Monday, September 24, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Three Disturbing Developments

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 24 –Russian news reports over the weekend that terrorist actions are not being counted as crimes in Ingushetia, that theaters are to be censored in Chechnya, and that Moscow plans to homogenize school programs in the country’s regions are three disturbing developments that as yet have attracted relatively little notice.
Not Counting Terror as a Crime. Yesterday, reported that Ingush interior minister Musa Medov has given oral instructions to his officers not to classify terrorist incidents in which Russian forces are involved as crimes, part of a general effort by republic President Murat Zyazikov to control reporting about developments there.
In reporting this, the web portal said that “it is possible” that this policy of not reporting “information about crimes in the current circumstances is correct” because such reports do have the effect of “increasing tensions” in an already unstable situation (
But, the portal continued, “if a crime is not registered, then no investigation of it will be carried out and those responsible will not be identified.” Moreover, it noted, “where there is no information, there will be many rumors which will spread rapidly, lead to exaggerations about what has occurred, and prompt more “massive” public protests.
Censoring Theaters. Also yesterday, the portal reported that the Chechen republic’s culture ministry has promulgated new rules for Chechen artists: “from now on, all performers there must do so in ways that correspond to “a Chechen mentality and upbringing” (
Such a decree opens the way to a chilling form of censorship, as a similar ruling in neighboring Daghestan last spring shows. There, the local pro-government imams published a list of stars of stage and screen who, the religious leaders said, were persona non grata because their acts violate the cultural norms of that republic.
And Eliminating the Regional Component in Education. Then yesterday, picking up on an Interfax report, the religious news portal FOMA reported that a group of members of the Russian Federation Social Chamber have written to President Vladimir Putin complaining about a bill that would eliminate regional variations in the schools.
According to the letter, “the draft would deprive regions and schools of the right to include in academic programs locally specific courses, corresponding to the social and educational needs of the population of the subjects of Russia and considering regional and local differences” (
Up to now, the writers point out, both regions with an ethnic Russian majority and the national republics have been able to adapt their schools curricula by including special language instruction, courses on ethnic history and culture, and even courses on the history of religions.
The new draft, clearly aimed at preventing the introduction of religious instruction anywhere after President Vladimir Putin announced last week that he was against it, would certainly do that, and this may explain why the government has put this draft forward, confident that both United Russia and most human rights groups will support it.
But as the authors note, this legislation, if passed, would do far more than that. On the one hand, it would reduce to a minimum any local involvement in deciding what the schools can and should teach. And on the other, it would put at risk the existing curricula in all non-Russian schools.
Such an attack “on the national-cultural rights of the peoples of Russia,” the authors of the letter say, “violates the Constitution of the Russian Federation [and] contradicts the principles and norms of international law and the international treaty obligations of the Russian Federation.
And as a result, the authors of this open letter insist, the draft bill could if adopted without significant changes have the effect of “generating inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts in Russia and [even] destabilizing federal relations” between Moscow and the regions.

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