Thursday, August 21, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Ukrainian President Names Cemilev Plenipotentiary for Crimean Tatar Affairs


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, August 21 – Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko has named Mustafa Cemilev to the new position of plenipotentiary representative for Crimean Tatar affairs and charged him with “securing the observation of the constitutional rights of the Crimean Tatar people as an indigenous people of Ukraine” (grani.ru/Politics/World/Europe/Ukraine/m.232238.html).

 

            Poroshenko’s decision institutionalizes the Verkhovna Rada’s vote on March 20 declaring the Crimean Tatars an indigenous people of Ukraine and underscores Kyiv’s commitment to ending the illegal Russian occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula. It also gives Cemilev, the longtime leader of the Crimean Tatars, new official standing.

 

            Western governments should follow Poroshenko’s action by articulating a non-recognition policy, officially underlining that the international community does not recognize Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea by imposing restrictions on what Western officials can travel there and on Western investment.

 

            Moreover, thanks to what President Poroshenko has done, such governments now have an official they can interact with on Crimean Tatar affairs and thus have yet another means of making it clear that Russian occupation is at odds with international law and with the right of nations to self-determination.

 

Window on Eurasia: A 50 Billion Dollar Ghost Town – Sochi Six Months After Putin Games


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, August 21 – Photographer Aleksandr Belensky has documented what many observers feared: despite spending more than 50 billion US dollars on the Sochi Olympics, Vladimir Putin has left Sochi not the vital place he promised but a ghost town where there are almost no tourists and where much of the infrastructure is already decaying.

 

            On his Livejournal page, Belensky has posted more than 30 pictures to back up his description of Sochi six months after the games concluded, a place which he suggests was “simply condemned to become a Ghost” now that Putin, Russia and the world have moved on to other things (macos.livejournal.com/939210.html).

 

            Belensky’s pictures tell his story, but he provides brief commentaries for each of them, and they too are instructive.  He notes that it isn’t the case that there is no one about. One can sometimes see three or even as many as five people if one looks closely. “But the place is lifeless and isn’t working at even five percent of capacity.”

 

            In the places built for the Olympics, he notes, “there is simply nothing to do.” And there are no people doing anything. In one five-story parking garage, “there wasn’t even a single car … the only thing being parked there are broken toilets.” And the people who are in evidence are clearly locals: they are doing crossword puzzles rather than looking at guide books.

 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Opposition Must Admit Most Russians Were Deceived about What 1991 Meant, Eidman Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, August 20 – “It is time to acknowledge the responsibility of the successful minority before the 90 percent of [Russian] citizens, whose hopes for a better future were deceived” following the collapse of the Soviet system, and for that minority to make changes “in the interests of the majority which suffered these losses,” according to Igor Eidman.

 

            Only by doing so, he argues, can Russians who consider themselves to be democrats succeed in forming a mass opposition movement, one that will not pursue the restoration of the dictatorship of the past but pursue movement “forward to a more just and rational society which corresponds to the demands of the time and new technological and information possibilities.”

 

            Its “main taks will be the deprivation of the financial-bureaucratic oligarchy of power and property, the establishment of a system of exploitation of the resources of the country in the interests of the majority of the population, and the formation of all insittutions of administration on the basis of direct democracy” (echo.msk.ru/blog/igeid/804056-echo/).

 

            “The chief result of the events of August 1991,” the Moscow sociologist argues, is that “the Soviet bureaucracy obtained as property the economic resources of the country which had been under its administration.”  Everything else, he says, was “secondary” to that. A small share of the population benefitted; but a far larger one suffered.

 

            Among the other consequences which may be called “secondary,” Eidman says, were “the disintegration of the empire, the replacement of a planned economy with a market-based one, a reduction in the standard of living of the majority of the population, a broadening of certain civic freedoms … the introduction of formal multi-party system and formally competitive elections to positions of power.”

 

Such an understanding of what has actually taken place in Russia has become possible because “nine anti-Soviet myths” by which the Soviet intelligentsia lived have now been shown since 1991 to be precisely that “myths” rather than a description of reality, Eidman continues.  And he considers each of them in turn.

 

The first myth that has been dispelled was that “the destruction of socialism will bring happiness or at the very least democracy to the peoples of the USSR.”  The three Baltic countries managed that but no one else.  Elsewhere there was established “an eastern despotism even harsher than CPSU rule or imitation democracy.”

 

Not surprisingly only ten percent of Russians say that they were winners from this process, and that is not even to take into consideration the irreversible losses from military conflicts both within the Russian Federation and across the former Soviet space.

 

The second myth now in ruins is that markets will “destroy the deficit and lead to plenty.”   Because subsidies disappeared with the planned economy, “a significant portion of society began to eat worse,” even while the more well-off portions of the population lived better than ever.

 

The third myth which its believers must face is the notion that “a market economy is always more effective than a socialist one.”  It can be but isn’t necessarily so.  Russia with its market economy recovered to the pre-1991 level only after 17 years and only because of rising international prices for oil and gas.

 

The fourth myth that has dissolved is that “private property is always better than public property.”  That too may be true in certain circumstances, but in the case of Russia, those who became the new owners were the old “medieval feudals” who behaved accordingly. This was symbolized by “the neo-Saltykhovs driving Mercedes.”

 

The fifth myth Eidman says has collapsed is that of “the full personal freedom under capitalism.”  That people were not free under communism is obvious, but that they could become completely free under capitalism alone is an unattainable dream. “If earlier there was one all-seeing eye of the KGB, now many companies spy on their workers.”

 

The sixth myth involves the idea that the collapse of the Soviet Union would result in the appearance of “an Upper Volta with rockets.”  It is true that the kind of capitalism which came to Russia was of the “wild ‘African’” kind but the presence of the rockets continued to make the country a real power even without a domestic base.

 

The seventh myth, Eidman says, is that the privileges of the bureaucracy under socialism would disappear under capitalism. Instead, what has happened is just the reverse with the standard of living of the top elite vastly greater than that of the senior party and state officials and even more vastly greater than ordinary Russians.

 

The eighth myth beloved of the Soviet intelligentsia was that the end of communism would also mean the end of those who did not work but lived on the system. In fact, if anything, their number has increased at least to judge by the constantly increasing size of the government bureaucracies.

 

And the ninth myth which has now dissipated is that “the West is the best friend of freedom and human rights in Russia.” Where is the West today when there are several thousand political prisoners in the post-Soviet states?  The existence of such people has not interfered with Western cooperation with the dictatorial leaders of these states.

 

Until recently and likely again, Putin has been treated as a full partner of the West. “Could one imagine Brezhnev in this role?  And he didn’t kill off his opponents with polonium, bomb Grozny, dissolve parliament with tanks or conducted himself as brutally as Yeltsin and Putin.”

 

For the capitalists in the West, none of this appears to matter as long as they can make a profit. As Eidman observes, “the West is interested above all in one right, the right of private property over the means of production and the right of its entrepreneurs to freely make money in all countries of the world. Everything else for the Western ruling elite is a smokescreen.”

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Window on Eurasia: Russia Must Federalize or Face Disintegration, Shtepa Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, August 20 – The Russian Federation is “again showing the world its ‘special way,’” Vadim Shtepa says. It is a country which “despite its name” has prohibited “federal principles” or even the call for them, a situation which threatens that state with the same end that the Soviet Union came to.

 

            “Imagine,” the Russian federalist says, “that the US president suddenly eliminated direct elections of governors and the German chancellor declared that the resources of all the lander now will be controlled by Berlin bureaucrats.” That would be absurd and impossible in these federal states (ru.delfi.lt/opinions/comments/vshtepa-federaciya-kotoraya-zapretila-samu-sebya.d?id=65595994).

 

            But Russia under Putin has gone further than that. It is not enough that the Kremlin has refused to live up to the provisions of the country’s name and constitution. Instead, the Putin regime has decided that even calling for a discussion of this issue is something that needs to be suppressed, as happened on Sunday when it blocked the March for the Federalization of Siberia.

 

            Moscow’s effort to block the march, however, had exactly the opposite effect the authorities intended. What had been at most a local action attracted the attention of “global information agencies” and activists in Kalinigrad, Yekaterinburg, and Krasnodar came up with the idea of holding marches and meetings in support of the Siberians.

 

            The Siberian March thus took place, if not on the ground than in the information space, and thus provoked a number of “sharp and uncomfortable questions about the nature of contemporary Russian statehood.” The chief one is: “can one call a country a federation where civic actions on behalf of federalism generate such panic among the authorities?”

 

            The slogans that participants planned to carry were in no way outside the normal bounds of a federal state. They did raise one issue in a provocative way.  Organizers decided to see whether Moscow would be as welcoming of supporters of federalization inside Russia as it has been in Ukraine.

 

            In doing so, Shtepa says, they failed to take into consideration “the cardinal degeneration of Russian Federalism … from a principle of the internal development of the country into one involving external imperial expansion.” 

 

            According to Shtepa, this problem has arisen because of the way the 1992 Federal Treaty was drawn up, not among the subjects of the federation but between “the center” and “the provinces. Had Russia acted on the basis of the sovereignty declarations of 1990, it would have been in a better position to withstand the attacks against federalism by Yeltsin and Putin.

 

            “Today’s ‘power vertical’ has made ‘the preservation of territorial integrity’ an end in itself,” Shtepa says, using it to expand the country’s borders and to visit repression at home lest the country fall apart. But disintegration is not the normal course of development in federal systems.

 

            That has been forgotten as have discussions about modernization and development, all in the name of defending the country’s “territorial integrity.” Dmitry Medvedev has even banned the development of regional brands arguing that they are not something useful for tourism but the first steps toward “’regional separatism.’”

 

            The Russian authorities are seeking to secure the territorial integrity of the country with “archaic force methods,” obviously forgetting what those led to at the end of Soviet times.  Instead, fearful of the same outcomes, the current powers that be are using the same methods that did not work 25 years ago.

 

            A recent book on federalism in the late Soviet period, Steppa says, notes that “the leadership of the Baltic republics in 1988-1989 did not advance slogans more radical than republic economic control and an increase in the level of political self-administration. That is, they sought only the renewal of ‘Soviet federalism.’”

 

            But the Kremlin wouldn’t meet them part way, and “real economic and political self-administration of the republics was frozen.” In the end, Moscow sought to suppress even the powers these republics already had, something that “led only to the opposite effect – loyal federalist slogans were replaced by demands of unqualified independence.”

 

            “If the current Russian authorities do not want to make their country into a real federation,” Sheppa concludes, “they themselves are opening the way to a repetition of history…”

 

Window on Eurasia: Not Content to Let Minority Languages Die, Moscow is Actively Killing Them, Buryat Activist Says


Paul Goble

                                         

            Staunton, August 20 – “Russia is a country of dying languages,” a Buryat activist says, with “almost all the languages of the peoples of Russia figuring one way or another” in UNESCO’s “Red Book of Disappearing Languages.” But instead of protecting them as that international body hopes, Moscow is doing its best to kill them off.

 

            The best way to understand what is going on, Radzhana Dugarova says, is to think about what would happen if the Russian government instead of defending animals listed in the Red Book of animals at risk “began to give out hunting licenses” so that people could kill them off (evrobur.livejournal.com/14045.html).

 

            That “is exactly what is happening now with Buryat,” she says. Indeed, one has the impression that “someone isn’t happy with the slow extinction of [that] language and wants to finish it off quickly.”  Even more tragically, she suggests, Buryat is far from the only language in Russia where that is the case.

 

            Dugarova attracted attention as one of the leaders of the effort to block Vladimir Putin’s plans to unite two Buryat autonomous districts with predominantly Russian oblasts rather than rejoin them to the Buryat republic as many Buryats wanted.  For much of the last decade, she has worked and taught abroad but has not taken political asylum so she can travel to her homeland.

 

Her basic focus now is in improving the conditions under which Buryats can learn and use their language. In the republic capital, she notes, there is “practically” no place for Buryat although she adds that she is happy to report that advocates for the language are “beginning to fill this lacuna.”

 

Dugarova says that the current Russian law which makes the study of Buryat voluntary rather than compulsory violates the constitution should be overturned as unconstitutional because any fair reading of it would also make the study of the Russian language by residents of the country voluntary as well. That would “destabilize the political and social situation in our republic.”

 

            “The question of language is a question of power or hegemony,” she says, and argues that those groups which do the most to defend their language will be in the best position to defend their rights in general.  Such “political struggle is part of the normal political process in  a democratic country and respect for minority rights … is a necessary condition of democracy.”

 

Buryats have been pressing for the restoration of a single Buryat republic since the late 1980s, she points out, even sending an open letter to Vladimir Putin pointing out the ways in which the dividing up of Buryatia and the political repressions of 1937 were closely interconnected. 

 

Buryat activists have never opposed administrative-territorial reforms as such but only argued that in carrying them out with respect to national minorities, the most important thing to do is to unite peoples who have been divided. The Buryats are one such people; the Circassians another; and there are many others as well.

 

Dugarova says that Mustafa Cemilev is “a courageous man and a true leader of the Crimean Tatars who have suffered resettlement thousands of kilometers from their homeland but have been able to preserve themselves as a people while living in an alien land for four decades. The Crimean Tatars had no reasons to struggle with the Ukrainian government.”

 

In conclusions, the Buryat activist says that she is put off by terms like “sovereign democracy.” A political system is “either a democracy or another type of regime,” adding that she “fears that we have passed the stage of authoritarianism and are rapidly falling into totalitarianism,” a tragedy for all peoples and not just the Buryats.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russians Must Start Thinking about a Post-Putin Russia, Portal Series Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, August 19 – Ever more number of Russians, horrified by what Vladimir Putin is doing and convinced that reforming his regime is impossible, are beginning to think about what will happen “after Putin,” reflections that are in many cases disturbing in the short term but a source of optimism over the longer haul.

 

            Such examinations of possible post-Putin futures are becoming so numerous that Rusmonitor.com has launched what is says will be a continuing series of interviews and articles under the rubric “After Putin.” The first article is an interview with Sasha Sotnik, head of the Sotnik.TV project (rusmonitor.com/sasha-sotnik-pora-uzhe-dumat-o-tom-chto-budet-posle-putina-posle-krusheniya.html).

 

            Sotnikov as a journalist begins his analysis with a discussion of Putin’s systematic destruction of the free media and hence free elections. “In the Bible, it is said,” Sotnikov notes, “that ‘In the Beginning was the Word.’ When the Anti-Christ will come to power, he will seek to destroy the World.”

 

            But in the case of Russia, the Anti-Christ won’t have a lot to do. There, the destruction of the word has proceeded a long way.  “There is no free word.” The Chekists who came to power with Putin understood that the only way they could control the situation was by destroying a free media, the basis of democracy.

 

            Had they not destroyed the media, Sotnikov says, they might have faced charismatic opponents like Galina Starvoitova and could have lost to them.  “Therefore, they killed her among the first.” And then they moved against others who could threaten them, often with “helicopter accidents” or similar devices.

 

            “As a result, there is no freedom of speech. There is no journalism. There is no television. The press is destroyed.” And now, he says, Putin and his regime want to suppress the Internet because it too contains things they don’t like and hence are a threat.  If they get their way, one will be able to go online “only having gotten a ticket from the party committee.”

 

            Those who view this as simply a threat are wrong, Sotnikov says. “We are not simply on the edge of collapse,” as they believe. We are already in a desperate situation.  Moscow’s propaganda insists “we are flying forward.” We are flying, he says, but downward at an ever increasing pace.  And the country is going to fall into a large number of pieces.

 

            The result will be “from bad to horrific” because “the new parade of sovereignties” won’t be peaceful and bloodless as it was a generation ago. Instead, it is likely to involve privatized violence because the Duma is considering legislation that will allow many companies to have their own militaries – and these will fight, like the private armies in Somalia.

 

             This prospect is so horrific that Sotnikov is asked whether Russians and the West will prefer to remain with Putin even for “5,000 years.”  But the journalist says that he does not think that will be the case, although he argues that the West bears enormous responsibility for Putin being in power and the way he is by its actions in the past.

 

            “Putin is [the West’s] miscalculation and mistake,” he says, and he argues that the West “also is obligated to help correct this mistake” by distancing itself from Putin and his crimes and by supporting those in Russia who are opposing the Kremlin leader and his system.

 

            Sotnikov then focuses on what needs to happen in Russia after Putin with regard to media. He calls for the introduction and enforcement of a constitutional provision like the First Amendment to the US Constitution mandating freedom of speech. He also calls for “a complete lustration of Putin’s special journalists.”

 

            Such people – and they include in the first instance the 300 who were secretly given awards for their work on the Crimean issue as well as others and their instructors – must be excluded from professional life in much the same way that de-Nazification excluded those who collaborated with Hitler.

 

            At the same time, Sotnikov argues that there will be a place for a government-funded public television channel in the Russia after Putin, but it will have to operate under the protection of a special board that will prevent the government from misusing it for its own political and propagandistic purposes.

Window on Eurasia: Russia Becoming a Dangerous Nation of Zhirinovskys, Levinson Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, August 19 – Vladimir Zhirinovsky has become notorious for saying what must not be said and doing what must not be done, but now his approach has spread to the Russian people as a whole, a development that cannot last forever but one that will end badly, according to Aleksey Levinson.

 

            In an article in today’s “Vedomosti,” the Levada Center sociologist says that “the main historical importance of Zhirinovsky and his speeches consists in saying and doing that which should not be said or done” because it violates good behavior or public morality (vedomosti.ru/opinion/news/32277551/nelzya-no-mozhno#ixzz3AoluTuFu).

 

            Not long ago, the LDPR leader was the only person doing that and he maintained “a monopoly on this function,” Levinson says. But then others began to copy his approach and “now a historical moment has come when this idea has taken over the masses and become a material (for example, a military) force.”

 

            Large numbers of people have concluded that what was impossible to say or think or do even a brief time ago now can be said, thought, and done even though it remains impermissible or wrong. Many say without any embarrassment, “we have violated international law but we are acting in a lawful fashion. Still more numerous are those who do not want to recall this law.”

 

            This isn’t the first time something like this has happened in Russian history, and it is time to ask, Levinson says, whether the normal approach or the Zhirinovsky one is the real core. But regardless of what the answer to that question is, such episodes do not end well, as history has confirmed more than once.

 

            The answer lies in the fact that “those 86 of every 100 who approve what is being done … all know that this really must not be done. And they know and know precisely that other times will come and everything will return to its place,” although “not everything will return.” Then “evil will again be called evil and the lie ceased to be considered to be true.”

 
            But when that happens, Levinson suggests, those who now make such declarations won’t be able or want to repent. They will continue along the logical but dangerous course to ever more violence against the truth and against the world. It is no accident, Levinson says, that the last step in is process is “called ‘war.’