Civic atomization is the foundation on which Russia’s political stability rests. And the regime is sounder than it might appear: even with low oil prices, passivity and atomization prevent dissatisfaction from taking a political turn, at least for the time being. Social atomization pervades all spheres of life, including culture and art. This issue of Pro et Contra is dedicated to the ‘political’ in that particular space, which itself lies beyond the realm of politics proper.
A Regime of Isolation
While identifying some ‘Soviet’ aspects of the contemporary Russian regime, the observer may get a false sense of deja vu. Holdover elements from the Soviet past, with their various histories and functions, are re-thought and re-styled for the present day. They are contaminated in these new conditions by the internal life of the country and the differing external environment, built into new frameworks and re-conceptualized within those frameworks to serve different purposes. Researchers, then, require new tools of analysis to address these products of initial and crude reflection by official ‘political technologists’ and media managers on the Soviet past.
The ‘creeping’ disintegration of symbolic orders has the paradoxical effect among the cultural elites of inspiring nostalgia for the recent past of the 2000s, when Soviet images, whether seen positively or ironically, were at the center of the semiotic universe. During that period, phantasms of the Soviet served for ‘conventional’ apotheosis (or anti-apotheosis). We may in fact be witnessing the end of an esthetic era, and in the future images of apotheosis will involve wholly different symbolic constructs.
The Political ‘Scripting’ of Culture
In the post-war Soviet modern art scene, connections to past generations of artists were easily found in the descriptions and memoirs of the artists, as well as in the art itself. Practitioners of non-conformist art took care to leave ‘signposts’ pointing to the Russian and European avantgarde. Today’s Russian artists, on the other hand, indicate no connection to their predecessors. If the contemporary art process has any reference points at all, they are found in the world of exhibitions and, predominantly, the markets of the European art scene.
The Russian Orthodox Church: Competitive Elections
The church-state relationship under the new Patriarch is unlikely to be idyllic. Kirill has two ‘extreme’ strategies vis-a-vis the state: either walk a thin, diplomatic line, aiming to minimize conflict, or take a stronger position, based on the claim that most religious Russians identify with Orthodoxy. The most likely outcome, however, is a middle path, pragmatically combining the Church’s aim of becoming a more effective partner of the state, while more actively lobbying for its own interests.
A Secret Reform
The designers of military reforms prefer not to explain the thinking behind their proposals, fearing that too much sunshine would make them vulnerable. Reform threatens the ulterior interests of a large and highly influential group of military bureaucrats. The problem is not limited to the elimination of 14,000 jobs in the central apparatus. A radical reduction in objects and processes to be managed will drastically reduce opportunities for ‘non-targeted expenditures.’
Where East Meets West: European Gas and Ukrainian Reality
Edward Chow and Jonathan Elkind
Despite this resource potential, strategic location, and existing infrastructure, the country struggles with energy security. The reasons are an incomplete transition to market economics, chronic underinvestment, and profound opaqueness of policymaking, which fuels corruption. Seventeen years after the break-up of the Soviet Union, the energy economy of independent Ukraine is still frozen in seemingly permanent transition.
Russia in the 20th Century: Sources, Beginnings and Ends
The greatest criticism of the ‘liberals’ is not for the democrats’ fetish for the years of perestroika, but rather for their strategic choice. Betting on a direct sprint to the levers of executive power, led by a charismatic leader, and then on collaboration in power with a new generation of state bureaucrats, where their own role was subordinate. It would be preferable, probably, to insist on an independent role in politics as constructive opposition, giving the reformers in a coalition government their ‘conditional support.’