Should Five Percent Appear Too Small: Medvedev & Russia’s Social Insurance Tax

On March 30, 2011, President Medvedev gave a speech in Magnitogorsk, where he announced a series of executive orders aimed at improving Russia’s miserable, “bad, very bad” investment climate. In an apparent effort to reach out to business interests, Medvedev declared that social insurance payroll taxes (strakhovye vznosy) were too high, and he ordered the government to work out a tax reduction plan, due on his desk by June 1, 2011. That deadline came and went, as officials brushed off Medvedev’s directive and loosely advised a return to the subject perhaps in a year. Vladimir Putin dragged his feet and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin openly criticized as fiscally irresponsible the idea of lowering the social tax (the main revenue source supporting Russia’s pensions system). Commentators speculated that this was a standoff, between either Putin and Medvedev or between Medvedev and cabinet members like Kudrin. As talk turned to tax cuts favoring just small businesses, many wondered if the President would backtrack on his effort to reduce taxes for all and settle instead for reductions affecting only some employers. (In his March speech, he never singled out different-sized businesses.)

Springing up everywhere.

On June 8th, Presidential Aide Arkady Dvorkovich told the press that the government would spend two weeks debating two possible tax cut ideas: one plan in which reductions would be made only for medium and small businesses, and another plan that would lower payroll taxes for everyone, marginally more so for small businesses. Dvorkovich signaled that the Administration preferred the first option (given the greater priority of alleviating smaller entrepreneurs), but added, “If such a business-friendly scheme cannot be reached, then we are left with only the second option. There simply won’t be another way.” On June 14, 2011, Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov revealed to the media that the first tax cut plan had “no chance” of becoming a reality, as dividing taxes into three tiers would be “technologically” unfeasible. Continue reading ‘Should Five Percent Appear Too Small: Medvedev & Russia’s Social Insurance Tax’ »

The Plot Against Nikita Mikhalkov: Migalki, Privilege, & Revolution

Anyone remotely familiar with Russian cinema has probably heard of Nikita Mikhalkov, an Oscar-winning film director, the son of an illustrious artist family, and a notorious asshole. It was just a few years after the end of the USSR, when Mikhalkov won his Academy Award for the 1994 film ‘Burnt by the Sun.’ That movie — a sharp critique of Stalinism — was an international success, the profits from which Mikhalkov dumped into his next epic, ‘The Barber of Siberia’ (1998). Three-hours-long, with a budget of 35 million dollars, ‘The Barber’ earned a lousy 2.6 million bucks. Adding insult to injury, it ended up being screened out of competition at the 1999 Cannes film festival. More than a decade later, Mikhalkov tried to reclaim his glory-days by releasing two sequels to ‘Burnt by the Sun’. The first installment, ‘Exodus,’ cost 40 million dollars, but earned just 7.5 million. The second release, ‘Citadel,’ cost 34 million, and earned a paltry 1.5 million at the box-office. In total, the two-part sequel lost a whopping 65 million dollars.

The RuNet responds: "A Great Film About Me Again."

Mikhalkov’s obsession with himself and with all things ‘epic’ has helped make him one of the most mocked and reviled personalities on the RuNet. In March of 2010, ultra-popular blogger Artemii Lebedev (LJ user Tema) posted a series of photoshopped advertisement mockups, poking fun at ‘Exodus’s stupid-looking movie poster (which prominently featured Mikhalkov holding a machine gun under the tagline “A Great Film about the Great War”). Within a few hours, more than 200 ‘fotozhaby’ appeared in the comments section, prompting rumors that Mikhalkov was contemplating a lawsuit against Lebedev. (From what I can tell, that never ended up happening.)

More recently, the other thorn in Mikhalkov’s side has been his migalka: the blue siren atop elite vehicles that lets drivers circumvent traffic laws.

Continue reading ‘The Plot Against Nikita Mikhalkov: Migalki, Privilege, & Revolution’ »

Yulia Dikhtiar & the Persecution of RosPil

Beginning in the middle of April 2011, several people who donated money through Yandex.Dengi to Aleksei Navalny’s RosPil said they were contacted by a female reporter claiming to work for “Sol’” newspaper. Bloggers have since identified the caller as Yulia Dikhtiar, a Nashi commisar in Voronezh. On May 2nd, this story developed into a full-blown scandal, when the print media and RuNet blogosphere linked the incidents to Yandex’s April 28th IPO on Nasdaq.

Meet Yulia Dikhtiar, gadfly of RosPil.

Later in the day on May 2nd, Elena Kolmanovskaia, Chief Editor of Yandex, announced that the FSB had indeed twice previously requested transactions information from Yandex.Dengi concerning Navalny’s account (the second request apparently targeted 100 specific donators).

Initially, Navalny was on vacation in Ukraine, whose apparently lousy Internet availability he blamed for being late to respond to the leak scandal. He was, however, able to make himself available for a Slon.ru interview the day after the story hit the headlines, on May 3rd. For the man who tweets at a hummingbird’s pace, it took Navalny 48 hours to mount a follow-up post on his LiveJournal blog. Despite this “vacation delay,” Navalny returned from Ukraine more fiery and accusatory than ever. Continue reading ‘Yulia Dikhtiar & the Persecution of RosPil’ »

Navalny’s Nationalism

“I don’t know why foreigners love to always photograph me in vests. A possible explanation is that, in every foreign article about me, it’s necessary to cautiously mention that my ‘general views are somewhat nationalist.’ To Europeans and Americans, the vest is a symbol of the four-eyed nerd. Maybe a “nerd-nationalist” is somehow less scary.”
~Aleksei Navalny, February 24, 2011

Who is this guy?

On April 4, 2011, the New Yorker published perhaps the longest, most detailed English-language analysis ever of Aleksei Navalny. Authored by Julia Ioffe, the article covers Navalny’s tumultuous personal past and his recent rise to political stardom in the Russian opposition. As Navalny himself noted with a certain exhaustion, Ioffe and the New Yorker staff hounded him for weeks, following him to the corners of Russia as he worked, phoning his relatives to fact-check the minutia of the article’s text, and generally “driving him batshit crazy,” as Ioffe put it. This might be the thoroughest, most intimate study of Russia’s hottest political figure today.

So what did it leave out? In a single word: nationalism.

Continue reading ‘Navalny’s Nationalism’ »

AGT to be Discussant at 2011 ASN World Convention

For anyone a member of or interested in the Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN), that group’s world convention is occurring this week at Columbia University in New York. Yours truly will be playing the role of Discussant for Panel R9 (“The Construction of Power in the Russian State”) this Saturday, April 16th, at 9am.

I’ll be discussing papers by four very talented scholars. Here’s the info from ASN’s final program:

These papers are works-in-progress, so I’m afraid I can’t publish my reviews at this time, but I encourage anyone in the area to try to attend. (It’s not free, I believe, though I doubt you’ll have to get through OMON_Moscow to find your way inside.)

Oleg Kashin’s Manic Depression

 

"I know what I want, but I just don't know..."

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. Continue reading ‘Oleg Kashin’s Manic Depression’ »

The Great Debate: Navalny, Kuzminov, & Friends

When the coolest nerds collide...

Roughly a week ago, a muckraking blogger and a scholarly nepotist got together with some other eggheads and talked for nearly four hours about in-the-works reforms for Federal Law 94, which is a beastly piece of legislation regulating government tenders. The law is made up of 65 articles, and has been revised several times since being enacted in 2006. Aleksei Navalny, superstar Internet sensation, activist lawyer, and all-around promising “new liberal” political inspiration, faced off against Yaroslav Kuzminov, provost/president/”rektor” of the Higher School of Economics and husband to Elvira Nabiulina, head of the Ministry of Economic Development. Continue reading ‘The Great Debate: Navalny, Kuzminov, & Friends’ »

Whatcha Gonna Do When They Tweet At You? OMON_Moscow’s Public Q&A

 

The face, so to speak, behind the tweets. OMON_Moscow's avatar.

On January 13, 2011, an anonymous member of the Moscow OMON opened a Twitter account and began regularly posting opinions and factoids related to police work in Russia’s capital city. That Twitter account now has almost 3,000 followers, and the user himself is following 178 other tweeters — most of them high-profile RuNet bloggers. In what is an increasingly ordinary miracle of the 21st century, this faceless, nameless Internet presence managed to become a big enough sensation that Ekho Moskvy chief editor Alexei Venediktov took notice and offered to repost the results of a public Q&A that OMON_Moscow started on February 2nd. Using a LiveJournal account created parallel to the Twitter profile, Mr. OMON solicited readers for any questions they might ever in life have wanted to put to a real, live Moscow cop. He received almost 500 questions in less than two weeks, with thousands more to follow. They ranged from polite and genuinely curious to insulting and didactic. He answered all kinds. Continue reading ‘Whatcha Gonna Do When They Tweet At You? OMON_Moscow’s Public Q&A’ »