On 22 October 2003, Michael Khodorkovsky, the richest man in Russia and the director of Yukos, one of the largest Russian companies, was arrested at gunpoint in Novosibirsk airport and transferred to Moscow. A few months earlier, one of his deputies, Platon Lebedev, had been arrested on 3 July 2003. In the months that followed the arrest of Lebedev, the general prosecutor raided the offices of Yukos and Menatep, a major shareholder of Yukos. On 17 October 2003, Vasily Shakhnovsky, a Yukos shareholder, was detained for tax evasion. Another major shareholder, Leonid Nevzlin, was accused of conspiracy to commit murder and fled to Israel. One of Yukos’s security guards was also accused as a culprit in this conspiracy and was imprisoned. The general prosecutor subjected the company to a series of raids and restrictions that led to the decline of the value of its shares and brought it to the verge of bankruptcy by the middle of August 2004. Officially, all of these actions occurred because of Yukos’s illegal economic dealings and tax frauds, but the real reasons were that Khodorkovsky had dared to criticize publicly the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin; that he had funded rival political parties; and that he had also toyed with the idea of entering politics himself and becoming a presidential candidate. Since the conflict between Yukos and the state is a good illustration of the contradictory relation between state and capital in Russia, let me give a brief description of Yukos’s history.
Agamben in the Light of Putin
This article revisits Agamben's concept of 'state of exception'. It argues that the postmodern state of exception is exercised not through the suspension of law, as Agamben suggests and as was the case with modern sovereignty, but through the counterfeiting of legality. The counterfeiting of law, which corrupts its meaning, is part of the broader 'corruption of sign' in the postmodern political-cultural economy. The article first details an extended case of counterfeiting of legality in the practices of business raiding, commonly termed reiderstvo, in Russia. It then describes and analyzes the main features of what I call the 'corrupt state of exception' in Russia. The article concludes with a few remarks on the paradigmatic nature of the state of exception in Russia and its consequences for legal and political anthropology.
The protest movement that emerged in Iran in the wake of the presidential election of 2009 has seen a subsequent decline due to the combined effects of repression and the timidity of the reformist leadership. The growing conflict between Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad around the upcoming parliamentary election of March 2012 has created a new political crisis. The radical section of the movement tries to use this split to launch a subversive strategy against the Islamic regime. Alternatively, Khamenei tries to rid himself of the last vestiges of the autonomy of any elected institution and establish a full theocratic dictatorship. Iranian society has two choices—either to subvert the Khamenei regime or to be subjugated by it.
The Russian War against Chechnya
During the winter of 1995, I spent time with Chechen and Russian activists jointly campaigning against the first Chechen war, which was then in full swing. They demanded the immediate end to the war as they held rallies and handed out leaflets in public squares, factories, and schools. What was striking in the Chechen activists’ analysis was that they considered the war to be one fought by bandits. In their conception, it was a war between the bandits in Moscow and the Chechen bandits, and they depicted both Yeltsin1 and Dudaev2 as godfathers. They argued that they and the Russians belonged to the same Soviet people and that Chechnya should enjoy autonomy within Russia. They said that plunder was the main motive for war on both sides, and that the war had created its own economy from which both sides benefited. Neither the Chechen fighters nor Yeltsin were motivated by concern for the welfare of their constituent publics. In fact, Yeltsin was simply trying to gain political popularity and divert people’s attention from the misery his neoliberal reforms had created in Russia. More striking was the absence of any enthusiasm for the war among the majority of Russians. The chauvinists were a considerable minority, and most Russians opposed the war. They considered the war to be a domestic tragedy that had been triggered by the opportunistic politics of Yeltsin. Journalists, who at that time could still report freely on the events in Chechnya, harshly criticized the incumbent government (Gall and de Waal 1998).
Glenn Bowman, Charles W. Brown, Gerard Corsane, Ian Fairweather, Allen Feldman, Amiria Henare, Caroline Ifeka, Bruce Kapferer, Anne Krogstad, Sandra Langley, Yngve Lithman, Staffan Löfving, Leif Manger, Heidi Moksnes, Carolyn Nordstrom, Peter Probst, K. Ravi Raman, Jakob Rigi, Eleanor Rimoldi and Christopher C. Taylor
Notes on Contributors