Move over Disneyland and make room for Gulagland! That’s right Gulagland. Igor Shpektor the mayor of the town of Vorkuta, which is located 100 miles above the Artic Circle and 1,200 miles northeast of Moscow, wants to turn a former prison camp into a “reality” holiday camp for tourists looking to spice up their vacation with the experience of Soviet camp life. According to an article in the London Independent, visitors can pay $150 to $200 a day to experience snarling dogs, camp conditions, and forced labor.
Shpekor’s idea was first reported in the newspaper Novye Izvestiia. He told the newspaper visitors to the town, where over 1,000 zeks perished, have been declining with every year. “The town needs money and we have the possibility to turn Vorkuta into a tourist region.” He got the idea last year when a “whole trainload of tourists from the US, Australia, and Poland arrived wanting to see the camp.” He hopes that “Gulagland” will keep wealthy tourists coming.
When asked what he thought of the idea, human rights activist Sergei Kovalev has this to say:
I myself was in a camp in Perm. Now there is a museum Perm-36 organized there. It’s been open for 10 years and it allows residents in the region to not forget their history. Concerning the scheme of Vorkuta authorities, I am convinced that to recreate the conditions of the GULAG would hardly be successful. An authentic reproduction of life there, will most likely, fail. Although I think that it wouldn’t be a bad idea that every future prosecutors and lawmakers are held for a while in the camp. Then he would understand when they doom people.
Such is our postmodern times.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
Kommersant reports that police investigating Anna Politkovskaya’s murder have settled on a dominant theory about who killed her. Police have descended on the Siberian city of Nizhnevartovsk because they suspect that the killer is linked to former policemen there. Kommersant reporter Sergei Mashkin writes,
“Information received from Khant-Mansiiskii police was the reason why investigators from the General Prosecutor and operatives from Russian MVD Criminal Investigation Department departed [to Nizhnevartovsk]. One of the police there saw someone who looks like their former colleagues—Mayor Alexandr Prilepin and Colonel Valerii Minin. Presently there is an international search for them for crimes they committed in Chechnya.
However, the investigators have been unsuccessful in finding the mayor or the colonel. Possibly the police informant was mistaken or former colleagues warned the fugitives beforehand. As a result, the investigators had to be satisfied with interrogating Prilepin’s and Minin’s comrades and even their relatives.”
Prilepin and Minin are wanted in connection with the 2001 the kidnapping and death of a Chechen man named Zelimkhan Murdalov. Politkovskaya, working in tandem with Memorial, reported his disappearance and murder in Novaya gazeta in 2002. The articles were instrumental in Former Police Lieutenant Sergei Lapin’s conviction to eleven years in prison for the murder. People connected to Lapin are suspected because according to court documents, Lapin told Politkovskaya in a 2002 email, “You have ten days to publish a retraction. Otherwise the policemen you have hired to protect you will be powerless to help.”
There are three theories about who murdered Politkovskaya. The involvement of people close to Lapin was one theory. The others suggested that Razman Kadyrov had Politkovskaya murdered or that she was killed by opponents of the Kremlin to destabilize Russia.Post Views: 290
By Sean — 13 years ago
Opposition parties are struggling to keep momentum going in Azerbaijan. The results of the recent Azeri parliamentary elections left the 125 seat legislature in control of the ruling Yeni Party. The Opposition received only 10 seats and claim that the elections were rife with fraud, a claim that has been supported by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, among others. There is no doubt that this is true, but it seems that the Opposition’s hopes of staging its own “Orange Revolution” are fading. Despite yesterday’s presence of 15,000 supporters in a protest against the elections, the crowd was thinner than the initial protests a week ago.
One problem it seems is that the Opposition does not have the will to risk a government crackdown on demonstrators. This lack of will has the potential to alienate and disillusion younger radicals who want to take more direct action. As one Azeri journalist named Shain Abbasov, told Radio Free Europe (RFE):
“The opposition leadership are trying to operate at least until 26 November, when the CEC [Central Election Commission] should announce the official results of the elections, they are going to operate exactly within the law. So, no unsanctioned rallies, no clashes with the police, etc. They remember their experience in 2003 elections, when Isa Gambar [Ed. an opposition leader who lost against Ilham Aliyev in the presidential election] moved his supporters to the streets and then they were cracked down. . . Young people want to stay at the square [in central Baku] after the next rally, to put up tents, to put [up] orange tents, to repeat the Ukrainian events, as they call them. So, stay and attract more attention of the Western international community to falsification and maybe provoke police violence. They want [a] more radical struggle. They think the carefulness of the leadership will help the government confirm the falsified results.”
Such a clash of generations can be death to an opposition movement. Many Azeri youths understand the vital role their Ukrainian and Georgian counterparts played in forcing their “revolutions.” It appears that Azeri youth organizations are ready to fight. As Murad Hasanli, a spokesperson for the main opposition bloc, Azadlyq (Freedom), told RFE.
“If you look at what happened in Georgia and Ukraine, it was the youth movements that provided the catalysts for political change. They were the foot soldiers of the revolution — and the opposition has recognized that here in Azerbaijan, and from early on began to engage with young people, and a whole plethora of youth organizations has developed in Azerbaijan very quickly. We had Yeni Fikir (New Idea), Maqam (Opportunity), Yokh (No!). Some of them were single-issue organizations, some were broader political movements and they did engage the young people.”
At the same time, young Azeri activists should learn yet another lesson from their Ukrainian counterparts: Revolution does not mean automatic changes. Sometimes it simply means putting the other guy in power.
This is a feeling settling in on the first anniversary of the “orange revolution.” The Moscow Times reports a deep sense of dissatisfaction among those who come from afar to join Viktor Yushchenko and his orange believers. One such believer is Natalya Simonenko, a 26 year old business woman from Odessa. Now a year later she tells the Times of deep disappointment, “I was one of the few in Odessa to support Yushchenko; I traveled to Kiev to demonstrate. I used to argue with my family and my neighbors who supported Yanukovych. I wanted the country to change, but after a year I see that nothing has, corruption is still high, and the oligarchs are still running things.”
Even members of Pora (It’s Time), the youth group that occupied tents for weeks in freezing weather, have taken Yushchenko’s backtracking as a signal to extend their political participation. Pora has since split into two wings. One, black Pora, is focused on being a pressure group and committed to staging demonstrations. The other, yellow Pora, looks to run candidates in next March’s parliamentary elections. Such a move shows that Pora activists will not simply be the “shock troops” for their father’s political party. They are seeking independence to assert their own political agenda. As the head of black Pora, Nadya Prudyak, 24, reminded the Times,
“Much of the old system we were fighting has remained. We were fighting not because we liked Yushchenko but because we hoped for big political changes. We wanted to get rid of the players of Kuchma’s era, but nothing has changed.”
Pora in the Ukraine. The National Bolsheviks in Russia. Emerging youth organizations in Azerbaijan. Something is in the air in the CIS in regard to youth politics. While all of these groups, and the many others within these countries vying for influence, share different views, all of them see extra-parliamentary, and in some cases, extra-legal means to achieve political change. And as the Ukrainian case shows, even despite the disillusionment that has followed, youth organizations do play a very powerful rule in this change. After all who else but young people can spend days, even weeks, holed up in the tent in the freezing temperatures? Who else but youth risk their bodies against the bludgeon of police batons? Who else but youth are on the barricades of social change? The naivet? of the ruling parties, whether they are the “opposition” or not is that they think these young people are merely their political pawns. Youth are merely bodies to be mobilized for instrumental purposes. But political experience breeds consciousness. Coming out into the streets en mass gives an immense feeling of collective power. The youth in the CIS know the power they have and could have. The question remains is whether they will take it for themselves.Post Views: 331
By Sean — 11 years ago
The following article was run by Haaretz on February 25. It is the first installment of Moti Katz investigation of anti-Semitism in Israel. I referenced the second article on Israeli punks last week. Again, the culprits appear to be members of the Russian diaspora, especially youths who find themselves unable to assimilate into Israeli society. Beside such cultural difficulties, could the rise in anti-Semitism in Israel also be called a form of blowback from Israel’s policy of encouraging “Jewish” immigration from the CIS as a way to replace Palestinian labor? Maybe. Maybe not. Katz doesn’t broach the subject though it seems to haunt it in terms of the political economy of anti-Semitism in Israel.
By Moti Katz
Six minors, immigrants from the CIS, were arrested early this year on suspicion of burning flags and stealing mezuzahs from Nahshonim School in Bat Yam. They also confessed to stealing mezuzahs from homes in the city on eight additional occasions. The teens attributed their actions to a hatred for Jews and Judaism. In the past three months, there have been five break-ins at synagogues in the southern city of Arad. All of the incidents have involved vandalism, the theft of charity boxes and the scrawling of obscenities on the walls.
In the past several years there have been similar incidents carried out by young immigrants from the CIS, including the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, throughout the country. Many religious institutions have instituted security measures as a result. In 2006 there were at least six reports of broken headstones, desecration of synagogues and graffiti with swastikas and anti-Semitic sentiments, according to figures gathered by Damir, an organization that assists victims of anti-Semitism.
Vandalism is not the only expression of anti-Semitism in Israel. In 2003 a Web site operated by Ilia Zolotov, an Israel Defense Forces soldier who called himself a “Russian patriot,” was exposed. The Web site, whose name translates to the White Israeli Union, was housed on an Israeli server. Its content included Nazi and Holocaust-denial materials. It was eventually closed down by the police. Zolotov was sentenced to community service and sent on a tour of death camps in Poland.
Haaretz has uncovered Internet sites put up by Israelis in their 30s who immigrated from the CIS that supply Nazi and Russian nationalist content.
Irina, 18, lives in central Israel. She belonged to a group of young people, “Nazi skinheads,” that terrorized the ultra-Orthodox residents of a central-Israel city. “I was a ‘skin girl,'” relates Irina, whose was the girlfriend of the group’s leader, Leonid [a pseudonym – M.K.]. Leonid, who is now about 19, immigrated at age 10 from Azerbaijan on the Law of Return. The only Jew in his family was one of his grandfathers.
Irina says that Leonid’s downslide began in the ninth grade. He felt alienated from Israeli society and decided to join up with a Nazi skinhead group. “We were a bunch of Russian new immigrants, boys and girls,” Irina relates. “Most of the boys had shaved heads and wore army pants.”
A group of about 15 teens who believed in the Nazi ideology coalesced around Leonid. One of their favorite activities, Irina says, was attacking Haredi. “Nazi skinheads hate the religious, especially Haredim, for them the Haredim are the ugly Jews … On weekends we’d meet in the parks, drinking and smoking and listening to Nazi music,” and then they would go out in search of dossim [a derogatory Hebrew term for religious Jews], Irina related. “On Hitler’s birthday we’d met at a cemetery and celebrate,” she said.
Nazi Web sites in Israel
Since the closure of Zolotov’s Web site, his successors have gotten more sophisticated. Now they use servers based abroad, usually in Russia, to evade the authorities. One such site operator is Alex [a pseudonym], who is in his 30s and holds a security-related job. His site, www.rusnatcentre.tk, is hosted by a Russian server. Alex refers to himself on the site as “the Russian tank operator” or “the fighter from Jerusalem,” a tribute to his service in the Armored Corps. In a conversation with Haaretz, he denied that his site carries anti-Semitic messages, asserting that it is pro-Russian only.
“The Russian National Center is a Russian nationalist association that lives in Israel,” Alex explains. “The main mission of our organization is nationalist propaganda among ethnic Russians residing in Israel, encouraging their return to Russia, opposing the return of Jews from Israel to Russia, and opposing conversion to Judaism,” Alex said. He will not reveal membership figures, saying only it is a “global organization whose members are adults, most of them after army service and the majority living in the center of the country.”
A Haaretz probe reveals that the RNC site is indeed Russian nationalist in nature, but it also contains anti-Semitic material. The home page features a Celtic cross, a symbol that has been adopted by neo-Nazis, and warns all Jews who have immigrated to Israel not to dare to return to Russia. It calls on all non-Jewish Russians who immigrated to Israel to return to Russia and to leave the Jews [using the derogatory Russian term zhid] in their country.
Alex is active on other, specifically Nazi, forums, such as www.slavnazi.com, in which he recommended Jurgen Graf’s “The Myth of the Holocaust” to readers in July 2005. There were 118 favorable responses from Israel to that posting.
Alex also regularly recommends films and music in Russian with Nazi content. One of his recommendations in the latter category is Kolovrat, which is known as a Nazi band. About a year ago the band members were arrested and banned for distributing Nazi propaganda when they traveled to the Czech Republic on a concert tour. Alex’s site asks readers to sign a petition calling for the group’s release, which has garnered about 150 signatures from Israeli Internet users.
Alex gets mad when he is asked whether the call to release Kolovrat is anti-Semitic. “Of course such an action won’t please the Jews, like any other action on the part of Russian nationalist!” Alex says.
When asked whether the mass Jewish immigration of Russian Jews in the 1990s was a mistake, he says it depends which immigrants you mean. “The Jewish immigration to Israel is the best and only solution, apparently, to the Jewish question in Russia. On the other hand, the mass emigration of ethnic Russians from Russia is a big mistake that we [the RNC] must correct.”
Dr. Elana Gomel, chair of the English Department at Tel Aviv University and author of “Atem ve’anachnu” (“You and Us”), a book on being Russian in Israel, agrees that there is anti-Semitism in Israel. “After the collapse of Communism,” she says, “states that were part of the Soviet Union licked their wounds and looked for ways to make up for the downfall, and it came in the form of reinforcing their nationalism. The vacuum left by Communism was filled by fascism and Nazism,” Gomel says.
“Their message is, ‘if I’m not accepted here as a Jew, then I’ll remain Russian,'” Gomel said. “The enormous gap in mentality between the cultures of the Sabras and the immigrants doesn’t help their absorption into society and they develop antagonism to Israeli society. The absurdity,” Gomel adds, “is that even if the anti-Semitic nationalists return to Russia, the Russian anti-Semites won’t accept them and will persecute them just as people of Jewish extraction in the Wehrmacht during the Nazi regime were persecuted. The phenomenon is sick because it is a form of self-flagellation that cannot be stopped,” Gomel said.Post Views: 379