Oleg Kireev on Thu, 11 Mar 1999 19:28:50 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> mailradek no. 12 (I.Zasursky)

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                                25.02.1999 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

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, gradually 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

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

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 think...

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.

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