Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Internet ‘Horizontal’ Now Threatens Putin ‘Vertical,’ Moscow Commentator Suggests

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 11 – Ten years ago, the Internet blogosphere and Vladimir Putin burst on the Russian scene at almost the same moment, setting the stage for a “David and Goliath”-style conflict in which the horizontal ties promoted by apparently weak blogosphere are becoming a real threat to the outwardly impressive power of the latter, according to a Moscow commentator.
And while Igor Yakovenko writes in yesterday’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal” that there is nothing inevitable about the victory of the former over the latter, the struggle between the two is far less unequal than many imagine and the possibilities for the emergence of a new and more open Russia thus far greater (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=9346).
The blogosphere, which Russians call “the live journal” with its Russian-language acronym “ZhZh,” Yakovenko notes, arrived “thanks to America and like all globalization was a HORIZONTAL phenomenon.” The second, Putin’s VERTICAL, in contrast was the product of the country’s long and often tragic history.
Their near simultaneous arrival on the Russian scene, of course, was “a coincidence,” the Moscow commentator continues, but the struggle between them, one in which he believes the ZhZh has clear advantage if Russians exploit it fully, “will form the central element of the Russian social-political process during the coming 10 to 15 years.”
The contrast between these two phenomena could hardly be greater, Yakovenko argues. Putin’s “power vertical” although imposed from above, “in fact arose out of the depths of Russian history with all its traumas and familiar curses: the adoption of Orthodoxy, the 200-year-long yoke … and as the crowning event of all this – STALINISM.”
That is why, the commentator says, “Putinism was so easily accepted as something native by the Russian social system. Putinism as Stalinism-lite. For the majority of the population, this was the ideal variant.” Why? “because Stalin is needed for each member of the majority ‘for all the rest’ … for the oligarchs, journalists, rights activists, and the West.”
“Consequently, the majority of the Russian population” -- and Yakovenko insists that “citizens in this population form a minority” – “not only did not resist but rather with a sigh of relief accepted everything that Putinism has brought,” especially its reassuring message that someone was again in control of the situation.
The blogosphere or “Live Journal,” on the other hand, is “a phenomenon like all other aspects of globalization which is at perpendicular odds to the Putin VERTICAL – and not only to the Putin version of this but to any al all” – because it is “a world in which all are equal. People, countries and nations. A world in which all depend on one another.”
These two phenomena, “a global HORIZONTAL” and “a native VERTICAL,” are now at war with one another. The battlefield consists of “the heads of all a growing part of the population of Russian residents,” and this struggle is leading to “the transformation of a certain part of them into citizens.”
“How will this magically take place?” Yakovenko asks, noting that the struggle between the two at present looks like one between “David and Goliath,” with all the power appearing to be on one side and the outcome predetermined but with the outcome likely to be very different than most expect, although it is clearly one that the VERTICAL’s supporters already fear.
That can easily be seen in the strategy and tactics the VERTICAL has adopted against the HORIZONTAL, the Moscow writer suggests. “The VERTICAL is based on the absence of trust and solidarity between people, on the absence or very small social capital in society.” And that is why its supporters have always tried to prevent the emergence of horizontal ties.
Stalin, the archetypical VERTICAL power builder, carefully monitored those around him in order to prevent the emergence “of any horizontal contacts.” Indeed, during his rule, his closest comrades “were afraid to visit one another’s homes,” lest the Soviet dictator’s suspicions of a conspiracy against him be sparked.
Putinism, Yakovenko continues, became possible “because by the end of the 1990s, the total amount of social capital” – of trust among people in society – “had fallen below the critical level.” But having exploited this situation to create his system of power, Putin unintentionally has taken steps that open the way for the defeat of the VERTICAL.
By cutting itself off from the population by eliminating elections and drawing “a border” between power and population, the Putin VERTICAL has created a situation in which, in part with the help of the Internet, some Russians “are beginning to live their own lives, to build their own system of communications independent from the powers that be.”
That is leading to the creation of a new HORIZONTAL and thus to its clash with the values of the VERTICAL, Yakovenko argues. And that clash, especially if the supporters of the HORIZONTAL work hard, can give Russia a chance but only a chance to escape Putinism and the Russian past and build an open society based on a new social compact among citizens.

No comments: