Vanguard Video! Leah’s Video for Putin’s Social Revolution (Week 13, Day 1)

Transcript
Hello, Revolutionaries! This is our video for Week 13, Day 1. Our subject is Putin’s Social Revolution and our teaching assistant is Dante.

I have just a couple of quick announcements for you. Thank you to all who have submitted their three-page rough drafts! If you have not submitted yours yet, I encourage you to do so as soon as you can. I will turn those drafts back around to you with written comments ASAP. And if you have any questions, if you’d like to talk with me on Teams, or if want to send me another rough draft, I am happy to help you with any of those things. Just send me an email.

Looking ahead from here: Week 13, Day 2 (next time) is our last day with new material. We have a news article and some music videos. Hopefully you’ll find them fun! For our final class meeting, I would like us to get together one last time as a group on Teams. We’ll meet at our regular class time (2:20pm EST) on Monday, May 4. It should be on your calendar in Teams, so please look out for that. Please also remember to complete you Revolutions Timeline posts before then, so we can discuss them together. If anyone is unable to join a class video meeting, please email to let me know.

Today, we’re look at Social Revolution in Putin’s Russia, and we’re exploring it from two sides: Social Revolution made by Putin and Social Revolution made against Putin. Ann Garrels’ book Putin Country will help us understand why Putin is genuinely popular among Russians. To be sure, he doesn’t win elections by the wide margins that he claims. But he has consistently won a majority all four times he has run. The reasons behind this are complex, and Garrels will help us get a handle on them.

At the same time, there are citizens in Russia who are opposed to Putin. They have a variety of concerns. Pervasive corruption has enriched Putin and his allies at the public’s expense. Limits on free speech have progressed from silencing opposition journalists to censoring of the Russian internet to laws against staging mass public protests. And as you read, since 2013, the Russian government has passed laws discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community. Like Ludmilla Alexeyeva and her fellow dissidents, those who oppose Putin are a minority. But they are persistent, and so far, they have continued to find new ways to protest against Putin’s regime.

Individuals and organizations at the forefront of this opposition have faced serious consequences for their activism, which may again remind you of the Soviet dissidents, as well as figures from Imperial Russia like Vera Figner and Alexander Radishchev. In 2006, independent journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who wrote a series of exposés about atrocities committed by the Russian army in Chechnya, was murdered, and her killers were never caught. The same year, the human rights NGO Memorial, which was started by former dissidents after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was forced to register as a “foreign agent” because it accepts funding from international sources. Official harassment has continued since then, but Memorial has found new ways to continue its operations.

Anti-corruption activists have faced similar difficulties. Boris Nemtsov, who served in Yeltsin’s government but became an opposition leader under Putin, was arrested several times for leading protests and assassinated in 2015. Protesters march every year on the anniversary of his death, and this year they added Putin’s proposed changes to the constitution to their list of grievances. Alexei Navalny, the subject of Julia Ioffe’s article, has also been arrested several times. Despite this, he continues to lead protests in person and spread his message about Putin’s corruption through his YouTube channel. Nemtsov and Navalny are the big names, but we should also keep in mind the thousands of ordinary Russians who take the risk of joining protests, themselves. Without their support, Navalny would be about as effective as the Decembrists, who didn’t think to include the masses in their movement.

As I hope I’ve made clear, there are strong social movements in support of Putin and in opposition to him, which makes the theme of Putin’s Social Revolution especially intriguing. Let’s explore it further through our discussion questions.

Leah’s Discussion Questions

1. Garrels starts by telling us about a woman named Irina Korsunova, a magazine editor in Chelyabinsk. Korsunova was educated in the West. She enjoys Western consumer goods and fashions, but she has a real chip on her shoulder about how the West sees Russia. Can you explain Korsunova’s complaint? How does it relate to Wood’s explanation of Russia’s troubled relationship with the west since 1991?

2. In chapter 3, Garrels interviews three people with different social positions: the middle-class, cosmopolitan Irina Korsunova, the elite former-oppositionist she calls V, and the steelworker Yura Kovach. All thee support Putin, and especially his annexation of Crimea. Can you unpack how Putin manages to court each of these constituencies? Last time, we looked at how Putin sells himself to Russian citizens. Now, we’re looking at how those citizens respond to him. What do these three figures add to our understanding of Putin’s popularity? Based on their reasons for supporting him, is this a stable “social revolution” or not?

3. Garrels returns to the issue of how international relations influence Russians to support Putin in chapter 18. This time, she focuses on how the sanctions imposed by Western Europe and the US are impacting ordinary Russians. She notes that the sanctions are restricting Russians’ purchasing power. How does she explain the fact that this has not had the intended effect of turning Russians against Putin, but rather has strengthened their allegiance to him? Do you think Americans would respond the same way, if the situation were reversed?

4. In Chapter 10, Garrels writes about students at an elite high school. She is surprised that they are so disengaged from politics. How might the growing importance of money in Russians’ access to education incline them to support the status quo? Is the students’ apathy really such worrying sign for Russia’s future? Or is it typical of high schoolers everywhere?

5. Consider Garrels’ description of the experience of voting in a Russian election on pp. 178-179. If this were your only experience of voting, how would it affect your relationship to politics? What do you think it would take to inspire these students to become more engaged? How does this add a dimension to the issue of Putin staying in power indefinitely?

6. In Chapter 15, Garrels addresses the issue of media freedom. What methods has Putin used to curtail criticism from the media? What are the pros and cons of anti-corruption journalist Irina Gundareva’s decision to take her journalism online? How will this change the audience to which she has access? On p.177, Garrels asks Gundareva why she takes the risks that she does. Can you analyze Gundareva’s answer? What makes her different from the students in the previous chapter, who didn’t want to get involved?

7. Another journalist Garrels interviewed says that the real problem for the Russian media isn’t censorship—it’s self-censorship. How does this self-censorship work? What makes it potentially a greater problem than official censorship? Remember the “Central Committee Resolution on the Journals Zvezda and Leningrad,” which criticized the authors Akhmatova and Zoshchenko. That document was pretty clear about why censorship was necessary and beneficial for the Soviet Union. Why do you think Putin has taken a different tactic in censoring the media today?

8. Garrels warns us not to dismiss Russians who believe state media reports as uneducated or stupid. She gives us an example: Tamara Mairova, a retired engineer. Make a close reading of Garrels’ description of Mairova on p.186-187. Why does Mairova choose to believe state media?  How has “free” Western media contributed to the problem? This might not be just a Russian problem, either. Can you relate it to the media environment in the United States in the past five years? Are we also at risk of a media breakdown?

9. Let’s turn to Julia Ioffe’s article “Net Impact,” about Alexei Navalny. Ioffe begins by describing a debate between Navalny and a Putin-friendly Duma deputy named Evgeny Fedorov. How does Navalny manage to make Fedorov look foolish? What does this reveal both about the role of new media in Russian politics and about Navalny’s personality? Do you think his personality will eventually undercut his activism, or is he precisely the right person for this role? Would you categorize Navalny’s crowd-sourced reporting as journalism or as politics by other means?

10. Before starting his blog, one of Navalny’s first political moves was to start a movement called Da (Yes)! What was “Da!”? How was it good training for his future as an anti-corruption blogger? How might the way it ended have prompted Navalny to turn to blogging? Can you assess the pros and cons of in-person vs. online activism? (This is similar to Question 6, and you may like to answer them together.)

11. After blogging for a while, Navalny started RosPil. RosPil’s success seems to counter Garrels’ claim that Russians are wary of getting involved in politics. How does its setup enable people to speak out against corruption without feeling like they’re doing anything too “political”? What are pros and cons of this model?

12. In many ways, Navalny comes across as a hero. But he has a dark side: his nationalism. It got him kicked out of Yabloko in the early 2000s, and it still influences his work today. Consider how Navalny explains his position on the last page of the pdf (first column). What do you make of his claims here? If you were a Russian who supported Navalny’s anti-corruption blogging, but found his nationalism unacceptable, what would you do?

13. Finally, let’s explore Jeff Sharlet’s article “Inside the Iron Closet.” Sharlet notes that in Western Europe and the US, there has been a steady increase in acceptance for LGBTQ+ people since the early 1990s. Why has Russia not followed that trajectory? How has Russia’s history in this period shaped its response to gay rights? How might the development of anti-Western attitudes that Garrels described have influenced Russians to accept anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric coming from their government?

14. Where is Putin in this story? We know that nothing becomes law in Russia without his approval, and at times he does speak in favor of homophobic agendas. But this doesn’t seem to be a top priority for him. How can we understand Putin’s approach here in strategic terms? How does it serve him politically? What do you think of how activist Elena Kostyuchenko’s explains this issue to Sharlet? Ultimately, does it matter whether Putin is genuinely homophobic? Why or why not?

15. One of Kustyuchenko’s actions was a kiss-in protest, which she and others staged at the Russian Duma. How does this relate to the activism of Soviet dissidents in the 1960s, particularly the 1966 Constitution Day Protest? In your analysis, is this form of protest more or less effective in contemporary Russia than it was in the Soviet Union?

16. Kostyuchenko says that LGBTQ+ activism in Russia follows one of two philosophies: educate or “stop trying to get everyone to like us.” Can you unpack these two ideas? What are the pros and cons of each? Which do you support and why? (You should answer this specifically for Russia, but you may answer it in a more global framework, as well.)

17. Russia’s 2013 anti-gay law is framed in terms of protecting children and families. How do the personal stories in this article undercut that claim? Many of Sharlet’s interviewees, particularly the ones with children, see emigration as their only option. What are the long term consequences for Russian society if the queer community goes into exile? Do countries with more enlightened perspectives have an obligation to pressure Russia to change its laws? Given the international situation, would that do more good or more harm?

10 Replies to “Vanguard Video! Leah’s Video for Putin’s Social Revolution (Week 13, Day 1)”

  1. To discuss question 13 and a bit of question 14. It seems that in the 1990s when the US and Western Europe began to increase acceptance for LGBTQ+, Russia was dealing with government and economic instability. Whereas in the US for example, the 1990s shared their share of tragedy, but the economy was quite good and jobs were aplenty. It seems that in times of relative comfort it is easier to become more accepting of the people around, because animosity is low and people have what they want and need. However, in Russia it was an incredibly scary time, and in scary times governments and people usually look for something or someone to blame. In this case it seems to be labeled as “Western ideals” and a call from Putin to return to traditional values, i.e. straight values. By equating Western ideals to pro LGBTQ+ or anything else, by saying anti- Western it automatically includes that. Putin does not even need to say homophobic or anti-gay or whatever, all he has to say is a return to traditional values, and it gives Russians that just was stability the pass to hate, and for the government to pass oppressive laws. By pressing the narrative that a return to traditional values it sounds nice because traditional and comforting kinda go together, but its a static way of thinking. In the U.S. many politicians or people will think back to the 1950s as a time of traditional values, comfort, and stability, a time that we should “go back to”. Yet, in reality the 1950s was a highly oppressive time for everyone that was not a white male. It’s quite scary to hear people say that, as there are great things about traditions, but they need to be shaped just as time moves on.

  2. Although Mairova is “a retired engineer at a military factory, and highly educated,” she fell for the trap that is state television (186). She chooses to believe state media because they portray information that she sees as facts with reasoning against anything that questions that legitimacy of the information. If the state media are able to illustrate the West as pushing falsehoods, they can portray themselves as the only reliable source. Mairova already had a hatred for the West when her military factory was destroyed by management selling off “whatever they could” because she connects the destruction to Boris Yeltsin and his Western advisers (186). The state media feeds into her already available hatred of the West to strengthen her belief in what information they are perpetuating. “Free” Western media also contributes to this problem by skewing its reports like in the Ukraine situation which Russians can point to in confirmation that the West lies.
    Mairova’s situation is all too familiar to the United States media environment when the United States’ media tries to perpetuate partisan ideals for issues. Fox News has basically become a spokes channel for Donald Trump by consistently avoiding reporting on negative aspects of Trump and feeding into the cult establishment that supports Trump. When they need to report on both sides of the issue, Fox News resorts to interviewing misinformed representations of liberal ideas or ridicules the other side. It is great for the viewership, but the people watching, and consuming Fox News are like Mairova. Some are highly educated, yet they fall into the traps that the opposition are out to get them. CNN News also plays a part in the media environment. From the multiple times that I have seen them interview doctors or nurses this past month, they skew the questions to get answers that they think their viewership would want. I do not think we are at risk of a media breakdown because the media is still free in the United States despite any attempts to restrict it due to our system of checks and balances and because of the abundance of media available to be consumed that responsible consumers can reasonably sort through.

  3. “It is better to die standing up than to live on your knees.” With every sunrise, Navalny chooses to accept the fact that his willingness to face Goliath will, most likely, result in him horrifically becoming a martyr. Navalny is in the beautifully daunting position of impending doom. The self inflicted impending doom forces him to face opposition with complete preparation and controlled passion. Fedorov’s elephant of a yellow folder did not accompany Navalny to the radio booth, Navalny must run through the opponent with the lance of his prepared memory recall. Navalny has chosen a life that makes history. If Navalny falters, he falls. Whether it is debating an United Russia Duma member on a radio podcast or putting his own monetary stability on the line to challenge the oil company that produces 93% of Russia’s most influential resource, Navalny places his existence in the balance to see out the explosion of the debilitating corruption from his beloved motherland. Yes, the silent frozen tundra of a cement prison cell may end up being his deathbed, but, Navalny lived a life alive, something many of us will never experience.

  4. Tamara Mairova and her unquestioning loyalty to the Russian state media is surprisingly relatable for most people. Americans, just as Russians, share the same love for their country and often refuse to believe that they could be the aggressors. No one wants to believe their home or community could be capable of wrongdoing. Mairova’s way of thinking is in line with many in the United States, where topics such as slavery and the treatment of indiginous peoples are often “hush hush”. A lot of people also entertain their own ideals with media in the same way as Mairova. People on the left and right in the United States often only subscribe to outlets that share their views, only reaffirming their own bias.

  5. 16.
    To educate is to inform the public about the LGBTQ+ community. Explain that what two partners do in love, will not hurt others. Two women, men, non-binary, etc. kissing isn’t going to effect others lives. The pros to educating are that people will learn that non heterosexual relationships don’t harm others, that it’s not an act against religion, and they aren’t doing it to spite others. The cons are that some people don’t want to be educated because it takes up their time and they don’t care enough to learn.
    The approach of “stop trying to get everyone to like us” is to just be theirselves and not care about what others think. To do this it may also lead to others not caring, or more so finally leaving them alone, about the LGBTQ+ community and not harassing the community anymore. The pros to this is that it is an individualistic view and it shows strength to not care what others think about oneself. The cons are that people may not stop harassing and assaulting etc. the LGBTQ+ community and people would continue to harm the community.
    I support a mix of both ideals. It is important to educate people on something they are not informed on or incorrectly informed on, but again some people my not want to learn. It is important, too, to not care about what others think of you, but that can still lead to the LGBTQ+ community being abused.

  6. In regards to question 17 on Russian’s 2013 anti-gay law, I believe the personal stories undercut the claim that is made in a few ways. If they were to go into exile no one would learn about their ways and values, but also they would be pleasing others and not themselves. When it comes to the LGBTQ community, the couples want to be out, but they are scared and have to teach their children to be careful or they will be used as a weapon. I believe that other countries do not have the right to pressure Russia into changing their laws, but instead the people of Russia not lie like Sasha in order to bring the boy home. Kirill stated, “I love Russia. This is their experience, not mine.” And that made me think that bringing in other countries because of their enlightenments is not the right side because it is not “their experience” in Russia.

  7. In response to question 5:
    If this was my first experience with voting and politics I very likely would never vote again or I would seriously consider it. The student protests were as a result of feeling like they did not have a voice or a say in their own government, which seems to be very much the case. Ultimately their protests failed not because of a lack of support but because of a lack of organization. What is interesting about these demonstrations is that they ultimately realized that their was no other candidate. This is important because this lends to the issue of Putin staying in office indefinitely. Sure people can be unhappy about it and demand change, but at the end of the day they replace him if they actually do believe that he is the only candidate.

  8. Question 10
    Da! was an organization that he founded with Maria Gaidar. It wanted to help the younger generations engage in politics and educate those who were born after communism about the government. They hosted debates to get people interested. Since the media isn’t free, they wanted people to feel free to speak their minds and discuss political issues. Loffe writes that the debates gave way to the development of rivalries and allegiances that Putin tried to dissolve. I think it was good training for him and his future because he saw how engaged people were and could be if the media was not censored. He wanted to get people interested and educated on political things. His career now as an anti-corruption lawyer and activist does just that. He tries to combat the government by exposing all of the things the regime tries to hide. I think the way that it ended, with interruptions of neo-nazis and football teams who wanted to fight, caused him to turn to online blogging. I think that his online persona is a safer way to get his points across because it can reach a wider audience and it is less dangerous than to be in person. In-person, he is more likely to be arrested or even killed if he spoke about this to a crowd of people. He would also risk getting more people hurt or be in danger. It is way safer for him and everyone if it is online.

  9. In response to question 4:
    Since the Russian economy is shrinking, and many schools having a fee to enroll, it seems that more and more people are more worried about choosing the right field that could secure a stable job. However, it is very concerning how students show little to not interest in politics, as stated in page 105, a student stated “That is not for us to think about. It is the government, which is wiser than us, will decide”. This was in regards to a American teacher showing student TED talk videos and asking their opinion on them. Although it is very common for high school students anywhere across the globe to be disengage in politics. There are many reasons for this, such as not being able to comprehend fully on politics or not take interest because its an “adult” thing, but the situation in Russia is serious and alarming. The fact that a student claimed the government is wiser and they are in charge of making decisions, it could severely impact Russias future. With already corrupt admissions and school administrations, it looks like Russian students are not taking studies serious and are really not concern or thinking about the negative impact they can impose on their future. As an education major, I have stated that the current U.S. education system needs serious reforms to improve the outcome, but in Russias case, they definitely need to invest heavily in education. Not only is getting a decent education pricey, but the outdated Soviet technologies and school materials/buildings need serious modernization in order to see a change in the education system and outcome of students future.

  10. Question 5:
    I agree a lot with what Casey has said, especially how he brought up the fact that Putin has never really had an opponent which would be the first step in replacing him. Garrles talks about a thaw, much like that initiated by Krushrev, but does not talk about a way to successfully implement it. I think if a thaw in order to repeal insane laws passed by the Putin administration, the first step is sadly to replace Putin which seems impossible. However, I thought this section of Garrels book was really surprising, especially when I read about the protest of thousands of people without any media coverage. This is an example of how unorganized their movement was, but then again it is pretty hard to plan and be prepared for a spur of the moment protest. I think the story she tells about students lying about who they voted for to authorities is amazing. I think one way to engage more students in voting would be to explaining the meaning of this story; which would be don’t give up there is always a way to share your voice. As for how this would affect my voting experience I would have to disagree with Casey. By changing who your really voted for or by forcing who you choose it kind of becomes a challenge that I would like to accept. I think the story of the students outsmarting the officers is somewhat inspirational, although I do understand that it wouldn’t always be that easy.

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