If there is a phrase that characterizes recent parliamentary and presidential elections in former Soviet Republics it’s “colored revolution.” If I keep harping on the point that that the “revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan have sent political shockwaves through the CIS, it’s because the actions of ruling governments continue to use it as an excuse for repression. The latest country this colored specter haunts is Kazakhstan, which holds presidential elections on Sunday. The government has already issued a warning to opposition parties that if they even attempt to erect a tent in a city square, they will be severely dealt with. Then a prominent opposition member, Zamanbek Nurkadilov, was found murdered, um . . . I mean committed “suicide” just before he was to release information about the current president, and election front runner Nursultan Nazarbayev’s corruption. I wonder if the channeling of $84 million in bribes to leading Kazakh officials, with Nazarbayev being one of them, by oil consultant James Giffen in exchange for oil rights to Mobil Oil and Texaco is the big corruption news? At any rate, the “suicide” is rightly being challenged by Nurkadilov’s family. And if that wasn’t enough, apparently relatives of oppositions are being beaten, detained, and in one case kidnapped.
It all makes you wonder what the Kazakh government will do next. They have the proverbial warnings, beatings, assassinations, and paranoia covered. What is an authoritarian state to do next? I know! How about detain and expel some foreign journalists and human rights activists because you suspect that they are trying to export “colored revolution”? This is what Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is reporting.
Thus far the government has detained and looks to expel two Ukrainian journalists who were invited by the youth group Youth Information Service of Kazakhstan to cover the elections. This isn’t the first foreign expulsions. Over the last few weeks the government has expelled hundreds of Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, and Tajiks as well as Chinese and Turks. In addition around 500 people have been detained in Almaty, which is a center for the opposition. The government states that the expulsions were a result of a sweep for illegal immigrants. Others think it’s to prevent oppositionists from hiring immigrants to attend anti-government protests. All I have to say is who the hell knows. I know one thing, even without out all the repression to prevent colored revolution, I doubt there will be one anyway. But I guess we will have to wait until Sunday to be sure of that.
You Might also like
By Sean — 13 years ago
There are three rather disturbing articles in the April 20 edition of the Moscow Times that are worth mentioning.
The first, “Soldiers’ Mothers in the Crosshairs,” concerns how the Justice Ministry’s Federal Registration Service lawsuit against the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees. However, when the case was made public when the Soldier’s Mothers received a summons to appear at Moscow’s Basmanny District Court, it was dropped. Clearly, the government didn’t want to risk the bad press and potential public outcry that could potentially come by targeting this organization under the new NGO registration law. In addition, a court case would inevitably bring more attention to the horrible conditions in the Russian military. With increasing public disgust over dedovshchina, attempting to shut down the Soldier’s Mothers couldn’t produce anything positive. So writes the Times:
Lev Ponomaryov, the head of For Human Rights, an NGO, said the lawsuit signaled the beginning of the end for Soldiers’ Mothers, adding that authorities would probably shutter the group after the Group of Eight summit in July in St. Petersburg.
Ponomaryov said NGOs such as Soldiers’ Mothers “are not convenient for an authoritarian power.”
Alexei Zhafyarov, who runs the registration service’s NGO department, conceded that Soldiers’ Mothers had for the past five years provided reports indicating that they were in operation, along with information about current leadership, addresses and telephone numbers. These reports were filed in early April, after the suit was filed in court, Zhafyarov said. Oddly, Melnikova said she had learned of the suit only on Wednesday. She refused to discuss the accusations lodged against Soldiers’ Mothers.
Zhafyarov said the five years of reports still left two years unaccounted for, but added that officials were willing to overlook that omission.
But they were still concerned about Soldiers’ Mothers’ tardiness: The NGO, Zhafyarov said, should have been filing timely annual reports since its inception.
Zhafyarov said the registration service would simply issue the NGO a warning. After a certain number of warnings, the registration service may seek to have an NGO shut down, he said. But he said the law did not specify how many warnings an NGO was entitled to before the state can take action.
If this wasn’t bad enough, the Times also features “HIV NGOs Linked to Pedophilia.” The Moscow City’s Duma’s is urging Putin to “restrict the activities of foreign nongovernmental organizations that fight HIV/AIDS, saying they “encourage pedophilia, prostitution and the use of drugs among teenagers.” This only adds more difficulties confronting NGOs working on AIDS prevention in Russia. The appeal comes in response to a NGO named Kholis distributing a cartoon which featured “a man inviting a child to ride in his car. An older boy warns the child that the man wants to have sex and could infect him with HIV. The cartoon ends with the man throwing the naked child out of the car.” The NGO is funded by UNICEF. I haven’t a clue how this cartoon foster’s AIDS prevention. Apparently, the effectiveness was also lost of some backers of the appeal.
“In the United States, NGOs are calling for young people to refrain from sex or to put off sexual contact,” [Veronika] Kochetova [the spokeswoman for United Russia Deputy Lyudmila Stebenkova, who authored the appeal] said, referring to a campaign by U.S. President George W. Bush to put an emphasis on abstinence instead of safe sex.
“We also support giving condoms to at-risk groups like homosexuals and prostitutes, but to advertise the use of condoms to all of the population is wrong,” Kochetova said.
According to appeal, the cartoon fit into the opinion that foreign based HIV/AIDS NGOs are exacerbating AIDS rather than preventing it. The appeal reads: “The implementation of [foreign programs] is facilitating the growth of HIV infections rather than prevention.” Now Patriarch Alexei II has entered the fray with a condemnation of Western funded AIDS NGOs.
HIV/AIDS NGOs see the appeal as yet another attack on their activities in particular and NGOs in general. I have no idea what to make of this report. I hope more attention is given to it in the coming days and weeks.
Lastly, is the story, “Student With Anti-Fascist Leaflets Murdered.” On Tuesday, Alexander Ryukhin, a 19 year-old anti-fascist activist and student at the Moscow Electronics and Mathematics Institute, was stabbed to death as he and a friend were heading for a punk rock concert. Ryukhin died instantly from the attack. The attackers, who are assumed to be skinheads who’ve been targeting Ryukhin for his activities, left the knife in his chest. The knife had no fingerprints on it suggesting that the attack was planned.
Not a good day for Russian news by any stretch.
By Sean — 12 years ago
As the leaders of the G8 meet in St. Petersburg to discuss energy policy, terrorism, Iran, and infectious diseases, hundreds of activists have gathered in the former Tsarist capital to protest the proceedings. St. Petersburg is no different than past gatherings of international organizations like the G8, IMF, World Bank, WTO or the World Economic Forum. For the past 10 years these meetings have been steadily met with people who see themselves as global citizens bent on challenging a political and economic order they see leaves little room for small “d” democracy.
St. Petersburg is also no different in how these protesters are treated by security and law enforcement. Gatherings are relegated to Kirov stadium on the outskirts of the city where the Russian Social Forum is to be held. Police have locked them in the stadium gates and have prevented activists from carrying their message beyond it. Protests are forbidden in the city center unless they have been approved by the state like the small Communist Party rally. The Russian police have carried out preemptive arrests and have jailed others on a whim. Estimates are that over 200 activists have been arrested.
Organizers expected all of this. They made no illusions as to a low turnout, hoping that at least 2000 activists would show. Visa restrictions, registration woes, costs, and just plain fear kept many away. By all accounts the numbers range in the hundreds. Russian authorities vowed to prevent the G8 from descending into the violence that erupted in Genoa in 2001. With all of this, some activists are surprised that they made it. Alex Kinzer, a 19-year-old activist who traveled from Perm by train, told Mosnews, “I’m surprised I even got here.”
There is a bit of comic irony in the fact that reports about the Russian police’s crackdown on protesters are followed by comments about the country’s antidemocratic practices in general. The methods that are being used in St. Petersburg—preemptive arrests and detention, restricting protests and protesters, caging them in, preventing foreign activists from entering the country—are not new in any way to anti-globalization activists. These weapons of state power have been employed against them for years now. Making Russian actions seem any different, or worse, than protests in the past, whether they were held in Western Europe, the United States, Asia, or Latin America, is laughable. The news coverage of the repression, though welcomed, is rather startling. One suspects that the portrayal of Russia as exception is perhaps a way to mask the rule. The methods to squash protest are as global as the protests themselves. To make Russia an exception in this case is to absolve the widespread and violent repression used against anti-globalization activists in general.
Many activists will argue that this oppression is the reason why the attendance in St. Petersburg is so low. They are right, but only partly. The use of force by the state does work. If it didn’t states wouldn’t use it. However, another reason why the attendance is so low is because the movement itself has waned since 2001. September 11 all but ended the movement in the United States, and to some extent in Europe. The War in Iraq further shifted activism away from global economics. And while attendance to the World Social Forum continues to grow, one wonders what kind of relevance it has at all except for a place were activists meet to debate, preach to the choir, train, and network amongst themselves. Much of the focus on issues of global economics rightly remains in the Global South. After all, they are disproportionately affected, and perhaps because of this, they have had the most success in pushing a populist agenda which has translated into state power. Without the Global South there would be no movement to speak of.
Until now the anti-globalization movement in Russia has been an uncertain force. The radical forces that normally attach themselves to the anti-globalization cause are small. A good sign is that they do seem to be growing. However, some are politically questionable as they embrace nationalism and authoritarianism as core beliefs. It also doesn’t help that Russia’s political opposition is fractured in a political climate where it faces state repression, electoral challenges and little public support.
Nothing showed this more than the Other Russia Conference which was held this week. The three political parties that actually have electoral support, Yabloko, the Communist Party, and the Union of Right, refused to attend. Those who did attend included a potpourri of the Russian political fringe: the National Bolsheviks, the Red Youth Vanguard, ex-Premier Mikhail Kasyanov (who incidentally got punched in the face by a member of the Eurasian Youth League), chess champion and presidential hopeful Gary Kasparov, and Viktor Anpilov of the Working Russia movement. This motley crew dubbed themselves “Russia’s real civil society,” a phrase commentator Sergei Roy took great umbrage to, opting to instead call the forum the “Lunatic Fringe Zoo.”
However much one may have sympathy for the conference, Roy does have a point. How seriously should such a forum be taken when even the real electoral opposition shuns it? It also doesn’t help that much of its funding came from Soros’s Open Society and the National Endowment for Democracy, thus heightening suspicion that the opposition is a CIA front. However paranoid this may sound, the Russians do have some reasons. Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” received support from the same foundations. The latter outfit in particular is funded by the Untied States government. It also doesn’t help that the “Other Russia” was attended by such high profile neo-con figures as Daniel Fried, the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Barry Lowenkron, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. On Wednesday, Antiwar.com’s Justin Raimondo, didn’t hesitate to point out how utterly typical that an American outfit like the National Endowment for Democracy, whose slogan is “Spreading Freedom Around the World,” would fund a conference where a group like the National Bolshevik Party would attend. The NBP’s symbol of a black Soviet hammer and sickle on a Nazi flag melds the two of the 20th centuries most powerful, and violent authoritarian systems.
It is hard to take away anything positive from all this political theater. Every side seems to have been perfectly stage managed. Putin struts across the world stage showing Russia’s new found strength and assertions that Russian democracy will proceed on its own path. Yet when it comes to handling anti-globalization protests Russia’s path seems so similar to the path already practiced by many of the world’s model democracies. Then we have Bush’s challenge to Russian democracy easily swatted away with Putin remarking, “”Well, of course, we wouldn’t want the same kind of democracy as in Iraq, I’ll say that quite honestly.” Bush’s response, “Just wait.” What the hell is that supposed to mean!? Still, Bush stood firm and didn’t give his blessing to Russia’s entry into the WTO. However, they did agree on a deal that would allow American nuclear waste to be stored in Russia! Somehow that doesn’t help me sleep at night.
The big losers are probably the so-called Russian opposition and the anti-globalization movement. The movement not only revealed its weakness, it showed its irrelevance. There are no signs of any real opposition to the Putin’s handpicked successor and United Russia candidate in 2008. Not to mention any possibility of an “orange” anything. As for the anti-globalists, and I should say that I cast my ideological support with them, I’m still waiting for them to stand for something besides being against the nightmare we already have. Perhaps it is time to take a cue from the Global South and build a real movement in the North that doesn’t simply organize for the next big protest. Mass protest seems so late 1990s, amyway.
On second thought, the biggest losers of all are the residents of St. Petersburg. The place sounds like a prison. I’m sure anyone with half a brain fled to their dachas.
By Sean — 13 years ago
—This item is from two weeks ago and slipped under my radar. The League of United Youth, or LOM has become reality. The September 27 edition of the Moscow Times reported that the coalition, which includes the youth organization Rodina; the Communist Youth League, Red Youth Vanguard; National Bolshevik Party; and the Yabloko youth group Oborona, or Defense, announced its formation.
—This week the Presidium of the Russian Supreme Court nullified its overturning of a lower court’s ban of the National Bolshevik Party, ordering a retrial. NPB spokesman Alexander Averin charged that “the decision was made under pressure from the Kremlin.”
—It sounds like a chill is developing with another of America’s allies on the “war on terror. Mosnews is reporting that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cancelled her stop to Uzbekistan as she visits Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan on October 10 – 13. Mosnews writes:
“The reason of this cancellation was that the United States is concerned over clashes in the Uzbek city of Andijan in May and over the current policy of the Uzbek authorities. [Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, Daniel] Fried said. “We are very concerned over Andijan, not only the very incident but the reaction as well,” he added. Fried said the U.S. administration is worried over other aspects of Uzbek activities, such as “pressure on non-governmental organizations, reduction of exchange programs, the entire atmosphere of fear in the country.”
This still surprises me because it seems that the Uzbek government is doing everything right by U.S. standards. It was reported this week that a Muslim imam, Shavkat Madumarov, died of torture in an Uzbek prison. Madumarov was serving a seven year sentence for ties to Wahhabis. The Uzbek government of course claims that he died of “an HIV infection and anemia.” Um, yeah, right.
—The drama in the Beslan Mothers and Grigorii Grabovoi controversy continues. Lisa Vronskaya provides an interesting analysis of why some of the mothers had gravitated to the cult leader. It seems that the devotion of some of its members is causing a lot of tension within the Mother’s group, causing increased speculation that Grabovoi is really an agent of the Kremlin. I seriously doubt this and just speaks to the tendency to see conspiracy emanating from above to squash the legitimate concerns and complaints from those below.
Vronskaya adds that there is a deep cultural reason why many are willing to accept Grabovoi’s claims:
“Russia has an ancient tradition of belief in the supernatural. Despite the country’s early Christianization, Russians continued to worship pagan gods for centuries. The Soviet regime proclaimed Russia a secular state where all religions were all but outlawed, and ordinary people again turned to mystic and supernatural cults. In the 1990s, ’healers’, albeit widely condemned as charlatans, were allowed to cast their spells on nationwide television.”
It is true that you can open any Russian tabloid and see all sorts of classified ads for a variety of kolduny and koldun’i, znakhari, mystics, soothsayers, palm readers, and “authentic” peasant women who can apply herbs and read chicken bones. Not to mention the popularity of astrological and other supernatural books. And it is also the case that there is a long history of religious sects in Russia. The strangest being the secretive Skoptsy, an odd group that split from the Old Believers and practiced castration as well as other extreme dietary and bodily regulations, about which Professor Laura Engelstein of Yale has written. But to take this particular case to the universal seems a bit much. I maintain that while strange and tragic, it is not hard to see why some of the Beslan Mothers have embraced Grabovoi. He offers them the impossible at a time when they are obviously still in shock.
—The Moscow News is celebrating its 75th Anniversary with an interview with the paper’s former editor, Yakov Lomko. The paper began in 1930, was haulted in 1949 after its editor, Mikhail Borodin was shot, but revived again in 1956. The Moscow News served as only foreign language newspaper published in the Soviet Union. When asked about pressure from the KGB, Lomko has this to say:
“Unlike editors of Russian-language Soviet papers I had a convenient excuse: “The foreign reader will not understand this.” After that they would leave me alone. We had an opportunity to speak about our problems more frankly and openly than Russian-language papers. Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Central Committee dictated us what to write or censored us. We did not get instructions from the KGB, and had no contacts with them. Everything related to the publishing process was discussed by our editorial board.
The paper never was a “troubadour of ideas of Marxism-Leninism.” In the supplement intended for speeches of party leaders we published Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s story One Day of Ivan Denisovich. All this was “swallowed” by the upper echelons, the main thing was to persuade them. But, of course, to go against the “general line” was impossible. We worked for the interests of our country, trying to get close to common human values, believing this the only way to win the trust of the readers.”
—Probably one of the most important news items of the week is that 13 years ago Russian President Boris Yeltsin sent tanks to break opposition led by Chairman of the Supreme Council Ruslan Khasbulatov and Vice-president Alexander Rutskoi to his dissolving of Parliament and the Russian Constitution. I already pointed out how at the time the NY Times and the Washington Post lauded Yeltsin’s use of the military as progress for Russian “democracy” and “reform.” That being said, I find Nikolay Troitsky’s reflection on the event interesting:
“Early in the morning October 4, 1993 the White House was encircled. What happened next some people still call “execution of the parliament”. It was much talked right after the event, and the talks still continue today, that there was some armed resistance, that “defenders” of the House of the Government allegedly seized too much weapons. There probably were weapons but many witnesses of the events did not see them at all. There was General Makashov (he is now representing the Communist Party in the Parliament) with a Kalashnikov gun and three cartridge belts, but the general never shot.
On the day when the House of the Government was stormed, about one hundred of strange men wearing Cossack caps settled in the windows of the building with double-barreled guns or hunting rifles. The men incurred the inimical fire and spoiled the whole of the interior. At that those who fired the House of the Government did not look better than the “defenders”. Among them there were strong athletic men who jumped out of armored troop-carriers with better weapons and fired the building. Nobody knew where the people came from. It was suggested that they were probably engaged by Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, young Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other bankers who afterwards financed the Yeltsin Family. It is astonishing that 12 years after the events, Mikhail Khodorkovsky himself arrived at the parliamentary republic ideas that pushed Khasbulatov and Co.
The storm of the White House was in fact the mixture of senseless outrage and obvious sloppiness. Majority of people sitting in the building – clerks, cleaners, barkeepers – were rather peaceful and did not want to fight the regime. But none of them was allowed to leave the building. Instead, firing of the building began without warning.”
Troitsky ends hid discussion with this lesson of the 1993 “civil war”: “that it is dangerous in Russia to take armed people out in the streets to fight the regime.”
On that note, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin turned 53 on Friday.