Understanding the use of Kompromat in Russian Politics: An Excerpt from Alena V. Ledeneva’s “How Russia Really Works”

compromat.png

“To keep kompromat on enemies is a pleasure. To keep kompromat on friends is a must.”

The word kompromat has no direct equivalent in English. Its literal translation—“compromising material”—refers to discrediting information that can be collected, stored, traded, or used strategically across all domains: political, electoral, legal, professional, judicial, media, or business. A recent dictionary of contemporary terminology defines kompromat as an abbreviated term for disparaging documents on a person subject to investigation, suspicion, or blackmail, derived from 1930s secret police jargon. In its contemporary context, the term is strongly associated with kompromat wars—intrigues exercised through the release of often unsubstantiated or unproven information (documents, materials)—which are damaging for all those involved.


The term is strongly associated with kompromat wars—intrigues exercised through the release of often unsubstantiated or unproven information—which are damaging for all those involved.


Hungarian sociologist Akos Szilagyi defines kompromat as the publication (or blackmail with the threat of publication) of information, documents, evidence, and revelations that are related to a genre of denunciation (donos), exposure/unmasking (razoblachenie), slander (kleveta), and allegations that can destroy or neutralize political opponents or business competitors. He notes that kompromat is associated with political indecency, and points to the double meaning of the suffix mat, which is an abbreviation of the Russian word materialy (materials) as well as a Russian word for “swear language.” In English, the essence of kompromat is best grasped by the phrase “blackmail files” that are gathered or fabricated for political or business purposes.

Continue reading “Understanding the use of Kompromat in Russian Politics: An Excerpt from Alena V. Ledeneva’s “How Russia Really Works””

Understanding the use of Kompromat in Russian Politics: An Excerpt from Alena V. Ledeneva’s “How Russia Really Works”

Hiding from History: South Carolina and the Confederate Battle Flag

confederateflag
Meili Steele opened his 2005 book, Hiding from History, with an essay about South Carolina’s attempt in 1999 to neutralize the controversy over its flying of the Confederate battle flag. The state’s chosen solution, Steele argues in this brief excerpt, was an act of political expediency that cut short a necessary public debate—one that needed to include a serious examination of American history and culture.

Six years ago I was reading the local newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, and discovered that the state legislature was proposing to put the public understanding of history to a referendum. The focus of the referendum was whether the flying of the Confederate battle flag over the statehouse was a fitting memorial to past traditions or a symbol of the legacy of racism. The legislature had raised the flag over the statehouse in 1962 at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement; however, now that the flag’s presence had become controversial, many legislators wanted to avoid a public stand. By calling for a referendum on the flag, the legislators hid from what properly should have been a public debate by appealing to democratic procedures.  Continue reading “Hiding from History: South Carolina and the Confederate Battle Flag”

Hiding from History: South Carolina and the Confederate Battle Flag

Making Sense of Ukraine

As the world reacts to events in Ukraine, everyone has advice for the U.S. president:

What Obama Should Do About Russia, According to Everyone

Among those quoted is Michael McFaul, recent U.S. ambassador to Russia and author of Russia’s Unfinished Revolution: Political Change from Gorbachev to Putin. Other books on the Cornell University Press list that will illuminate current events include:

Contested Tongues: Language Politics and Cultural Correction in Ukraine by Laada Bilaniuk
After Newspeak: Language Culture and Politics in Russia from Gorbachev to Putin by Michael S. Gorham
Children of Rus’: Right-Bank Ukraine and the Invention of a Russian Nation by Faith Hillis
Identity in Formation: The Russian-Speaking Populations in the New Abroad by David D. Laitin
From Ruins to Reconstruction: Urban Identity in Soviet Sevastopol after World War II by Karl D. Qualls
Eurasia’s New Frontiers: Young States, Old Societies, Open Futures by Thomas W. Simons Jr.
Communities of the Converted: Ukrainians and Global Evangelism by Catherine Wanner

Making Sense of Ukraine

Mehran Kamrava on the transition in Qatar

Mehran Kamrava, author of Qatar: Small State, Big Politics, says of this week’s news:

“After nearly two decades in power, Qatar’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, has transferred power to his son and Heir Apparent, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. The new emir will, no doubt, have his own style, rely more and more on a team of his own personal allies and circle of insiders, and will surely bring a different flavor to Qatar’s highly personalized politics. And the symbolic components of Qatari culture—be they language, or art, or Islam—are likely to benefit from greater political patronage in the future than has been the case for the last eighteen years or so. But the substance of Qatari politics, both domestically and in the foreign policy arena, is unlikely to change anytime soon.”

Mehran Kamrava on the transition in Qatar

Daniel Aldrich Awarded Fulbright Research Fellowship

Daniel Aldrich, author of Site Fights: Divisive Facilities and Civil Society in Japan and the West, has been awarded a Fulbright research fellowship for 2012-2013 to study the ongoing recovery process from the Tohoku disaster in Japan. Aldrich has distinguished himself as an authority on the event:

Japan’s 3/11 Triple Catastrophe Endures in Broken Families, Divided Towns (Bloomberg)
Social Networks and Japan’s 3/11 Disaster (Asia Pacific Memo)
Fukushima One Year Later (National Bureau of Asian Research)
Activists Challenge Japan’s “Nuclear Village” (Salon)
Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Sparks Renewed Activism (Eurasia Review)

Daniel Aldrich Awarded Fulbright Research Fellowship

Catholics and Contraception: Leslie Woodcock Tentler in the New York Times

Cornell University Press author Leslie Woodcock Tentler, author of Catholics and Contraception: An American History is consulted in today’s edition of the New York Times: Obama Shift on Providing Contraception Splits Critics.

Here’s an excerpt:
“Tentler said: ‘Part of what is going on is a larger authority issue of who speaks for the church. And I think most Catholics would take exception to the bishops’ argument that only the bishops get to say what is Catholic morality in very difficult situations. It also reflects the unresolved status of the teaching on contraception, which is widely violated not just by Catholics, but also by the clergy, who don’t even talk about the issue.’”

Catholics and Contraception: Leslie Woodcock Tentler in the New York Times

Kyle Beardsley on Gilad Shalit

Kyle Beardsley, the author of The Mediation Dilemma, has written this thoughtful piece about the mediated prisoner swap for Gilad Shalit:

The Swap for Shalit and the Long-Term Risks of Mediation

The mediated prisoner swap that allowed Sergeant Gilad Shalit to return home has raised two different concerns about its effect on Israeli security: the fear that the released Palestinians will resume their armed struggle against Israel and the fear that this will encourage Hamas and other terrorist groups to capture more soldiers for a similar ransom. While both concerns are real, they are easily exaggerated and miss the more important damage done to intra-Palestinian relations.

The first concern tends to ignore the fact that the greatest threat to Israeli security is no longer suicide bombers or armed militants but rather rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon, which are virtually unaffected by this prisoner exchange. The second concern tends to focus too much on the ultimate payoff and overlooks the fact that it took six years to reach a deal; meanwhile, Israel escalated its fight against Hamas. The ransom for Mr. Shalit was neither immediate nor easy to attain.

More importantly, these concerns distract from perhaps a bigger concern regarding what the deal means to the authority problem among the Palestinians. Since at least the 2006 Palestinian National Authority elections and the intra-Palestinian civil war that followed–and arguably well before 2006–no single entity has been able to claim being the legitimate voice of the Palestinian people. For a moment it seemed as if Mahmoud Abbas had begun to gain the needed legitimacy as he took the call for Palestinian statehood to the UN and has received widespread support for the formation of a Palestinian state. That moment is now over as the Hamas leadership proved more than capable in working with the Egyptians and Germans to produce the deal to release hundreds of–potentially over a thousand–Palestinian prisoners.

The authority problem is not only an issue for the Palestinians, but it also is a crucial reason for why a lasting peace with Israel remains elusive. Any deal with Abbas and his Fatah party is meaningless if the Palestinians have split allegiances. If the problem of extremist violence spoiling the peace process was an issue when power was relatively consolidated in the hands of Yasser Arafat, the spoiler problem will be much worse when power is most clearly not consolidated. The more that Israel and the international community treat–and treat with–Hamas and Fatah as having distinct constituencies, the further we are from ever realizing a peace deal between Israel and some entity that represents the Palestinians.

It turns out that this dynamic is fairly typical of mediated outcomes, which often do quite well in the immediate-gratification department and less well in yielding durable peace. In recent cross-national studies, I have found that international conflicts that experience mediation are more likely to realize short-term concessions and agreements but also become more likely to relapse after a few years of peace.

The deal that brought Mr. Shalit home has the potential to share the same tradeoff between short-term and long-term success. On the one hand, Egypt’s role was essential to having any possibility of reaching a deal. Having the prisoners first released to Egypt solved a major issue as either side risked having the other side back out once it had fulfilled its obligations. In addition, mediator involvement allowed for a deal to be reached without face-to-face negotiation and the mutual recognition that could imply.

On the other hand, Egypt and Germany’s role has the potential to further lengthen the detour toward peace in the Middle East. Just as the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords—with the handshake between Arafat and Rabin on the White House lawn—did wonders for the consolidation of Arafat’s authority, there is a real risk that this landmark prisoner swap has bolstered Hamas’ credibility as a legitimate representative of the Palestinians and reduced the fruitfulness of any Israeli negotiations with Abbas.

Although Israel has much to celebrate in the return of a lost son and little reason to worry that the deal worsens its immediate security, the long-term damage to the peace process that must precede an ultimate Israeli-Palestinian deal–between the Palestinian factions–is likely to prove substantial.

Kyle Beardsley on Gilad Shalit