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Archive for October, 2014

“This is clearly not just about Ukraine, but about Russia’s ambitions in the whole neighbourhood”

By Blog Admin, on 20 October 2014

Wilson UCWIMFTW coverAndrew Wilson  discusses his new book Ukraine Crisis: What it Means for The West with SSEES Research Blog.

SRB: You made a trip to Ukraine when writing this book. Could you tell us about your experiences there?

AW: When I was there, it struck me as a good idea that there was a book in all this. The previous time I was in Ukraine was in November last year, just before the protests started. But by February, it was also pretty clear that things were getting exciting and heading to some kind of denouement. So what do you do? You just go.

I arrived in the middle of an old fashioned revolution. I remember a human chain collecting cobblestones. At the front you had young guys chucking them at the militia, but the human chain was made up of the entire citizenry of Kiev – well dressed women in high heels coming from the office, the grandmother at the front still holding her shopping in a blue plastic bag. It was like a nineteenth century revolution between the citizens and the evil rulers, a bit like Les Miserables.

The book went to press really quickly, but hopefully, I can put some pictures in the second edition.

SRB: You refer to the Orange Revolution as a precedent to the Ukraine crisis. To what extent do you see this crisis is a continuation of the 2004 Orange Revolution?

AW: Well, the protesters clearly had that in mind. Initially they were copying the tactics of the Orange Revolution and it started in the same way – a peaceful, carnival-like protest. But people were also thinking of how to do it better. It was clear very early on during the Orange Revolution in 2004 that the regime wasn’t capable of using violence, whereas this time the regime did use violence–but did so very early and not sufficiently to put an end to things. So had a very early set of calculations with how to deal with a very different regime.

Ultimately the tragedy is that immediately after the uprising there was a sense of optimism that Ukraine was doing better this time but it never got the chance to show that because people were still learning lessons from the disappointments that followed the Orange Revolution.

SRB: Do you think in the immediate future that the Russia’s hegemony will dictate the political paths of countries in Eastern Europe?

AW: We can see Russia trying to influence all its neighbours, not just Ukraine. The bigger picture is a pretty scary one. If it is true that the countries that reformed fairly successfully in the 1990s in Central Europe were able to do so only because Russia was not really able prevent them, whereas Russia is now so able to do so here –that’s a pretty depressing conclusion.

It’s not just Ukraine but other countries that might be unable to reform or undertake the EU-friendly policies that Brussels wants; Moldova is a big test case with the election coming up, Georgia is a very interesting case too, because it has already reformed but under Russian pressure is now backsliding a bit. We can also see the reintroduction of a more Russian political culture – back to corruption, patronage, political prosecutions. The Baltic States are an important test case too because they’re in EU and NATO, but will that protect them from Russian pressure?

What’s more, this is clearly not just about Ukraine but about Russia’s ambitions in the whole  neighbourhood. Long- term I think Russia is over extended, so it would be able make trouble everywhere, but it can probably make trouble in two countries at once. (more…)

Latvia’s elections: Can there be harmony without Harmony?

By Blog Admin, on 8 October 2014

Latvia held parliamentary elections on 4 October. Licia Cianetti writes that while the elections saw Harmony – the centre-left party representing the country’s Russian-speaking minority – win the most seats, the results will most likely see the incumbent government led by the centre-right Unity party continue in power. The steady fall in turnout experienced in recent elections also suggests that despite backing the ruling parties, Latvian citizens are far from content with the status quo.

The parliamentary elections that took place in Latvia on 4 October did not hold many surprises and are likely to return the incumbent governing coalition to power. The results, announced by the electoral commission soon after the closing of the polls, saw the Russophone-friendly, centre-left party Harmony once again in first place, with 23 per cent of the vote and 24 of the 100 seats in the Saeima (the Latvian parliament).

This is a bitter first place, though, as the party lost 7 seats compared to the last elections in 2011. The governing, centre-right party Unity came a close second with a little less than 22 per cent of the vote and 23 seats. This is an increase from 20 seats in the last elections, but also shows that the merger with the disbanded Reform Party (which in 2011 got second place with 22 seats) did not bring significant electoral returns.

The nationalist National Alliance (NA), also in the incumbent government, had their best result yet with almost 17 per cent of the vote and 17 seats, up from 14. The other governing party, the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) also had a strong showing with 19.5 per cent of the vote and 21 MPs (up from 13 in the previous election). Alongside these four parties, which were all represented in the outgoing Saeima, two new parties entered parliament: No Sirds Latvijai (From the heart of Latvia, NSL) and Latvijas Reģionu Apvienība (Latvian Association of Regions, LRA). NSL gained just under 6.9 per cent of the vote and 7 parliamentary seats. LRA gained just under 6.7 per cent of the vote and 8 seats (the distribution of the votes by constituency accounts for the less-than-proportional seat distribution). The Table below shows the full results.

Table: Results of the 2014 Latvian parliamentary election

Note: Vote shares have been rounded to one decimal place. There are 100 seats in the Latvian Parliament. For more information on the parties see: Harmony, Unity, Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS), National Alliance (NA), From the Heart of Latvia (NSL), Latvian Association of Regions (LRA).Source: CVK

Six out of the 13 parties that contested the elections, therefore, entered parliament. Of those that remained out of the Saeima, the ethnic party Latvia’s Russian Union (LRU, formerly For Human Rights in a United Latvia) was the most successful with a little less than 1.6 per cent, but still far from the 5 per cent threshold. Another notable ‘loser’ of these elections was the (in)famous oligarch Ainārs Šlesers’s new formation Vienoti Latvijai (United for Latvia), which lined up a list of former ministers and prime ministers but garnered less than 1.2 per cent of the vote. Neither party was present in the outgoing parliament and neither was expected to make it into the new Saeima, according to pre-electoral polls. The results of the European Parliament elections in May (when LRU unexpectedly retained its MEP), however, indicated that surprises could not be completely ruled out. (more…)

‘Our dear Georgii Ivanovich’: an American journalist between Siberia and the Russian emigration

By Blog Admin, on 1 October 2014

Society of Friends of Russian Freedom flyer, from the LSE archives.

Society of Friends of Russian Freedom flyer.
LSE archives. Reproduced with permission

Archives in Moscow, London and Washington DC reveal the story of an American writer’s influence on the Russian revolutionary emigration, finds postgraduate Ben Phillips.

In a letter to the executive committee of the revolutionary populist group Narodnaia volia (People’s Will) in March 1882, the writer and sometime revolutionary terrorist Sergei Kravchinskii (better known by his nom de plume, Stepniak) insisted that the emigration to the West – then in its third and final stage before the events of 1917 – should conduct two distinct propagandas: one, characterised by revolutionary socialism, amongst the Russian youth, the other focused on stirring humanitarian outrage against the iniquities of Russian politics amongst the European bourgeoisie. ‘We can expect no sympathy in the name of our socialism’, he wrote. ‘We must acquaint Europe not with our political programme, but with the current state of the revolutionary struggle’ (Valk 1965, p. 345).

For years, the emigration was Janus-faced. Looking west, Russia’s political outcasts at once presented themselves as moderate liberals and democratic socialists to the European bourgeoisie, whilst introspectively debating the merits of revolutionary terrorism and engaging with theoretical questions. In this context, the story of George Kennan, with his web of contacts and personal friendships extending between the emigration and Siberia’s community of political exiles, and his writings on the Siberian exile system that were translated into Russian and disseminated illegally across Russia almost before they had appeared in English, remains one of the underexplored curiosities of revolutionary history. How did an American journalist come to transcend the audiences to which the emigration had previously spoken in two different languages and two different registers?

A distant cousin of his Cold War namesake, Kennan’s interest in Russia dated back to the 1860s, when a two-year visit to the Kamchatka peninsula provided material for Tent Life in Siberia (1877). However, it was his second visit to Russia’s eastern domains in the mid-1880s that cemented Kennan’s legacy. From 1885 to 1886, Kennan’s research on the Siberian exile system exposed him to the worst iniquities of Tsarist autocracy and brought him into contact with many political prisoners with whom he remained friends. His damning findings were serialised by Century Magazine at the end of the 1880s and early 1890s, creating a sensation across the Anglophone world. During this time, he frequented the American lecture circuit, and was recognised as his country’s preeminent Russianist. His magnum opus, Siberia and the Exile System, appeared in two volumes in 1891 and remains his best known work as well as a significant source for those working on the history of Siberian exile.

Kennan reached different audiences in different ways. Thomas M. Barrett has argued that it was through his American lectures, ‘more than anywhere else, that Kennan reached his public and became a celebrity’ (Stolberg 2005, p. 139). His oratory drew heavily on American melodramatic traditions and sensationalist representations of Siberia as a Ruritanian wilderness populated by terrifying natives and the exiled nobility of Russia’s western borderlands. Kennan’s trick was to add politics to the melodrama, along with a heavy dose of self-regarding chauvinism. Night after night, Kennan turned out the lights for magic lantern displays of political prisoners’ photographs, sang prison songs, disappeared mid-lecture only to return dressed as a Siberian convict and, on at least one occasion, reduced an audience to tears with an (unverified) anecdote of prisoners in a Petersburg forwarding prison flying the American flag to celebrate July 4th. (See Travis 1990.)Thus it is clearly true that in one sense Kennan tells us far more about American liberalism at the end of the nineteenth century than he does about Russia. One can relate the figure of the political exile in Kennan’s writings and his lectures to the role of refugees from the 1848 revolutions in the mid-Victorian consciousness: both represented mirrors on the self.

In another sense, however, Kennan was a fully fledged member of the revolutionary movement. His (more…)