Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Orwell’s Big Brother Limited Hate to Two Minutes a Day But Putin Conducts It 24/7



Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 2 – In George Orwell’s classic novel of totalitarianism, “1984,” Big Brother, the ruler of the state, doled out “two minutes of hate” each day, perhaps calculating that that amount would keep people on edge and in line but not send them over the edge into dangerous pathologies of aggression and violence.

            But in Russia today, Vladimir Putin has made a different choice: his government-controlled media spew hateful and aggressive propaganda 24/7, and the consequences, Olga Idrisova says, are that this is “inevitably leading to radicalization and an increase in the amount of violence in society” (intersectionproject.eu/ru/article/society/mnogominutka-nenavisti).

             Many commentators, the Russian journalist says, view Moscow’s propaganda today as a revival of Soviet propaganda of several decades ago, but that is a mistake because it fails to consider that despite some common targets and themes, Russian propaganda now is very different and much more disturbing in its consequences than its Soviet predecessor.

            “Soviet propaganda portrayed western capitalism as the enemy and contrasted it to communism as an alternative model of development.” But “today’s ideological enemy has become the West as a whole, with its particular mentality and set of values.” In the current environment, Idrisova says, no one wants to talk about comparative development strategies.

            Instead, she points out, Moscow’s messengers stress “more abstract” themes that can’t be easily measured and thus Russia’s lagging position can’t be shown. That’s why there is so much talk about “the Russian world” or “spirituality” and not about production or standard of living or the future.

            “It is impossible to measure with the unaided eye, for example, ‘the level of spirituality;’ therefore it is easy to manipulate any abstract categories despite the globalization of the information space,” Idrisova argues.  But because that is so, Russian propaganda is unrelievably negative while Soviet propaganda always contained its own “positive” message.

            Today, Russian propagandists implicitly acknowledge that “we ourselves have not been able to build anything outstanding, but the West is to blame for this.” Russians instead are told to be proud not of present achievements of which there are few but rather of events of 70 years ago like the war which can be transformed into myths.

            Such negative rhetoric and a focus on the past has a profound effect on the psychological “’health’” of the Russian population, promoting the growth of homophobia, liberalophobia, and Americanophobia, intolerance, and aggression, which “we can already observe” in the streets of Russian cities and villages now.

            In 2013, she notes, the Institute of Psychology of the Russian Academy of Sciences concluded that Russians had become three time more aggressive and crude over the previous two decades, in part at least because the Russian media had displayed those attitudes more often over that period (rg.ru/2013/12/10/portret.html).  Since then, the situation has become even worse.

            In Soviet times, news anchors read the news so blandly as to be almost boring; now, the style is that of Kiselyov, angry, bombastic, sarcastic, and crude. And that by itself, she suggests,, has been enough to transform in an extraordinarily negative way what ordinary Russians see as acceptable.

            The growth in aggressive attitudes “inevitably leads to an increase in the number of crimes,” she says, and that is exactly what even Russian officials are forced to acknowledge. Over the last year alone, the number of crimes has increased by almost five percent (vz.ru/society/2015/8/24/762861.html).

            Moreover, the Russian media’s talk about “’a Jewish fifth column’” has allowed anti-Semitism to resurface (theinsider.ua/rus/politics/54e4ae2130a01/) and its talk about the baleful influence of the State Department has meant that opponents of the regime keep quiet lest they be called “foreign agents” (levada.ru/14-07-2014/tret-rossii-za-borbu-s-pyatoi-kolonnoi).

                Moscow’s response to the rise of the Internet has also played a major negative role in developments. On the one hand, it has meant that the regime has used themes that no one can use the Internet to check. And on the other, the Kremlin has introduced trolls which “not only disinform but have a negative impact on the psychology of those who use the Internet.”

            These trolls consciously lower the tone of the discourse on the Internet and thus lead many who would otherwise rely on the Internet to avoid the commentary pages on many sites and thus reduce the chance that the web will become a place for the exchange of real opinions among those who are not supporters of Putin and his regime.

            That in turn has the obviously intentional effect of leading people to conclude that support for the regime is greater than it is and that opposition to it is small and marginal. And those who receive that message, including those who get it online, are thus more inclined to be hateful and violent to regime opponents.

            As a result of Putin’s 24/7 time of hate, Idrisova  says, there is every chance that more Russians will become psychologically unbalanced and more ready to attack anyone viewed as an opponent of the regime. As that happens, this in turn will “lead to ever greater radicalization of Russian society in the immediate future.”

            It will also, although that is not its intent, create a situation where such hate may be turned on its authors, something Orwell’s Big Brother understood but that clearly Vladimir Putin does not.

Russia’s ‘New Poor’ Are In Fact Its Old Poor, Levinson Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 2 – Many are calling those millions of Russian citizens who have fallen into poverty as a result of the current economic crisis “the new poor,” but Aleksey Levinson, a prominent Moscow sociologist, says they are simply the return of “the old poor” who had risen slightly above the poverty line a decade ago but have now fallen back.

            The Levada Center scholar says that in the first decade of the 21st century, “from five to fifteen percent of [Russian] adults shifted from the category of the poor to that of one whose members had somewhat more favorable conditions of life.” Now, in the crisis, the movement of people is simply going in the other direction (novayagazeta.ru/society/69755.html).

            As a result, we have “not ‘new poor’ but the old poor consisting of those who somewhat improved their situation in the fat years but who today are returning to their former situation.” Of course, there are exceptions, where those well-off earlier have fallen into poverty, but this is the general pattern.

            One special feature of Russian poverty, Levinson says, is that most of those who are poor nonetheless at least nominally are employed. On the one hand, that reflects the desire of the authorities to keep dissatisfied people off the streets where they might engage in protests. But on the other, humanitarian concerns are at work as well.

            The more open form of unemployment, he says, also has distinctive features in Russia. Many of those in this category in fact are working in the shadow economy. And there are beginning to appear pockets of chronic poverty, although fortunately, he says, they are relatively few in number.

            Today, Levinson continues, “Russians of all categories feel that life is becoming more expensive;” and “the poorer people are, the sharper is their reaction” because such people have the least amount of savings and because the most inexpensive goods in the past are the ones whose prices have risen the most.

            Approximately 15 percent of Russia’s poor are young people either just graduated from university and not yet employed in their profession or married with children whom they will feed and otherwise support except in “a catastrophe.”  Their situation, like that of pensioners at the other end of the age spectrum, is very hard, Levinson says.

             Rising rates of poverty in Russia have had and will have little impact on the ratings of Vladimir Putin, Levinson says.  “There is the popular idea that in the hearts and minds of Russians there is a struggle going on ‘between the television and the refrigerator.’” But he suggests that such economic determinism isn’t functioning in Russia.

            “Russian history doesn’t confirm the rule that when the people are sated, they love the authorities but when they are hungry, they revolt,” the sociologist points out. Instead, “even a more serious deterioration of the economic situation than today’s could lead to a greater consolidation of society around the authorities.”

            The situation in Ukraine is likely to have a greater impact, he suggests. Many Russians were swept up in patriotic enthusiasm by the annexation of Crimea, but they haven’t had any recent “new victories and perhaps won’t” get any.  That could send Putin’s ratings down, but predicting when and how much is tricky.

            He and his colleagues believe, Levinson concludes, that “the most probable scenario is a gradual return to the situation which existed during President Putin’s first and second terms.”



Returning Donbas Veterans Bringing War Home to Russia with Them



Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 2 – Russians who fought as volunteers in the Donbas militias are returning home not only with their weapons but with increasingly violent dispositions, and according to three experts, they now represent a threat not only to public order but also to political stability.

            Valery Borshchev, a former Duma deputy, tells “Novyye izvestiya” that many of the returnees have “damaged pscyhes” and that as a result and in a way recalling those who returned from the Afghanistan and Chechnya wars, Russia now faces “a ‘Donbas’ syndrome” that it must somehow deal with (newizv.ru/politics/2015-09-02/226538-donbasskij-sindrom.html).

            But he suggests that the Donbas returnees will find it “significantly more difficult to adapt to peaceful life.” That is because “after ‘the Chechen campaign,’ rehabilitation centers were established; and these helped many recover. But those centers, Borshchev says, were set up not by the government but by social organizations.

            Now, he says, it appears unlikely that any such centers will be set up. The government doesn’t want to recognize the problem or spend the money, and the NGOs who helped in the past find themselves today in a significantly more difficult situation.  Consequently, more guns are coming in, and more of them will be used.

            Returning Donbas volunteers, Borshchev says, have gotten used to death and “don’t fear anything. Thus, to stop them [from committing crimes] will be much more difficult than it was to mobilize them in the first place.” And their willingness to use violence will change the face of business conflicts and other disputes.

            “I am not demonizing those who have returned from the Donbas,” he says. “But these are the realities,” and those coming back need “immediate psychological help” or the situation will deteriorate.

            Valentina Melnikova of the Union of Committees of Soldiers Mothers of Russia agrees, arguing that the Russian authorities having sent these men into battle has now largely washed its hands of them, and as a result, there is increasing violence in their homes and on the streets of Russian cities and villages.

Unless someone provides the Donbas veterans with immediate psychological help, she continues, “some of them really will try to repeat a Donbas in Russia.” And she adds, “it isn’t important who will create this … it is important to set up [centers of psychological help and even whole services] precisely now.”

And Vladimir Zherebenkov, a former investigator at the interior ministry, “confirms the seriousness of the situation,” “Novyye izvestiya” says.  Russians went to the Donbas for various reasons: because they believed in the cause, because they wanted money or because they wanted to kill.”

            Now, they “want a repetition of the military scenarios in Russia,” with some engaged in political causes because of belief, others to get money, and still others to engage in senseless killing. All of those threats must be addressed because as one can already see in Rostov oblast, the returning Donbas veterans with their weapons and attitudes are a big problem.

            More police are needed alongside psychological assistance programs, but “the situation [in Rostov] will stabilize it would appear only after the end of military operations. Even after that, however, one must not forget about the returning” militiamen. Otherwise, “the ‘Donbas syndrome’ may become a drawn out illness with a tragic outcome for many.”