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.
ITALIAN POLICE ARREST VLADIMIR PUTIN – BUT NOT THAT VLADIMIR PUTIN. Italian police arrested Vladimir Putin in a resort near Rimini on charges of committing multiple thefts, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. But it was not the Russian prime minister but rather a homeless Russian citizen who happens to have the same name in his passport (www.ansa.it/opencms/export/site/notizie/rubriche/inbreve/visualizza_new.html_759656202.html).
90TH ANNIVERSARY OF RED TERROR FINDS ITS DEFENDERS STILL ACTIVE. September 5th was the 90th anniversary of the Leninist decree that officially started the Red Terror against opponents of the Bolshevik regime. Despite being a round one, this anniversary attracted relatively little notice, but one commentary in “The Epoch Times” lamented that even now, the shelves of bookstores are full of apologias for that decree, that many streets still bear the names of its executors, and Russian leaders increasingly denounce any criticism of what the Bolshevik state but in 1918 and later did to its people as anti-patriotic or worse, all things that make achieving “historic justice and preventing such crimes in the future” more difficult, the weekly said (http://www.epochtimes.ru/content/view/19251/34/).
‘FIRST POLITICAL PRISONER’ OF THE MEDVEDEV ERA. Fontanka.ru has christened Maksim Reznik, the head of the St. Petersburg branch of the Yabloko Party, as “the first political prisoner” of the Dmitry Medvedev era. While many would challenge assigning him that number – there have been other victims of politically motivated charges since last spring == the charges against Reznik of slander and using force against militia officers are clearly political (www.fontanka.ru/2008/09/03/104/).
FORTY RUSSIAN MAYORS SACKED OVER LAST EIGHT MONTHS. Mayors, who occupy one of the few elected executive positions in the Russian political system, are being forced out at the rate of more than three a week, according to Mikhail Vinogradov, a political commentator in Moscow. In an article in “Izvestiya,” he argues that the “more than 40” who have been driven out are the victims of local conflicts rather than federal interference, but it is at least arguable that these actions reflect the central government’s moves in advance of municipal reforms scheduled to go into effect in January 2009 (www.izvestia.ru/russia/article3119979/).
OFFICIALS IGNORE PROTESTS ABOUT CHEMICAL CLOUD COMING FROM PERM BASE. The appearance of a strange and potentially dangerous orange cloud that came from a Russian missile base near Perm and that was shown on local television has sparked public protests there, but so far, neither local officials nor the Russian military have been willing to comment on the source of this “cloud” or its possible impact on the health of the population (forum.msk.ru/material/kompromat/526221.html).
RUSSIANS IN FAR EAST WANT V-J DAY TO BE A NATIONAL HOLIDAY. Both Soviet and Russian officials have treated the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany as the appropriate time to celebrate Victory Day, but Russians living in the Far East, some of whom are the descendents of those who fought against Japan want V-J Day to become a national holiday. And this year, in addition to commemorating that event themselves, they held a demonstration to demand that Moscow do the same (www.annews.ru/news/detail.php?ID=166227).
TAJUDDIN CALLS FOR JIHAD AGAINST U.S.; OTHER MUSLIMS DISMISSIVE. Talgat Tajuddin, who styles himself the Supreme Mufti of Holy Russia and who heads the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) in Ufa, called for Muslims to engage in a jihad against the United States because of the events in South Ossetia, but his appeal was ignored by almost all and dismissed by some other Muslim leaders in Russia as “an emotional outburst” that should not be considered a fetwa (portal-credo.ru/site/?act=authority&id=1031).
RUSSIANS IN SMALLER CITIES NOW LESS INTERESTED IN MOVING TO MOSCOW. According to a new poll, 94 percent of residents of mid-sized Russian cities are no longer interested in moving to Moscow, apparently a reflection of improving economic conditions in their own urban centers and the extraordinarily high cost of living in the Russian capital (www.newizv.ru/lenta/97334/).
MUSLIMS SAY MOSCOW SHOULD CREATE ‘CROSS FREE’ AWARDS FOR THEM. In the wake of the Russian invasion of Georgia in which many Muslims were decorated, a group of Muslims in St. Petersburg have called on Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to create special medals and awards for Muslims that do not include a cross. They said that Muslims were proud of the awards they received and would not return them but believed that a secular state should not use religious symbols (http://www.gazeta.ru/news/lenta/2008/09/02/n_1265508.shtml). Russian Orthodox hierarchs denounced the call as an act of incitement of inter-confessional hostility (http://www.rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=178334).
RUSSIAN SOCIAL SCIENCE INCREASINGLY IDEOLOGICAL, SCHOLARS COMPLAIN. Vladimir Magun, a scholar at the Moscow Institute of Sociology, said on the occasion of the opening of the school year that “ideological and propagandistic” considerations were increasingly dominating teaching and research in Russia and holding the country back. Indeed, “if one draws an analogy from the natural sciences, then it is possible to say that the social consciousness of today’s Russians is still at a very primitive, pre-Copernican stage – as if we all still believed that the sun goes around the earth (www.polit.ru/science/2008/09/02/magun.html).