Police block Bolotnaya Square protests May 6, 2012. Photo by Person Behind the Scenes/Flickr
A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 30
Staunton, VA, May 8, 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 30th 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. Even Putin’s Opponents Will Vote for Him. Vladimir Putin’s support among Russians is so broad that sizeable majorities in both the parliamentary and extra-systemic opposition parties say they will vote for him if he runs for another term, according to a pro-Kremlin foundation.
2. Russian Officials having Hard Time Getting Victory Day Propaganda Right. Among the shortcomings in Russian propaganda in advance of Victory day are official posters showing a Dutch flag rather than a Russian one and an American tank rather than a Soviet one. At least part of the reason for such mistakes is that there are ever-fewer veterans of World War II remaining alive; and many of the chief propagandists are pseudo-veterans who never fought in that conflict or were not born yet. But officials are doing one thing to make sure Victory Day takes place without a hitch: they are spending 350 million rubles (US $6 million) to seed clouds so the skies over Moscow will be blue on May 9 and on other Russian holidays this year.
3. Moscow Won’t Address Issue of Five Million Soviet MIAs in World War II. There are many issues the Russian government won’t address in the run up to Victory Day including the fact that Stalin was once Hitler’s ally, that the Soviet dictator helped the Nazi leader carve up Poland, and that Soviet “liberation” at the end of the war was anything but for the peoples of Eastern Europe. But Russians today are especially agitated that the authorities won’t take up the issue of the estimated five million Soviet soldiers who are still MIA in that conflict.
4. More than 15 Million Russians Live in Places without Paved Roads. Despite all the talk about building roads, more than 15 million Russians – more than one in every nine – live in places without paved roads. The majority who live where there are paved roads aren’t much better off. Some face unrepaired potholes that are so large that in one Urals city the population has named each of them for a local official.
5. Russia’s Muslims Far More Committed to Their Faith than Russia’s Orthodox Are. A new poll shows what many have long suspected: Muslims in Russia are far more committed to their faith than are Orthodox.
6. Blogger Fined US $8,000 for Saying Russian News Outlet Invented News. A Russian blogger who suggested that a Moscow news organization had invented news stories was ordered by a court to pay a 500,000 ruble fine.
7. Two Duma Deputies Want Moscow to Reactivate Russian Signals Intercept Station in Cuba. Two Duma deputies say that given rising East-West tensions, Moscow should re-open the signals monitoring station in Cuba it operated against the US during the Cold War.
8. FIFA Official Admits Taking Bribes from Moscow. In yet another blow to Russia’s prospects to host the upcoming World Cup competition, a FIFA official admits that he took bribes from Moscow, something many have assumed but that no one has admitted up to now.
9. Russian Labor Minister Says There are No Poor Pensioners in His Country. In yet another triumph of Groucho Marxism in Russia, the country’s minister for labor says there are no poor pensioners there, even though statistics show that Russians have become impoverished to a degree unprecedented in the post-Soviet period.
10. Duma Elections in Russia Really Matter But Not in the Ways Most Think. Despite the Kremlin’s use of administrative measures to control their outcome, the Duma elections in Russia really matter. On the one hand, the existence of single-member districts mean that even the ruling United Russia party may have less control over its deputies in the future parliament. And on the other, the upcoming vote determines the timing of many things: Vladimir Zhirinovsky is rumored to be kicked upstairs to the Federation Council after the vote and thus effectively retired, and Moscow’s hopes for regional amalgamation and stripping Tatarstan of its presidency are on hold at least until after the electorate speaks.
11. Neanderthals Lasted Longer in What is Now Russia than They Did in Europe, Scholars Say. A group of scholars has announced that genetic studies show that the Neanderthals lasted far longer on the territory of what is now Russia than they did in Europe where they were earlier displaced by the ancestors of modern humans.
12. Great Russian Dream is Not to Have a Future, Commentator Says. A Moscow commentator says that one of the reasons Putin has gotten away without articulating a vision of the future is that “the great Russian dream” is not to have a future but to live only in the present.
13. ‘Next Year in the USSR’ – How Russians Should Copy Jewish Strategy. Another Moscow commentator has come up with an unusual proposal: Russians should lay the groundwork for the restoration of the Soviet Union by declaring “Next Year in the USSR,” thereby copying the historical Jewish saying, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” that ultimately led to the restoration of the state of Israel.
And six more from Russia’s neighbors:
14. Four Countries Bordering Russia Building Walls to Prevent Infiltration. Norway has become the fourth country bordering Russian to announce plans to build a wall along its border with that country. Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia are the others.
15. When Moscow Behaves Like Taliban and ISIS, Where is the International Outrage? Russian officials have destroyed classical antiquities in occupied Crimea just as the Taliban did in Afghanistan and ISIS has in Syria, but there has been very little international outrage about that.
16. Lavrov Says Balts Insufficiently Grateful for Soviet Liberation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says that the people and governments of the Baltic countries should be more grateful to Russia for liberating them from the Nazis rather than going on about the Soviet “occupation” that followed.
17. 327 Places in Ukraine Renamed to Drop Soviet References; 987 More Slated to Follow by February 2017. Ukrainian officials have already renamed 327 villages and towns in Ukraine to end links to the Soviet past. Some 987 more are to be renamed by next February.
18. Moscow Sending Officers for Training in Occupied Donbass. If any further indication was needed that Russia is occupying the Donbass and that the Kremlin views the methods it has employed there as a model, that has been dispelled by the announcement that Russian military academies will now be sending their officer students to the region to study the tactics Moscow has employed.
19. Transdniestria Shifting Its Trade Away from Russia and toward the EU. Eurasianet reports that the breakaway Moldovan region, long a bastion of Russian influence in the region, is now reorienting its trade away from the Russian Federation toward the EU, a change that will help salvage its economy and make it easier to cooperate with Chisinau.
An Anniversary that is Ever More Important – Bolotnaya at Four
Staunton, VA, May 6, 2016 – Almost certainly no country on earth commemorates as many anniversaries as does Russia, and beyond any doubt no other country has as many which are contested, that is, which split its people between those who regret what happened on a particulate date in the past and those who want to celebrate it.
Last Sunday, Russians marked May Day with demonstrations that highlighted divisions in Russia; and now the country is preparing for Victory Day next Monday, a holiday intended to celebrate national unity but that also divides Russians today — albeit less by what it marks than by how the powers that be are exploiting history.
But if some anniversaries are boosted by all the power of the Kremlin and the state-controlled media, others are not, even if and perhaps especially if they say more about Russia and Russia’s future than do those marked with pomp. One of these significant anniversaries takes place today.
Four years ago today, tens of thousands of Russians protested in what was one of the largest demonstrations in Moscow since Vladimir Putin came to power. They demanded that Russia allow honest elections in which all candidates would have a chance in place of “the managed democracy” the Kremlin had offered.
The police alleged that they were involved in a riot and had directed violence against the authorities. Many were arrested. The residences of opposition figures were searched. And charges were brought against 28 of the participants. But the case has not been closed and reportedly 80 more demonstrators from 2012 remain under investigation.
Recalling this event now, the editors of Grani argue that “the consequences” of that 2012 event “are being felt ever more strongly. Of course,” they add, “Putinism was born not in 2012, but the events of May 2 became the beginning of a sharp turn in social live and hitherto unseen advances of reaction.”
For some time after the Bolotnaya events, the editors continue, “democratic forces still tried to resist,” but the regime’s increasing repression at home and the popularity of its aggressive actions abroad have had the effect of reducing the number of people prepared to protest and demand honest elections.
Now, Russia has entered another electoral cycle, one in which the powers that be seem committed to even more dishonest elections than in the past. Consequently, it is important as Grani says that all people of good will remember the 2012 events and recognize that the reaction of the Kremlin to them reflected not the strength of those in power but their fears of the people.