delicate balancing act — and one that he seems singularly equipped to perform.

The Indispensable Putin

As his presidency winds down, Putin isn’t acting like somebody who is preparing to go quietly into retirement.

Speaking to a group of Western academics in September, Putin said he planned to remain influential in Russian politics after his presidency ends next year. And in a speech to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party on October 1, he gave the clearest indication yet about how he plans to do so.

Putin told cheering delegates that he would head the party’s list of candidates for December’s elections to the State Duma and that he would consider becoming prime minister in the future. The move sparked a wave of speculation that a new, powerful, super-prime minister’s office would soon displace the presidency as Russia’s key power center.

Whether or not this is indeed the plan, analysts agree that Putin is the indispensable man in Russia’s political system.

Just like a previous indispensible figure: Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

If Putin wants the system he created to remain in place and develop according to his wishes, he has little choice but to stay in the game — if for no other reason than to prevent open clan warfare from breaking out in the ruling elite.

“It is clear that some of the prerogatives Putin enjoys are because of who he is as a person, not because of the presidential chair,” says Gvosdev. “The worry is that there will be someone else sitting in that presidential chair who doesn’t have the same level of trust, isn’t able to mediate,” he adds.

And there is quite a bit to mediate.

Corporate Power, Political Clashes

In addition to wielding near-absolute political power, Putin’s inner circle, or board of directors, also controls the commanding heights of the Russian economy.

Sechin, for example, is chairman of Rosneft, Russia’s massive state-run oil company. Sergei Ivanov heads the newly formed aircraft-industry monopoly United Aircraft Company. Viktor Ivanov chairs the board of directors of both Almaz-Antei, a state missile-production monopoly, and Aeroflot, the national airline. Patrushev’s son Andrei is an adviser to Rosneft’s board of directors, and his other son, Dmitry, is vice president of the state-run bank Vneshtorgbank.

Just below the top tier of the Putin elite is a group of leading officials who, while not enjoying the same influence and access as the president’s inner sanctum, are nevertheless considered key players in the system whose interests must be taken into account.

Among them are Vladimir Yakunin, the chairman of Russian Railways; Viktor Cherkesov, the head of the Federal Antinarcotics Agency; Sergei Chemezov, general director of the arms export monopoly Rosoboroneksport; and First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is also chairman of Gazprom’s board of directors.

And let’s not forget Putie’s dutiful German stooge, der Gerhard.

Other key figures include Yury Kovalchyuk, chairman of the board of directors of Bank Rossiya; Aleksandr Grigoryev, director of Gosrezerv, the state reserve agency; Dmitry Kozak, the regional development minister (and former presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, which includes Chechnya and the remaining North Caucasus republics); and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin, who is chairman of the board of the Channel One television station and deputy chairman of Rosneft.

Such a concentration of commercial and political might has led to conflicts, despite the group’s ideological homogeneity. This has been most visible recently in Cherkesov’s long-standing and bitter feud with Patrushev and Sechin, which went public in early October. Cherkesov has long coveted Patrushev’s post as FSB chief. Patrushev and Sechin are wary of Cherkesov’s rising clout and Sechin and Sergei Ivanov are also fierce rivals for Putin’s ear and influence in the Kremlin.

Sechin’s interests as Rosneft chairman have also clashed with those of Medvedev’s at Gazprom. A proposed merger between the two state-controlled behemoths was abandoned in 2005 due to rivalries between the two men’s power bases in the Kremlin. The two sides also clashed over the division of the bankrupted Yukos oil company’s production assets — the majority of which were eventually acquired by Rosneft.

Sechin’s interests also clash with Yakunin’s at Russian Railways — mainly over whether oil will be transported by pipeline or rail.

“They have problems among themselves,” says Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Moscow-based Panorama think tank. “They are afraid of each other. They are seeking somebody they can trust with the throne. Everybody trusts Putin. They don’t know what will happen with his successor,” Pribylovsky adds.

Top-Down Governance

Putin’s Moscow-based team sits atop what Russians call the power vertical, a sprawling pyramid of political and economic might that stretches deep into the country’s far-flung regions and republics.

Provincial governors are appointed by the president, and confirmed by elected local legislatures — which in turn are dominated by Unified Russia. Presidential representatives with sweeping authority keep governors and local officials loyal to the Kremlin line.

Those who cross “The Corporation” can expect to feel the full weight of Russia’s heavily politicized law-enforcement bodies. For those who are ready to play ball with the Kremlin, however, there are spoils.

Through the governors and presidential prefects, the Kremlin controls a vast network of patronage that Kryshtanovskaya calls “a hierarchy that resembles the Soviet state nomenklatura,” in which the Communist Party would dole out coveted posts, privileges, and favors to loyal members.

Putin’s emerging nomenklatura has a distinctive KGB flavor. According to Kryshtanovskaya’s research, 26 percent of Russia’s senior bureaucrats and business leaders are siloviki — veterans of the security services or military structures. If the 1990s were dominated by robber-baron oligarchs, then the reigning figure of this decade, according to political scientist Daniel Treisman, a Russia expert at UCLA, is the “silovarch.”

Putin’s authority, his inner circle’s preeminence, and their common plan to remake Russia all rests on the savvy management of the corporate, political, and personal conflicts inherent in this vast power pyramid, and on Kremlin Inc.’s board of directors remaining cohesive.

If any of the current schisms escalates into open conflict, the system could descend into crisis.

Putin “has created a situation that functions poorly without him. And he needs to continue with this system because are no alternatives,” says Moscow-based political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin. “In the framework of this Putin consensus, he now needs to make sure nobody becomes too strong, so that nobody gathers sufficient resources to seize control of the vertical.”

Andropov’s Children

Shortly after becoming president in 2000, Putin saw to it that a plaque honoring Yury Andropov was restored to the Moscow house where the late Soviet leader and KGB chief once lived.

And in June 2004, to mark the 90th anniversary of Andropov’s birth, Putin arranged to have a 10-foot statue of him erected in Petrozavodsk, north of St. Petersburg.

That Putin should take such care to honor the last KGB man to become Kremlin leader is not surprising. In many ways, Putin and his inner circle are Andropov’s children.

Putin, Patrushev, Cherkesov, Sergei Ivanov, and Viktor Ivanov all entered the KGB in the mid-1970s when Andropov was at the spy agency’s helm. They were strongly influenced by his ideas.

“They thought he was simply a genius, that he was a very strong person who, if he had lived, would have made the correct reforms,” Kryshtanovskaya says.

Andropov, who led the KGB from 1967 until 1982 when he became Soviet leader, sought to modernize the Soviet economy to make it more competitive with the West, while at the same time preserving an authoritarian political system in which the KGB would have a leading role. The authoritarian modernization he envisioned, Kryshtanovskaya says, resemble the one that carried out by China’s Communist leaders.

“Andropov thought that the Communist Party had to keep power in its hands and to conduct an economic liberalization. This was the path China followed,” Kryshtanovskaya says. “For people in the security services, China is the ideal model. They see this as the correct course. They think that Yeltsin went along the wrong path, as did Gorbachev.”

Andropov died in 1984, less than 15 months after becoming Soviet leader, and was never able to implement his modernization plan. But two decades after his death, the group of fresh-faced KGB rookies he once inspired are poised to implement it for him.

Operation Successor And Beyond

Speculation is rampant over how Putin’s power will manifest itself next. Will he step straight from the presidency into a new, more powerful prime ministerial post? Or will he temporarily hand over power to a weak and loyal president before reclaiming the post at a later date? No matter the formula, analysts agree that the current elite will remain in power beyond 2008 — and the current elite along with him.

Putin, says Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center, “is the undisputed leader of this team, and since there are no serious independent candidates to compete for that role, this means that he will be the main director and architect of the new composition” of political power.

Beyond 2008, analysts say Putin and his team are considering major changes in Russia’s political system to minimize the risk of succession crises in the future.

“The dilemma of the succession of power is one of the main problems facing the authorities since it always causes a crisis,” says Kryshtanovskaya. “They find troublesome direct elections in which all the people vote. They need either indirect elections through some kind of electors or assembly, or a change in the character of the power structures.”

This, of course, would require a major constitutional overhaul. But Dmitry Oreshkin notes that, given the dominant position Putin’s board of directors enjoys, that would not be much of an obstacle.

“Right now this group of people can do anything,” he says. “In this situation, who has the resources to oppose them or to disrupt their plans?”

And so goes democracy in a progressive state.

And the Leftisphere speaks volumes with their . . . silence.

Koslings where art thou?

Via RFE/RFL.

Now They’re Concerned

By ATWadmin On December 3rd, 2007 at 11:44 pm

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‘The West Must Distance Itself from Putin’s Swindle’

The European press reacted on Monday to Vladimir Putin’s landslide victory with a mix of criticism and, in a few instances, praise. But most papers agree that the power struggle within the Kremlin is only just beginning.

The liberal Danish daily Politiken writes:

“As expected, Russian President Vladimir Putin garnered an overwhelming election victory. Even before (his victory), he claimed he would be given the ‘moral right’ to continue to determine his country’s political course. … After his victory he spoke of a festive atmosphere. But it has an ugly downside. Neither the campaign nor the election was deserving of this description. It was the most unfair election since the fall of communism. The state abused its power in the media. Opposition voices were suppressed. … If the West doesn’t strongly distance itself from this historic election manipulation, which one could at best describe as a swindle, it will muddy our own democracies. And we would also be abandoning Russians who haven’t yet buried their hopes for democracy in their country.”

The Rome daily La Repubblica comments:

“In his years in office, Russian President Vladimir Putin has succeeded in resurrecting the myth of Russian power that stems from an era before the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union. The Russians felt the need for this resurrection as a way of forgetting the humiliations that came along with the collapse of the Soviet empire and the tumultuous years under Boris Yeltsin. Vladimir Putin is the man who revived it.”

Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung writes:

“To some extent, it remains astonishing how nervously and aggressively Putin and his army of propagandists have reacted to every form of criticism or opposition to the Kremlin.

Nothing astonishing about it mein Herr. Paranoid people have enemies to, ya know!

No one seriously questions the fact that the economic boom that has happened during Putin’s terms has made him even more popular. And he and his vehicle of power, the United Russia party, likely could have gained a solid lead in the Duma election wiithout having to resort to methods that included the application of massive pressure and manipulation in the run-up to the election.”

“It appears that potentates like Putin — with their pronounced autocratic tendencies, a tradition that is deeply rooted in Russian history — are incapable of trusting the democratic persuasiveness of their arguments and in some respects their formidable achievements. The old Lenin saying that “trust is good, but control is better,” seemed to be the central vision of the man pulling the strings inside the Kremlin during this election.”

Italy’s Corriere della Sera writes:

“Vladimir Putin can book an election triumph, based on true endorsement, but it is also the result of excessively deployed authority. And that’s why the true battle for power is just beginning in Russia. After all, it was precisely this Kremlin chief who turned Sunday’s election into the first round of the Russia presidential election in March 2008, knowing full well that he would soon have to change offices. A plebiscite mandate was supposed to guarantee his ‘moral right‘ to remain Russia’s leader, even if he is in an office other than the presidency. To that end, the Russians have pushed aside allegations of election manipulation and have instead given their approval to Putin.”

The liberal Vienna daily Der Standard writes:

“Will the Kremlin chief’s words be followed by corresponding actions after he leaves the office of president? If he decides to continue to exercise his enormous remaining influence through the United Russia party (with its inevitable majority in the newly elected parliament), we will see if he is serious about what he has been saying. But if he allows himself to be named prime minister after leaving the office of president, circumventing the constitution, we will know that, in truth, he is merely seeking personal power.

Ya think?

A weakening of the office of the president in Russia, the only institution that is vested with political legitimacy, will lead the country on a path to chaos. The practice of changing the playing rules in order to retain power will also remain after the all-powerful man leaves the political stage, but the superficial stability of his leadership will not.”

Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger writes:

“There is little doubt that the Russian president will interpret this result as a vote of confidence — and that it also justifies his desire to remain in power. If he is no longer able to remain president in spring, then another function will be found for him — be it prime minister, head of parliament or in the role of a ‘national leader’. But Putin’s victory is a false one. The allegations of manipulation brought by the opposition are a dark shadow hanging heavy over the election result. Still, Putin has no reason to fear any Ukranian-style Orange Revolution. At the same time, he shouldn’t feel overly secure, because a government that has to gain a victory through undemocratic means, is not as firmly in the saddle as the election result might lead one to believe.”

The right-liberal Bulgarian newspaper Dnewnik writes:

“Russian and Western election observers were unable to hide their shock on Sunday over the absolute pressure imposed on the vote in the giant country by the Putin administration. … It was exercised regularly and transparently enough that one could say that Putin held true to his promise of honesty. It’s not his problem that other people imagined a different outcome — probably like the European leaders who live in a complete fantasy world with their dream of drawing Russian natural gas without Putin’s political policies also flowing through the pipes.”

Funny how a newspaper in a former Soviet slave-state understands what Gazprom – Vladimir Paranoid’s ambassador to Europe – is all about.

The liberal Romanian daily Evenimentul Zilei writes:

“Elections and free-market economies are viewed as a symbol of recovery, and Vladimir Putin’s iron hand as a necessary phase during the transition from post-communist chaos to a liberal democracy. But Russia has destroyed a number of myths about democracy and confirmed the failure of the recipes and frameworks that the West has applied to transition countries. … Russia’s economic strength, which has in no way buttressed democratic transformation, has instead empowered Moscow’s oppressive regime. In Russia, the traditional authoritarian model has been restored using the tools of capitalism, and the Russians appear to be contented with that.”

The State Department’s Russian expert was unavailable for comment.

Via Spiegel International.

See also Riding The Cronies To Victory.

Also at JammieWearingFool

As Darkness Descends

By ATWadmin On December 3rd, 2007 at 4:11 am

“Putin understands very well the pitiless laws of the system he has built up step by step over the past seven years,” political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky wrote earlier this year. “If he takes that final step of agreeing to a third term, he is accepting a life sentence. … The darkness at noon of the Kremlin will engulf him forever.”

Putin’s Future Uncertain After Election
President Vladimir Putin seems certain to claim Sunday’s election triumph by his political party as a mandate to lead the country even after his term ends in May.

Now the main question is what specific job Putin might take to retain control – and who will be his choice for the next president.

Putin is widely credited here with leading his country out of the social and political wilderness of the 1990s when the collapse of Soviet power nearly led to the disintegration of Russian society.

“I voted for our United Russia because life has become better now under Putin, and we don’t want any changes or revolutions,” said Alla Kosaryeva, a 70-year-old retiree who lives in St. Petersburg.

There is little incentive for Putin to relinquish power over Russia, which is flush with revenue from oil and natural gas and where his power arguably rivals that of many of his Soviet and czarist predecessors.

Candidates for president may register until Dec. 23. Many are expected to do so, but only Putin’s hand-picked successor seems to have a real chance of winning.

Whoever is chosen is likely to be a figurehead, or could even step aside early to allow Putin to recapture the presidential office. Currently the constitution prohibits a president from running for a third consecutive term.

Two-thirds of Russians polled by the respected Levada Center recently said they would support Putin serving another term. But Putin has repeatedly promised not to run, and a reversal would be out of character for the stern, tough-talking former KGB spy.

Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist and political analyst, believes that Putin will become United Russia’s party chief and that the future president would follow his orders – recreating to some extent the Soviet-era model in which the government was subservient to the Communist Party.

A president will be nominated by United Russia, and he will obey party discipline,” she commented recently.

Sunday’s election, meanwhile, eliminated all of Putin’s liberal opponents from parliament. Amended election rules barred individual races that in the past allowed mavericks to win seats.

If Hillary starts losing primaries . . . .

We will continue our fight for democracy and liberal values,” retiring deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov told the Associated Press in an interview Friday. “Not in the parliament, but in society. It’s like in Soviet times, we are becoming dissidents because there are no legal ways to be in the opposition.”

Many both here and abroad would interpret any maneuver to keep Putin in power as a major milestone in Russia’s long retreat from the democratic reforms of the 1990s.

Putin’s Russia is not a totalitarian state, and the current rift with the West is not yet a new Cold War. There is no gulag filled with political prisoners, no official censorship, no proxy wars being fought in the Third World.

But under Putin, the Kremlin has taken control of crucial industries. It has extended its control to Russia’s far-flung provinces. Nominally independent institutions, including the courts, the media and parliament, have been brought to heel.

Abroad, Putin has challenged Western policies, accusing Washington of using “diktat” in its foreign policy. The Kremlin, in turn, has been accused by its enemies of waging a covert cyber war against Estonia, of helping rig Ukraine’s 2004 elections and of ordering the killing of a former KGB officer in London using a radioactive poison – allegations Russian officials have strenuously denied.

By choosing to make the Kremlin once again Russia’s sole center of power, analysts say, Putin has also resurrected some of the weaknesses that plagued the czarist and Communist systems.

Those familiar with Kremlin politics say Putin sometimes issues orders that, filtered through Russia’s numerous layers of bureaucracy, are never executed.

A topdown system of government which tries to control the media and local elections, critics point out, may find itself pursuing disastrous or unpopular policies.

Russia’s past absolutist governments were also faced with periodic succession crises, which sometimes led to bloodshed. So far there’s no evidence that Putin’s departure would lead to violence.

But Moscow’s decision to use the parliamentary and presidential elections to ratify the Kremlin’s choice of leadership, rather than permit a more open competition, has created a political crisis rare for Western democracies.

Putin is not just the leader of the Russian state, he is the arbiter of disputes among different Kremlin cliques and divides the corporate and political spoils. Without him, the Kremlin might split over such issues as how far Russia should go in confronting the West and consolidating state control of Russia’s major industries.

If Putin were to step down, many analysts say, Russia could go through a period of accelerated redistribution of assets reminiscent of the case of the one-time billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former chief of Yukos Oil Co., whose company was broken up and sold for alleged back taxes following his 2003 arrest.

If Putin remains in office, though, some think he will inevitably become Russia’s leader for life. The pressures on him to stay would grow with each passing year, as his presence was increasingly needed to maintain a balance among bitterly divided factions.

“Putin understands very well the pitiless laws of the system he has built up step by step over the past seven years,” political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky wrote earlier this year. “If he takes that final step of agreeing to a third term, he is accepting a life sentence. … The darkness at noon of the Kremlin will engulf him forever.”

———

Douglas Birch is the AP chief of bureau in Moscow and has covered Russian affairs since 2001.

Via The AP.

See also Putin’s Party Overwhelms Russia Election.

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Keeping History Alive

By ATWadmin On December 2nd, 2007 at 5:51 am

stransky_web.jpg


Stránský honors comrades in arms

Former prisoner keeps friends’ memories alive at communist-era grave

It has been 48 years since someone last heaved an anonymous body into one of the 5-by-2-meter ditches on the outskirts of the Dáblice cemetery, but the convex partitions between the mass graves still remain visible.

Walled off from the rest of the graveyard by a row of rosebushes and hedges, a neat grid of headstones now covers the mossy patch of earth that once served as a dumping ground for 207 tortured and executed political prisoners.

On the 18-year anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, 84-year-old Stanislav Stránský saunters through the abandoned burial ground, picking up overturned flowerpots and adjusting the flickering candles near the headstones.

“When I first came here in 1989, this place was a bush,” he says, motioning to the dense thicket behind the cemetery wall. “There was nothing here, just holes in the ground where our friends were deplorably deposited.”

Stránský himself is no stranger to the Orwellian treachery of Stalinist-era prisons. For 10 years, he braved brutal beatings, interrogations and backbreaking work in forced labor camps. To this day, he calls himself a MUKL, an acronym for “man designated for liquidation” and a term political prisoners in the 1950s used to describe themselves.

Since 1990, he has been chairman of the Association of Former Political Prisoners (SBPV) and the chief force behind the rehabilitation of the Dáblice burial ground for the victims of the 1950s Czechoslovak communist regime.

[…]

A narrow path separates the mass graves from another haunting memorial: The meadow here is also dotted with flower pots, and the dates of birth and death on the minute, white headstones are often just days apart. They mark the graves of 37 children born in 1950s communist prisons.

“Not all of these children are the babies of political prisoners, but that doesn’t matter,” Stránský says. “We took them under our wing because they were born behind bars — in captivity.”

Preserving the past

Although mass graves first came to his attention nearly 40 years ago, Stránský wasn’t able to begin mending the burying ground until after the fall of communism.

“We had to tear through the brambles to get here,” he says. “Some of the victims’ relatives that heard about this place had placed makeshift crosses from rags and twigs in the ground.”

Even after the Iron Curtain fell, Stránský struggled to obtain the permits and funds to rehabilitate the area.
After 1989, the government was still full of Bolsheviks, so I went through a lot of trouble to prove to public officials that doing this made sense — that it was something worth preserving for future generations,” he says. “The [cemetery keeper] wanted to bulldoze the place.”

[…]

Extraordinary circumstances
Stránský describes himself as an ordinary person.

“I’ve always done simple, honest work to make a living, which is the greatest capital a person can have,” he says.

Born in Bratislava and “christened by the Morava River,” he was forced to move to Prague with his Czech father in 1938, when a fear of Hitler caused Slovaks to distance themselves from their “Czech brothers.”

They certainly did ‘distance’ themselves.

At 15, Stránský attended an International Students’ Day protest against Nazi occupation that left Jan Opletal, a medical student, dead.

“We were flipping over cars and trams to barricade ourselves so the Nazis couldn’t get to us,” he recalls.

During World War II, Stránský was drafted to join the Protectorate government, where he remained until 1946. That year, shortly after the end of the war, the Communist Party emblem started appearing on military uniforms. Appalled by the political affiliation of the traditionally neutral military, Stránský, a 24-year-old sergeant, told his men to tear the symbols off.

“If they would have listened to me and just taken them off, it would have been fine,” he says. “But they didn’t just take them off — they destroyed them, and that’s when the trouble started.”

Stránský was immediately stripped of his rank and court-marshaled.

“I didn’t want to leave the service, but when a superior told me I had lost all chances of promotion, I realized I had no choice,” he says.

Upon returning to civilian life, Stránský worked for the Health Ministry, participating in international campaigns to prevent infant mortality and tuberculosis.

“In 1948, the local branch of the [Communist Party] accused [United Nations aid group] UNESCO of vaccinating people against communism, and the Danes and Norwegians that were working here with us were forced to leave the country,” he says. But the damage was done — Stránský now had contacts in the West.

Lured by rumors of a foreign-based resistance movement against the communist regime, he was able to cross the border and arrange a safe passage to West Germany, where he was placed in a refugee camp. After a two-month screening process, Stránský received political refugee status and a job at the International Refugee Organization.

But his life in exile was not to last. After spending months in limbo, he began to grow restless.

“I couldn’t just sit in Germany with my arms folded,” he says. “It was time for me to act.”

Thirsty for action, Stránský chose his own mission: “My assignment was to return to Czechoslovakia, find my contact and hand him secret information. And I completed it.

But it would be decades before he would be able to return to Germany. In what would prove to be a life-altering mistake, Stránský made a stopover at his parent’s apartment, where he was arrested by the secret police (StB).

[….]

There’s more at The Prague Post.

See also Graves of Heydrich’s Assassins Found.

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