Thursday, May 17, 2007

Window on Eurasia: In Putin’s Russia, ‘It’s Easier to Be Anti-Estonian than Anti-Fascist’

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 17 – The frequently extremist and overwrought language some Russian officials and especially the leaders of pro-Kremlin groups like “Nashi” have used to denounce Estonia for its removal of a Soviet war memorial is generating a backlash among at least some Russians in St. Petersburg.
Writing in the current issue of the Pskov newspaper “Pskovskaya guberniya,” Svetlana Gavrilina describes the failure of this propaganda effort to rouse the Russian people and the travails of those outraged enough by it to stage their own counter-demonstrations (
The Russian journalist notes that the “Nashi” youth group had failed to generate a wave of “popular anger” in the population of St. Petersburg about what Estonia had done, anger that the pro-Kremlin group hoped would lead them to throw rotten tomatoes or rotten eggs at the Estonian consulate in the Russian Federation’s northern capital.
But that did not happen, she comments, quite possibly “because the thrifty Petersburgers at this time of year have not purchased enough tomatoes to allow some of them to rot. And rotten eggs also are not typical for St. Petersburg’s stores or for people who have refrigerators at home.”
Moreover, Gavrilina points out, the words “fascist” and “fascistic” which “Nashi” organizers and other Russian nationalist groups used to describe Estonia are thrown about so frequently as to have lost all meaning or emotional power.
Indeed, these terms, once among the most powerful in the Russian language, now have become “almost an official curse to be used against all those who one way or another have not pleased those in power – the supporters of Kasparov, the National Bolsheviks, the Estonians, the Poles, the Americans, Verka Serdyuka after ‘Eurovision,’ and human rights activists…”
Even worse, she continues, the Russian government now will allow only those they favor to use these terms: When the Communists and the AKM (“Advance Guard of Communist Youth”) sought to use them to characterize Estonians during a Victory Day meeting on May 9, the authorities did not permit that.
But at least some Russians are coming to see how dangerous and how absurd this widespread use of a term that has after all a precise definition can be and to speak out about it. So far, their numbers are not great, but Gavrilina implies that they may be more numerous than the Russian authorities suspect.
Some 20 of these people appeared in front of the Estonian consulate in St. Petersburg on Victory Day carrying signs reading among other things, “No to anti-Estonian Hysteria!” and “Estonia plus Ingriya [the old name for the territory on which St. Petersburg is located] equal friendship.”
Not surprisingly, the city’s militia quickly surrounded the group, even though the police had done everything they could to facilitate the Nashi demonstration against the Estonians. But the anti-hysteria group was ready, with copies of the Russian constitution and laws in order to defend themselves.
But the militia officer in charge, Major Sergei Ivanovich Zhur, clearly had other instructions which overrode the country’s basic law and was not impressed when the protesters referred to terms like “Constitution,” “the right to demonstrate,” and even “friendship of the peoples.”
(Gavrilina suggested that this was hardly surprising: Recently she learned of a case in which a Russian wanted to register a group called “Belaya Rus’” in support of the Belarus-Russian Federation Union State. But when he said the group’s goal was to promote “the strengthening of friendship of the peoples,” officials refused to register it.)
Indeed, Zhur amd his colleagues went so far as to seek to confiscate even a Mishka teddy bear because it was dressed in a shirt made in the pattern and colors of the Estonian flag. The police suggested that there must be “a hidden microphone” in this doll brought from Tallinn.
One who was taking part told Gavrilina that “this is not a demonstration ‘for Estonia.’ I cannot say that the Estonian authorities initially conducted themselves in a tactful manner. On many things I do not agree with them.” Instead, he continued, it “is a demonstration against that hysteria” some have sought to promote among Russians.
“I do not want,” he said, “that our city will be a place where around diplomatic representations of independent states will occur such shameful things as all these ‘Nashi’-type groups are doing.”
Five days later, Gavrilina reported, the authorities did permit those opposed to anti-Estonian hysteria in Russia to hold a demonstration. The meeting was entirely peaceful, she said. But the militia nonetheless “carefully wrote down” everything written on the placards carried by the protesters.
Clearly, she concluded – and this was the title of her article – in the Russian Federation of President Vladimir Putin, “it is easier to be anti-Estonian than to be [genuinely] anti-fascist.”

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