Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On "Putin 2.0"

The Russians will be going to "elect" their president this weekend, and the issue has been rightly getting a lot of attention around the world. Yet, one might claim that there is no real "news" in what many expect to happen, and that it's just the same old "Russian politics done the Russian way". But, since many think that this is something that requires attention, they are - evidently - forced to spice it up a little and cast it all in a "new" light.

Following Joshua Keating's wise suggestion - "Want to spruce up your tired old concept? Put a 2.0 on it!" - there has been a plethora of articles, analysesblog posts, and even events [upcoming, by the way, if you're interested] featuring "Putin 2.0" in some form or shape.

But, since I'm more interested in looking at how the elections battle is actually played out on the "Web 2.0", my focus is elsewhere. If curious to see what's going on on the Russian net, I recommend reading Global Voice's RuNeT Echo section: some insightful reporting and commentary.

Here, I wanted to bring to your attention - perhaps already forgotten - "independent fans" of the current Prime Minister. Remember those who solicited volunteers to "rip" for Putin? Or, the ones washing cars? Well, "Putin's Army" has been especially active lately, producing two music tracks. The first one is said to be their "anthem", while the second - more recent - one is called "Go, Vova Putin!". They also claim to have produced a music video for the latter, but it is currently listed as "private" and cannot be viewed. [Will keep checking and let you know, in case that changes.]

Nonetheless, there was another music video last week. Pretty telling, I believe, in terms of who this "army" is:



Interesting to note that there were tens, if not hundreds of comments to the video, which have, by now, conveniently disappeared.

Sex has been a major part of the Putin and United Russia campaigns - whether official, or unofficial, as in the case above - over the past several months. Suggest reading Luke Allnutt's awesome post on the subject. I guess the only thing I would add was another gem I found on the vKontakte page of the "Putin's Army". It is a poll, asking the respondents' opinion on the "sexiest part" of Putin's body (seriously?!):




Translation [from the top]: eyes; torso; mind; hands; "butt" [verbatim]. Of course, my hope is that the respondents are actually ridiculing the effort; yet, at the rate that this is going, there is no way of knowing for sure...

Then, there was a series of videos produced by a an organization called "Pervyi Raz" [i.e. "The First Time"], encouraging young voters to participate in the elections. The campaign, however, involves young women discussing their anxiety before their first sexual experience:




Here is the second one:




The third video [my personal favorite] shows a young woman getting advice from a fortune teller, who picks up a card featuring Putin with what appears to be a halo:




The comments below these videos did not exude as much love, however... Also, it's worth noting that the English subtitles were provided by the producers, themselves, which suggests that they are trying to attract the attention of foreign audiences, as well (which they have).

There are more "serious" videos, too, warning people about what might come if Putin does not win the elections. They usually paint doomsday scenarios:



And another one, suggesting political vacuum similar to that in Russia in 1917 or present-day Libya:



And yet another one directly linking it all to the Arab Spring and instigation of unrest by the US:



There is, of course, creativity on the opposition's side, as well. (Remember this?) I particularly liked this video, which suggests that Medvedev and Putin are zombifying the population:




Another prominent "protest group" has been "Pussy Riot", a feminist punk band that has been raising eyebrows in the recent months. Among many of the gigs that they held around Moscow was a performance on the Red Square...




... and a punk-prayer at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior:




The Church has currently brought charges against them, accusing them of blasphemy and inciting religious hatred. Clearly, feminists are willing to go a long way for their cause.

Few people doubt that Putin will win the coming elections, even if he is forced to go on to the second round. And although there are many analyses and predictions as to what "Putin 2.0" will bring, one thing can be said for sure: the Internet has played a key role in this election campaign, thus making it all about "Web 2.0".


Monday, February 20, 2012

Happy President's Day

The United States is celebrating its President's Day today, quite a significant and symbolic holiday. And although for most of the Americans it's a day off, logging on to Facebook is not a big deal I guess. Especially in the name of public diplomacy.

I'm specifically referring to a post, earlier today, by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on their Facebook page.



It is an unofficial "production" by an enthusiast, and although the transitions between the portraits of the presidents are a little awkward, I did find it very creative. And well, in a sense, it's a great example of people-to-people diplomacy, simply facilitated by the official capacity of the Embassy.

Another interesting note: the quote from George H.W. Bush (the Senior):
"We don't want an America that is closed to the world. What we want is a world that is open to America."

Way to go.

Read more about the President's Day.

---

UPDATE: I also stumbled upon this piece, which I thought was a fun read: "George Washington’s Rules for Social Media."

Enjoy!

#OccupyCPAC2012

As many of my Twitter followers (and Facebook friends) probably noticed, I spent two days over the last week with the OccupyCPAC crowd - a very diverse group, indeed - doing research (well, and live-tweeting) on their action. The members of the Occupy Movement, together with various community organizations and workers' unions, were protesting the Conservative Political Action Conference (or CPAC) 2012 that took place at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in DC. I ended up with a a lot of material, but did not get the chance of posting it. Yet, better late than never, so, with a week's delay, here it is.

Before I get there, though, I wanted to point out an interesting link - that I found later - between the CPAC2012 and US public diplomacy. Rather, I should say, it's potentially deleterious effect on American public diplomacy, especially in the 21st century. Here's a quick look at an astonishing bouquet, a sample of events from the official schedule:

- "The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the pursuit of diversity is weakening the American Identity"

- "Is the “Arab Spring” Good or Bad for America?"
(Side note: I overheard one of the members of the Occupy movement express outrage over this title: "Why should we care? It's their Spring. Let them decide!")

- "Does Hollywood Still Embrace American Exceptionalism?"

- "CPAC Premiere of A City Upon A Hill: The Spirit of American Exceptionalism. [Starring Newt and Callista Gingrich]"

- "Islamic Law in America: How the Obama Justice Department Is Selling Us Out"

- "Why are U.S. taxpayers spending billions to promote abortion and homosexuality worldwide?"

(I won't even go into the abundance of Reagan-related events.)

And this is just a sample. Of course, one might say that this is typical conservative (Republican?) discourse, particularly during an important election year. Yet, just as they see military spending and staying truthful to the "real American values" as indispensable to national security, the conservatives should perhaps also consider the fact that in the globalized world of the 21st century (where America still wants to be a major power) a little modesty, understanding and inclusion can go a long way in enhancing that security. After all, marines and drones have proven to be a very ineffective tool in the "battle for hearts and minds" -- the primary theater of war over the past several decades (for the U.S., at least).

CPAC, of course, is a matter of domestic politics. However, in the age of Internet and satellite television, this separation between "domestic" and "foreign" has long been wearing off, especially in the U.S. Perhaps the Conservative rhetoric should be made aware of that...?

---

CPAC 2012 took place at Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. There was an abundance of police and security personnel, in anticipation of a big crowd.



Day 1

By noon, on February 10, the protesters started gathering in front of the hotel. A big inflatable cat appeared soon after the Sheet Metal Workers' Union marched in. It held a cigar in one hand, and was gripping the neck of a worker with the other.




The crowd was diverse. Many had come from other towns - Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York, and even Miami - to join the unions and community organizations active in DC.




They were certainly very creative, too.

The 1% Tax Dodgers had come down from New York.





Others were lamenting the state of the housing market:




The youth had more to add:



And a special performance by the protesters from Philly:



A small group of students had apparently managed to get in to the conference hall, before they were escorted out by the police. Their protest was silent, yet they seemed to be saying a lot.




And of course, the protester of the day.




While this was going on for several hours, most of the CPAC attendees were advised against approaching the crowd. Yet, a few came down to engage, under the watchful eyes of the police.




This young gentleman struck me with his confidence about his future. I am not being cynical here.



This went on for a while, and as the protesters started leaving, CPAC attendees decided to reclaim the spotlight.






Many of the protesters were back in the evening, however. Although the numbers were much smaller (while the noon protest had gathered close to a 1000 people, there were only close to 150 later in the day), they were still pretty vocal. This is a group specifically protesting against Wisconsin's Republican Governor, Scott Walker, who introduced drastic cuts in the state budget and anti-labor union legislation when he took over his post in January 2011. The accompanying chant here was "Flush Scott Walker!"...




There were more members of the local Occupy Movement in the evening:




And horses...




This was the only moment I witnessed when things got a little too heated.




Day 2

The plan for the second day was to meet at the Malcolm X park and march to the hotel from there. The most (pleasantly) surprising part for me was that the police actually closed off the street to let the protesters walk (this would certainly not be the case in most of the other parts of the world...).




The weather was nasty - perhaps the coldest it had been in DC this winter - yet the protest had attracted quite a sizeable group. The security would not let them get closer to the hotel.




So they went to the back exit, braving the weather for several more hours, while the CPAC held a workshop on how to "take the Wall Street back" from the "Occupiers".




Meanwhile, across the street, there was a small group of young CPAC attendees, who had decided to stage their own counter-protest.


Can't read what the sign says?

You are not alone. Here is the scene after they were lent a better marker...




To be continued. Perhaps...

--

You can see more videos here, if interested. 


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Oh, that Propaganda...

Been absent for a while, again. I guess I could say school has started in full force and all those exams and papers won't give me a break. But before I get into yet another rant, I should probably share a couple of recent videos that raise some good questions on propaganda and the power of information.

Firstly, Al Jazeera's "Listening Post"on the information war over the story in Syria [Part 1].





What is most noteworthy in this piece is the actual fact that Al Jazeera recognizes the presence of multiple perspectives on the story, which are directly related to the "story teller's" interests in the region (of course, the network itself is not free of those certain perspectives, but at least here Gizbert is not claiming they are). I believe this is an issue that has been fully and completely ignored in much of its coverage.

Yes, there are major human rights violations in Syria. Yes, the regime is at fault. But does that mean - automatically - that the opposition is right? Who is "the opposition" to begin with? The rebels inside the country? The self-declared "leaders" abroad?

I believe the same question should be asked about all those external actors that are trying to push foreign governments in this or that way regarding the Syrian issue. Just hating Assad, or wanting him out, does not mean that they are necessarily "good", whether for the Syrian people or for the foreign interests involved.

After all, just as defined in the program, propaganda means "Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view." Being sensitive to and cognizant of these biases and perspectives is an absolute must, especially in such complex and difficult situations.

I'm afraid the information blackout by the regime, as well as the taboo status of the issue in the West are not doing it any good.

If you're curious, here is a peek into what the Russian audiences are seeing on their still much-popular (despite everything) state-run ORT channel. This is the coverage of Foreign Minister Lavrov's visit to Syria a week or so ago:





All those thousands of people in the streets are said to be Assad supporters, thanking Russia for its stance in the Security Council vote. Yeah, why not? Throw in a couple of Hizballah and Palestinian flags, some heart-warming messages from young women, and... you get a nice story.

But again, let us not forget about the "selective perception" factor, which either strengthens or fully undercuts the power of propaganda altogether. In the Syrian case, as noted in the "Listening Post", information coming from one side is all too desirable, and therefore becomes "the accepted truth". On the other side, as the ORT report shows, there are many who would want to (create and) believe the other version of the story.

In short, no matter how you look at it, all coverage of the conflict in Syria corresponds to the above-mentioned definition of propaganda, to a certain extent. We just need to be aware of that.

And speaking of selective perception, I also wanted to point to the guest on Monday night's "Daily Show", Ali Soufan, who has written a book on what I would call the Greater Middle East, "terrorism" and ethno-religious issues in the region.


The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Ali Soufan
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook


He is pretty much speaking the conventionally accepted "truth". Please note, while Iran is overrun by "chauvinistic Persians" who want to take over the region - which is a totally non-oversimplified, established fact, if one is to trust the implication here - the situation suddenly becomes "way more complicated than that" when the issue of the killed Iranian nuclear scientists is raised. The contention that Israel was behind these attacks should not be taken at face value and should be considered in its full complexity. Hmm...

Last but not least, kudos to Jon Stewart for pointing out his lack of knowledge about the Nagorno Karabakh war:

"I don't even remember this war. Do they not tell us about wars unless we are doing the bombing? Do we not get to hear about all these other wars that are going on?!"

Well, most probably not... unless it directly relates to your national interest. And even then, you get one of the perspectives, unless you really make the effort.