Friday, May 27, 2016

Restorationist Sentiment in Russia Today as Great or Greater than Under Stalin, Mitrofanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 27 – As in Stalin’s times, Sergey Mitrofanov writes, “imperial goals dominate” the public space and the Russian people welcome the restoration not only of the Soviet Union but of imperial values, something Russian liberals are unable to fight “first because they are Russians and second because they are wholly part of the totalitarian milieu.”

            The response of the Russian people to the annexation of Crimea, the intervention in the Donbass, and Vladimir Putin’s tough line about the Kurile islands has been so overwhelmingly positive, the opposition commentator suggests, that there have to be concerns in all the parts of the former Soviet Union (

            A few days ago, he writes in today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” some were raising concerns that Russia was behind the protest wave in Kazakhstan and would seek to use it for Moscow’s own purposes.  Consequently, “the concerns of the Baltic states are completely based in reality.”

            “The emigration of Russians to the Baltics is growing, but what if tomorrow, they too become infected with the imperial virus?” he asks.

            But the greatest signs of restorationism are in Russia itself.  Among the most striking:

·         “Cossacks are again in the service of the secret police and attacking opposition figures.” Some of their number are even swearing their allegiance to “Tsar Putin.”

·         Officials are carrying pictures of Nicholas II to May Day demonstrations and using tsarist motifs in their meetings.

·         Pro-Kremlin journalist Maksim Sokolov is suggesting that there should be a new popular assembly to proclaim a new tsar, something that he says could easily be arranged and would find widespread support.

·         And a senior scholar is calling for new laws to allow the 27 million Soviet citizens to cast votes in the next elections, truly an example of “the dead hand” of the past on the future and a “completely creative” development of Stalin’s ideas about “the bloc of party and non-party” people.

            Of course, Mitrofanov says, Putin may draw on the more contemporary approach of the Tajikistan president who has had himself declared “the founder of the world and national unity” and declared that he, like a monarch, will rule as long as he is alive.

            Tragically, “this is a staircase leading only downward,” the commentator concludes, and “the new ’17 Russia will meet rwith a weak liberal sector (partially as a result of degradation and conformism of the educated class) and powerful authoritarian tendencies on the right and on the left.

            That is the real restoration, one that may very well end by pushing Russia yet again into a vicious circle of chaos and totalitarianism.

A Real ‘War of Civilizations’ Breaking Out in Russian Far North over God’s Lake

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 27 – “In the depths of the Siberian taiga, a war between two civilizations has broken out. Blood has flowed. And its course involves both cleverness and big money,” according to a report by two “Novaya gazeta” journalists who spent a week on the frontlines between the indigenous population and Russian energy companies.

            In an 8500-word heavily illustrated article, Elena Kostyuchenko and Yury Kozyrev note that the fights between the indigenous population and the oil companies has prompted people on both sides to recall the revolt of the Khanty and Mansi against Soviet power in the 1930s, a revolt that claimed many lives on both sides (

                The current conflict arose because a shaman guarding a lake sacred to the Khanty and Mansi peoples killed the dog of two Russian oil workers when the latter were engaged in poaching and when the dog threatened to foul the lake. The shaman has been charged with attempted murder. For background, see

            AsKostyuchenko and Kozyrev note, “the Khanty and the forest Nenets are two closely related peoples, and practically every local resident speaks two languages, with young people also speaking Russian.” Russian oil workers are given advice on how to deal with the local people, but sometimes in their rush to develop oil, they ignore what they are told.

            Numto Lake, which in the local languages means God’s Lake, is the sacred residence of the goddess Kazym.  When Russian workers violated its precincts, not only those immediately involved were outraged, but thanks to the attention of Greenpeace, others were as well, with 34,000 sending messages to the authorities.

             As a result, what the Russian officials have sought to dismiss as a “everyday” problem has become an interethnic or even “civilizational” clash. Things have only gotten worse because the Russian side has issued a report on the situation at the lake without its authors having even visited it or talked to those involved.

            This Russian high-handedness, justified by the authorities because of the importance of oil, has led ever more people in the region to think about the times when the Khanty, Mansi, and forest Nenets revolted against Soviet power in defense of their national cultures, their shamans and their way of life.

            “In tsarist times,” the two Moscow journalists write, “the local Nentsy and Khanty practically did not interact with Russians … but in the 1930s, the Bolsheviks decided to set up a cultural center to enlighten the dark native people. As a result, the shamans and kulaks lost the right to vote,” and the government set quotas on fishing and reindeer herding.

            Anyone who resisted “the new order” was deprived of his rifle, something that in the forest conditions meant “death from hunger or from a beast.” And in the 1930s, the Soviets crossed another line: they began taking fish from God’s Lake, just as the Russians now want to take oil from its bottom.

            In 1933, the shamans led a revolt; and the Soviet authorities sent in people to parlay with them. The shamans had them arrested, sent a list of demands intended to protect local cultures, and then announced that “God has demanded the death of the Russians.” The latter were duly executed.

            In response, the Soviets sent in OGPU soldiers and “a full-scale cleansing” of the population began. Because of the absence of roads, the older members of the community recall, the Soviets used airplanes and bombs. The Soviet soldiers shot at least 11 and incarcerated the rest in the GULAG.

            (The most detailed study of that revolt which pitted local peoples led by shamans against the representatives of Stalin’s repressive apparatus is provided by O.D. Yernykhova in her 212-page study, The Kazymov Revolt of Khanty-Mansiisk (in Russian, 2nd edition, 2010), the full text of which is available online at http://www.оуипиир.рф/sites/default/files/docs/75-1198.pdf).

            That local people should be talking about that experience among themselves and to Russians says a great deal about how desperate they feel and how willing they are to consider actions which even if they proved suicidal could create serious problems for the Russian oil companies and the Russian state.

            (For those who would like to think about what such a revolt of a numerically small people of the North driven to the edge by Russian policies, see Edward Topol’s Red Snow, a 1986 dystopian novel about exactly such a development.)

A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 33

Paul Goble

         Staunton, May 27 -- 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 33rdsuch 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.      Top Headlines of the Week: ‘Hope Leaves Russia’ and ‘Hope Returns to Ukraine.’  Nadezhda Savchenko, whose first name means “hope,” has finally been allowed to return to her homeland (

2.      Putin Says He Won’t Sell Kuriles But is ‘Always Ready’ to Buy Parts of Other Countries.  Reacting to rumors that he might sell the Kuriles Islands back to Japan to raise money, Vladimir Putin says he won’t sell them but adds that he is always ready to buy parts of other countries ( In a related development, Moscow media report that the Russian military may establish a base in the Kuriles (

3.      Medvedev’s ‘There’s No Money but Have a Nice Day’ Line Sparks Anger and Humor.  The Russian prime minister’s comment in occupied Crimea that Moscow has no money to solve many problems but that people should simply carry on as best they can has sparked anger and dismissive humor among Russians (

4.      30 Russian Firms Now Going Bankrupt Every Day.  Despite the Kremlin’s upbeat remarks, the Russian economy is in bad shape and getting worse. “Nezavisimaya gazeta” reports that 30 Russian firms are now declaring bankruptcy every day (, and other outlets note that Russians are cutting back on food, furniture and appliances as well as larger durable goods ( and Among the country’s five million “new poor,” the situation is getting desperate. In Perm, a woman hanged her daughter and then herself because she had no money for food ( and

5.      Cynicism Not Conflict Main Result of the United Russia Primaries. Many expected that even the new primaries would intensify class and ethnic conflicts, but in fact, they seem to have produced an overriding sense of cynicism among Russians ( Falsifications were rampant (, Russian officials in Orwellian terms suggested Chechnya was a model of the democracy to which Russians should aspire (, some commentators floated suggestions to allow war dead to vote in future elections (, and those who tried to expose corruption were treated harshly: in Kamchatka, some tried to drown a man who complained about voting irregularities (

6.      Patriarch Kirill Says Soviet Union was ‘More Christian than West Today.’  The head of the Russian Orthodox Church continued his rapprochement with all things Soviet: he argued that the USSR was based on “Christian morality” and that it was “more Christian” than are today’s Western countries ( and Later, he added that the appearance of English words in Russian is “a very bad thing” (

7.      Anti-Semitism Spreading in Russia. Just as many experts had predicted, the hostility that the Russian regime and media have directed at “people from the North Caucasus,” gastarbeiters and Ukrainians is now leading some Russians to engage in ugly forms of anti-Semitism, including calls for “defending Russian science” against Jews and attempts to burn a synagogue under construction in Arkhangelsk (  and

8.      Siberian Dentists Forced to Fill Potholes with Plaster Casts of Their Patients’ Jaws.  The roads in Russia are so bad and the Russian government is doing so little about it that people are taking things into their own hands in intriguing ways. In Siberia, dentists have been filling the potholes in roads with plaster casts of their patients’ jaws ( Meanwhile, at a time when many of Russia’s bridges are collapsing, no repairs are scheduled because Moscow has transferred all bridge construction materials to complete its Kerch bridge to Russian-occupied Crimea (

9.      Duma Makes Studying Public Opinion a Political Activity. The Russian parliament continued to come up with ideas and even passing laws that never cease to amaze. It has voted to make the study of public opinion a political activity and thus subject to controls ( Other Russian officials are pressing for making Internet mirror sites illegal ( and imposing punishment on those who fail to stand when the Russian national anthem is sung (

10.  Faced With Doping Scandal, Moscow Hires Western PR Firm. Faced with the prospect that it may be prevented from sending athletes to the Rio Olympics or to host the 2018 World Cup because of the doping scandal, the Russian government has done what many do when faced with such problems: it has hired a Western PR firm to put the best face on an awful situation (

11.  Soviet-Style Pre-Induction Military Training Returning to Russian Schools. In Soviet times, in order to keep the length of military service down and thus not harm the economy, Moscow used pre-induction military instruction in the schools so young draftees would come to the colors with some military skills. Now the Russian government has decided to restore that system (

12.  Despite Kremlin Claims, Russians are Drinking More, Not Less. Sociologists have found on the basis of detailed surveys that Russians have increased their consumption of alcohol, not cut it as Kremlin-controlled outlets have been insisting (

13.  De-Communization Just Another Word for De-Russification and De-Russification for Russsophobia, Moscow Commentators Say. Confronted with the taking down of Soviet statues in former Soviet republics and bloc countries, Moscow commentators are insisting that “de-communization is just another word for de-Russification” and “de-Russificaiton is a polite word for Russophobia” ( and

And five more from countries elsewhere in Eurasia:

14.  Savchenko Not Only Political Prisoner Freed This Week or Last Behind Bars.  Also freed this week – and on the same day obscuring its importance – was Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova who had been jailed for more than 500 days for her work ( And in the celebration of Savchenko’s release, it is important to remember that there are at least 11 more Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia and more than a hundred detained in Russian-occupied parts of the country (

15.  Local Ukrainian Officials, Not Communists Chief Obstacles to Renaming Effort.  Kyiv’s directive that names with Soviet links be changed is being resisted more by local officials who are concerned about costs and confusion than by communists (

16.  Kazakhs Fear Russia Plans to Use Unrest in Kazakhstan Against Their Country.  Many in Kazakhstan believe that Moscow has plans to exploit the unrest in Kazakhstan to return that country to a Russia orbit (

17.  Might Kazakh Protests Spread to Other Central Asian Countries?  Other Central Asian countries have many of the same problems that Kazakhstan residents are protesting against, and this has sparked fears that the Kazakh example may spread first to Uzbekistan and then elsewhere (

18.  South Osetia Announces a Referendum Next Year on Becoming Part of Russian Federation.  Officials in South Osetia say they will hold a vote in 2017 on whether to join the Russian Federation, something they have promised to do in the past but not carried out because of Moscow’s apparent reluctance to spark more tensions with the West over this breakaway part of Georgia (