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Slamming Sochi?

By Blog Admin, on 17 February 2014

Sochi

Photo: kenyee BY-NC-ND 2.0

The international media’s predictable appetite for Olympic bad news stories has led to  unduly negative coverage of the Sochi games, argues Valerie Pacer. However, the influence of Vladimir Putin and Russia’s ruling party still seems close at hand.

In the lead in to the Sochi Winter Olympics, much media attention has been focused on Russia’s controversial homosexual propaganda laws, environmental concerns, Russian corruption, and the composition of the national teams being sent to Sochi.

The week before the Opening Ceremony brought more negative coverage as journalists began to file Sochi-based reports. Neither has the Opening Ceremony escaped criticism. With all the coverage focusing on the negatives and less on the athletes and the events has the reporting been, as state-owned international cable channel Russia Today argued, a case of ‘see it, slam it’?

Some of the criticism has certainly been deserved, but has the coverage been overblown? As journalists began arriving in Sochi stories emerged of the non-existence of hotel lobbies, lack of door handles and uncovered manholes around the city.

But stories about the questionable colour of the tap water, although strange for Westerners, are not that unusual for a country where people who can afford it drink bottled water – and are more of a concern for Sochi residents than people who will be there for only a few weeks. The problems encountered show the difficulties of taking a city with limited modern infrastructure – and of building it into a modern Olympic calibre city in only seven years. (more…)

The Russian left has hardly escaped Stalin’s shadow, but there are signs of change

By Blog Admin, on 30 September 2013

RIAN archive 535278 Laying flowers and wreaths to Iosif Stalin's grave at Kremlin wall

RIA Novosti archive, image #535278
Vladimir Fedorenko / CC-BY-SA 3.0

How are left-wing parties and movements faring in Russian politics? Luke March argues that despite the strength of the Russian Communist Party (KPRF), the left in Russia remains remarkably weak and fragmented. Nevertheless there is evidence of a shift towards contemporary European patterns with a stronger social-democratic movement and less reliance on the KPRF.

Over two decades after communism’s collapse, commentators rarely tire of pointing out the obdurate survival of the Russian Communist Party (KPRF), which remains Russia’s second-largest party. But it is not the strength of the Russian left that is most remarkable – rather its weakness. After all, sociologically, Russia remains rather a left-wing country, with opinion polls showing high support for social equality and a paternalist welfare state. Even former plutocrat-cum-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky has repeatedly called for a ‘left turn’ in social policy. Arguably then, the Russian left should be much stronger than the still-large but now much denuded KPRF. So what is the current situation of the left and why?

The parliamentary ‘opposition’

Symptomatically, the dominance of the KPRF is a major sign of the left’s weakness. This party has long been regarded by left-wing activists as a ‘Frankenstein’s monster’, essentially unable to evolve but blocking newer left-wing trends, because of its intrinsic Stalinism, loyalty to the state and ‘right-wing’ nationalist/religious rhetoric. Although in the 1990s this view was somewhat caricatured, the party has signally failed to evolve in the Putin era. After 2003 it was reduced to its core vote and it has gradually lost all of its interesting and/or reformist figures (who were either purged or left). It is bereft of any political influence (even losing its last governor in 2013).

Under the 20-year leadership of Gennadii Zyuganov, the party now barely pretends to contest for power. Indeed, whereas the KPRF used to advocate fighting the ‘anti-national elite’, it has latterly advocated a ‘popular front’ with Putin at the helm and Zyuganov (who has never held executive office) as PM. The KPRF does remain the only Russian parliamentary party (occasionally) to criticise Putin, which accords it increased support from younger voters.

But its endlessly recycled policies (of which ever-more overt Stalinism is just one example) means that political scientist Vladimir Gel’man’s claim that it is Russia’s ‘most boring’ party is apt. Nor is it in any sense a real opposition any longer. Despite griping about presidential dictatorship, the party distances itself completely from the street opposition, which it sees as ‘orangists’ (i.e. pro-Western forces behind ‘coloured revolutions’). (more…)