Al Jazeera On Elections And White Ribbons

Russia’s winter of discontent? from Al Jazeera’s Stream. Overall, fairly balanced. I appear at 8:50 to ask a question about the suspicious timing – two months before the actual elections – of the creation of the website promoting the White Ribbon as the symbol of the anti-Kremlin protests.

Generally speaking, I’m skeptical about the more grandiose claims of foreign involvement in the discontent. But the White Ribbon does seem to fit the bill: It’s a nice memorable meme (i.e. a good revolutionary symbol), it’s site is under a .com domain, etc. But there’s one problem – whichever idiot came up with it didn’t bother tracking down its negative historic connotations. So no wonder it hasn’t really been catching on (despite the best efforts of our good friend Edward Lucas).


  1. alexander mercouris says:

    Dear Anatoly,

    The discussion had its good moments and your point about the White Ribbon (which I notice seemed to rather faze the panel) was a good one.

    One point I do want to take strong issue with is the suggestion repeated by the panel that what we are looking at is some sort of rising of the middle class. This thesis is in my opinion a crude form of pseudo Marxism, which has now been repeated by Hillary Clinton no less. There is no support for it in the election results and it implies the frankly unpleasant idea that working class people unlike presumably middle class people do not care about such things as corruption and vote rigging, which are what the people in Moscow are protesting about.

    Speaking from London I would say that what unites the protesters is not that they are middle class but that they are well educated and young. In every society young people with a higher education tend to be amongst the social groups that are politically the most radical and the most active, a fact noticed even by Aristotle long ago. Experience also shows that as young people grow older they become less radical and more conservative and less active. There is no reason to think that Russia is any different from anywhere else.

    • The protest turnout in Russia was quite small. The under 30,000 in Moscow on Saturday (150,000 claims are absurd and easy to disprove with some simple analysis of stills) are not evidence of youth discontent. If you want to see youth discontent then look at the France riots by young Muslims who are ghettoized as 2nd class citizens. The scale of those riots was vast compared to the theatrics of some professional idiots in Russia.

      The real story of the election was that UR got pummeled in the regions where it got under 35% of the vote. All of yammering about vote fraud fixates on Moscow as if it is some sort of prototype for the rest of the country. The average Russian voter had a chance to express themselves through the ballot box and they did. Yabloko and the liberasts are not the ones with all the initiative. The western media and Al Jazeera, run out of the US satellite Qatar, are just pushing this meme since they want to rob Russians of their voice and impose a comprador regime in Russia.

      I expect there to be lots of false flag psyops around the March election. This is the only way the west can continue with the whole “Russians don’t like dictator Putin” BS story. Prokhorov and the rest don’t stand a chance (60 hour work week, really!?). So ballots will be stuffed but not by Putin’s henchmen, but 5th columnists doing the bidding of their foreign masters. AK has already produced a fine example of such a case for the Duma election in North Ossetia. No f*cking way that UR would have some idiot apply the same percentage split at multiple ballot stations. But nevertheless there were such cases, which serve quite nicely to discredit the whole process.

      • alexander mercouris says:

        Dear Kirill,

        Viz your comments about “youth discontent” I want to be very clear. I am NOT suggesting that Russian youth are especially discontented. On the contrary the kind of activism we saw last Saturday (and I agree with you about the numbers) can only happen when young people are self confident. That comes across in many of the interviews with the protesters and in a round about way was also touched on by Putin himself in his television marathon yesterday. They are not worried about their futures and their jobs (unlike their parents who are still scarred by the experience of the 1990s) and therefore they feel able to protest. Such activism is a commonplace and is not usually dangerous unless the authorities overreact to it!

        Protests of the sort that happen when people are really angry are very different. Look at Egypt or Athens or even some of the Occupy protests in the US.

        There is one point I would make however. This is that every survey I have seen about corruption in Russia suggests that where people most encounter it is in the health system and in the higher university sector. Though I am generally dubious about such surveys there might be something in this. If so could it possibly explain at least in part some of the motivation for the protest?

      • Agreed. I’ve only one point to make. “ballots will be stuffed but not by Putin’s henchmen, but 5th columnists doing the bidding of their foreign masters”

        Henchmen have a tendency to become 5th columnists.

  2. I only had time to read highlights from Putin’s 4-hour teleconference. His tone seemed to be that he acknowledged some of the reasons for discontent, while mostly dismissing the demonstrations as foreign meddling. His mocking of the “white ribbon” as a condom was lame: he should have used Anatoly’s point that this is the banner of the Nazi “politsai”. On the whole, though, this is probably the right tone for Putin, and may resonate with the broad working-class center that is his base. If he shows any weakness, then West will go even more on offensive. Like in Arabic proverb: “When the limping lion sees vultures circling overhead, then he must put a little more bounce into his step.” Putin’s exchange with American Senator John McCain was unpleasant, but necessary. He pointed out (correctly) that McCain was driven into bloodlust by Gaddafy’s ugly death on you-tube and now, like a serial killer, wants to witness more and more of such spectacles. If McCain had the chance to watch Putin being ripped apart by a Russian mob, then he could finally feel avanged and die a happy man.
    During next 4 months Western propaganda machine will be driven into a frenzy by impending Russian presidential election. They will do anything they can think of to try to prevent Putin from returning to power. Therefore there is a real danger of an artificially sparked violent revolt and “white” revolution. Provocateurs would try to provoke Russian authorities into using force, then Western governments can whip out their usual tricks: arrest warrants for Hague, economic sanctions, freezing of bank accounts, Russian officials declared non grata, Russian Duma declared illegitimate, etc. Unfortunately Europeans have proved that they have no spine, they will go along with this in lockstep with Americans. Already, the German parliament has declared that they do not recognize legitimacy of Russian Duma elections. So it is beginning already, and I assure everybody that Al Jazeera will be in the front lines of this propaganda war, egging everybody on, just like they did in Libya. Putin is in for a few tough months ahead, this will be a real judo competition for him, he must be very careful, if he makes even one tiny tactical mistake, then his enemies will pounce.

    • Russia should impose sanctions on Germany. This sort of “act of war” meddling is not to be tolerated. I guess the idiot German politicians (the same ones that decided and pushed for closing all their nuclear plants) think Russia is dependent on Germany. They are wrong and they should pay the price. The second stage of Nord Stream should not be built but at the same time the volumes of gas shipped through Ukraine need to be reduced. Too bad for the Russia haters in Europe.

  3. grafomanka says:

    Whie ribbon – such a stupid idea. They should have at least tried to reclaim the Russian flag.

    • Some genius in American state dept must have thought that one up. Or maybe one of those bright young minds at OTPOR.

  4. After reading a bunch of comments on INOSMI I changed my mind about Putin’s “condom” joke being lame. There were so many funny remarks that I cannot imagine now people continuing to don the white ribbons without feeling a sense of embarrassment. Here is a good one referring to an “Echo Moskvy” program, Gusman adapted the oldest joke in the world — in the original, the Native American child’s name is “Broken Condom”, but he changed it to “White Ribbon”; as the commenter notes, the moderator, Vorobyova knew the punchline even before the first setup and tried to cut it off, but to no avail:

    wolfr:”Эхо Москвы”: Белая Ленточка
    16/12/2011, 10:33
    Радиостанция Эхо Москвы, передача “Кейс”, время выхода в эфир – 15.12.11 20:07

    Ведущая – И.Воробьева
    Участники – Ю.Гусман,Т.Олевский

    Ю. ГУСМАН – Вообще с именами в Америке удивительное творится. Я прошу извинить моих друзей из Америки, там есть жуткая история. Однажды маленький индеец спрашивает у матери: мама, почему мою сестру зовут Восходящее Солнце. Потому что она была зачата при восходе солнца.

    И. ВОРОБЬЕВА – Я знаю. Я не хочу слышать про белую ленточку.

    Ю. ГУСМАН – А почему зовут Синий Цветок. Она была зачата в васильках. И хватить приставать ко мне, Белая Ленточка. В оригинале была Рваная Резинка. Пардон. Стала Белой Ленточкой. Это тоже история из жизни коренных американцев.

    Т. ОЛЕВСКИЙ – Кто первый запатентует название для контрацептивов Белая ленточка…

    Анекдот-то старый.. Вон, даже ведущая заранее концовку знала.. )))

  5. alexander mercouris says:

    For anyone interested I see from their website that the Communists have revived the famous anti alcohol poster of the 1950s of a young man rejecting a glass only this time he’s rejecting the White Ribbon.

  6. “Generally speaking, I’m skeptical about the more grandiose claims of foreign involvement in the discontent.”

    What constitutes “grandiose”? Most of the major players from the Rose and Orange revolutions were present in the background, and of them the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute were established by the Reagan administration as fronts for CIA money after the earlier generation of such front organizations was exposed by Rampart Magazine, the New York Times and an investigation headed by Senator Frank Church. That these organizations are working in the best interests of the Russian population as a whole is about as believable as a story that Kremlin-funded socialist organizations discovered holding motivational training camps for American youth in the Congressional elections would be if they claimed to be working in the best interests of Americans.

    The vital revolutionary component missing in the Russian demonstrations (I refuse to do the western media’s heavy lifting for it by referring to it as The White Revolution) is a cohesive and organized youth movement. In Georgia, Kmara’s shepherding and street theatre performances helped coalesce protest and use it as a blunt instrument to ram Saakashvili straight into the President’s chair. In Ukraine, Pora fulfilled the identical purpose for Yushchenko. In both instances, the youth organizations relied on reports of significant discrepancies in the exit polls to light the fuse of revolution. Sound familiar?

    Such a youth movement in Russia does not exist, and if it did it would probably be offset by Nashi. Perhaps that’s why western media reports consistently refer to the Russian protesters as “mostly young people”, in hopes it will take on the momentum of self-fulfilling prophesy. But in both the Rose and the Orange revolutions, the youth activist movements were started up a couple of years before the elections. It’s too late to get anything liike that done before March, although an attempt might be made anyway. I’d bet on acts of civil disobedience (much easier to carry out with small groups) which have the potential to flare up and turn ugly when the authorities try to disperse them. All it’ll take is one protester photographed with blood running down his face being carried off by a couple of cops, and that’ll provide the catalyst. Or would, if there was a large activist youth movement.

    If Russian foreign policy was my job, it would be a pretty damned cold winter in Germany. Maybe Merkel needs a revolutionary activist movement of her own to keep her busy. That shouldn’t be hard, given Germans’ discontent at constantly having to bail out the rest of the Eurozone’s spendthrift economies.

  7. I think you have inadvertently coined a nice new word. “Perverted + strange” = “Prange”. Fits these CIA coups quite well. The one in Ukraine fizzled out after a few years. They won’t be able to pull the same stunt in Russia today. That 1,000 protester turnout last Saturday should show these meddling morons that Russians ain’t drinking their koolaid. I mean seriously, they couldn’t even get the same group out for a second time. If anything, they would be trying to build up momentum with as many demonstrations as possible (like Syria and other revolutions). But there is no traction because there is no real cause, just some BS about exit polls proving massive fraud.

    To put some perspective on this whole meddling farce, the powers that want regime change in Russia are trying to convince Russians that the nutbar fringe is their only voice. Imagine anyone trying to do this in the USA or EU. Russian political culture has evolved enough that Russians are aware of who are the fringe and there is enough voice given to the electorate by the current system regardless of its problems. A for these problems, I would say that degenerating into a 1.5 party regime like in the USA is a much bigger problem than Putin’s dominance in popularity. Nobody in the USA is whining that FDR’s stint as president ruined the country. Neither do the vast majority of Canadians think Trudeau screwed up the country.

    Russia has major problems, such as the lack of respect for law including by the law enforcers, but this is not Putin’s fault and requires a much longer development of Russian society. Changing regimes every few years to please foreign meddlers is only going to make this worse and not better. The whole corruption in Russia schtick in the western media is truly a joke. They claim it has gotten worse since 1999 and then expect to be taken seriously in anything else they say. Meanwhile the massive corruption in Georgia seems to have evapourated if you would take the media non-reporting at face value. In reality it is still there. Russian youth and adults understand these issues and are not going to hit the streets in droves like little children wanting some fairy tale to come true. It’s too bad for the west, but Russia’s economy is too advanced and growing fast enough to not leave some underclass feeling no hope and with nothing to lose. Such an underclass is essential for revolutions as was the case in 1917 and probably in many underdeveloped states today.

    • You see, this is what I don’t get about all the cries that “Russia needs a real, credible opposition party, Russians need more choice”. Choice of what? Stability, or….instability? The dominant – by virtue of its volume – narrative is trying to equate stability with stagnation, as if stability were something to be cast aside in favour of volatility. I can just imagine the response if Russia were to suggest that to someone else.

      I get that a “loyal opposition” which will keep the government in line is desirable, but a lot of the talk today is that a powerful opposition is needed simply so it can overthrow the government. To what end? What is the opposition going to promise to make itself more appealing than the government? Prosperity? Done that; check. National security? Check. Energy policy? Check. Rule of law and legal reform? Working on it, and I’d love to see the opposition’s realistic plan for achieving it faster. Buy everyone a pony? Okay, maybe that.

      I’ve seen opposition parties all over the world, here included, talk up bizarre plans that have no more chance of getting off the ground than the return of the Bronze Age. That’s because opposition parties know the likelihood of them ever having to prove their plan will work is practically non-existent. So they can offer all sorts of nutty initiatives like “wipe out the national debt in three weeks” or “go from a net energy importers to a net energy exporter in a year”. And what they learn about actual governance while drawing up these harebrained schemes, you could put in your eye and never notice. Is that what Russia needs? An opposition that will promise feelgood initiatives it knows it will never have to deliver?

      I’m confident if any opposition party in Russia today offered a vision to move the country forward that was so breathtaking in its inspiration and scope, while at the same time so daring and achievable and beneficial that everyone could grasp it and see how it would work, no amount of vote-rigging or electoral dirty tricks would prevent that party from sweeping to victory. And the fact that no opposition party did so is strongly suggestive that no such vision was evident.

      I totally get that choice is indispensable when the government is ruining the country – after the reign of Yushchenko in Ukraine, Yanukovich looked like a million bucks, didn’t he? But when the country is racking up surpluses while paying down its debt to nothing, as well as increasing the standard of living for its citizens, and no opposition party offers a credible plan for improving on that performance, I’m afraid I can’t see why that government should be thrown out of office.

  8. On the topic of Al Jazeera:

    It was learned yesterday that a joint Qatari/Jordan internet provider will control internet access in Libya. Green Resistance (= pro-Gaddafy) web sites will be blocked.

    This earlier article discusses Qatari role in Libyan revolution and civil war:

    Qatar, whose gas reserves and tiny population make it one of the richest countries in the world, has long pursued an activist foreign policy, promoted by Al-Jazeera, the Doha-based satellite TV channel.

    But there was still surprise when it sent most of its air force to join NATO’s operation and delivered large quantities of what were described as defensive weapons but which included Milan anti-tank missiles to the rebels.

    Qatari Special Forces are reported to have provided infantry training to Libyan fighters in the western Nafusa Mountains and in eastern Libya. Qatar’s military even brought Libyan rebels back to Doha for exercises. And in the final assault on Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli in late August, Qatari Special Forces were seen on the frontline. Qatar also gave $400m to the rebels, helped them export oil from Benghazi and set up a TV station in Doha.

    • It’s all freedom of expression until said expression affects the freedom of the powers that be do with as they please. But I doubt Libyans will be satisfied with their new status as “free” paupers. I think Qaddafi’s legacy will be all of the welfare he generously dished out to this people. This will undermine the neo-liberal (allegedly “Islamic”, LOL) regimes trying to rule the country. You can’t touch, feel and taste “freedom”. It’s the biggest con job in history. As if handing power over to some oligarchs running a “democratic” puppet show is freedom.