Russia

The "Sovereign Democrat's" Summer Camp

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Putin Camp

The creeping Sovietization of Russia continues apace. Last week, the Washington Post revealed that Politburo supremo President Vladimir "Dzerzhinsky" Putin had inserted himself into the country's primary school text books, assuring his subjects that he is, in fact, responsible for inventing democracy and that, all things considered, Uncle Joe wasn't a half bad leader:

The history guide contains a laudatory review of President Vladimir Putin's years in power. "We see that practically every significant deed is connected with the name and activity of President V.V. Putin," declares its last chapter. The social studies guide is marked by intense hostility to the United States.

Both books reflect the themes dominating official political discourse here: that Putin restored Russian strength and built what the Kremlin calls a "sovereign democracy" despite American efforts to isolate the country.

"Sovereign Democracy" is the title of one of the history manual's chapters. The term was coined by Kremlin strategist Vladislav Surkov, who attended the launch of the two books at a teachers' conference in Moscow last month. Supporters of the president use the phrase to describe the centralization of power under Putin as essential to the building of a stable Russian state, free from outside interference.


A textbook that took an unflinching look at Stalin's policies, including his nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany in 1939 and the mass deportation of Chechens and other Caucasians during World War II, was pulled by education officials in 2003.


According to the new history manual, Stalin was brutal but also "the most successful leader of the U.S.S.R."

The AP reports on the rise of the Komsomol-ish Putin summer camp—learn woodworking, poison-tipped umbrella making and polonium-handling for Mother Russia:

Ten thousand young commissars—their title borrowed from the Communist Party leaders of the Soviet era—came here to learn to be Russia's next generation of tycoons and political leaders. Equally important, they came to prepare to stamp out any challenge from opposition groups to President Vladimir Putin's government.

Finally, a place for Camp Wo-Chi-Ca alumni to send their kids.

Back in April, reason's Cathy Young discussed the censorious media climate in Putin's Russia.

NEXT: Night of the Farming Dead

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  1. Russia continues to have its romantic allure, and alas I can only dream of seeing this beautiful place of which I’ve dreamed since the glory days of that cutie pie Brezhnev.
    I asked a friend who had been to Moscow to describe it in three words to which he replied, “Oh that’s easy. FUCKING…HELL…HOLE.” I asked him if there’s anything the Russians do competently, he replied, “Sure. Drink and yell at each other.” He did say that the Moscow subway is phenomenal.

  2. That’s ok. We all know that history is written by the loser.

  3. The difference between Russia and the US is that over here our right wing brainwashing camps are run by private industry

  4. There was a great deal of smug certainty in the 1990s, much of it targetted towards George HW Bush, about how self-evidently better it was for freedom and democracy that the Gorbachev government was replaced by the Yeltsin government.

    Fifteen years on, I think a pretty good case can be made that a reformist Soviet government would have done a better job advancing those goals than the Weimar Russia we’ve seen.

    It was quite emotionally satisfying to see the tri-color replace the hammer and sickle, but all in all, I’d rather have the powerful and elected parliament, no Chechen War, and no journalists being murdered.

  5. Sorry, folks, we lied to Russia in the early 1990s. The end of the Cold War wasn’t a “victory” so much as it was a kind of agreement between Russia and the United States. When Russia withdrew from Eastern Europe, we assured them that we would not expand NATO into Central and Eastern Europe–and certainly not into former Soviet Republics. We also promised them that they would have a sphere of influence with the former Soviet Republics–not dissimilar to our relationship with Latin America.

    Well, we lied, and now we are trying to bring even Ukraine into NATO over the objections of its populace. We brought this on ourselves.

  6. Stalin was brutal but also “the most successful leader of the U.S.S.R.”

    The sad thing is, I could see a lot of Americans agreeing with that. And it is indeed a true statement, if you take the viewpoint that individuals are only valuable insofar as they serve the state, rather than beliving that the state should be judged by what it does or does not do for individuals.

    So by that standard, Stalin was indeed a great and successful leader. The Soviet Union became rich and powerful under him; so what if it was also a hellish place to be a human being?

  7. VG, did we make that deal with Russia or the Soviet Union? Because there was a new government after the coup.

  8. Fifteen years on, I think a pretty good case can be made that a reformist Soviet government would have done a better job advancing those goals than the Weimar Russia we’ve seen.

    Anything would have been better. Except Stalin.

  9. The end of the Cold War wasn’t a “victory” so much as it was a kind of agreement between Russia and the United States.

    So, the people of Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Romania, etc had nothing to do with it? I don’t mean to pull an SIV here, but do you have any evidence that the USSR withdrawal was due to a secret agreement with the US?

  10. The U.S.S.R. did not have control of its collapse. Ye gods.

    The key to understanding Russia is twofold: (1) They’ll always try to exert influence in their self-determined sphere of influence, usually in a way deliberately contrary to any other powers active there, and (2) there’s always a tsar. Always.

  11. Before this goes any further, let’s define terms here.

    The Cold War ended some time in the late 80s. Gorbachev opened up the Soviet system, got Reagan to visit the Kremlin, they signed all sorts of treaties. The war ended, and there were a few years of peaceful coexistance.

    The collapse of the Soviet Empire happened around 1991/92, after (many would say “because of” the earlier end of the Cold War).

    The end of the Cold War happened because of agreements between the American and Soviet government. The collapse of the Soviet Empire happened because of popular uprisings/civil disobedience among people in Eastern Europe (including in Russia itself), and the response of the Soviet and other governments to those uprisings.

    People conflate the two, because things were happening so fast back then, but they were two different, though related, events.

  12. What does post-communist Russia have going for it? All the unappealing aspects of totalitarianism with none of the romantic Commie trappings. Communism, for all its faults, at least spouted some nice-sounding BS about helping the workers.

  13. So, the people of Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Romania, etc had nothing to do with it? I don’t mean to pull an SIV here, but do you have any evidence that the USSR withdrawal was due to a secret agreement with the US?

    Of course the people of Central and Eastern Europe had much to do with it! And I didn’t imply the agreement was “secret”, it was very open. If you would read newspapers from late 1989-1991, there was no crowing about a “victory” over the Soviet Union. The elder Bush and Gorbachev agreed openly to end the Cold War. It was not until the USSR collapsed that America began crowing that we “won” the cold war thanks to Ronald Reagan’s giant cod-piece knocking down the Berlin Wall or some such nonsense.

    My point is Russia is scared of the United States and NATO, scared that it is losing any influence it had left in its own neighborhood. Think how we would react if Russia tried to bring Canada and Mexico into a new Warsaw Pact.

  14. joe,

    Virginia was editor from July 1989 to January 2000. What happened at the beginning of her watch? What happened afterwards? As far as I can tell, the fall of the U.S.S.R., the 90s boom, and the rise of Salma Hayek can all be directly attributed to her stewardship at Reason.

  15. In fact, it was George H.W. Bush’s restraint that probably allowed the Soviet republics to go their own ways without a fight. Many on the right (including my international relations professor at the time) were urging Bush to publicly proclaim our glorious victory, but he realized that would be the best way to chase the rump Russia into the hands of the hard-liners.

    It’s possible that our later behavior has pushed Russia back into totalitarianism, but I think the bigger driver was the way their transition to capitalism was handled, which can best be described as a combination of ineptitude and kleptocracy.

    It’s fine to wish that Gorby had remained in power rather than Yeltsin, but that probably wasn’t possible by the ’90s. Gorby’s approval ratings made GWB look like the prom queen. He was and remains the most reviled figure in Russian history.

  16. I don’t mean to pull an SIV here

    You’re Welcome

  17. The issue isn’t how or why the last cold war ended. The issue is what are we going to do about a renegade Russia that poisons opponents, jails entrepreneurs and hampers any attempts to reign in rogue states. It is a Goddamned shame the Democrats wouldn’t go along with an SDI that would be beefy enough to not have to worry about them.

  18. What do we do with it? Use it to get in good with Eastern Europe. I predict that in the 21st century our friendships with Estonia, Hungary, and Poland will be more solid than, and help to solidify, our friendships with Germany, France, and Benelux.

  19. Anti-missile weapons stop the imprisonment of entrepreneurs, the murder of journalists, and the use of Security Council veto power, how, exactly?

  20. Yeah Ard, you know what this country needs? Another enemy!

    Please for the love of God can we get a better educated public in this country and a federal government that doesn’t take foreign policy pointers from Glenn Beck?

  21. Oh, and bonus points for anyone that can explain exactly how Russia exerting the same kind of influence over the former Soviet Republics that we do over Latin America is a threat to our national security?

  22. I asked a friend who had been to Moscow to describe it in three words to which he replied, “Oh that’s easy. FUCKING…HELL…HOLE.”

    The suburbs of Moscow are hell-holes, by the standards of the United States… think Cabrini-Green except for millions and millions of people… Although people assumed I was a local as I walked around, which I doubt they would do in Cabrini-Green.

    Downtown Moscow is beautiful. Think fantastic historic building, parks, 5 star hotels, fantastic restaurants, designer clothing stores… with Rolex and Rolls Royce advertized like Coke and McDonalds here. And every female wears short skirts and go-go boots. Even the cab drivers where honest and friendly. Downtown Tourist Moscow is lovely!

  23. July 1989 to January 2000

    AKA “The Golden Years”

  24. Oh, stop the Nick hate. I’m just abusing him for his pro-DH remark, which was morally reprehensible.

    Though I did meet Virginia back in the late 90s, and she was much cuter than Nick.

  25. James Ard,

    Honestly, I just wish Russia, France, and Germany had done a better job hampering our attempts to reign in rogue states circa March 2003.

    And any American who doesn’t, well, is going to have an awfully hard time coming up with an argument to support their POV.

  26. PUTIN’S JUST MAD BECAUSE THE AMERICAN PORN INDUSTRY STOLE ALL OF THOSE HOT, EASTERN EUROPEAN BABES. THOSE THAT WE HADN’T ALREADY PURCHASED FOR MATRIMONIAL PURPOSES, THAT IS.

    WHO KNEW?

  27. Well, its official–Reagan didn’t win the Cold War and defeat Communism, Urkobold? did.

  28. Urkobold,

    Norwegian women : Russian women :: Lobster girl : Reason Pillow Girl.

    Just keep your “baby” in its crib while I’m around, OK?

  29. Yea, VG, our influence over latin America must really intimidate Russia. What with Venezuala, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and who knows who else installing socialist governments.

  30. Ard, its not so much that we control Latin America. But rather, if an outside power gains influence there we would go nuts. We would see it, rightfully, as a hostile act.

    What makes you think Russia, or any other nation is different with its neighbors?

  31. What scares Russia is unilaterally abandoning the ABM treaty, enlarging NATO to its borders, supporting puppet governments in central Asia (that are even less democratic than Putin’s!) etc, etc.

  32. Maybe Russia should have thought about losing its neighbor’s support before repressing the fuck out of them, and now meddling in their political affairs.

  33. Meddling in their political affairs?

    Do Hondorus, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Chile, and Colombia know about this?

  34. Joe, I don’t recall any of the potential leaders of those countries turning purple from poison.

  35. And the body count from the United States’s exertion of influence is a few tens of millions fewer.

  36. No, James, they used to fall out of windows instead.

    Pro Lib,

    No, we’re not. At least, not if we’re talking about Eastern Europe. The Soviets did most of their killin’ at home, or in the third world.

  37. joe,

    While the US acted shamefully in some of those cases, I don’t think any of them can compare to the Russian treatment of the former USSR republics.

  38. The Ukrainians would like to meet with you, joe.

  39. Abdul wrote:

    “What does post-communist Russia have going for it? All the unappealing aspects of totalitarianism with none of the romantic Commie trappings. Communism, for all its faults, at least spouted some nice-sounding BS about helping the workers.”

    That reminds me of a great line from Trotsky’s dinner speech in the movie “Frida”:

    Trotstky: “They scream about Hitler’s aggression, and then sing Stalin’s praises. Aren’t they the same creature? Yes, but not exactly. Of course they are both monsters, but Hitler at least is a madman with a vision.”

    Someone else: “Vision? He’s insane!”

    Trotsky: “Of course he is insane, but he has the ability to mobilize the people’s minds, whereas Stalin, he’s… he is so dull. There is the brutality, but when you get right down to it, Stalin is nothing but a bureaucrat, and that is what is smothering our revolution.”

    Not sure if that’s what smothered their revolution, but, OK. Maybe if communism was more like fascism it really would have worked out better. The Good Tsar, indeed.

  40. Keep in mind, joe, that the stuff they did “at home” includes the Ukraine, the Baltic republics, and Central Asia.

  41. Stalin was brutal but also “the most successful leader of the U.S.S.R.”

    That’s a bit like referring to Al Capone* as “The most successful mob boss.”

    *Substitute Lucky Luciano if you prefer.

  42. crimethink,

    Former USSR republics, I’d agree. Ukraine in the 30s, for example. I read James Ard’s statement about “neighbors” to refer to the Soviets’ satellites in Europe, though on second reading, it applies just as well to the republics.

  43. James, please explain to me why the US should bring Ukraine into NATO over the objections of 70+% of its populace?

    I love how neocons are all up in arms that Putin isn’t democratic enough for them, but they don’t give a rats ass about central Asia where we have our bastard dictators. Spare me the “threat to democracy” bullshit, please.

  44. Rex Rhino:

    do you have any clue where cabrini-green actually is? (or was, more properly, as it’s nearly gone.)

  45. VG,

    Right, neocons are hypocrites. No argument there.

    But is it not possible to disapprove of both Putin’s behavior AND that of the dictators of Central Asia?

  46. There is something in the mindset of a lot of Russians that loves the strongman. The idea being that Russia is not as “weak” under Putin as under Yeltsin, and if he has to crack some skulls and get rid of any opposition to get there, well, so be it. This idea is not universal, but it’s pretty common.

    It looks like Putin is going to try to “Leninize” himself in the history books. The Soviets had a lot of jokes about giving credit for nearly everything to Lenin. “as the earth revolves around the sun, night turns into day. Thank you Lenin for all that.”

  47. Considering the missile installations in the central asian countries, I’d tread lightly with their dictators. Who’d probably just as well give nukes to their islamic buddies as take our massive bribes.

  48. But is it not possible to disapprove of both Putin’s behavior AND that of the dictators of Central Asia?

    Disapprove? Surely!

    But to say “oh noes, someone in a distant country is not democratic so Something Must Be Done” is really silly.

    Its equally silly to upbraid Russia for not wanting NATO troops on its border.

  49. Considering the missile installations in the central asian countries, I’d tread lightly with their dictators. Who’d probably just as well give nukes to their islamic buddies as take our massive bribes.

    James, the dictators of Central Asia are, for a lack of a better word, our bitches. They do whatever we want because they fear Russia.

  50. I could care less if Russia is democratic, a republic or a dictatorship. I only care that they are heading down a path that may eventually require some sort of confrontation. Screwing with Scotland Yard isn’t likely to lead to lasting peace.

  51. do you have any clue where cabrini-green actually is? (or was, more properly, as it’s nearly gone.)

    I know Cabrini-Green is in Chicago, fool. I have seen Cabrini-Green first hand. I was comparing suburban Moscow to Carini-Green, as anyone who read my comment can tell, not implying Cabrini-Green was a suburb of Moscow.

    Cabrini-Green was Americans great experiment with Soviet style housing projects, and they are extremly, extremly similiar. Do you even know what Cabrini-Green is? Do you even know the point you are trying to make?

  52. What always strikes me when I read about Putin’s Russia, is how W has repeatedly signaled our countries comfort with the “re-sovietazation” of Russia, you know, the other “Homeland”.

    Which dovetails nicely with my belief that GW is one of the most pro-“centrally run and administered” government advocates America has ever seen.

    But then there was always one thing I agreed with Jesse Helms on, that we should have all been bothered by how much GW “loved” Putin. And probably should still be.

  53. My earlier post should have read Islamist buddies, not islamic buddies. I’ve no problem with moslems, except for their belief in a diety. Hell, I even believe that they can appreciate liberty given the opportunity.

  54. Just to summarize my position.

    I don’t have a problem with Putin because he doesn’t seem to have any ambition to conquer the world like the Soviet Union did.

    His interests seem to be, firstly to have a stable Russia. Secondly for Russia to have secure borders. I don’t have a problem with him aiming for either of those goals. Yeah, hes a thug, hes a bastard, but not everyone in this world can be a liberal democrat.

  55. Virginia Gentlman-

    You, sir, are an ass.

    But for the US, we would have a flowering of freedom seems to be your main point. The “education” you wish we would all experience is something I will decline.

  56. Ah…more neo-con enemy porn!

    Pay no attention to the man behind the Patriot Act.

    Pay no attention to the July 17 “Executive Order: Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq.”

    Enemy porn! Mmmmmmm……

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