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.
FSB WANTS TOUGH NEW LAWS ON BORDERS, IMMIGRANTS. The Federal Security Service wants tough new Russian laws on border security to block foreign claims to Russian lands by Norway, Ukraine and Japan (www.rian.ru/defense_safety/20080909/151111355.html) and on illegal immigrants to ensure that their numbers do not continue to increase (www.rbcdaily.ru/2008/09/10/focus/377924).
KREMLIN IDEOLOGIST OPPOSES ANY ‘THAW’ IN MOSCOW’S POLICIES. Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s leading ideologist, told a group of members of the ruling “United Russia” Party that there must not be any “thaw” in Russian politics and that social conservatism rather than Western liberalism must become the dominant element of the country’s ideology (www.politcom.ru/article.php?id=6857). His ideas are echoed and developed in three articles in the current issue of “Politicheskiy klass” (www.politklass.ru/cgi-bin/issue.pl?id=1050, www.politklass.ru/cgi-bin/issue.pl?id=1048, and www.politklass.ru/cgi-bin/issue.pl?id=1046).
RUSSIA COULDN’T FEED ITSELF IN THE EVENT OF AN ECONOMIC BLOCKADE, MOSCOW EXPERTS SAY. Were the West to impose an economic blockade on Russia in the near future, Moscow experts say, the country could not feed itself and would suffer a particularly severe shortage of beef, something Russians have increased their consumption of as their incomes have risen since the end of Soviet times (mk.ru/blogs/MK/2008/09/09/society/369863/).
FORCIBLY RETIRED OFFICERS COMPLAIN TO MEDVEDEV, PUTIN. A group of officers and defense ministry civilians who have lost their jobs in recent years as a result of the downsizing of the Russian military have written an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin complaining about the way Russian officials have failed to provide them and the 165,000 others like them with the social and economic supports they had been promised and demanding that Moscow take action now to guarantee their rights (forum.msk.ru/material/news/527146.html).
CORRUPTION IN RUSSIAN HIGHER EDUCATION STILL WIDESPREAD. Despite plans to introduce a single state examination, something Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said is a way to fight corruption in higher education, that phenomenon continues to be widespread and to cast a shadow on the country’s future (www.themoscowtimes.com/article/600/42/370680.htm). Many students still pay bribes to professors for grades or to “tutors” who can then help them get into universities. The result is a large number of people with credentials but without the skills those credentials are supposed to guarantee, many of whom will have career expectations that their knowledge base will not support.
WHERE MARXISM-LENINISM STILL LIVES ON – IN THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH. A group of Russian Orthodox priests, who were willing to sign their names but who “Novaya gazeta” said deserve protection, has produced a large but as yet unpublished manuscript detailing what they say is the survival of Marxism-Leninism in the teachings and practice of the Moscow Patriarchate, its bishops and its priests, a “survival of the past” that no one is doing very much to overcome. The Moscow paper provides a hypertext link to a pdf file of the entire volume which provides disturbing examples of the ways in which priests and bishops remained trapped in a communist mindset (http://www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2008/65/32.html).
SCHOOL CONSOLIDATION HITS MINORITIES ESPECIALLY HARD… Because enrollments are falling in many primary and secondary schools across Russia as a result of Russia’s demographic decline, officials are consolidating schools, a practice that is undermining many communities and has proved especially threatening to the survival of non-Russian groups whose languages are spoken by relatively small numbers of people (www.raipon.org/АКМНССиДВРФ/Новости/tabid/428/mid/1276/newsid1276/3194/---------/Default.aspx, www.islamnews.ru/news-14159.html and
… AS MOSCOW WOULD RATHER BUILD STATUES THAN PRINT TEXTBOOKS FOR NON-RUSSIANS. Moscow officials are prepared to spend millions of rubles on statues commemorating “the friendship of the peoples” between Russians and non-Russians, but they are increasingly unwilling to subsidize the production of non-Russian language textbooks, a pattern that is infuriating and even radicalizing people in many non-Russian republics (mariuver.wordpress.com/2008/09/09/naveki-s-rossijei-bez-udmurtskogo-jazyka/).
OFFICIAL FEELS COMPELLED TO DENY THAT KOMI WILL SEEK INDEPENDENCE. Valery Markov, the first vice speaker of the Komi State Council, said that his republic had no intention of separating from Russia or “participate in the political games of US Presidential candidate John McCain,” who he said seeks to destroy the Russian Federation by promoting the recognition of all non-Russian republics (mariuver.wordpress.com/2008/09/12/). What is interesting is that Markov felt compelled or was compelled to make this statement.