Sean

"Puppeteers and Puppets"

I promised to write an update on Russian youth organizations, especially the August 29th attack on a meeting of the National Bolsheviks and other youth groups at a Communist Party office at Avtozavodskaia. But time has got the better of me. However, an article published and translated in JRL #9261, “Puppeteers and Puppets” by Andrei Vol’nov from Rossiiskie Vesti has saved me. Instead of writing something of my own on this issue, let me provide and comment on some of its key passages. Russian readers can find the entire article here. Pavel Pushkin did the JRL translation, from which these excerpts are taken.

The article speaks about the recent increase in Russian youth organizations at both the national and local level. According to the article, this rise is in part because “it’s become fashionable to use young people for either “revolutionary” or “counter-revolutionary” activity.” The most significant is Nashi (Our Own), which is pro-Putin and vows to prevent “orange revolution” in Russia. In addition, youth organizations have sprouted in Moscow, Civil Change, which is under the patronage of Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov; and Youth Chamber in Kazan, among others. The basic logic behind these organizations is similar to what the Komsomol was: to funnel young and politically loyal members into city and regional political institutions. This seems to be one of the main thrusts behind Nashi as their week long retreat near Tver showed.

But some of these groups, especially Nashi seem to have “extra legal” intentions. Especially, with using football hooligans as shock troops. The article reads:

“It might seem unlikely that the reasonably law-abiding Nashi would have anything in common with aggressive groups of football fans from the outer suburbs. Nonetheless, according to leader of Dynamo fan club Alexander Shprygin, the football fans have rushed to join Our Own, a well-funded organization (in comparison with other youth groups). Shprygin added, “Nashi’s leader, Yakemenko, has said that if force is needed, he will provide it. He was referring to the football fans. It is known that Spartak fans were responsible for the attack on the National Bolshevik headquarters.”

And it is has been the repeasted attacks on the National Bolsheviks that has increased the tension between left and right wing youth organizations. The facts of the attacks on the Natsbols are narrated as follows:

“It should be noted that no definite connection has yet been established between the Nashi movement and the organized and pre-paid groups of “fans” who were ordered by someone to “sort out” the National Bolsheviks. We can only set out the evidence: on January 29, 40 men armed with baseball bats attacked the NBP headquarters; on March 5, 25 masked men destroyed ransacked the NBP office and assaulted NBP members with baseball bats; on February 12, ten NBP and Communist Party members were attacked by masked men on their way home from a rally. In all these cases, some of the suspects were detained and usually released “after a phone call from above.” No charges were issued against them.

The largest and most well-publicized attack by “organized fans” took place on the evening of August 29. This was an attack on the Communist Party headquarters on Avtozavodskaya Street in Moscow, during a meeting of National Bolsheviks, young Communists, and members of other left-wing organizations. According to various sources, there were about 40 attackers, wearing camouflage and masks, armed with baseball bats and pneumatic pistols. Several young leftists were injured: fractured skulls, concussion, broken bones. The National Bolshevik Party maintains that the attackers were members of a football fan group based on Yaroslavskoe Road, connected with the Nashi movement. NBP leader Eduard Limonov emphasized that members of his party recognized the faces of some attackers, recalling them from previous attacks. But Nashi leader Yakemenko denies any involvement of members of his organization in the incident. The law-enforcement agencies (they released the detained people with the bats again “according to a phone call from above”) keep silent mysteriously again. There is an impression that these are persistent attempts to change behavior and to “monitor” NBP members (now with assistance of football fans).”

When I’ve mentioned these attacks to friends, they immediately respond that it sounds like Germany in the 1920s when fascists and communists fought in the streets. While it does echo that, I’m a bit more guarded with such an analysis. If the left wing begins to strike back with equal intent, then I think a process will be unleashed that will certainly culminate during the 2008 elections.

There is, however, some from liberal/left groups who are calling for just that: battle ready detachments. NBP leader Eduard Limonov has hyperbolically called the attack at Avtozavodskaia the beginning of a “civil war.” Rodina youth leader Sergei Shargunov has called that it is time to organize “self-defense detachments” to combat Nashi. Other liberal/left groups are talking seriously about uniting under the name League of United Youth, or LOM. Don’t let the acronym pass unnoticed. The word “lom” (???) means “crowbar” in Russian. There are hopes that LOM will also include more radical left groups such as the Natsbols, the Communist Youth League, and Red Youth Vanguard.

The article is also presents a view that I have held since Nashi was formed earlier this year:

“It is very interesting to watch how the process of formation of the “pro-government” and “anti-government” youth groups coincide in essence (although not in form) with what the authorities are doing on a higher level of political parties.”

Indeed. What has struck me about all of this is how the center has either dropped out or has been redefined after the Ukrainian elections in November-December, 2004 and the pension protests in January this year. By February, the more moderate pro-Putin group, Walking Together, was liquidated, and the more ardent Nashi suddenly appeared. They now claim to be the “center.” The National Bolsheviks, as well, as other far left groups have increased their activities. The liberal electoral opposition in the form of Yabloko, though their initial presence should not be overestimated, has dropped out almost completely. Even United Russia has grown so large that it has split into left and right wing factions. But the article is also quick to point to the fact that,

“Along with this, it is necessary to say at once that there is no own activeness of the opposition, both rightist and leftist. All its actions have a nature of responses to external events (the terrorist act in Beslan, appointment of governors, monetization of social allowances or persecution of Khodorkovsky) along with complete absence of the own program. Diversity of the PR pretexts only emphasizes fictitious nature of existence of the opposition as a political player. Calling a spade a spade it is possible to say that the opposition is on the lead of the authorities and this lead had been put on voluntarily. In the current circumstances of transition to elections according to the party lists (accompanied with increase of the registered number of party members from 10,000 to 50,000 members) Yabloko, the Union of Right Forces, or Motherland may simply disappear having failed to recruit the necessary number of members.”

Where will this opposition come from? One possibility is that United Russia’s factions will cannibalize themselves and make a formal split. Another is that increased pressure from below, which is now represented by youth organizations, will coalesce into an opposition from outside the electoral process. This possibility is only made more likely with the escalating political polarization and the increased readiness to use violence and oppression against political opponents, whether they are youth organizations or not.

Suffice to say, this is far from the end of this story.

Yelstin Good, Putin Bad

I highly recommend subscribing to David Johnson’s Russia List. Mr. Johnson provides some of the best sources for news on Russia and the other former Soviet states. Today’s edition, JRL #9261, is particularly interesting because Johnson inserts some of his wit into the news roll. Featured are two editorials published today. One, “Mr. Putin’s Clouded Promise,” from the NY Times and the other, “Silent on Putin’s Slide. Bush Ignores Russia’s Fading Freedom,” from the Washington Post. For comparison, he follows them with two editorials from 1993 from the same papers. From the NY Times: “In Russia, Disorder to Democracy?” (October 5, 1993) and “Officials Hail Yeltsin Foes’ Rout,” (October 6, 1993); and the Washington Post: “Weekend War,” (October 5, 1993). Johnson adds this short introductory note:

“In early October 1993 Yeltsin’s tanks assaulted the parliament and the future course of Russian history was decisively altered. I follow the first two items from the Washington Post and the New York Times with items from those papers from October 1993. I’m not sure what lessons can be drawn from this but I suspect there is something to be learned.”

Lessons to be learned indeed. The articles show the typical American hypocrisy when it comes to Russia. When Yeltsin used tanks against “old-line Communist “reds,” fascist-minded, nationalistic anti-Semitic “browns” and other bitter-enders,” this was hailed by the Washington Post, NY Times, and the Clinton Administration as democratic progress. It was a sign of a commitment to “reform and democracy.” Translated: reforms and democracy that are favorable to American interests. Lesson #1: weak dependent Russia is a good Russia. But Putin gets no license or democratic accolades like his drunken former benefactor. Apparently, you have call tanks into the streets to eliminate his opponents to get that. Instead, the Washington Post is tempted to call Putin’s tactics “Stalinist” because “he can reimpose authoritarian rule without a gulag, simply by spreading fear through example.” But his policies, whatever you think of them, are not in the interests of the U.S., but independent of it. Lesson #2: strong independent Russia is a bad Russia.

The NY Times and the Washington Post can cry all the want about poor Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Don’t let his metrosexual visage fool you. The truth of the matter is that he is a crook just like all the Russian oligarchs, and that most Russians rightly see him as such. It is only the American press that had made Khodorkovsky into some beacon of freedom and example of a “political prisoner.” I wish the Bush would use that kind of state power and arrest some of our corporate crooks. But wait, that would mean arresting all of his friends!

Sure, Putin’s actions against Khodorkovsky are selective. They are authoritarian. I’m not apologizing for that. But to say that Russian democracy is “slipping” is utter fantasy. It’s never stood up.

To be fair, the Washington Post does point to some real concerns:

“[Putin] can fire one editor for putting a negative story on the front page and other editors get the message. He can have one or two judges dismissed without pension and other judges toe the line. Threaten a few human rights organizations, allow the murders of a few journalists to go unsolved, open a criminal investigation of the one politician who mentions challenging you in the next election, throw a few businessmen into tuberculosis-infested prison cells — and word gets around.”

But Johnson’s transposes these articles to make a different point: American interpretations of democracy and reform in Russia are just as hollow as Putin’s claims to them. And this is why, I’m afraid, Western reporting on Russia should always be taken with a dash of politics and a pinch of Russophobia.

Новости, 25.9 до 30.9

Here is a summary of interesting news stories coming out of Russia this week.

—The U.S. military will abandon its airbases in Uzbekistan. Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s administration asked the U.S. to leave after it suggested an international probe into the massacre of over 800 people in town of Andijan. I’m surprised. Given the Bush Administration’s “commitment” to human rights, I figured that they would make the standard public condemnations, while assuring Karimov behind the scenes that their call for a probe was far from serious. Perhaps Karimov accidentally took them seriously. This news comes as the Andijan 15 are being tried in Uzbek courts for orchestrating an uprising. It seems that the EU is taking some “harsher” measures by placing an arms embargo on Uzbekistan.

—The drama around the Beslan Mothers and cult leader Grigorii Grabovoi heats up. Several of the mothers have filed a request to the Russian General Prosecutor Vladimir Ustinov to investigate Grabovoi’s dealings. The appeal stated: “This cultist’s cynical promise to resurrect those killed in the terrorist act is blasphemous to all those who suffered in this dreadful tragedy. We … ask you to investigate the legality of Grigory Grabovoi’s actions and to bring him to justice under Russian law.”

—Amnesty International released a report this week condemning abductions, secret detentions, and torture carried out by Russian authorities in Ingushetia and Chechnya. The report charges that “Russia’s “war on terror” is being used as an excuse for systematic human rights abuses.” Unfortunately, Russia is not alone it the use of Bush’s “war on terror” to commit such acts without concern for national or international law, not to mention, human rights. According to the press release, Amnesty International

“detected a new trend in the human rights abuses in the North Caucasus. People are reportedly being arbitrarily detained and held in incommunicado detention, where they are subjected to torture and ill-treatment, in order to force them to confess to crimes that they have not committed. Once they have signed a “confession” they are reportedly transferred to another detention facility where they have access to a lawyer of their choice and relatives; but the confession seems to be enough “evidence” to secure their conviction.”

Such measures are a disturbing reminder of Soviet practices. Then it was “enemies of the people.” Now its “terrorists.”

—In a sign of some progress and recognition of the problem of HIV/AIDS in the military, Russian soldiers will now be given condoms before they go on leave. Official statistics put detected HIV/AIDS cases in the Russian military since 1989 has number 2000. One can assume that this number is very, very low.

—Already in anticipation to the 2008 elections, the Federal Registration Service is going to begin a “proverka,” or check, of registered Russian political parties. According to legislation passed last December, registered electoral parties must have a national membership of 100,000, and at least 500 members in each of the county’s 89 regions.

—Kommersant is reporting that the bones of General Anton Denikin, the commander of the White Army during the Russian Civil War (1918-1920, are being flown from New York for burial in the Donskoi cemetery in Moscow. The transfer comes with a special Presidential envoy.

—In another sign of progress, a St. Petersburg Court ruled that Oktyabrskaya Railroad broke the law when it rejected a man’s application because he was a homosexual. In addition, a Yaroslav court upheld the rights of a lesbian woman who was fired from teaching because of “health problems,” i.e. she’s gay. Many Russians still believe in the Soviet view that homosexuality is a mental disease.

—I don’t think that I need to dwell to long on the biggest story coming out of Russia this week: Gazprom’s $13 billion purchase of SibNeft. The purchase further consolidates Gazprom’s dominance of Russian energy and oil markets as well as shows its intention to become a global player in oil and natural gas.

—And finally, Vitaly Matyukhin, a resident of Archangelsk has spent the last 15 years in a living his summer days in a refrigerator. Matyukhin apparently suffers from a rare heat exchange disorder where he can’t be in temperatures over 5 C. So during the warm weather of September he spends most of his time in a self built refrigerator, only to come out at night. Born in Krasnodar, he moved to Archangelsk to escape the southern heat. Only in Russia . . .

???????, 25.9 ?? 30.9

Here is a summary of interesting news stories coming out of Russia this week.

—The U.S. military will abandon its airbases in Uzbekistan. Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s administration asked the U.S. to leave after it suggested an international probe into the massacre of over 800 people in town of Andijan. I’m surprised. Given the Bush Administration’s “commitment” to human rights, I figured that they would make the standard public condemnations, while assuring Karimov behind the scenes that their call for a probe was far from serious. Perhaps Karimov accidentally took them seriously. This news comes as the Andijan 15 are being tried in Uzbek courts for orchestrating an uprising. It seems that the EU is taking some “harsher” measures by placing an arms embargo on Uzbekistan.

—The drama around the Beslan Mothers and cult leader Grigorii Grabovoi heats up. Several of the mothers have filed a request to the Russian General Prosecutor Vladimir Ustinov to investigate Grabovoi’s dealings. The appeal stated: “This cultist’s cynical promise to resurrect those killed in the terrorist act is blasphemous to all those who suffered in this dreadful tragedy. We … ask you to investigate the legality of Grigory Grabovoi’s actions and to bring him to justice under Russian law.”

—Amnesty International released a report this week condemning abductions, secret detentions, and torture carried out by Russian authorities in Ingushetia and Chechnya. The report charges that “Russia’s “war on terror” is being used as an excuse for systematic human rights abuses.” Unfortunately, Russia is not alone it the use of Bush’s “war on terror” to commit such acts without concern for national or international law, not to mention, human rights. According to the press release, Amnesty International

“detected a new trend in the human rights abuses in the North Caucasus. People are reportedly being arbitrarily detained and held in incommunicado detention, where they are subjected to torture and ill-treatment, in order to force them to confess to crimes that they have not committed. Once they have signed a “confession” they are reportedly transferred to another detention facility where they have access to a lawyer of their choice and relatives; but the confession seems to be enough “evidence” to secure their conviction.”

Such measures are a disturbing reminder of Soviet practices. Then it was “enemies of the people.” Now its “terrorists.”

—In a sign of some progress and recognition of the problem of HIV/AIDS in the military, Russian soldiers will now be given condoms before they go on leave. Official statistics put detected HIV/AIDS cases in the Russian military since 1989 has number 2000. One can assume that this number is very, very low.

—Already in anticipation to the 2008 elections, the Federal Registration Service is going to begin a “proverka,” or check, of registered Russian political parties. According to legislation passed last December, registered electoral parties must have a national membership of 100,000, and at least 500 members in each of the county’s 89 regions.

—Kommersant is reporting that the bones of General Anton Denikin, the commander of the White Army during the Russian Civil War (1918-1920, are being flown from New York for burial in the Donskoi cemetery in Moscow. The transfer comes with a special Presidential envoy.

—In another sign of progress, a St. Petersburg Court ruled that Oktyabrskaya Railroad broke the law when it rejected a man’s application because he was a homosexual. In addition, a Yaroslav court upheld the rights of a lesbian woman who was fired from teaching because of “health problems,” i.e. she’s gay. Many Russians still believe in the Soviet view that homosexuality is a mental disease.

—I don’t think that I need to dwell to long on the biggest story coming out of Russia this week: Gazprom’s $13 billion purchase of SibNeft. The purchase further consolidates Gazprom’s dominance of Russian energy and oil markets as well as shows its intention to become a global player in oil and natural gas.

—And finally, Vitaly Matyukhin, a resident of Archangelsk has spent the last 15 years in a living his summer days in a refrigerator. Matyukhin apparently suffers from a rare heat exchange disorder where he can’t be in temperatures over 5 C. So during the warm weather of September he spends most of his time in a self built refrigerator, only to come out at night. Born in Krasnodar, he moved to Archangelsk to escape the southern heat. Only in Russia . . .

The Complete Dictionary of the Language of Council of Worker, Peasant and Red Army Deputies

Have you forgotten all of your Sovietese? Can’t remember what ???? (????????? ???????????????? ????????? ??????????, Kazakh Socialist Soviet Republic), ??? (??? ????? ?????????, without the right to correspondence, part of a prison sentence that really meant execution), or ??? (????????-??????????????? ????????, party-state control) stands for? Don’t fret dear post-Soviet citizen or bewildered non-Russian academic; a new book complied by Valery Mokiyenko and Tatyana Nikitina will save you.

That book, reviewed in the Moscow Times, is The Dictionary of the Workers Paradise (???????? ??????? ????? ????????). A title, according to the review’s author, Michele A. Berdy, is an awkward translation. You see, ???????? is itself a term of the bygone Soviet past which was short for C???? ????????? or “council of worker, peasant and Red Army deputies”. With long titles like these you can see why they were shorted by smashing roots together or just making them into acronyms. I come across these all the time with my research on the Komsomol. Even the Komsomol itself is a creation such a chain of words. Kom-so-mol breaks down into “kom”, or communist (????????????????), “so”, or league (????), and “mol”, or “youth” (????????). The full name of the Komsomol is really the All-Union Leninist Communist Youth League (?????????? ????????? ???????????????? ???? ????????), or ?????, another horrendous name reduced to a simple five letter acronym. One of the longest of such acronyms is the name for the first Soviet secret police, the Cheka (???): The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for the Struggle Against Counter-Revolution and Sabotage, or ????????????? ???????????? ???????? ?? ?????? ? ??????????????? ? ?????????.

According to the review, one of the most interesting aspects of the book is that it includes terms and acronyms that Soviet citizens created outside and even contrary to officialdom. Not only does this show how deeply Soviet language was subsumed into the nation consciousness, it also demonstrates how language was turned upside down in ironic and sometimes humorous fashion. As Berdy writes,

“The dictionary is filled with hilarious examples of anti-Soviet Sovietisms: ?????? (scarecrow) for any statue of a Party leader; ???????? (partymobile, or literally a “member carrier”) for a limousine that ferried around Party members; ?????? (“Vladdy”) the diminutive of Vladimir used to mean a statue of Lenin; ????????????? (to rip something off), in reference to communist expropriation, with some implied obscenity thrown in.”

But are these really “anti-Sovietisms”? I am inclined to say no. Poking fun or ridiculing the state or the state’s culture hardly constitutes as anti-soviet. If anything, they are emblematic of the range of possibilities created by Soviet language that don’t undermine their hegemonic status, in fact, I would said reinforce it, but nonetheless creates a space for different articulations. A world like ????????, while points to, and even mocks, the acute difference between a party member’s status and regular citizens, its articulation still reinforces that hierarchy. I doubt that Soviet citizens who spoke this word looked to rip the system any more than a Tsarist citizen with pornographic pictures depicting the Tsarina Alexandra with Rasputin, a post-Soviet citizen with a mocking picture of Putin, or for that matter, an American citizen who uses the word “Bushit” does.

The book also contains what I think is one of the most fascinating aspects of Soviet language: the naming of children after revolutionaries, soviet holidays, industrial motifs, and even institutions. Berdy notes that names like “?????? (Lenin spelled backwards), ??? (Era) and ?????????? (Engelsina) for women and ???????? (Electron), ???? (Ural), ??????? (New World) and ???????? (Electric) for men” were fashionable after the revolution. My research attests to this. I found an article in a Komsomol newspaper from 1924 that suggested that Komsomol members name their children similar names. The reasoning was that since Christianity had saint names to commemorate and reinforce its ideology, communist ideology also needed “red names.” Some appropriately communist names were ????????? (October), ????????? (Star), ??? (Communist Youth International), ??? (International Youth Day), ????? (Change), and ????? (Study).

At any rate, Dictionary of the Worker’s Paradise sounds not only like a valuable resource for people like me, but a reference to the awkward, and even wacky, side of Soviet everyday life.

Cult Leader Seduces Beslan Mothers


According an
article in the 20 September edition of Izvestia, the Beslan Mothers are under the influence of Grigorii Grabovoi, a cult leader who claims to be Jesus Christ. Now forget the fact that Grabovoi’s (????????) name contains the Russian root “????”, which means “to grab or take.” Or the fact that the verb formed from this root, ???????, means “to rob”. No, let us forget that the fact that this guy is a total charlatan is embedded in his namesake. This isn’t the first time Grabovoi has been associated with the tragedy in Beslan. Shortly after the incident, he declared that for 39,000 rubles, about $10,000, he could resurrect the children from the dead. Um . . . okay.

Grabovoi sounds like your typical cult leader. He claims to be the second coming of Christ, and the Trinity. His followers believe that he can perform all the biblical miracles: heal the sick, predict the future, control world events, bring peace to the world, and, it seems, even raise the dead. One of his latest “predictions” is that he will become the next President of Russia in 2008. Grabovoi says that his first act will be to “promulgate a law to prohibit death in the entire country.” He’s even created a political party to facilitate this, the Voluntary Messengers of the Doctrines of Grigorii Grabovoi (DRUGG). In Russian this acronym means “friend” but English speakers are likely to get a good laugh out of it. DRUGG has held six congresses. The Beslan Mothers attended the most recent on September 16 where they declared themselves to be Grabovoi’s followers. Izvestia got an audio recording of this congress which features Susanna Dunieva, the leader of the Beslan Mothers, giving a speech:

“We related to the teachings of Grigorii Petrovich and understood that we have one road and one purpose—to save humanity. We believe in resurrection. We have now become followers of Grigorii Petrovich. I know that God has many miracles. I always read [biblical] stories to my children (cries), and I taught them to believe in them, to believe in God. And I believe that this miracle with happen. This maternal heart gives me maternal faith (cries). I and the women who are together with us, we go on this path to the end for the sake of our children. We will fight so that [the Beslan massacre] will never be repeated. All of the women, who arrived here believe in [Grabovoi’s] teachings. If you only knew the peace we felt in our soul on the day of the funeral. We stuck our already world famous Beslan with labels [it seems that these “labels” contain Grabovoi’s inspiration sayings or doctrines. I am not sure what these are—Sean] of the distant direction of Grigorii Grabovoi. Thanks to all these labels we were calm on the day of the funeral, and I think that now always and everywhere everything will be calm, harmony will be in the world. In Beslan we tried to work with people, and we told them about the teachings of Grigorii Grabovoi, and we said that only we ourselves can save ourselves and our children. People understood us.” (My translation).

A woman in the crowd then shouted, “Why didn’t [Grabovoi] help us on September 1?” and just before black suited men rushed out of the room she managed to shout “Charlatan!” After the woman was thrown out of the auditorium, Grabovoi explained to the crowd that he knew about the terrorist attack and for two weeks he called the MVD, and even offered them some of his teachings, but the “corrupt bureaucrats didn’t believe him.”

There is something to be said of how these desperate women, having lost their children in such a horrifying incident, would gravitate to someone like Grabovoi. People like him feed on such tragedies. He promises them the impossible. He reaches into the depths of their sorrow and gives them a way, however an unbelievable and impossible way, out. At the moment of complete psychological shock, vultures like Grabovoi feast on the mind’s shattered remains.

True to form, the Beslan Mothers view the recent media assault on their relationship with Grabovoi as merely a secret police plot to discredit their cries for full governmental disclosure. In a statement on the Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy, the Beslan Mothers said: “This trip is a provocation aimed at discrediting and getting rid of our movement. The liquidation plan has been planned by the intelligence agencies and the authorities.” Some of the Mothers claim that only ten members have fallen in with Grabovoi, even though the most visible mother, Susanna Dunieva is one of them.

There is nothing worse when such a horrible tragedy is turned into an utter farce.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see how far this farce will go. Grabovoi predicts that by October 14 there will be a mass resurrection in Beslan. Get your popcorn ready . . .

Новости

The Ukraine’s Orange “Revolution” continues to hover over Russian politics. In a speech given at Stanford University, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concern about the growing number of Western NGOs in Russia. Given the influx of Soros money and the other financial backing of Ukrainian groups, especially the youth organization Pora, the Putin government has much to be concerned. For a while now, Administration officials have accused Western governments of funding Russian opposition forces. His comments, however, particularly targeted American NGO interference in Russia politics. As Lavrov told his Stanford audience:

“We appreciate that the USA has legitimate interests in the post-Soviet space, both in the field of combating terrorism and in accessing energy resources. These are entirely legitimate interests, which we do acknowledge, but we would want the methods by which they are realized to be understandable and transparent.”

And,

“The number of non-governmental organizations in Russia is going up. The only thing we will not tolerate is for these organizations to be used to finance political activities, particularly from abroad. This would distort the national political process, thereby undermining the country’s development in the future.”

I can’t help relish the fact that Lavrov said this at Stanford, the traditional center of rabid anti-communism and to some extent, anti-Russianism. I also like Lavrov’s swipe at Stanford alumnus and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “I suggest she read extracts from Russian publications with criticism of the Russian Federation authorities.” This isn’t Lavrov simply posturing. If you read Russian, and Condi does, you will find a lot of criticism of the Putin Administration in Russian print media. Far more that you’ll find of the Bush Administration in the United States. You won’t, however, find that same criticism on Russian television. Most of the major networks are either under the control of or are voluntarily sympathetic to Putin.

In other news, Putin will answer callers’ questions on a live television broadcast next Tuesday. He has conducted these live question and answers shows since 2001. He used his December 2003 live show to announce his running for a second term. There is also speculation he will address whether he will seek a third term as Russian President. Such a move would require changes to the Russian constitution.

The London Guardian has a story of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Dagestan. The article is just another example of the rapidity the Chechen War is spilling over into neighboring provinces. Many have been pointing out that the increased bombings in Dagestan and the rise of militancy threatens to engulf the region.

The show trial of the Andijan15 is underway in Uzbekistan. The fifteen are accused of attempting to overthrow the Uzbek government in May 2005. The Uzbek government blames the uprising on Muslim extremists. According to independent investigations, Uzbek security forces massacred up to 700 people. The government claims only 187 people died in the uprising. Since May, Uzbekistan has prevented the return of Andijan refugees who are in UNrefugee campsin Romania and arrested and tortured scores of alleged “conspirators,” according to a recently released report by Human Rights Watch.

In an what I think is an unprecedented story, Boris Kostruba, a Russian metro officer has been sentenced to 9 years in prison for shooting a 20-year-old migrant worker from Tajikistan, Rustam Baibekov, as he tried to enter the Moscow Metro without paying. According to Mosnews, “Kostruba detained Baibekov, found he had no Moscow registration, started demanding money from him and after a refusal shot him in the mouth.” All I can say is: What the fuck!? Moscow Metro militsia are known as rather violent and corrupt bunch. The list of their activities include: bribery, hassling and beating non-Russians and tourists, and even raping young women as they travel home late at night. Usually nothing ever happens to them. So the surprise for this story is not the fact that Kostruba shot Baibekov in the mouth for skipping the metro fare. It’s that he was actually sent to prison for doing it.

Transitions


I’ve left Russia. My ten month research trip is finally over. I won’t bore readers with all of the emotion I felt leaving a place that began to feel like home. I’ve decided a while ago not to make this blog that type of blog. There are enough egoists on the net who feel that the intimacies of their life are worthy of public display. Suffice to say that Moscow is an amazingly magnetic city. I met many wonderful people who I know will always be part of my life.

But the question remains: since this blog was created because of trip to Russia, what happens now that I’m no longer there? I’ve decided that I rather enjoy writing about Russian current events as much as about its history. And from talking to some of you (most of who are my friends), it seems that my thoughts on these matters are appreciated. Therefore, I’ve decided to make this a permanent thing. I figure that if anything this will aid my career as an academic, or provide an avenue for a different career path. We’ll see. But let there by no mistake. My main reason for doing this is because I enjoy it.

Now that I’m home and have better access to the internet and other resources, there are a few things I want to add/change about the blog.

  1. A consistent schedule for posting. So far, I’ve tried to post at least once a week. I’ve been moderately successful in this. I would like to increase to posting two times a week, with hopes of three. For now I will post on Tuesdays and Fridays, and if this works and I can manage the time, hopefully I will also include Sunday.
  2. More frequent shorter postings that highlight news about Russia and more infrequent longer articles and book reviews about particular themes. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I post rather long pieces. My hope shorter ones will allow me post more frequently. The difficulty will be in transforming my verbosity into brevity.
  3. Guest writers. I want to start including pieces by some people I know who also make Russia their career. If they are willing to go a long with this, it will provide more voices besides my own. I especially want to include more book reviews and including other people will help with this.
  4. I would like to hear from those who consistently read the blog. Some of you have posted comments, and though I don’t always respond, I do read and enjoy them. I would like readers to give their input to what they think I should include. My long term hope is that if people post comments this might start discussion on some of the issues I bring up.
  5. Adding links and other resources is an on going project. This will expand as time goes on. I’m trying to keep the Russian language links at a minimum since I presume most readers don’t read Russian. I will however continue to include links to Russian sites I find interesting.

In addition to all this, look out for a piece on the phenomenon of dedovshchina in the coming week. Dedovshchina or “rule of the grandfathers” is the culture of hazing in the Russian military. Last year Human Rights Watch released a 90 page report on its rituals, frequency, and effects on recruits and the military. If the Russian government ever comes around to the necessity for military reform (which they are avoiding like the plague), dealing with dedovshchina will be a major issue.

Also, to continue with my reporting on youth politics in Russia, look for a piece on the recent attack on the National Bolsheviks by alleged Nashi activists. In late August, a meeting of the Natsbols and representatives of the Communist Youth League, Red Youth Vanguard, and Za Rodina were attacked by 30 masked men with baseball bats and air guns. This incident only points to the increasing role of violence between youth groups. It possibly is another prelude to what tactics groups like Nashi will use during the 2008 Presidential Elections.

Finally, I want to thank everyone whose been reading. The hits on the site have been steadily increasing, with readers from the United States, Russia, France, Germany, Kazakhstan, and Sweden. Keep reading and I’ll keep writing.

Beslan: One Year Later

Though the recent cloudy and rainy days signal the end of summer, its official end comes with the sudden appearance of children on the streets of Moscow. These bright young faces, dressed to the hilt for their first day of school are also a grim reminder. September 1-3 marks one year since the Beslan Massacre.

On the morning of September 1, 2004 Chechen terrorists took hostage Beslan School No. 1 in the small town of Beslan in North Ossetia. The hostage takers demanded the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. For three days 1,200 adults and children were held hostage as Russia and the world watched. On September 3 all hell broke loose. When a FSB sniper shot one of the terrorists who had a bomb, thus setting it off, Russian forces stormed the school. It was then that the details get murky. Overwhelming force was unleashed on the school, including helicopter gunship fire and even a tank. Some claim that terrorists began shooting hostages held in the school gym. Others claim that FSB agents indiscriminately fired rounds into the school, killing many hostages. As chaos broke out, parents, themselves armed, ran toward the school to save their children. Teachers and children fled out of it. When the smoked cleared 330 hostages were killed, including 186 children. 918 hostages were rescued. Quickly dubbed, 9/1 following America’s 9/11, the Beslan massacre sent shock waves across the Russian body politic. Blame for the deaths was and continues to fall on both Shamil Basayev, the Chechen warlord who organized the act, to Russian President Vladimir Putin, for failing to prevent it.

Beslan has become symbolic of many things over the last year. It is a reminder of Russia’s brutal and seemingly never ending war in Chechnya. It is a symbol of Russia’s weakness, even while Putin has created an image of decisive and authoritarian strength. It has drawn Russia further, whether rhetorically or in actuality, into the “global” war against terrorism and Islamic extremism. Beslan, along with the terrorist raid on the Nord-Ost Theater in October 2002, killing 129; the February 2004 Moscow subway bombings, which killed 39; another metro bombing at Rizhskaya in October 2004, which killed 10; and blowing up of two passenger planes in August 2004, killing 89, has become a symbol of Russia’s inability to provide security against terrorism. In a recent poll, 65% of Russians polled believe that the authorities cannot protect them against terrorist attacks. Many Russians are still looking for answers of how this tragedy happened, who is to blame, and what can be done to prevent another. This search for the “whys” of Beslan, answers to which might provide not only psychological comfort to the victims’ families, but also to the nation, has been dubbed by some the “Belsan Syndrome.”

The so-called “Beslan Syndrome” goes beyond Beslan itself. How can one forget how Putin used the massacre to scrap the election of governors for their appointment by the Kremlin? Officials claim plans for the ditching regional elections were in the works for months. Beslan, however, provided the perfect political opportunity to unfurl them. Beslan also caused no reevaluation of the Chechen War. Moscow’s doctrine of overwhelming force continues unabated. It trudges further down the rabbit hole. Any hope of a political solution died with the killing of moderate Chechen separatist Aslan Maskhadov. Now the nationalist-Islamist Shamil Baseyev is now the de facto leader of Chechen independence. The conflict has moved to the border of Dagestan and bombings are becoming more common in Ingushetia. A year after Beslan, the Chechen War threatens to engulf that region.

The town of Beslan remains sorely divided between those who lost love ones and those who didn’t. Suspicion informs how each side deals with the other. The scores of official delegations, visitors, and journalists heading to the southern town have only increased the stress. Most of all, residents cannot understand how their own neighbors aided the terrorists. One man is on trial for allowing the terrorists into the town for a bribe of 500 rubles ($20). Many are blaming the school’s director for hiring maintenance workers who turned out to be the terrorists.

Thousands have showed up at the school to morn. Thirty women from the Beslan Mother’s Committee began a three day hunger strike and spent the night in the school to commemorate the incident. Forty others slept in the local cemetery where the victims are buried. According the one report in the Moscow Times, the tensions between citizens are high:

“[Zoya] Gadiyeva said her 38-year-old son died of heart attack just five months after the attack because he could not handle the stress.

“Why didn’t you do anything to protect them?” she berated the police.

“I will cry everyday until I reach you over there,” she said, turning to the pictures of her daughter and granddaughter.

Nearby, an old woman in black sang a song in Ossetian. “You all died and still the authorities are hiding the truth from us,” the woman sang, according to a translator. “Tell me, my dears, where should we go for the truth?”

A policeman told her to be quiet, and she retorted in Russian: “You haven’t lost anyone. You should have protected my children, but you failed, and now you are trying to shut me up?”

A group of screaming women tried to stop the principal of School No. 1, Lidia Tsaliyeva, from entering the gym. One woman ran up and tried to hit her on the head, connecting only lightly before police carried her away.

Some men then approached her. “How dare she come here today,” one man yelled.

“She is responsible for the death of our children. She betrayed us,” screamed Batras Tsalago as she tried to get near Tsaliyeva.

Police officers quickly surrounded Tsaliyeva and escorted her away.”

The politics of Beslan also continues in Moscow. Putin met with three members of the Beslan Mothers’ Committee. Many of the mothers blame Putin himself for the tragedy and they vow to make their views clear. “I will say that we think President Putin is to blame for what happened. As for what else I will say, well I am unpredictable and I can’t tell the exact words I will use but it will be serious,” says Susanna Dudiyeva, whose 12-year-old son Zaurbek was killed in the incident. The meeting however is being hailed in the media as a “precedent” for all of Russia. Putin is known to steer clear of any meetings with angry voters.

It is hard to not see this move by Putin as pure political calculation, rather than a genuine concern for the views of the Mothers’ Committee. During the meeting, Putin promised to punish those who “blundered” and a full and open investigation. What else could he say? His statements were so predictable they sound trite. His words, however, did their job. The Mothers seemed satisfied, though cautious.

There is a struggle between the State and society over the memory of Beslan. There is attempt by the Russian State to incorporate 9/1, like 9/11 in the United States, into its own narrative. Nothing shows this more than the black posters with “??? ????” (No Words) that appeared inside metro cars a week ago. At first I thought these were done by the Mothers’ Committee because the posters announce a meeting in solidarity with the victims of Beslan. It was only yesterday did I find out that Nashi, the pro-Putin youth group, were the source of the posters and sponsors for the meeting. Nashi has erected a large stage down the street from Red Square and plan to hold their “meeting” on Saturday. Yesterday, Nashi activists, dressed in black windbreakers with “??? ????” written across them could be seen in the city’s center.

There is a poem on the Nashi website that is telling of how the memory of Belsan is being turned. How the general grief of the public is being consolidated into that of the State. The poem reads:

We are one country. One people.
The murdered us.
The subhumans want us to be afraid of them.
When we sleep in our homes,
When we go in the metro,
When we rest,
When we take our children to school.
This will not happen. One year ago—3 September—Beslan.
There are no words that can describe this tragedy.
There are no words able to voice all the pain and sorrow
For those who will never walk the earth.
That who did this will be eternally damned.
They will only be remembered
In life.
For them,
Everything will be done so that this won’t be repeated.
A meeting of silence at the monument for the victims of Beslan.
No words.

It says that there are “no words.” However, between the lines of remembrance is a deafening silence that calls for revenge; a statement of absolute victimhood that produces a silence that covers up the context of their murder. Nashi is wrong. There are words. One word really. A word denied in this poem, and thus silenced from memory. That word is Chechnya.

Katrina’s Death Blow

Events have called for a pause in speaking about Russia. It is impossible for me to take in the force of the news. Reports from CNN and other news outlets give a gruesome picture. Democracy Now! has done some excellent reporting. I encourage readers to tune into to their episodes over the past few days. All of the tensions that under “normal” circumstances lie below the surface of New Orleans has exploded to the surface, fueled by desperation, frustration, and anger. All I feel here in Moscow is sorrow, bewilderment, frustration, anger, and embarrassment of the inadequate response by the Unites States Government. So many people are suffering, and it seems all people can do is moralize about looting. Are we so naive to think this wouldn’t happen!? There isn’t much more for me to say that hasn’t or is being said by many media outlets around the country.

Take for example, an editorial by the New Hampshire Union, one of the most conservative newspapers in the country, wrote a blistering editorial against the Bush Administration’s response, or lack thereof. The editorial reads in part:

“As the extent of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation became clearer on Tuesday — millions without power, tens of thousands homeless, a death toll unknowable because rescue crews can’t reach some regions — President Bush carried on with his plans to speak in San Diego, as if nothing important had happened the day before.

Katrina already is measured as one of the worst storms in American history. And yet, President Bush decided that his plans to commemorate the 60th anniversary of VJ Day with a speech were more pressing than responding to the carnage.”

A desperate and empassionate editorial from the Biloxi, Mississippi’s Sun Herald asks:

“Yet where is the National Guard, why hasn’t every able-bodied member of the armed forces in South Mississippi been pressed into service? On Wednesday reporters listening to horrific stories of death and survival at the Biloxi Junior High School shelter looked north across Irish Hill Road and saw Air Force personnel playing basketball and performing calisthenics. Playing basketball and performing calisthenics! When asked why these young men were not being used to help in the recovery effort, our reporters were told that it would be pointless to send military personnel down to the beach to pick up debris.”

Many are noting how the response by the National Guard has been hampered by the Iraq War. 40% of Mississippi’s National Guard and 35% of Louisiana’s are in Iraq. I can’t imagine the frustration of these soldiers having to watch and not help their families and neighbors.

And finally, as the fears and warnings that it was not if a hurricane like Katrina would strike New Orleans and Gulf Coast, but when, come to fruition, NOW there is recognition that all the reporting New Orleans’ The Times-Picayune about Crescent City’s inadequate infrastructure. As usual too little to late.

I know the traffic on this site isn’t heavy, but being on the other side of the planet I feel obligated to at least list organizations where people can donate money, goods, etc.

American Red Cross
Operation USA
Salvation Army

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