Why I Like the Russian Protests More Than the #OWS

I don’t think that the protests in Russia are going to achieve anything major in the nearest future. Putin is still going to win the next Presidential “elections” in Russia. Even if the elections are not falsified (which, as we all realize, is not likely), he will still win. Most people still like him (these are the folks who don’t read newspapers or blogs and only watch official pro-Putin channels on television). Besides, there is no opposition to speak of at the moment.

If we are to see any tangible results of the Russian protests, we will have to wait for a few years. It will take a while for viable opposition forces to emerge and produce their own leaders.

Still, I am a lot more enthusiastic about the Russian protests than I am about the #OWS. These are both middle-class movements. However, the peaceful Russian revolution of 2011 never pretended to be what it wasn’t. Its participants calmly explain in interviews, on their blogs and social networks that they are comfortably off, well-to-do, middle-class folks who are fed up with how their country is run. They don’t beg anybody for compassion. And they don’t regale us with stories of how they have wonderful, comfortable, debt-free lives but still “live in bated breath” because of some imaginary disasters. Most importantly, there is no swapping of tales of personal woe and misery that the #OWS protesters enjoy so much and that, more often than not, are inflated dramatically. For obvious reasons, the religious vocabulary that bothers me so much at the #OWS is also absent among Russian political agitators of the moment.

The Russian protesters say that they want to be in charge of their country’s politics. They talk about democracy, the voting system, the ways in which the currently existing parties are flawed, the way the budget is structured, the reasons why they are disappointed with Putin, the ways they evaluate the history of their country over the past 20 years. I have not read a single account, blog post, newspaper article, interview, etc. where a protester would plunge into a tale of his or her debts, employment history, educational achievements, sickness, marriages, etc. as part of his or her analysis of the political situation.

As we all know, personal is political. The way we live our lives is intimately connected to our politics. However, it would be a mistake to turn this statement around and say that political is personal. When politics becomes nothing but a bunch of personal narratives, we end up with a political reality where people elect presidents on the basis of their attractions as beer-drinking buddies, politicians’ personal lives matter a lot more than their policies, and a candidate’s success is defined by whether she can cry on cue or whether he bowls well. Only too often, the #OWS protesters approach the political arena as if it were a stage for a reality TV show, a place where personal dramas are to be aired for no other purpose than to allow an Oprahesque unburdening of emotions to occur.

Another reason why I prefer Russian protests to the #OSW is that the Russian protesters do not attempt to pretend they are proletarians when, in reality, they are middle-class folks. The vogue of brandishing fake working-class credentials is associated in Russia with the decades of the Communist regime. This is why nowadays people see nothing shameful in being financially comfortable.

The #OWS protesters, however, are tortured with middle-class guilt. This is why their “we are all in the same boat” slogans sound so hollow. I remember how my union organizer tried to convince me that he and I did not differ in any way from a truck-driver. At that time, he and I were students at one of the most prestigious grad schools in the world. We had great medical insurance, only had to teach for 50 minutes a day, and rarely woke up before noon. Unlike my union organizer, I hadn’t been born rich, so I didn’t feel any need to mask the silver spoon in my mouth by claiming I knew anything about the reality of truck-drivers.

This is, however, precisely what the #OWS does. Its middle-class participants mask their middle-class concerns behind the rhetoric of fake solidarity with the dispossessed. They self-righteously compete in producing stories of misery because they seem to believe that only misery entitles you to an opinion and to activism.

When the Russian protesters talk about their participation in the revolutionary movement, they always begin by explaining how they are entitled to be in charge of their country because of their success in running their lives, careers, companies, blogs, bank accounts, etc. The #OWS protesters, on the other hand, proudly claim failure as their chief qualification for the role of political activists.

From Kremlin to the White House

In what concerns the protests against the fraudulent elections in Russia, according to rumors, Kremlin has decided to “let those losers protest as much as they want.”

Does anybody else feel that similar conversations might have taken place in the White House about the #OWS protests?

Answering Questions About the Protests in Russia

People are sending in questions and finding the blog through online searches about the protests in Russia. I decided to answer these questions in a separate post since there seems to be so much interest.

1. Are the Russian protests inspired by the #OSW?

– The answer is no. Absolutely not. And the tendency to explain things happening in other countries through what goes on in one’s own is never a productive strategy. The protests in Russia have nothing to do with the economy. I have not seen or heard of a single economic demand coming from the protesters in any of the sources in Russia I have been following during the recent events. The people who protest in Russia are members of the middle and the upper-middle class. One of their leaders is a billionaire who became famous for proposing 12-hour work days for his employees. The other leaders are very rich people, too. These are folks who have made enough money not to be seduced by the small amounts Putin pays to his fake supporters. Most of the protesters are comfortable enough financially to afford to have a civic consciousness.

If anything, the Russian protests follow in the footsteps of the Orange tradition started by Ukraine several years ago. Of course, the fiercely anti-Ukrainian Russians will never recognize this but we’ve seen similar protests take place in Ukraine in 2004-5 when the results of the elections were falsified and people took to the streets to reclaim their right to vote for whomever they want.

The protesters in Ukraine won. Their brothers and sisters in Russia are not likely to win.

2. Have the falsifications during the recent elections been greater than during the previous elections?

– Again, absolutely not. The elections were always falsified in really egregious ways and everybody knew about that. Nothing changed about the elections except the voters. They are not interested in sitting by patiently while their votes are being stolen any more. It took a while but finally people are slowly waking up to the idea that corruption is not OK. At least, when it is indulged in by people other than themselves.

3. What is the future of the protest movement in Russia?

– It pains me to say so, but the future of the protests looks grim right now. The people of Russia need a strong leader (or a group of leaders.) Historically, they have always needed a leader to worship and detest at the same time. There are no strong, effective leaders in the country today. The so-called opposition consists of sad, pathetic, out-of-touch remnants of the Soviet-time dissident movement and a couple of politicians who have squandered their political capital through decades of impotence and uselessness. None of them is a match for Putin in terms of effectiveness and strength.

I have a feeling that the protests are fizzling out already. Of course, this is one area where I’d really like to be mistaken. I will keep updating my readers on the developments in Russia.

I welcome any other questions on this subject. Most of the information on the Russian protests that I’m seeing in North American media is complete and utter junk.

Protests Are Good for a Country’s Reputation!

This is an excerpt from the list of search terms that brought people to my blog the day before yesterday:

And here is how the search terms changed after the recent anti-government protests in Russia:

Now Russia is not all about prostitutes for people who do searches online. I think this is a very positive trend.

How To Behave During a Protest

The people of Russia are taking to the streets to protest the egregiously fraudulent elections to the Russian Parliament. I found a set of suggestions on how to organize a peaceful protest on one of the websites of the bloggers who will participate in the protests and decided to translate it. I think it contains some very useful tips for protesters. I adapted it somewhat, too, by getting rid of very specifically Russian realities:

  1. Always leave a space of a stretched arm between yourself and other protesters. Don’t move too close to each other. A crowd where people stand very closely to one another will not be able to maneuver itself as easily and will eventually become dangerous to the protesters.
  2. Protests are very demanding physically. If you have health issues, it is best to avoid slowing down other protesters with them. Stay at home and provide informational support through online activities from there.
  3. A crowd can easily become too engulfed in emotions. Remember that crowd enthusiasms are volatile, dangerous, and unproductive. Remain calm and in control of your emotions at all times. You will only be taken seriously by authorities if you don’t allow hysteria to overtake you. The point of the protest is not to unburden yourself psychologically. It is, rather, to demand change from the authorities.
  4. Think of those who are there with you. Take care of your fellow protesters.
  5. Think about how your behavior during the protests will look to others. Everything is recorded and televised nowadays. Remember that it will be very easy for hostile reporters to present you as unhinged and crazy if you offer them the smallest opportunity to do so.
  6. Avoid antagonizing the police officers. Doing so is always a losing strategy. Try being as friendly as you can with the representatives of the law. Remember that it is much harder to hit or pepper-spray a person with whom you’ve just been chatting about the weather or sharing a cigarette. If at all possible, talk to the police calmly. Try to attract the officers to your side.

    Today's Protests in Russia
  7. There are likely to be provocateurs at the protests. Their goal is to make protesters look like aggressive people who are set at disturbing the peaceful life of other citizens. If there are just two provocateurs with anti-Semitic slogans, they will most surely end up being filmed and will forever be associated with your protest. Make sure that your verbal disagreement with the provocateurs is as visible as possible.
  8. All of your demands should be legal and realistic. Avoid making threats aimed at specific individuals. Avoid calls to armed action.
  9. Civil freedoms take a long time to be gained and then need to be preserved by constant efforts. Don’t expect to achieve anything fast. This will be a very long journey.

And from me personally: the weather is getting colder. Remember to put on warm underpants. A long-sleeved warm shirt gets tucked into the underpants and the underpants should get tucked into warm socks.

I wish the Russian protesters the best of luck in their struggle. I hear that already over 800 people have been arrested in Moscow and St. Petersbourg for participating in the peaceful protests. As tragic as it is, this is also a good sign, a sign that the people of Russia have had enough of being lied to and treated like garbage by their authorities.

I hope that the peaceful Russian Revolution of 2011 succeeds in removing the Party of Crooks and Thieves (United Russia) from power. Russia is a great country whose people deserve better than being governed by this bunch of vile criminals.

P.S. 632305222316434 Those who know, know what I mean.

More on 99% vs 1%

This is from a post on Womanist Musings that addresses the #Occupy movement:

I am so damn sick and tired of Occupy Wall Street. Every so called “progressive” I know of is riding the #OWS dick like it is going out of style. Me? I can’t stand the shit. For the most part, I see most of the protests that have been inspired by Occupy Wall Street to be strictly the work of some spoiled little (previously) rich brats who can’t handle the fact that the college education that mommy and daddy paid for did not get them the high paid cushy job that they truly believe they deserve. I would be willing to bet that almost all of those who are running around with signs about being the 99% would not give a FUCK about economic injustice if they were not directly impacted by it in the present moment. And I bet in five years, most of them will be sitting in some multinational corporation’s headquarters shaking their heads and chuckling about the days when they were “radicals”. . . So, no, I will not be joining in the mindless adulation shown in progressive circles towards Occupy Wall Street. I have better things to do with my time than join up with some folks who are upset because a tiny percentage of their privilege is slipping away.

I have to tell you, people, that even though I try hard to be open-minded about the protests and hope for the best, I honestly can’t help feeling the exact same way about them. I look at the footage of the protests and I don’t see my students from low-income blue-collar and farming families among the protesters. I don’t see my minority students. I don’t see immigrants such as myself represented at the protests. What I see (and what I’m trying as hard as I can to resist seeing) is what the blogger I quoted above sees.

I remember how when I was an undergrad a super-duper progressive acquaintance tried to berate me for not participating in the WTO protests. As the only child of a high-powered trial lawyer and a famous surgeon, he simply couldn’t envision a reality of a recent immigrant who had to work 3-4 part-time jobs at any given time to have at least a small portion of what his parents provided for him freely. The saddest thing about this discussion that this passionate defender of the rights of the dispossessed grew very petulant and snarky when I pointed out that I couldn’t even imagine affording a trip to Quebec City to participate in the protests and that being away from work for several days would create extreme economic hardship for me.

“It’s people like you who can’t see past their need to be efficient corporate robots who are making the world such an unfair place,” said this guy. Of course, his rich parents made it easy for him not to need to be an efficient corporate robot, which is something he conveniently preferred to forget whenever an opportunity to berate those who actually needed to work for their living arose.

I also remember trying to explain to fellow grad students why I couldn’t risk losing my student visa by participating in an anti-patriarchy civil disobedience protest. The only way I could describe these folks after that conversation is “spoiled rich brats.”

A reader of my blog wondered why my students don’t identify with the #Occupy protesters and only see them as an inspiration for Halloween costumes. I have to ask myself, though, who are those people who can stay at a protest for many days at a time, listening to beautiful speeches and waving slogans around. These are obviously not people who know that if they don’t work today they will not eat tomorrow. These are obviously not people who have family obligations. They definitely don’t have small children, younger siblings, or sick elderly people to take care of at home. So who are these folks, and how come they have so much free time and resources to be at the protests?

I’ve heard a suggestion that the participants of the #Occupy protests are unemployed. I find this explanation to be quite offensive to the unemployed, to be honest. I’ve been living with an unemployed person for a while now, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that unemployed people work extremely hard. They work for free a lot, trying to create opportunities for employment in the future, sometimes in a pretty distant future.

Something tells me, however, that this is a reality that many of the #Occupy protesters can neither understand nor feel any solidarity with.

Occupy Museums

The #Occupy movement is drowning in pleas for compassion and whiny personal stories on the one hand and pseudo-revolutionary insanity of kids who read too much Zizek and Baudrillard and never managed to digest their readings.

Via The Mahablog (that I highly recommend to everybody as a great source of balanced and insightful discussions of politics and economy), I discovered an initiative called Occupy Museums and apparently launched by the Occupy Wall Street’s Art and Culture group.

Here is what the initiative’s organizer had to say:

We see through the pyramid schemes of the temples of cultural elitism controlled by the 1%. No longer will we, the artists of the 99%, allow ourselves to be tricked into accepting a corrupt hierarchical system based on false scarcity and propaganda concerning absurd elevation of one individual genius over another human being for the monetary gain of the elitest of elite. For the past decade and more, artists and art lovers have been the victims of the intense commercialization and co-optation or art. We recognize that art is for everyone, across all classes and cultures and communities. We believe that the Occupy Wall Street Movement will awaken a consciousness that art can bring people together rather than divide them apart as the art world does in our current time.

Let’s be clear. Recently, we have witnessed the absolute equation of art with capital. The members of museum boards mount shows by living or dead artists whom they collect like bundles of packaged debt.

I sometimes complain about my students’ writing. None of them, however, could have ever managed to write something as egregiously bad as the above-quoted passage. So this is good news already.

Jokes aside, the real question now is whether the #Occupy movement can offer anything more than pleas for compassion, stories of the intense anxieties of the well-off, and the pseudo-revolutionary proclamations from a bunch of overpampered kids.