The CSS Blog Network

Russian Society and the Conflict in Ukraine: Masses, Elites and Identity

Courtesy of gωen/Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This article was originally published by E-International Relations (E-IR) on 26 April 2017.

This is an excerpt from Migration and the Ukraine Crisis: A Two-Country Perspective – an E-IR Edited Collection.

This chapter looks at how Russian society reacted to the conflict in and with Ukraine. The active phase of the conflict began in March 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and continued with Moscow’s support for the separatist movements in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine. The main object of interest here is popular views of the conflict and its context, and in particular the way these views are conditioned by nationalism and the national identity discourse. At the same time, as I show in the first section, it is hardly possible to consider ‘public opinion’ as ontologically separate from the public debate waged mainly by the elites, as well as from the state’s policies and the way they are legitimated. The issue is not just that public opinion is influenced by the state propaganda, but that both are part of the same broader discursive domain where meaning is constructed and reproduced.

Accordingly, this chapter starts with an analysis of Russian public opinion on the conflict and its relationship to the official propaganda. I then go on to discuss how the attitudes to Ukraine and the wider assessment of Russian foreign policy in recent years are related to the complex ways in which the Russian nation is defined and how the concept of the ‘Russian world’ plays into the picture. The final section focuses on the broader context of what Russians see as Western expansionism and how they justify Russia’s conduct in terms of the need to defend the country’s sovereignty and moral integrity against Western subversion. It is not my ambition in this chapter to present any original analysis of primary sources; rather, I see my task as summing up the findings of the existing studies (including my own) and highlighting the key issues that have come up in the scholarly debate so far.

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You Wanted Civil Society? Well, Now You´ve Got It

Blinded by the lights

Courtesy Id-iom/Flickr

This article was originally published by the openDemocracy on 30 September 2016.

Amid Russia’s conservative turn, a new brand of conservative civil society is mobilising against freedom of expression. Русский


 
Anton Belikov walks through the Direct Look exhibition, and attacks work by Sergei Loiko and Alexander Vasukovich. Video: Elena Balakireva.

On Wednesday evening, Anton Belikov, an artist and lecturer at Moscow’s Surikov Academy of Arts, walked through an exhibition of photographs documenting the war in eastern Ukraine, and threw paint over them. Having ruined and torn up the pictures as “war propaganda”, Belikov then turned to one of the photographers and the curator to say: “You wanted civil society? Well, now you’ve got it.”

These photographs by photographer Alexander Vasukovich and journalist Sergei Loiko were exhibited in Moscow’s Sakharov Center as part of the Direct Look photography prize. As a result of this attack, the Sakharov Center decided not to close the exhibition, but instead to hang posters detailing what took place on 28 September in place of the damaged works.

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How Attacks on Energy Infrastructure Affect Colombia’s Citizens

Electricity cables in Colombia

Electricity cables in Baranquilla, Colombia. Photo: Lucho Molina/flickr

In the last few months, attacks on Colombia’s energy infrastructure by the FARC and ELN have increased. While such attacks affect the lives of many ordinary Colombians, they are most often discussed within the bigger issue of terrorism.

However, there are a few Colombian bloggers who offer different perspectives.

Alejandro Gaviria describes [es] the gloomy panorama of attacks up to late August 2012: » More

“Okadas” – The Informal Nigerian Subway System

 

This blog post is part of a series of contributions documenting time spent in southern Nigeria to attend a conference and gather data for the targeting energy infrastructure (TEI) project.

Prior to arriving in Nigeria, I heard about ‘Okadas‘ which are 2-wheel and 3-wheel commercial motorcycles found throughout cities in Nigeria. In reading up on domestic travel options I found that Okadas were commonly described in a negative light – often associated with the words “dangerous” and “reckless”. However, as I entered Lagos and saw the densely populated metropolis in action I saw the Okada system first-hand, and overall I couldn’t help but be impressed.

Rather than view this system through a negative prism I saw another expression of African, and in this case Nigerian, societal ingenuity at work despite living in challenging conditions. In a land where the development of strong state institutions is constantly being challenged by corruption, which hinders the reliable delivery of public goods  (decent roads and public transportation), civil society emerges as the engine of service; utilizing creative solutions harvested from below that circumvent the restraints that come from above.

After spending a few days in Lagos, the significant role that Okadas play not only to mass city transit but also as a form of employment to many, mainly young males who operate as drivers became clear to me. Bikes are more affordable and fuel efficient than cars, which is important given that gasoline shortages are an all to common feature in Nigeria. Granted, locals will quickly note how Okada drivers tend to aggressively push through traffic, ignore signs and motorists, and often take chances that can lead to fatal accidents. In fact, looking around one can quickly see that most bikes operate without helmets. Regardless, many admitted to using and benefiting from the service- some more often than others. In one particular conversation, a Nigerian friend told me that while she does not normally use Okadas she revealed that when running late for a meeting she has found herself on the back of a bike, cutting through traffic in the hopes of reaching her destination both quickly and in one piece. I also spoke with a few Okada drivers who shared with me the sense of pride they had in both having wheels to get around and being able to use it as a source of income. » More

The Flip-side of Facebook

Screenshot of Facebook WorldIn the wake of the news that a Russian investment company had coughed up $200 million for a 2 percent stake in Facebook (and yes, that amounts to an estimated $10 billion value for the whole thing), and that Facebook itself had reached the coveted 200 million user mark (making it the 5th largest “country” in the world, no less), I thought it appropriate to have a look at how it is being used in the world beyond the college dorm and my living room.

For to think that Facebook is only good for easy messaging, picture-sharing and spying (and yes, even self-discovery through such wonderfully insightful tests as ‘Which city would you be?’) would be a grave mistake indeed. Outside the world of highspeed broadband-lines and trendy presidential campaigns, Facebook is attracting more and more users from the fringes of the social-networking-society; from unexpected sources and people who cannot organize or interact on more traditional forums. It even has the Pope involved (but that’s a whole different story).

I present to you the flip-side of Facebook.

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