Saturday, October 31, 2015

Russia, the Eighth Largest Economy in the World, will Soon Rank 30th, Movchan Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 31 – Russia’s economy is stagnating and will continue to do so for decades, causing the country to fall further and further behind the rest of the world,  declining over time from its current standing as the eighth largest economy in the world to the position of 30th or lower, according to Moscow financial analyst Andrey Movchan.

            He says this trend and its consequences were all unexpected 15 years ago. Then, given the influx of money, most assumed the Russian economy would expand and “Russia would become a civilized country” without corruption, with political competition, and with businessmen actively influencing legislation (

            None of those expectations have proved true, Movchan says. Instead, Russia has fallen back to where it was at the end of the 1990s and risks remaining there “for decades.”  It might have escaped that by relying on small and mid-sized business” but the government chose not to use it. Instead, “the role of the state in economics only grew.”

             That trend appears likely to continue with big business and the state fusing ever more closely to one another, but unless the state bans entrepreneurial activity as such – something even the KPRF is against – small companies will continue to thrive, albeit only at the very lowest levels.

            Unfortunately, Movchan continues, that pattern will not work its way upward very far unless there is a radical change in course at the top of the political system. In practice, private schools and clinics do not exist in Russia, even though they could have “a fantastic influence on GDP.”

            And there is going to be less investment at the top given that businessmen in Russia are skeptical about the future and those abroad view Russia with even greater skepticism and are reluctant to get involved. Moreover, efforts to stimulate growth by below-market interest rates backfire: those paying lower rates have to pay more bribes to get them, eliminating the benefit.

            Regional or metropolitan officials can do little to change this situation, and the stagnation currently in place can last for a long time as the experience of Argentina shows. Moreover, some sectors do work, and US has advantages given its nuclear arsenal and UN veto which gives it the chance to intimidate or destabilize others.

            But to get out of the current trap, Movchan says, Russia needs “either a catastrophe or a change of elites, who would then take on themselves the courage to carry out radical reforms. If we remain in a complete economic blockade, the price of oil falls toward zero, and we trend toward the level of Ukraine, changes are inevitable.”

            Russia might get lucky – countries sometimes do as China and the USSR did at one point -- the financial analyst says, but he adds that he is not optimistic and believes that “the most likely scenario for the future of Russia is stagnation for many years ahead.”

Putin Children’s Movement Likely to Be a New ‘Hitler Youth,’ Russian Children’s Writer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 31 – Vladimir Putin clearly chose October 29th to sign an order creating the Russian Pupil’s Movement because that is the anniversary of the day in 1918 when the Soviet state created the Komsomol. But the new group, Eduard Uspensky says, is more likely to resemble a new Hitler Youth than that structure from Soviet times.

            According to Putin’s decree, the purpose of the new movement is “the improvement of state policy in the area of training the rising generation and supporting the formation of the personality on the basis of the system of values characteristic of Russian society,” and it will function under the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs.

            But the decision to place the new group under that agency suggests what it will really be about.  Sergey Pospelov, the agency’s head, declared that “the state must train children because the state needs this, and one must not be shy about saying so” (

            When this Russian agency was in charge of the Nashi movement, that group burned in effigy journalist Nikolay Svanidze and rights activist Lyudmila Alekseyeva, evidence of what the state wanted given that for the four years of its existence, the youth agency provided Nashi with more than 460 million rubles.

            Will the new group be like that? There seems to be a very good chance, says. Putin’s order talks about how the group will be funded, subordinated and led by parents. What it doesn’t do is to talk about what is supposed to be the most important player – the children.

            Russian children’s writer Eduard Uspensky said he is concerned that the children will soon be marching around city squares “with slogans like ‘Long Live Putin!’” The country doesn’t need a new Komsomol, although it could certainly benefit if more money went to support camps and other childhood activities.

            The question now is whether the new group will “fall into the hands of the Nashi people” and thus become a Russian analogue to the Hitler Youth, or whether – and Uspenskay said this was “improbable” – it will be led by “normal people” and become a kind of Russian Boy Scout movement. The Federal Agency for Youth “will make it a Hitler Youth.”

            Russian young people are now a highly fragmented group. They sit at home and interact relatively little, even though Russian children have traditionally developed best in collective settings, Uspensky says.  But of course, the question of questions is what kind of collective settings these are to be.

            Another Russian children’s writer, Grigory Oster, is even more skeptical about this new group.  “I cannot trust the state with the education of children … [from my youth] I know how this works. It is terrible.”  And it will be terrible regardless of what “the secret desires” of the organizers are.

Victor Serge Again Triumphs over Arthur Koestler

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 31 – Two images of Stalin’s Great Terror have long competed in the West and even in some former communist countries. The first, offered by Arthur Koestler in his novel “Darkness at Noon,” views what happened as rationalistic with a minus sign, the product of a single intelligence, and focused on the elites.

            The second, offered by Victor Serge in his novel “The Case of Comrade Tulayev,” suggests that what happened was far less rational, was put in motion by one man (Stalin) but then rapidly metasticized as subordinates competed for preferment, and involved not just a limited number of elite victims but large portions of the population.

            Despite all the documentation provided by Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Robert Conquest among others, many prefer Koestler’s image to Serge’s, not only because it allows them to reduce the extent of the horror of the Great Terror to something more intellectually manageable that they can then excuse if not justify.           

            But now as terror is once again spreading through Russia under Vladimir Putin, it is increasingly clear that Serge had the more profound insight into that phenomenon because what is taking place now, while set in train by Putin, is becoming even more horrific as his subordinates compete for preferment and as the number of the victims is increasing.

            Although he does not mention either Koestler or Serge, Ukrainian commentator Vitaly Portnikov draws attention to the importance of this distinction in his discussion of the latest persecution of the Library of Ukrainian Literature in Moscow by the Russian authorities (

                This action, Portnikov suggests, may appear to some be a kind of “diabolic” effort by the Kremlin to demonize all Ukrainians.  “But in fact, this is simply a careerist move, the pursuit of higher ranks” and other benefits by lower-ranking Russian officials who, although inspired by their bosses, often are acting in their own “creative” ways.

            Moscow’s Library of Ukrainian Literature hardly was a disseminator of radical anti-Russian views, Portnikov says, even though some of the thousands of Ukrainians in the Russian capital donated books to it and were proud that there was at least one institution there bearing the name “Ukrainian.”

            But that was too much for the hurrah patriots of Russia, and their latest attack on the library and its head, Natalya Sharina, resembles nothing so much as moves by “some kind of ‘fraternal parties’ in North Korea,” people who imitate political activity and “then for this very same imitation send people to the camps.”

            According to Portnikov, Sharina did everything she could to reduce the Ukrainian library to the status of yet another district library; but that wasn’t enough: “Vladimir Vladimirovich says that Russians and Ukrainians are one people and therefore it is clear to every patriot that there are no Ukrainians.”

            But somehow in the center of Moscow there is a library which is “called Ukrainians and which has literature in a funny language. “What if the children should see it?” That reflection was enough for investigators to conclude that “Ukrainian and extremist are practically one and the same thing,” and to ensure they’d find what they needed by taking it with them.

            That didn’t take a decision in the Kremlin as those who accept what Koestler wrote might think; instead, such an action happened as earlier actions did in Serge’s novel, with the leader giving a direction and then those below seeking to fulfill and overfulfill the plan by finding ever new targets.

            Because that is so, it is impossible to limit the blame to either Putin or Stalin. They may bear primary responsibility, but they are surrounded by what some have described in another context as “willing executioners.” In the absence of a concerted effort, it will thus be far more difficult to overcome this pattern than many assume.