This is a guest post by Idean Salehyan. Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Texas at Dallas
“Why did you become an academic?” is a question that I’m frequently asked. For me, my path into this profession is pretty clear. I was about fourteen and a freshman in high school in the early 1990s. A few of my friends joined the school chapter of Amnesty International, and I figured I’d go along. My world was changed. I learned of people being slaughtered because their ethnicity; political activists imprisoned for their beliefs; widespread torture and sexual assault; and refugees flooding across borders in search of safety. This was the era of massacres in Bosnia and Rwanda. CNN broadcast murder while the world just watched. The comfortable space of my childhood ended, and I began on a journey of human rights activism.
The commentary on Edward Snowden over the past several days and the various discussions on dissent, resignations, and whistleblowing have given me a lot to think about. I’ll leave discussion of the merits of Snowden’s actions to Dan’s thread below. Here I want to think about the process and pitfalls of whistleblowing and dissent. Twenty years ago this summer I had my own moment in the spotlight for resigning from my position at the State Department in protest over American policy in Bosnia. My situation and experiences were quite different — I was a policy dissenter not really a whistleblower. My resignation — along with those of a few colleagues — generated widespread attention, but none of us disclosed government crimes per se and I was never under threat of legal action. Nonetheless, there are a few general observations on dissent and whistleblowing that may be worth some discussion: dissent and whistleblowing are inevitable, they are unpredictable, and they are also relatively rare (for a much wider range of reasons than some have suggested). I also am very uncomfortable labeling dissenters or whistleblowers as heroes, but, for reasons that are different from some of the other commentary out there. Continue reading
Vadim Nikitin has an excellent run down. With a possible Putin – Medvedev face-off looming for next year’s presidential elections, the campaign season has already begun. This trailer shows how it all might go down in 2012 and was featured on, of all places, the Russian Communist Party’s website. The clip ends with “There’s always an alternative: Communist Party of Russia.”
Nikitin has translated the key points as they appear in the clip:
ANCIENT RELIGIONS HAVE FORETOLD THIS…
IT IS UNAVOIDABLE…
Clip of Putin: “The next elections in the Russian Federation are in 2012″
BUT ONLY ONE MUST REMAIN.
Medvedev: “Let me first say what I think about this, as President”
Putin: “I am the president of the Russian federation”
Medvedev: “I am”
Putin: “I am”
Putin: “I am not joking!”
Putin, on screen: “Mr Medvedev and I have a very effective tandem”
Medvedev: “That is a lie”
Putin: “Medvedev and I are of a traditional [sexual] orientation”
Medvedev: That is a lie
Cuts to a man in a control room remarking in amazement: “Wow!”
THE BATTLE WILL INVOLVE EVERYTHING:
KOMPROMAT (cuts to a young woman getting out from under Putin’s desk)
THREATS (clip of Putin saying “we need a small, victorious war”)
and HIGHER POWERS (clips of Medvedev praying)
Nikitin also notes the new context of political humor…and how not everything has changed:
The group that has done most to revive the absurdist and anarchic spirit of Daniil Kharms has been Voina. Translated as War, the collective of artistic provocateurs gained worldwide fame for painting a penis on a St Petersburg drawbridge overlooking the FSB headquarters, projecting a skull and crossbones onto the Russian White House, kiss-a-cop day, crossing one of Russia’s busiest streets blindfolded with a blue bucket, and staging an orgy at a Moscow museum.
But if the Soviet tradition of humorous dissent has returned, so has its age old partner – state repression. Since the start of the year, Voina members have been arrested, beaten up and jailed, most recently for a prank involving overturned police cars; their leader has fled the country.
It’s like that old joke:
Comrade Brezhnev, is it true that you collect political jokes?” — “Yes” — “And how many have you collected so far?” — “Three and a half labor camps full”
For those of us trained in Soviet Studies in the 1980s, political humor — especially that coming out of Leningrad — was a staple and gave us a lot of insights into Soviet society. I was never a big fan of Reagan, but I always liked this one: