FSB DEEPLY INVOLVED WITH CHECHEN MAFIAS, CAUCASUS EMIRATE. Two articles this week document what many have long assumed: Moscow’s security services are deeply involved with the Chechen mafia, the Chechen independence movement, and now the Caucasus emirate, a situation that the FSB, like the KGB before it, exploits for advantage of its officers if not necessarily for the advantage of the Russian Federation (www.anticompromat.ru/, June 3; and forum.msk.ru/material/lenty/485829.html).
CIRCASSIAN ANGER SAID MOSCOW’S BIGGEST PROBLEM IN SOCHI GAMES. Moscow faces numerous problems in its plans to stage the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, according to a meeting held there on June 5 (www.sobkorr.ru/news/4846B2AA8704A.html), but the biggest is likely to be Circassian anger about the decision to host the games where their ancestors were either killed or expelled by Russian forces, several leading Russian analysts say (www.apn.ru/publications/article20024.htm).
MASSIVE CHEATING UNDERMINES RUSSIAN EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM, FUTURE DEVELOPMENT. Massive cheating on key state examinations has not succeeded in raising test scores to an acceptable level. Instead, it highlights shortcomings in the educational system that hamper Russia’s ability to make the transition from a raw materials exporting country to a a high technology economy, Novyye izvestiya reports (www.newizv.ru/news/2008-06-05/91304/).
MOSCOW’S DEMOGRAPHIC POLICY INCREASES BURDEN ON WORKING-AGE ADULTS. The Russian government’s efforts to boost the birthrate and extend life expectancy are having the effect of increasing the number of children and pensioners relative to the number of workers, exacerbating the demographic burden Russia’s working age population already bears and increasing the likelihood of worker unrest, according to one left-wing commentator (www.rusrev.org/content/review/default.asp?shmode=8&ids=162&ida=2170&idv=2185).
MINORITIES IN RUSSIA LOSING LANGUAGES BUT RETAINING IDENTITIES. Data showing that many smaller Finno-Ugric nationalities in Karelia are losing their national languages in fact highlight something else: members of these groups are retaining their identities even after they lose their language, an indication of both the strengthening of such identifications and the weakening of the assimilatory power of the Russian nation (karelinform.ru//?id=10927).
NEW SUPER-REGION PROPOSED FOR RUSSIA’S NORTHERN PEOPLES. Picking up on an idea first mooted by Regional Development Minister Dmitry Kozak in January 2008, Aleksei Skopin, a geographer at the Higher School of Economics, has proposed creating a special super region across the northern third of the country to protect the cultures of Russia’s numerically small peoples of the North (www.rian.ru/society/20080603/109140409.html). Meanwhile, officials in that area have stressed that they will play a major role in proecting Moscow’s interests in the Arctic (www.b-port.com/news/archive/2008-06-04-16/), and the pro-Kremlin youth group NASHI has said it will expand its work with Russia’s Northern peoples (www.raipon.org/АКМНССиДВРФ/Новости/tabid/428/mid/1276/newsid1276/2947/---/Default.aspx).
ZNACHKI READY FOR A COMEBACK IN RUSSIA. Given both increasing numbers of foreign visitors and plans for the Winter Olympics in 2014, “znachki,” Russian for the pins popular in Soviet times, are now set for a comeback even though the number of factories making them has declined from 15 before 1991 to only five today, Russian officials say (www.argumenti.ru/publications/6915).
METROPOLITAN KIRILL SAYS HE’D STUDY ISLAM IF HE LIVED IN TATARSTAN. In a statement that concedes more than he may have intended, Metropolitan Kirill, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s powerful external affairs department, said that if he lived in Tatarstan, he would study Islamic culture (www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=radio&div=877). One of the favorites to succeed Aleksii, Kirill made this suggestion as Duma deputies prepared to discuss a measure that would require the study of Orthodox culture in Russian schools.
HAS ORTHODOX CHURCH CANONIZED TOO MANY NEW MARTYRS? Some priests and lay activists in the Russian Orthodox Church are concerned that the Patriarchate’s decision to name so many victims of the Soviet system as new martyrs has reduced the significance of this designation in the minds of many Russians who, as time passes, lack the direct experience with that anti-religious system (www.foma.ru/articles/1643/ and www.foma.ru/articles/1644/).
AMERICANIZATION GREATER THREAT TO RUSSIA THAN ISLAMIZATION, PRIEST SAYS. Archpriest Boris Mikhailov says that Russian culture is threatened “not so much by Islamization as by Americanization,” although he conceded that the growing number of Muslims in Russia is having an impact on the country’s social sphere, a development that he does not believe is creating “any problems or threats” (www.regions.ru/news/2146501/).
COULD A ROMANOV HAVE SAVED THE USSR? Most Western coverage of the death of former Leningrad party chief Grigory Romanov last week focused on his lavish livestyle and widespread rumors that guests at the wedding party for his daughter broke priceless china from the Hermitage Museum, but many Russian commentaries asked whether that nationalistically inclined party leader could have saved the Soviet Union had he succeeded Leonid Brezhnev as the latter had wanted (www.apn.ru/opinions/article20023.htm).
GORBACHEV BLAMES WEATHER NOT STALIN FOR FAMINE. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev attracted widespread attention and some criticism this week for saying that Lenin should be removed from the mausoleum on Red Square and buried, but he also made a more intriguing remark: Gorbachev said he and members of his family had suffered in the famine of the early 1930s, a famine that he blamed not on Stalin as do most experts but on the weather (www.nr2.ru/moskow/181096.html).