Debates on politics and culture
Revolutions, past, present and future, are one of the main topics of NZ No. 33. The Liberal Heritage section presents a translation of the epilogue from Barrington Moore Jr’s classic work Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, devoted to the parts that peasants and the landed nobility played historically in the shaping of the modern world’s political systems. The chapter we publish, entitled Reactionary and Revolutionary Imagery, reflects upon the role of culture in the behaviour of conservative and revolutionary groups, and argues that in the long run, the human cost of gradual reforms may often be greater than that of violent revolutions, though Moore is sceptical of both as paths towards an increase in liberty.
There follows a series of articles in which authors from different countries reflect upon the peaceful revolutions in Serbia (in 2000) and Georgia (in 2003) and try to answer the question of the extent to which the experience of these two countries may be used by opposition movements in other non-democratic post-communist countries. Siniša Šikman, a leading member of Serbia’s Otpor movement which was instrumental in toppling Milošević and training Georgian activists in methods of non-violent resistance, reviews the role of Otpor in Serbia’s revolution and since then, writing enthusiastically about the prospects of exporting Otpor’s methods to other countries (The dream revolution - change without violence). Political analyst Vladimir Rovdo from Minsk reviews the structural and psychological preconditions for non-violent regime change in Belarus, and concludes that while structural conditions are overripe, for resistance against the regime to have any effect the political opposition first needs to overcome its fragmentation and work out an effective strategy combining electoral campaigning and street-level action. He also gives a detailed overview of Belarusian opposition parties (The perspectives for a ▒velvet revolution’ in Belarus). Mykola Riabchuk takes stock of the factors that might contribute to ending the Kuchma regime in Ukraine. His view is that although the main opposition leaders began their careers within the state apparatus, that might precisely be a positive factor: Kuchma will never relinquish power voluntarily since his personal record makes him fear the consequences, so ▒elite treason’ may be the only viable route to democratisation (Can a ▒blackmail state’ be shaken?).
Finally, in the Morals and Mores section, Nodar Ladaria takes a look at Georgia’s ▒Rose Revolution’ and puts it in historical context by comparing the political turning points of 1989, 1991-1992, and 2003, and the respective changes they brought about (The historical context of the Rose Revolution).
Turning to even more global issues, in The Culture of Politics historian and economist Sergei Turkin takes a detailed look at the analogy between the Roman Empire and the present-day United States which are more and more often being pointed out worldwide but rarely analysed in any depth. Drawing mainly on Alexis de Tocqueville for definitions of the characteristic traits of the US polity and on Polybius for Roman history, Turkin finds that the parallels rest on more than just superficial analogies (Political participation in the USA and Ancient Rome: on the use of comparison).
Back to Russia, where yet another deadly explosion in the Moscow metro and the collapse of a swimming pool complex in the capital has raised the tally of mediatised catastrophes, our columnist Alexei Levinson reports on the results of a recent poll asking about what Russians fear most, and how these fears correlate with party preferences (Stand still and be afraid!).
The second focal point continues a topic featured in the previous issue of NZ: the Economics of Culture. The dossier opens with an article by sociologist Alexander Bikbov (Markets of culture as markets of taste and recognition) where he challenges the ▒rational choice’ view of the consumption of cultural goods put forward by several authors in NZ No. 32. In his reply, economist Yury Avtonomov argues that the Bourdieusian approach advocated by Bikbov may not actually be all that incompatible with the methods used by members of the ▒economics of culture’ school. The topic is rounded off with an article by sociologist Anna Zaitseva on the (Anti-)Economics of the rock music underground: the virtues of DIY and the mechanics of money exclusion, based on her research on the punk rock scenes in Saint-Petersburg and Paris.
Continuing the topic of the interplay between social conditions and economic factors, Yevgeny Saburov devotes his Humane Economics column to the stereotype of ▒paternalist cultures’. He argues that far from being an ▒innate’ cultural trait, paternalism is a response to specific social and economic circumstances, and disappears as these circumstances change (The economic amenities of paternalism).
A very different perspective on the relationship between people and things is presented in our third focal point, entitled The Thing in Itself, for Itself, and for Us. Ethnologist Albert Baiburin takes a look at the history of the museum, and most specifically Russia’s first museum, Peter I’s Kunstkamera in Saint-Petersburg, and shows how things never ▒tell their own story’ but always serve as illustrations of the pre-fabricated story or project according to which they arranged (The ethnographic museum: semiotics and ideology). Larisa Shpakovskaya reviews political and everyday attitudes to things during the Soviet era, and traces the ▒biographies’ of a variety of objects from purely utilitarian use through to decorative and antiquarian status (The value of old things between the state and society). Finally, Ilya Utekhin, another ethnologist, contributes a lyrical piece on the significance of material objects for personal identity (Favourite things).
This issue’s Politics of Culture section features an article by anthropologist Zhanna Kormina on The military oath: on the history of a performative speech-act. Kormina retraces the different formulations of the Russian military oath of allegiance, from the Tsarist era through to the post-Soviet period, and discusses changing relations between the text of the oath and the subjects uttering the oath throughout the ages.
The New Institutions section presents the Foundation for Creative Projects, or FTP in Russian, the NGO which organizes the Moscow Poetry Biennale and has created a number of poetry prizes to draw public attention to the vitality of contemporary Russian poetry in Russia and abroad.
Our bibliographic rubrics are richer than ever in this issue. The Journals Review starts with our habitual review of Russian intellectual journals, this time with a special focus on politics and international relations. This section also features the first instalment of a detailed overview of the media landscape in Ukraine by Lviv-based journalist Yakov Anderer (▒Ukrainian’ ▒Intellectual’ ▒Periodicals’ - Part 1: the context). Finally, the New Books section carries reviews of Russian, Italian, German, and English-language books on a variety of topics ranging from contemporary left-wing thought to medieval history and from the economics of corruption to the death penalty.