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RAS Issue No. 41 January 2008 JRL 2008-1
: Stephen D. Shenfield, sshenfield@verizon.net 
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The Research and Analytical Supplement (RAS) to Johnson’s Russia List is produced and edited by Stephen D. Shenfield. He is the author of all parts of the content that are not attributed to any other author.

S novym godom! Happy new year to all readers!

1. Control of the media: a neo-Soviet model?
2. Funding of power agencies
3. Chechnya and the police
4. Russian economic prospects
5. Using reserves
6. Ownership concentration
7. Arbitration judges
8. “Kulak” children
9. Life as a waif
10. Thinking about thinking



Source. Symposium on the Post-Soviet Media, Europe-Asia Studies, Dec. 2007, Vol. 59, No. 8

This symposium is based on papers presented at a conference on “The Mass Media in Post-Soviet Russia” that was held at the University of Surrey (UK) in April 2006. Here I focus on the general assessments of the situation of the media in Russia today by Nadezhda Azhgikhina, secretary of Russian Union of Journalists, and by the media consultant Daphne Skillen and on comparisons with the Soviet media by Sarah Oates of the University of Glasgow and by Hedwig de Smaele of the Catholic University of Brussels. (1)

It seems clear that the Kremlin is engaged in an ongoing effort to expand its direct or indirect control over all the mass media. The main method used is pressure to change the ownership of media companies in favor of individuals with connections to the regime. The last independent television channel, RenTV, was sold in 2005 to Abros, a subsidiary of the Rossiya Bank whose chairman Yuri Kovalchuk is a close St. Petersburg friend of Putin’s. Latest in the long line of newspapers that have passed into more reliable hands is Kommersant, purchased by Alisher Usmanov, an Uzbek metals tycoon with close links to Gazprom. (2)

The process now extends to the internet, which retains a potential to mobilize opposition. Usmanov has also acquired the web newspaper Gazeta.ru, while the Cyrillic segment of the bloggers’ service LiveJournal now belongs to the loyal oligarch Alexander Mamut, facilitating the identification and suppression of “irresponsible” bloggers. Those who predicted that the Kremlin would content itself with gaining control of the really “mass” media (the most popular newspapers and, above all, television) but leave alone “elite” media like the business press and the internet have proven too sanguine.

Besides buyouts, the courts are used to encourage media self-censorship. Over 300 criminal cases have been brought against journalists in the last six years for such offenses as “slandering” or “insulting” state officials as well as under loosely worded and selectively applied “anti-extremist” legislation. (3)

This is not to say, however, that the Kremlin is solely responsible for action to suppress freedom of the media. Zhirinovsky, for example, has repeatedly sued newspapers for slander. The main threat to regional media comes from the regional authorities, many of which use much cruder methods, including official and police harassment and assassination. (4)

Certain media developments, even if they are consistent with regime goals, may actually have nothing to do with political pressure. Critics complain that television stations have dropped valuable analytical programs on current affairs in favor of yet more vacuous soap operas and game shows. But this is surely part of a broad international trend: ratings wars and the total commercialization of media management that accompanies ever more concentrated media ownership have had exactly the same result in other countries, not least the United States. (5) Of course, an element of censorship may also be involved, but even without it the outcome would probably be very similar.

Does it make any sense to speak of a “return” to the situation the media were in under the Soviet regime? Perhaps, but only in certain respects.

Thus, Sarah Oates proposes the concept of a “neo-Soviet model of the media” but does not make a strong case for it. Most of the negative phenomena that she surveys ­ for example, bribery, hidden advertising, use of kompromat (compromising material), defects in media law, funding problems, violence against journalists -- are either not specifically or not at all “Soviet” in nature. Where she does find common ground with the Soviet period is in public attitudes concerning the media. Managed media receive high approval ratings even though people know that they are biased and distorted as sources of information, because diverse and critical media are associated with chaos and instability.

Similarly, Hedwig de Smaele argues that the “information climate” or “information culture” in Russia is coming to resemble ­ de facto if not de jure -- that which existed in the Soviet period. Once again the state is regarded as the supreme value and access to information is treated as a privilege (dependent on personal contacts, for instance) rather than as a right.

An idea that Nadezhda Azhgikhina -- and she alone -- expresses is that the legacy of the Soviet media is not wholly negative. Although Soviet journalists had to toe the ideological line, it was also their function to criticize (within limits) shortcomings in the work of official institutions and take up complaints from citizens, who wrote to the newspapers in enormous numbers. (6) Many journalists, she declares, were inspired by an ethic of protecting the rights of ordinary people, and public appreciation of their efforts won quite a few of them election as people’s deputies under perestroika. In the post-Soviet period, commercial as well as new political pressures are undermining this ethic and a new type of mercenary journalist has emerged. Nevertheless, many journalists still uphold their ideals against all odds.

I would add the following point. Media freedom is often interpreted solely as freedom from state interference. As I understand it, media are “free” when professionally competent and socially responsible journalists are free to work independently not only of government but also of corporate advertising and management -- not to mention organized crime. Free media require special arrangements for ownership, control, and finance, such as self-managing journalistic collectives funded solely by readers or viewers. (7) Why should a media outlet subservient to Putin be labeled unfree, while an outlet subservient to Berezovsky or Gusinsky (or Murdoch, for that matter) is regarded as free? Admittedly, domination by rival oligarchs has some advantages over domination by a unified power center, but it is hardly appropriate to speak of freedom in either case. From this perspective, the only period in which a measure of media freedom prevailed in Russia was the brief interregnum toward the end of perestroika, when state control had been relaxed but private bosses had not yet taken over.


(1) Nadezhda Azhgikhina, The Struggle for Press Freedom in Russia: Reflections of a Russian Journalist, pp. 1245 ­ 62; Daphne Skillen, The Next General Elections in Russia: What Role for the Media? pp. 1263 ­ 78; Sarah Oates, The Neo-Soviet Model of the Media, pp. 1279 ­ 98; Hedwig de Smaele, Mass Media and the Information Climate in Russia, pp. 1299 ­ 1314.

(2) Besides owning Metalloinvest, Usmanov is director of the Gazprom subsidiary Gazprominvest. Similar processes are occurring in the field of radio.

(3) On “official anti-fascism” see RAS 40 item 6.

(4) However, to the extent that the center has tightened its control over the regions it must at least share responsibility for such things.

(5) Even (or especially) people with long experience as insiders have denounced the trivialization or “dumbing down” of television news content in the United States. See, for instance: Danny Schechter, The More You Watch, the Less You Know (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1997); Tom Fenton, Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, the Business of News, and the Danger to Us All (New York: HarperCollins, 2005); and the interviews with supporters of the independent internet television channel The Real News (http://www.therealnews.com).

(6) The classic study of this phenomenon is: Nicholas Lampert, Whistleblowing in the Soviet Union: A Study of Complaints and Abuses under State Socialism (New York: Schocken Books, 1985).

(7) This is the model used by The Real News (note 5).

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Source. Julian Cooper, The Funding of the Power Agencies of the Russian State. The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies. At www.pipss.org/document562.html

Professor Cooper (Center for Russian and East European Studies, University of Birmingham, UK) is known for his work on Soviet/Russian military spending and defense industry. Here he focuses on the relatively neglected topic of state expenditure on “power agencies” apart from the armed forces of the Ministry of Defense. These fall under three general categories (1):

* Security agencies

Federal Security Service (FSB) Border Service Foreign Security Service Federal Protection Service (guards top officials) Federal Service for Technical and Export Control (2)

* Public order agencies

Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) Internal Troops of Ministry of Internal Affairs (VV MVD) Federal Service of the Tax Police Federal Service for Control of Drugs Federal Courier Service Procuracy Ministry of Justice (3)

* Agencies for emergencies, natural disasters, and civil defense

Ministry of Civil Defense, Emergency Situations, and Liquidation of Consequences of Natural Disasters

Main Directorate of Special Programs of the President (preparations for war mobilization, the most secretive agency of all)

The amount of information published about the federal budget has varied enormously from one year to another. The best year was 1995, when a breakdown of expenditure by government department was provided, and the author uses this year as his point of reference. While in general less information has been available under Putin than in the 1990s, there was a gradual increase in openness in the mid-2000s, interrupted by a sudden clampdown in 2007. The federal budget for 2008 ­ 2010, as signed into law by Putin on July 24, does not even provide separate figures for such broad and non-sensitive categories as economy, education, culture, and health ­ an unexplained and “extraordinary” development. (4)

In 1995 the security agencies received 2 percent of federal expenditure (with the border service accounting for almost half of this). The public order agencies received 4.5 percent and the emergency agencies 0.6 percent, for a total of 7 percent as against 18 percent going to the armed forces.

For comparison, the estimates Professor Cooper gives for 2009 are:

-- security agencies up from 2 to 3.1 percent -- public order agencies up from 4.5 to 7.3 percent -- emergency agencies up from 0.6 to 0.7 percent -- total “other power agencies” up from 7 to 11 percent -- armed forces DOWN from 18 to 14 percent

Thus there has been a big shift in spending priorities away from the military toward security and public order agencies.

Expenditure on all power agencies as a share of GDP rose from 1999 to 2004, with the most marked increase for security and public order agencies. Between 2005 and 2007 the share of GDP going to security and public order agencies stabilized, while the share of the armed forces fell.

For 1995 we also have figures for authorized staffing levels. Total personnel of all security agencies then came to about 400,000. For comparison, the KGB in 1991 had 420,000 staff ­ but that included the border troops while the 1995 figure does not. So even in 1995 the number of people working for state security was no smaller than at the end of the Soviet period. Now it must be considerably larger.


(1) I present the current setup. The author traces the many organizational changes that have occurred in the post-Soviet period.

(2) Includes information and communications security.

(3) Under the Ministry of Justice: Federal Registration Service, Federal Bailiff Service, Federal Service for Implementation of Sentences.

(4) The same pattern applies to other areas. For instance, human rights monitors were obtaining better access to places of detention until this year, when “outsiders” suddenly lost all access.

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Source. Interview with Tanya Lokshina conducted by Olga Filippova. The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies. At www.pipss.org/document772.html

Tanya Lokshina is president of the research center Demos. Here she talks about a study conducted at her center concerning the service of police officers in Chechnya and its personal and social consequences. The service of police officers, she argues, has a much greater impact on society than the service of military personnel due to the much more intensive interaction between the police and the general public.

Initially it seemed that the project would have the authorization and assistance of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but as a result of the recent clampdown (see preceding item) all cooperation was refused. Most of the interviews with police officers and their wives had to be conducted in secret.

The many police officers who serve a stint in Chechnya return traumatized by what they have experienced, seen, and done there. However, this is not officially recognized as a problem ­ in part, evidently, because according to official myth the war in Chechnya ended two years ago. Returning officers therefore receive no psychological treatment. They may not even get any time off before returning to duty.

Service in Chechnya also brutalizes the police and strengthens hatred of natives of the Caucasus. Lokshina thinks this helps explain why police are now assaulting even nonviolent protestors.

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Source. Philip Hanson (University of Birmingham), The Russian Economic Puzzle: Going Forwards, Backwards or Sideways? International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs, London), Sep. ­ Oct. 2007, Vol. 83, No. 5, pp. 869 ­ 89

The author starts with the macroeconomic record. Russia has had nearly a decade of growth and stabilization. The average rate of GDP growth since the 1998 crisis has been an “impressive” 6.7 percent. The economy was jolted into growth by sudden devaluation of the ruble (from 5 ­ 6 to 25 rubles to the dollar) and by the upturn in oil prices, which doubled in 1999 ­ 2000 and rose again from 2002. Windfall revenues from raw material exports have been channeled into a Stabilization Fund, part of which has been used to pay off two thirds of the state debt. (1) Thanks to careful management of the money supply, the inflation rate fell sharply to 9 percent in 2006. At the same time, however, companies have taken out large foreign loans.

The business environment remains difficult, especially with regard to cross-border trade (due to a corrupt customs service), dealing with licensing requirements, and obtaining credit. Bribery is widespread and getting worse. Factors of this kind, “perhaps exacerbated by recent state interventions,” help explain why the level of fixed investment remains low at 19 percent of GDP (though it is rising). Capital flight continues, although it declined in 2006 as a result of the introduction of full ruble convertibility.

To what extent is growth dependent on exports of oil, gas, and metals? While these raw materials account for some 80 percent of exports, they do not contribute very much to the rise in real GDP because they employ a very small fraction of the workforce and because output is now growing slowly (oil) or stagnant (gas). However, rising export earnings (due to rising world prices) contribute almost half of budget revenue and raise personal incomes and company profits.

Of greater concern for the future is the fact that exports are not being diversified. As an exporter of medium and high technology products Russia lags behind China, Turkey, and Brazil. There is evidence that Russia is suffering from “Dutch disease”: export of natural resources pushes up the exchange rate, damaging the competitiveness of other sectors of the economy.

Since 2003 there has been a shift to greater state ownership (although some privatization continues) and direct state intervention in business affairs. State ownership in the oil industry rose from below 20 percent in 2004 to over 50 percent in 2007. There have also been state acquisitions in banking, engineering, and even metals. (2) But the impact on the economy as a whole has been modest, with the private sector share of GDP declining from 70 to 65 percent since 2000. There seems to be no intention to extend state control far beyond “strategic” sectors, especially hydrocarbons and defense-related industry. (3)

The initiative for strengthening the role of the state in the economy, Hanson argues, comes solely from the Presidential Administration, and reflects the historical tradition of the patrimonial state. The “technocrats” in government ministries tend to be against the strategy, which is justified by PA official Vladislav Surkov in terms of Russia’s need for “sovereign democracy” and “a sovereign economy.” This, however, is a nativist rather than a statist rationale: it may suffice to exclude foreigners from strategic sectors and rely on national (but not necessarily state) capital. The key distinction is between “offshore aristocrats” or “cosmopolitans” (4) and patriotic businessmen who can be trusted to serve state interests (i.e., do what they are told) when called upon to do so.

Nevertheless, five state holding companies are being formed in “strategic” sectors:

-- Rosoboronexport (armaments but also VAZ, the car manufacturer)

-- United Aviation Company (aircraft)

-- United Shipbuilding Corporation

-- Atomenergoprom (civil nuclear energy, planned for 2008)

-- a company for R&D in nanotechnology (planned)

The author concludes that a dual economy is emerging, with different rules of the game in different sectors. State control, if not full state ownership, in the “strategic” part of the economy will coexist with free enterprise in the rest of the economy. (5) The strengthened role of the state may be damaging to Russia’s economic prospects, but it is hardly lethal. The most likely near-term scenario is “muddling through,” with annual GDP growth slowing somewhat to about 5 percent.


(1) The Stabilization Fund has now been replaced by a Reserve Fund and a National Prosperity (or Welfare) Fund. Windfall revenues have also gone into the country’s gold and foreign exchange reserves (see following item).

(2) The state has acquired the titanium producer VSMPO-Avisma. However, some big Russian metals companies, such as the aluminum producer Rusal, have developed into multinationals with assets outside the CIS, so that they can no longer be nationalized.

(3) The exact definition of “strategic” is still in the process of being legally clarified.

(4) The author is not sure whether Putin, like Stalin, uses the word “cosmopolitan” as a code for “Jew.” The fact that some of the trusted businessmen are also Jews suggests that this is not the case. At the same time, Putin may count on being misunderstood by radical nationalists, thereby winning more support from that wing of the political spectrum.

(5) For a description of free enterprise in the non-strategic part of the economy, see RAS 40 item 3.

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Source. V. Belkin and V. Storozhenko, Zolotovaliutnye rezervy Rossii i napravleniia ikh ratsionalnogo ispolzovaniia (Russia’s Gold and Foreign Exchange Reserves and Areas for their Rational Use), Voprosy ekonomiki, 2007, No. 10, pp. 41 - 51

The authors’ argument is that Russia maintains its gold and foreign exchange reserves (henceforth simply “reserves”) at a level much higher than necessary. A country needs a certain level of reserves to cover specific contingencies, such as fluctuations on world commodity and foreign exchange markets, but reserves in excess of this level should be put to other uses. In Russia, however, the false idea prevails that the level of reserves is in itself an important indicator of economic performance, so the more the better. In fact, by reducing reserves to an optimal level Russia could both strengthen its economy and improve social conditions.

One criterion used in international practice to assess the adequacy of a country’s reserves is that they should cover the cost of three months’ imports. (1) Even supposing that in Russia’s case six months’ imports need to be covered, reserves of $85 billion in 2007 would have sufficed. Thus the actual level of reserves -- $416 billion as of September 1, 2007 -- was almost five times larger than necessary.

Belkin and Storozhenko contrast Russia’s accumulation of excessive reserves with the policy of other states ­ in particular, of oil producers in the Middle East.

Moreover, the level of Russia’s reserves continues to rise rapidly. In the first eight months of 2007 alone reserves increased by $112 billion, and they are soon expected to go over the $500 billion mark.

The idea of redirecting funds from reserves to solve a socioeconomic problem ­ specifically, to pay back wages owed by the state ­ was first raised by prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in 1994. His proposal received the support of the IMF, but was thwarted by opposition from the Bank of Russia.

The budget for 2008 ­ 2010 envisions withdrawing one third of the money in the Reserve Fund and National Prosperity Fund, successors to the Stabilization Fund, to help cover planned expenditure. (2) However, the possibility of drawing on reserves has not yet been officially broached.

At the same time, many important state programs are grossly underfunded and for that reason cannot achieve their stated goals. In the healthcare field, for example, only 10 ­ 15 percent of the operations that patients need (even trauma surgery) are performed. The program for supplementary preferential provision of medicine to poor people is not implemented systematically and does not cover expensive drugs even when these are the only effective treatment for a given condition. (3) Another underfunded area is the extension and improvement of Russia’s highway network. In the authors’ view, poor roads are a major factor in the death of 35,000 people a year in road accidents.

Belkin and Storozhenko outline a plan for injecting $100 billion (2.6 trillion rubles) a year from reserves into the economy and social sphere and for its allocation to various uses. This, they remark, is a very modest proposal, as its implementation will not reduce reserves but merely stop them rising further.


(1) Other criteria are also used. Whichever criterion is chosen, however, the conclusion that Russia maintains excessive reserves remains valid.

(2) The amount to be withdrawn is one trillion rubles ($38 billion). This Reserve Fund must be distinguished from “reserves” in the sense of gold and foreign exchange reserves.

(3) An example is leukemia, for which the only effective treatment is Glivek (trade name for Imatinib) at the cost of 100,000 ($3,800) rubles a month.

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Sources. T. Dolgoplatova, Ownership Concentration and Russian Company Development; S. Avdasheva, Russian Holding Groups. In: Problems of Economic Transition (M.E. Sharpe), Sep. 2007, Vol. 50, No. 5. Originally from: Voprosy ekonomiki, 2007, No. 1

The ownership of privatized enterprises in Russia was initially broadly dispersed among their workforce in the form of vouchers. However, under conditions of high inflation and widespread impoverishment in the early 1990s most vouchers were sold and ended up in the hands of managers and external owners. In turn, the weakness of legal institutions and of corporate governance led the new owners to concentrate their holdings in order to obtain control over the managers of joint-stock companies.

Dolgoplatova’s survey (1) shows that the degree of concentration of ownership of Russian companies is high even by international standards and that it continues to increase. In 70 percent of the firms in her sample a single individual owned over half the shares, and in only 30 percent of these firms (21 percent of all firms) was there a second large owner with a blocking share to act as a counterweight to the first owner. In only 13 percent of firms did no individual own as much as a quarter of all shares. The degree of concentration of ownership is especially high in holding groups and their operating companies (subsidiaries).

The author investigates the relationship between the degree of concentration of ownership and the level of development of corporate governance. She finds a U-shaped relationship. Corporate governance is most developed (e.g., active boards of directors, regular payment of dividends) in companies that have an intermediate level of ownership concentration. Where ownership structure is highly concentrated, control is exercised directly by the largest owner or owners. In companies with widely dispersed ownership, managers have a free hand and the proceedings of formal institutions of corporate governance become empty formalities. These companies tend to have the poorest performance.

Avdasheva traces the formation of holding groups in the Russian economy, examines their functioning, and assesses their performance. Up to 1992 holding groups were confined to the fuel-energy complex, where they were formed with state participation on the basis of preexisting Soviet structures. The phenomenon spread to other industries, such as machine building and food processing, mainly in the years of economic recovery after 1999, the process peaking in 2002. In the author’s opinion, the period of intensive mergers and acquisitions is now over.

According to Avdasheva’s survey results, firms join holding groups primarily with a view to improving their market position and gaining better access to capital rather than (as some have claimed) in order to form closer relations with government at various levels. She finds that ownership and control are less closely related in firms belonging to holding groups than in independent firms. Decision-making is usually not highly centralized in the hands of the leading company within a group: in 95 percent of cases operating companies retain control over operational decisions and in 60 percent of cases they also control strategic decisions. The author’s general assessment of the performance of holding groups is that they have shown themselves to be “more effective property owners” than independent firms.


(1) As well as other surveys conducted in recent years by, in particular, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Higher School of Economics, the Institute for the Economy in Transition (Gaidar’s institute), and the Russian Economic Barometer. The author provides no information about the methodology of her survey.

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Source. Kathryn Hendley, Are Russian Judges Still Soviet? Post-Soviet Affairs, Vol. 23 No. 3, July ­ September 2007, pp. 240 ­ 74

Professor Hendley (University of Wisconsin) is known for her massive empirically based studies of the functioning of the courts in post-Soviet Russia. This article focuses on the arbitration (arbitrazh) courts, to which she was granted “unusual access.” (1) These courts handle all economic disputes involving legal entities. They are the successors to the state arbitration panels (gosarbitrazh) that handled disputes between Soviet state enterprises. (2) Those disputes, however, typically concerned the failure of one enterprise to deliver goods to another in accordance with its plan obligations (late delivery, poor quality, etc.) and were resolved with a view to optimizing plan fulfillment. With the transition to a market economy, arbitration judges (former arbiters) had to learn to analyze situations in financial terms and cope with many new issues (tax, bankruptcy, corporate governance, intellectual property, etc.).

There have also been changes in court procedure:

-- Successive procedural codes (1992, 1995, 2002) have mostly replaced the old three-judge panels by judges working on their own. (3)

-- Proceedings have been made more formal. Thus, the judge now wears robes. Litigants stand when she enters the room and when she reads her decision, and they address her as “esteemed judge.” (4)

-- Judges are now required to state and justify their decisions in writing.

-- There has been a shift toward a more adversarial approach. Parties are supposed to prepare their own arguments and evidence, with a preliminary hearing to exchange evidence, instead of passively waiting to be questioned by the judge as in the old days.

In practice judges are reluctant to enforce some of these changes. The shortage of proper courtrooms militates against the cultivation of a more formal atmosphere. Many litigants do not present their arguments competently or even bring with them the necessary documents ­ even though the judge generally lists those documents in the notice for the hearing. Judges have the right to defer or even dismiss such cases, but for various reasons rarely do so. They fear that their decision will be reversed on appeal or that a litigant will file an ethical complaint against them with the judicial qualification council. They also fear delays because the criteria used to assess their work (affecting salary increases, promotion, etc.) include delay rates as well as reversal rates. Finally, they feel that the important thing is reaching a fair outcome rather than observing all the legal niceties. So judges continue to play a very active role, advising litigants and helping them along. The trouble with this, as the author points out, is that litigants have no incentive to become more competent.

Thus, although judges’ work style remains somewhat “Soviet” this is not because they retain a Soviet mentality but mainly for reasons having to do with the current structure of incentives.

Finally, Professor Hendley discusses the extent to which judges in Russia today can be considered independent. She argues that although the political and economic elite still impose their will in cases that affect their “core interests” substantial progress has been made toward an independent judiciary. “Many cases are resolved by judges in accord with the law and without any outside interference.” In this sense Russia may be regarded as a “dualistic legal state.”


(1) She attended the proceedings of 14 courts in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Saratov, and Omsk. She was also able to review case files and interview judges and other personnel.

(2) State arbitration panels did not have the status of courts.

(3) Collegiate decision-making is retained for bankruptcy cases and for challenges to a normative act.

(4) Some litigants, imitating American court scenes they had seen on television, took to calling the judge “Your Honor.” This un-Russian form of address has now been eliminated.

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Source. Michael Kaznelson, Remembering the Soviet State: Kulak Children and Dekulakization, Europe-Asia Studies, Nov. 2007, Vol. 59, No. 7, pp. 1163 - 78

Between 1930 and 1933 more than two million Soviet farmers were dispossessed, thrown out of their homes (often in the dead of winter), deported from their home regions under horrific conditions, and placed in prison-like “special settlements” in harsh and remote areas of Siberia, the North, and Kazakhstan. This was done to them because they were classified as “kulaks” (that is, rich peasants) and deemed hostile to collectivization. (1) The author focuses on a subgroup of these unfortunates to which other writers have paid too little attention: the children. Close to 40 percent of the deportees were under 16. (2)

In terms of research method, this focus has one big advantage: some of those who were deported as children in the early 1930s are still alive and can be interviewed. (3) Aided by the Novosibirsk historian Professor Sergei Krasilnikov, whose mother was a kulak child and who has himself written on the deportation, Kaznelson talked with eight former child deportees who had been resettled in the Narym region. (4)

A major argument made by the author is that the children were not passive victims, as children are often assumed to be, but actively struggled to survive against the odds. Of course, those who had a weaker will to survive did not live to tell the tale.

The children also struggled to retain their family identity ­ or to recover a lost identity, as in the case of a boy placed in an orphanage under a new name. They all “remembered” their region of origin and regarded it as their real home, even if they were only babies (or, indeed, unborn) at the time of deportation and had only heard about life before deportation from their parents. (5) When they grew up, they concealed their origin for many years in order to make a “normal” Soviet life for themselves while preserving their inner identity intact.

The children never believed that their fathers were in any sense guilty. They regarded their families not as “kulaks” but only as farmers to whom this label had been unjustly, even arbitrarily, attached. Pertinent here (though the author fails to explain this) are the derogatory connotations of the word “kulak,” the primary meaning of which is “fist.” Nor were many of the “kulaks” exploiters by any stretch of the imagination: to be labeled a kulak you didn’t have to hire labor; it was enough to possess more than one cow or more than one horse. And however poor you were, you could get lumped together with the kulaks simply by expressing opposition to collectivization. (6)

Kaznelson notes that his interlocutors always talked about what had happened to them impersonally, in the passive voice, without specifying who exactly had thrown them out into the snow and chivvied them on their way. As children, how could they understand who their tormentors were, especially when the latter were strangers like the “25,000ers” ­ city people sent into the countryside to enforce collectivization? Even their parents probably had only a vague idea. In any case, it didn’t much matter to them. Local “poor peasant” activists, militia, OGPU, 25,000ers ­ all were servants of “the system.”


(1) Another two and a half million, although also classified as kulaks, were considered less hostile and resettled in their home regions.

(2) In view of the large size of rural families at this period, I am surprised that the proportion was not even higher.

(3) The author also drew on letters, memoirs, and other written sources found in Siberian provincial archives.

(4) Another Russian historian who has done work on the topic is Olga Litvinenko.

(5) The same phenomenon has occurred following the deportation of other rural populations. Thus, children of Palestinian farmers expelled by the Zionists in 1948 continued to identify with their “home” villages.

(6) There was a special term for this: “sub-kulak.”

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Source. Voinov, Outlaw: The Autobiography of a Soviet Waif (London: Harvill Press, 1955)

I was alerted to the existence of this probably unique book by a reference in the source for the preceding item. It’s a memoir of the 1930s from an unusual perspective ­ that of a waif or abandoned child surviving on his wits. The Stalin regime presented the problem of abandoned children (bezprizornye) as a legacy of the civil war period and claimed to be making rapid strides toward its solution. But through its purges, de-kulakization, and man-made famine the regime itself constantly replenished the waif population.

The story is set mainly in Vladikavkaz (at that time Ordzhonikidze). In 1931, when the author was six, his engineer father was arrested by the GPU and disappeared without trace. For a year the kind old watchman at the factory where his father worked looks after the boy, but when the watchman dies he is placed in a local children’s home. Conditions there are so atrocious that, like many others, he runs away to join the world of waifs who live on what they manage to beg or steal. Later he returns to the home, where conditions have now improved, and attends school. Called up in 1941, he is taken prisoner by the Germans and ends up in France, where after the war he evades forcible repatriation and so gets the chance to write this book.

The world of waifs was a rebellious counterculture that persisted in the interstices of the Stalinist monolith. Waifs trust only one another. Although they live by theft, (1) they draw a sharp moral distinction between themselves and “family kids” who steal. Their own stealing is justified by necessity and by the fact that their parents have been stolen from them. They are reluctant thieves who try not to inconvenience their victims more than necessary. For instance, when they stop a man to strip him of his suit they ask whether he has another suit at home. When they pick a wallet they take the money but thoughtfully mail the documents back to the owner.

The waifs have a special loathing of the “big bosses.” While the author is attending school, a boy in his class is lauded to the skies by the principal for denouncing his father, whom he caught reading a book by Trotsky. Voinov and his orphan friends notice that the informer is wearing a new suit. They follow him, beat him up, and rip the suit to shreds. “Our fathers were taken from us, but you sell yours for a new suit!”

One interesting aspect of the story is the changes that occur in the management of the children’s home. During the author’s first stay at the home, the managerial style is marked above all by disorder and neglect. The place is filthy, the windows broken. The kids are beaten at random by the irritable and lazy “educators” (vospitateli) in ineffectual attempts to impose order. (2) The food, soup and bread once a day, is not enough to survive on, but residents are free to come and go as they like, so they have the opportunity to supplement their rations by begging and theft. No one bothers to keep track of which children have disappeared or reappeared. The cook just walks through the rooms and makes a rough estimate of the number present each evening so as to know how much water to add to the soup.

When Voinov returns a few years later, he is astonished to find the home clean and orderly. The windows have been repaired, the food is somewhat better, the children are no longer beaten, and proper records are kept. There are new educators ­ hardworking, patient, and dedicated, former waifs themselves who have won the kids’ trust. Later in the 1930s a new type of manager comes onto the scene ­ the narrow-minded Stalinist disciplinarian, exemplified by the school principal. I wonder whether these successive shifts were typical of the whole country and how they happened. Has anyone researched this?


(1) The waif culture consisted of two subcultures ­ thieves and beggars. Thieves looked down on beggars as lacking in independence and self-respect. But some waifs were disabled or otherwise unable to steal and so had to beg.

(2) I was struck by the following vignette. After escaping from the home, Voinov is picked up by the GPU and asked why he ran away. “Because they starve and beat us there,” he replies. The GPU man is outraged: “Take care what you say! Children are not beaten in the Soviet Union!” ­ and gives him another beating! That taught him to observe the ideological proprieties!

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Source. D. V. Ushakov, ed. Psikhologiia tvorchestva: shkola Ya. A. Ponomareva (The Psychology of Creativity: The School of Y. A. Ponomarev). Moscow: Izd-vo “Institut psikhologii RAN,” 2006.

Yakov Ponomarev started doing original research in the psychology of thinking while still a student at Moscow University, where he studied philosophy and physics after the war. Already at this stage his ideas influenced such major figures of Soviet psychology as Leontiev and Rubinshtein. However, Ponomarev labored under the stigma of having been a prisoner of war, so despite his brilliance he was unable to pursue an academic career on graduation. He found a job as a guide at Ugolok Durova, a children’s animal circus. (1)

Following the 20th Congress, he was able to return to work in his field ­ first as an editor at the publishing house Pedagogika, then in 1961 as a researcher at the Institute of Psychology of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences. Here he turned his attention to the problems of intellectual development in children. In 1966 he transferred to the Institute of the History of Natural Science and Technology, and in 1972 finally settled down at the Institute of Psychology of the Academy of Sciences. (2)

Many of Ponomarev’s theories resembled theories developed by psychologists in the West, often at about the same time but quite independently and even without the researchers concerned being aware of one another’s existence. The Iron Curtain played a large part in this mutual isolation, especially in the Stalin years, but it wasn’t the sole cause. Later an increasing number of works by Western psychologists were translated into Russian and published in the Soviet Union, but apparently Ponomarev was not very interested in them. Psychologists in most Western countries knew even less of the work of their Soviet counterparts. (3)

Ushakov, in a long essay, makes a systematic comparison between Ponomarev’s ideas and those of Jean Piaget, who for many years was by far the most influential figure in Western developmental psychology. Although neither ever refers to the other, he finds many similarities in their basic approach. Lacking the financial and organizational resources of Piaget, who established his own international institute in Geneva with funds from the Rockefeller Foundation, Ponomarev never fully developed many of his ideas, but (Ushakov argues) his thinking was conceptually richer than that of Piaget. They might have achieved great things working together.

One important difference between Ponomarev and Piaget was that Piaget focused solely on the development of logical thinking, while Ponomarev had a bipolar conception of human thinking. People have two quite distinct modes of thinking: logical and intuitive. Logical thinking draws on information that is selected in the light of a conscious goal, while intuitive thinking operates by other mechanisms (e.g. association) and ranges more widely.

These two modes cannot function at the same time. For instance, suppose that a test subject is successfully solving a certain type of problem by intuitive thinking. Then the experimenter asks her to explain what she is doing at each step, thereby forcing her (intentionally or unintentionally) into the logical mode and repeatedly interrupting the flow of her intuitive thinking. Under these circumstances she will no longer be able to solve the problems.

Another important difference concerned the significance of children’s age for their mental development. Piaget constructed a rigid model of the ages at which children acquire the ability to solve different types of problem: this ability appears at the age of seven, that one at the age of eleven, etc. Even though, as Ushakov points out, Piaget himself acquired those abilities before the ages specified by his own schema! Ponomarev showed that there are two broad types of intellectual ability, each corresponding to a specific type of problem. “Chronogenic” abilities do correlate closely with age, while “personogenic” abilities do not. Thus, a gifted child (like Piaget) will perform exceptionally well, but only on problems that test personogenic abilities. But it so happens that all the problems Piaget gave his test subjects were chronogenic, and that misled him to exaggerate the significance of age,


(1) He was lucky. Many former prisoners of war ended up in the camps.

(2) Note there were two institutes of psychology, one attached to the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences (for educational psychology) and the other to the Academy of Sciences.

(3) Finland, it seems, is an exception.

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