Author Archives: Jeremy Morris

About Jeremy Morris

I write about Russia, work and class as an academic. But don't let that put you off.

Extraction, Erasure and excremental excess (My ASEEES 2019)

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This will be a mainly descriptive post about a panel I attended at ASEEES 2019 (the US Russian Studies biggest conference), in San Francisco. I was lucky enough to act as Chair and Discussant on a panel about Extraction and Erasure in Post-socialist spaces.

Artan Hoxha from Pittsburgh gave an evocative talk about a terra incognito – an area of South Albanian swamp that slowly was transformed over the course of the later 20th century by the Albanian state to become a sugar producing area. When it was rapidly abandoned after communism, Artan was mostly interested in applying the term heterotopia to the processes this landscape was subjected to, including the placing at the centre of this wilderness another wilderness – a secret forest grove used only by the communist elite for pheasant shooting and invisible on the maps. Heterotopia was  useful to Artan because it shows how a noplace becomes subject to mapping by the state; how closed systems are ‘opened’ up; and how inequalities hidden in societies are revealed through uses of space – how different economic systems produce different types of exclusion and inclusion. Heterotopia is a mastering concept, but a loose one.  He draws on a reading of Foucault where heterotopias are ‘real places that manifest imagined realities’ and on De Cauter, who sees heterotopias as spaces that ‘convey and enact the contradictions of the society that has produced them is unable to solve’. One comment I made as discussant was how striking was the absence of people themselves from the story of this place and a lack of emic terms to describe their experience of change. Artan is completing a PhD on this topic and so I eagerly await the other chapters of this project. One potential point of intersection with other work done on comparable projects was the concept of hauntology, which I’ve sketched out elsewhere. I also need to cross-check how his approach squares with the recent work of Verónica Gago, who makes use of heterotopia to think about the meaning of counterfeiting of clothes and consumption in street markets (linked to what she calls ‘neoliberalism from below).

Natalia Koulinka from UoC Santa Cruz, using mainly newspaper sources, provided a really interesting account of two strikes among Soviet miners in 1989 and 1991. She aimed to show how their demands fundamentally changed between the two sets of strike actions to move from narrow demands to more political ones as they sided by 1991 with Yeltsin. For me this showed an interesting paradox. Workers inadvertently opened themselves up to an emergent neoliberal system by embracing piecework – i.e. to be paid for according to productivity results and market prices of coal. Of course this was because they rightly surmised that they were very underpaid. However, as a result, they ended up proposing their bodies as ‘private property’, believing that the market would allow worker control as a solution to inefficiency – a kind of neoliberal autonomism! – a propertizing of the self that meant that when domestic coal lost its value, they to were devalued – despite a parallel call for collective ownership of the mines. Their calls for greater wage differentials reminded me of the ‘inadvertent’ neoliberals argument put forward by Olga Shevchenko in a very different context of post-socialism. Like other postsocialist selves, they embrace an idealism about marketized reform (efficiency of the market, just reward for work). Natalia’s paper is important because she shows how it was not just liberal intellectuals who were ‘guilty’ of this.

This insight potentially linked the papers in this panel. I was much reminded of Aronoff and Kubik’s book chapter criticising Sztompka’s notion of ‘civilizational incompetence’. Katja Perat’s paper that followed Natalia’s, focussed on how Central European intellectuals end up ‘sacrificing critical thinking’ due to their eagerness to claim their Westernness in the face of the ‘civilizational’ threat of communism. Katja’s reading of intellectuals’ Hapsburg nostalgia, in her view, allows later 20th century history to ‘carry all the blame’ for CEE ills. With obvious implications in the politics of the region today.

It was very striking how Natalia ended with a personal note – that as a former citizen of the USSR she had never imagined how any Marxian framing might be relevant to historical scholarship. In fact for most of her adult life she had strongly believed that Marxism could be no more than crude propaganda in service to the state. Her paper reminds us that the work of self-reflection is still ongoing among intellectuals about their idealisation of non-communist systems and anti-communist modes of thought because of an understandable personal allergic reaction to actually-existing socialism.

The final speaker, Katja Perat from Washington U in St Louis, did a switcheroo on me – changing her paper from one of which she dwelt on the demonization of communism among CEE intellectuals, to a more focussed reading on the meaning of the toilet bowl in the novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera! In the first paper she criticized Kundera’s proposal that CEE had been kidnapped by communism – and the interpretation of it as a tragedy of the later 20th century. In this newer paper, Katja employed Žižek to explore the khazi as a space of revelation, inspection and revolutionary expulsion. The bog symbolises class vertigo under communism – the emptiness below us and that we are destined to fall. This complitshitfest (®) was a wonderful end to our panel, but my scrappy notes illustrate how difficult it is for a chair/discussant to follow a read-out paper without prior access to the written version. And this despite my enthusiasm for excreta-examining and scatological scholarship. If I was to give Katja advice it would be to look at what Georges Bataille [opens as a pdf] has to say about excess/excreta (sfw) and maybe bring in Mary Douglas on matter out of place…

I may come back to my (largely positive) ASEEES experience in a subsequent post. There were plenty of interesting papers, and it was an important event for moving forward with a collaborative project on Russian Urban Activism, led by Regina Smyth and involving Andrei Semenov, Perm State University.

What do we mean when we talk about studying ‘the everyday’ in Russia?

Market scene in Russia

contested use of public-space, forms of consumption, strengthening weak-ties – a lot happens in ‘everyday life’.

I have an admission to make. Even though my book was called Everyday Postsocialism, while I was writing it I did not reflect much on the term ‘everyday’.

Part of this is perhaps forgivable. The logic of the book was pretty clear – to understand today’s Russia we should for a moment look away from the ‘big politics’ that dominate research agendas and the media, and turn instead to how ordinary people go about their lives. Fundamentally, my project was, and continues to be: how do we avoid making Russians into passive victims of change?  At the same time, their responses should not be reduced to defensive strategies of survival. That’s why I entitled my first article on the topic ‘beyond coping’ [authors version here].

A useful guiding idea came from Michael Burawoy’s complaint here [pdf opens automatically]:  “Whereas in their earlier writings they focused on the ingenuity of the subaltern classes in coping with socialism, the way workers and peasants challenged and transformed state socialism in the microprocesses of everyday life, Szelenyi and Stark now turn to the elites engineering embryonic capitalisms. Their analyses exclude subordinate classes, which in effect become the bewildered—silent and silenced—spectators of transformations that engulf them”. This was part of a review on Making Capitalism without Capitalists.

Recently, I was forced to confront the ‘everyday life’ usage a bit more explicitly because I decided to focus in some teaching on ‘everyday life’ with a group of undergraduates preparing for fieldwork and language study in Russia. Preparing for this made the genealogy of my own thinking about the everyday clearer.

Of course, when it comes to informing undergraduates, I thought that it was important to start with a reading of the term byt – a term in Russian for ‘everyday existence’ that has a long and troublesome genealogy. The word helps explain the longstanding Russian intellectual interest in contrasting ‘everyday life’ (as frustratingly meaningless or mundane routines) with more ‘essential’ modes of being and action

Svetlana Boym traced the binary opposition of byt and podvig (‘feat’) in the nineteenth century. This includes the binaries action/sacred/spiritual as opposed to private life/practical achievement. Thus byt as a negative, maps on to (self-orientalising) notions of Russia’s civilizational ‘difference’ (think of the opposition of ‘spirituality’ to Western individualism/rationality). This was easily adapted to the USSR context – ‘feats of labour’, ideologization of everyday life to be always about something ‘bigger’, mobilisation and militarisation of social action, ‘struggle’, ‘storming’, the ideological disapproval of privacy, ‘bourgeois’ personal interest, etc.

As a key reading I asked to students to read in parallel Catriona Kelly’s ‘Byt: identity and everyday life’  in National Identity in Russian Culture, and Olga Shevchenko’s ‘Building Autonomy in Everyday Life’ in her Crisis and the Everyday in Postsocialist Moscow. I will come back to these texts in a further post. But for now I want to return to my own pathway towards seeing the everyday as worthy of research.

It starts with my literary studies on a writer, Evgeny Popov, using ‘naturalistic’ depiction of everyday life in the late Soviet Union to work against the grain of ideologically correct meanings of art and literature. At times his focus on the mundane and humdrum, as well as ‘lay existentialism’, for want of a better phrase, borders on the absurd. In some ways there is a debt to Chekhov, and I found both Cathy Popkin’s book, The Pragmatics of Insignificance and Stephen Hutchings’ Russian Modernism: The Transfiguration of the Everyday, really useful in understanding this. Key characteristics in Popov are inconsequential detail (‘incidentality’), natural, earthy speech (a taboo in Soviet literary fiction), the ‘grimy’ and gritty underside of urban life, something like raznochintsy of the late Soviet period (people of indeterminate social standing who struggle to articulate themselves).

It’s perhaps no surprise that my subsequent ethnographic work owes a debt to the dialogue between Chekhov and Popov. A snippet from my book on Popov proves surprisingly predictive of the tension in my ethnographic materials: Chekhov switches attention from ‘the major to the minor in order to bring out the hidden significance of the trivial incident; its rhetoric is still part and parcel of a modernist search for meaning, opting for the possible revelation of truth within the ‘prosaic’. In Popov, the revelatory mode is entirely absent. […] the shift itself from significant to insignificant fails to yield up a narrative perspective that would illuminate the prosaic.’

It’s kind of funny reading that now. The ‘failure to yield a perspective’ chimes with some critical responses I got to my first ethnographic book published 12 years after my literary PhD. Certain ‘big picture’ expectations of ethnographic studies of contemporary Russia proved a problem for the publisher I wanted to go with for Everyday Postsocialism. One MS reader really, really didn’t like my approach, writing rather brutally:

 ‘The author avers, almost proudly, a lack of a scientific approach for this work, by rejecting the need to work from an hypothesis. That’s ok. Interpretation is still de rigeur in many anthropological circles and his commitment to recounting lived experience in holistic manner is quite reasonable. However, despite this claim, the ms makes frequent and broad theoretical generalizations…. there are no data here.’  

The Reader expanded, saying that fundamentally my framing of everyday life in the Russian town as ‘habitability’ added little or nothing new to the literature – essentially it was a mundane observation that was self-evident – people make do in their difficult circumstance. However, I would argue that that was precisely the aim of the book – to bring out and give voice to ordinariness – even the mundaneness but also deeper meaning of quite extreme things like alcoholism, family conflicts, the black economy, and fragile infrastructure (blackouts/heating failures). I hope to come back to other postsocialist treatments of ‘the everyday’ soon and talk about how they uneasily sit with the literature on ‘resistance’ – something Olga Shevchenko writes about.

I chose ‘habitability’ as my master concept precisely because it was the one term that was ‘emic’ – i.e. that ordinary Russian people continuously used themselves via comments like feeling secure and safe in their ‘среда обитания’ or saying ‘нам хватает’. In the book I talked about it as “a hotchpotch of practices made ‘on the fly’, but which are informed by long-standing class-based values and allegiances”.  Stressing mundane practices as making life more than bearable was part of a “propertizing of marginal spaces in a way that allows the maintenance and expansion of the horizontal social network”; Habitability was also connected to “expectation of minimal social insurance indirectly though social wages and its post-socialist echo.” My first MS reader really didn’t like all the heavy lifting this term was doing. We could have a long conversation here about the communication difficulties between anthropologists and sociologists! Certainly I was guilty of overuse and under-explanation of various theories.

However, I think ‘habitability’ does work in bringing out what I mean when I use the term ‘everyday’ too. It links the economic to the moral to the social to the ordinary logics of how people go about their everyday business. It also then helps reveal aspects of political culture and how they might change over time. We’re back to the question of passivity. Everyday life in my fieldwork was partly about a kind of ‘always on’, networked class-based sociality – it was a lot of partially unprompted ‘dropping in’ on others and also calling up, and ‘nudge’ social media use.  This in turn was strongly linked to developing opportunities in the informal economy to reduce reliance on waged work. The nature of both waged work and the forced informal scrabbling for a dime was linked to ideas about dignity, injustice, state-society relations, governance, taxation, corruption, and so on in melting pot of ordinary thinking through of the nature of Russia’s political economy. And everyday practices were both a response to that, but also examples of agency.

The most enlightening new thing I read in preparing for teaching ‘the everyday’ was by David Ransel. He suggests that to avoid a narrowly reactive ‘tactics of resistance’ approach (something criticised by Olga Shevchenko in the same volume), it might be more useful to think, via the work on Yuri Lotman, of the everyday as not only practices but of the building of a local language to describe reality – a kind of domestication and re-shaping of hegemonic meanings. Ransel ends that section with a useful piece of advice: “everyday life studies must be more than good local history. They have to show how local action modifies our understanding of macrohistorical processes”.

Putting in a good word for the Russian bourgeoisie

small shop in Russia

A typical small independent shop in a provincial town now under a lot of pressure from cartel-like supermarket chains.

A shorter version of this post appeared on Ridl.io

As anthropologist James Scott once said, ‘it’s time someone put in a good word for the petite bourgeoisie’. Shopkeeper-owners, small independent professionals and traders fulfil essential social and economic functions in any society but are especially important in modernizing ones. Sooner or later they turn into a middle-class with property rights and economic interests to defend. They are seen, even by Marxists, as a motor of political change.

However, in Russia the growth of a real middle-class and a healthy private sector is hindered at every step, largely in favour of a state-big business nexus. Whole industries – particularly in strategic sectors, are managed by state-owned monopolies, and have preferential access to banking finance, as Ilya Matveev points out.

The idea that the Russian political economy is a hybrid form of ‘state capitalism’ is widely accepted. However, less attention is paid to how these processes affect entrepreneurship generally and the wider implications for society. Coercion to gain access to wealth and the violent form of corporate raiding are also widely studied. However, elite insiders’ appetites for unearned wealth and sources of economic rent mean that even small businesses are subject to ‘taking’, rather than ‘trading’, to use Gerald Easter’s terms. This reflects a ‘maturing’ stage of insider elites and the way natural resources have already been ‘gathered back in’ by the state.

In most societies, the diversity of small and medium sized businesses – made visible in town and city centres – is seen as a key indicator of the health of the economy, and society more generally. If ‘mom and pop’ businesses are driven out of business, goes the logic, it’s because bigger capitalists have preferential access to power or the state, and because taxation and regulations are too burdensome for smaller operators. Russia suffers from both these structural obstacles and things are getting worse rather than better. To explore this we can start from the big picture and progressively narrow our focus to show how entrepreneurs are increasingly squeezed out and how informal ‘micro businesses’ are now one of the only viable alternatives for those without patronage from system insiders.

One way of understanding this is by looking at the share of ‘entrepreneurial incomes’ versus employment wages.  In 2000, it was 15%, but in 2018 it had dropped to 7.5%. Incomes from property are microscopic – 5%. So much for a broad property-owning class. The number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is falling by 6-7% a year. We can also look at the average size of firms as an indicator. Labour researcher Stephen Crowley argues in a forthcoming book that Russia is an extreme case of the privileging of large enterprises. 80% of employment in manufacturing firms is in large companies, only 10% of the country’s workforce is employed in SMEs, versus 70% in the EU. Moreover since the Russia-Ukraine conflict and its economic side effects, consolidation has intensified, with the vast majority of closures in small and medium firms. There is plenty of evidence that monopolies and cartels are growing and competition falling. David Szakony reports that 14% of firms in 2016 reported they had ‘no competition’, a rise from 1% in 2013. Yet the number of ‘unfair competition’ court cases heard has fallen over the same period, while the Federal Monopolies Commission is notorious for pursuing SMEs in bureaucratic actions. Szakony summarises: Since 2014, SMEs have been squeezed by ‘skyrocketing interest rates, unsustainable tax burdens, and uncertain protection for their property rights’.

That the conditions and prognosis for SMEs are so bad is very visible in the Sisyphean efforts of the Minister for Economic Development, Maksim Oreshkin. Today Oreshkin is quoted as saying that preventing the stagnation of small business requires ‘work to increase the confidence of the business community in the state (both in regulation and in the system of enforcement) and reduce administrative costs.’ The report carrying the quote adds, ‘According to him, all these areas are enshrined in the list of key structural reforms.’ The problem is that all the signs are that for good reasons smaller businesses don’t trust the state.

Schemes like low interest loans for restaurants and small shops are a drop in the ocean ($30m), and almost exclusively go to ‘connected’ insiders at regional level. Indeed, this scheme is in fact a policy reversal – a similar scheme was discontinued because it mainly benefited the banks and was abused by businesses with political connections. In Kaluga region in 2017 (where my fieldwork sites are), for example, all the subsidized loans went to four companies owned by a single individual.  But even if the scheme provided fair access, an individual entrepreneur in a low-margin business (which is most shops) would find this a risky proposition.

 

In addition, for retail businesses there will be a broadening of the ‘compulsory barcoding’ of products to allow the state a real-time assessment of turnover.   While the idea behind these changes is to simultaneously prevent tax fraud and help small businesses by taxing their actual turnover, it is expensive for small shops to install and service. An online ‘cash register’ requires much more work in marking stock and inventory control . Finally, proposals like ‘inspection holidays’ to protect ‘conscientious’ business from excessive regulatory attention, only underline how much predatory and corrupt power bureaucrats have over small businesses. While the rate of some inspections is falling, there has been a sharp rise in ‘unplanned’ visits by regulators – up 74%). Regulatory inspection in Russia remains  a key area where bribe-taking can occur.

These dynamics are most observable in the changing patterns of shops and SME employment in small and medium sized towns. In the town of 20,000 people where I conduct field research, only two independent grocers remains, down from more than a dozen in the early 2000s. Three chains of mini-markets have taken their place – very convenient, but a classic example of cartel-like behaviour. One is owned by a state bank, the other two by oligarchic interests. This pattern is mirrored more widely – around 40% of trade is controlled by large retailers and the trend is increasing. The poorest areas do without the chains completely but even here a genuine local entrepreneur will struggle.  A vocal observer in this has been the controversial business commentator Dmitrii Potapenko, who in 2017 offered a stark analysis – ‘a seven rouble difference in the price of a loaf of bread is a critically significant sum’ (then around 10 US cents) illustrating the extreme price sensitivity of consumers. Potapenko has been in the limelight again just recently, commenting on cryptocurrencies. This was against the backdrop of discussions about the self employed ‘going into the shadows of cash only’, [ушли в кэш], the merits of employees demanding the option of payroll in cash, and the use and abuse of the Federal Law 115-F3 on money laundering that allows banks to freeze business accounts. While there’s more heat than light in the discussion, it highlights how trust of the banking system is still highly relative, and, as we’ve seen with even high-ranking politicians, cash is king!

But back to the suffering of small business under insurmountable pressures…

A similar trend to that seen among small shops is observable in employment, whether in services or manufacturing. In my town, small producers of steel, building materials, and plastic manufactures have either gone to the wall or sold up in the last ten years. Some of this is a natural process as many of these businesses were left-overs of large and outdated Soviet-era enterprises. A few with very special niches will hang on, but most are dying out. The local owner of a steel fabricators employing around 100 people, recently sold out to a conglomerate, tired of bureaucratic sword of Damocles, fed up with competing with Chinese imports, but mostly exhausted by the experience of being an entrepreneur in Russia: ‘in business you need to know when it’s time to leave,’ he told me. Another more optimistic entrepreneur had just opened a high tech laser-cutting materials workshop with around 20 employees – just the kind of business Russia needs, making good use of its still impressive human and technical capital. However, it turns out this venture was more out of necessity than choice. His prefabricated building business had been ‘taken over’ by competitors, against his will, and another side-line in printing merchandising materials and school textbooks was frozen due to a seemingly endless tax inspection.

However, this doleful picture is not the whole story. There has been a statistically measurable rise in start ups – in micro-businesses – defined as having 15 employees or less. While starting small is typical the world over, in Russia it has specific connotations. The smaller the business, the more potential there is for it to disappear into the informal economy and escape taxation and regulation partly or entirely, especially as the law on self-employment is unclear, as discussed in a previous blog post. Indeed, one informal fix to burdensome and predatory state regulation is spinning off part of a business into the underground, a phenomenon I’ve witnessed first-hand. A large proportion of the informal economy is connected to micro-businesses – largely made up of sole-traders.

If the state wants to support legal micro business, one way would be to bring back their most visible incarnation – the street kiosk – typically selling newspapers and magazines, hot food and beverages, or even clothes, domestic goods and toys. While long bedevilled by issues like mafia extortion and high rents, these micro-retailers are making a comeback outside Moscow and St. Petersburg. While the demand is clearly, there is a long way to go, and many municipalities are not keen on these small businesses. There are some 16,000 kiosks nationally, down from 42,000 some years ago. Certainly though, the resurrection of the kiosk, along with the high number of informal sole traders shows that entrepreneurialism is alive and well in Russia. However, that this is limited to the niche of individual self-exploitation – whether in street kiosk or shadow economy self-employment – is far from the dream of popular ownership of the means of production that James Scott lauds for its emphasis on autonomy, civic society potential and self-reliance. We’re back to the argument about Russia’s ‘missing’ middle-class (Balzer’s phrase)- or at least the entrepreneurial conception of it.

A Day of Knowledge – Topic-based teaching of Russian Current Affairs

Day of Knowledge

Day of Knowledge in a Russian School – 1 September.

I’m about to dive back into a semester of very intensive teaching. It’s Russia’s ‘Day of Knowledge’, so I thought I’d share a ‘mini’ course I’m going to be teaching.

In Danish it’s called Aktuelt Emne, which means ‘Current Topic’. This is a ‘mini’ course because its only worth 5 ECTS (which equates to 500 pages of compulsory reading and 26 hours of class time). It can run for a whole semester (13 weeks), but for various reasons I’m going to deliver it in 8 sessions, each of which covers a ‘sub-topic’.

The main questions that arise around this kind of teaching are: How specific the topic? How in-depth do we want to go, given the course is ‘only’ 5 credits and the students have a lot of other demands on them? What ‘level’ to pitch this at, given that the students have had little exposure to contemporary issues before and the fact that non-Russianists can take this course? How to balance the ‘Area studies’ approach with the need to expose students to concepts like ‘biopolitics’, ‘governmentality’ and ‘homo sacer’. These terms are likely to be meaningless to most students, even though the students have a general ‘humanities’ primer course beforehand.

Anyway, this year I’m trying to relate the course to the article I’m writing on ‘Gayropa’ and homophobia as an example of the ‘conservative turn’ in Russia. In the article I’m contrarian, arguing that homophobia has more significant  ‘roots’ in cultural history – for want of a better formulation – and aspects of Soviet-era enculturation and socialisation – a shorthand for which is the word ‘vospitanie‘. Visible deviants are ‘lacking’ in moral vospitanie. I conclude by saying these issues, along with an argument related to that of Daria Ukhova: mean that ‘conservatism’ is a defensive mechanism against the multiple failures of the state. These are more salient issues than state-directed propaganda against ‘Gayropa’. I’ll blog aspects of that article soon – the draft is here.

Anyway, many of the sources I use in the article serve as readings on the course. I kinda artificially break up the course into ‘topics’, but in reality these overlap quite a lot.

Some of this is ‘experimental’ – I’m not sure how well some of the readings will go down. Whether they are cohesive enough to serve the learning aims. Whether the ‘summary tasks’ help prepare the students enough for further study and writing.

Russian Cultural Politics Today.

  1. (4 September) 8-11am Russian cultural politics today : Introduction
  2.  (18 September) 8-11am Russia’s conservative turn and soft power
  3.  (25 September) 8-11am Russia’s biopolitics – gender retraditionalizations
  4.  (2 October) 8-11am Russia’s biopolitics – state, the family and the child
  5.  (23 October) 8-11am Russia’s biopolitics – LGBT and youth – unruly others
  6.  (6 November) 8-11am Race, ethnicity and religion as sites of cultural politics
  7.  (20 November) 8-11am The liberal alternative – Russia’s opposition as a cultural sphere
  8.  (4 December) 8am-12pm Grounding the study of Russian cultural politics, and alternative perspectives.

Introduction to the course aims

This 5 ECTS Credit course aims to investigate the so-called ‘conservative turn’ in Russian cultural politics since around 2010. Scholars Andrey Makarychev and Alexandra Yatsyk (we read them in Week 2) argue that the current regime has taken an increasingly conservative turn since the protests in Russia in 2011 and 2012 for two reasons. First to solidify and legitimize a political system with one dominating leader supported by the elites, arguing that this form of ‘sovereign’ or ‘managed’ democracy is part of Russian identity, secondly to paint a picture of the western world as degenerate, rejecting its Judeo-Christian heritage, in contrast to Russia, which becomes a defender of European civilisation.

Yatsyk and Makarychev highlight three main components of this “new” conservative discourse in Russia: Russia is one of the few real sovereign nations in the world, a goal of reconstructing a unified Russian nation, in part used as an explanation for annexing Crimea, and finally the idea of ‘normality’ regarding family life, sexuality etc, rejecting the more liberal West as depraved and trying, through international organisations  to infiltrate and dismantle traditional Russian, Orthodox, values. Two examples of how this conservative turn goes beyond Russian political discourse and is reflected in concrete legislation are article 6.13, known as the gay propaganda ban law, passed in June 2013, as well as the law changing domestic violence that does not result in severe bodily harm from a criminal offence to an administrative offence, passed in 2017.

These are the kind of issues we will be examining in this course. The guiding questions that will be reflected in the assignment are as follows: What is the conservative turn in Russia? What has caused it? How has it affected political discourse around the family, gender roles, the upbringing of children? What kind of groups are identified as threats to this normative order? How does the government use this discourse to justify its foreign policy? How are race and religion relevant to conservatism and national identity? How ‘liberal’, is the liberal opposition to the government? How has the conservative turn been expressed in relations with neighbours of Russia?


Weekly assignments and readings:

Week One. Introduction:

Compulsory Reading:

Robinson, N. (2014) The Political Origins of Russia’s ‘Culture Wars’, Department of Politics and Public Administration University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland https://ulir.ul.ie/handle/10344/3796

Trudolyubov, M. (2014) ‘Russia’s Culture Wars’, The New York Times, 7 Feb 2014, pp. 14–16.

https://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/08/opinion/trudolyubov-russias-culture-wars.html

Summary task:

Andrey Makarychev & Sergei Medvedev (2015) Biopolitics and Power in Putin’s Russia, Problems of Post-Communism, 62:1, 45-54, DOI: 10.1080/10758216.2015.1002340

Task: the above text has a lot of newspaper and media sources, including in Russian. Select one and summarise it in 200-300 words. Explore at least one Russian media source and make some notes on it. Find out whether the issue has developed since 2015.

[48 pages]

Further Reading:

Andrei Melville (2017) A Neoconservative Consensus in Russia?, Russian Politics & Law, 55:4-5, 315-335, DOI: 10.1080/10611940.2017.1533271

Paul Rabinow and Nikolas Rose (2003) ‘FOUCAULT TODAY’, IN PAUL RABINOW AND NIKOLAS ROSE (EDS) THE ESSENTIAL FOUCAULT: SELECTIONS FROM THE ESSENTIAL WORKS OF FOUCAULT, 1954-1984 NEW YORK: NEW PRESS (pp. vii – xxxv)

Thomas Lemke (2001) ‘The birth of bio-politics’: Michel Foucault’s lecture at the Collège de France on neo-liberal governmentality, Economy and Society, 30:2, 190-207 (particularly see pp.202- for a summary of key terms)

Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).


Week Two: Russia’s conservative turn and soft power

Compulsory Reading:

Makarychev, Andrey, Yatsyk, Alexandra: “A New Russian Conservatism: Domestic Roots and Repercussions for Europe” in Notes International CIDOB, No. 93, 2014. https://www.cidob.org/en/publications/publication_series/notes_internacionals/n1_93/a_new_russian_conservatism_domestic_roots_and_repercussions_for_europe

Riabov, O. and Riabova, T. (2014) ‘The decline of Gayropa? How Russia intends to save the world’, 5 February 2014 Eurozine https://www.eurozine.com/the-decline-of-gayropa

Summary task:

Sergunin, Alexander, and Leonid Karabeshkin. “Understanding Russia’s Soft Power Strategy.” Politics 35, no. 3-4 (2015): 347-363.

Task: Make a one-page summary of the text’s main points in your own words. Bring to class. This is an essential skill to develop to support essay writing and working towards a successful bachelor project. Then write a paragraph from the perspective of a critical reader who wants to argue that the claims of Russian soft power strength in general are exaggerated (you might need to skim Keating and Splidsboel to get some ideas for this, but most of all use your common sense!).

[34 pages]

Further Reading:

Bassin, M., and G. Pozo, eds. 2017. The politics of Eurasianism: Identity, popular culture and

Russia’s foreign policy. London: Rowman & Littlefield.

Keating, V. C., & Kaczmarska, K. (2017). Conservative Soft Power: Liberal soft power bias and the ‘hidden’ attraction of Russia. Journal of International Relations and Development. DOI: 10.1057/s41268-017-0100-6 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/314286278_Conservative_Soft_Power_Liberal_soft_power_bias_and_the_’hidden’_attraction_of_Russia

https://soundcloud.com/user-688693296/warpod-1-vincent-keating-russian-soft-power

Kosachev, Konstantin, (2012) The Specifics of Russian Soft Power. Russia in Global Affairs, 3, 2012. https://eng.globalaffairs.ru/number/The-Specifics-of-Russian-Soft-Power-15683

Viatcheslav Morozov (2013) Subaltern Empire?: Toward a Postcolonial Approach to Russian Foreign Policy, Problems of Post-Communism, 60:6, 16-28: https://doi.org/10.2753/PPC1075-8216600602

Morozova, N. 2009. Geopolitics, eurasianism and Russian foreign policy under Putin. Geopolitics 14 (4):667–86.

Neumann, I. B. 1995. Russia and the idea of Europe: A study of identity and international relations. London: Routledge.

Polyakova, A. 2014. Putin and Europe’s Far Right World Affairs, Vol. 177, No. 3 (SEPTEMBER / OCTOBER 2014), pp. 36-40

Prozorov, Sergei (2004) : Russian conservatism in the Putin presidency: The dispersion of a hegemonic discourse, DIIS Working Paper, No. 2004:20, Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), Copenhagen This Version is available at:http://hdl.handle.net/10419/84604

Prozorov, S. 2007. The narratives of exclusion and self-exclusion in the Russian conflict discourse on EU-Russian relations. Political Geography 26 (3):309–29.

Snegovaya, M. 2017. Conservative Turn in Eastern Europe: Political Conservatism in Russia. Desenvolvimento em Debate v.5, n.1, p.95-113, 2017. https://www.academia.edu/35571272/Conservative_Turn_in_Eastern_Europe_Political_Conservatism_in_Russia

Flemming Splidsboel Hansen Russian influence operations Trying to get what you want DIIS POLICY BRIEF 30. OKTOBER 2018 https://www.diis.dk/publikationer/russian-influence-operations

Tsygankov, A. (2007). ‘Finding a civilisational idea: ‘West’, ‘Eurasia’, ‘Euro-East’ in Russia’s foreign policy’, Geopolitics, 12 (3):375–99.

Tsygankov, A. (2016) Russia’s foreign policy: Continuity and change in national identity 4th ed. (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield).


Week Three: Russian biopolitics – gender retraditionalization

Compulsory Reading:

Muravyeva, M. (2014) ‘Traditional Values and Modern Families: Legal Understanding of Tradition and Modernity in Contemporary Russia’, Journal of Social Policy Research, 12(4), pp. 625-638. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282856363_Traditional_Values_and_Modern_Families_Legal_Understanding_of_Tradition_and_Modernity_in_Contemporary_Russia

Muravyeva, M. (2018) Austerity, Gender inequality and Feminism after the crisis: “Should women have more rights?” Traditional Values and Austerity in Russia. ROSA-LUXEMBURG-STIFTUNG [read sections 1 and 3.]

https://www.rosalux.eu/publications/should-women-have-more-rights-traditional-values-and-austerity-in-russia/

Temkina, A., Zdravomyslova, E. (2014) ‘Gender’s crooked path: Feminism confronts Russian patriarchy’, Current Sociology, 62(2), pp. 253-270.

Summary Task:

Muravyeva, M. (2018) Austerity, Gender inequality and Feminism after the crisis: “Should women have more rights?” Traditional Values and Austerity in Russia. ROSA-LUXEMBURG-STIFTUNG [read section 4]. Put yourself in the place of a Women’s Rights NGO in Russia. How would you implement the proposals? Summarise in 200-300 words.

[54 pages]

Further Reading:

Åberg, P. 2015. Civil society and biopolitics in contemporary Russia: The case of Russian “Daddy-Schools”, Foucault Studies, 20, 76-95

Johnson, J. E. (2007) ‘Domestic violence politics in post-Soviet states’, Social Politics, 14(3), pp. 380-405.

Johnson, J. E., Saarinen, A. (2013) ‘Twenty-first-century feminisms under repression: Gender regime change and the women’s crisis center movement in Russia’, Signs: Journal of women in Culture and Society, 38(3), pp. 543-567.

Oleg Riabov & Tatiana Riabova (2014) The Remasculinization of Russia?, Problems of Post-Communism, 61:2, 23-35, DOI: 10.2753/PPC1075-8216610202

Salmenniemi, S., Adamson, M. (2015) ‘New heroines of labour: domesticating post-feminism and neoliberal capitalism in Russia’, Sociology, 49(1), pp. 88-105.

Zdravomyslova, E. (2010). Working mothers and nannies: Commercialization of childcare and modifications in the gender contract (a sociological essay).Anthropology of East Europe Review, 28 , 200–225


Week Four: Family, welfare and child policies

Compulsory Reading:

Sherstneva, N. (2014) ‘Why are children’s rights so dangerous? Interpreting Juvenile Justice in the light of conservative mobilization in contemporary Russia’ in N. Novikova, and M. Muravyeva (eds). Women’s History in Russia: (Re)Establishing the Field Cambridge Scholars Publisher, pp.193-215. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/asb/detail.action?docID=1859167

Höjdestrand, T. (2016). Social Welfare or Moral Warfare? Popular Resistance against Children’s Rights and Juvenile Justice in Contemporary Russia. International Journal of Children’s Rights, 24(4), 826-850. https://doi.org/10.1163/15718182-02404007

https://brill.com/view/journals/chil/24/4/article-p826_7.xml

Sirotin, V. (2009) Children and adolescents in the USSR and post-Soviet Russia Research and Analytical Supplement to Johnson’s Russia List.  Special Issue No. 45. November 2009. Available at: http://stephenshenfield.net/archives/research-jrl/97-jrl-special-issue-no-45-november-2009#2

Summary task:

Elena Mizulina et al., comp., Kontseptsiia gosudarstvennoi semeinoi politiki Rossiiskoi Federatsii na period do 2025 goda (The Concept of state family policy in the Russian Federation for the period until 2025) (Moscow, 2013),

https://zharov.info/guestbook/koncepciya-semejnoj-politiki-imeni-mizulinoj

Alternative version: https://rg.ru/2014/08/29/semya-site-dok.html

Summarise the state’s main aims in the concept of state family policy in more than one, but less than two pages.

[80 pages]

Further Reading:

Borozdina, E. et al. (2014) Using maternity capital: Citizen distrust of Russian family policy. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 23(1), pp.60-75.

Kingsbury, M., (2019) Let’s have more Russian babies. How anti-immigrant sentiment shapes family leave policy in Russia, Communist and Post-Communist Studies, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.postcomstud.2019.07.004.

Fabian, K., Bekiesza-Korolczuk, E. (Eds.) (2017) Rebellious Parents: Parental Movements in Central-Eastern Europe and Russia, Indiana University Press.

 Johnson, J. E. , et al. (2016), Street-level Practice of Russia’s Social Policymaking in Saint Petersburg: Federalism, Informal Politics, and Domestic Violence Jnl Soc. Pol. 45, 2, 287–304. doi:10.1017/S0047279415000689

Kainu, M., Kulmala, M., Nikula, J. and Kivinen, M. (2016), ‘The Russian Welfare State System: With Special Reference to Regional Inequality’, in C. Aspalter, ed.,, Welfare State Systems. Burlington: Ashgate.

Rivkin-Fish, M. (2010) Pronatalism, Gender Politics, and the Renewal of Family Support in Russia: Toward a Feminist Anthropology of “Maternity Capital” Slavic Review, Vol. 69, No. 3 (FALL 2010), pp. 701-724.

Slonimczyk, F., Yurko, A. (2014) ‘Assessing the impact of the maternity capital policy in Russia’, Labour Economics, 30, pp. 265-281.

Stella, F. and Nartova, N. (2015) Sexual citizenship, nationalism and biopolitics in Putin’s Russia. In: Stella, F., Taylor, Y., Reynolds, T. and Rogers, A. (eds.) Sexuality, Citizenship and Belonging: Trans-National and Intersectional Perspectives. Series: Advances in critical diversities (1). Routledge: London, pp. 24-42. ISBN 9781138805040

Websources:

  1. Shmidt, “Kak zashchishchat’ detei,” Polit.Ru, October 26, 2012,

http://www.polit.ru/article/2012/10/26/children

http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/2774805.html

https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%AE%D0%B2%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B0%D0%BB%D1%8C%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%8F_%D1%8E%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B8%D1%86%D0%B8%D1%8F_%D0%B2_%D0%A0%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%81%D0%B8%D0%B8


Week 5: Russia’s biopolitics – LGBT and youth: unruly others

Compulsory Reading:

Erpyleva, S. (2018). Freedom’s children in protest movements: Private and public in the socialization of young Russian and Ukrainian activists. Current Sociology, 66(1), 20-37.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0011392116668223

Wilkinson, C. (2014) Putting “Traditional Values” Into Practice: The Rise and

Contestation of Anti-Homopropaganda Laws in Russia, Journal of Human Rights, 13:3, 363-379, DOI: 10.1080/14754835.2014.919218

Summary task:

Levada (2019) ‘Otnoshenie k LGBT-liudiam’, Levada Centre 23.05.2019 https://www.levada.ru/2019/05/23/otnoshenie-k-lgbt-lyudyam

Levada (2013) ‘Novyi opros ob LGBT’, Levada Centre 3.07.2013 https://www.levada.ru/2013/07/03/novyj-opros-ob-lgbt

Wiedlack, K. (2018) ‘Quantum Leap 2.0 or the Western gaze on Russian homophobia’, Adeptus, 2018(11). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326304340_Quantum_Leap_20_or_the_Western_gaze_on_Russian_homophobia

Write an outline for an LGBT student organisation (300 words) arguing that fighting homophobia in Russia needs to take account of the issues Wiedlack raises. Use some statistics from the Levada surveys. Is homophobia getting better or worse? What aspects of homosexuality do Russians find most problematic? How do they compare to Danes?

[55 pages]

Further Reading:

Kondakov, A. (2015) ‘Heteronormativity of the Russian Legal Discourse: The Silencing, Lack, and Absence of Homosexual Subjects in Law and Policies’, Sortuz: Oñati Journal of Emergent Socio-Legal Studies, 4(2), pp. 4-23. http://opo.iisj.net/index.php/sortuz/article/viewFile/603/581

Kondakov, A. (2017) Prestupleniia na pochve nenavisti protiv LGBT v Rossii: otchet (St Petersburg: Centre of Independent Sociological Research: Renome).

Kon, I. S. (2003) ‘O normalizatsii gomoseksuaľnosti’, Seksologiia i Seksopatologiia, 2003(2), 2–12. http://www.pseudology.org/kon/Articles/NormaGomosexuality.htm accessed 8 June 2019.

Kulpa, R. (2014) Western “leveraged pedagogy” of Central and Eastern Europe: Discourses of homophobia, tolerance, and nationhood. Gender, Place & Culture, 21(4), 431–448.

Kulpa, R. & Mizielińska, J. (2012) ‘“Guest editors” introduction: Central and Eastern European sexualities “in transition”’, Lambda Nordica: Journal of LGBTQ Studies, 2012(4), 19–29.

Krupets Y., Morris J., Nartova NadyaOmelchenko Elena, Sabirova G. Imagining young adults’ citizenship in Russia: from fatalism to affective ideas of belonging, Journal of Youth Studies. 2017. Vol. 20. No. 2. P. 252-267.

Mole, R. (2011) ‘Nationality and sexuality: homophobic discourse and the “national threat” in contemporary Latvia’, Nations and Nationalism, 17(3): 540–560.

Omelchenko, Elena, and Guzel Sabirova. “Youth cultures in contemporary Russia: memory, politics, solidarities.” Eastern European Youth Cultures in a global context. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2016. 253-270.

Patin, K. (2016) ‘The Origin of Russian Gay Myths: Four Myths that Fuel Hatred for Gays in Russia’, 29 March 2016 https://codastory.com/lgbt-crisis/russian-myths/ accessed 8 June 2019.

Pomeranzev, P. (2016) ‘Europe, Putin and “Gayropa” Bait:  The Kremlin’s messaging on gay rights issues has little to do with beliefs’, 18 January 2016. https://codastory.com/lgbt-crisis/putin-wants-to-confuse-you/ accessed 8 June 2019.

Sirotin, V. (2009) Children and adolescents in the USSR and post-Soviet Russia Research and Analytical Supplement to Johnson’s Russia List.  Special Issue No. 45. November 2009. Available at: http://stephenshenfield.net/archives/research-jrl/97-jrl-special-issue-no-45-november-2009#2.


Week 6:  Race, ethnicity and religion as sites of cultural politics

Anderson, J. (2013) ‘Rock, art, and Sex: The “Culture Wars” Come to Russia”’, Journal of Church and State, 55(2) 307-334. https://academic.oup.com/jcs/article/55/2/307/807019

Laruelle, M. (2010) ‘The Ideological Shift on the Russian Radical Right: From Demonizing the West to Fear of Migrants’, Problems of Post-Communism 57(6): 19–31.

Summary task:

Zhuravlev, D. (2017) Orthodox Identity as Traditionalism: Construction of Political Meaning in the Current Public Discourse of the Russian Orthodox Church, Russian Politics & Law, 55:4-5, 354-375, DOI: 10.1080/10611940.2017.1533274

As previously, make a summary in one or two pages of this article based on the assumption that you will later write an essay referring to it. The purpose of the notes is to record now the main content you will need in an essay: You need to summarise the main argument, but also find useful quotes to use in your essay.

[60 pages]

Further Reading:

Agadjanian, Alexander: “Revising Pandora’s Gifts: Religious and National Identity in the Post-Soviet Societal Fabric” in Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 53, no. 3, 2001

Aitamurto, K. 2016 Paganism, Traditionalism, Nationalism: Narratives of Russian Rodnoverie. Routledge. DOI https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315599304

Arnold, R. & Lawrence P. Markowitz (2018) The evolution of violence within far-right mobilization: evidence from Russia, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 41:9, 1558-1573.

Bahry, D. (2016) Opposition to Immigration, Economic Insecurity and Individual Values: Evidence from Russia, Europe-Asia Studies, 68:5, 893-916, DOI: 10.1080/09668136.2016.1178710

Damm, Emily Belle, and Skye Cooley. “Resurrection of the Russian Orthodox Church: Narrative of Analysis of the Russian National Myth.” Social Science Quarterly 98, no. 3 (2017): 942-957.

Hutchings, Stephen, and Vera Tolz. 2015. Nation, Ethnicity and Race on Russian Television: Mediating Post-Soviet Difference. London: Routledge.

Kizenko, N. (2013) ‘Feminized patriarchy? Orthodoxy and gender in post-Soviet Russia’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 38(3), pp. 595-621.

Dzidziguri, Shalva. “The Power and limits of the Russian Orthodox Church”. Forbes Opinion. December 14, 2016. https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2016/12/14/the-power-and-limits-of-the-russian-orthodox-church/2/#362fd0bc6c5d

Petro, Nicolai N. “Russia’s orthodox soft power.” Carnegie Council (2015).

Laruelle, M. In the Name of the Nation: Nationalism and Politics in Contemporary Russia (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

Laruelle, M. (2014) ‘Beyond Anti-Westernism: The Kremlin’s Narrative about Russia’s European Identity and Mission’, PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo 326,

http://www.ponarseurasia.org/.

Lomagin, Nikita. “Interest groups in Russian foreign policy: The invisible hand of the Russian Orthodox Church.” International Politics 49, no. 4 (2012): 498-516.

Teper, Y. (2016) Official Russian identity discourse in light of the annexation of Crimea: national or imperial?, Post-Soviet Affairs, 32:4, 378-396, DOI: 10.1080/1060586X.2015.1076959

Tipaldou, S. and K.Uba (2014) The Russian Radical Right Movement and Immigration Policy: Do They Just Make Noise or Have an Impact as Well?, Europe-Asia Studies, 66:7, 1080-1101, DOI: 10.1080/09668136.2014.927647.

Tolz, Vera, and Sue-Ann Harding. 2015. “From ‘Compatriots’ to ‘Aliens’: The Changing Coverage of Migration on Russian Television.” Russian Review 74: 452–477.

Umland, A. (2017). Post-Soviet Neo-Eurasianism, the Putin System, and the Contemporary European Extreme Right. Perspectives on Politics,15(2), 465-476. doi:10.1017/S1537592717000135


Week 7: The liberal alternative? – Russia’s opposition as a cultural sphere

Laruelle, M. (2014) ‘Alexei Navalny and Challenges in Reconciling “Nationalism” and “Liberalism” ’, Post-Soviet Affairs 30(4): 276–97.

“Scratch a Russian liberal and you’ll find an educated conservative”: an interview with sociologist Greg Yudin http://www.criticatac.ro/lefteast/scratch-a-russian-liberal-and-youll-find-an-educated-conservative-an-interview-with-sociologist-greg-yudin/#.WNPNJyj31Jw.twitter

Ilya Matveev, 2014 The “Two Russias” Culture War: Constructions of the “People” during the 2011-2013 Protests, South Atlantic Quarterly 113(1):186-195 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274055930_The_Two_Russias_Culture_War_Constructions_of_the_People_during_the_2011-2013_Protests

Summary Task:

https://srbpodcast.org/2019/03/08/transcript-russian-nationalism/

Listen to the podcast and make notes. Try to cross-reference your notes with material from Laruelle that you have read in her articles.

[43 pages + 1 hour listening]

Further Reading:

Morozov, V. (2017) ‘Mif o reaktsionnosti rossiiskogo massovogo soznaniia i problema intellektual’nogo liderstva’ [The myth about reactionary Russian mass consciousness and the problem of intellectual leadership], Blog Post/Policy Memo. PONARS Eurasia. New Approaches to Research and Security in Eurasia. 28 April 2017. http://www.ponarseurasia.org/ru/article_20170428_Morozov accessed 8 June 2019.

Hale, H. E. (2011) The Myth of Mass Russian Support for Autocracy: The Public Opinion Foundations of a Hybrid Regime, Europe-Asia Studies, 63:8, 1357-1375, DOI: 10.1080/09668136.2011.601106

Hopf, T. (2013) ‘Common-Sense Constructivism and Hegemony in World Politics’, International Organization 67(2): 317–54.

Morozov, V. (2015) Russian’s Postcolonial Identity: A Subaltern Empire in a Eurocentric World (Basingstoke, Palgrave). [chapter 5 on populism is useful]

Pavlova, E. (2014) ‘Fight Against Corruption in Russian and European Discourse: “Irreconcilable Differences”?’ EU-Russia Papers 14, http://ceurus.ut.ee/home/eu-russia-forum/.


Week Eight: Grounding the study of Russian political culture and alternative perspectives

4 hours booked for final session.

Compulsory Reading:

Morozov, V.  Chapter 5 The People Are Speechless: Russia, the West and the Voice of the Subaltern, in Russia’s Postcolonial Identity A Subaltern Empire in a Eurocentric World. Palgrave. pp.135-165. [pdf on Blackboard – Copydan]

Karine Clément & Anna Zhelnina, 2019 Beyond Loyalty and Dissent: Pragmatic Everyday Politics in Contemporary Russia International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, pp. 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10767-019-9319-0

Summary task:

Work on a one-page plan of a possible assignment topic based on one of the week topics. Try to go beyond just a topic to create an ‘argument’ within a title for the essay. E.g. “Russian soft power appears successful based on projecting an image of conservatism to those abroad, however, based on the evidence from its foreign policy actions in Georgia, the Baltics and Ukraine, in reality it has few supporters outside Russia”. Decide on 4-6 academic sources that you would need to re-read and use for the evidence in your essay. Write a few sentences summarising each article and indicating how they are relevant to your argument.

[52 pages]

Further Reading:

Karine Clément (2018): Social mobilizations and the question of social justice in contemporary Russia, Globalizations, DOI: 10.1080/14747731.2018.1479014

Samuel A. Greene, 2019, Homo Post-Sovieticus: Reconstructing Citizenship in Russia, social research Vol. 86 : No. 1 : Spring 2019 181-202.

Morozov, V. (2015) Russian’s Postcolonial Identity: A Subaltern Empire in a Eurocentric World (Basingstoke, Palgrave).

Joanna Szostek (2017) Defence and Promotion of Desired State Identity in Russia’s Strategic Narrative, Geopolitics, 22:3, 571-593, DOI: 10.1080/14650045.2016.1214910

 

Moscow protests, the stifling Sobyanin embrace, and a tale of two societies.

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DIY social protest in my locality against the costs of living. ‘Leeches on the body of the town’.

I’m still mentally digesting the extreme push-back I’ve encountered in the field this summer against the Moscow protests.

In the meantime here’s a holding thought based on a viral video of a woman interviewed a couple of days ago. Asked about the protests she responded along the lines of : ‘I’m for stability.’ She’s asked to clarify: ‘Is this a good form of stability?’ She answers ‘Yes’. Then some kind of extreme anger clicked in and with a smirk she said ‘If the liberals come out on the street again I’ll fuck them over with chains.’

What’s interesting to me is that this extreme hostility to the protesters is closely echoed in my small sample of Muscovites, but not among my provincial or ‘working-class’ people. So my main conclusion is that people who are hanging on to their tenuous middle-class life-styles feel threatened by change more than the ‘have nots’.

There’s also a generational aspect to this that I’d like to explore more (particularly as I’ve been inspired by Mikhail Anipkin on this topic). I have to say I was shocked talking to a couple of Moscow pensioners well known to me. One of them used to be very ‘anti-Soviet’. They were very hostile to the protests and in particular vilified the ‘young idiots’ taking part. I shouldn’t have been shocked of course.  For one, both these people exclusively get their news from state-controlled TV and radio. But more importantly, these are people who are most comprehensively ‘cushioned’ by the state and Moscow government, and perhaps naturally fear change. Their pensions and Moscow city benefits mean their ‘real’ disposable incomes are in fact higher than most working people in the rest of Russia. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Moscow pensioners are comfortably off, or undeserving of social support.

Without sifting in detail through our conversations their responses contained the usual tropes showing the effectiveness of mainstream media’s aims of inculcating cynicism and passivity: ‘Don’t rock the boat, you might fall out…. Anything to avoid a war….. Stability is worth any price… How is it different from the ‘yellow vests’?…. Protests achieve nothing…. There’s corruption everywhere…. Putin has done so much for the people…..’ Certainly part of what’s at work is ‘naive monarchism‘, but rightly that definition has been criticised and can only very sketchily describe those that see Putin as doing his best to act as arbiter. Perhaps generational cohort analysis alongside looking at incomes and privileges would be useful – certainly some scholars are working on more nuanced evaluations of support/critique of the status quo.

Of more interest to me and my research agenda was the much more muted and indeed nuanced response of those people outside the warm yet sickly Sobyanin embrace. Mainly the response was indifference, with a few people supporting the protests on the grounds that at least ‘young people’ were trying to stick up for themselves (yes, I know that the ‘youth’ focus is a mischaracterisation).

Continuing immiseration and the bifurcation of society

Locals quickly tired of a conversation about Moscow protest so lacking relevance to their own lives. The overwhelming impression was of accelerating immiseration. For the second time I was shocked. This time by the fact that two of my long-standing friends had completely given up on formal employment and dived head-first into a subsistence, black economy existence.  While I’ve written at length about this before, it was striking how they described the deterioration in living standards over the last year and their complete lack of hope.

I also interacted with people trying to make their way in factory work and who were a little more hopeful. Nonetheless it was striking how even reasonably successful blue-collar workers with or without family rely on short and long-term credit for unavoidable living costs (like automobiles, housing costs).

A big complaint was the high bank rates on loans, something articulated just the other day in an embarrassing public question to the Vice President of Sberbank at a youth forum: ‘why is the rate in Russia for Sberbank on average 13% when in the same bank branch in Czechia it is 6%?’  Overindebtedness is a massive issue moving forwards that is going to bite the state in the backside soon. Debt jubilee and bailouts coming this way? Meanwhile, with real incomes continuing to fall, ordinary people struggle to avoid falling further into debt, struggle with bills and petty fines. The ‘them and us’ bifurcation of society into the precarious many, versus the ‘I’m alright, jack’ few, is accelerating as illustrated by two encounters a few hours apart in my humdrum Russia summer:

A friend, ‘Ilya’, arrives in his beat-up car at the village and borrows a few hundred roubles for petrol (he’s on empty as he has no money as he’s unemployed). We investigate how to fix the leaking roof of his village house.  It would be great if his disabled pensioner mother was able to come out and stay in her favourite place. The only option is to completely strip the roof and relay it, something he can’t afford to do. Thanks to the stupid dachniki (summerhouse dwellers) who feed stray dogs, their population is expanding and they have invaded Ilya’s little garden veranda. He has no lumber to board up the entrance, and in any case Ilya’s old powertools are broken and the extension cord he stole from his last job is on the blink. I borrow a battery-powered powertool from another neighbour and give him a surplus old wooden door from my shed to make the veranda inaccessible to the dogs.  This tiny hut stands on a vegetable plot that could be used to help ease the family budget. However, because Ilya can’t even afford fuel, it’s likely he’ll abandon the plot or sell it at a knock-down price to someone like me from Moscow (the land is desirable as it’s in a national park and has retrospective planning permission due to the shack on it).

A few hours later I have dinner with one of my Moscow acquaintances who, between ranting against the protesters as ‘paid-up liberasts by Western governments’ and faithfully regurgitating a media-driven narrative of the dangers of a ‘Russian Maidan’, discusses their latest European trip and how tired they are of the poor quality service and food in Italian hotels. Conversation moves on to the summer employment of their Central Asian housekeeper who is turning out to be a bad investment,  and who will be sent packing at the end of the season. All the food we eat at this dinner is bought from good Moscow supermarkets. These dacha visitors do not buy anything from local shops here in the provinces.  Another guest is surprised by the absence of the cleaning lady that the hosts used to pay to come by taxi from the local town to dust and do dishes. Talk moves on to the latest expensive purchases.

I have no more words at the moment.

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A newspaper report on the reality of the high tax burden for Russians which quickly disappeared from any online versions.  While criticised for inaccuracies, it more or less shows that direct and indirect taxes in Russia equate to the so-called ‘high’ tax societies of northern Europe.

A tax-paying non-democracy? Or, ‘don’t touch people who live by their own resources’

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Russian tax authorities boast of record collections in the last couple of years. In 2017 collections were 20% higher than in 2016. At the same time the number of taxes is expanding, with new ecology, waste and telecoms taxes, to name a few, as well as the consolidation of ‘duty’ payments into federally enforced taxes . There are signs the Tax Service is growing in confidence, recently proposing to expand its juridical scope to regain control of criminal cases against business.

Are these signs of more effective state, and thus the potential for its bureaucracies to serve more than a few citizens? Or are they examples of the centre’s fiscal cul-de-sac, as it seeks a human replacement for falling natural resource revenues (encapsulated in the recent idea of ‘people as the new oil’). In this post I will review the significant recent changes in taxes that affect individuals (businesses are important but will be dealt with another time). A shorter version of the post appeared in Ridl.io, along with a Russian translation.

First, we need a little history. Russia’s flat-tax is famous as one of the first, boldest reforms of this type in the world with a big cut in income tax from a higher rate of 30% to 13% in 2001. However, Putin’s first years were characterized by even more radical neoliberal taxation reform across the board that built on the IMF programme of 1998 in response to Russian debt default.  The flat tax was part of a package that included lowering corporation and other taxes, and increasing tax collection via VAT. These changes arguably helped small and medium businesses and gave a kick-start to both the legitimacy and bureaucratic logic of the Tax Service going into the 2000s. Employees and entrepreneurs alike were eased into the new economic system, all thanks to the flat tax and low profit taxes. Why was this important?  For ‘cultural’ as much as institution-building reasons. Income taxes in the late Soviet period had generally been very low. Taxes were less ‘visible’ as deductions in socialist societies, and the link between them and the provision of services was equally opaque (Alm et al 2006). People more often linked ‘social security’ to the visible and significant paternalistic obligation of their employer, not the state. Thus ‘tax morality’ was an issue in the 1990s, and arguably remain so today. (aside: it still surprises me that scholars don’t make more of the fact that for nearly 80% of the population, incomes declined year-on-year for nearly ten years, so the fact that tax ‘morale’ was low is hardly surprising – see Alm et al. 2006).

The fundamental idea of a flat tax generally is to expand the tax base – reports vary, but perhaps a majority of people who should have paid income taxes in the 1990s did not. This continues to be important in Russia because of the large size of the informal economy and the fact that it dominates in how people calculate their real incomes (perhaps the majority of people have a ‘white’ income – which is subject to income tax, and an informal extra income source, which is not taxed directly). Tax revenue has been always rising, but from a tiny base in 2000 and is thus not a very meaningful measurement considering GDP has grown much faster. Indeed, as a share of GDP, Ukraine better qualified now as a ‘tax-paying state’ than Russia.

Like other flat taxes, the Russian one has no allowances (which are typically set at a level around the minimum wage, as it is in the UK, for example the low). Therefore, even the very working-poor pay it. In addition, there is a ‘hidden’ regressive element in the form of the employer’s obligatory deductions for social insurance and pension contributions. The more you earn (starting from an income of around 14,000 Euro a year), the less as a percentage of income the employer contributes. Taking into account the employer and employee deductions, average income-related taxation is more like 33%. (Only medical insurance contributions are not regressive – hat-tip: Ilya Matveev).

Lack of allowances and the relatively large burden of pension and social insurance deductions are major disincentives to register self-employment income because it is so variable.  Moreover, there is little or no evidence that the tax reforms really improved revenue collection, productivity, economic activity and trust in the general fiscal system (Kryvoruchko 2015; Appel and Orenstein 2013). More likely, the rapid improvement in the Russian economy after 1999 was the cause of higher revenues – incomes increased, not compliance (Ivanova 2005 et al [opens as pdf]). The fact that this story is rarely heard is a measure of the dominance of orthodox supply-side economics to this day. In fact, the IMF often criticised the introduction of flat taxes, citing the already weak fiscal position of former communist countries (Domonkos 2015).

Fast-forward to the late 2010s, and against the backdrop of inadequate natural resource revenues the Russian state has returned to the thorny issue of taxes in earnest. However record income tax receipts are only a small part of the story. In Russia personal income taxes have only ever been a small share of all tax-like revenues (Gaddy and Gale 2005), as in Soviet times. Direct personal taxes as a share of all taxes and as a share of GDP are around half of that found in other highly-educated, and industrialised market economies.  Despite this, there is little sign of any political will for a return to progressive taxation, even though it might raise significantly more tax from the 11 million ‘better paid’ Russians. More important is the repeated failure to tax the self-employed and the 2019 changes to taxation of land and property.

Let’s take the self-employed first – remembering that even for people with jobs, ‘side-work’ is an important category for making ends meet. Until the Ukraine/sanctions crisis in 2014, personal income derived from the informal economy was effectively ignored by both politicians and the bureaucracy. It is true that the most visible self-employed were ‘tax registered’, perhaps best symbolised by quasi-private transit operatives (marshrutki drivers operating as lone, or ‘small traders’ in tax terms). However, the vast majority of ‘tradespersons’ and individual service providers – from electricians to home-visit beauticians, operated in a black hole – their complete bureaucratic invisibility was part of a permissive deal with society. This ‘compensated’ for extremely low disposable incomes from formal work, at the same time as allowing ordinary people something of niche in an entrepreneurial climate increasingly dominated by large firms with ‘connections’ to those in power. However, that niche is rapidly disappearing due to the expansion of state-connected large firms.

After 2014 the government put more energy into pursuing the self-employed, to bring them into the formal purview of the state, including taxation, licensing, national insurance, pension payments, etc. The latest version of this is the ‘tax on professional incomes’ starting January 2019. However, each initiative has failed, but for multiple reasons. Firstly, much existing tax law is poorly written, especially concerning definitions of legal persons. Not only that, but the Labour Code too is lacking a clear definition of the self-employed.

Secondly, as mentioned above, the vast majority of ‘self-employed’ are actual ‘side-employed’, not reliant only on a ‘trade’ income. Consequently, they are extremely resistant to the formalisation of what they see as a ‘top-up’ income. In other words, informal work is ingrained as a kind of socio-economic right. This is a legacy of more than the 1990s’ economic disruption, but goes back to way incomes in the USSR were made of multiple components beyond the ‘wage packet’. (Actually there’s a more complex story here too about ‘cultural’ resistance to the term ‘self-employed’ (samozaniatyi) – the historical association with murky ‘trade’ is one reason (to be in trade is to be an exploiter of disorder). Also there’s something about the term ‘entrepreneur’ (the other legal term) and ‘self-employment’ that is devaluing and degrading to people who consider themselves versatile ‘masters’ of trades and ‘authoritative’ individuals in their meta-occupational communities – a term I find useful to talk about mutual-acknowledgement networks of skilled workers).

Thirdly, when the economy not growing and people are economically hurting, they rely even more on the informal ‘cushion’ of side-incomes. Fourthly, the state doesn’t really have as much of an incentive as it appears to squeeze for income tax, as it is regional budgets that depend on direct taxation revenue, not the federal centre (which only takes a cut of 15% of income tax collected).

Finally, and this is important because it contradicts the narrative of the ‘effective taxation state’, the Russia really lacks the political conditions to correct this situation. A fundamental tension in any society is the balance between taxes on incomes versus immovable and trackable assets. And the degree of success in taxing incomes is always a question of consent. In anything, ‘consent’ to the state taking a slice of one’s hard-earned crust is falling, against the backdrop of real declines over the last decade in incomes.

This brings us to the current phase. Alongside ‘regressive’ increases in VAT and ‘sin taxes’, as well as rise in taxes on fuel, the state has learnt that a source of ‘wealth’ that is more difficult to hide than income is immovable property. The real story of changes in the taxation landscape is the big switch to property and land tax, and the lack of awareness of the majority of people about this, as well as the potential ‘compounding’ effect over time of increases in these rates.

Since 2017 the government has undertaken fundamental reform in tax liability of property. One aspect is the shift to assessing immovable property on cadastral value. Cadastral assessment takes into account the real value of land, and so will mainly affect older properties in desirable areas.  Thus, an owner of a three-room Brezhnev era flat of 60 square metres close to a metro station in Moscow will have seen their taxes increase by a factor of six.

There has already been a clear impact, with revenues from this tax rising from 22bn rubles in 2013 to 144bn in 2017, a seven-fold increase. Phased in over five years, at the end of that period the Property Tax will have risen by 20%. This might not seem much given the low starting base of 0.1%, but for houses as opposed to apartments, the starting point of the tax is 0.3%. Strikingly, even structures like garages will be liable for Property Tax.

And this is in addition to Land Tax – in 2019 significant changes were made to this tax as well (local authorities keep this tax). With some exceptions, land with houses on it will attract a tax of 1.5%. This is doubly significant given that previously people only paid a symbolic amount of tax on their ‘country cottage’. Given how many people of different classes and incomes own ‘second’ properties in addition to an apartment, these tax changes are likely to prove onerous and perceived as unjust (pensioners and other groups are exempt from some of them). Property taxes are also likely to accelerate concentrations of wealth even more, and it’s easy to imagine Russia becoming a country of renters, rather than owner-occupiers in less than a generation.

People are now finding out the hard way that immovable property above an arbitrary norm the ‘izlishka’, dictated by the state can be subject to rapid increases in tax over a short period. The izlishka is calculated for all kinds of property and is quite miserly – if you own more than 10 square meters of a room you pay tax on the rest of that room, for example. It is quite common for flats to be divided into ownership by room, even by members of the same family. Thus, even a very modest flat of 42 square meters in a provincial city worth 1.3m roubles will attract a tax of 700 roubles. Not a lot, but given that all taxes fall due at the same time in November, it will be felt as one more example of the squeeze, alongside the near tripling of taxes on waste collection.

These increases have been in the offing since 2011. Back then, the average Land Tax paid was tiny – around 800 roubles a year. State income grew rapidly from such taxes despite the low base – nearly doubling from 2008-2012. Some regions did not apply all these land taxes but the significant change in 2018 is the harmonisation of all regions in the obligatory extraction of these taxes.

Ironically, recently Putin charged the government to investigate the problems of the growth in the ‘population’s tax burden’, asking Medvedev to investigate ‘what is happening in real life, and not just on paper’. What does this reveal? In reality the simultaneous ratcheting up of all kinds of taxes and quasi-taxes – excise duty, land taxes, personal taxes, transport-related taxes and indirect taxes make for a likely future confrontation of elite versus ‘populist’/social-justice political entrepreneurs – as yet unidentified. In the meantime we will observe an intensification of the struggle to formalise incomes, and the equal resistance to do so among self-employed in particular.

Even in  highly developed market economies with long-standing social solidarity and high personal taxes like Denmark see much political debate of the burden of direct taxation, the ‘value for money’ of the enormous tax revenues their systems provide. These are the fundamental tensions inherent in any tax-paying democracy where resource and indirect revenues are less important.  The scholar Simon Kordonsky deserves the final word. Writing about the role of the shadow economy in Russia, his response to the wave of measures to formalize the economy is this: ‘don’t touch people who live by their own resources‘ [za svoi schet]. What he means is that the majority only ‘survive’ today to the degree they can escape the ‘field of view’ of the state. He also gives the example of the rational response to a new tax on heavy goods vehicles’ use of highways: people simply shift to smaller trucks. Taxes are just a form of moving national income from one place to another, or in progressive scenarios, redistributing. But how is it even possible to build a tax-paying non-democracy, when the logic of redistribution functions mainly in terms of a vertical – upwards from the most active, but most powerless, to unproductive elites?

Public intellectuals in a bathhouse full of spiders

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An urban banya or bathhouse

We’re all public intellectuals now. I don’t mean the traditional idea of a public intellectual – like Bertrand Russell. Or Isaiah Berlin, whose death was reported on the front page of the New York Times. On the contrary, it’s a good thing that because of the democratisation of the ‘public sphere’, those who previously would have remained unchallenged having built ‘an entire career … on the trick of contrariness’, can instantly be called out.

Nor do I mean the idea of academics as necessarily critical (which is more than the ‘illiberal practicality’ of ‘impactful’ research), politically engaged in the ‘real world’ in an organic way (in a labour movement or immigrant rights organisation), as argued by Michael Burawoy.

What I’m talking about is the taped-down ‘transmit’ button of social media. [The irony of writing this in a blog post is not lost on me]. The problem is that while social media has enabled us all at the same time to broadcast, few are listening. Or rather, they are ‘hearing’ what they want, often from those least knowledgeable. Perhaps all this proves is the critique of Habermas’ public sphere – that such a ‘bourgeois’ idea of communication always excludes, and cements existing power-imbalances.

And these musings arise from three typical experiences of ‘doing academic social media’ in the last weeks.  Number One requires little explanation to those acquainted with Twitter. Since the Trump election meddling theories began, a number of ‘Russia experts’ have garnered huge Twitter followings and a lucrative career in op-eds. They have three things in common: simple ‘enemy’ message: ‘Trump is Russia’s weapon’, few Russian language skills, and, (this was what came up this week) no record of every having visited Russia. According to Sean Guillory’s definition, these pundits often qualify as Russophobes.

Hau about open access?

Number Two started with the resurgence of #hautalk. The return of a publically criticised academic to editing an important open access venture in anthropology provoked rage among understandably indignant precarious scholars on the same Twitter platform. The latest Hau episode reveals a ‘wood for the trees’ issue – alternatively known as ‘more heat than light’. While scholars highlighted how their precarious positions had enabled their alleged mistreatment by an editor, there is less attention to bigger structural inequalities. (For a more positive recent story about open access and ‘flipped’ peer review but with similar reservations about power imbalances in academia see this blog post – hint: it’s all about more transparency and accountability).

The fact that this individual had been ‘caught out’ merely underlines the inherent and toxic hierarchical power of academia. The case only came to light because the editor himself is clearly a marginal, perhaps desperate figure. He’s never held tenure (despite being middle-career). He’s not Anglo-Saxon. He’s clearly had to make his way as a journeyman researcher, serving at the favour of powerful intellectual patrons. What’s also missing from this story is the wholesale delegation of grunt journal work from the ‘Board’ to this individual. Now some senior figures involved are allegedly covering their tracks by deleting social media posts or retreating into privileged silence (with the exception of David Graeber, who supported the whistleblowers from the outset).

None of this excuses the allegations made. (See how even microscopically public-facing intellectuals are forced to caveat?) However, the free-riding on this project by senior scholars is another example of the pernicious free labour – ‘trickle up’ that we all provide to the more powerful. We often bemoan the assumption that we must perform free labour, like peer-review, but also we miss out that the main beneficiaries are not just publishers and universities, but our senior colleagues (often indirectly, like courtesy citation of a big name).  Also, as pointed out, the Hau project tended to reproduce academic hierarchies as much as existing journals.

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some stats about Hau authors, from footnotesblog.com contributor Jules Weiss

The diminishing returns of Twitter dialogue

I found a reinforcement of the Hau  experience (more heat than light) closer to home (Russian studies). This week a thoughtful tweet was made about the racial profiling of Central Asians by the Russian police.  Thoughtful, because the author and others were reflecting on the selective solidarity and wilful blindness towards racism by the privileged, particularly academics. So far so good. However, anyone coming to this tweet-conversation might be forgiven for thinking that police stop Central Asians because Russians are ‘merely’ racist. They would not learn that this is due to a structural racism built into immigration laws that enables the extortion of money from Central Asians that serves as part of the scaffold of the corrupt law-enforcement system. I’m not convinced that the causes of this form of racial profiling makes the Russian police more racist in practice than their counterparts in the US or UK for that matter.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learnt a huge amount from interacting on social media with academics and ‘public intellectuals’ since 2014, when I started using Twitter. However, I too am increasingly setting social media to ‘broadcast’ rather than receive.  Is this a metaphor for our times? Certainly, a fellow blogger thinks so: ‘the relentless jeering, preening and snark is evidence of the platform’s humanity.’

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A common experience for Russian studies twitterers

Counter publics and proletarian public spheres?

When I was writing about how ordinary Russians use social media a few years ago, I engaged not only with Habermas, but also Negt and Kluge (on the proletarian public sphere) and Nancy Fraser’s counterpublics “where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counter discourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs”. At some point I’d like to return to the PPS works, for the obvious parallels with the democratising and oppositional potential of social media. Negt and Kluge argue that the latter could potentially oppose the organized interests of the bourgeois public sphere through its organization of human needs and interests. On the other hand talk about the PPS is not million miles away from the banya full of spiders that is Twitter and other social media, in that they are evidence of “the “excluded”, vague, unarticulated impulses of resistance or resentment. The proletarian public sphere carries the subjective feelings, the egocentric malaise with the common public narrative, interests that are not socially valorized.” To my knowledge, Negt and Kluge’s ideas have not been applied to internet as a public sphere, (they wrote on public television and radio). Mark Poster’s piece still seems to be the main way-marker here.

So, what positives can we take forward? Well, strange as it may sound, I’m increasingly turning from Twitter to YouTube as a creaky, yet good-enough model for public intellectuals. And ironically, Russia leads the way here precisely due to academics’ exclusion. Deprived of airtime on traditional media, political oppositionists have long worked hard on building audiences in alternative media spaces. I’m still blown away by the slick, controlled operation that is Navalnyi. YouTube is a medium made for this. However, academics are catching up and using it for a unique ‘long-form’ dialogue. Because of the low ‘cost’ (I mean time and effort as much as financial) YouTube is ideally suitable for a real dialogue between people with an enthusiasm for and in-depth knowledge of a topic. Two almost random examples. The genuine public intellectual and recently sacked from MGIMO Valerii Solovei talks to Boris Kagarlitskii about the disintegration of the ‘ruling party’ system in the Russian regions and the bigger question of social or political ‘revolution’  in Russia. A little stilted, a little forced, but nonetheless some kind of dialogue between a ‘socialist’ and a ‘liberal’. Solovei already had a huge media following of course, so now he’s persona non grata it’s disappointing that he does not link back to the original version of the talk, hosted by Kagarlitskii. We still have academic hierarchies reproducing themselves. A less visible and possibly more rewarding example:  Alexander Dmitriev and Viacheslav Morozov in an accessible version of the their work on Russia as part of Europe, indigenous knowledge, postsocialist trauma and the ‘spritual bonds’ of Putin’s Russia. While this video was produced by Gleb Pavlovskii’s Gefter project, there’s nothing to stop scholars from more DIY collective approaches. Indeed, by involving students and colleagues they might get more traction than the under-appreciated Gefter videos.  I come back to the spiders in the bathhouse analogy (which is apt if we think of social media as an external punishment of confinement and the nearness of others). If spiders are inevitable company, any old bathhouse will do. They’re there in the corners, for eternity, but it’s who is sitting on the plank with us that matters.

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The reopening of my local public bathhouse