Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Armenia on Its Way to Becoming ‘a Second Ukraine,’ Some Commentators Say



Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 16 – A few days ago, Karine Gevorkyan, a leading Yerevan orientalist, said that Armenia, as a result of the shortcomings of its own government, the influence of the Armenian diaspora, and the work for Western governments, is rapidly drifting toward becoming “a second Ukraine” opposed to Moscow and allied with the West.

            She complained that Armenians favorably disposed to Moscow “do not now have a single pro-Russian resource or any pro-Russian politicians … we have lost all this” and thus the country finds itself at the edge of an explosion like the one that has already occurred in Ukraine (vestnikkavkaza.ru/news/Armeniya-prevratitsya-dlya-Rossii-v-novuyu-Ukrainu.html).

            In comments to Vestnik Kavkaza, two Russian experts suggest that Gevorkyan’s suggestions are no exaggeration and that both Moscow and Yerevan should not only be worried but should take immediate steps to change the course of events the orientalist suggests will lead to what they say would be a disaster.

            Nikita Isayev, director of the Moscow Institute of Current Economics, says that the situation she describes is the result of the acceptance of the view that Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan is “the main pro-Russian politician in the republic.” That has made Armenia “a hostage” to his declining popularity. 

            The current “level of trust in Sargsyan,” he continues, “and as a result to Russia as well now is extremely low.”  And what makes this especially dangerous is that “Russia has not demonstrated any clear political line with regard to Armenia,” something anti-Russian forces have been quick to exploit.

            Given that Armenians view Sargsyan and his institutions as pro-Russian, they are increasingly demanding “a turn to the West,” and Yerevan is doing that, developing links with the European Union and even NATO.  And local media, with only a few exceptions, is promoting this trend or at least not opposing it.

            “Of course,” Isayev continues, “Western special services, in the first instance, English, French and American intelligence agencies” are playing a role, “and their work is bringing results,” which carry with them “significant external risks for Russia” including the possible “loss of the last official Russian advance post in the Transcaucasus at the gates to the Middle East.”

            The overall trend is not good, he says; and “the most radical scenario is a possible direct armed conflict in which Russia may find itself opposed by Armenia as a member of NATO or [at least] an ally of the North Atlantic alliance.”  That outcome is so bad that Moscow must deploy “’soft force’” to ensure it doesn’t happen.

            Similar efforts need to be made “everywhere on the post-Soviet space” because “Armenia is an ally on which like a litmus test are visible all the difficulties” the Russian government now faces. Most important, Moscow must turn away from oligarchic powers and work with small and mid-sized industry and with a variety of political forces rather than just those of Sargsyan.

            Isayev’s views are echoed by Sergey Markov, director of the Moscow Institute for Political Research, who called on Yerevan to take more active steps to suppress “foreign financing of anti-Russian campaigns.”  To that end, Moscow and Yerevan must devote more attention to the dangers ahead if they do nothing.

            “The risks are quite serious,” he says, “either ‘a Maidan’ or the evolution of the Armenian government along an anti-Russian path” which “cold lead to the exit of Armenia from the Eurasian Union and to an expansion of military cooperation with NATO.”  Indeed, Yerevan is already taking part in NATO-led exercises.

            If things continue, Markov argues, “Armenia could be transformed into yet another state hostile to Russia, one like Ukraine or the Baltics or Moldova.”  That isn’t what the Armenian people want, he says; but unless steps are taken, the oligarchic regime may ignore their wishes and pursue only its own.

            Yerevan must take the lead in opposing this shift, he argues, with Moscow playing only a supporting role. It must “close foreign foundations which are involved in the unleashing of anti-Russian propaganda” and even more “must adopt a law banning anti-Russian propaganda to the extent it always has catastrophic consequences for these countries.”

Ethnic Russians Must have Right to Refuse to Study Non-Russian Languages, Kholmogorov Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 15 – Arguing that republics in the Russian Federation are only “conditionally” non-Russian and that the Kremlin is finally prepared to challenge ethnocratic elites on this point, Russian nationalist Yegor Kholmogorov says that ethnic Russians and other Russian speakers must have the right to refuse to study non-Russian languages.

            Although Vladimir Putin did not go that far in his recent speech in Yoshkar-Ola, the Kremlin leader’s words have legitimated Russian nationalist demands for a wholesale attack on the status of non-Russian languages and non-Russian republics; and Kholmogorov’s words are the clearest indication of that to date (kp.ru/daily/26718/3744008/).

            In an interview with Yelena Krivyakina of Komsomolskaya Pravda, he welcomes the fact that the country’s leadership is finally willing to take on non-Russian elites given that for so many years, “our powers have tried not to anger the elites of the national republics.”  Now, however, they are ready to do just that.

            According to him, any reduction in Russian language instruction, something often required in non-Russian areas, to allow for instruction in the titular languages there, is a violation of the law and the Russian constitution and Russian law, even though it is nowhere written that a citizen of Russia must know the state langage.

            “At the same time,” Kholmogorov continues, non-Russian elites point to Article 68 of the Constitution which specifies that the republics have the right to establish their own state languages. But neither there nor anywhere else is it said that it is a requirement that everyone who lives on those territories must study them.

            Russian-speaking children must not be required to learn any of these languages, although non-Russians must know Russian, the state language of the country, according to the Russian nationalist commentator.

            But Kholmogorov’s agenda is far larger than linguistic.  He argues that “our republics are only conditionally national,” that is, many have a higher percentage of Russians or at least Russian speakers than they do speakers of the titular languages.  That should be reflected in state language policy and in the way Moscow deals with these “republics.”

            Ethnic Russians and non-Russians must both study the same number of hours of Russian. If the non-Russians want to study their language, that should come out of the number of hours devoted to other subjects. Perhaps, Kholmogorov says, Russians could use a similar amount of time to study Old Church Slavonic.

            Krivyakina points out that Rafael Khakimov, the vice president of the Academy of Sciences of Tatarstan, recently observed that “if national languages aren’t taught in schools, this will threaten the liquidation of the republics and they will then be no different than oblasts,” to which Kholmogorov responds that this is all right with him.

            “Are oblasts worse than republics?” he asks rhetorically. “Or residents of oblasts second class citizens? All this policy of artificially imposing national languages is based on the presumption that Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Tyva, Sakha and other republics are separate countries.”

            And that in turn reflects ancient history: “A century ago, the Bolsheviks paid for the support [of the non-Russians] against the Whites by offering broad autonomous in completely arbitrary borders. And we are paying for this up to now.” Kholmogorov’s implication is that Moscow should stop doing so.

            Komsomolskaya Pravda appends to the interview a comment by Margarita Rusetskaya, the rector of the Pushkin Institute of the Russian Language. She says that research her colleagues have done shows that in many non-Russian areas, only five or six percent of Russian language instructors really know the language.

            “The problem,” she continues, “is that in many non-Russian republics, Russia is taught by people who are not native speakers.” And she adds that “any reduction in the number of hours of Russian language instruction is “simply impermissible … If we want a child to be integrated in all spheres of life on the entire territory of the country, he must speak Russian fluently.”

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Beer Labels, Passports Now Apples of Discord among Poles, Lithuanians, Belarusians and Ukrainians



Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 15 – Peoples who live in regions where borders have been changed frequently often find themselves at odds with each other when those in one country celebrate a past which involves places that are now on the territory of other states, with what may seem to be small things growing into major issues.

            Perhaps the most famous case of this involves Armenia which put on its national coat of arms Mount Ararat, which has been under Turkish rule for some time. That provoked an exchange between Turkish and Soviet diplomats in the early 1920s, with the Turks complaining about this attack on their sovereignty.

            The Soviet response at the time was classical and perhaps should serve as a model for others. The representatives of the Bolshevik regime said they saw no reason for Turkey to object to the Armenian action because after all, they pointed out, the Turks had put the moon on their flag, a place clearly beyond the sovereign control of their government.

            But however that may be, problems of this kind keep arising, and two have surfaced in the last month that affect Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine, all countries that have seen their borders shift many times over the centuries and in particular during and after the second world war.

            The first arose because the Polish government has its citizens to vote on the pictures to be used in a new Polish passport to be issued next year on the occasion of the centenary of Poland’s independence.  Among the choices offered are portrayals of places significant in Polish history but no longer within Poland’s borders.

            They include places in Lithuania and Ukraine, and not surprisingly, officials in both those countries and others, including the Russian Federation, have expressed concern. Warsaw has responded that no final decision has been made and that the government views its poll as consultative rather than decisive (rosbalt.ru/world/2017/08/15/1638547.html).

                Although it has stayed out of this conflict – even though it might in fact have entered it as well – the Belarusian government has found itself embroiled in the issue that the Polish passport case illustrates because “absolutely unofficially,” it has territorial claims on Lithuania, Poland and Russia.

            For many Belarusians, Vilnius, now the capital of Lithuania (and more recently part of Poland), is the center of Belarusian history.  And that reality has been highlighted by the release of three new beers in honor of the centenary of the declaration of the city of Minsk as the capital of Belarus.

            This hasn’t sparked official protests at least not yet, but over time, “the only way to avoid such conflicts in Eastern Europe is to recognize that many symbol and architectural and geographic objects of the region are elements of the common history of various countries,” the Rosbalt report on these developments suggests.