Below are a few news items from the last few days about developments in the post-Soviet space that have been overshadowed by the Georgian events but merit attention.
LAWYER SAYS RUSSIAN POLICE PROVOKING MUSLIMS TO ILLEGALITY. Anatoly Pchelintsev, the vice president of the Slavic Legal Center, told Radio Liberty that Russian law enforcement agencies “by their actions are provoking radically inclined Muslim youth to engage in illegal activity” and then pointing to such behavior as a reason for imposing even tighter control over them (www.islamnews.ru/news-13804.html).
RUSSIA ATTRACTING FEWER TOURISTS. At the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, some who were horrified by that action produced a poster showing tanks passing through Moscow’s Red Square with the legend “Visit Moscow Before Moscow Visits You!” Now, however, as Russia adopts a more forward policy toward its neighbors, the number of foreign tourists is falling. Their number has declined for five years in a row, from 3.1 million in 2003 to 2.2 million last year. Other countries attract far more: 80 million people visited France last year, and 40 million visited China. (www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2008/59/34.html).
MOSCOW TO RENAME STREET AFTER SOLZHENITSYN. Officials in the Russian capital have decided to rename Bol’shaya Kommunisticheskaya street after Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, an action that will help keep his name alive in the Russian capital but that will offend some Orthodox because they have sought to have that the name of that street returned to its pre-1917 one of Bol’shaya Alekseyevskaya because it leads to the Church of Saint Aleksii (www.islam.ru/rus/2008-08-14/#22235).
RUSSIA LAUNCHES TWO MAJOR ARCTIC CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS. Moscow has announced plans for two “unprecedented” construction projects in the Far North: a 72 kilometer subsea extension of the Bovanenkovo-Ukhta pipeline to link the Yamal Peninsula’s gas field to the Russian pipeline grid and a new rail line in the same region for the transport of equipment (www.barentsobserver.com/gazprom-started-construction-of-sub-sea-pipeline.4501396-16149.html and www.yamal.org/news/news_23.htm). Together these projects will position Russia for more work in the Arctic basin.
RUSSIA NOT SUPPORTING NON-RUSSIAN EDUCATION, MEDIA. Despite its oil and gas wealth, Russia is not devoting sufficient resources to ensure the survival of some of its smallest ethnic communities, many of whom will likely disappear as their schools are consolidated and then closed and as media outlets in their languages close, either because of market competition or policy decisions to promote their assimilation into the dominant Russian ethnos (finnougoria.ru/news/index.php?ELEMENT_ID=7012, http://www.rg.ru/2008/08/14/reg-bajkal/malyenarody.html, and www.rg.ru/2008/08/13/reg-sakhalin/korni.html). Foreign governments are also exacerbating this process by cutting back on radio broadcasting in non-Russian languages: This month, the Norwegians ended funding for and thus effectively killed radio broadcasting in the Saami language (murman.rfn.ru/rnews.html?id=23719&cid=7).
RUSSIANS PRODUCING LESS VODKA, MORE WINE. Russian production of vodka fell 1.7 percent during the first seven months of 2008, the National Alcohol Association reports, while wine production rose 8.5 percent and cognac 34.9 percent. Because of imports, however, it is impossible to tell from these figures alone whether Russians are shifting their drinking habits significantly or whether they are using their rising incomes to purchase sometimes higher quality alcoholic beverages from abroad (www.newizv.ru/news/2008-08-14/95982/).
MOSCOW’S CATHEDRAL MOSQUE MARKS 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF OPERATIONS. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Moscow’s Cathedral Mosque, one of the very few in Russia that operated continuously throughout the Soviet period. (It was kept open by the Communist regime for the use of diplomats from Muslim countries.) When it was opened in 1908, there were only some 4,000 Muslims in Moscow. Now, there are more than 2.5 million
NEW BOOK ON CHECHNYA AVAILABLE ONLINE. The Demos Human Rights Center has issued a new book on Chechnya entitled “Chechnya. Life During War” (in Russian). The entire text is available at demos-center.ru/images/kniga_a5_.pdf).
FAR EASTERNERS PROTEST TRANSFER OF ISLANDS TO CHINA. Russians in the Far East continue to object to Moscow’s agreement to hand over to China portions of islands in order to resolve border disputes between the two countries. On August 14, a group organized by the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) picketed to complain about that decision and carrying placards saying that Moscow had acted without taking into account the views of the Russian people (www.sobkorr.ru/news/48A41F7C38C91.html).
CHINA CLOSES BORDER WITH KYRGYZSTAN DURING OLYMPICS. Apparently concerned that Muslim groups in Xinjiang might get support from Central Asian groups, Beijing closed the Chinese border with Kyrgyzstan for the period of the Olympic Games. The border is to reopen once those competitions are over (www.easttime.ru/news/1/4/676.html).
RUSSIANS DEMONSTRATE FOR TIBETAN INDEPENDENCE. On the day of the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing, small groups of Russians in St. Petersburg and Moscow demonstrated in favor of independence for Tibet, actions that paralleled those in Minsk, Kyiv, Warsaw and Vilnius. (www.ingria.info/?lenta&news_action=show_news&news_id=4129).