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Blogs

Misperception and Reality

25 september
2016
Fred Eidlin

Is Vladimir Putin a dictator or not?

Under real dictatorships, thousands or even tens of thousands disappear, and are tortured or killed. Criticism of the regime can be picked up by the secret police and can lead to the worst of consequences. This bears no relationship to the regime over which Vladimir Putin presides in Russia. In addition to the aspects of life Daniil mentions, there are other features that distinguish Putin’s Russia from a real dictatorships. Daniil doesn’t have to have the slightest worry about making critical remarks about Putin and his regime. He doesn’t have to worry about being awakened in the middle of the night by the secret police and taken to be tortured and killed. He doesn’t even have to worry about taking part in political demonstrations, as long as he doesn’t provoke or disobey the police responsible for maintaining order. Despite increased control of the media, Daniil will have no problem finding critical perspectives on what is going on in the country. 

25 september
2016
Fred Eidlin

Could Putin take advantage of Europe if it starts to collapse?

Russia’s problems are mainly with the EU as an ideological quasi state project. The EU wants Russia to deal with the EU center in Bruxelles rather than with individual member states on many important issues. Unfortunately for Russia, EU institutions tend to be ideologically anti-Russian. Moreover, the EU and many individual politicians across its member states regard Russian attempts to deal with individual EU members as attempts to create disunity within the EU. I think it would be more accurate to say that Russia is struggling to break the hold of the ideological EU on its individual members. Naturally, Russia’s interests here tend to overlap with those of the Euro skeptics.

30 april
2016
Fred Eidlin

Russia's Future: Deadlock or Competitive Politics (reply to Whitmore)

Russia is not the Soviet union.  The regime in Russia has little in common with the Soviet regime. To imply that the process of reforming Russia represents a continuation of attempts to reform the Soviet regime, as Whitmore does, distorts reality beyond recognition. Failures of reform under the Soviet regime were mostly due to features of that regime which have disappeared: (1) the commando-administrative economic system, (2) the ideological monopoly of truth, including control of all information in public space; (3) the monopoly of power of the Communist Party. All attempts at reform under the Soviet system ran aground when they threatened these pillars of the regime, as all of them inevitably did. All of these regime pillars are gone for good. 

30 april
2016
Fred Eidlin

What difference in mentality can be seen in different regions of Russia?

To some extent, regional differences are qualitatively different from those in America.  Not only Russian regions but most of the republics and regions of the former Soviet Union share a common civilization that runs through all ethnicities.  The differences between Kazan, Ufa, and Chelyabinsk are less noticeable than are the differences between France, Germany, and Italy, because of this shared civilization that runs through all of the former Russian Empire.  Like the United States, Russia is a melting pot, yet in Russia, ethnicities are more deeply-rooted and do not melt away to the extent they do in the US.  The reason is obvious.  America is a nation of immigrants.  Different ethnic groups have settled down in various regions, but they are not as firmly rooted as ethnic groups in the former Soviet Union are rooted in their home regions. 

22 april
2016
Fred Eidlin

Isn't the way Russian oligarchs pilfered Russian state assets equivalent to what a con man does?

The Russian Oligarchs are more comparable to the Robber Barons of late 19th Century America than they are to con men. Yet despite similarities, there are significant differences. The most important similarity is that both resulted from institutional and legal vacuums of which energetic, enterprising, unscrupulous men took advantage. In late 19th Century America, a national economy was beginning to emerge, most notably in the railroads and oil industry. The Robber Barons took advantage of this anarchic environment and became fabulously wealthy. Gradually, laws, regulations, and institutions to administer them emerged, and many of the Robber Barons morphed into philanthropists. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a free market regime appeared suddenly within a centralized command economy dominated by the Communist Party. Like the America of the late 19th Century, this resulted in an anarchic economic environment. Energetic, enterprising, unscrupulous men, for the most part taking advantage of connections from the Soviet era (Party, state, and criminal), were the only people positioned to be able to take advantage of this environment. Like the American Robber Barons, they also became fabulously wealthy.

13 april
2016
Fred Eidlin

Public policy, rational hope and economic ideology: A plea for hopeful realism

It would be irresponsible if those who make public policy did not pay serious attention to expert knowledge.  If experts advise that a proposed policy will fail, it would be irresponsible for policy makers to ignore their advice.  Advocating the impossible would appear to be absurd. Does this mean policy makers must resign themselves to accepting whatever advice experts give them? Must it be irrational for policy makers to maintain hope that a proposed policy will work, although experts tell them it will not? Not necessarily. I will argue that maintaining hope against expert advice is not always irrational.  

04 april
2016
Fred Eidlin

On "European values"

"European values" is a widely-used expression.  Everyone is assumed to know what it means. But what are "European values?" Are they unique to Europe? If so, what is it that makes them special?  Are European values superior to those of other civilizations? When did Europe acquire them? Were they operative during the eras of imperialism and colonialism, slavery, Europe's religious wars, the Inquisition, and the World Wars?

10 march
2016
Fred Eidlin

Misperception, Ambivalence, and Indecision in Soviet Policy-making: Czechoslovakia 1968: Lessons for today?

I did not fully appreciate the panic of hardliners among the leaders of the Soviet Bloc concerning the Prague Spring.  It was clear that the Czechoslovak reform movement posed a severe threat to the Soviet-type orthodoxy of some of the Soviet Bloc regimes. Nevertheless, along with many other observers, I thought it obvious that the reform program launched from within the Communist Party was the only way to keep a deeply-flawed regime afloat. What we now know about the endemic flaws of Soviet-type regimes makes even more obvious that the reforms of the Prague Spring were unavoidable. Yet when a similar reform program emerged in the Soviet Union under Gorbachev, it actually did contribute to the collapse of the Soviet state.  To be sure, there was no danger of instability, regime collapse, or Czechoslovakia’s leaving the Warsaw Pact. Yet, the panic of some Soviet Bloc leaders was not based on mere illusion.  The ideas of the Prague Spring were contagious for one simple reason.  They made sense, not only for Czechoslovakia, but for the entire Soviet Bloc including the Soviet Union.  The political system established by Stalin had reached a dead end in Czechoslovakia by 1968.  Unconstrained, the ideas of the Prague Spring would have caught on and spread. 

 

The Soviet leadership faced a dilemma.  On the one hand, it is not sufficiently appreciated how deeply the Soviets understood how necessary were the kinds of the reforms underway in Czechoslovakia. Similar reforms were in progress throughout the Soviet Bloc, including the Soviet Union itself, albeits more slowly.  The Prague Spring was no threat to the regime in Hungary, where such reforms were well advanced.  They did not even pose a serious threat to the Soviet regime, where the population remained passive and control was tighter.  In Poland and the GDR, however, the Communist regimes were near the end of the rope. For them the Czechoslovak reform movement was dangerously contagious.  

16 february
2016
Fred Eidlin

Has there been "rollback" of democracy in Russia under Putin?

Has there then been a rollback of democracy in Russia?  Was Boris Yeltsin more of a democrat than Mikhail Gorbachev or Vladimir Putin?  In 1993, Yeltsin illegally dissolved the Supreme Soviet, and shelled the Russian White House, resulting in the deaths of 187 people. He unconstitutionally scrapped the existing constitution, and temporarily banned political opposition.  Two years after coming to power on a wave of democratic support, he abandoned his democratic political base, and came to rely on the support of oligarchs who financed his victorious Presidential campaign in 1996.  Dmitry Medvedev recently confirmed that, as long rumored, the 1996 Presidential Election was falsified, allowing an extremely unpopular Yeltsin to win reelection by a substantial margin.  Is the state of democracy today under Putin really worse today than it was back then?   

25 january
2016
Fred Eidlin

Kremlin policy: Strategic or like the music of a jazz group?

According to Gleb Pavlovsky, the Kremlin is "still enigmatic, but no longer strategic." Kremlin policy is now "fashioned rather like the music of a jazz group; its continuing improvisation is an attempt to survive the latest crisis." Pavlovsky thinks Putin "lost interest in day-to-day decision making" after the accession of Crimea to Russia when he won the support of more than 80 percent of the population.  He wants to be "informed about everything, but is reluctant to play national housekeeper." He doesn’t order, he only listens."  So far so good on the facts, but I think Pavlovsky's interpretation of the facts is seriously mistaken.

11 january
2016
Fred Eidlin

Berlin Alarmed by Aggressive NATO Stance on Ukraine

The huge gaps between Breedlove's allegations and the facts provided by intelligence services, lead one to wonder why he continues to make such allegations. He is not stupid, and would not be acting without approval from his superiors, or at least being convinced that they would not contradict him.  

 

The influence of the anti-Russian war party in the U.S. military/security community has waxed and waned depending on the state of U.S.-Russia relations. But it has always had a hard core that has never wavered in its conviction that Russia is an enemy that must be defeated, or at least weakened as much as possible.  Breedlove is surely aware that there is ample latent anti-Russian sentiment in the US and other NATO countries that can be fired up by such allegations as he has been making.  Many are disposed to accept almost any outrageous allegations about Russia without interest in determining their truth or falsity.  As long as outrageous allegations do not clash with pre-existing prejudices, they are likely to be accepted.

06 december
2015
Fred Eidlin

Can Socialism Learn from Its Mistakes? Hypotheses or Metaphysics

Identifies serious failures, strong rational criticisms and ethical arguments leveled against the various versions of "socialism" that have so far been attempted. Asks what all of this implies for anyone interested in formulating an intellectually honest and morally defensible socialist program, steering a realistic course between utopianism and cynicism. The concept of socialism as an ideal is distinguished from the various concrete embodiments of it in actual movements, programs, experiments, and explicitly-formulated theories and ideologies that have been called socialist. Argues that, as is also true of the closely-related concept of democracy: The concept of socialism is largely utopian; The concept is vague and stands for a wide variety of different, often contradictory ideals and theories. These concrete theories are not only normative, but also rest on empirical and metaphysical assumptions about man and society, many of which have been refuted or rendered problematic by experience and criticism.  

13 november
2015
Fred Eidlin

Who are the real "Realists?" International Relations Realists or Cold Warriors?

According to Walter Laquer, Leslie Gelb speaks for much of the US foreign policy establishment when he says that it is totally unrealistic to think that the West can gain desired Russian restraint and cooperation without dealing with Moscow as a great power that possesses real and legitimate interests, especially in its border areas.  Against this view, Cold Warrior Laquer counters that this "realist" analysis is "filled with wishful thinking and contradictions that ignore reality."  However, "realism," as used in the field of international relations, by definition strives to be realistic.  So, who is more realistic, international relations realists or Cold Warriors?  Can Laquer seriously argue that his views on US Russia policy are truly more realistic than Gelbs?  Is it not, rather, the failed Russia policies of people who think like Laquer that are "filled with wishful thinking and contradictions that ignore reality."?   
03 november
2015
Fred Eidlin

"Russkiy Mir" Revival of Russian/Soviet imperialism?

Russkiy Mir is often represented as some new, strange, perhaps threatening concept cooked up in the Russian Foreign Ministry as part of a new Russian imperial project. Not so!  Russkiy Mir existed long before even the Soviet Union. It was a product of the Russian Empire, but now exists independently on an entirely voluntary basis. It has no need of a Russian empire. Russkiy Mir is a world-wide community of people who feel themselves, to varying degrees, part of a multi-ethnic, trans-ethnic Russian Civilization. "Russian" means much more than just an ethnicity, and it is not tied to citizenship in the Russian Fedration. True, "Russkiy Mir" may represtent a threat to the xenophobic ideological ethno-cultural political nationalisms that emerged with fury after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This explains why ideological nationalists can get so upset by the very idea of "Russkiy Mir." Nevertheless, all the talk about Russkiy Mir being part of a project to reconstruct the Soviet Union or Russian Empire is nonsense.  
30 october
2015
Fred Eidlin

Russia’s need to be recognized as a Great Power

Being taken seriously as a major player in the international arena is of vital importance to Russia. Unlike most states, Russia has vital interests that can be defended only if it is recognized as a major player by the other major players. Not all countries need to be great powers. Not all countries need to conduct an independent foreign policy. Not even former imperial powers, like Great Britain and France, need an independent foreign policy.
 
But Russia does.
 
22 october
2015
Fred Eidlin

US and Russia: Competing agendas in Syria

On October 14, the White House dismissed a proposal by President Putin to send Prime Minister Medvedev to the United States to discuss military cooperation in Syria. White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the proposal a sign of "desperation." Said Earnest: "We're not interested in doing that, as long as Russia is not willing to make a constructive contribution to our counter-[Islamic State] effort," But where is the evidence of Russian "desperation?" Russian policy in Syria doesn't seem to be failing--at least not yet." Why are the Americans so intransigent. Why are they unwilling even to enter into discussion?

 

22 october
2015
Fred Eidlin

Government is Incomplete Conquest

 

Political parties are alleged to provide their electorates with choice. Cynics might object that, while elections give an electorate the feeling that they have choice, this is only an illusion. Soviet propagandists used to like to point out that the choice is only between Rockefeller millionaires and Kennedy millionaires, that is, among factions of the ruling elite. The fundamentals of the regime are never up for discussion. What parties and candidates argue about in the course of elections is always "small stuff." Fundamental questions like the distribution of wealth, power, and prestige almost never arise. When they do it is only at the margins of political debate. In those rare instances when challenges to the existing order are put forward, such is by populist movements and in "color revolutions," elites almost always find ways to diffuse them. 

16 march
2015
Fred Eidlin

Letter to a young political science colleague in Russia

Of course, I understand what you write about the sorry state of affairs in Russia. I am far more optimistic than you about Russia, but can't disagree with most of what you say.  Most discouraging is that I wonder what can feed the hopes of your generation, on which the future of the country depends.  Of course, there is much about Russia that is good, and which gives grounds for hope.  Yet, this does not negate your arguments.  

 

To be sure, there has been enormous progress in the last twenty years.  I personally watched it happen in the course of frequent visits to Russia throughout this period.  More importantly, so did Russians who lived through it.  It helps explain the consistently high approval ratings Putin has enjoyed, despite all the negative features of the situation, to which you rightly draw attention. 

01 february
2015
Fred Eidlin

Russia: NGO registration, democracy, and civil society

If I were a Russian citizen, I would be somewhat troubled by recent Russian legislation requiring foreign-funded Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to register as foreign agents. However, as a social scientist I see the Universe unfolding as it should in Russia. The widespread view that civil society is being rolled back rests on a mistaken assumption that civil society can be rolled back by actions of governments.  On the contrary civil society is autonomous, by definition.  It has a life of its own. It can sometimes be pushed under the surface for a limited time but it cannot be broken or crushed. If it is genuine, robust civil society it will bounce back, often with even greater force. The concept "civil society" refers to much more than organized NGOs. In fact, some scholars argue that NGOs which rely on outside funding, either from government or from foreign funders, do not really belong to civil society. Outside funders determine priorities, rather than the organization's membership and those it is presumed to serve, hence sapping internal initiative within the organization.