—Newsru.com is reporting that an anti-fascist rally in front of the Moscow city hall was broken up by OMON on Sunday. About two hundred protesters gathered in response to the rise in nationalism and racism. Shortly after they gathered, buses carrying OMON officers arrived. The officers charged the crowd arresting participants. One woman was taken to the hospital with injuries after an officer hit her over the head. Sunday’s protest was in response to the nationalist rallies held on the first celebration of “Unity Day” on November 4. The holiday, which celebrates the liberation of Moscow from Poland in the 16th century, was commemorated by the ultranationalist Eurasian Youth League with a rally 1000 strong to denounce the influx of immigrants into Russia.
—The Moscow Times reports that the office of the National Bolshevik Party was raided by police on Thursday. Last week the Russian Supreme Court liquidated the NBP, overturning its own earlier ruling upholding their right to operate. NBP spokesperson, Alexander Averin told Ekho Moskvy that ten NBP members chained themselves to a radiator to protest the eviction. This made them easy targets for police to beat them.
—One year later Ukraine’s Orange Revolution continues to ripple through Russian politics. The latest ripple is the State Duma’s passing a law that restricts the operation of some 450,000 NGOs and other civil society groups operating in Russia. The law, passed 370-18 vote, with 48 abstentions by mostly Communist deputies, requires NGOs to reregister with the Justice Ministry’s Federal Registration Service under rules that give the government more oversight over NGOs’ tax flow, sources of funding, and involvement in Russian politics. The bill comes as a response to two goals of the Putin Administration. First, the Administration seeks to place tighter controls on the ability of NGOs to operate and foster Russian civil society and democracy. NGOs like Human Rights Watch, which released a briefing paper on the issue, has been increasingly critical of Russian human rights violations in Chechnya, the treatment of soldiers in the military, government censorship and control over the media, and the general whittling away of democratic checks and balances. Second, it address a concern that foreign NGOs were instrumental in funding Ukraine’s Orange Revolution; a claim that is not entirely false, but not completely true either. Moscow believes to this day that the election of Yushchenko was the result of a CIA plot and they will be damned if something like that happens in Russia. When asked about this specter of Orange Revolution in an interview on Ekho Moskvy, Alexander Petrov, the head of Human Rights Watch in Moscow downplayed the possibility and added his own thoughts on the need for a strong and influential civil society in Russia:
“I would like not to talk about Orange Revolution as a real danger which the Russian Administration, state, and state institutions are looking out for. It’s simply because Russia is a completely different state. First, it is not divided into two parts like the Ukraine, nor in three like Georgia. Opposition parties do not have enough influence in Russia. Therefore, it seems to me, that the situation is different and all these ideas about the possibility of Orange Revolution are simply a cover for something else. That is, I ask myself the question, for what reason does the government need to not only strengthen the law of registration, but also the life, activities, accounting, everything that is necessary [for them]. I cannot find an answer for this because despite all the maniacal desires to describe this one vector, the vector of civil society alongside the vectors that are already built—the vector of executive power, the vector of representative power, I call them wax figures, which appear to be representative power, but they aren’t. Because there must be debate in representative organs to check all legislation, but apparently they simply conduct all other discussions without hesitation. A similar process exists in the mass media. We see television channels look more and more like each other, and the tone of commentators, even their rhythm and tempo looks remarkably alike; you often don’t know what you are watching the first channel or the fourth. The theory is to create a third vector. But the rational, logic, and reasons for this are not recognized.”
The passing of the bill comes as government officials make stronger claims that NGOs and other civil society groups are fronts for foreign spies. Alexei Ostrovsky, a member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and co-author of the bill accused NGOs of being the tool of the CIA to destabilize Russia and promote revolution. “We remember how those human rights organizations defended human rights in Yugoslavia, Ukraine and Georgia under the cover of the CIA, and we know how it ended,” he was quoted in the Moscow Times. In an interview in Rossiiskaya gazeta, FSB head Nikolai Patrushev had this to say in reference to terrorism and the control over organizations (read: NGOs) that might aid them:
“One of the priority tasks right now, as I already said, is to identify and eliminate the funding sources and to cut off the funding channels of terrorist organizations and bandit formations.
Both our own and foreign experience demonstrates that one of the key conditions for effective enforcement work in combating terrorism is that the special services and law enforcement agencies should be endowed with the relevant procedural powers with regard to monitoring of financial flows, freezing and seizing suspect accounts, and compelling financial and credit organizations to collaborate with them.
For example, in the United States the Patriot Act introduced amendments to the laws on banking and financial confidentiality that make it possible to obtain relevant information from banking and financial institutions when international terrorism is involved.
The FSB considers it necessary to increase the liability of credit organizations and their leaders for funding terrorist activity and organized crime closely associated with it, and the Bank of Russia should respond more promptly and firmly to alarm signals from the law enforcement agencies. It is not acceptable to make money from blood.”
Putin was more measured in his remarks on the bill. Though while agreeing that Russia needs such organizations he added, “The ongoing funding of political activity in Russia from abroad, I think, must be on the state’s radar screen, especially if this funding … comes through the state channels of other countries, and … organizations operating here and involved in political activity are, in essence, used as foreign policy instruments by other states.” Only time will tell on this. But the bill is sure to send a chilling effect through NGOs, especially ones like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International which heave heavy and much needed criticism of the Putin Administration’s policies.
—Chechens go to the polls today for parliamentary elections. The vote, which is expected to solidify Moscow’s political hold in the war torn region, is sure to raise questions about the legitimacy of the results. The new leader of the Chechen separatist movement Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev appeared on Al-Jazeera denouncing the election as a “farce”:
“This is not the first time Russia performs a farce of this kind on its soil. We know how this sort of democratic elections had previously been held when they appointed [Moscow appointee Ramzan] Kadyrov to be the first Chechen president as if there had been no elections or Chechen presidents before him. Although history mentions that Dzhokhar Dudayev and Maskhadov were presidents of Chechnya, yet Russians are trying to erase them from history and to rewrite Chechen history afresh. But they could not and will not be able to do that because no-one gave them the right do so.”
Sadulayev added further:
“They are trying to add some points to the Chechen constitution indicating that the Republic of Chechnya wants to voluntarily be part of the Russian Federation. Naturally, this was not enshrined in the previous constitution and is something made up by the Russians. We know that farce very well. The Russian side in the committee in charge of drafting the Chechen constitution wrote as a clause in the constitution that Chechnya does not want independence and wants to be part of the Russian Federation. But, the Chechen side in the committee rejected that and after God took away the soul of renegade Kadyrov, they held a new farcical election that resulted in appointing Alu Alkhanov, so as to be able to steer Chechens in any direction they wish, to order achieve their own personal end. They are now trying to call these elections parliamentary elections to achieve stability, but no matter what they do this will not do them any good. There attempts will always be useless.”
To follow developments I urge readers to point their mouse to Radio Free Europe’s special section “The Crisis in Chechnya.” I hope to address the elections more thoroughly in the coming days.
—It seems that this is the year of elections in the former Soviet Republics. Azerbaijan held theirs. Chechnya is voting now. On December 4 Kazakhs will go to the polls to elect a new president. There is little doubt, with all the state oppression, manipulation, and other shenanigans, that current President Nursultan Nazarbaev will win. There are signs that the Kazakh elections are trying to appear legitimate. Last week candidates participated without Nazarbaev in a televised debate. The participants included Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, from For a Just Kazakhstan; Alikhan Baimenov, from Ak Zhol (Bright Path); Erasyl Abylkasymov, from the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan; and lawyer and environmentalist Mels Eleusizov. Nursaltan did not participate and was on an official visit in Ukraine. Like in all the other former republics, the elections have sparked speculation of a “colored revolution.” The leader of the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, stated that his bloc “have ever planned or are planning any anti-constitutional actions or measures aimed at destabilizing the situation in the country.” This follows statements by Kazakh security forces warning that they have information that the Opposition is planning such actions and promise that if they do they will be “severely dealt with.” For more information as it develops, Radio Free Europe has set up a special section “Kazakhstan Votes 2005”.
—Finally one cannot forget that this week marked the first anniversary of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and the second anniversary for Georgia’s Rose Revolution. Paul Abelsky from Russia Profile gives a good analysis of how a year later the rifts in Ukraine continue to dog how the country relates to Russia. He argues that relations between Russia and Ukraine are still wrought with tensions. Ukraine’s dependency on Russian energy and its subsidized prices gives it little wiggle room when it comes to its relationship to its big brother. Abelsky writes:
“Ukraine will have to choose between the subsidized Russian energy exports and a more independent economic and foreign policy course. Developing a degree of self-sufficiency in the energy sector will bring obvious long-term dividends, but it is bound to result in widespread hardship for the population in the foreseeable future. Ukraine’s plunging economic growth, which fell from 12 percent in 2004 to 3 percent this year, only aggravates the political intricacies of the situation.”
To make matters worse for Yushchenko, his administration was full of promise but delivered little by way of domestic reform. His administration was cobbling together of “politicians who came to power were not able to offer a satisfactory socio-political model and, instead, became preoccupied with a banal redistribution of property and influence,” says Yury Boiko, the leader of Ukraine’s Republican Party. “The team that emerged was formed on the sole basis of a disdain for the previous government and the wish to overthrow it. Their business and political interests differed, which took a toll on all the subsequent efforts and reforms.” According to Abelsky such a situation has not squelched speculation of the legitimacy of last year’s elections, and perhaps worse squandered the “vast symbolic potential of an uprising built around declarations of justice and democracy.” Thus the parliamentary elections in March will be a more effective measure of the Orange Revolution successes and failures.
On the Georgian side, Shaun Walker gives his analysis of Georgian-Russian relations two years after Mikheil Saakashvili led protesters in overthrowing Eduard Shevardnadze. While there has been some progress on governmental transparency, Georgia is far from democratic and in fact according to Oksana Antonenko of London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, “Georgia has not become more democratic. What we’ve seen is the emergence of a very strong, centralized one-party structure, in which the president decides everything and there’s no real opposition.” While relations with the West have improved, those with Russia have gotten colder; so cold Georgia has hinted at pulling out of the CIS all together. Such a move would be an economic disaster for Georgia. Especially in the price of natural gas, who like its Ukrainian counterpart, receives price subsidies from Russia. In all, the reality of the colored revolutions is structured by economics. While Ukraine and Georgia can strive for political and foreign policy independence, their economic dependency on Russia for energy and markets hampers that desire. The champions of revolution who now sit in Kiev and Tbilisi have painfully learned a hard lesson: pro-Western and anti-Russian rhetoric might win you elections, but it won’t make it easy to rule.