More than Six Times as Many Muscovites Attended Easter Services Than May Day Events

May 1, 2016
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill celebrates Easter on May 1, 2016. Photo by Sergey Pyatkov/Sputnik

Moscow Should Restrict US-Funded Russian Groups More than Those Backed by Other Countries, Markov Says

Staunton, May 1, 2016 – Not only should Moscow broaden the definition of prohibited political activity by NGOs but it should treat them differently depending on the country from which they receive funding, with those getting money from the US more severely punished than those getting it from other countries, according to Sergey Markov.

Markov, a former KGB officer and now member of Russia’s Civic Chamber, is often a bellwether of the Kremlin’s intentions and so his words merit attention both as an indication that the Russian government assumes East-West tensions will remain high and that it wants to be able to play one group of countries off against another.
The Moscow political analyst says that Russia should not “consider the entire world as hostile to Russia.” Instead, it should classify the states of the world in terms of “the threat which they pose for the sovereignty and security of our country,” with “the most dangerous” being “the US, Great Britain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”
Other members of the NATO bloc and most other countries around the world, Markov suggests, represent much less danger. Indeed, he continues, funders from Belarus and Kazakhstan “should be treated completely differently” and presumably less repressively “than those financed from the United States.”
Markov has called for a tougher approach to NGOs for some time. Ten days ago, for example, he suggested that the Russian law on such groups should be amended so that the authorities would have the tools they need to combat illegal political activity, which he proposed defining far more broadly than current legislation does
He pointed to the case of Ukraine where NGOs financed from abroad and initially pursuing purely non-political goals “sharply changed the character” of their actions and “played an important role in the organization of mass disorders.” The same thing could happen in Russia, he says, because most foreign-funded NGOs there are interested in its destabilization.
Chernobyl-Hit Regions in Russian Federation Get Little Attention and Ever Less Support
Staunton, VA, May 1, 2016 – Most people in Russia and the West link the Chernobyl tragedy to Belarus and Ukraine, the two republics hardest-hit by the 1986 nuclear disaster, forgetting that adjoining regions of the Russian Federation were also affected and that 1.3 million of the five million people still living in contaminated areas are Russian citizens.

Gennady Sharipkin, an RFI correspondent, says such forgetfulness has made it easier for Russian officials to do even less than their Belarusian and Ukrainian counterparts to protect the population and clean up the region, leaving the southwestern portion of Bryansk Region “simply terra incognita” as far as Chernobyl is concerned.
What is striking, the journalist continues, in comparison with Ukraine and Belarus, there are “practically no signs warning about radiation dangers” in contaminated parts of the Russian Federation. As a result, what should remain an exclusion zone is completely open for anyone who wants to come and go, picnic, fish, collect mushrooms and so on.
Initially, the Soviet authorities declared two-thirds of the districts of Bryansk Region to have been contaminated and made plans to resettle residents, including all 40,000 people in the city of Novozybkov. “But after calculating the cost, they decided that it would be simper to remove the top and most contaminated layer of the ground.”
Even at that time, Greenpeace says, Soviet officials evacuated Russians from these places only when there were much higher levels of cesium-137 than those that led Belarusian and Ukrainian officials to act. As a result, Russians living in contaminated areas were and still are exposed to more radiation than those in the neighboring countries.
The situation became worse, Sharipkin says, last October when the Russian government reclassified most of the cities and villages in Bryansk that had been “zones of resettlement” into “zones with the right to resettle,” a downshifting that meant there was less money and less support available to those who seek to move out of this area.
At the same time, the Russian government eliminated many of the benefits it had earlier offered Russians in the contaminated areas, including free admission to universities, supplements to pay and pensions, longer vacations, and earlier retirement ages for both men and women. Residents wanted to protest but were talked out of it by officials.
One local activist says that he and others will turn to the courts to seek a return of these benefits to at least those who have been living permanently in Bryansk Region since 1986. At present, they have launched a petition drive in support of that goal.
The Russians in Bryansk Region are motivated both by the findings of outside experts like Greenpeace that radiation levels are still well above those deemed safe even by Russian officials who continue to insist that now “everything is normal” and by higher than average rates of cancer and other diseases among the population.
And they are also agitated by the fact that the cutbacks in government subsidies mean that they will be forced to eat more locally produced food, much of which is radioactive. That in turn means that for the Russian victims of Chernobyl, the next 30 years may be even worse than the last.
Administrative-Territorial Changes at Lower Levels Also Create Serious Problems, Karelians Say
Staunton, May 1, 2016 – Valentina Matviyenko’s proposal to amalgamate federal subjects has sparked new interest in the possibility of border changes and debate about its implications on that level of the Russian political system, but it is also opening up another discussion about the impact of consolidation and amalgamation of territories at the village, city or district level.

And changes at that level have been both more frequent and at least equally disruptive to the changes at the level of regions, territories, and republics. Indeed, some see them as a covert way the Russian authorities have used to destroy ethnic and other minorities centered on this or that place and the institutions it has.
In an article in Petrozavodsk’s Internet news portal, Vesti Karelii, Andrey Tuomi argues that the amalgamation of such units can lead to the destruction of peoples and ethnic groups who lose the focus of their daily life and thus the support mechanisms on which they depend.
Recently, quite possibly taking his cue from Moscow, the economic development minister of the Republic of Karelia made a loud and very pubic declaration that “the residents of the republic possibly will have to survive ‘a second wave of the amalgamation of villages,” a process that in the past they have often been subject to and one that has cost them dearly.
Tuomi says that becomes clear if one examines even a single district, and he traces the history of the administrative borders and the implication of their changes on Karelia’s Kalevala district from tsarist times through the Soviet period to the present day.
During tsarist times, the authorities changed the administrative status but not the borders of this district twice in 1785 and 1796. But under the Soviets, “the district was cut up, renamed, abolished and renewed its existence in various borders seven different times, having lost as a result of this ‘surgery’ half of its original territory.
At present, the Kalevala district “consists of one urban settlement, into which are included two settlements … and three rural settlements.” If the district is expanded, the largest of these will survive, but “the remainder will have the status of depressed areas” and likely cease to exist.
In 1926, there were 249 villages with approximately 9,000 people, 90 percent of whom were Karels; and the area had a positive population growth. But since then, things have changed for the worse on all these measures. First came collectivization when many farm villages were combined together and people concentrated in more easily controlled centers.
Then, the district suffered population losses as a result of the Winter War and World War II and of the famine which followed them. Under Nikita Khrushchev, villages near the border with Finland were “liquidated” and the population moved away and toward larger population centers. Eventually, Moscow simply liquidated the district as a whole.
But that wasn’t the end of the story, Tuomi says. “After a certain time, the Kalevala district was restored” albeit in reduced borders. Despite that, its population grew but increased not because of the local population which continued to decline but because of the influx of migrant workers – Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians – who came to work in the forests.
Many of these Slavs were people who had fled Soviet villages where they had no passports in order to become “relatively free citizens of the USSR.” But together with them and “as a result of three waves of ‘red terror,’ two wars, and a policy of permanent ‘amalgamation of villages,’ the share of the indigenous population fell from 90 percent in 1926 to 36 percent” now.
But the shocks have continued, and although they were smaller, “they have been no less destructive.” The last Soviet action of amalgamation occurred in 1984 when the settlement of Shonga was “liquidated.” But later, Kalevala district lost one of its larger cities to a neighboring district and thus at the same time lost one of its cultural centers.
Indeed, Tuomi says, “in the modern history of the Kalevala district, the policy of amalgamating areas has moved from being a state strategy to one directed at the tactical liquidation of population points by means of targeted reductions in the number of administrative and state structures,” thus removing supports for the population.
In 2005, the Karelian government proposed amalgamating Kalevala and eliminating many villages and administrative centers to save money. But there were so many protests by local people about what consolidation would mean for them that Petrozavodsk put the issue on hold only to renew it this year.
Unfortunately, Russian officials still believe, Tuomi says, that they can solve problems in the economy “by the forcible resettlement of people” through consolidation and amalgamation. Those who think that way forget that these villages have existed on the earth for hundreds of years and have withstood all kinds of foreign and domestic attack.
But amalgamation and consolidation may finally achieve the ends that earlier conquerors did not. That is because “to destroy what still remains is quite simple: by the method of a new amalgamation” of territories. But those who do this should remember that “together with the destruction of the places the people use, they are destroying the people itself.”
“A people which has lost its motherland, its house and its yard is already not a people,” Tuomi says. And he directs the following question to Karelian “bureaucrats and deputies”: “are you prepared to take on such a historic mission” of the final destruction of the people of Kalevala. This is a question that could pari passu be asked of Matviyenko and Putin as well.
More than Six Times as Many Muscovites Attended Easter Services Today than May Day Events
Staunton, May 1, 2016 – According to preliminary statistics, 660,000 Muscovites attended Easter services at one of the churches of the Russian capital today while only about 100,000 went to May Day events, a kind of referendum on the two holidays and the occasion for renewed complaints that Moscow doesn’t have enough churches and needs to build more.

According to statistics gathered by two church architects, Filipp Yakubchuk and Daniil Makarov, there are some 934 Russian Orthodox churches in Moscow of which 436 have regular services. The total capacity of all the churches, those with services and those without, is 235,000.
Assuming that approximately 10 million of Moscow’s population are ethnic Orthodox – that is people who are part of nationalities traditionally Orthodox in their faith – and that five percent attend services at one time or another, that means that Moscow needs either to open services in those churches which don’t them – many historical sites – or build more.

Taking up the cudgels for a massive church building campaign and dismissing the complaints of many Muscovites that new churches are replacing parks and other places of relaxation is Yana Amelina, coordinator of the Caucasus Geopolitical Club and a commentator on ethnic issues.

According to Yakubhuk and Makarov, Amelina says, Moscow doesn’t have enough churches because where people live, there are far more parishioners than can attend services. People stand in line or are forced to travel long distances: “Before the revolution, going to church was considered something entirely ordinary; now, it is almost an achievement.”

And they point out that this situation reflects not just the fact that “no one built churches” in Soviet times but also that the city has grown, absorbing former villages and their churches, most of which are very small. As a result, there are many large churches in the center, but only small ones on the periphery of the city where most people live.

Building on the arguments of the two church specialists, Amelina says that opposition to churches comes both from a lack of care in presenting arguments for them and also from the opposition of liberal groups to any manifestation of Orthodoxy in Russia today.

Curiously, given her expertise on the Caucasus and Islam, the writer has nothing to say about the far greater shortage of mosques for Muslims in the Russian capital. At present, there are only five officially registered, even though there are some 2.5 million Muslims in the city and its environs and even though a far larger percentage of Muslims go to mosque on holidays.