Friday, October 31, 2014

Window on Eurasia: The Aral Sea Can’t be Saved but the People around It Must Be Helped


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, October 31 – For most of the last 60 years, regional and international observers have bemoaned the dying of the Aral Sea and asked how it might be saved, but now that body of water has passed the point of no return and can’t be restored. That in no way, however, reduces the responsibility of the international community to help those who are suffering from its demise.

 

            In messages to an Urgench conference on the fate of the Aral, both Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said that the sea cannot be restored but that the impact of its death on the environment and health of the people living around its former coastline (turkist.org/2014/10/aral.html).

 

            The Aral Sea’s death was the result of explosive population growth in Central Asia, Moscow’s imposition of water-intensify cotton monoculture on the region in order to control its population, and the failure of littoral countries to make arrangements for the sharing of water in the rivers that fed it without harming the sea itself.

 

            But as the sea has died, the consequences of its death are becoming ever more serious. It has already created a public health crisis in Karakalpakia, the autonomous region in the western portion of Uzbekistan, which has seen infant mortality and cancer skyrocket largely as a result of the spreading of rare earth minerals from the former seabed into the atmosphere.

 

            The health crisis there is now going to spread to other parts of Central Asia, and it will be a measure of the willingness of the international community to assume responsibility f hasor their well-being to see whether the health of Central Asians will attract as much attention in the future as the dying of the Aral Sea has in the past.

 

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Playing with Russian Nationalism Already Backfiring


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, October 31 – Like so many Moscow leaders before him, Vladimir Putin’s incautious and insensitive playing with Russian nationalism is backfiring in his multi-national country, raising questions about how well he understands its nature and leading Russian nationalists to act in ways certain to infuriate the non-Russian quarter of the population.

 

            Responding to a question at the recent Sochi meeting of the Valdai Club, Putin acknowledged that “patriotism can grow over into nationalism” and that “this is a dangerous tendency.” But then he said something which undercut his own comments: the Kremlin leader said he is “the biggest nationalist in Russia” (centrasia.ru/news.php?st=1414686060).

 

            Putin qualified that declaration by saying “the most correct nationalism is the arranging of actions and policies in such a way that this will work for the good of the people, but if under nationalism is understood intolerance to other peoples and chauvinism, this will destroy our country which from the beginning has been a multi-national and poly-confessional state.”

 

            Such comments, Erik Khanymamedov, a Central Asian who blogs from Volgograd, might be ignored if they were made by another leader in another state, but “in multi-national Russia … such presidential words about ‘the biggest nationalist’ will be taken by many practically as a direct instruction for actions that will be far from seemly.”

 

            At a minimum, they will intensify “the everyday intolerance to other ethnoses” on display in Russia and particularly “great power chauvinism” among ethnic Russians toward minorities. Indeed, some of the latter will ignore all the nuances of Putin’s remark and assume that his self-identification as a Russian nationalist justifies their own attitudes and actions.

 

            Khanymamedov says that he remains “deeply convinced” that the Soviet Union fell apart because of ethnic issues rather than economic ones and that Putin does not appear to understand that or that “a certain part of [Russia’s] population will immediately arise [as a result of the president’s words] the destructive formula ‘Beat … and save Russia!’”

 

            That is all the more likely, he continues, because Putin on numerous other occasions has insisted that Central Asians coming to Russia to work must know and respect Russian ways, even though many Russians do not know anything about Central Asia and even though his remarks generate doubts about what he knows.

 

            Indeed, Khanymamedov says, Putin’s remarks lead one to recall the words of Yury Andropov that “We do not know the country in which we are living.”

 

            In Soviet times, he continues, it was possible for the leader not to be an ethnic Russian. Indeed, for most of the life of the USSR, its leaders came from other nationalities. That was a reflection of “the true nature of justice” in that system. But now, the Volgograd blogger says, the situation has changed, and one can’t imagine a Central Asian or Caucasian as Russian president.

 

            Today brought a report that suggests some Russians are reading Putin’s latest comments as calling for an open season against non-Russians.  In Vladimir, persons unknown scribbled “Russia for the Russians!” on the entrance of a mosque, adding a picture of a bear and the slogan “Forward, Russia!” with the tricolor flag (interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=56919).

 

Rinat Ibragimov, the imam-mukhtasib of Vladimir oblast, told Interfact that “this incident offends the feelings of believing parishioners of the mosque who are members of various nationalities. Especially upset are older people because they at the risk of their lives defended the Motherland both during the Great Fatherland War” and in other conflicts.

 

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first such incident at the Vladimir mosque. It has been vandalized, attempts have been made to burn it down, and parishioners have received threatening letters. Even more unfortunately, this situation is not limited to that one Russian city or to Muslims alone.

 

Window on Eurasia: Are There 40,000 Islamist Radicals in Azerbaijan?


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, October 31 – A useful rule is to dismiss any number ending in ‘0’ that comes from the east because it is almost certainly a figure on which one cannot rely and one that is offered to promote a particular agenda. But a report that there are now “40,000” Azerbaijani Wahhabis is nonetheless sparking concern not only in Azerbaijan but across the region.

 

            On the Haqqin.az portal today, Alkhas Ismaylov says that “according to the latest data,” there are already 40,000 Azerbaijanis who are Islamist radicals of this trend, a development that has become “a constant headache for law enforcement organs and the Administration of Muslims of the Caucasus” and for “the entire population of the country” (haqqin.az/news/32925).

 

            All such numbers are estimates: there is no census or poll on which to base them. But it is clearly the case, Ismaylov says, that the numbers of Azerbaijanis who have become Wahhabis or chosen to follow other radical trends in Islam are on the increase and now strike even the unaided eye as “massive.”

 

            According to him, this has happened because of large-scale funding from abroad “both from the East and from the West.”  But he suggests that there are domestic sources as well and urges the traditional Muslim authorities and the Azerbaijani government to address them “with decisive measures” before it is too late.

 

            What has prompted these concerns and this article are news stories that “ever more Azerbaijan citizens have entered the ranks of the militants of the Islamic State” and that more Azerbaijanis both in Azerbaijan and in the diaspora in the Russian Federation are being recruited for service there.

 

            The question now is how to respond. “Both the expert community and government investigatory organs well understand,” Ismaylov says, “that neither appeals nor exhortations nor force methods will solve the problem of the spread of Wahhabism either in Azerbaijan or in the world as a whole.”

 

             Throwing those with beards into prison won’t work either, he continues. Instead, what is needed are “complex measures” to transform the situation lest “the radicalization of society, including the strengthening of religious extremism, continues to advance by seven league bounds forward.” If such measures are not adopted, the authorities will soon face “a real threat.”

 

            Faced with reports that from 100 to 300 Azerbaijanis are fighting with the forces of the Islamic State in Syria and that dozens of them have died, Allakhshukyur Pasha-zade, the sheikh ul-Islam and head of the Administration of the Muslims of the Caucasus, has urged Azerbaijanis not to be fooled and to recognize that the Islamic State threatens Islam and Azerbaijan.

 

            The Azerbaijani State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations says that it is tracking the citizens of Azerbaijan who have participated in such actions abroad and taken “the necessary legal measures” against them. But Ismaylov says, “it is not entirely clear how effective such measures have been.”

 

            Rafik Aliyev, the former head of that committee, told Haqqin.az that he was concerned that the current situation may be getting out of hand. According to him, “Azerbaijan has been converted into a transit point for the dissemination of Wahhabism and other radical trends between the North Caucasus and the Arab world.”

 

            And he pointed to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bahrein as among the “’sponsors’” of this development, one that involves both the dispatch of missionaries to Azerbaijan and the recruitment of Azerbaijani students who return from abroad with views on life and religion that do not correspond to traditional understandings.

 

            “Such a network of agents of influence, plus unlimited financial investments,” Aliyev said, “has promoted the spread in Azerbaijan of radical Islamist trends.” And he pointed to a new tactic such groups are using: they are establishing nominally non-religious businesses to help fund radicals, something that he urged officials to pay attention to.

 

            Ismaylov concludes his article by saying that a necessary condition for dealing with this threat is “the creation of conditions which exclude an increase in the number of supporters of the ideology of Wahhabism. Only by promoting quality education, more jobs, and improved living conditions and recreation will it be possible to respond to the challenges of radical forces.”

Window on Eurasia: Putin Approves State Financing for Religion via the Back Door


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, October 31 – President Vladimir Putin this week signed a new law, pushed by the Moscow Patriarchate, that will provide government funding at the regional level for religious organizations in the name of the preservation of those of their buildings which have been or will be designated as “objects of cultural heritage.”

 

            Because money is fungible, such government funds will in fact provide support for the operations of religious groups in general and the Russian Orthodox Church in particular in violation of the provisions of the 1993 Russian Constitution and to the detriment of religious groups which do not have “cultural heritage objects” in their inventories.

 

            In reporting on this development in yesterday’s “Kommersant,” Pavel Korobov says that the new law will allow the regions and municipalities the basis for adopting legislation that will allow government money to go to those religious organizations which can show that they are in possession of such objects and need help to preserve them (kommersant.ru/doc/2601671).

 

.           Not surprisingly, the greatest beneficiary of this will be the Moscow Patriarchate whose leaders have been pushing for such legislation for a long time, according to Abbess Kseniya, the head of the Patriarchate’s legal service. She noted that it will have another consequence: it will speed up the return of churches seized by the authorities in Soviet times to the church.

 

            Roman Lunkin, the president of the Russian Experts Guild on Religion and Law, agrees. Churches have been reluctant to press their claims for such properties in many instances because they lack the funds to restore churches. Now, under the terms of the law Putin has signed, they will be able to get tax money to do so.

 

            Putin has been active in promoting this process. In January 2010, he met with Patriarch Kirill and decalred that it was necessary to “accelerate the process of the transfer by the state of church property and to give this process a legal framework.”  The current law is one of the consequences of that declaration.

 

            The leaders of other confessions, including Rushan Abbyasov, the deputy head of the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR), and Zinovy Kogan, the vice president of the Congress of Jewish Religious Unions and Organizations, said they would make use of this new possibility as well. But it is clear that the Orthodox Church is the primary beneficiary.

 

            But it is possible that this measure may have less impact than its supporters hope. As Abbess Kseniya acknowledges, the law allows regions to help the church in this way, but it doesn’t require them to do so. And because many regions themselves are in economic trouble, they may not be willing or able to come up with the money to fund such initiatives.

Window on Eurasia: New East-West Tensions Leave Kaliningrad Out in the Cold

Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, October 31 – The situation of Kaliningrad, the non-contiguous part of the Russian Federation, has long been “a headache” for the Kremlin, but the recent rise in East-West tensions has so exacerbated the problems of that region that this week Vladimir Putin convened a meeting to discuss what should be done.

 

            According to “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist Aleksandr Rabushev, Russian Economic Development Minister Aleksey Ulyukayev reported that Putin had told the government to “accelerate the adoption of laws for the support of the oblast” and its currently hard-pressed industries (szona.org/kaliningrad-problemi/).

 

                But it remains unclear whether Moscow will do so and whether, even if it does, the Russian government will be able to overcome not only the problems that it has faced in Kaliningrad since 1991 but also the problems political as well as economic that it faces now as a result of new East-West tensions.

           

            The collapse of the USSR transformed what had been “a major military advance post of the country into a semi-enclave,” Rabushev says, but “the local authorities and the federal Center did not immediately recognize all the aspects of this geopolitical transformation” or take effective steps to meet it.

 

            After 1991, transit through Lithuania became more difficult, the size of the military garrison in Kaliningrad declined, and the economic crisis in the enclave in the 1990s turned out to be twice as serious as in the Russian Federation as a whole, with production falling in Kaliningrad by 1998 to only 29 percent of what it had been in 1990.

 

            New East-West tensions suggest that the situation in the enclave, which had somewhat stabilized over the last decade, is about to deteriorate further.  The Baltic countries have announced that they plan to exit “the unified energy system of Russia” by 2020. Together with the closure of an energy plant in Kaliningrad, that in itself will lead to “the complete collapse of economic activity” there.

 

            The construction of a new Baltic atomic energy station “could have stabilized the situation,” but “the countries of Europe are not showing any desire to exchange gas dependency on Russia for electrical” and consequently, work on that plant has stopped.  Moscow and Kaliningrad are thus planning to build four smaller energy plants.

 

            But there is an even more immediate threat to Kaliningrad’s situation on the horizon. That is the so-called “2016 problem,” a term that refers to the planned end of the special treatment of Kaliningrad exports which have allowed its firms to do better than they would otherwise have been able to do.

 

            According to Kaliningrad officials, when those special arrangements are ended, some 900 enterprises in the region will close, and some 30,000 workers will be laid out. Proposals by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to prevent that by offering 50-60 billion rubles (1.25 to 1.5 billion US dollars) in annual subsidies have not gained support in Moscow.

 

            On the one hand, as some experts have observed, Moscow does not see Kaliningrad and its government as having met its earlier promises and is unwilling to throw good money after bad. And on the other, the Russian government is operating under increasing financial stringency and has little money to send to the regions.

 

            But if Moscow does not do something, the economy of Kaliningrad is almost certain to slide into a deeper recession, with lower production and more unemployment. And that in turn will have political consequences, including at least potentially the reactivation of groups which want either a special relationship with the EU or even independence for their land.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Third Bolshevik Wave Coming to an End in Russia, Pastukhov Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, October 30 – In the century and a half since the first Crimean war, Russia has experienced three waves of Bolshevism, Vladimir Pastukhov says, the result of the unresolved clash between the Slavophiles and Westernizers and the special role of the Russian religious impulse as the bridge between them.

 

            But now the third wave is coming to an end, the St. Antony’s College historian says, and it can be followed only by “a completely new force” which will consist either of “genuine liberals or genuine fascists” and not the simulacrum of each with which Russia has been living in recent times (szona.org/prishestvie-bolshevizma/).

 

            According to Pastukhov, in recent months, Russian society and not just the urban intelligentsia has awoken from its “deep political sleep” and “unexpectedly entered into motion.” What is striking about this development even to the most superficial of observers is “the religious nature of this movement.”

 

            “’Crimea is ours’” is “not so much a political slogan as a symbol of faith,” he continues.  Not that of the church or of Christianity, of course, but rather of the opponents of Christianity Dostoyevsky described in “the possessed” and that are “genetically connected with Russian bolshevism which is deeply hostile to Christianity.”

 

            Consequently, the rise of Eurasianism which is closely tied to this trend virtually to the status of a state ideology in Putin’s Russia represents, Pastukhov argues, “the third and last stage of the evolution of Bolshevism” and presages its “complete and final dissolution.”

 

            “The religious nature of Bolshevism and its deep connection with Orthodoxy and its rootedness in Russian culture were no secret already at the beginning of the 20th century,” the historian notes. “’Vekhi’” was written about it. Indeed, one can speak about the three component parts of Bolshevism: Westernism, Slavophilism, and the Orthodox religious tradition which allowed for the combination of the other two.

 

            In the middle of the 19th century, Russian culture entered into a state of crisis: Russians were no longer prepared to be “pupils” of Europe. Instead, they wanted to reaffirm their own history by “rising from their knees” and acting independently. At the same time, Russia was falling further behind Europe economically and was aware of the dangers that entailed.

 

            And that in turn led to a split in the upper reaches of Russian society between the Westernizers who concluded that Russia must change itself and become European and the Slavophiles who argued that Russia must “break with Europe and return to pre-Petrine values.”  (It is important to note, he says, that such splits are typical of countries trying to catch up.)

 

 

            This split was exacerbated by Russia’s challenge to Turkey, “the sick man of Europe,” an action that led to the first Crimean War and Russia’s defeat in that conflict. But that war also sparked the rise of Russian populism which swamped the Slavophile-Westernizer debate and gave rise to Bolshevism, “a sectarian political trend which in a strange way combined within itself radicalism Westernizing impulses with no less radical isolationism.”

 

            Bolshevism had “enormous modernizing potential,” Pastukhov continues, and it is “possible” that “the ‘bolshevization’ of Russia” provides an explanation for why Russia did not have a reformation: “The Bolshevik was a secular ‘Orthodox reformer’” and thus it should not have surprised anyone that after 1991 Bolshevism was “converted” back into Orthodoxy.

 

            However, after fulfilling their modernization mission, the scholar says, the Bolsheviks degenerated into an uninspiring ritual system, thus “repeating the fate of Russian Orthodoxy. But the Bolshevik impulse didn’t disappear; it only went underground. And what followed was “the second coming of Bolshevism in Russian history.

 

            In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, “the old discussion between ‘Westernizers’ and ‘Slavophiles’ burst out anew but already as an internal discussion of two ideological fragments of Bolshevism,” a pattern that was concealed by the focus on consumerism which meant that “the second Bolshevization of Russia was carried out under ‘Westernizer’ banners.”

 

            But Bolshevism’s second coming proved no less destruction than the first, Pastukhov says. “The mechanical and uncreative borrowing of alien institutions did not have anything in common with real liberalism. The reformers set up private property and capitalism” in exactly the same way that their predecessors had “destroyed them.” 

 

            As a result, the St. Antony’s scholar argues, “the economic and political system of Russia did not have anything in common with real capitalism or real democracy.”  But this “coming” of Bolshevism did not last long: it ended definitively on August 17, 1998, with the default. As a result of that, “the hopes of the population for a better life ceased to be associated with market and democratic reforms.”

 

            The Putin regime is “the direct result of the 1998 crisis,” and it “gave birth to that mass political and social apathy, at times shifting into depression, without which the establishment of this regime would have been impossible.” But the 2008 economic crisis woke up first the urban intelligentsia and then the population, setting the stage for the third wave of Bolshevism.

 

            The liberal intelligentsia was “able to rock the boat” but not take control. And then with the seizure of Crimea and the articulation of Eurasian as the doctrine of the state, the masses were put in motion and the third wave took off. But it was incomplete because after 20 years of post-Soviet existence, what was left were “two lifeless political asteroids” – “Russian neo-Westernism and Neo-Slavophilism.”

 

            In each case, there has occurred a kind of “ideological crystallization, as a result of which the dominant trend in both political sectors became fundamentalism, that is, the most radical, the least flexible, the least tolerant and the most dogmatic wings” of both. That in turn meant that these two antagonists increasingly at least in terms of style resembled one another.

 

            The occupation of Crimea brought these two together other ways as well, with members of each supporting the new Eurasianism. Consequently, it is possible to suggest that “the history of Bolshevism in Russia is coming to an end. Having been born during the first Crimean war, it most probably will end in the second Crimean war.”

 

            At the same time, the Russian “’patriotic’ movement” is nothing more than “an absolute political and ideological fake,” and Eurasianism as a doctrine lacks its own creative foundation and “genuine charisma.”  Consequently, its ability to hold all this together is very limited.

 

            According to Pastukhov, Russia still has not made “its chief historical choice. But this will not be a choice between Bolshevik Westernizers and Bolshevik patriots.” Most Russians are now “outside the influence of these two ideologies which have lived out their time.” Only “a completely new force” will be able to take their place.

 

            That force could be “either genuine liberals or genuine fascists,” but one thing is already clear: “the false ‘Eurasian’ wave” of Bolshevism isn’t going to keep a “volcanic” explosion from below from overturning much that those at the top of the political system assume cannot be changed.

 

 

Window on Eurasia: Lack of Balance between Responsibility and Control Retarding Russia’s Economic Growth, Moscow Scholar Says


Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 30 – Despite the convergence of the political systems of Russia and China, the Chinese economy is growing rapidly while Russia’s is lagging behind, the result, Andrey Yakovlev says, of Moscow’ failure compared to China to maintain a balance between responsibility and control.

 

            Yakovlev, a professor at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, argues in a new paper that both countries have tried to ensure control as well as economic development but that China has found a successful balance while Russia has not largely because Moscow has not made the future of officials and businessmen dependent on results (opec.ru/1759130.html).

 

            Instead, he says, Russian officials responsible for controlling the economy are judged not by economic growth but by their participation in anti-corruption campaigns and the like, while Chinese officials are judged precisely on that basis and will be promoted, demoted or fired depending on the growth of economic indicators.

 

            If Russia is to succeed economically with the political system that it now has in place, Yakovlev continues, then Moscow almost certainly would find it advantageous to “try to introduce those mechanisms which work in China now and worked in the Soviet Union in the past.”

 

            Over the last decade, he argues, the political and economic systems of Russia and China have converged with the formation of state capitalism. Both have imposed restrictions on political competition, both have massive corruption, and both have weak legal and especially judicial systems.

 

            But there is “a paradox,” he continues.  The Chinese economy is growing rapidly while Russia’s is stagnating. Some have suggested that this reflects differences in center-periphery relations, but while those were relatively great in the 1990s, they are now minimal, with Moscow having reimposed tight control over the federal subjects.

 

            Others have argued that the two countries adopted different forms of economic planning on the basis of the past. The Chinese planned for the partial occupation of their country and thus set up key nodes, while the Russians focused on plans built around a single economic complex. That argument begs the question as to why the Soviets were successful but Russia is not.

 

            A better explanation for what has happened is to be found elsewhere, Yakovlev suggests. Chinese officials and not just businessmen are evaluated on the basis of economic success. If the businesses in their area grow, they are promoted; if that doesn’t happen, then they are demoted or even fired, an arrangement that is not true in Russia today.

 

            In addition, he says, “the Chinese Peoples Republic effectively has been able to use ‘the system of two keys’ imported from the USSR.” At each level, there is an administrator (a governor or a mayor) who is responsible for economic indicators and “a bureaucrat who represents the controlling vertical, in this case, the communist party.”

 

                That party functionary, Yakovlev notes, “not only possessed large control authority but along with the administrator is responsible for the results achieved.” If they are good, he like the administrator will be promoted; if not, not.  That leads “local officials to work more effectively for the achievement of that result.”

 

                Until the early 1980s, “that system worked in the USSR as well,” the scholar says, but with “a very important distinction:” the Soviet economy was closed off from the world and “oriented toward the fulfillment of the plan as such.” The Chinese economic system is based on results and on results measured in competition with foreign producers.

 

            In Russia today, he points out, there is also “’vertical control’ but this is not a party but the administration of the president and the force structures under the control of the president.”  These people are evaluated not on “the final result of economic growth” but rather on their work as measured by checking and so on.

 

            “As a result,” Yakovlev says, there is a growing lack of balance “between responsibility for economic results” which governors and the economic portions of the government bear and central control which is implemented by “the presidential administration and force structures” which are not evaluated in terms of economic performance.

 

            Unless that changes, the Moscow scholar says, Russia’s chances of matching China’s economic performance are small and even its ability to escape the current stagnation are not terribly great.