Staunton, VA, January 15, 2016 — 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 nineteenth 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. Putin Equated with Shiite Saints. Some Syrian Shiia have equated Vladimir Putin with Shiite saints, yet another way in which the Kremlin leader’s intervention in Syria may come back to haunt him given that 90 percent of the Muslims in the world and in Russia are Sunnis.
2. ‘Human Rights Aren’t Everything,’ Duma Deputy Says. Ivan Nikitchuk, a KPRF Duma deputy who has introduced legislation banning any public manifestation of homosexual relations in Russia, defends his position by saying that “human rights aren’t everything.”
3. Russian Official Sells Off 50 Kilometers of Highway Pavement. Russia, it is often said, suffers from two misfortunes: roads and fools. But increasingly they are coming together: News outlets report that an official in the Komi Republic has sold the pavement of 50 kilometers of highway there and pocketed the profits.
4. Russians Want ‘Day of Nuclear Arms.’ A group of Russians has proposed another Russian holiday, “the day of nuclear arms.” The Russian government is keeping up with this idea by announcing that it plans to double ballistic missile production in 2016.
5. For First Time, Sales of Smart Phones Fall in Russia. Every day, Russians and those who watch Russia focus on the falling price of oil and the declining exchange rate for the ruble. It is sometimes forgotten that related to these figures are others that may have an even more immediate impact on Russians. Among the plethora of such figures are the following: Last year, for the first time ever, Russians bought fewer smart phones than the year before, the number of Russian businesses fell to “no more than one million,” Russia’s trade with China fell by a third last year, Russians aren’t buying new cars and so the average age of cars there is now over ten years, Muscovites increasingly are again having to pay for apartments using hard currency rather than rubles, the duty free shops at Sheremetyevo airport are closing, Moscow’s city government hopes to make money by charging people to use crosswalks with signals to stop traffic, and schools in Russian regions are now being forced to provide children with breakfast or lunch but not both.
6. Everyone in Russia Speaks More than One Language – Except Russians. Moscow’s language policies mean that everyone in Russia speaks more than one language – except for Russians who can speak only their own. But the situation may be changing: Some Duma deputies want to insist that bill collectors use the languages of debtors even if it happens to be other than Russian, and just as many non-Russian regions are demanding that Russians study their languages if they live there, one Russian region Yaroslavl says that when Russians come there, they must speak the Yaroslavl dialect rather than the Moscow one.
7. Bashkirs Protest Ufa’s Decision at Moscow’s Insistence to Break with Turksoy. Four of the six Turkic republics within the Russian Federation have broken their relations with the Turkish cultural organization Turksoy. Two, Tatarstan and Sakha, have not, and their resistance is inspiring activists in the others to protest as has now happened in Bashkortostan.
8. Election Officials Replace Lawyers with Milkmaids as Election Monitors. To make it easier for the powers that be to falsify voting, election officials in several regions are replacing the lawyers who had served as poll watchers with others who have less knowledge of or experience in challenging whatever officials do.
9. Alaska Should Be Called ‘Eastern Rus,’ Nationalists Say. The Orthodox Russian nationalist site Russkaya Liniya has published a long list of places in Russia and neighboring countries that were renamed either in Soviet times or by other states that it says should have their original names restored. Among them is “Eastern Rus” as the designator for the US state of Alaska. In a related development, some Russians are now campaigning to put a monument to the destruction of the native peoples of North American in front of the US embassy in Moscow.
10. 70 Percent of Muscovites Say They’re Not Against Annexing Buryatia, a Republic that is Already Part of the Russian Federation. A street survey in the Russian capital found that 70 percent of Muscovites said they weren’t opposed to annexing Buryatia, even though that republic is already part of the Russian Federation.
11. New Russian Imperial Style to Include Wooden Houses and Wooden Watches. A group of Russians argue that their country’s “new imperial style” should feature the gingerbread wooden houses found throughout that country in tsarist times. In Siberia, one entrepreneur has taken this idea a step further: he is now producing wristwatches made entirely of wood.
12. Israeli Arrested on Russian Train for Reading Hebrew. An Israeli who was reading a Hebrew-language book on a Russian train was arrested after overly vigilant Russians assumed that he must be a foreign agent of one kind or another.
13. Kadyrov Launches a Real Witch Hunt in Chechnya. Ramzan Kadyrov has called for going after all extra-systemic opponents of the Putin regime because they are in his words “traitors to the motherland,” a suggestion that many have called “a witch hunt.” But in Chechnya itself, Kadyrov has already launched a real witch hunt to weed out Chechen officials who supposedly routinely consult witches before making decisions.
And two more from Ukraine, a country adjoining Russia:
The previous edition of A Baker’s Dozen is here.