Archive for February, 2008

Sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind

Monday, February 25th, 2008

Back in December, over at Blog Them Out of the Stone Age, Mark Grimsley posted a brief essay by Andrew Rigney arguing that Russia’s complaints about independence for Kosovo weren’t backed up by the ability to do anything about it. I disagreed then (and said so in the comments) and I disagree now.

Russia has plenty of ways to make the US and US allies squirm by manipulating parallel cases of national self-determination. If we allow the principle that regional self-determination and popular sovereignty (of, say, the Kosovar Albanians) can trump the territorial integrity of a sovereign state (say, Serbia), then I’m not sure how we oppose the same logic in the cases Transdniester vs. Moldova, or South Ossetia and Abkhazia vs. Georgia. The Russians have drawn the same conclusion, as you can see here. I don’t know how one makes an argument with a straight face that the corrupt and violent politicians are all on the side we don’t like (Serbia, Transdniester, South Ossetia, Abkhazia) and the democratic freedom fighters are all on the side we do (Kosovo, Moldova, Georgia).

But what I did NOT see coming was how exactly Russia might play the self-determination card in Ukraine. But Russia’s TV Tsentr (program V tsentre sobytii) just ran a show on the implications of Kosovo for the national aspirations of the Tatars and Russians of the Crimea. (No internet link–my source on this is BBC Monitoring relayed in Johnson’s Russia List)

What’s done is done, but Kosovo independence was a cause best kicked down the road a few years. No pressing need to resolve the issue now, and (as we have seen) several reasons to wait.

R. Medvedev, D. Medvedev, and Bad History

Monday, February 25th, 2008

Today’s Johnson’s Russia List (#40, 25 February 2008) included a piece of bad history from Roy Medvedev, usually a much better historian. A Reuters piece
by Christian Lowe explored the dynamics of the relationship soon to be created by Dmitrii Medvedev’s forthcoming election: President Putin becomes a mere prime minister; First Deputy Prime Minister D. Medvedev becomes president.

Not only is the question of how Putin and D. Medvedev will get along an important one for Russia’s future–it’s got theoretical and intellectual interest to boot. I’ve always been interested in the dynamics of presidents and prime ministers in the weird semi-presidential systems created by post-Soviet states, but I think this one may be a first: an immensely powerful president accepting a demotion to work for his former subordinate.

How will this dual power work in practice? Beats me. But Roy Medvedev thinks it will be just fine. Why? Historical precedent. Nicholas II worked well with Stolypin, R. Medvedev claims, and Brezhnev worked well with Kosygin. I call foul.

First Nicholas II. Though committed to autocracy, he was a weak personality, disliked confrontation, and was forced into accepting Stolypin’s power by the threat of imminent regime collapse. None of this is true of Putin. And I don’t see Nicholas and Stolypin as a sterling example of cooperation. By the time Stolypin was assassinated in Kiev in 1913, Nicholas was about to fire him. And indeed, while only the glassy-eyed conspiracy theorists claim that Nicholas himself wanted Stolypin dead, it is certainly within the realm of possibility that figures from Nicholas’ regime were behind the killing. There’s no doubt that the assassin had been working for the Okhrana, though as a single, double, or triple agent is open to discussion.

Second Brezhnev. The article specifically quotes R. Medvedev as claiming “for a decade until he resigned for health reasons in 1980, Kosygin controlled the economy and represented Moscow abroad while Brezhnev ran the party.” Not quite. I’d concede that Kosygin as prime minister certainly had responsibility for the Soviet economy from 1964-1980, and early on took important foreign policy roles, like brokering a settlement of the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War and meeting with Lyndon Johnson in Glassboro, NJ in 1967.

But those roles went away. Brezhnev quickly eclipsed Kosygin on questions of foreign policy. No one suggests that Kosygin had anywhere near the influence on foreign and defense policy that Andropov, Ustinov, or Gromyko had, let alone Brezhnev himself. And while Kosygin had the power in the mid-1960s to implement his socialist-market reforms, he lacked the clout to carry them through, in large part because of Brezhnev’s unwillingness to back them. Kosygin was a lame duck by the mid-1970s.

In other words, I still don’t see any good examples of dual power working in Russian politics. Indeed, the standard meaning of dual power, the February to October 1917 interregnum, does NOT bode well, and at least some of the dynamics are quite similar to what we’ll have in Russia as of March: real power in the hands of Putin (like the Soviets); formal legitimacy for D. Medvedev (like the provisional government). 1917 and 2008 are very different times, but the division between power and responsibility is inherently unhealthy.

Review: Gender and War in 20th-Century Eastern Europe

Monday, February 18th, 2008

Gender and War in Twentieth-Century Eastern Europe. Eds. Nancy M. Wingfield and Maria Bucur. Indiana-Michigan Series in Russian and East European Studies, eds. Alexander Rabinowitch and William G. Rosenberg. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006. vii, 251 pp. Select Bibliography. Contributors. Index. Paper.

This collection of articles examines the variety of gendered experiences during the first and second world wars in Eastern Europe. The essays cover a wide spectrum of experiences and effects of war, exploring both military and civilian aspects (with emphasis on the latter). They seek to reevaluate traditional war narratives that focus heavily on men, particularly combatant men, and thus, “gender the front” (1). The book is divided into thematic sections: “challenging gender/resorting order,” “gendered collaborating and resisting,” and “remembering war: gendered bodies, gendered stories.”

Alon Rachamimov’s “’Female Generals’ and ‘Siberian Angels’: Aristocratic Nurses and the Austro-Hungarian POW Relief” demonstrates that women administrative nurses did not enjoy the positive reception of nurses who served in purely medical capacities. These women were not in auxiliary medical positions subordinate to male personnel, but rather in positions of authority assigned with the task of reporting on the conditions of the POWs within the camps and ensuring their loyalty to the Austro-Hungarian government. Rachamimov reveals the considerable gendered tension between male POWs and female administrative nurses. The men often found it difficult to accept women in positions of power over them and reacted to their presence with indifference, sullenness, and even hostility. This stands in stark contrast to the views male POWs had of women serving in purely nursing capacities, who were seen as a source of solace and comfort in their more traditional roles of caregivers and nurturers, and who held little to no authority over male personnel.