In Russia these days, the sky seems to be falling even more than usual. In mid-March, INSOR (the Institute of Contemporary Development) came out with its annual report on Russia’s political future, advocating its patented brand of Medvedevian liberal reform. This produced the usual bubble of chatter, and would likely have faded into oblivion soon thereafter had TsSR (the Center for Strategic Studies) not released a similar study affirming the same findings. TsSR’s report matters more because, in Liliia Shevtsova’s words, it’s “people in the system going against the system.” When asked if his organization was ‘pro-Putin,’ Sergei Belanovskii (one of the TsSR authors) told Ekho Moskvy that he was just following the sociological evidence. (The evidence, it’s worth noting, apparently says that Russians demand an entirely new leader in 2012 — a third candidate!)
Now skip ahead to April 5th. Blogging at Bol’shoi Gorod, Oleg Kashin writes a bizarre, dreamy piece on Aleksei Navalny. The post is partly a nostalgic reminiscence about the simple old days, when Navalny was still tooling around for a movement or an issue to which he could hitch his wagon. (It turns out to have been RosPil and procurement corruption, not Narod and illegal construction.) Next, Kashin tosses out a Yeltsin analogy to explain how Navalny has become “the most popular non-establishment politician since 1989.” However, Navalny’s success will end soon, Kashin declares, arguing that ‘nobody really backs him’ because “nobody really backs anyone” (никто ни за кем не стоит). Navalny’s supporters will gradually turn into a sect, and newspapers will stop reporting on him. “Maybe they’ll send an intern,” Kashin offers charitably.
The next day, Kashin gave a lecture at Tsvet Nochi (a Moscow bar/club/restaurant place), where he told listeners that he expects the imminent territorial collapse of the Russian Federation. And, despite some seemingly absurd jokes about Siberia becoming an independent nation, it appears that Kashin was being serious.
The title of Kashin’s lecture was “Russia for Russians,” the slogan of Russian nationalism and a renewed subject of debate after last December’s ‘race riots’/pogroms/civil unrest at Manezh Square. People in the audience probably expected Kashin to try to parse the liberal/conservative tensions on the ‘nationality question.’ (Olga Allenova and Yuri Krupnov quarreled about this last year, when the latter tried to turn a blind eye to race and interpret the slogan to mean “Russia for Russian [citizens]“.) Kashin, however, dismissed the threat of nationalism in Russia outright:
“If tomorrow all police disappear from the streets and there began a day of open murders, it’s unlikely that these killings would proceed on ethnic grounds; the conflicts wouldn’t be interethnic but, more likely, interclass.”
The events at Manezh? A Kremlin plot: “Without the goodwill of the authorities, we wouldn’t have witnessed anything like what we did see at Manezh.”
The startling success of Dmitri Rogozin’s party in 2003? A Kremlin sideshow: “Quite artificial and not related to the real agenda of the day.”
As is often the case with Oleg Kashin, it seems like it was a different person authoring his work five years ago. In a November 2005 article for Vzgliad (titled “Moscow for Muscovites,” no less), Kashin was alarmed by the race riots in France. Though he was skeptical about the Rodina project, he warned that “[i]n three or five years, Moscow, and later all of Russia, will still have to face the [nationalist] problem.”
The Kashin who now forecasts Russia’s collapse is the same man who wrote in March 2005 that “the expectation of change is the main sensation of the year.” This, of course, was back when Kashin was still ‘for the first time’ reporting for Kommersant. (He’s back at that publication again, but there were several ‘dark years,’ when he flirted with more establishment-friendly newspapers.) “Ready for A Fight” is an article Kashin wrote at the height of his bromance with Ilya Yashin. (If Yashin had become as successful as Navalny is today, one has little doubt that Kashin would now be blogging about how ‘nobody backs Ilya,’ the ‘new Yeltsin,’ etcetera.)
The March 2005 piece is all about the politicalization of Russia’s youth. This was the era of color revolution and Nashi scandal. Indeed, Yashin and Kashin even infiltrated an early Nashi conference, using false names. When they were discovered, some Nashists even roughed up Yashin (Kashin wouldn’t get his for another five-plus years).
In November 2010, after the infamous attack on Kashin, Yashin published on his blog a post titled “Today We’re All Kashins.” He recaps the 2005 Nashi incident to implicate Yakemenko in the 2010 plot, but equally interesting is his characterization of his friendship with Oleg in the 2005 period. He tells the story of them parting ways politically, of Kashin attending Seliger and warming to Gleb Pavlovsky. Then followed blogging tit-for-tat tiffs. (Yashin violated Kashin’s privacy, and then Kashin betrayed Yashin’s trust. Blah, blah, blah.) There was a fateful meeting at a pizzeria, where the two men reached a cordial but not terribly friendly truce.
Kashin has had two popular LiveJournal blogs. His current blog, kashin.livejournal.com, has been active since 2002, but there are no public entries between 2003 and 2008. His other LJ account, another-kashin.livejournal.com, has a smattering of entries between 2007 and 2009, but most are not available to non-friends. The entries used to be public, but Kashin switched on the privacy settings at some point — probably during one of his not infrequent identity crises.
What is the meaning of all this? I’m not sure, but — to borrow Kashin’s own willingness to make grand assumptions about Russia’s ‘path’ — perhaps this political schizophrenia is representative of something national? Russia’s bastard democracy drives most anyone to a sort of civic manic depression. One moment, the angels of a color revolution are assembling overhead, and, the next minute, it seems like the system is either terminal or invulnerable. It’s enough to give anybody mood swings.