Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, August 14, 2015

Dancing represents relaxation?

There's not much new here about politics, but there is new information about the political culture. How will these changes affect politics and policy?

A Moscow of Dancing Feet, Under an Iron Fist
Russia’s capital city has worn many outfits since the fall of the Soviet Union. There was the tattered but hopeful garb of the first years, threadbare and full of possibility. Then came the leopard print fur of the 1990s, an era of stomach-churning economic collapse when the rich roared around in Mercedes sedans and everyone else suffered through the endless steeplechase of life under uncontrolled capitalism.

More recently, however, the city has donned a beautiful summer dress. There is a bike share program, Wi-Fi on the subway and free tango lessons in Gorky Park. Express trains now zip past traffic snarls to the airports and Uber taxis have replaced wheezing Soviet-era gypsy cabs. Cars park in real parking spaces and tow trucks haul them away if they do not.

But while Moscow looks ever more like an elegant European capital, its political life is marching steadily in the opposite direction. Last month, Russia’s powerful state investigation committee proposed removing the principles of international human rights from the Constitution… Two American charities announced plans to close offices, citing the hostile environment.

For an outsider, the disconnect is dizzying. Which is the real Russia? The one besieged by foreign agents or the one where tattooed hipsters glide around on skateboards? And when — if ever — will those two worlds collide?

In many ways, Moscow is resurgent: a more beautiful, confident version of itself. Over the top has given way to casual elegance…

But the rich are not the only beneficiaries. Russians are substantially better off since President Vladimir V. Putin first came to power in 2000. The average salary has roughly tripled, after inflation, and poverty has declined sharply, bringing a feeling of stability and well-being that was lacking in the 1990s. More Russians can now plan life in advance (Where will I go on vacation this year?) instead of snatching it a day at a time (What will I eat for dinner tomorrow?).

Among intellectuals, the mood is dark. In recent weeks, newspaper articles have attacked the journalism department at Moscow State University for teaching liberal ideas. Several professors at St. Petersburg State University have been fired for what their colleagues say are their liberal views.

Many are leaving. The number of Russians emigrating to Israel was up by about two-thirds in the first five months of this year… Temporary teaching positions become permanent and graduate programs turn into extended stays…

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