Oleg Kireev on Thu, 11 Mar 1999 04:32:38 +0300 (WSU)

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Syndicate: mailradek no. 12 (I.Zasursky)

The "mailradek" project continues. It is a non-regular posting of subjective
commentaries on political themes. The information about the project is
available on the Website (in Russian):
Everybody who doesn't receive it can send a "subscribe english mailradek" or
"subscribe russian mailradek" (a more often and full version) e-mail to
kireev@glasnet.ru, and I'll include him into the mailing list.
	Address: Russia 117333 Moscow, Vavilova 48-237, tel.: (095) 137 71 31.
instead of radek@glasnet.ru.

Ivan Zasursky was a leading journalist and the head of the economics section
of the 
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" newspaper (before it was bought by Berezovsky), a
technologist of a number of electoral campaigns, and an adviser on regional
elections in Nemtsov's governmental apparatus. Now he's an independent
journalist and his book "Crash of the Illusions of the Second Republic" is
soon to be published by the MGU Publishing house. It will be the most
competent, well-informed and explosive critique of the basic ideological
axioms of liberalism, freedom of the press, and the entire political system
of this now defunct era.

O.K.: - You're performing now as the unveiler of the "illusions of the
Second Republic", but you are a person who made a successful life within
that system. You're taking an ambigious role this way: that era is past, and
only now do you step forward to disclose its myths. Do you think your
position is unique, or it will be taken by many people now?

I.Z.: - You mean, is it conjunctural? I don't think so. The most important
impression I had in the early 90s and even mid-90s was of an immersion into
a world which I didn't understand so well but where all the people were sure
they knew what this world is like. I became accustomed to    seeing people
everywhere around who were thinking that everything is changing, fine times
will be here very soon, we'll have western capitalism, free speech, all
communists are idiots, only the
liberals know how to do anything, for it's enough to get rid of all state
regulations, and the society will form very soon by itself, and all the
processes will go on as they have to. But I was closely dealing with
economics and all the time I felt that something is wrong here. I felt that
my views were in opposition to reality. I didn't even have my own position
at this time. My own position became opposed to those of the "illusions of
the Second Republic" just when it appeared.

The liberal Weltanschauung came from the very hard reality of the Soviet
era, it was a very obvious choice for those looking for a way to live. But I
already lived in an era of freedom! The position I took was therefore quite
different from what was generally accepted then. You see the "illusions of
the Second Republic" were in reality organised by a will to turn
ultra-egoism into a dogma, that is, without any attempt to do anything by
means of cooperation and communication, in other words, to do anything
effectively. The process af expropriation and robbery was
simply masked by a liberal screen. People at all levels started to get
something and lost their wits getting it.

O.K.: - Why "Second Republic"?

I.Z.: - The 90s, for me, is only our second republic; the first one lingered
for less than a year, from February till October 1917. We can't count the
Soviet state as a republic, because elections weren't the main feature of
the political system. The Second Republic, then, is a separate period and I
think that it starts in 1991 and ends up in 1998, with the economic crisis;
for the realities have essentially changed since then, and we can't say it's
still the same
regime. That's why we have an original transition period now. The old
political-social project based on the Second Republic's illusions, is
ruined, and the new project is just forming.

The Second Republic for me is a liberal regime, whose main features stayed
the same for eight years. A time in which one man governed. There were
different important changes but the political system didn't change: it was a
sort of Copernican system with the king-sun in the center who controlled the
whole political system and who could redistribute power at any moment. A new
situation has arisen since Primakov's appointment. The third republic will
be in a process of formation till the next presidential elections, I guess,
and we'll be able to see how it
turns out after that.

OK: - Please tell us about your way of periodizing this history.

IZ: - I could call this book an investigation of the media-political system.
It is, first of all, about the role of the mass-media in the 90s, and it
becomes an investigation of the 90s themselves, for the media were the key
institution of this decade; although, the role of the press decreased in the
second half of the 90s in comparison with the first half. The mass-media
were the only social institution providing communication in the country at a
time when the old state was ruined and the new power system was just under
construction. The press supported the state in the early 90s; and then the
press, delivered of its mission by Gorbachev's reforms, does not change its
propagandist character but starts to look for new ideals - these become then
the illusions of the Second Republic. In principle, it's just a brilliant
expression of the former
Soviet-Russian mentality, for it is teleological, it proclaims a communism
in the end,
although a capitalist communism!

The press was extremely popular at that time, and it did not just apprehend
popular attitudes and behaviour but created them as well. The democratic
media and a very few young reformists on the new Russian political stage
explained to the rising star of Russian politics, Boris Yeltsin, that one
could not only fight the privileges, but could also have some sort of
quasi-constructive program of radical liberal reforms which could achieve
[capitalist] communism in two months, or four years, or whatever. An
outstanding unity of bureaucrats and liberals! Its basis was simple:
the Soviet bureaucracy would re-register the state property as private
property, under a mask of liberal rhetoric.

The Soviet intelligentsia consisted mainly of poorly informed people, who
saw liberal concepts as a convenient way to solve all problems. With the
help of these ideas they could compensate their lack of information with
dogmatism, and thereby construct a new image of the world. But all these
dogmas came from the previous cold war era, when the USSR was a "socialist"
state, and the West was the state of the common wealth. We only understand
now that, probably, things were the other way around: in many senses the
USSR was a state of the common wealth, while the West was in many senses
exactly the kind of society which the Soviet media used to say it was.

As a result, the press in early 90s became the main support of the president
and the extremely influential anti-communist force. Why? Because the
journalists had huge influence. But why anti-communism? Just because the
previous influential and commercially profitable newspapers simply
re-registered themselves - with the help of the recently established
Ministry of information under Poltoranin in 1991 - and immediately became
independent and commercial. The thing they were afraid of most of all was
that the communists might return and take their newspapers back. What was
also important, is that the journalists felt how their social status
changed, they felt themselves liberated, independent, and they didn't want
to give back either the property, or the social status. Really, not many
people wanted the communists to return back then. It all resulted in the
common acceptance of a new consensus which became a constructive and
destructive programme for the Second Republic. It was a combination of
anti-communism, liberal rhetoric and the new owners' interests, i.e. the
interests of the industrialists and the new regional elites, emancipated
from the CPSU.

This consensus was shown clearly in the putsch, when it turned out that
no-one supports the putschists! Except for some regions with conservative
chiefs or with enterprises within the military-industrial complex. It was an
elite consensus, which became a social consensus as well, thanks to the
mass-media. Then, in 1993, the collapse of the whole system begins. I am
referring to the very conflict ridden political life and the struggle
between the legislative
and executive powers. Khasbulatov makes a mistake then and tries to fight
for influence over Russian TV, and over "Izvestia" (the newspaper which
previously belonged to the Supreme Council of the USSR), thus turning the
journalists against him. That's why the journalists' corporation gave so
much assistance to the president in organizing a hard operation against the
parliament, supporting his provocations,  all those decrees, and the
referendum ("Yes-Yes-No-Yes"). All the papers certainly got gifts from the
state for fulfilling their role as a unique political resource. Subsidies
were shared out after the 93' events between the leading newspapers,
"Komsomolskaya pravda", "Trud", "Izvestia". "Izvestia", for instance, got
the building it was situated in, and it was independent till 97 because of that.

That's how the process starts which I call the formation of the
media-political system. The mass-media's role changes and it becomes the
dominant political institution (along with the elections); therefore the
space of mass political communication, the semantic space, forms, and
politics moves into it. There exist no parties besides the KPRF, and the
main political action takes place in the media-space, in "the society of

For sure, no-one wants this space to be really independent, especially after
the war in Chechnya when the journalists showed that they can follow the
public mood. They started a massive anti-war campaign, unexpectedly for
everyone. The president, for whom they had always been an ally, criticised
the state TV disgustingly and Poptsov was cast out of there. After this
people were
called in who were previously connected with the "party of power". I mean
Berezovsky (a genius who created the media-system as it exists now), and
Gusinsky (in spite of this fact, Gusinsky in fact controlled the most
critical media during the war, for which reason he accumulated some capital
of trust). These people understood, it's pointless to run risks in the media
system, you need to effect the public opinion all the time.

Eventually Berezovsky reforms the TV, appointing Sagalaev (his
business-partner, they both have 26% of the stocks in TV-6) in place of
Poptsov. Berezovsky (together with Listyev) invents a stock holding scheme
[to finance Ostankino, Public Rissian TV via private investments for to
disable parliament in controlling it], and Berezovsky buys "Nezavisimaya
gazeta" (which was bankrupted in 1996), and thus he creates a shadowy set of
influential holdings. Gusinsky has a similar set up by this time as well. He
starts with the "Segodnya" newspaper in 1993, and adds New Russian TV and
the "Echo Moskvy" radio station, so it becomes a pretty influential
business. They famously join in Davos; consequently, Yeltsin and the "party
of power" has full control over state TV, for they have all three central
channels. Gusinsky is promised the fourth channel.

The communists managed to discredit themselves fully during this period by
demonstrating their vengeful intentions and their desire to nationalise all
of the media. Consequently the whole of the journalists' corporation
supported Yeltsin again. This happened primarily because all the competitors
were successfully neutralized; and as a result, all the media acted as a
united propaganda machine in the electoral campaign of 96.

There is another very important factor. New technologies appeared in the
course of the elections which allowed the media to manufacture an image of
reality, a virtual reality. Journalists no longer share the Second
Republic's illusions, but no-one demands it of them. They are only called
upon to produce these illusions. That's the goal around which their programs
are written, that's why they manufacture all these spectacles with their
attempts to compromise various figures. All this results in a loss of
information, which the journalists have to deal with simply because of their
non-professionalism and because they can't live without cheap sensations.

After the election campaign of 1996 it becomes clear that the media combined
with the new  technologies of public manipulation is a super-effective
weapon. And then all the media-holdings finally get organized, all the
traditionally independent papers get bought up, the projects start to run
etc. The media holdings start to perform the function of political parties,
that is, propaganda, partisan recruiting, lobbying for definite decisions, -
what could be easier in the conditions of a rudimentary political system?

The formation of the Second Republic's media-political system is completed
in the next two years, 97-98, when the first battles take place: a battle
for "Svyaz'invest", which becomes the first example of the new type of
information war and the brightest event of 97, I guess. Finally, the "fourth
estate" myth, which was one of the main illusions of the Second Republic,
disappeares from journalists' heads, and only extremely stubborn people
continue to claim there exists some "fourth estate". In reality, even TV
doesn't think in such categories, it's just rhetoric.

OK: - Do you draw the conclusion that when the role of the media decreases,
traditional parties must appear?

IZ: - The Second Republic goes into decline and, finally, it ends after the
crisis of August, 98. The situation changes in general. At first, the huge
advertising market decreases. It had formerly made possible gross TV
expenditures. Now the transnational corporations, which were paying high
tariffs, leave the market. In fact, the major commercials now come from the
domestic advertising companies. They have their position and their interests
which the mass media
must keep in mind.

Then, the "tycoons" fall. For example, UNEXIMbank recently declared a
default on its euro-obligations, although it was one of the most succesful
and ambitious of the industrial
groups; it developed really actively and bought "Svyaz'invest". The state
has strengthened radically following Primakov's appointment, and the main
political investors now (i.e. those who finance parties during elections,
sponsor the media, pay for all the campaigns etc.) may become
the milk giants and the sausage kings, instead of the "tycoons" who invested
vast amounts of money in the media in the hope of getting some free property
during the period of privatization.
A restructuring of the political system is occuring. And it isn't possible
any more to group all the media together into one united propagandistic
complex: the control over the media has split up, the points of view are
multiple, therefore the possible choices open to the people are multiple as
well, and it becomes more and more difficult to control the media-space.

This situation doesn't permit the construction of any sort of illusory
reality, or virtual reality, as we had in 96. It's impossible to build a
united image of the world because everone has already got used to dealing
with the new information technologies. There's now a competition to
monopolise the image of world, because specialists from different companies
organise information campaigns for the media-holdings, campaigns which are
to shift public opinion in one way or the other, and all of this occurs with
a pre-electoral orientation. But the parties and candidates require real
local partisan activity in the regions, for there's a lack of any
unified control over the media. Regional partisan activity is very much
necessary, when the regional press is under the control of the local
administrations. So it seems to me that
we see a redistribution of power away from the media, for they have become
an insufficiently effective instrument for winning elections. All the
sources give their versions of what's happening, and it's very difficult to
get a monopoly on the image of the world. This presents a possibility for a
new political system to appear, a system which will be less fragmented,
more structured and mobile; and it will give an opportunity to new political
parties, based on the regional organizations with a mass membership, like
the KPRF. 

OK: - You were the first person here from whom I heard the name Manuel
Castells. How do you see the shift of the role of the media in the Second
Republic in terms of its connection to the global processes of
informationalisation and globalization, which Castells has investigated? 

IZ: - What happened in Russia in the 90s was a rather less than acceptable
attempt at
binding ourselves to the global economy, the most unsuccessful way of
adapting to it.
The old system was largely destroyed and an attempt was made to construct a
new one, and together this blocked further development. A utopian,
absolutely unrealizable ideology totally blocked the possibility of any
conscious decision-making in society. There was a real process of
property-sharing, the sharing of zones of influence, and also a
monopolization which blocked any active development of the economy, the
polity, and everything else. The Soviet Union was an economic system; I
guess, it was an industrial corporation which included all the country into
itself. That's what Castells is writing about, but in a bit different way.
He even had a quarrel with our Russian liberals at one international
conference because of their dogmatism.
There isn't anyone more liberal than our liberals anywhere in the world, I

OK: - There's a basic opposition even in your book's title. "Illusions" as a
concept comes from the humanities, while the decisive factors in the history
you describe are economic, and it was these which grounded all the
illusions. What do you think about these illusions' fate in the coming,
"Third" Republic?

IZ: - An ideological and political project for the Third Republic is forming
right now which can be called a statist one. Its main feature is already
apparent: this is the strengthening of
the state's role in politics and the economy (in terms of policy, the role
of the president was
central, now it seems to have been taken by the government). I think it's
very important, that people are now trying to find some balance between the
Soviet project, it's better features, and some features of the Second
Republic, which are to be kept. The latter was a very cruel epoch, but it
was a wonderful epoch. It was a time of freedom, a time which will not be
repeated soon,
a time when it seemed everything was possible, when really crazy projects
were appearing, when life was flourishing, when people were saying what they
thought, when they weren't feeling themselves engaged by any definite
interests, when there weren't any hard and fixed programs for
life. For sure, there were many crimes and many cynical things, but there
was some
boldness in this epoch, which makes me want to sing a paean to it.

Something like that might be said about this decade in general. Entropy and
unstability are accumulating in the world system, because no-one makes any
conscious decision-making. The 90s is a time with no true decision-making
because everybody has been looking out for his own interests only, and there
hasn't been any attempt to coordinate those interests, to work on any common
program. Some local projects in America, Europe, or Russia make advances,
but the whole panorama is one of the growth of entropy, a lack of
coordination. And my motif here is simple: I'd like life to be a little more
conscious, although I don't see a a global program for humankind's
salvation, or even a project which could stabilize Russia. No such project
exists, for sure. The positive aspect of the 90s, including postmodernity,
has been a transition of power to the individual; for example, power over
information via PCs, which are almost a means of production, to recall a
classical term. I'd like this aspect to remain, but I'd like the situation
to develop a bit more rationally and I'd like people to make conscious
decisions. Concretely, I am sure it's
necessary to understand how the mass-media work, how manipulation happens,
who wants to fuck our brains, so as to make people capable of getting more
information from the media than maybe even the media has.