Tag: foreign policy

Rusia hoy: ¿atacada por la nostalgia de un pasado glorioso?

Por Florcita Swartzman


El comunismo en Rusia ya es historia. Atrás quedaron las figuras de Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchov, Gorbachov y Brezhnev. O por lo menos eso creeríamos. Pero la verdad es que hay algo de su pasado que no quiere soltar a los rusos. Los rusos, esas fascinantes criaturas profundamente marcadas por los inviernos fríos y los errores políticos de sus gobernantes pasados y presentes. En el siglo XXI, en una era de globalización galopante durante la que Louis Vuitton intentó (fallando lastimosamente) hacerse un lugar junto a Lenin en la Plaza Roja, imaginaríamos que todos los ídolos del grandioso pasado Rojo estarían bien enterrados en el fondo de las mentes de los rusos para nunca jamás volver a emerger a la superficie. Pero como aprendí durante mi viaje de mes y medio desde Vladivostok hasta San Petersburgo, nada podría estar más lejos de la realidad.

Hay una estatua de Lenin en casi todas las ciudades y pueblos, especialmente en Siberia. Siempre va a haber por lo menos una que te recibirá en cualquier estación de tren a la que llegues: usualmente es la figura de Lenin con un brazo levantado en el aire en posición triunfante, señalando el camino hacia un futuro socialista lleno de bienestar que nunca va a llegar, con ese tono nostálgico que sólo el realismo soviético puede lograr. En la mayoría de las ciudades siberianas, las dos calles principales se llaman invariablemente ulitsa Karla Marxa y ulitsa Lenina. Otras calles secundarias pueden llevar los nombres de Gagarina, Komsomolskaya, Oktyabrskaya, Kommunisticheskaya y similares alias igualmente demagógicos.

Así que la verdad que no; los rusos no han olvidado su glorioso pasado militar. Al día de hoy algunas personas siguen llorando la muerte de Stalin, otros siguen llamando Biblioteka Lenina a la Biblioteca Nacional de Moscú (aunque el nombre fue oficialmente cambiado en 1992), Ekaterimburgo todavía se conoce como Sverdlovsk, y recientemente Vladimir Putin convirtió el Día de la Victoria, la fecha que conmemora la capitulación de la Alemania nazi ante la Unión Soviética en 1945, en su propio ritual y en el escenario desde donde declara al mundo la resurrección de Rusia como potencia militar. El Día de la Victoria es un evento de una carga emocional muy importante, y el Sr. Putin se asegura de no perderse ni una oportunidad de llegarle al pueblo como su amigo y salvador. El mensaje que busca enviar es, en cierta forma, que el Ejército Rojo todavía vive en los corazones de los rusos y que no existe circunstancia económica o geopolítica que los pueda disuadir de dar batalla. ¿Batalla a quién? Al enemigo sediento de poder de este lado de la Cortina de Hierro. Al mundo imperialista occidental. Al mundo.

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Pero las consecuencias de no enterrar a tiempo esos mecanismos de defensa obsoletos tarde o temprano llegan. La gente rusa ha aprendido a vivir con conceptos e ideas muy fuertes, incluso bárbaros a veces, sobre el significado del ejército y la disciplina. En plena luz del siglo XXI, los chicos de 18 años terminan sus períodos obligatorios de servicio militar hablando como autómatas sobre defender el país a cualquier costo y sobre “patria o muerte”: cosas que en la práctica les son completamente extrañas. Exactamente como si el pasado estuviera contando cuentos de batallas y honor a través de sus bocas. Y este sistema de creencias inoculado, como hemos visto con la reciente anexión rusa de Crimea, es extremadamente funcional a los intereses territoriales del gobierno.

La Unión Soviética hizo un trabajo excepcional canalizando las emociones de las masas con el fin de que los rusos estuvieran siempre listos para pelear contra el invasor cualquiera fuese la forma en que éste pudiera presentarse. Paradójicamente, ni siquiera los chicos de la era post-soviética se salvaron del adoctrinamiento. De esta forma nació una suerte de psicosis colectiva en relación a la defensa de las fronteras de la Patria que continúa, aunque con un poco menos de intensidad, hasta el día de hoy. Putin lo sabe y, por supuesto, pone a trabajar para su beneficio la añoranza que la gente siente por ese pasado imperial. Incluso ha mecionado en varias oportunidades que la caída de la Unión Soviética fue un error, palabras que calan muy hondo especialmente en las generaciones de veteranos rusos que todavía ven en Stalin la figura de un padre protector. La insistencia de Vladimir Putin en ideas como la soberanía nacional, la fraternidad y la importancia de la independencia económica también es uno de sus trucos políticos para mantener a la gente distraída de la fuerte crisis económica que viene manteniendo a millones de rusos por debajo de la línea de pobreza desde nada menos que el colapso de la URSS.

También hay otros talentos que el Sr. Presidente exhibe para mostrarse al pueblo como un héroe y figura paternal. Las fotos que circulan por internet nos lo han mostrado en su lado más audaz y masculino: montando a caballo a través de la helada tundra siberiana, esquiando, pescando, cazando, venciendo ferozmente a un medallista de judo en su propio deporte, nadando sin delfines, nadando con delfines, domando tigres salvajes, jugando jóckey sobre hielo y casi cualquier otra actividad masculina que nos podamos imaginar. Esta estrategia le funciona; la necesita para mantener su popularidad en alza. Según estadísticas publicadas por el VtsIOM, el Centro Ruso de Investigación de la Opinión Pública, el índice de aprobación de la figura de Vladimir Putin fue del 86% nada más que en el año 2016. Su imagen seduce tanto a mujeres como hombres porque hace lo posible por ser visto como el ejemplo del hombre ruso valiente, implacable, incorruptible. Esto es lo que significa la hombría es la afirmación silenciosa que irradian esas fotos donde aparece con el torso desnudo, luchando con osos polares.

¿Podrá Rusia alguna vez liberarse del yugo de la política emocional, los personalismos y los regímenes autoritarios? No hay ningún signo social que indique que este será el caso en el futuro próximo, pero ya se pueden ver pequeñas chispas de resistencia encendiéndose entre las generaciones más jóvenes en contra de Putin y los movimientos corruptos que lo ayudaron a trepar a su actual posición de poder absoluto. Rusia está cansada de la corrupción, pero hace la vista gorda por falta de opciones más sanas, de mejor calidad. Está cansada de la violencia, pero la sigue alimentando. Los rusos están cansados, por encima de todo, de los dictadores sangrientos, pero siguen adorándolos en sus pedestales inalcanzables y otorgándoles facultades casi divinas. Antes de octubre de 1917, Lenin una vez dijo: “si dejamos el asunto librado al pueblo, no tendremos la revolución ni en mil años”. La verdad es que, en Rusia, es muy difícil para la gente hacerse escuchar porque la burocracia es todopoderosa e insalvable en una forma verdaderamente kafkiana. Sin embargo, puede que no todo esté perdido: es un momento difícil para estar vivo en la ex capital soviética del mundo pero hoy, en esta época digital de híperconexión, ese pueblo al que Lenin alguna vez miró por sobre su hombro tiene la capacidad -por primera vez luego de décadas de vivir en una pesadilla- de despertar, organizarse y rebelarse. Ahora es su turno de levantarse y pelear por su propia independencia.

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Para más información sobre las experiencias de Flor visita su blog, o clickea acá para leer el resto de sus artículos en The Coolidge Review.

Russia Today: A Tale of Nostalgic Confusion

By Florcita Swartzman

Communism in Russia is over. Long forgotten are the figures of Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchov, Gorbachov and Brezhnev. Or so we’d think. But there is something about their past that will not let go of the Russians. The Russians, these fascinating creatures deeply marked by their cold winters and the miscalculations of their previous and present rulers. In the 21st century, a time of raging globalization in which Louis Vuitton tried (and failed) to get a spot next to Lenin in the Krasnaya ploshchad, we would imagine that all the idols of the grandiose Red past would be buried deep in the Russian psyche, never to float back up to the surface again. But as I learned during my month-and-a-half trip from Vladivostok to Saint Petersburg, nothing could be further from the truth.

 

There is a statue of Lenin in almost every Russian city and town, especially in Siberia. There will always be at least one such statue that’ll welcome you first thing when you set foot in any train station you’re arriving at: it’s usually the figure of Lenin with his hand triumphantly lifted up in the air, pointing the way to a glorious socialist future full of wealth that will never come, with that characteristic nostalgic tone that only Soviet realism can pull off. In most Siberian cities, the two main streets are monotonously named after Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. Other secondary streets might be called Gagarina, Komsomolskaya, Oktyabrskaya, Kommunisticheskaya and other similar, demagogic names.

 

So the truth is: no, Russians have not forgotten their glorious military past. To this day some people continue to mourn Stalin’s death, the Moscow National Library is still called, by many, the Biblioteka Lenina (even though the name was changed in 1992), Yekaterinburg is also known as Sverdlovsk, and recently Vladimir Putin has made the Victory Day, the holiday that commemorates the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the USSR in 1945, into his very own ritual and the stage from which he showcases the revival of Russia as a military power to the world. The Victory Day is a very emotionally charged event, and Mr. Putin makes sure he doesn’t miss a chance to present himself as a friend and saviour to his folk. The message he looks to deliver is, in some way, that the spirit of the Red Army still burns in every Russian’s heart, so no economic or geopolitical circumstance should be an obstacle to fight back. To fight who? The power-thirsty enemy this side of the Iron Curtain. The imperialist Western world. The world.

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But there are consequences to not laying an outdated defense mechanism to rest. The Russian people have learned to live with very strong -sometimes barbaric- ideas and concepts about what the army and discipline mean to them. In plain daylight of the 21st century, 18-year-old kids now come out of their mandatory military service terms mindlessly speaking about defending the country at all costs, about “Motherland or death” and about things that are in practice completely alien to them, as if the past were reciting old tales of battle and honor through them. And this inoculated belief system, we’ve seen with the recent Russian annexation of Crimea, is extremely functional to the government’s territorial interests.

 

The Soviet Union did a great job channeling the emotions of the masses so that the Russian people would always be ready to fight the invaders in whichever form they would take. Paradoxically, not even post Soviet-era children were spared this indoctrination. In this way, a sort of a collective psychosis was born in regards to the defense of the Motherland’s borders that continues, even though less visibly, to this day. Putin knows this, of course, and acts upon the nostalgic yearning of his folk for the imperial past. He has mentioned quite a few times that the fall of the USSR was a mistake, and this resonates especially with the older generations of Russians that still see a protective father in the figure of Stalin. Vladimir Putin insisting so strongly on national sovereignty, fraternity and the importance of economic independence from the Western powers also means that one of his political goals is to distract the masses from the raging economic crisis that is keeping millions of Russians under or around the poverty line since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

 

There are also other talents that Mr. President displays in order to get the people to find a paternal friend and a hero in him. The internet has showed him to us in his most audacious, masculine side: riding a horse through the frozen Siberian tundra, skiing, fishing, hunting, fiercely beating a judo medallist in his own field, swimming without dolphins, swimming with dolphins, taming wild tigers, playing ice-hockey and almost any other manly activity we can think of. This strategy works for him, he needs it for his popularity to continue rising. According to the statistics published by the VtsIOM, the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, Vladimir Putin’s overall approval rating was of 86% in 2016. His image appeals to men and women alike because he looks to be regarded as the ideal example of the brave, relentless, incorruptible Russian man. This is what manhood means is the voiceless statement being made through the photos of him bare-chested, wrestling with polar bears.
Will Russia ever be able to free herself from the yoke of personalism, authoritarian regimes and emotional politics? There are no clear social signs that this will be the case in the near future, but there are already little sparks of resistance burning among the younger generations against Putin and the corrupt moves that helped him climb to his current position of almost absolute rule. Russia is tired of corruption, but she turns a blind eye to it for lack of a better, healthier option. She is tired of violence, but keeps on feeding it. The Russians are tired, above all, of bloody dictators, but they keep on placing them on pedestals and investing them with god-like power. Before October 1917, Lenin once said: “if we leave the fight up to the people, we won’t have a revolution in hundreds of years”. The truth is that, in Russia, it is very difficult for the people to be heard in any matter related to politics. The bureaucracy is almighty and insurmountable in a very much Kafkaesque manner. But not all may be lost, though: it is a hard time to be alive in the ex-Soviet capital of the world but today, in this all-connected internet era of ours, those people that Lenin once looked down upon have the ability -for the first time after decades of living in a nightmare- to wake up, organise and revolt. Now it is their turn to stand up and fight back for their own independence.

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Rubio, Tillerson, and the Siren Call of Putinism

By Van Parkman

        Rex Tillerson’s opening statement at his confirmation hearing was heartening to many conservatives. Praises came from a broad array, from those who were already in the tank for Trump and praise his every decision by default, through to principled and consistent Trump critics like Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal. In the statement, Tillerson claimed that the U.S. was uniquely qualified, both morally and strategically, to assert its leadership at the expense of the other more morally deficient and less conscientious powers who have been filling in the gap of late. 
        In the eyes of this writer however, a lot of that heartening sentiment is effectively nullified if he completely suspends judgement on our most active, paradigmatically divergent, and morally and strategically inadequate substitutes on the global stage. Throughout Sen. Marco Rubio’s interview, Tillerson suspended judgement on the subject of the character and actions of Vladimir Putin, an epistemic caution he did not wield in his controversial sketch of the situation in Syria with reference to U.S. policy on ISIS. The incongruence is bewildering unless you take refuge in the observation of the only detectable constant, a yielding to Putin and his interests. I’m not much for conspiracies. I don’t think Putin or Trump have Tillerson in an arm bar of sorts. Tillerson is no doubt a strong, principled, and independent mind, a Texan who probably wouldn’t take kindly to threats. It’s a sufficient explanation to believe that Tillerson is simply drinking from the same fountain as so many other seemingly level-headed individuals at every tier of society, and in a diverse array of countries, who can’t bring themselves to commit thoughtcrimes against Putin. I have further doubts. As Rubio made clear, Rex already knows the four corners of the situation. There is no conceivable point in time where Rex learns anything categorically new about Putin that might elicit the utterance, “Well I’ll be darned, Putin IS a war criminal!” if he isn’t already inclined to say so. The reasons for Putin’s unearned but widespread loyalty is an article for another day. For now, I’d like to focus on the convenience and consequence of it all.
        By anointing Putin a white knight, and whitewashing all of his actions in the Middle East, you defer responsibility. There’s no doubt that Tillerson is a responsible man. However, CEOs of massive corporations are also maverick delegators. Even some of Trump’s signalling to other NATO powers that they should be more independent is in the same vein of deference of responsibility. Where there is a lack of conviction, rather than mere patriotic rhetoric, about the need for a proactive role for America in the world, shortcuts will be taken. But what’s wrong with that? Let’s take a moment to consider what’s at stake if Tillerson lacks the convictions Rubio was mining for.
        Russia and its proxies not only lack the economic strength and military finesse to assert their power and bring order to the Middle East whilst minimising civilian casualties, they lack the will. For one, they are too preoccupied with defending their interests and the interests of their nefarious allies to care about universal principles like the general welfare and universal rights of mankind. This exhibition is on display not only in their war crimes, as rehearsed by Rubio, but in the fact that their campaign against ISIS, their geostrategic godsend, is merely a pretence for propping up Assad. As I will assert, that’s part and parcel to the organic structure of their political traditions, institutions, and structures. That is to say, the fundamental reason why Russia can’t be left to pursue its own interests without checks on their intentions is the same reason why the world as a whole cannot. The greatest and most constant of U.S. and western interests are also the universal interests of mankind. For many countries throughout the world however, if those principles exist as political expectations, they don’t take priority. What people take for granted, and therefore fail to understand, is the fundamental differences between not only the social inheritance of the west vis-à-vis its universally applicable Judaeo-Christian and Enlightenment values and Graeco-Roman, and also the largely British, legal traditions and civic expectations, but also of its unique experiences and painfully learned lessons.
        Are the resurgent powers on the world stage checked and motivated by priorities consistent with Enlightenment and Judaeo-Christian principles of a universal variety, or are they motivated by preserving personal power, wealth, and control with the handmaidens of radical ideologies at their side? Will it be a good thing when the world is divided into delineations of ancient imperial interests to the long-term detriment of a modern world with proliferated weapons of mass destruction? When America is asserting itself, it’s generally helping to prevent conditions of a permanent cold war, or worse, conditions where global human rights efforts are permanently frozen and rights violations go completely unreported which of course eventually results in the dissolution of those rights. Such is the situation with Erdogan’s current campaign against the Kurds, a story that he’s allowing no one to cover. The little coverage that is reported isn’t being broadcasted in Turkey. It’s getting heard only in states with a free press.
        Gun related crimes in the U.S. skyrocket in areas and subcultures that are alien to, or out of touch with, the western values and gun use customs which traditionally accompany gun use and ownership in the U.S. Those values and customs are the only reasons we were able to reach so high a level of gun proliferation and still maintain a relatively very safe country to live in. When those values breakdown, gun related crime rates, and crime rates in general, rise. You don’t have to personally adopt the moral priorities of the ideal policeman in order to comply with the order and safety he helps to bring about as he is guided by those inner principles. It makes a good analogy to the proliferation of modern military technology and weapons of mass destruction.
        Not all counties naturally incubate the kinds of political values which westerners take for granted. For the entire life cycle of modern warfare the world has felt pressure to use modern weapons with considerations to universal principles, principles which are universally benefited from, not universally upheld, but are more or less adhered to on the global level when it comes to international relations. These principles are adhered to because of the pressure from the few who have the political structures and traditions that have evolved over time to be reflective of western values, values which grant the capacity for self-assessment and also allow for the prosperity and privilege whence to defend those political and social priorities.
        This goes beyond values however. In the U.S. Civil War, and even more so with WWI in Europe, we learned all too well that traditional approaches to warfare were not compatible with 20th century military technology. It was a lesson we were still learning throughout WWII and it was a lesson that came with a very great cost. We continued to adapt our military policies and strategies to the conditions of an existential nuclear threat during the Cold War and to more urban, guerrilla, and terrorist challenges since then. We have been engaged in the world not just to police the world, but to act sometimes upon necessity and sometimes upon the lessons learned from the past century. The stakes are too high in modern times to allow the world to turn into Chicago. To surrender America’s proactive role in the world is not to sow the seeds of utopia but to defer authority and power to nations and ideologies which have yet to learn the lessons we are still so conscientious about, and invite those powers to teach us a lesson the world may never have the opportunity to forget. It’s important to stress that we haven’t merely suffered unique experiences. Russia has suffered as much as any nation from modern wars. The big difference is that we’ve had the social and political traditions necessary to learn from our mistakes and adapt to the new and global existential threats of mankind. Ideologies like radical Islam, in which category Iran should be included, don’t care to learn these lessons. Their ideology hastens to world’s end. The more dictatorial or oligarchic nations don’t have the privilege of learning about, or even being conscientious of, their role in, and effect on, the world beyond the solipsistic concerns of those few who hold power. It only takes a modicum of reflection to see that the interests of western values are the interests of the world regardless of whether the rest of the world sees it, or is capable of seeing it. Ultimately however, we are our own worst enemies. Millions of those who are most capable of learning these lessons are also those most prone to heed the siren’s call.
        You can’t expect all countries to share the very values that help keep misuse of modern weapons technologies in check, but if you take away even the global projection of expectations generated from those values by having the defenders of universal rights retreat from the world stage, the world turns into Chicago. That’s an argument even libertarians should be able to appreciate. It’s kinda paradoxical and kinda ironic. The European and American countries capable of being enticed by the siren call of Putinism and isolationism are also the ones most needed to project those values throughout the world in the form of strong diplomatic expectation, and even occasional armed interventionism, until the day comes when humans are transfigured and their natures transformed by God himself. When westerners take their traditions for granted, they also blind themselves to how unique the devotion to such universal principles and neighbourly love is in the world as manifested through western political structures and action, as imperfect as those may be. It’s important to note that I’m not referring to personal behaviour. A lot of people from non-western cultures are far better behaved than we are as a whole and are often superior in the realm of personal morality. What I refer to are the institutions, the political culture and expectations of individual rights, and history and development of checks and balances of power in the west, and the philosophies, prosperity, and unique culture which sustains it all. What I refer to is the story and burden of good guys throughout history. Chicago needs policemen. Human nature demands it. When police back away and the district attorney is too lenient, the problems don’t solve themselves. Two hundred thousand Christians have been killed as a result of targeted persecution in the past two years. Chicago saw 762 confirmed homicides in 2016. Those two statistics have a common root; good guys hiding their faces in the sand, conveniently, in the name of peace. If we can’t even speak the name of Voldemort, how can we prevent, or prepare for, his rise to power?
        Marco Rubio knows that we have to make the best of a bad situation and that requires a proactive strategy. Rex’s principle of epistemic caution seemed to be inconsistently applied throughout his confirmation hearing, an application that coincidentally defended the name of Vladimir. But hey, Rex still has potential to make a great Secretary of State. Anyone with that accent deserves a chance.