Although contemporary Russian television is quite modern and professional, the spirit of the 70s is still strongly felt. Soviet discourse permeates not only political and news coverage, but also a significant portion of nonpolitical, entertainment programming.
Sovereignty by the Laws of Clips and Serials
If politics has become more and more televisual, thentelevision for its part has increasingly become a crutchfor and a hostage to government policy. The problemis not limited to the overtly propagandistic, politicallythemed broadcasts, censored and pre-recorded news,made-to-order talk shows with government-friendlypop stars, or even the selection of performers forthese set pieces. The other, entertainment portionof today’s television in Russia is itself a tool of‘effective politics’. By the end of the 1990s, televisedentertainment had already established its canon,built on two vehicles for carrying the entire visualconstruction of entertaining, non-political TV: theclip and the serial.
Virtual Politics and Russian TV
Although remindful of the so-called “stagnation”period of the Brezhnev era, today’s rules createdifferent conventions. Loyalty to the president, thepragmatic ability to engage in self-censorship, and theshared wish to re-establish the might of Russia and ofRussian national television production vis-а-vis theperceived “American colonization” of broadcasts areessential pre-conditions. Having demonstrated theirwillingness to accept and play by these rules, federalmedia managers are invited to cooperate with theKremlin on television policy and to participate inthe televised creation of the new ideology of Putin’sRussia. This is the main goal of the Kremlin’s currentengagement with television in the last years.
Vicarious Catastrophe: The Empire Watches Death of the Empire
Death of the Empire allows us a local and contingentglimpse of what might be described as an instanceof the state personality, embodied in the “imprecise”human figure of Kostin—not really Lenin, notreally Stalin, not really Putin—as well as in the veryeconomic and professional conditions of the text’sown making, its ten episodes functioning as the tracesof those self-confirming alliances and ideologicalconstraints. Among those constraints have beenmentioned the recastings of World War One and theOctober legacy to new statist criteria, normalizingthe former and demoting the latter. Of course, thespecifics are negotiated anew each time betweenthe administrators of state-owned television and afilmmaker who is both willing and able to act as a kindof broker for the state face.
Holiday Concerts: Old Rules for New TV
The concept of state nationalism, as seen in televisedholiday concerts, is evidently intended to reflect apositive Russian civic identity and is conceived asa constructive foundation for a ‘new Russia’. Thisconcept consists of stereotypical elements of Russianethno-cultural nationalism, imperiousness, andnostalgia for the USSR, while employing isolationistand militaristic motifs, such as mobilization, enemyweaponry and images of war. Holiday concerts createa mythologized image of a powerful, flourishing state,which cares for its citizens. They depict an illusoryspace of unanimity and an imagined commonality ofcause among ‘the entire nation’, providing a form ofcollective escapism for the state as a whole.
Self-Regulation by Journalists in Post-Soviet States
Journalists ubiquitously replace social responsibilitywith ‘vertical’ responsibility, in which they answerto the state. This, in turn, inevitably distances themass media from the population at large. There aretwo primary obstacles to the natural developmentof journalistic self-regulation: the underdevelopedmass media market and the underdeveloped natureof the journalistic community itself; and the lack ofa public understanding of the press as an institutionand its role in a democratic society. Although the statemay influence and even take part in the developmentof the moral principles of journalism during atransition period, these principles must be enactedand enforced by the journalists themselves. Any otherarrangement perverts the meaning of self-regulationand limits the freedom of the media.
Prospects for a Dominant Party in Russia
The active strengthening of the position of theUnified Russia party in Russian politics begs thequestion of whether Russia may evolve into a nondemocraticregime, led by a dominant party. Anexample of such a regime would be Mexico from1929 to 2000. A comparison of the conditions andfactors influencing the development of ‘parties ofpower’ in Russia and Mexico demonstrates that,despite outward similarities, there are fundamentaldifferences, which bear witness to serious obstacleson the road to dominance for any political party inRussia. These differences stem not only from thecurrent political situation, but also from deeperfactors, some of which are inalienable aspects of theRussian political regime and its chosen domestic andinternational policy agenda. A likely alternative tothe development of a party-dominated regime at thepresent moment would seem to be a personalizednon-democratic regime. Both of these options,meanwhile, contain serious threats for Russia’spolitical development.
State Sovereignty in the Context of Globalization
State sovereignty does not dissolve in the processof globalization. Rather, it changes its content andfunction, recast as a resource to be manipulated.Globalization does not narrow the space for suchmanipulations, but actually widens it. What the worldis witnessing now is not a crisis of the legal principleof state sovereignty, but a crisis of the materialconfiguration of the global economy. The politicalmap of the world is not optimal: it needs to be redrawn.Inevitably, it will be re-drawn. Indeed, it isbeing re-drawn. And there is no guarantee that theprocess will not be unending.