A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 13

December 6, 2015
"The president acts upon his subordinates like a sleeping pill," tweets the parody account @Fake_MIDRF about officials dozing through Putin's annual address.

Staunton, December 4, 2015 The flood of news stories from a country as large, diverse and strange as the Russian Federation often appears to be is far too large for anyone to keep up with. But there needs to be a way to mark those which can’t be discussed in detail but which are too indicative of broader developments to ignore.

Consequently, Windows on Eurasia will present a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the thirteenth such compilation. It is only suggestive and far from complete – indeed, this week once again, one could have put out such a listing every day, but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.

1. Has the Fifth Column Disappeared in Russia? When they weren’t laughing at the fact that many of Vladimir Putin’s listeners could barely keep awake during the Kremlin leader’s address, Russian bloggers were pointing out that Putin made no reference to “a fifth column” in Russia, something that has been a staple of Russian media. They also noted that Putin’s overarching message was to prepare Russia for a long conflict with the West, including boosting agricultural production by taking land away from those not cultivating it, a second “de-kulakization” campaign in the words of some.

2. Moscow Gives an Order But Not Everyone Salutes. Moscow officials have made clear that they want Russia’s regions to break ties with Turkey, but not all of them have gone along, an indication that the power vertical in this case may be breaking down. The clearest case of this is Tatarstan which has not yet broken with TURKSOY or with Turkish educational institutions as Moscow would like.

3. Russia has Less Money for Vodka, Campaigns, and Just about Everything Except War. As its economic crisis deepens, Russia and Russians have less money for almost but not quite everything. Russians are now drinking less vodka and more beer because it is cheaper. They recognize that next year’s Duma campaigns will be run on the cheap with the regime using other methods and expensive political technologies to get its way. They are coming to terms with a regime that spends less on education and other social services and thus is producing fewer scientific innovations and new patents. They can no longer count on power and utilities functioning. And they are watching the slow death of the nation’s pride, its thick journals as regional libraries cut back their purchases. But spending on defense needs and the security services continues to rise.

4. Russia’s Express Trains Now Moving More Slowly than Commuter Lines. Problems with rail beds and signal systems mean that many of Russia’s long-run express trains are now travelling at speeds less than local elektrichka commuter trains. That boosts the costs of moving goods and contributes to regional autarky.

5. Only One Russian Domestic Air Passenger in 20 is Riding on a Russian or Soviet-Produced Plane. Only one plane in four in Russian aviation parks was produced in Russia, and because those are mostly older and smaller ones, only one Russian air passenger in 20 now travels in a Russian or Soviet made plane, yet another indication of the tasks ahead in Putin’s import substitution campaign.

6. Those Who Destroyed the USSR are to Blame for Islamist Terrorism. According to one Moscow commentator, if the USSR had not disintegrated, there wouldn’t be any Islamist terrorism now.

7. Putin Given Copy of Imperial Crown. Vladimir Putin has been given a copy of the Russian imperial crown, and some writers have suggested that after Syria, he will be fully justified in calling himself an emperor. Such attitudes are part of a broader imperial nostalgia reflected in postings like “when Constantipole is ours…” (christ-civ.livejournal.com/533490.html).

8. Romanovs are Descendants of Prophet Mohammed, Their Spokesman Says. Putin’s attitude toward the imperial title may be affected by the statement of an official of the Russian Imperial House that the Romanovs are descendants of the Prophet Mohammed, a claim that gives new meaning to Eurasianist notions but that may not please many Orthodox Russian nationalists.

9. Apparently Fearful of a Replay, Russian Officials Hiding Information about 1905 Revolution. A communist commentator says that the Russian government is downplaying the importance of the 1905 revolution and hiding information about it in order to avoid giving today’s Russians any ideas about how to resist autocracy.

10. Fewer Russian Pupils Studying Orthodox Culture. Increasingly Russian school children and their parents are choosing to study religiously-neutral ethics courses rather than the Russian Orthodox module that the Moscow Patriarchate prefers, an indication that Russians may not be so enamored of the Russian Orthodox nationalism now on offer as many think (yodnews.ru/2015/11/26/pravoslavno).

11. Open Society Declared Closed and Window on Europe Shut. The Russian government has declared George Soros’ Open Society Institute in Russia a threat to the country and moved to close it down. Meanwhile, pro-democracy demonstrators in St. Petersburg have staged a protest to call attention to the fact that the Duma’s decision to ignore the European Human Rights Court represents a shutting of Russia’s “window on Europe.”

12. Even Russia’s Most Nationalistic Paintings Bear Finno-Ugric Traces. The Russian authorities today want to present Russian culture as sui generis and not the result of the combination of various other cultures in the past. Consequently, they are likely to be upset that even Russia’s most nationalistic paintings have Finno-Ugric traces in them if you look close enough. Moscow has already removed some paintings; it may now decide to remove more

13. The Owl of Minerva Spreads Its Wings. Scholars in St Petersburg have announced a conference for next May on the role of lies in public life, an indication that the phenomenon has become so widespread in Russia that it is now going to become part of academic discourse.

And three more from beyond Russia’s borders:

1. Turkmenistan is Promoting Chinese and Japanese Languages. In a move that highlights the reorientation of Central Asia, Ashgabat is promoting the study of Chinese and Japanese in its secondary schools and higher educational institutions, putting those languages at the top of the second language list rather than Russian.

2. Ukrainian City Renames Karl Marx Street for Ayn Rand Hero. Dneprepetrovsk has renamed that city’s Karl Marx Street for John Galt, the hero of Ayn Rand’s pro-capitalist novel Atlas Shrugged.

3. Not a Call for Jihad but for Drinks. A vigilant Estonian woman walking through the streets of Tallinn thought she heard someone shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Great”) and immediately called that country’s security police. But when the officers arrived, they discovered that the man, a drunken Russian, wasn’t supporting an Islamist project but rather was trying to tell his girlfriend, Alla, that he was going to a bar. In Russian, that would be “Alla, ya k bare.”