A painting of President Vladimir Putin as Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 38
Staunton, July 1, 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 presents a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 38th such compilation. It is only suggestive and far from complete – indeed, 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 Now More Repressive than Brezhnev Was. A Moscow analyst suggests that Vladimir Putin is now more repressive than Leonid Brezhnev ever was, and another study finds that just like in Brezhnev’s times, one of the key bases of his power is corruption, But another source of his power is that he uses the media to boost his personal image as a man of action: The Kremlin has just put seven million copies of his new book about judo.
2. Non-Russians Want Medinsky Investigated for Racist Comments about Them. People and officials in Sakha, Tuva, Buryatia and Bashkortostan are calling on federal investigators to determine whether Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky is guilty of violating the country’s anti-extremism laws for what they say are his racist comments that there are too many “non-Russian” faces in Russian films.
3. Russia’s Religious Problems Multiply. The Moscow Patriarchate’s decision not to take part in the world assembly of Orthodox churches has strengthened the hard right in that church, SOVA says. One indication of that trend is the launch of a new portal intended to fight all manifestations of modernism and ecumenism in Russia. Meanwhile, plans are afoot to demolish the only Ukrainian church in the Moscow region. And a controversy is intensifying between Moscow, on the one hand, and Russia’s Buddhist republics of Kalmykia and Tuva, on the other, over plans to tear down a Buddhist stupa in the Russian capital. In addition, Protestant groups are upset by new Russian moves to limit missionary activity: a Vzglyad author suggests the Kremlin should listen to them because Protestants can serve as “a stabilizing force” in Russia. Another commentator points out that words matter and that the Kremlin’s increasing tendency to call all faiths beyond the four “traditional” ones “sects” only intensifies hostility to them. In its fight with Islam, the Kremlin may be losing an ally: experts have determined that 97 percent of the dissertation of its favorite expert on Islam, Roman Silantyev, was plagiarized.
4. Moscow TV-1 Launches New Series on Migrants. Russian television has become notorious for its hostility toward immigrants and non-Russians in general, but it has now launched a new serial “Salam Maskva” that suggests that in all groups there are good people and bad.
5. Russian Government Ignoring a Real Security Threat – the Increase in HIV/AIDS Cases. Moscow is failing to address a number of real national security threats even though it says it is countering all of them. Among the worst of these shortcomings, medical experts say, is its neglect of the rising tide of HIV/AIDS cases, a neglect that has been made worse by the decision of the authorities to label the NGOs working in this area “foreign agents” and thus seeking to curtail their activities.
6. Most Russians Don’t Know Where to Vote. Even though the Duma campaign is now in full swing, a majority of Russians say they have no idea where they are supposed to cast their ballots, a reflection of recent shifts in voting districts and indifference to an election unlikely to produce any real change.
7. Soviet Torturer Now a Regional Deputy. A man who tortured Soviet political prisoners in the 1970s now serves as a completely respectable KPRF deputy in Omsk, a reminder that the receding Soviet past still casts a dark shadow over Russia.
8. Reposts are the Soviet Anecdotes of Today. A protester has pointed out the obvious: her grandfather was sent to prison for telling anti-Stalin anecdotes. She expects to be incarcerated for reposts on the Internet. That is unfortunately increasingly likely in Putin’s Russia where a man has just been fined for posting a public report on the way Soviet forces helped Hitler divide up Poland in 1939.
9. Russian Nationalists Object to Butyrka Prison Sign Listing Trotsky as “an Outstanding Jew.” A group of extreme right Russian nationalists is objecting to a plaque in Moscow’s Butyrka Prison that among other things lists Lev Trotsky, the co-founder of the Soviet state, as “an outstanding Jew,” an objection that seems to reflect both hostility to communism and deep-seated anti-Semitism.
10. Moscow Seeks to Get Regions of European Countries to Recognize Occupation of Crimea. Taking a page out of a playbook pioneered by Azerbaijan on a different issue, Russia is working to get local governments and parliamentary assemblies in Europe to declare that they recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea as legitimate even if their national governments do not.
11. Moscow Now Fighting Something It Doesn’t Want to Admit Exists. The Russian government is devoting increasing efforts to combating Siberian regionalism and separatism even while insisting that such things do not in fact exist.
12. In Crisis, Russians Increasingly Rely on Themselves or Hope to Emigrate. Russians still hope that the government will come to their aid but increasingly rely on their own resources to survive or say that they – and this is especially true of the educated young, would like to live in another country. For some of them, however, the situation is much more immediately dire: Moscow is cutting back on forage for reindeers, something that will lead to the demise of herds of the animals on which many of the numerically small peoples of the North depend on for survival.
13. Are Residents of Marx ‘Marxists’ or ‘Martians’? There is no end to the problems of nomenclature in Russia. The latest issue in this sector is a dispute about whether Russians who live in the city of Marx should be called “Marxists” or “Martians.” It remains unclear which of these two somewhat problematic self-designators the people prefer.
And six more from Russia’s neighbors:
14. Moscow Using Donbass as Finishing School for Officers while Recruiting Child Soldiers There. However much the Russian politicians deny that they have troops in Ukraine, Russian military officials are quite clear that they do and that they are using the conflict there as a kind of “finishing schools” for officer trainees. Equally troubling and yet another violation of international law, pro-Moscow forces in that Ukrainian region are recruiting children to serve as combatants.
15. Lukashenka Unwittingly Sparks International Striptease. Political leaders should always be aware that their off-the-cough remarks can and will get them into trouble. Belarusian head Alyaksandr Lukashenka probably did not think his call for Belarussians to “get undressed and start sweating” would create a problem. But it has: many in that country and elsewhere are now going naked to work as a form of protest.
16. Kyrgyz Child Seeks to Sell His Parents’ Home to Feed the Family. Just how difficult things are for many in Kyrgyzstan at the present time is reflected in a story about a 12-year-old Kyrgyz boy who is trying to feed his family by selling the home they live in, a short-term goal trumping a longer-term one.
17. 50,000 Kyrgyz have Returned to that Republic Since Independence. However difficult things may be in Kyrgyzstan, that country has attracted back some 50,000 ethnic Kyrgyz since 1991 — a measure of how badly some of them were treated elsewhere and how powerful identity and the attraction of independence can be.
18. 70 Percent of Kazakhstan Residents are Believers. A new poll finds that almost three out of four Kazakhstan residents now say they are believers, an indication that the population there is becoming more religious than at any point in the recent past. For most of the Soviet period, Russian experts assumed that Kazakhstan was more irreligious than the Central Asian countries; now, that may no longer as true as it once was.
19. Ukraine Having Problems with Spring Draft. Kyiv is facing problems with its current draft as more and more young Ukrainians seek various ways to avoid serving in the military.