Sunday, July 27, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Armenian Film Director Denounces Armenians Who Promote Russian Chauvinism


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, July 27 – In a Facebook post that has been picked up by various Armenian outlets, Tigran Khemalyan, a noted filmmaker, sharply criticizes those ethnic Armenians who have become more Russian than the patriarch and who are promoting Russian great power attitudes of hostility and suspicion to everything non-Russian.

 

            Among these “’prophets’ of Russism,” he says, are theater director Sergey Kurginyan, “who has openly called for killing Ukrainians and shooting down their planes,” Andranik Migranyan, who has justified Putin’s aggression against Ukraine by referring to Hitler’s Anschluss of Austria, Margarita Simonyan, the editor of Russia Today, and Aram Gabrelyanov, “the master of ‘Izvestiya’ and the odious ‘Life News’ TV” (facebook.com/tigrankhzmalyan/posts/797525206947702 and ru.1in.am/1055382.html).

 

            Note, Khemelyan points out, that these “true pillars of the Putin regime” are ethnic Armenians, and if one is inclined to conspiracy theories, they would to constitute what might appear to be “’an Armenian lobby’ in the Kremlin.”  But in fact, the filmmaker says, they are just the reverse.

 

            These people “have sold out the Motherland of their ancestors for 30 pieces of imperial silver with the profile of their Caesar on them.”

 

            Khemelyan says that he is not going to “analyze this phenomenon” but rather cite Vladimir Lenin’s observation about it.  “It is well known,” the founder of the Soviet state said, that “Russified non-Russians” outdo ethnic Russians in their Russianness as is the case with many converts.

 

            Armenians have a long experience with such things both in the Russian and in the Ottoman Empires. Thus it was “not accidental” that in Yerevan not long ago, people tried to put up a monument to Anastas Mikoyan who signed execution lists [under Stalin] and who voted for joining Karabakh to Azerbaijan.”

 

             The Armenian filmmaker says that Armenians “must know those who already today and even more tomorrow are leading us toward war and will be in the first ranks of our enemies.” And he concludes his post with another citation from Lenin.

 

            “One must distinguish between the nationalism of oppressor nations and the nationalism of oppressed nations, between that of a big nation and that of a small one.  Regarding the second nationalism, we the members of a big nation are in almost every case guilty in an infinite number of cases of violence.”

 

            Consequently, the Bolshevik leader said, “internationalism on the part of the oppressing or so-called ‘great’ nation (although it is great only as a great oppressor) must observe not only the formal equality of nations but also an inequality which will compensate the nations which have been oppressed.”

 

            It would be better, Khemelyan suggests, if that principle continued to be followed. Unfortunately, it isn’t. But what is especially unfortunate is when members of an oppressed nationality join with their oppressors and support them more than they ever supported their own people.

 

Window on Eurasia: Many Siberians, No Longer Identifying as Russians, Seek Autonomy or Independence from Moscow


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, July 27 – Residents of the Russian Federation are increasingly identifying not as Russians but as Siberians not only because they feel themselves different than ethnic Russians in terms of mentality but also because Moscow treats them like a colony and because they have closer ties to China and the Pacific Rim countries than to European Russia.

 

            Indeed, according to some Siberian activists, 25 to 30 percent of the population there would welcome complete independence, 60 to 70 percent want greater autonomy from Moscow and “only about 10 percent are satisfied” with the current federation arrangements (joinfo.ua/inworld/970599_Sibiryaki-schitayut-russkimi-hotyat-otdelitsya-RF.html).

 

            Moreover, these activists say, separatist and autonomist attitudes are growing rapidly. A decade ago, many who now identify as Siberians described themselves as ethnic Russians, but today they not only see themselves as Sibiryaki but are thinking about the future of an independent country or at least radically autonomous region.

 

            Re-identification as Siberians is most widely found in Tyumen, Omsk, Novosibirsk, and Kemerovo, these activists say, and the most advanced thought about what an independent Siberian economy would look like is on display among students at the Siberian-American faculty of Irkutsk State University.

 

            A major reason for this shift, they add, is that since 1991, “a generation has grown up which has never seen and probably never will see” Moscow, hasn’t travelled to Europe but goes to China or Japan.  And that pattern is re-enforced by the fact that now Siberia’s economic ties with Asia are “better than with Moscow or St. Petersburg.”

 

            Siberian activists have revived the green and white Siberian flag from the brief period during the Russian Civil War when Siberia was independent, organized into groups like the Regionalist Alternative for Siberia, the Siberian Movement, the New Roads of Siberia group, and the Sibiryaki movement, and hold an annual Free Siberia Day on July 17.

 

            That date has an interesting history.  The Provisional Siberian Government declared independence on July 4, 1918, to underscore the Siberian vision of having much in common with the United States where July 4 is independent day.  Because of the 13-day difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendar, this anniversary is now marked on the 17th.

 

            The Siberian regional movement, which was born in the middle of the 19th century, has typically flourished when the central Russian government is in a weakened position. Thus, the Siberian Government came into existence during the Civil War, and various Siberian organizations emerged between 1990 and 1995 (politomsk.ru/publ/14-1-0-519).

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            But when the Moscow government is stronger, it has suppressed such groups and aspirations, something that was typical of the first two terms of Vladimir Putin’s administration. But now, Siberian regionalism is making a comeback, an indication some in the region think Moscow is overextended and will weaken, allowing it to re-emerge from the shadows.

 

Window on Eurasia: Putin is Waging War While the West is Talking Sanctions


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, July 27 – Having taken the measure of the West and found it wanting, Vladimir Putin has expanded his aggression from the military occupation of Crimea to the organization of irredentist insurgencies in eastern Ukraine to the shooting down of the Malaysian jetliner to the shelling of Ukrainian targets from the territory of the Russian Federation.

 

            All these steps are acts of war. But in response, Western leaders have done nothing Putin cannot live with.  On the one hand, the sanctions regimes they have imposed or talked about have not hurt him. Instead, they have allowed him to deflect attention from his own failures at home. And if anything, they have contributed to his popularity there.

 

            And on the other, the discussions about the possibility of the imposition of each new group of sanctions have highlighted the divisions and weaknesses of the West and only served to encourage Putin to believe that he can successfully play on these divisions and weaknesses and continue to wage war.

 

Indeed and much worse, from the perspective of the Kremlin boss, the actions of the West have suggested to him that three things are true, all of which clear the way for Putin to continue his aggressive campaign to re-establish a Moscow-centered empire over what the Western leaders themselves still refer to as the post-Soviet space.

 

First, they have shown that the West can be intimidated, that is leaders are either corrupted or affected by corrupted elements in their own society which depend on the sale of Russian gas and oil and thus will not stand up in a serious way to anything, however outrageous and in violation of international law, Putin may do.

 

Second, they have suggested to Putin that the West is subject to intimidation by nuclear blackmail, by his implicit threat that no one can stand up to him because he has nuclear weapons, a lesson that not only will encourage other countries which have nuclear weapons to behave aggressively but encourage still more countries to acquire them so that they can.

 

And third, sanctions have demonstrated that the West does not understand that Putin is not operating according to the same rules of the game that they do, that he does not care about the fate of his own people but rather about his own grandeur and power, and that he has the capacity to bamboozle his own population ideologically just as he does them.

 

If the West continues with economic sanctions being the only thing on the table and with those being leaky and incomplete at best as the French sales of warships to Moscow and the German purchases of Russian gas ensure that it will be, Putin thus has little reason to stop what he has doing. Indeed, he may conclude he has ever more reason to engage in aggression now.

 

That is all the more true if he believes that Western leaders now are weaker than the ones their populations may insist on replacing them with as his aggression proceeds. Already in many countries, as polls have shown, the populations and that means the electorates are more angry at what Putin is doing than are their governments.

 

What is Putin likely to do next?  Unless the Ukrainian military is more successful than the continuing influx of Russian materiel and manpower makes likely, the Kremlin leader almost certainly will move in the coming weeks to occupy more of Ukraine. As was true with Hitler and the Sudetenland, Putin wants far more than Donetsk and Luhansk. He wants Kyiv.

 

Moreover, he will continue to pursue his efforts to destabilize other “newly independent states,” counting on a combination of internal fissures ethnic and otherwise in these countries and a reluctance of the West to view what he is doing as a threat until it is so much a one that Western countries will find it hard to respond with anything except – more sanctions.

 

Can anything be done?  The answer, of course, is quite a lot if there is the will to act. No one is suggesting using nuclear weapons against Moscow or even sending NATO armies against Putin’s forces. But there are steps that must be taken if Eurasia is not to be transformed into a bloody cauldron.

 

First of all, Western governments need to must recognize that Putin is waging a war and doing so because of weakness rather than strength. He is using the old tactic of “the victorious little war” not just because he thinks the collapse of the Soviet Union was in his words “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.” He is doing so to save himself. Indeed, his bombast is the clearest evidence of this one could have.

 

Moreover, Western governments must provide military support for the countries Putin is threatening, including arms and instructors, and do so publicly, explaining that it is Putin’s acts of war against them that has forced them to take such steps. Further, they must downgrade diplomatic relations by closing consulates, shutting the visa window and suspending Moscow’s participation in various international forums, and by imposing real economic restrictions on their own firms from doing business in Russia.

 

And finally Western governments must the battle against Putin to his own backyard by a massive new international broadcasting effort of direct to home satellite television, in Russian and other languages to the Russian Federation as well as in Russian and the national languages in the countries on Russia’s periphery now threatened. Putin has had this space to himself for too long. It can and must be contested.

 

Such steps are not without risks or guaranteed to prevent more aggression by Putin in the short term. But the risks of taking such steps are far smaller less than the risks of not doing so – an approach that could lead to an ever more repressive and aggressive Russia -- and the fact that Putin may continue for a time with his war is not a reason not to do what the West can to make that path ever more costly.

 

Sanctions in the face of acts of war, as we are all seeing with regard to Putin’s actions in Ukraine now, are increasingly clearly not nearly enough.          

 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Chuvash Prosecutors Go After Re-Publisher of ‘We're Tatars Not Russians’


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, July 26 – Investigators in Chuvashia have opened a criminal case against the editor of a local paper who republished Fauziya Bayramova’s much-reposted 2011 article “We’re Tatars Not Russians,” an action that simultaneously highlights the sweep of Moscow’s crackdown against nationalism and the impossibility of that campaign succeeding.

 

            Today, the All-Tatar Social Center (VTOTs) reports Chuvash investigators are pursuing criminal charges of extremism against Eduard Mochalov, the founding editor of the Chuvash newspaper, “Vzyatka,” nominally for his role in publishing Bayramova’s article but in fact for exposing corruption in that Middle Volga republic (tatar-centr.blogspot.com/2014/07/blog-post_91.html).

 

And VTOTs notes that not only are these charges absurd, reflecting the private interests of the Russian rulers of Chuvashia, but are leading to unconstitutional actions without any hope that this action will keep people from reading such articles in the future, given how widely they have been reposted on the Internet.

 

            Having opened this case, Chuvash investigators have called in Mochalov and others, searched the offices of the paper where they confiscated its computers and files, and also conducted searches in the homes of journalists connected with the paper, where in the words of one victim they “turned everything upside down.”

 

            Just how little regard these Chuvash officials have for the law or the facts was shown, VTOTs says, by the following.  They called in Mochalov to ask him to reveal the name of the person behind what they said was the pseudonym “Fauziya Bayramova” over whose name the article in question appeared.

 

            Bayramova, of course, is “not a pseudonym,” the Tatar site continues. Rather, she is real woman, “a native of the Republic of Tatarstan,” and a much-persecuted activist who heads the opposition party Ittifaq and is aleader of the radical wing of the Tatar national movement which “is struggling for the independence of Tatarstan.”

 

            This confusion about a supposed pseudonym recalls the unfortunate fate of a short story by Alexander Solzhenitsyn when it was first translated into English. In the story, an NKVD officer says that the organs will always get their man because they “never make mistakes,” but as he says this, he gives the wrong patronymic for the individual he is pursuing.

 

Because the copy of Solzhenitsyn’s short story was disseminated via samizdat, the first American translator thought that this was a typo and corrected the patronymic, thereby eliminating all the tragic irony of the situation the great Russian writer was seeking to call attention to.

 

But the ironies of the current situation in Chuvashia don’t end there.  Bayramova’s article, which first appeared in 2011, has been republished and reposted dozens if not hundreds of times. It has never been declared “extremist” and none of the sites on which it has appeared has been declared extremist either.

 

The prosecution and persecution of the Chuvash paper and its editor for republishing Bayramova’s article is quite obviously a cover for something else, VTOTs says.  It suggests that the extremism case has been dreamed up to give officials the opportunity to close down the paper because it has carried many articles about criminal actions by officials.

 

Those charges have never been investigated, VTOTs says, and officials obviously hope that by bringing extremism charges against the paper, they can ensure that they never will be, yet another example of the way in which in Russia today, “law enforcement organs have been ‘privatized’” to protect those in power.

Window on Eurasia: Russian History Provides Five Lessons for Liberals in Illiberal Times, Makarkin Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, July 26 – Russian liberals have lived through many periods of illiberal governance in the past, have devised various strategies to cope because the repressive regimes have been so different, but have managed to survive and see their country change course at least for a time in their direction, according to Aleksey Makarkin.

 

            The Moscow commentator says that his survey of these periods suggests five conclusions for Russian liberals who are facing an increasingly repressive Russian government, conclusions that he believes can help guide them in and by implication through the current illiberal times (politcom.ru/17883.html).

 

            First of all, he says, “there are no universal recipes for how a liberally-thinking individual should act in this or that situation. Everything depends on specific circumstances,” the views of those who hold them, the attitudes of society at large, and the actions of the regime.

 

            Second, this lack of specific recipes “does not mean that it is impossible to form general principles” for liberal behavior, among them ones that give priority to “the moral factor over the pragmatic preservation of one’s own identity so as not to be ashamed for one’s words and deeds.”

 

            Third, in illiberal times, liberals do not face simply the “harsh choice of revolution or reaction” but rather “numerous evolutionary variants which are to be preferred to instability and chaos. “They exist even if it seems that these possibilities have already been completely exhausted.”

 

            Fourth, for all liberals, Makarkin suggests, spreading “enlightenment” through the population, reaching out to people, “broadening their views, showing alternative possibilities, and entering into a dialogue with them … [is] always better than a dogmatic monologue from a speaker’s platform.”

 

            And fifth, the Moscow analyst says, liberals need to take courage from the fact that “in the history of Russia there have been not a few cases when the country,” led by illiberal rulers, “has reached its latest dead end, not infrequently to the accompaniment of storming prolonged applause.”

 

            In each case, he argues, a demand for an alternative course of development has appeared, based on a desire to return Russia “to the world’s mainstream, of course, with national differences being taken into account but without their being absolutized.”  The longer this process takes, the more problems Russia has and will face.

Window on Eurasia: Call for Russians to Boycott American Products Unintentionally Highlights US Penetration of Russian Market


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, July 26 – Individual Russians can “struggle against the US” by boycotting American products, a Russian site says; but its appeal highlights not only the high level of penetration of US firms in the Russian market but also the apparent reluctance of many Russians to take part in any formal action of this kind.

 

            In an article on Forum-MSK.org today, Chingachguk Mogikansky says that Russians can hurt the Americans not by breaking the windows of McDonald’s – the company will just get reimbursed by insurance companies – but by not purchasing American goods and encouraging other Russians to do the same (forum-msk.org/material/economic/10439664.html).

 

            To be most effective in this effort, Mogikansky says, “don’t show your anti-American position because a concealed anti-American position can have a greater effect than open anti- Americanism.” Best of all, he continues, is to say that “the United States is a bad country,” although he notes that “many people are afraid to say this.”

 

            The Russian nationalist author appends a list of 88 major American firms, ranging from Microsoft to McDonalds to Lucasfilms, and suggests that Russians carefully read packages or turn to the Internet to make sure that they are not purchasing US-produced goods since some of them are camouflaged.

 

            But perhaps most interesting and from a certain perspective amusing are his ten pieces of advice for Russians who want to hurt the United States with a boycott:

 

  • “Tell all your friends and acquaintances not to use American goods because the US is a bad country.”
     
  • “Don’t use dollars.” Instead, use European currencies or buy gold. And don’t use American banks.
     
  • Don’t use Windows “or any other American software.” Use free software from Linux, RedHat or Caldera.” Not only are they “better than Windows;” they are also free.
     
  • “Don’t go to American stores and restaurants,” and in particular, “don’t go to McDonald’s.”
     
  • Always criticize American goods “if you see that someone wants to buy them.” Tell them that the US goods are bad and that other foreign goods are much better.
     
  • Don’t fool yourself into thinking that vandalizing an American outlet like McDonald’s will harm the US. It is much better to say how bad American products are and how they harm one’s health.
     
  • “Gather any stories about bad quality American goods  and services. But don’t talk about this constantly! Speak only occasionally about this letting such phrases enter the conversation naturally.”
     
  • “Don’t read or buy American newspapers, don’t watch American television channels. All this is only cover American propaganda.”
     
  • “Protect your children from American films. Better they should watch European and in general classic ones. Support your own national culture.”
     
  • And “buy books of national writers and poets” instead of American ones.
     
     
     

Friday, July 25, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Works to Transform Circassians ‘from a Problem to an Asset’


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, July 25 – Angered by the success Circassians had at the time of the Sochi Olympics in focusing international attention on the Russian genocide of their ancestors in 1864 and by the insistence of Circassians that their co-ethnics in war-torn Syria should be allowed to return to the North Caucasus, Moscow has adopted a two-pronged strategy.

 

            On the one hand, Russian news outlets have sharply criticized those Circassians who oppose Moscow’s line, criticism that many cases has proved counter-productive from Moscow’s point of view because its responses to the Circassians has had the effect of attracting even more attention to their cause.

 

            And on the other hand, Moscow officials have worked quietly to undermine Circassians in another and more serious way: splitting some Circassian organizations by the dispatch of its own agents and forming Russian-controlled Circassian groups who can be counted on to follow the Kremlin’s line and thus transform Circassians from a problem to an asset.

 

            Tracking these activities has always been difficult. But the results of this policy are increasingly clearly in evidence, with at least some Circassian organizations now more or less completely reliable from Moscow’s point of view and thus in a position to deny other Circassian organizations of their ability to present their views as those of the nation as a whole.

 

            An example of this is provided by the statement of Khauty Sokhrokov, the president of the International Circassian Association, in which he says openly “’the Circassian question’ can now become a resource for the advancement of the positions of Russia in the world and not a problem for the country” (gorchakovfund.ru/news/12068/).

 

            Circassians, Sokhrokov says, currently live in “more than 50 countries” around the world in each of which they play an important role.  “Today,” he continues, “we must learn to exert influence on the iinternational space with the help of our cultural, historical and political values,” to promote “a pro-Russian position” because Circassians are “a Russian people.”

 

            The International Circassian Association has been in operation since 1991, with branches in the Circassian republics of the North Caucasus, Moscow, Krasnodar kray, Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Israel, Europe and in the American states of California and New Jersey.  It thus has the opportunity to help Moscow during crises like Ukraine and over the longer term.

 

            Its “priority tasks,” the ICA leader says, “are the preservation and development of the cultural and spiritual heritage of the Circassian people, the promotion of interethnic peace and concord, the involvement of representatives of the foreign Circassian diaspora in the process of forming in their countries a stable pro-Russian trend and the use of their cultural, intellectual, and economic potential in Russia and abroad in the interests of the Russian Federation.”

 

            The ICA is also interested in promoting the resettlement of Circassians from Syria, he continues, singling out for high praise “the efforts of the Russian Federation for the peaceful resolution of the situation” there and its willingness to allow 1,000 of the Syrian Circassians to return to their historical homeland.

 

            According to Sokhrokov, some Circassians consider what happened in 1864 to be a genocide, but “contemporary Circassian society recognizes that the Caucasus war was the result of the policy of tsarist Russia and do not shift the blame for the tragedy of the Adygs [Circassians] onto contemporary Russia.”

 

            What is needed is an objective discussion of the past, and that, he suggests, is happening in Russia. As a result, “today the Adygs are finding a common language both with the Russians and with other peoples among whom they live.” And he concludes with words that are likely to be music to the ears of the current Russian government.

 

            “A sober view on the fate of the Adyg people,” Sokhrokov says, “confirms the value of the single correct path chosen by our ancestors almost half a millennium ago – the furthermost building and development together with Russia.”