Monday, December 18, 2017

Putin’s Reelection Campaign Begins on Stalin’s Birthday and Ends on Day of Paris Commune

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 18 – Given Russia’s tragic history, it is probabl difficult to find any dates on which something many might prefer to forget happened. But given the proclivity of Russians to focus on anniversaries, a tendency the Kremlin has always promoted, it is difficult to avoid paying attention to the parallels such events on the same date in the past suggest.

            Thus it is that some Russians are today pointing out that what the Russian government calls the presidential campaign that will see the re-enthronement of Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin next March is beginning on Joseph Stalin’s 138th birthday, an event some Russians are marking for other reasons (

            And other Russians are taking not of the fact that this “campaign” will end of what the Soviet government celebrated and what many Russians of a certain age remember as the Day of the Paris Commune, the short-lived revolutionary government set up in Paris in 1871 (

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Kazan Intellectuals Call for Creating an All-Russian Tatar Party Now

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 17 – Given the Tatarstan government’s unwillingness to resist Moscow’s pressure and despite federal laws against ethnic and religious parties, several leading intellectuals of Tatarstan are calling for the creation of an All-Russian Tatar Party to mobilize Tatars within the republic and beyond its borders.

            Rafael Khakimov, the former advisor to Mintimir Shaymiyev and long-time director of the Kazan Institute of History, has been promoting this idea; and it has generated widespread discussion on social networks. Now, commentator Ramzil Valeyev has laid out his support for such a move in an article for Business-Gazeta (

            “Everyone knows,” Valeyev begins, “that it is impossible to organize a party of a purely national type” or even a regional one. “But never the less, party construction in the interests of the republic and the Tatar people are important because the existing parties and their divisions … live in their own closed world” and ignore outsiders, including the Tatar nation.

            Someone needs to begin defending the interests of Tatarstan and of the Tatars of Russia as a whole, “especially now” when the nation finds itself in such a difficult situation.  And the numbers of people involved, including those married to Tatars and those who live among them, are far larger than many think.

            But “alas” the number of Tatar speakers is declining and some in Moscow like Valery Tishkov and Olga Artemenko think that those who give up the language should change their ethnic identity because to do anything else is a mark of separatism and a threat to the territorial integrity of the country, Valeyev says.

            Someone must appear to counter such notions, and a new organization is needed “if existing parties and deputies controlled from above are silent,” the Tatar intellectual continues. And time is of the essence: “To unite and express an opinion is what ordinary people need now -- when the constitutions of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Tatarstan are still in force and when languages and nationalities are not yet done away with by degree.”

            We Tatars “are not sheep waiting for Kurban-Bayram. We are a people and not within a statistical margin of error: two million Tatars live in Tatarstan alone, another million in Bashkortostan, and another two to three million in other regions,” not to mention communities across Russia and the world.

            Moreover, Valeyev says, we are “indigenous civic Russians” and aren’t going anywhere. We are a donor republic: we simply want our rights recognized and protected.  We have just as much right to demand our language be respected as Russian speakers do in the Baltic countries, but Moscow respects only the latter demands.

             One can fully understand Khakimov’s advocacy of a party, Valeyev says; but it is less important whether it is called a party, something that would require a change in Russian law, or a social movement which would not. But a party is certainly possible if it is not purely Tatar but ethnically neutral as existing law would require as long as it promoted Tatar concerns.

            There are serious limitations in the work of popular fronts, social centers, and autonomies because their leaders have been discredited in the minds of many. A new movement or party, “a Tatar Party (social organization) must be above regional, group, class and even religious preferences.”

            Tatars “must find a variant which allows them to get around without the problems of registration, assemblies and congresses,” Valeyev says. “It is possible to begin already today, via the Internet.” The problems Tatars now face are very real, and the neglect of these problems by existing parties is all too palpable. As a result, Tatars need to organize and act now. 

Could Regional, Republic or Soviet Flags Take the Place of Banned Russian One at Olympiad?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 17 -- As punishment for the Russian government’s doping program, the International Olympic Committee has declared that Russian athletes who do take part cannot march under the Russian flag but must instead compete under a neutral flag. Many Russians are outraged by this, but their outrage has generated some interesting proposals.

            Russians are among those who support an idea being floated by others that no national flags should appear at these international sporting events given that individual athletes are competing rather than nations (

            But more intriguingly, some Russians have proposed that the Russian athletes march under the flags of the former Soviet Union ( or of the regions or republics of the ( and

            The most prominent figure to make the argument for regional flags has been Altai Senator Vladimir Poletayev who urged “Russian sportsmen to take to the winter Olympiad of 2018 the flags of their own regions instead of the [Russian] tricolor.” His suggestion may have support among ethnic groups and regionalists, but at least some Russians are furious.

            Among Poletayev’s most vocal critics are Chelyabinsk oblast sports minister Leonid Oder, Urals Olympian Ivan Alypov, and figure-skating coach Tatyana Tarasova (

            Oder said the Altai senator should “trust the professionals” on this, especially since he had never spent “a single day in big sports” and therefore “does not have the moral right to make such proposals.”  According to the regional minister, “no one will give the right to officially put the flags of the regions on a flagpole” and hanging them would be like “gypsies in a bazaar.”

            Alypov said that Poletayev was engaging in “populism.” If the senator wants to go to South Korea with an Altay flag, he is within his rights; but the Olympics is governed by rules and regional flags aren’t allowed. And Tarasova said that such issues must be decided by the participating countries and not by some low-level officials.

            Despite this opposition, the fact that proposals have surfaced to make use of regional and republic flags shows that these symbols are not matters of irrelevance to many residents of the Russian Federation and that some of these people are now looking for opportunities to display them, something they believe the IOC has given them.