Below are a few news items from the last week about developments in the post-Soviet space that have been overshadowed by the Georgian events but that merit attention.
MOSCOW TO GIVE RICHER REGIONS LESS, SPARKING NEW DISPUTES. The Russian government has announced that beginning in the next fiscal year it will give the wealthier regions of the country less tax money in order to be able to send more to poorer ones, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” reported. While this step could lead to a reduction in differences in the standard of living among the regions, it is likely to trigger demands by the richer regions to have more control over their spending, something that in turn could exacerbate their relations with Moscow and with other regions as well (www.ng.ru/economics/2008-08-18/1_dotatsii.html).
MOSCOW OBLAST RESIDENTS INCREASINGLY OPPOSED TO UNIFICATION WITH MOSCOW CITY. According to polls conducted by the Levada Center in 2005 and this year, the percentage of residents in Moscow oblast who favor the amalgamation of their region with the city of Moscow has fallen from 62 percent to 39 percent, while the number opposed has risen from 22 percent to 42 percent over the same period. In Moscow city, there has been little change in the percentages of supporters and opponents (www.levada.ru/press/2008082201.html).
RUSSIAN COURT FINDS FRAUD BUT WON’T OVERTURN ARKHANGELSK VOTE. A court in Arkhangelsk declared that there had been fraud in the recent Arkhangelsk mayoral elections but that it was not sufficiently large to justify cancelling the results and holding a new poll. Lawyers for Larisa Bazanova, the unsuccessful candidate in the race against Moscow’s preferred candidate, said they would appeal ultimately to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (www.rosbaltnord.ru/2008/08/20/515302.html).
MEDVEDEV GRANTS RUSSIAN CITIZEN TO CRIMINAL WANTED IN MOLDOVA. In yet another demonstration of the Kremlin’s willingness to flout international law, President Dmitry Medvedev has granted Russian citizenship to Grigory Karamalak, who is known in the Moldovan criminal world as “the Bulgarian” and is still being sought by the Moldovan government (www.nr2.ru/incidents/192578.html).
ONE PERCENT OF IRKUTSK OBLAST POPULATION NOW HIV INFECTED. According to official figures – and the actual figures are almost certainly higher – one percent of the residents of Irkutsk oblast are now HIV infected, a rate that suggests Irkutsk may now lead the Russian Federation and one that officials there say may rapidly be approaching the point where it will be beyond their ability to control (babr.ru/?pt=news&event=v1&IDE=47102).
RUSSIAN PRISONERS NOT BEING GIVEN NEEDED MEDICINES. Prison officials in the North Caucasus are not providing the medicines inmates need, causing many of them to suffer and others to infect others when they are released into the civilian population. This sad state of affairs came to light when one prisoner sent an email to “Argumenty nedeli,” an email prison officials monitored and then took action by providing the man who complained with the medical treatment he needed in a failed effort to prevent that Moscow weekly from talking about this situation (http://www.argumenti.ru/publications/7533).
MOSCOW TO SUBSIDIZE RUSSIA’S MUSLIMS TO STUDY ARABIC, ISLAM. The Federal Agency for Education has announced that the Russian government will provide scholarship assistance to Russia’s Muslims who want to study Arabic and Islamic societies. One unusual aspect of this program, which members of other faiths are likely to object to, is that those who apply must be recommended by the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) in the region where they live (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=26140).
EXPLOSIVE GROWTH IN NUMBER OF MOSQUES IN TATARSTAN, STILL NONE IN BESLAN. Over the past 10 years, the number of mosques in Tatarstan has nearly doubled from 755 to 1348, more than 500 of which are active and all but about 150 are registered with the state (http://www.islam.ru/rus/2008-08-21/#22344). But in the North Caucasus, where many people believe that the Islamic expansion is far greater, the number of mosques is increasing much less quickly, thus opening the way for underground radicals to play the dominant role in the life of many Muslims there.
KAZAN TO ERECT MONUMENT TO TATARS WHO RESISTED MOSCOW IN 1552. The city of Kazan plans to erect a monument to those Tatars who resisted the forces of Ivan the Terrible when he attacked and ultimately conquered that city in 1552. The monument, which officials there say is in “harmony” with the architecture of the city, will be unveiled on the 456th anniversary of Moscow’s victory (http://grani.ru/Politics/Russia/Regions/m.140376.html).
PAPER THAT ATTACKED RUSSIAN NATIONALISTS MAY BE CLOSED FOR QUOTING THEM. Moscow prosecutors have introduced a new Catch-22 for the Russian media: They have warned a paper that quoted Russian nationalist extremists in order to condemn them that it could be closed for publishing what the extremists had said, “Novyye izvestiya” reported. What this means, media experts said, is that journalists will now be forced to criticize what they cannot quote (www.newizv.ru/news/2008-08-18/96180/).
KPRF COMMITS ITSELF TO BLOCKING ANY REVOLUTION IN RUSSIA … The Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the successor of the Bolsheviks who carried out the October 1917 revolution, has committed itself to oppose any revolution in Russia, some of its critics on the left report (forum.msk.ru/material/kompromat/518541.html).
…AS PATRIARCH IS ASKED WHETHER BLOOD LIBEL IS CHURCH DOCTRINE. Meanwhile, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant leaders in Tyumen have written to Patriarch Aleksii II asking him whether the notion that Jews ritually murder Christian children in order to use their blood is still part of the Orthodox teaching as one religious instructor at Tyumen’s Oil and Gas University has told her students (www.islam.ru/rus/2008-08-19/#22296
RUSSIANS STAND IN LINE MORE OFTEN AND LONGER THAN ANYONE ELSE. According to a study conducted by the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, Russians stand in line longer at supermarkets, banks and transportation companies than do any nation in Europe, “Novyye izvestiya” reported. Russians wait an average of three minutes for service, while in Ireland and Sweden, customers wait an average of 54 seconds. The survey also found that Russian sales personnel are far less committed to providing service to their customers than are sales people elsewhere (http://www.newizv.ru/news/2008-08-19/96267/).