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.
PACE SAYS ECONOMIC CRISIS THREATENS EMERGING DEMOCACIES. The Parliamentary Assembly of the council of Europe has released a report saying that the current economic crisis “threatens the foundations of democracy,” especially in countries making the transition from an authoritarian past. And the statement reminded Council of Europe members that “on them lies the responsibility to defend the social rights of their citizens” (assembly.coe.int/ASP/APFeaturesManager/defaultArtSiteView.asp?ID=820; for a Russian comment on this, see newtimes.ru/news/2008-11-27/2008-11-27-4/).
STRIKERS AND PROTESTERS INCREASINGLY ORGANIZE THEMSELVES. Russian economists are predicting a growing wave of strikes and other forms of public protest in the coming months (www.sobkorr.ru/news/490AFD6778FEB.html), with many of them noting that the participants in such actions are increasingly organizing themselves to make their protests more effective (forum.msk.ru/material/news/620325.html and www.polit.ru/institutes/2008/10/10/punishment.html). That has led some to suggest there could be a revolt against the regime (www.runewsweek.ru/country/26145/), but polls show that while ordinary Russians do not like elites in that country, they dislike the idea of revolution even more (wciom.ru/novosti/v-centre-vnimanija/publikacija/single/11044.html).
RUSSIA’S MUSLIMS FEEL THREATENED BY DRUZHINNIKI. While Muslim leaders have reacted with cautious support to the idea of Orthodox popular militias, ordinary Muslims in the Russian Federation have reacted with horror to this idea, pointing to calls by those associated with such structures to “kill Caucasians” (www.sobkorr.ru/news/2/4909B98EA8E3D.html and
NARCOTICS USE IN RUSSIA UP 1000 PERCENT SINCE 1991. Russian health officials say that per capita consumption of heroin and other drugs has increased by a factor of ten since the end of communism. As a result, Russians are now turning to drugs eight times more often than people in the European Union (www.utro.ru/news/2008/12/03/784885.shtml). Meanwhile, a poll calls attention to another demographic problem in Russia: Moscow’s pro-natalist policies are unlikely to work because few Russians in the prime child-bear age groups want to have children (wciom.ru/novosti/press-vypuski/press-vypusk/single/11050.html).
PAVLOVSKAYA’S MURDERER PAID TWO MILLION US DOLLARS. At the trial of those who have been charged with killing Anna Politkovskaya, one of the witnesses said that the hitmen had been paid two million US dollars by someone as yet unnamed to kill the crusading journalist. The trial itself, which officials first sought to hold behind closed doors and then opened them when jurors denied asking that the hearings be closed, have been shut to the public once again (www.rusrep.ru/news/2008/12/05/politkovskaya/).
UNITED RUSSIA SEEKS TIGHTER REGISTRATION RULES FOR RELIGIOUS GROUPS. If a measure United Russian deputies are proposing is enacted, religious groups in the Russian Federation seeking to register with the state will have to specify in their applications the nature of their beliefs and practices, their attitudes toward family and marriage, toward education, and on a list of other substantive questions. If they change their positions on any of these, the new legislation specifies, the organizations would have to re-register, an invitation for more official actions against groups Moscow doesn’t like (www.islamonline.ru/m/nov/?i=3920).
MOSCOW WON’T MAKE UP MORE THAN HALF OF REGIONAL GOVERNMENT TAX SHORTFALLS. Regional governments in Russia which are already suffering as a result of unfounded liabilities and falling tax revenues will see less than half of their shortfalls made up by the central government, a pattern that almost certainly will spread the economic crisis to every corner of the Russian Federation (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=18083).
STATE MUSCLES IN ON HR MEETING: RUSSIAN NGOS WON’T TAKE PART. The upper house of the Russian parliament insisted on being the co-sponsor of a human rights meeting with the Council of Europe. As a result, most of Russia’s leading human rights activists are refusing to take part in its sessions, fearful that to do so would lend legitimacy to what the Russian government is doing (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1088048 and www.sobkorr.ru/news/493904AE6CF5B.html).
RUSSIAN CONSTITUTION NEEDS REPLACEMENT, NOT DEFENSE. When Dmitry Medvedev ran roughshod over the 1993 Russian Constitution to extend presidential and parliamentary terms, many activists called for the defense of that document. But others are saying that the latest Russian constitution needs not defense but replacement given its centralist and authoritarian features and equally important the fact that the authorities falsified the electoral results to declare that it had been ratified (www.fontanka.ru/2008/12/01/090/).
TATAR NATIONALISTS TO SEEK INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION. Tatar nationalists outside of the Republic of Tatarstan government plan to issue an appeal later this month to the international community asking that it recognize Tatarstan now that Moscow has recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These plans have been discussed in the Tatar, Ukrainian and Azerbaijani media but not in Russian outlets, one more indication of the constraints the Russia media are operating under (politika-rt.moy.su/news/2008-11-29-59 and www.apsny.ge/2008/pol/1227039211.php).
KRYASHENY OFFER THEMSELVES AS MISSIONARIES TO RUSSIA’S MUSLIMS. Whenever Moscow is having trouble with Tatarstan, its official leaders or Tatar nationalists, the Moscow media take up the cause of the Kryasheny, the Russian Orthodox Tatars whom Russians see as a distinct nationality and Tatars as a religious subgroup of their nation. That is happening again now, with articles suggesting, among other things, that the Kryasheny can serve as Orthodox missionaries to the Muslims of Russia (www.ng.ru/style/2008-12-03/8_tatary.html).
ZHIRINOVSKY SAYS RUSSIAN SHOULD TAKE TWO-THIRDS OF UKRAINE. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the deputy chairman of the Duma and head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Ukraine, says that Russia should take back two-thirds of the territory of Ukraine, with the latter state reduced to the size it was in the 18th century (www.nr2.ru/kiev/209319.html). Zhirinovsky specializes in such outrageous, hyperbolic statements, but more and more other Russians are following him on this, suggesting, for example that the Rusins as “the Abkhaz of Ukraine”
ANECDOTE OF THE WEEK: According to a cartoon posted on the Polit.ru site, Dmitry Medvedev sent in a question to Vladimir Putin during the latter’s call-in town hall meeting asking whether it would be all right for the president to have a similar call-in show of his own.