Thursday, January 31, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Case Against Pomor Activist Collapsing, But Karelia Continues Its Crackdown on Minorities

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 31 – Twelve defense witnesses said last week that the Karelian government’s extremism charges against Ivan Moseyev, leader of the Pomor national movement, were absurd, with Pyotr Kirpita, the head of the Union of Slavic Peoples, testifying that he was “surprised that such a show trial is taking place now” in Arkhangelsk.

            But Karelian prosecutors are not backing down and yesterday rejected a request by Moseyev’s lawyer to allow representatives of human rights groups to speak on his behalf.  While no date for the court’s verdict has been announced, Petrazavodsk seems committed to pressing ahead with this case and others as well (

            Prosecutors there this week continued to pursue a case against a blogger who supposedly has insulted the Orthodox Church (, and the republic parliament voted 22 to 17 against a measure that would have given more language rights to the republic’s titular nationality (

            Moseyev’s case has attracted the most attention not only in Russia but internationally because Karelian officials first charged him with high treason for supposedly spying for Norway, an accusation they have dropped or at least suspended because of outrage by the Norwegian government and Scandinavian activists.

            But it does appear to be part of a more general effort in Karelia and other places outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, where there are more civic activists and Western journalists to take notice, to test the waters concerning just how citizens of the Russian Federation will respond to greater repression.

            And that makes Moseyev’s latest comments especially noteworthy. Officials, he says, “are doing everything they can to put together a credible case, but to most people it is obvious that this is ridiculous" because “when someone on the internet calls for the Pomors to be shot, the prosecutor doesn't notice anything, but for an innocent phrase I used I get nabbed.”

            Officials have “chosen a selective application of Article 282 of the Criminal Code” with the transparently obvious aim being “to discredit me and stop my efforts to revive Pomor culture and to put a stop to studies of the Pomor people,” something Moseyev has pioneered as director of the Pomor Institute at the Northern Federal University.

Window on Eurasia: St. Petersburg Officials Buy for Distribution Entire Print Run of an Openly Racist, Anti-Semitic and Anti-Western Book

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 31 – The city government of St. Petersburg, in support of its deparment for work with religious groups, has purchased on a single-source contract the entire print run of a book that advances racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Western views and that constitutes the kind of “provincial obscurantism” one wouldn’t expect in Russia’s northern capital.

            While Petersburg has been the place of “scandal after scandal” in recent months, Aleksey German, Jr., a film director, writes in his blog on Echo Moskvy today, it is “difficult to understand,” regardless of one’s political leanings, how such offensive views could thus be given a kind of official approval there (

            St. Petersburg’s “Fontanka” newspaper broke the story a week ago when it reported that city officials had bought for 250,000 rubles (8,000 US dollars) the entire print run of Orthodox Petersburg historian Yury Mikhaylov’s “The Moral Shape of History” in order to hand it out to religious groups there (

            Trained as an engineer and then a psychologist, Mikhaylov relies heavily on religious literature and presents his views in a far from academic manner, the paper said, noting that the author felt this decision of city officials to purchase and thus give sanction to his ideas constituted “an exceptionally positive” development.

            As the paper pointed out, however, most people would question that, given that Mikhaylov says that the white race is superior to the black race, that the Jews and the West have always worked against Russia, and that the ideas of the Renaissance and Enlightenment are a threat to Russians, the last “God-bearing” people and the defenders of “the Third Rome.”

            “Our Motherland,” Mikhaylov says in his book, may be partially “divided” but it has not been “humbled” and is “building up its strengths for a dawning renewal.” It thus constitutes “the last bastion of resistance to the Anti-Christ,” and consequently, the outcome of Russia’s struggle will define the future not only of Russia but of the entire world.

            Roman Dobrokhotov on describes Mikhaylov’s ideas in greater detail.  He says that Mikhaylov appears to be trying to “to teach [the city leaders of St. Petersburg] to struggle with liberals and ‘the Judaizing,” to understand “the sinful nature of dark-skinned people, and to recognize that humanism and democracy and all such things violate the norms of Orthodoxy (

            The journalist offers more than a 1,000 words of quotations from the book the St. Petersburg city officials plan to distribute, including passages about “sodommizing Judaism” in Europe, “’the superiority’ of Aryans over ‘cursed’ Negroes,” “the devils of Western civilization,” and  humanists and democrats as “religious scoffers and perverts.”
            That some people at the margins will always believe such patently absurd and offensive things is an unfortunate reality, but that government officials at any level and in any country would promote them in this way is a tragedy, one that people of good will in Russia and elsewhere can only regret and condemn in the strongest possible way.


Window on Eurasia: Sochi Olympics to Be Most Expensive in History but Moscow has No Plan for Infrastructure After 2014

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 31 – Despite spending more money on facilities and infrastructure for the 2014 Sochi Olympiad than any host country has ever spent for such a competition, Moscow currently has no business plan concerning these facilities and infrastructure will be used after the Games are concluded, according to a Moscow analyst.

            In an article on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal today, Oleg Gladunov says that the Russian government is on track to spend 43 billion US dollars for the Sochi competition, three billion dollars more than Beijing spent when it hosted the Olympiad in 2008 and thus vastly more than any country has spent on any games ever (

            Three things make this lack of a plan especially disturbing, he says. First, Moscow’s expenditures for the games continue to grow. Second, Vladimir Putin has blocked the auditing agencies of his own government from tracking this spending. And third, Moscow is hiding the real costs to Russian taxpayers behind false claims that private firms are picking up the tab.

            When Moscow made its application to the International Olympic Committee in 2007, it said that Russia would spend 314 billion rubles (10 billion US dollars) on them, including 195 billion rubles (6.5 billion US dollars) from the state budget.  But those figures have increased every year, Gladunov notes, reaching 950 billion rubles (30 billion US dollars) in 2010.

             In June 2010, then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin excluded the Sochi Games from the list of state programs, thereby “taking away from the Finance Ministry and Economic Development Ministry the chance to monitor state expenditures in Sochi” and opening the way for corruption.

            In 2011, then-President Dmitry Medvedev said spending on the Sochi Games would have to increase to deal with the weather, and consequently, according to the available budgetary figures, the Sochi Olympad will cost approximately 1.3 trillion rubles (43 billion US dollars), with seven billion dollars spent on facilities and the remainder on infrastructure.

             Moscow officials have sought to deflect complaints about costs by suggesting that most of the money comes from private firms, but the firms who have supposedly invested the most get most of their funds from the state budget and thus, in this case, are little more than pass throughs.  “There is practically no non-governmental money in Sochi,” Gladunov says.

            These officials have also suggested that visitors to the Games will spend approximately 11 billion US dollars and thus allow Moscow to recoup about a quarter of all spending. And they argue that the infrastructure build for the games will be used for a long time in the future.  But as of today, they have no clear plans for how that will happen.

            What is clear, Gladunov says, is that no one is going to be able to “return to Sochi the glory of an all-Russian health resort, at least for the foreseeable future.” The hotels there will likely cost ten times more than those on the Turkish coast, and consequently, all but the wealthiest will choose to go there rather than to Sochi.

            But what is most disheartening about all this, Gladunov suggests, is the enormous amount of state funds – perhaps 20 percent of the 43 billion US dollars -- that is being corruptly diverted into the pockets of those close to the Kremlin, if the testimony of one Russian construction leader familiar with the situation is accurate (

            Such figures and such obvious official manipulation of them are certain to add to Moscow’s headaches as it goes forward with what has become Putin’s signature event. Indeed, precisely because this spectacle is so much on public view, it may prove an even bigger problem for the Kremlin than worries about security at that North Caucasus site.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Indifference Not Support ‘Foundation’ of Putin’s Regime, Gudkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 30 – A majority of Russians today does not feel any sympathy for the Putin regime or is not prepared to show any “active support” or “active opposition” to it, according to Lev Gudkov, head of the Levada Center. Instead, they manifest a kind of “inert indifference” about those in power and focus instead on their more immediate needs.

            This reflects the new reality in Russia, the independent sociologist told Galina Mursaliyeva of “Novaya gazeta” that they do not feel that they have any chance to “do something” about the power structures and thus have little or no willingness “to participate in political life” (

            But that widespred popular indifference to what goes on at the top of the Russian political pyramid, combined with the willingness of some segments of the Russian population to say they favor this or that act of the regime, however repressive, provides “a foundation” of a sort “for the existing powers that be.”

            Indeed, Gudkov suggested, the Kremlin, provided as it is with reassuring data by government-employed polling agencies who are prepared to skew the data to show what they know is wanted, probably “does not understand” just how little real support it has and remains “convinced that people need a great and powerful state at any price.”

            Mursaliyeva began her interview by asking Gudkov to explain why his agency found so much lower support for Putin’s law prohibiting the adoption of Russian orphans by foreigners than did other agencies. He noted that “sociological agencies working for the authorities put questions which push people toward the required answer” and not to the truth.

            Recalling that the Levada Center found two years ago that “85 percent of Russians consider that they cannot influence the situation in the country” and that this represented “the complex of a prisoner,” the “Novaya” journalist asked if the situation had changed and that support for protest had increased.

            Gudkov responded that the fundamental situation had not changed and that his center’s polls show that “the absolute majority of people do not see any prospects [for affecting change] and that they do not have any idea about the future of the country or even about the future of their own families.”

            With regard to the political sphere, he continued, it has been “sterilized: there are no discussions, no competition, and the entire sphereof the future has been absolutely closed.”  That has led people to choose to focus on the present “without hoping for anything from the authorities” and “without a future.”

             The “main trend” among Russians, Gudkov said, is a focus on the family and on “the possibility of consumption: everyone want to eat better, dress better, and acquire more. A consumer society has begun to appear, something that didn’t exist earlier.” But that does not mean that a middle class in the Western sense has emerged. It hasn’t.

            That is clear from the results of open-ended surveys about what are the most important events of the year: Most name disasters, then various government ceremonies, then corruption scandals, and only in fourth place are opposition protests. “Social activismhas been suppressed, as has the meaning of a common life” broader than the individual and his family.

            Over the past 20 years, Gudkov says, “people in the country of course hve begun to live more confidently, but their horizons” have not expanded. A majority simply doesn’t have any notion about even the mid-range future, living instead “from paycheck to paycheck, from pension to pension with a very short horizon.”

            Russia’s “consumer society” is thus quite different from its Western counterpart, Gudkov says, because “there people owe their well-being to their own efforts” and thus have reasons to be motivated about what they want for the future.  In Russia, such “motivations are weak because one’s professional status is little connected with income and way of life.”

            “In other words,” the sociologist continued, “salary or earnings depend to a grat extent on one’s position in the power structures rather than on the quality of your work.” That leads to a situation in which people by a three to one majority view the authorities now as acting only in their own interests. As a result, “politics is an absolutely discredited sphere.”

            Russin citizens at present do not want and cannot participate in it, he said, because they do not feel themselves to be citizens,” the result of “the falsification of elections, the increasingly harsh repression, ccensorship in the mass media, and also fabricated cases against opposition leaders.”

            About 30 percent of the population will say that they support harsh measures in order to “preserve order and stability.” Most of these are the elderly and those who live in the villages and today that is “Putin’s base.” Even when people understand tht, he continued, they don’t want to personally get involved in protests because they don’t believe such actions will matter.

            Russians are prepared for “moral protest,” but that is about attitudes not about actions, Gudkov suggested.  And without such actions, it does not constitute a threat to the regime.  What it does produce, however, is an individual entirely suitable to be managed.Such an individual “doesn’t believe anyone, wants to consume” and doesn’t care much about rules.

            For him, “corruptioin is not a moral problem, but a technical task of reaching agreement about interests and thus a more or less effective mechanism of interacting with the authorities.”  Such attitudes open that individual up to manipulation and certainly mean that he will not protest against the powers that be.

            Some Russians – approximately one in five -- will say what the regime wants to hear, that they want “a powerful military power.”  But 78 percent say that what they want is “a comfortable live in which in the first place are the interests of the individual, his well-being and the opportunities for development.”
            If Gudkov’s analysis is correct, the Putin regime does not realize just how few supporters it has, but at the same time, the regime’s opponents from whatever part of the political spectrum currently have little chance to mobilize a population little concerned with political issues for political ends.