Monday, July 6, 2015

Overwhelming Support for Putin among Russian Intelligentsia has Three Sources, Kirillova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 6 – There are three reasons why support for Vladimir Putin is so high even among educated Russians: fear that their country might descend into chaos without him, their lack of a positive image about the future, and a traditional Russian deference to the state on foreign policy issues, according to Kseniya Kirillova.

            One of the unexpected developments of recent times has been that journalists who usually do the interviewing are ever more often being interviewed by other journalists. Last week, Larry Poltavtsev of interviewed Kirillova about her experiences and views about Russia (

            In the course of a 3500-word interview, Kirillova touched on many issues including the fact that Russian sources have indicated very clearly that she, a Russian citizen now preparing articles for Novy Region-2 and Radio Liberty, should not return to her homeland because she would face repression there.

            But among her most intriguing comments are those concerning what she sees as the three reasons members of the Russian intelligentsia currently express their support for Vladimir Putin and his aggressive policies in Ukraine and elsewhere.  Her answer to this question, important in its own right, is particularly significant because it informs her numerous commentaries.

            First, she suggests, many in the Russian intelligentsia support Putin not because of any interest in imperialism but rather out of fear and especially the fear of instability. Because people remember the 1990s and become Putin has further demonized that period, many su ffer from the fear that “a new Syria, Libya or color revolution could arise” in Russia and that “this means anarchy, a sharp decline in the standard of living, the appearance of uncontrolled bandits in the streets, and practically a civil war.”

            Moreover, “the overwhelming majority even of educated people believe that Russia ‘is encircled by enemies,’ a situation in which in the case of the weakening of central power, these enemies will detroy it instantly.” As aresult, even if they believe that Putin is wrong on this or that policy, they “do not see another leader suitable for work ‘in war conditions.’”

            Naturally, “this is a lie because if the hostile environment exists, it does so only in response to his aggressive policy.” But at the same time, “even intelligent people and perhaps in greater degree than others unconsciously feel the terrible situation that Russia is lurching toward catastrophe.” Lacking the moral qualities such as bravery to do something about it, they are prepared to accept Putin’s logic even if at a deeper level they know it is wrong.

            Second, “the majority even among educated people who in the past belonged to the ‘peresstroika’ generation of the liberal intelligentsia, dream about the restoration of the Soviet Union. In part this is explicable,” Kirillova says. Because the authorities offer no bright future, people take refuge in a mythologized bright past, especially as the Kremlin encourages this.

            Many of them believe that it really is possible to restore the USSR, although no one knows exactly how to do this; and thus they welcome the annexation of Crimea as a step in that direction with an attitude that is also rooted in fear: they see the Soviet Union as “something powerful which no one can attack.”

            And third, the intelligentsia like Russians more generally finds it very difficult to “separate itself from the state on issues of foreign policy.” This is not so much the result of “’imperial consciousness,’” as from a more genral sense of “’a feeling of Russia’ which [the Russian] state always tries to substitute for itself.”

            That is especially the case with foreign policy because in that realm, “the ordinary individual understands very well his inability to influence events. In ‘a battle of titans,’ the ordinary person is helpless” and is aware of his helplessness. The Russian state exploits this and educated people are affected as much as others.

            To explain the behavior of these people is not to justify them, Kirillova continues. Such people “believe only in what they want to believe.”

            Many in the Russian intelligentsia also accept the Kremlin’s argument that Russia is fighting in Ukraine not with Ukrainians but with Americans. That builds them up in their own eyes.  Moreover, she says, people accept what they do because “an individual can view everything bad as good only in comparison with something that is still worse.”

            Thus, many for many in Russia, Putin “appears as the lesser evil in comparison with the illusory threat” which he works hard to create. Again, she suggests, understanding why this pattern works is not the basis for excusing it or thinking that nothing can be done, as hard as that may be to do.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Will a Finnish-Language Journal Survive in Karelia?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 5 – The future of Karelia’s only Finnish-language literary magazine has long been in doubt: the number of Finnish speakers there has declined to fewer than 9,000, and the Russian authorities view their support for Karelian and Wepsy media outlets instead. As a result, the frequency and tirage of “Carelia” has fallen.

            But even though it currently appears only twice a year rather than ten times and with a print run of 300 copies, its editor says they are optimistic about the future because the appearance of the journal even now is “hardly a defeat as it might appear to some but on the contrary a tactic victory” (

            Anatoly Tsygankov of the Center for the Defense of the Rights of Journalists and the Media interviewed Armas Mashin, the longtime editor of “Carelia” about why he thinks that he has a chance to reverse the journal’s fortunes and what his specific plans are for the coming year now that the first issue of “Carelia” in its new format has appeared.

            Given the emigration of many Finns from Karelia to Finland after 1991 and Moscow’s identification of Finnish exclusively as a foreign language, the future of “Carelia” has been in doubt for much of the past decade, Mashin says. No one wants to close it lest that be viewed as an attack on Finnish culture, but few want to support it either.

            For budgetary reasons, the frequency of the journal was cut from ten times a year to two, an action that sparked protests not only among Finnish speakers but also among Karelians who saw it as indicative of where Moscow was going. In order to try to save the situation, the editors decided to refocus the publication.

            The just-released number is the fruit of that effort.  Although less frequent, the magazine is now larger with 112 pages and 16 color inserts and more diverse: this issue featured 15 writers rather than the usual two or three and included not just short stories and novels but also reports and features. The focus of the first issue was the Finnish community of Petrozavodsk.

The 400 copies of the first issue – 300 ordered by the government and 100 additional ones – have sold out, with 80 of them going to Finland. The second issue, scheduled to appear in October, will in fact be issued in September to correspond with the 16th Russian-Finnish Forum of Culture in the Karelian republic’s capital.

            Whether this represents a turning point for the better as the editor hopes or simply another twist in the slow death of “Carelia” remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: the magazine promises to be an even more important source about the Finnish community in Karelia than it was before at least as long as it lasts.

Iranian Deputy Says Pollution from Armenia Threatens Those along Arax River

Paul Goble
Staunton, July 5 – Kemaleddin Pirmuezin, chairman of the Iranian parliament’s environmental protection committee, says that waste from the Armenian atomic energy station and an Armenian aluminum processing plant is flowing into the Arax River and producing 1,000 cases of cancer every year among those who live on that trans-border river’s banks.

“These actions of a neighboring country,” the Iranian deputy says, “are disturbing our people. This is impermissible, and Iran and Armenia must find an acceptable means for saving the Arax River and preserving the environment” (

The Arax, the longest river in the southern Caucaus, rises in eastern Turkey, flows along the Turkish-Armenian border, along the southern border of Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan Republic, and then along the Iranian-Azerbaijani border. After that it joins the Kura River and falls into the Caspian Sea. 

In the past, the use of its water by countries along its banks has been a source of controversy, but this new charge by an Iranian deputy is disturbing not only on its face but because it will recall to Azerbaijanis, given that cited a Baku source for its story, a concern they had at the start of the Karabakh war.

Many Azerbaijanis feared that the Armenians would pollute rivers rising in Nagorno-Karabakh and the other Armenian-occupied territories and that this would have a negative impact on the health and well-being of Azerbaijanis far from that zone. Indeed, Soviet forces were at one point introduced at least in part to block the construction of an aluminum plant.

Anything that recalls that tragic history will only exacerbate tensions in the area.