When looking round the Russian city of Izhevsk a participant in the last week Ural Social Forum said: "Now I came to realize why the Kalashnikov assault rifle had been invented here".
In Izhevsk it was too cold for the middle of April, but also there were many policemen, members of riot squad, who were ready for action, and numerous military equipment including a new police armored car resembling those in a Hollywood film about the war in Iraq. Suddenly the Izhevsk hotels refused to accommodate the forum organizers, although the money had been transferred to those hotels. In addition, the hotel managements did not accommodate any city visitors to prevent the forum delegates from staying at hotels individually.
Larisa Nikulina, employee of Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, was detained at the railway station two days before the forum. The policemen pleaded an anonymous phone call: the lady was said to bring weapons and drugs to Izhevsk. But why on earth should anybody bring the Kalashnikov assault rifle to Izhevsk, the city where it was invented?!
The city incurred losses because of the forum. Meanwhile, two hundred people, who came to the forum from Moscow, St.Petersburg as well as from the cities and towns in the Urals and Volga regions, had not planned to organize any demonstrations or protest marches. They were going to discuss the development of social movements, their strategy and tactics in the context of the global financial crisis. The forum organizers needed a calm and business atmosphere, while their constant confrontation with the authorities hindered the work.
After all, the forum was held in an unfinished house on the outskirts of Izhevsk. This suspended construction project was seized by deceived shareholders who intended to complete the construction by themselves – it is symbolic that the social movements had to meet here. Sitting on the empty rooms floor the delegates started their activities that were amazingly constructive.
The social movements develop. Fewer and fewer general and meaningless statements are made. It is much more important to understand why the government’s measures to protect the employment do not work and what new alternative steps should be demanded. The delegates carefully planned the campaign against the Single State Examination that both teachers and schoolchildren hate. They assessed the efficiency of the protest actions that had already been held. The forum participants listened to a lawyer’s lecture about legal problems of protest actions holding and analyzed the applicability of the Western leftists’ media technologies in Russia and the lessons of Barack Obama’s propaganda campaign.
The crisis makes the social movements more efficient, but the same is not true for the local authorities. The reaction of the Izhevsk government to the forum indicated their fright, if not panic. The question is what and whom are they afraid of? I doubt that two hundred forum delegates (many of them were far from being young) posed a real threat to Udmurtia’s constitutional order. It seems that the bureaucrats were afraid of other people and their fear was just indirectly connected with the social forum. I am referring to pressure of the rulers rather than of the ruled ones.
The officials know that the ordinary people cannot overthrow them, but they panic at their higher-ups who may dismiss the officials. That’s why they take preventative measures displaying diligence and vigilance. The more absurd, comic and incommensurate with a threat the bureaucrats’ decisions are, the more tangible their efforts seem to be.
The functionaries’ fear of losing their jobs or of being reprimanded reaches the point of hysteria during the crisis. Therefore, they make inadequate moves.
However the officials’ irrational behavior is explained by certain bureaucratic logic according to which the bureaucrats’ idiotic actions could be better than their quiet inactivity. A functionary must report to high-ranking officials what he has done rather than what results he has got. Such side effects as disgrace brought upon the officials’ home city, jokes that the event participants crack about the bureaucrats or even negative articles in the press about what is going on in the city are of no importance to the functionaries until their bosses get to know about the side effects.
All of that reminds me of an old Soviet joke about an American delegation’s coming to a collective farm. "Why did we show them the cowshed with its roof crashed down?"- asked the party organizer. -"Why did we bring them to the hen coop where the chickens are emaciated? Why did we fail to remove the drunken Vasya from the road?""Let them slander us"- the collective farm chairman answered melancholically.
As a matter of fact, the official press will not write about inadequate bahavior of the local authorities. As regards the opposition press, the government does not read it.
Eurasian Home, 23 April 2009
Boris Kagarlitsky, a fellow of the Transnational Institute, is a Director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, Moscow. His latest book is Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System (2008)