Saturday, September 23, 2017

First Post-Soviet Lenin Statue in Moscow Erected, Piling One Absurdity on Another, Commentators Say



Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – This week, busts of Stalin and Lenin were dedicated in the so-called Alley of Rulers in Moscow. The two join the other Soviet rulers – Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, Gorbachev, and Yeltsin – and as was pointed out at the opening, this is the first Lenin statue to go up in the Russian capital since Soviet times.

            These eight join the busts of 33 earlier rulers of Russia, including not only the Rurikides and the Romanovs but also Prince Lvov and Aleksandr Kerensky, the two leaders of the Provisional Government who overthrew the last tsar, Nicholas II, thus putting side by side and without comment some who displaced others.

            Mikhail Myagkov of the Russian Military-History Society which oversaw this project acknowledges that this placement may elicit a problematic reaction among some visitors, but he insisted that the alley has “an educational function” to remind everyone that “we had such a history” (ekhokavkaza.com/a/28751059.html).

                Three Russian commentators were more critical.  Historian Boris Sokolov says that the whole idea reflects “the nostalgia of the Military-History Society for Soviet times. They want to legitimize the Soviet past in its imperial dimension. And the past supports this.” After all, the authorities created the society. 

            More seriously, he says, all this “testifies that the Soviet imperial component of consciousness remains in the ruling circles and they are trying to support it in the population,” although how this will work in the current case is problematic given that some of these leaders were very much enemies of others.

            Sergey Shokaryov of the Russian State Humanities University says that “if the goal of the museum is to show all the leaders of the state, this wouldn’t be a bad thing. But when you see how this is done, [with bad copies of earlier statues,] this project loses any possible respect.” And that is made worse by the fact that there are gaps. Why are some tsars here and not others?

            And Gasan Guseynov, a cultural historian at the Higher School of Economics, adds that the most important aspect of the appearance of this Alley of Rulers is that it hasn’t generated any response in Russian society, “despite the obvious absurdity of this project.” What is really on display is not an Alley of Rulers, he says, but “an Alley of the Glory of Rulers.”

            This reflects “the desire of the present-day rulers of Rusisa to combine all past regimes into some kind of single thing: we have had a beautiful, great history in the 20th century, let us bow down before all rulers which were elevated to the throne on this land.”  But that idea is “absolutely absurd and insane.”

            Why? Because one ruler in order to gain the thrown had to destroy another.” Now they must stand together forever as if that were irrelevant.  If Russian society were healthy, Guseynov says; it would react. But it hasn’t because today Russian society is “completely demoralized and apathetic.”

With His Language Policy, Putin has Put a Time Bomb Under Russia, 60 Tatar Writers Say



Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – Vladimir Putin’s decision to make Russian obligatory and non-Russian languages in the republics of the country entirely voluntary has not only angered many non-Russians who view this as an insult to their dignity but opened “a Pandora’s box” and placed “a time bomb” under the country, according to 60 Tatar writers and intellectuals.

            As Kazan’s Business-Gazeta reports, the 60 Tatar intellectuals, most in their 30s or 40s, have sent an open letter to the Kremlin leader detailing their fears and appealing to Putin to reflect on the dangers ahead to Russia if he continues on his current course (business-gazeta.ru/article/358446).

                The letter calls on Putin “not to violate the linguistic balance in the Republic of Tatarstan” and say that eliminating Tatar’s status as a required subject will make it and the people who speak it feel “second-rate and unneeded.”  More than that, his new policy will threaten more than that.

            “We are convinced,” they write, “that you are interested in the preservation of peace and concord about the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, the flourishing of tolerance and mutual respect among the peoples populating it, and the impermissibility of inter-ethnic disagreements and conflicts.”

            Your speech in Ufa and your directive that Russian officials ensure that the study of Tatar and other non-Russian languages be entirely voluntary, the 60 Tatar writers tell the Russian president, “is in our view nothing but a reckless placement of ‘a bomb’ in the very heart of Russia.”

            “We call on you not to violate the linguistic balance in the Republic of Tatarstan and to permit the ministry of education and science of the Republic of Tatarstan to carry out its responsibilities in the framework of the existing legislation of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Tatarstan,” they conclude.

            The authors say they acted independently of the political authorities, but some of the signatories add that in reality, “the author of this letter is the entire Tatar people” because Tatars know that “if you want to destroy the nation, you simply have to close its school. Neither wars nor epidemics, nor natural disasters are necessary.”

            The authors have little expectation that their letter will have any impact or even receive a response. After all, many have been writing to Putin about this before. But they feel they cannot do anything but express their horror about and opposition to what the Kremlin leader is doing. It is, they say, “a cry of despair of the soul.”

            One signatory, however, said the following: “We shall see how Moscow listens to small peoples. We aren’t from somewhere else but a native people.” When Ukraine adopted a law restricting Russian, the Kremlin reacted the next day, even though Ukraine is a foreign state and most of the Russians there came from elsewhere.

            But here in the Russian Federation, we Tatars, Bashkirs, Chuvash, Maris, Mordvins, and Chechens are all natives. “We didn’t come from somewhere else.” And yet they tell us we don’t have the right to require our languages be studied even as the same people insist that the Baltic countries and Ukraine must require instruction in Russian.

            “I’ve been in many countries of the world,” this author says; and “Tatar is one of the Turkic languages: absolutely all Turks understand it. There are 300 million of us in the world. The Slavs also are approximately 300 million as well. Why are we being refused the right to education in our native tongue?”

FSB May Be Well Pleased with Zapad-2017 Outcome, Belarusian Analysts Say



Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – The Zapad-2017 exercise has ended “without the annexation of Belarus, a new round of aggression against Ukraine, or the triggering of World War III” that many had predicted or feared, Igor Ilyash point out in a new commentary.  And those are all good things.

            But the Belarusian analyst argues that those pleased that these things did not happen should nonetheless not look away from what happened and instead consider how the FSB or the GRU in Moscow may be evaluating this enormous military exercise because it will be their judgments about that which will shape the future.

            And in a new Belsat commentary, Ilyash offers five conclusions  that he believes the Russian authorities are most likely to have drawn about “the Belarusian aspect of the Zapad-2017 exercise” (belsat.eu/ru/news/analiticheskaya-zapiska-fsb-gru-ili-kak-belarus-perezhila-ucheniya-zapad-2017/).

                First of all, he says, the Russian security services are completely correct to assume that “the attitude toward the Russian military among the main part of the population of Belarus is either quite loyal or absolutely indifferent.”  Few Belarusians criticized the Russian forces and most accepted their appearance as something quite normal.

            Second, Ilyash continues, Moscow is likely to conclude that “civil society is very weak [in Belarus] and is not capable of mobilizing anti-Russian protests even in those cases when pressure isn’t being applied to it.”  Minsk showed that by allowing the opposition to organize a tiny demonstration against the Russian forces.

            But all that did, the Belsat journalist says, was to underscore to Moscow that “any accusations of Russophobia in Belarus are baseless” and that “only ‘a handful of marginals’ are prepared to speak out against the Kremlin.”

            Third, Moscow is certain to conclude that “public control was lacking and that no monitoring of Russian forces on the territory of Belarus was carried out.”  In many cases, that would have been quite easy to do and it would have allowed for precise measurements of the size and movements of troops. But it wasn’t done.

            Instead, Belarusians and Belarusian officials continued to act as if nothing was happening, and that in turn lends credence to the Kantemir soldier who said “if we wanted to occupy you, we would have, and you wouldn’t have understood anything. We would simply have come in and your officers would have become [non-ethnic] Russians.”

            Fourth, Ilyash suggests, the FSB and the GRU are almost certain to have concluded that “the Belarusian authorities do not have even elementary ideas about the principles of conducting information war. The state media and press services are not capable of reacting in a timely fashion to releases [from the other side] and in general don’t consider that necessary.”

            And fifth, and perhaps most important, the Russians will have concluded that “even the politically active part of society does not believe in the Russian threat, does not take it seriously and therefore no one should count on a rapid reaction in the case of a deterioration of the situation.”

            Yes, some Belarusians talked about Veyshnoria, the imaginary enemy country, Ilyash says; but far more paid attention on Facebook to Mikhail Saakashvili’s return to Ukraine than to the actions of Russian tanks on their own national territory.

            If these are in fact the conclusions that Moscow has reached, then Zapad-2017 is not so much about something that didn’t happen but rather a test for something that may yet happen in the future – especially because so many in the West are celebrating what didn’t happen and concluding that since it didn’t, it won’t.