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Where Does Russia’s Opposition Go From Here?

Anti-Putin rally in Moscow on 4 February 2012. Image: Wikimedia Commons (Leonid Faerberg)

The crowds are dwindling at the protest rallies, the energy seems to be draining away.

There are several problems for Russia’s opposition movement. The first is that Vladimir Putin’s crushing victory in the presidential elections – no matter how flawed – has changed the equation in Russia, and the opposition is struggling to adapt to this new reality. Some opposition groups believe that even without any cheating on election day, Putin would have got just over 50 per cent of the vote, and thus won in the first round, (although these groups would also argue that the electoral campaign as a whole was not fair, and that Putin’s return to the Kremlin is a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the constitution). Nonetheless, the reality is that  Putin is back, with a six year term, and this drains the morale of the opposition. » More

The Return Of The King

Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi... photo: Firdaus Omar/flickr

On 24 September, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin announced his decision to return to the presidency, a post he may now possibly occupy for a further two successive terms until 2024. Unfortunately, his election to the post seems to be a foregone conclusion. In previous polls, opposition candidates, anti-Kremlin parties, and other critics failed to even make it onto the ballot paper. And with Russian state TV having developed into a veritable Putin lovefest, he can expect blanket positive coverage ahead of a lofty coronation.

I am surely not the only one to feel reminded of the dark days of the Soviet period, when the General Secretary’s seat was passed from one frail, tottering character to the next, and political prognostication revolved solely around signs of imminent death – since death was the only thing that could open the door to real reform.

However, on closer examination, it hardly seems fair to compare Putin’s reign with the gerontocracy of the Soviet period, as the Soviets at least had a Politburo. Russia’s current transformation into what political scientists are calling a sultanistic or neo-patrimonial regime is a break from Russian history and the global trend toward democratization. The czars at least drew their legitimacy from their blood and their faith, and the General Secretaries owed their power to their party and their ideology, Putin’s rule, however, is based solely on the man himself. » More

Eurovision Song Contest: Kitsch and Politics

Serbia Eurovision Song Contest 2011, courtesy of flickr

Serious business. Photo: mjohn2101/flickr

It is a tacky show, and one well worth watching. This year’s Eurovision Song Contest features another round of spacy outfits and cheesy tunes with charming titles, ranging from Norway’s ‘Haba Haba’ to Armenia’s ‘Boom Boom’ and Finland’s ‘Da Da Dam’.

The first Eurovision contest took place in Switzerland in 1956, and only seven countries participated. Britain, Austria and Denmark were not present because they failed to apply on time. While most of Western Europe still doesn’t take the contest too seriously, it’s a different story in the East.

Looking at winning countries over the last two decades, there has been a marked move eastwards, as more countries from the former Communist block have joined the contest and award points to each other. The causes of bloc voting are debatable; some say it’s political, others argue that it is cultural. » More

Corruption in Russia: Business as Usual?

Anti-corruption poster in Saint Petersburg, photo: mutatdjellyfish/flickr

Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index saw the ratings of many western countries drop. Scoring worst among the G20 countries, Russia’s ranking dropped to 154, its lowest ranking since the index began in 1995.

Naturally, there are limits to how useful measuring a population’s perception of how corrupt their government actually is. Transparency International’s Francois Valerian acknowledges that “a drop in ranking can often result from the exposure of corruption that had already existed for some time.”

And corruption in Russia has existed for a very long time. For millions of Russians corruption is often seen as the norm. Russian authors have explored the theme of corruption in Russia over centuries. Nikolai Gogol exposed corruption in tsarist Russia in Dead Souls and The Inspector General, while Mikhail Bulgakov satirized the greed and corruption of Stalin’s Soviet Union in Master and Margarita.

According to one Russian polling station, the Levada Center, “nearly 80 percent of Russians say that corruption is a major problem and that it is much worse than it was 10 years ago.” Recent years have seen a rise in coverage of corruption scandals in Russia. So have Russians become increasingly critical of the government’s failure to deal with the problem of lingering corruption? » More

Great Projects or Great Illusions?

How will Sochi fare? photo: jan zeschky/flickr

Much has been made of Russian great power politics. Western media has been swamped with reports of Russia’s assertive energy politics, its Cold War-style military parades and photographs of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in shirtless macho poses.

More discreetly however, Russia has been striving to display the country’s greatness through the realization of various projects that commemorate Russia’s glorious history and show off the country’s modernization and economic growth. By holding prominent international events, Moscow hopes to restore the country’s national pride and revive some of its regional centers through the development of infrastructure projects that typically accompany such events.

But will Russia’s investments into these events improve its image abroad and bring much-needed progress for its lesser-developed regions? » More

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